John S. (John Sergeant) Wise.

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who had always been poor were in their turn the more
fortunate of the two.

Our nearest neighbors were the Seddons, one of the
loveliest families of people that ever lived. The head of
the house was a gentleman who, after a thorough educa
tion, had achieved distinction at the bar and in Congress,
but, owing to delicate health, had retired to his planta
tion. He entertained extreme views on the subjects of
slavery and the nullification doctrines of Calhoun ; but
for years he had, owing to precarious health, taken no
active part in politics. Polished in manners, gentle in
his bearing, hospitable and considerate in all things, he
captivated visitors to his home as soon as they entered it.
And in whatever he failed, his wife more than atoned
for it by her graciousness. She was the accomplished
heiress, Sally Bruce. She and her sister Ellen, both
beautiful in person and in character, and thoroughly edu-


cated, took Richmond society by storm upon their first
appearance there in the 40 s, and succumbed at last to
the blandishments of two young cousins, married them,
bought adjoining plantations in Goochland, and were
now rearing their children side by side. Such were the
families of Hon. James A. Seddon and James M. Morson,

Some of the happiest days of my childhood, some
of the most elevating, purifying, and refining hours of
all my life, were passed in these two households. Both
Mr. and Mrs. Seddon were accomplished linguists, and
demanded that their children should be as well educated
as themselves. Their library was supplied with the best
thought of the world, and the course of literary culture
prescribed by them for their children was not only com
prehensive, but was made attractive by the way in which
it was pursued. Often the evening gatherings of the
family were converted into reading classes, and, with the
charming voice of their mother added to the attraction of
the subject, the children became interested. That charm
ing voice ? Ye*, one of the sweetest that ever sang. Not
only was she an admirable performer upon the piano, but
when she sang, accompanying herself upon the harp, she
was a very nightingale. Her tender Scotch ballads never
were surpassed upon the stage.

Love, intellectuality, refinement, hospitality, made that
home an abode fit for the most favored of mortals ; and
her care for their welfare made " Mis Sallie " the ideal,
in the minds of the servants, of what an angel would be
in the world to come. The children ? They were numer
ous as the teeth in a comb. Three of the Seddon boys,
ranging from a year older to two years younger than my
self, were my sworn allies. Morning, noon, and night, we
were together. Of course we all had horses, everybody


had a horse. Often the three Seddon boys rode to school
upon the back of one filly, with a young darkey to fetch
her home. Their route brought them directly past the
Eastwood gate, and many a day in 1860 that blessed filly
took upon her back a fifth rider, as I slipped down from
the gatepost where I had awaited their coming. And
many a head-punching I received from the combined
forces of the Seddons because I tickled that filly in the
flank, and made her kick until she tumbled the entire
load, four white boys and a darkey, into the muddy road,
and then, kicking at us, scampered away, leaving us to
fish our Horaces and Livys and Virgils out of the mud,
and walk the remainder of the way to school.

The Morson children, first cousins of the Seddons, were
also numerous ; and while their residence was at a little
distance from ours, the families were frequently together.
At school, during the week, plans were made for the
afternoons and Saturdays, and we ranged the whole
country-side, shooting, or riding, or visiting.

A favorite amusement was excursions up the canal in
our own boat, drawn by our own team, to a famous fishing-
place at " Maiden s Adventure " dam. Thither boys and
girls repaired together, making quite a boatload, taking
baskets of luncheon and spending the day.

The school-teacher, the Rev. Mr. Dudley, was an effi
cient man, who demanded that his pupils should study
hard, and was not at all squeamish about the proper use
of hickory. Notwithstanding this, he was popular, and
joined in the sports at recess with genuine zest. One of
our favorite games was called "Germany," or "Cher-
mony," in which a paddle, a certain number of holes in a
row, and a hard rubber ball were used. Under certain
regulations, each player claimed a hole in the ground, and,
when the ball went into it, was privileged to hit some


one else with the ball. Mr. Dudley was a large, fleshy
man, and it was noticeable that, while the boys were
always delighted to have him in the game, he was hit
about twice as often as all the boys put together. How
ever much he may have compelled them to rub themselves
in school, the boot was very much on the other leg in these
little outside pastimes ; so much so, that Parson Dudley,
after being " roasted " for a long time, appeared to lose
his enthusiasm for the game.

It was during the recess hour, on a bright May day in
1860, that a boy rode by, returning perhaps from Rich-
mond, and gave Mr. Dudley a copy of a newspaper. No
sooner had he disposed himself comfortably to read the
news, leaving us boys to our diversions, than with a loud
exclamation he broke forth, "Ah! that settles it. I
feared as much. Abe Lincoln is nominated for President.
He will be elected, and that means war."

I, who was now in my fourteenth year, and deeply
interested in political matters, was anxious to know why
Mr. Lincoln s election portended war any more than that
of any one else.

" Well," said Mr. Dudley, perfectly sincere in every
word he spoke, " Mr. Seward was the logical candidate of
the Republican party, entitled to the nomination by supe
rior ability and by long service. He is a man of very
pronounced anti-slavery views, but is a gentleman by birth
and association, and if elected President, would respect
his constitutional obligations and the rights of the South
ern States. Everybody expected him to be the nominee ;
but his course and utterances of late, especially his utter
ances concerning old John Brown, are not radical enough
to suit the Black Republicans. On the other hand, this
man Lincoln has come to the front, venomous and vindic
tive enough to satisfy the most rabid abolitionist." He


then proceeded to draw a picture of Lincoln horrible
enough. He told how he was, in his origin, of that class
of low whites who hate gentlemen because they are gentle
men ; how, in personal appearance, he was more like a
gorilla than a human being ; how he possessed the arts and
cunning of the demagogue to a degree sufficient to build
himself up by appealing to the prejudices of his own class
against gentlemen ; and how, in his joint debates with
Douglas, who had completely overmastered him, he had
nevertheless brought himself into notice, and secured the
nomination of his party, by going far beyond other lead
ers in advocacy of radical measures against slavery, and
in abuse of the South.

That settled Abraham Lincoln with me. I was thor
oughly satisfied that no such man ought to be President ;
but I could not yet conceive it possible that such a mon
ster would be the choice of a majority of the people for
President. Lincoln s nomination did not, however, inter
fere with my happiness or appetite. In fact, I had faith
in the triumph of Mr. Lincoln s opponents.

A few days after this, I accompanied my sister and
brother-in-law to a breakfast at the Stanards .

In course of conversation at table, the nomination of
Lincoln was discussed. That gave rise to the inquiry, on
the part of our hostess, whether her guests had read the
remarkable sermon recently delivered in the city of New
Orleans by the Rev. Dr. Palmer, an eminent Presbyterian
divine, upon " The Divine Origin of Slavery." As none
of her guests had seen it, and all expressed the desire to
do so, a servant was sent to the library for the newspaper,
and one of the company proceeded to read aloud the sali
ent points of Dr. Palmer s address. Undoubtedly, from his
standpoint, the great minister put the case very strongly.
His arguments were, however, chiefly based upon the


divine sanction of the patriarchal institutions of the Old
Testament. I was not a profound Biblical scholar, but a
number of very good women had spent a greal deal of
time, during the brief space of my life, hammering into
my head portions of the Old Testament. It so happened
also that during breakfast that morning the Mormon doc
trines of Brigham Young had come up for discussion,
for Brigham was much in evidence then, and everybody,
especially the ladies, had joined in denouncing him as

The reading of Dr. Palmer s sermon occupied some
time. It bored me, but I found no opportunity to escape.
At its conclusion, the company agreed that it was an
able and conclusive argument. Mrs. Stanard, who was a
witty woman given to facetious remarks, declared a pur
pose to mail a copy of the sermon to Abe Lincoln. I,
who was inclined to be pert as well as facetious, proposed
to send another copy to Brigham Young. " For," said
I, " every argument of Dr. Palmer, based on the slavery
of the Old Testament, is equally available for Brigham
Young in support of polygamy ; and I sympathize with

It is unnecessary to add that the assembled guests, in
their disgust at my " pertness," dropped the argument on

Soon after this breakfast, I witnessed the first parade
of the Goochland Troop. The John Brown invasion had
given a pronounced impetus to the military spirit of Vir
ginia. In almost every county, new military organizations
had sprung up. As the Goochland folk were rich, owners
of fine horseflesh, and every man of them a horseman
from his childhood, it was natural that they organized a
command of cavalry.

During the winter, the plan was conceived. The first


meeting looking to its consummation was held at February
court. The preliminary drilling began in the early spring.
And now in May, for the first time, the troop assembled
in full uniform for drill and inspection. Julien Harrison,
of Elk Hill was its commandant. Mr. Hobson, my bro
ther-in-law, at whose house I lived, was the first lieutenant.
The company was composed of the very flower of the
aristocracy of the James River valley, and the capital
invested in the arms, uniforms, and the horseflesh of the
Goochland Troop would have equipped a regiment of

At their first parade and review, they were the guests
of the master of Eastwood. Every man vied with every
other in his mount. There were not ten horses in the
company less than three quarters thoroughbred. It was
indeed a gallant sight, those spirited youngsters, men,
and beasts. The uniforms of the privates were fine
enough for major-generals. Their arms they bought
themselves, the carbines and pistols from Colt, the
sabres from Horstmann. The shabrack of a Goochland
trooper cost more money than the whole equipment of a
Confederate cavalryman three years later. Little did
they realize then that within a year they would be part
of the best regiment in the brigade of the immortal Stuart,
and that they would pass into history as the " Black Horse
Cavalry," - a bugaboo scarcely less terrible to the imagina
tion of their foe than " masked batteries." There was, in
fact, but one company in the Confederacy called " Black
Horse Troop," and that came from Fauquier County ; but
they were counted by thousands in the imagination of the
Union soldiers.

Many years afterwards, in conversation with a Union
veteran, something was said of handsome cavalry. He
remarked that the most vivid picture of a perfect soldier


retained by his mind was that of a Confederate cavalry
officer named Captain Julien Harrison, of the Fourth
Virginia Cavalry, who bore a flag of truce in 1861 into
the Union lines at Manassas.

The thing which most impressed itself upon me, during
my residence in Goochland in 1860, was the marked dif
ference between slavery upon these extensive plantations
and slavery as it existed in the smaller establishments
which I had theretofore known. It could not be truly
said of these people that they were cruel to their slaves,
but it was certainly true that the relations between master
and slave were nothing like so close or so tender as those
with which I had been theretofore familiar. The size of
the plantations and the number of slaves were such that
it was necessary to employ farm managers or overseers,
and to have separate establishments, removed from the
mansion house, where the overseers resided, surrounded
by the laborers on the plantation.

As a consequence, the master and his family saw little
of this class of servants, and the servants saw and knew
little of the master. There was lacking that intimate
acquaintance and sympathy with each other which ameli
orated the condition of the slaves where the farm was
small, the servants few, and no overseer came between
master and servant.

Wealthy men, too, like several of those in our neighbor
hood, had so many slaves that they were compelled to buy
other plantations on which to employ them. For example,
Mr. Morson owned nearly eight hundred negroes. In
order to sustain them, he purchased large plantations in
Mississippi. A portion of his time was passed there look
ing after his interests, and thither, from time to time, it
was, in the nature of the case, necessary to transfer some
of his Virginia slaves ; for they increased rapidly, and the


Virginia plantation could furnish employment and sus
tenance for only a limited number. Such transfers were
made as humanely as possible. Families were removed
together, in order to avoid harassing separations, and the
change bore as lightly as possible upon the blacks. But,
after all, it was an unsympathetic proceeding ; for the
negro race has the strongest of local attachments, and old
Virginia was, and still is, the dearest spot of earth to the
native darkey.

The weeping and wailing among those who were ordered
South was pitiful. Although they were going to their
master s plantation, it was in a strange land and under
the government of unknown people, who felt none of the
softening influences of early associations. Above all, it
was without regard to any consideration of their wishes or
their prejudices, and the expression of either would have
been vain.

The slaves upon our place presented another repulsive
feature of the institution. The master and mistress were
both young persons of pure, elevated Christian lives, in
capable of brutality, and most ambitious to deserve and to
possess the loyal love of their slaves. They could have
had no country establishment without the possession of
slaves ; and, both being members of large families, they
could not hope to acquire by gift a sufficient number of
slaves to carry on their plantation. As a consequence,
they were compelled to buy the essential quota. These
purchases were made by families, as far as possible, but
the aggregate was made up of negroes who came from dif
ferent places, and were strangers to each other. Great cir
cumspection was exercised in the effort to secure the proper
kind of servants, and large prices were paid in order to
secure such. But everybody knows how little reliance is to
be placed in the advance characters given to servants, and


how often, when strange servants are brought together, un
foreseen incompatibilities of temperament, or new condi
tions, affect them. Thus it was that the new establishment
at " Eastwood," wealthy and luxurious as it seemed,
had its troubles and its trials like all the rest of the world.
The darkeys were jealous of each other. The ones repre
sented as marvels of diligence and obedience turned out
to be lazy and impertinent. And so it went. The most
flagrant instance of this kind was a butler named Tom, a
handsome fellow, quick, intelligent, and represented as a
phenomenal servant. When Tom arrived, he was a joy
and a comfort to master and mistress, and they felt that
he was worth the $2500 they had paid for him. In a
little while, Tom appeared, from time to time, in a condi
tion of excitement or irritability or stupor, and his con
duct was exceedingly perplexing. Suspecting liquor as
the cause of his strange behavior, strict watch was kept
upon the wine cellar and the sideboard, but no liquor was
missed. At last, Tom developed a distinct case of mania
a potu, and then it was discovered that he had been
steadily imbibing from a large demijohn of alcohol to
which he had access. As his distemper developed an in
clination to knock the heads off his fellow servants, male
and female, on the slightest provocation, his presence made
matters very uncomfortable ; and while his first offense
was overlooked and forgiven, under solemn promises of
reform, he soon relapsed into bad habits, and became so
violent that it was necessary to have him seized and bound
by Alick the gardener and Ephraim the hostler, in order
to prevent murder.

Now, what would our humane and philanthropic friend,
Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, think of a case like this?
And how would the dear old lady have disposed of it ?
This was one of many of the perplexing situations of sla-


very. There was nothing to do with Tom but to sell him
with all his infirmities on his head. Of course the aboli
tionist will say it was awful ; but to have given him away
would have been imposing upon the friend to whom he
was presented, and to set him free was offering a premium
to drunkenness and faithlessness. Tom shed tears of re
pentance, and the family shed tears of regret and humilia
tion. But as there were young children and women all
about him, women and children of his own race as well
as the white race, and as he was liable to get drunk
and violent, and to knock the heads off of any or all of
them at any moment, the question recurs on the original
proposition. What was to be done with Tom ?

But enough of these instances. This and many others
only confirmed me in the opinion, planted when I saw the
sale of Martha Ann, and growing steadily thereafter, that
slavery was an accursed business, and that the sooner my
people were relieved of it, the better.

June came, and with it the end of the school term and
my return to my father s home. I had made decided ad
vances in knowledge. I had read the first six books of
Virgil ; been drilled in Racine and Moliere and Voltaire ;
finished Davies s Legendre ; and was fairly embarked in
algebra, besides a good grounding in ancient and modern
history and a smattering of natural philosophy.

So I boxed my books, packed my trunk, gathered to
gether my effects, including my gun, with which I had
become quite proficient, and a coop containing a game
cock and pullets of the choicest James River stock, and
hied myself homeward.



THE proverb that a calm precedes a storm was never
better illustrated than in the peaceful days of the sum
mer and autumn of I860,, and the winter of 1860-61.

Our new home opened up a phase of existence entirely
different from any I had theretofore known. Although
it was within five miles of the city of Norfolk, which was
easily reached either by land or by water, Rolleston, my
father s new plantation, was as secluded a spot as if no
city had been within a hundred miles. It was the ancient
seat of the Moseley family, one of the oldest in the State.
Located upon the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River,
it embraced, besides a broad area of cultivation, a hand
some body of timber of original growth, running from the
water s edge back for a mile or more. The dwelling and
curtilage were near the river, and the cultivated land,
which was on its easternmost side, was bounded by a
large millpond. Across the mouth of the pond a dam
was erected, with floodgates admitting the tide and con
fining it at high water for the use of a gristmill.

Beside the gristmill, the new purchaser erected a saw
mill on the woodland tract for his own use in erecting
new buildings, and for the sale of lumber in the adjacent
city. When I reached the place, a number of mechanics
were remodeling the dwelling, and building new farm
houses and barns. Every boy who has lived on a farm
knows the joys of the youthful heart at having access to


a carpenter s bench, and to all the lumber and tools and
nails he wants.

Besides myself, I had as companions and playmates
my brother, a nephew near my own age, a white boy,
the son of the miller, and my own slave, black John.
From rosy morn till dewy eve, during all the vacation of
1860, this precious company was busy with new enter
prises. The adjacent waters swarmed with fish and terra
pin and crabs and oysters and darns, and every variety of
sea food. The fields and forests and marshes abounded
with game. The Elizabeth River was a beautiful sheet of
water for sailing, and father had provided himself with
the stanchest and fastest boats to be obtained.

The milldam and pond were our favorite rallying-point.
There we anchored our craft, and fished and swam and
sailed our miniature boats, and engaged in the many pas
times which make boyhood so happy a period. To-day,
we were occupied, busy as bees, building hen-houses. To
morrow, the all-engrossing subject was a new boat, devised
and constructed by ourselves. Another time, we might be
seen, all hands, riding the high side of our fastest boat in
a clipping sail to Norfolk, and, again, bending to the oars
like tried seamen, rowing homeward in a calm. To-day
would be devoted to fishing in deep water, to-morrow to
crabbing on the shoals ; another time, to setting weir mats
apross the mouths of the little estuaries to catch " fat-
backs " or jumping mullets when the tide went out ; and
another time, the whole company would be busy baiting
and sinking terrapin traps. Sometimes we would drive
away in the farm-carts to Lambert s or Garrison s Fishing
Shores, ten miles away upon the Chesapeake Bay, to
seine-hauling, from which we would return at evening,
our carts loaded down with fish for salting and use during
the winter season. On other days, we made up fishing


excursions in our sloop, the Know-Nothing, down to
the deep waters of Hampton Roads, for sea trout and
sheepshead. Every day had its new and busy occupation
and delight, and for several months we never put shoes
upon our feet, save when we were called upon to visit the
city. With great straw hats and brown-linen shirts, and
trousers rolled up above our knees, we were almost am
phibians, and were sunburnt as brown as Indians.

It may not have been a period of great intellectual
growth, but it certainly was a time in which our physical
health was highly developed, and the qualities of enter
prise and self-reliance were highly stimulated.

In the month of August, the Great Eastern, the largest
ship then afloat, came to Hampton Roads, which was the
signal for a general holiday, and everybody who was
anybody, far and near, went to visit her. We went
down the harbor with Captain Oliver upon our sloop,
the Know-Nothing, to inspect the English monster. From
the city to the Roads where the Great Eastern lay, ten
miles below, the waters of Norfolk harbor were alive with
river-craft, crowding all sails and decked in their best
bunting, firing small cannon and waving salutes. We
had bent the racing-sails of the Know-Nothing for the
occasion, and she showed her heels not only to the vessels
of her own class, but to many far larger than herself. I
was very proud of being one of the company of the smart
est craft in Norfolk waters.

The Great Eastern, it will be remembered, was an im
mense ship, of a length and size never since equaled,
unless it be by the new steamer Oceanic, now under con
struction. She was 680 feet in length, with a width of
beam of over 80 feet, and a draft of 27 feet of water.
Her contrast with other ships of that time was, however,
much greater than it would be with the ships of to-day.


In general outline, she was, of course, very much like
other vessels of her kind. When she first came in view,
I felt disappointed ; for there were 110 other objects near

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Sergeant) WiseThe end of an era → online text (page 11 of 35)