Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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and somewhat given to declamation ; and these traits have
communicated a certain measured and deliberate gesticulation
to his discourse. I have frequently seen him after dinner stride
backward and forward across the room for some moments,
wrapped in thought, and then fling himself upon the sofa and
come out with some weighty doubt, expressed with a solemn
emphasis. In this form he lately began a conversation, or
rather a speech, that for a moment quite disconcerted me.
" After aiy said he, as if he had been talking to me before,


although these were the first words he uttered then making
a parenthesis, so as to qualify what he \vajs going to say
" I don t deny that the steamboat is destined to produce
valuable results, but after all, I much question (and here he
bit his upper lip, and paused an instant) if we are not better
without it. I declare, I think it strikes deeper at the supremacy
of the states than most persons are willing to allow. This
annihilation of space, sir, is not to be desired. Our protection
against the evils of consolidation consists in the very obstacles
to our intercourse. Splatterthwaite Dubbs of Dinwiddie [or
some such name ; Frank is famous for quoting the opinions of
his contemporaries. This Splatterthwaite, I take it, was some
old college chum who had got into the legislature and, I dare
say, made pungent speeches] made a good remark that the
home material of Virginia was never so good as when her
roads were at their worst." And so Frank w r ent on with quite
a harangue, to which none of the company replied one word
for fear we might get into a dispute. Everybody seems to
understand the advantage of silence when Meriwether is in
clined to be expatiatory.

This strain of philosophizing has a pretty marked influence
in the neighborhood, for I perceive that Frank s opinions are
very much quoted. There is a set of under-talkers about these
large country establishments who are very glad to pick up
the crumbs of wisdom which fall from a rich man s table ;
secondhand philosophers, who trade upon other people s stock.
Some of these have a natural bias to this venting of upper
opinions, by reason of certain dependences in the way of trade
and favor ; others have it from affinity of blood, which works
like a charm over a whole county. Frank stands related, by
some tie of marriage or mixture of kin, to an infinite train of
connections, spread over the state ; and it is curious to learn
what a decided hue this gives to the opinions of the district.


We had a notable example of this one morning not long after
my arrival at Swallow Barn. Meriwether had given several
indications immediately after breakfast of a design to pour out
upon us the gathered ruminations of the last twenty-four hours,
but we had evaded the storm with some caution, when the
arrival of two or three neighbors, plain, homespun farmers,
who had ridden to Swallow Barn to execute some papers
before Frank as a magistrate, furnished him with an occasion
that was not to be lost. After dispatching their business he
detained them, ostensibly to inquire about their crops and other
matters of their vocation, but, in reality, to give them that very
flood of politics which we had escaped. We, of course, listened
without concern, since we were assured of an auditory that
would not flinch. In the course of this disquisition he made
use of a figure of speech which savored of some previous study,
or, at least, was highly in the oratorical vein. " Mark me,
gentlemen," said he, contracting his brow over his fine thought
ful eye and pointing the forefinger of his left hand directly at
the face of the person he addressed " mark me, gentlemen ;
you and I may not live to see it, but our children will see it,
and wail over it the sovereignty of this Union will be as the
rod of Aaron ; it will turn into a serpent and swallow up all
that struggle with it." Mr. Chub was present at this solemn
denunciation and was very much affected by it. He rubbed his
hands with some briskness and uttered his applause in a short
but vehement panegyric, in which were heard only the detached
words " Mr. Burke Cicero."

The next day Ned and myself were walking by the school-
house and were hailed by Rip from one of the windows, who,
in a sly undertone, as he beckoned us to come close to him,
told us, "if we wanted to hear a regular preach, to stand fast."
We could look into the schoolroom unobserved, and there was
our patriotic pedagogue haranguing the boys with a violence of


action that drove an additional supply of blood into his face.
It was apparent that the old gentleman had got much beyond
the depth of his hearers and was pouring out his rhetoric more
from oratorical vanity than from any hope of enlightening his
audience. At the most animated part of his strain he brought
himself, by a kind of climax, to the identical sentiment uttered
by Meriwether the day before. He warned his young hearers
the oldest of them was not above fourteen "to keep a
lynx-eyed gaze upon that serpentlike ambition which would
convert the government at Washington into Aaron s rod, to
swallow up the independence of their native state."

This conceit immediately ran through all the lower circles
at Swallow Barn. Mr. Tongue, the overseer, repeated it at
the blacksmith s shop in the presence of the blacksmith and
Mr. Absalom Bulrush, a spare, ague-and-feverish husbandman
who occupies a muddy slip of marshland on one of the river
bottoms, which is now under a mortgage to Meriwether ; and
from these it has spread far and wide, though a good deal
diluted, until in its circuit it has reached our veteran groom
Carey, who considers the sentiment as importing something of
an awful nature. With the smallest encouragement, Carey will
put on a tragi-comic face, shake his head very slowly, turn up
his eyeballs, and open out his broad, scaly hands, while he
repeats with labored voice, " Look out, Master Ned ! Aaron s
rod a black snake in Old Virginny ! " Upon which, as we fall
into a roar of laughter, Carey stares with astonishment at our
irreverence. But having been set to acting this scene for us
once or twice, he now suspects us of some joke and asks " if
there is n t a copper for an old negro," which if he succeeds in
getting, he runs off, telling us " he is too cute to make a fool
of himself."

Meriwether does not dislike this trait in the society around
him. I happened to hear two carpenters one day, who were,


making some repairs at the stable, in high conversation. One
of them was expounding to the other some oracular opinion of
Frank s touching the political aspect of the country, and just at
the moment when the speaker was most animated, Meriwether
himself came up. He no sooner became aware of the topic in
discussion than he walked off in another direction, affecting not
to hear it, although I knew he heard every word. He told me
afterwards that there was " a wholesome tone of feeling
amongst the people in that part of the country."


Having dispatched these important matters at the stable, we
left our horses in charge of the servants and walked towards
the cabins, which were not more than a few hundred paces
distant. These hovels, with their appurtenances, formed an
exceedingly picturesque landscape. They were scattered, with
out order, over the slope of a gentle hill ; and many of them
were embowered under old and majestic trees. The rudeness
of their construction rather enhanced the attractiveness of the
scene. Some few were built after the fashion of the better
sort of cottages, but age had stamped its heavy traces upon
their exterior ; the green moss had gathered upon the roofs,
and the coarse weatherboarding had broken, here and there,
into chinks. But the more lowly of these structures, and the
most numerous, were nothing more than plain log cabins, com
pacted pretty much on the model by which boys build partridge
traps, being composed of the trunks of trees, still clothed with
their bark, and knit together at the corners with so little regard
to neatness that the timbers, being of unequal lengths, jutted
beyond each other, sometimes to the length of a foot. Perhaps
none of these latter sort were more than twelve feet square
and not above seven in height. A door swung upon wooden


hinges, and a small window of two narrow panes of glass were,
in general, the only openings in the front. The intervals
between the logs were filled with clay, and the roof, which was
constructed of smaller timbers, laid lengthwise along it and
projecting two or three feet beyond the side or gable walls,
heightened, in a very marked degree, the rustic effect. The
chimneys communicated even a droll expression to these habi
tations. They were, oddly enough, built of billets of wood,
having a broad foundation of stone, and growing narrower as
they rose, each receding gradually from the house to which it
was attached, until it reached the height of the roof. These
combustible materials were saved from the access of the fire
by a thick coating of mud, and the whole structure, from its
tapering form, might be said to bear some resemblance to the
spout of a teakettle ; indeed, this domestic implement would
furnish no unapt type of the complete cabin.

From this description, which may serve to illustrate a whole
species of habitations very common in Virginia, it will be seen
that, on the score of accommodation, the inmates of these
dwellings were furnished according to a very primitive notion
of comfort. Still, however, there were little garden patches
attached to each, where cymblings, cucumbers, sweet potatoes,
watermelons, and cabbages flourished in unrestrained luxuri
ance. Add to this that there were abundance of poultry domes
ticated about the premises, and it may be perceived that,
whatever might be the inconveniences of shelter, there was no
want of what, in all countries, would be considered a reasonable
supply of luxuries.

Nothing more attracted my observation than the swarms of
little negroes that basked on the sunny sides of these cabins
and congregated to gaze at us as we surveyed their haunts.
They were nearly all in that costume of the golden age which
I have heretofore described, and showed their slim shanks and

long heels in all varieties of their grotesque natures. Their

predominant- Ipvp of sunshine, and their lazy^listless postures,

and apparent content to be silently looking abroad, might well
afford a comparison to a set of terrapins luxuriating in the
genial warmth of summer on the logs of a mill pond.

And there, too, were the prolific mothers of this redundant
brood a number of stout negro women who thronged the
doors of the huts, full of idle curiosity to see us. And, when
to these are added a few reverend, wrinkled, decrepit old men,
with faces shortened as if with drawing strings, noses that
seemed to have run all to nostril, and with feet of the config
uration of a mattock, my reader will have a tolerably correct
idea of this negro quarter, its population, buildings, external
appearance, situation, and extent.

Meriwether, I have said before, is a kind and considerate
master. It is his custom frequently to visit his slaves, in order
to inspect their condition and, where it may be necessary, to
add to their comforts or relieve their wants. His coming
amongst them, therefore, is always hailed with pleasure. He
has constituted himself into a high court of appeal, and makes
it a rule to give all their petitions a patient Jiearmg ancLjto do
jnqtjr^Jn th^ premise This, he tells me, he considers as
indispensably necessary. He says that no overseer is entirely
to be trusted ; that there are few men who have the temper to
administer wholesome laws to any population, however small,
without some omissions or irregularities, and that this is more
emphatically true of those who administer them entirely at
their own will. On the present occasion, in almost every house
where Frank entered, there was some boon to be asked ; and
I observed that, in every case, the petitioner was either gratified
or refused in such a tone as left no occasion or disposition to
murmur. Most of the women had some bargains to offer, of
fowls or eggs or other commodities of the household use, and


Meriwether generally referred them to his wife, who, I found,
relied almost entirely on this resource for the supply of such
commodities, the negroes being regularly paid for whatever
was offered in this way.

One old fellow had a special favor to ask a little money
to get a new padding for his saddle, which, he said, " galled his
cretur s back." Frank, after a few jocular passages with the
veteran, gave him what he desired, and sent him off rejoicing.

" That, sir," said Meriwether, "is no less a personage than
Jupiter. He is an old bachelor and has his cabin here on the
hill. He is now near seventy and is a kind of King of the
Quarter. He has a horse, which he extorted from me last
Christmas, and I seldom come here without finding myself
involved in some new demand as a consequence of my dona
tion. Now he wants a pair of spurs, which, I suppose, I must
give him. He is a preposterous coxcomb, and Ned has admin
istered to his vanity by a present of a chapeau de bras, a relic
of my military era, which he wears on Sundays with a conceit
that has brought upon him as much envy as admiration the
usual condition of greatness."

The air of contentment and good humor and kind family
attachment, which was apparent throughout this little commu
nity, and the familiar relations existing between them and the
proprietor struck me very pleasantly. I came here a stranger,
in great degree, to the negro character, knowing but little of
the domestic history of these people, their duties, habits, or
temper, and somewhat disposed, indeed, from prepossessions,
to look upon them as severely dealt with, and expecting to have
my sympathies excited towards them as objects of commisera
tion. I have had, therefore, rather a special interest in observing
them. The contrast between my preconceptions of their condi
tion and the reality which I have witnessed, has brought me a
most agreeable surprise. I will not say that, in a high state of


cultivation and of such self-dependence as they might possibly
attain in a separate national existence, they might not become
a more respectable people, but I am quite sure they never
could become a happier people than I find them here. Per
haps they are destined, ultimately, to that national existence
in the clime from which they derive their origin that this is a
transition state in which we see them in Virginia. If it be so,
no tribe of people have ever passed from barbarism to civiliza
tion whose middle stage of progress has been more secure from
harm, more genial to their character, or better supplied with
mild and beneficent guardianship, adapted to the actual state of
their intellectual feebleness, than the negroes of Swallow Barn.
And, from what I can gather, it is pretty much the same on
the other estates in this region. I hear of an unpleasant excep
tion to this remark now and then, but under such conditions as
warrant the opinion that the unfavorable case is not more
common than that which may be found in a survey of any
other department of society. The oppression of apprentices, of
seamen, of soldiers, of subordinates, indeed, in every relation,
may furnish elements for a bead-roll of social grievances quite
as striking, if they were diligently noted and brought to view.


It was about two o clock in the afternoon of a day towards
the end of July, 1780, when Captain Arthur Butler, now hold
ing a brevet, some ten days old, of major in the Continental
army, and Galbraith Robinson were seen descending the long
hill which separates the South Garden from the Cove. They
had just left the rich and mellow scenery of the former district,
and were now passing into the picturesque valley of the latter.


It was evident from the travel-worn appearance of their horses,
as well as from their equipments, that they had journeyed many
a mile before they had reached this spot. . . .

Arthur Butler was now in the possession of the vigor of
early manhood, with apparently some eight and twenty years
upon his head. His frame was well proportioned, light, and
active. His face, though distinguished by a smooth and almost
beardless cheek, still presented an outline of decided manly
beauty. The sun and wind had tanned his complexion, except
where a rich volume of black hair upon his brow had preserved
the original fairness of a high, broad forehead. A hazel eye
sparkled under the shade of a dark lash and indicated, by its
alternate playfulness and decision, an adventurous as well as a
cheerful spirit. His whole bearing, visage, and figure seemed
to speak of one familiar with enterprise and fond of danger ;
they denoted gentle breeding predominating over a life of toil
and privation.

Notwithstanding his profession, which was seen in his erect
and peremptory carriage, his dress at this time was, with some
slight exceptions, merely civil. He was habited in the costume
of a gentleman of the time, with a round hat pretty much of
the fashion of the present day though then but little used
except amongst military men with a white cockade to show
his party, while his saddlebow was fortified by a brace of horse
man s pistols stowed away in large holsters covered with bear
skin : for in those days, when hostile banners were unfurled
and men challenged each other upon the highways, these pistols
were a part of the countenance (to use an excellent old phrase)
of a gentleman.

Galbraith Robinson was a man of altogether rougher mold.
Every lineament of his body indicated strength. His stature
was rather above six feet ; his chest broad ; his limbs sinewy,
and remarkable for their symmetry. There seemed to be no


useless flesh upon his frame to soften the prominent surface of
his muscles, and his ample thigh, as he sat upon horseback,
showed the working of its texture at each step, as if part of the
animal on which he rode. His was one of those iron forms that
might be imagined almost bullet-proof. With all these advan
tages of person there was a radiant, broad good nature upon
his face ; and the glance of a large, clear, blue eye told of arch
thoughts, and of shrewd homely wisdom. A ruddy complexion
accorded well with his sprightly but massive features, of which
the prevailing expression was such as silently invited friendship
and trust. If to these traits be added an abundant shock of
yellow, curly hair, terminating in a luxuriant queue, confined by
a narrow strand of leather cord, my reader will have a tolerably
correct idea of the person I wish to describe.

Robinson had been a blacksmith at the breaking out of the
Revolution. He was the owner of a little farm in the Waxhaw
settlement on the Catawba, and having pitched his habitation
upon a promontory, around whose base the Waxhaw creek
swept with a regular but narrow circuit, this locality, taken in
connection with his calling, gave rise to a common prefix to
his name throughout the neighborhood, and he was therefore
almost exclusively distinguished by the sobriquet of Horseshoe
Robinson. This familiar appellative had followed him into
the army.

The age of Horseshoe was some seven or eight years in
advance of that of Butler. On the present occasion his dress
was of the plainest and most rustic description : a spherical
crowned hat with a broad brim, a coarse gray coatee of mixed
cotton and wool, dark linsey-woolsey trousers adhering closely
to his leg, hobnailed shoes, and a red cotton handkerchief tied
carelessly round his neck with a knot upon his bosom. This
costume and a long rifle thrown into the angle of the right arm,
with the breech resting on his pommel, and a pouch of deerskin,


with a powderhorn attached to it, suspended on his right side,
might have warranted a spectator in taking Robinson for a
woodsman or hunter from the neighboring mountains.

Such were the two personages who now came " pricking
o er the hill." The period at which I have presented them to
my reader was, perhaps, the most anxious one of the whole
struggle for independence. Without falling into a long narrative
of events which are familiar, at least to every American, I may
recall the fact that Gates had just passed southward to take
command of the army destined to act against Cornwallis. It
was now within a few weeks of that decisive battle which sent
the hero of Saratoga " bootless home and weatherbeaten back,"
to ponder over the mutations of fortune and, in the quiet
shades of Virginia, to strike the balance of fame between
Northern glory and Southern discomfiture.

[On his way South, Captain Butler passed by Dove Cote, in
Virginia, where lived Mildred Lindsay, with whom he was in
love. Mildred Lindsay s father was loyal to the king and did
not look with favor upon Butler s suit since he had entered the
Continental army. Mildred s father favored T.yrrel, who had
been sent from England to look after the king s interest.
Lender these circumstances it was impossible for Butler to do
more than to see Mildred secretly on the river bank. At
Mrs. Dimock s inn, where Butler and Horseshoe were to spend
the night, they met with James Curry, an attendant of Tyrrel,
who was carefully watched by Horseshoe under the suspicion
that he might be a spy. A quarrel ensued, followed by a fight
in which Curry was worsted. The next morning the captain
and his companion left early, and after a journey of a week
they reached the headquarters of General Gates. Finding no
need for his services there, Butler continued his way, according
to instructions, to join Colonel Clarke, who was in the mountains


of South Carolina raising troops. Horseshoe conducted him by
a circuitous route to the house of Wat Adair, a well-known
mountaineer, whose good will they wished to obtain. But Adair
gave the travelers away to the Tories in spite of the efforts of
Mary Musgrove, a mountain girl, to warn Butler. Adair accom
panied Horseshoe and Butler on their departure, in order to
show them the road.]


Meantime Butler and Robinson advanced at a wearied pace.
The twilight had so far faded as to be only discernible on the
western sky. The stars were twinkling through the leaves of
the forest, and the light of the firefly spangled the wilderness.
The road .might be descried, in the most open parts of the
wood, for some fifty paces ahead ; but where the shrubbery
was more dense, it was lost in utter darkness. Our travelers,
like most wayfarers towards the end of the day, rode silently
along, seldom exchanging a word and anxiously computing the
distance which they had yet to traverse before they reached
their appointed place of repose. A sense of danger, and the
necessity for vigilance, on the present occasion, made them the
more silent.

"I thought I heard -a wild sort of yell just now people
laughing a great way off," said Robinson, " but there s such a
hooting of owls and piping of frogs that I mought have been
mistaken. Halt, major. Let me listen there it is again."

"It is the crying of a panther, sergeant ; more than a mile
from us, by my ear."

"It is mightily like the scream of drunken men," replied
the sergeant ; " and there, too ! I thought I heard the clatter
of a hoof."

The travelers again reined up and listened.



"It is more like a deer stalking through the bushes, Gal-

" No," exclaimed the sergeant, " that s the gallop of a
horse making down the road ahead of us, as sure as you


Reproduction of vignette on title-page of original edition of
" Horseshoe Robinson "

are alive ; I heard the shoe strike a stone. You must have

hearn it, too."

" I would n ? t be sure," answered Butler.

" Look to your pistols, major, and prime afresh."

" We seem to have ridden a great way," said Butler, as he

concluded the inspection of his pistols and now held one of


them ready in his hand. " Can we have lost ourselves ? Should

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 6 of 35)