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Historic Papers




Civil War


Mrs. Eugenia Dunlap Potts


Lexington, Ky., Chapter U.D.C.


The Old South

Read Before the Lexington Chapter U.D.C., February 14, 1909,
By Eugenia Dunlap Potts, Historian.

No pen or brush can picture life in the old Southern States in the
ante-bellum days. The period comprehends two hundred and fifty years
of history without a parallel. A separate and distinct civilization was
there represented, the like of which can never be reproduced. Socially,
intellectually, politically and religiously, she stood pre-eminent,
among nations. It was the spirit of the cavalier that created and
sustained our greatness. Give the Puritan his due, and still the fact
remains. The impetus that led to freedom from Great Britain, came from
the South. A Southern General led the ragged Continentals on to victory.
Southern jurists and Southern statesmanship guided the councils of
wisdom. The genius of war pervaded her people. She gave presidents,
cabinet officers, commanders, tacticians and strategists. Her legislation
extended the country's territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

A writer aptly says: "For more than fifty formative years of our history
the Old South was the dominating power in the nation, as it had been in
the foundation of the colonies out of which came the Republic, and later
in fighting its battles of independence and in forming its policies of
government. * * * Whatever of strength or symmetry the republic had
acquired at home, or reputation it had achieved abroad, in those earlier
crucial days of its history, was largely due to the patriotism and
ability of Southern statesmanship. Why that scepter of leadership has
passed from its keeping, or why the New South is no longer at the front
of national leadership, is a question that might well give pause to one
who recalls the brave days when the Old South sat at the head of the
table and directed the affairs of the nation."

There was the manor and there was the cabin. Each head of the house was
a potentate in his own domain - an absolute ruler of a principality as
marked as in feudal times, without the despotism of the feudal system.

The plantation of the old regime was tastefully laid out for beauty and
productiveness. Flower gardens and kitchen gardens stretched away into
the magnificence of orange trees, shady avenues and fruitful plants.
Unbroken retreats of myrtle and laurel and tropical foliage, bantered
the sun to do his worst. Flowers perfumed the air; magnolia bloom and
other rich tree flora regaled the senses; extensive orchards yielded
fruit of all kinds adapted to the soil and climate; vineyards were heavy
with much bearing. Fields were carefully cultivated, till such a thing
as the failure of crops was almost unknown. It was largely supplied
with sheep and their wool, with geese, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowls,
and every variety of poultry without stint. Eggs were gathered by the
bushel, myriads of birds clouded the sun, and daily intoxicated their
little brains with the juice of the black cherry. Herds of cattle were
luxuriously pastured by Pompey and his sable mates.

There were quantities of rich cheese, fresh butter, milk and cream.
Vast barns were gorged with corn, rice and hay; hives were bursting
with honey; vegetables were luscious and exhaustless; melons sprinkled
and dotted many acres of patches; shrimp and fish filled the waters;
crawfish wriggled in the ditches; raccoons and opossums formed the theme
of many a negro ditty. Carriages and horses filled the stables, and
splendid mules were well-fed and curried at the barns. High up on the
cypress trees hung the grey moss with which the upholsterer at yon
market place replenished his furniture vans. The farm produce alone
yielded six or seven thousands a year, while the plantation crops of
cotton, sugar, and rice were clear profit. Rows of white cabins were the
homes of the colored citizens of the community. An infirmary stood apart
for the sick. The old grandams cared for the children. Up yonder at the
mansion house Black Mammy held sway in the nursery; Aunt Dinah was the
cook; Aunt Rachel carried the housekeeper's keys; while Jane and Ann,
the mulatto ladies' maids, flitted about on duty, and Jim and Jack
"'tended on young marster and de gemman." Such hospitality as was made
possible by that style of living can never repeat itself in changed
conditions. Grant that these conditions are improved. Grant that the
lifted incubus of slavery has opened the doors for the march of
intellectual and industrial progress; the fact remains that the highest
order of social enjoyment, and of the exercise of the charming amenities
of life, was blotted out when the old plantation of Dixie land was
divided up by the spoils of war.

It is interesting to read of the first attempt at a sugar crop in
Louisiana by a Frenchman named Bore in 1794. His indigo plant, once so
profitable, had been attacked and destroyed by a worm, and dire poverty
threatened. He conceived the project of planting sugar cane. The great
question was would the syrup granulate; and hundreds gathered to watch
the experiment. It did granulate, and the first product sold for twelve
thousand dollars - a large sum at that time.

The maker of the cotton gin worked another revolution in commerce, and
rice proved to be an unfailing staple. Armies of negroes tilled the
soil, and were happy in their circumscribed sphere, humanely cared for
by the whites.

Enter the home and lo! a palace greets you. Massive mahogany furniture,
now, alas! in scattered remnants, meets the eye at every turn. Treasures
and elegant trifles of many lands attest the artistic taste of the
owners. Gorgeous china, plate and glass are there in everyday use.
Fruits of the loom in rarest silk and linen, embellish the chambers
and luxury sits enthroned. The chatelaine, gracious and cultured, is
to the manner born: and from season to season she fills her house with
congenial people who are invited to come, but not, as with present house
parties, told when to go. As long as they found it comfortable and
convenient the latchstring was out. A guest was never permitted to pay
for anything; expressage, laundry and all incidentals were as free as
air. The question of money, nowadays impertinently thrust forth, was
never hinted at in the olden time. It was considered bad form, and the
luckless boaster of "how poor he was" would have been properly stared
at as a boor as well as a bore.

For pastimes men had fishing and hunting, and for women there were lawn
games and indoor diversions. Speaking of the women of the South a writer
aptly said: "They dwell in a land goodly and pleasant to the eye; a land
of fine resources, both agricultural and mineral; where may be found
fertile cotton fields, vast rice tracts, large sugar plantations, bright
skies and balmy breezes. The whole land is plowed by mighty rivers, is
ribbed by long mountain chains, and washed by the sea."

Fitting environment, we add, for the gorgeous residences, notably
in Georgia and South Carolina, built by the nobility and gentry of
the republic, and inherited by the descendants of the old colonial
aristocracy. What wonder, that they held themselves aloof from the
manual laborer, black or white, and that they were uncontaminated by
the attrition of commercial competition. In the summer the family sought
the cooler climate of old Kentucky or Virginia, or farther north to
Saratoga, Long Branch, or some one of the then attractive resorts. They
travelled in state, frequently bringing the family coach, and never
without a retinue of servants. What a sensation they made! And money
flowed like water. The young men, rich and idle, paid court to pretty
girls, sure of a welcome from both parents and daughters, for to marry a
Southern planter was to achieve a social victory for all time to come.
The mechanical and athletic age had not yet dawned. The accepted escort
must be a professional man, or else lord of a domain such as I have
described. Pride and prejudice blinded judgment, and the aristocracy
of merit alone was unappreciated.

And yet the Southern woman, even of great wealth, could not afford
to be idle. She was not, save in exceptional cases, the useless,
half-educated, irresponsible creature she has been represented. Some
there are always and everywhere whose lives are given over to fads,
fancies and frivolities. But the true mothers were priestesses at the
home altar, and kept the sacred fires bright and burning. Their duty
was to keep others busy, and to direct and oversee the vast domestic
machinery of the home.

Their views were somewhat narrow, for as yet the bright sun of woman's
emancipation was barely peeping over the horizon. Their minds did not
grasp the vexed questions of theology, politics, or economics. They
accepted the faith of their fathers, and shifted all burdens to stronger
shoulders. They were eminently religious and charitable. Ways and
means were at hand, and they did not bother their brains with isms and
ologies. Regular attendance upon the nearest church, and reverence for
the clergy, were prominent in their creed.

Education for the masses was not provided, as it is now; but the
majority of the better class were finely educated, either at Northern
schools, or by the governess, and tutor at home. In many cases where the
wife was widowed, she nobly and intelligently arose to the management of
business affairs. If misfortune came, and the woman felt obliged to earn
a livelihood, it did not occur to her to seek it behind a counter or in
a workshop as we do in this generation. She was inclined to walk in the
old paths, and follow old customs. They believed their own skies were
bluest, their own cornfields greenest, their tobacco finest, their
cotton the whitest on earth. They were devoted to old friends, to old
manners and customs, and gloried in their birthright.

In the line of literary productions the South was backward. Augusta
Evans Wilson's remarkable novels, Beulah, St, Elmo, and others, were
read and re-read, not for any lasting good, but for passing interest,
and largely for the glamour that invested a Southern writer. Madame Le
Vert produced "Souvenirs of Travel," among the very earliest of books
on European scenes. Marion Harland's works were read, and possessed the
selling quality notwithstanding the bitter taste left by her humiliated
heroines. Caroline Lee Hentz, Mrs. Holmes, Mrs. Southworth, and a small
army of essayists in the field, clamored for recognition; but time was
when to see the Southern woman in print was an innovation displeasing to
the household gods. Time came when the slumbering faculties were stirred
into splendid and successful activity. The depth of the natures hitherto
unsounded arose to the new demands right valiantly. We behold its fruits
in the rearing of splendid monuments, the erection of noble charity
institutions, the endowing of colleges, the equipment of missionaries,
the awakening of wide philanthropies, and in the higher lines of
Christian endeavor. The men who shouldered arms, from father to son,
to defend their States rights, were the same who, in times of peace,
knew no burdens of life save those they voluntarily assumed. The women
who sewed night and day upon garments for field and hospital, were the
same who were wont to employ their white hands with fragile china and
heirloom plate, or dally with needlework in the morning room. These were
the mothers who, standing by the slaughtered first-born, gave his sword
to the next son, and bade him go at his country's call. There was the
spirit of heroism not surpassed by the heroes of the sterner sex. They
suffered privations and terrors without a murmur.

To visit one of these ante-bellum homes was a privilege indeed. And
something of the spirit of the canaille of the French revolution must
have animated the foreign hordes, who, not content with confiscating
these captured palaces, ruthlessly cut and destroyed the richness and
elegance they were beholding for the first time in their commonplace
lives. It was not the spirit of conquest, but of vandalism, that
animated them. Wanton destruction and not spoliation, common in war
tactics, was their watchword. A domain fairer than Elysium opened to
their astonished gaze, whenever they penetrated some sylvan grove where
stood the plantation manor house.

Alas! for the old plantation days! Alas! for the easygoing spirit that
marked the times! The long, pitiless, hot sun-days were not inspirers of
extraordinary energy. Yankee thrift was as pigmy play to these owners of
bursting coffers. The hurry and bustle of our Northern neighbors was an
unknown quantity in their economy. It is to the forcible wresting from
the South of their inherited institutions, of the machinery which made
their social order possible, that the land of Dixie owes the prosperity
and thrift of to-day. Evil was done and good came therefrom. Years of
wasted substance and enforced poverty were groped through, till at
last the day-star rose upon new industries. Hands and feet and awakened
faculties spring to the keynote of progress, and "Our days are marching

* * * * *

(Here were inserted in the manuscript twenty pages from the diary of the
Historian, written when, as a school girl, she visited with her parents
some of the sugar plantations of Louisiana. They give the picture by an
eye-witness of the social and commercial life in the South; but while,
perhaps, interesting in the reading of a paper, are not necessary, in
print, to the theme.)

Future generations may hug to themselves the consolation that we were
pulled down only to be built up again in greater prosperity, under a
different order of things. The tears and woes of the old South may
change into smiles and good cheer, forgetting the glory that once
encircled us like a radiant halo. But many there are who feel that "Such
things were, and were most dear to us!" These look back with brimming
eyes, and force down the rising sob, as they sorrowfully murmur.

"My native land, good night."


Read March 14, 1909.

In my first paper I endeavored to present a picture of the sunny
Southland in the ante-bellum days, when wealth and culture and
hospitality were the watchwords of the hour - before the invasion of
hostile hordes had vandalized the sacred old traditions, and crumbled
the household gods in the dust.

But long before the tocsin of civil war had sounded there were
mutterings of thunder in the halls of Congress, and the cloud, at first
no bigger than a man's hand, was yearly gathering force, till it finally
burst in a cyclone of passion and prejudice and tyranny, and swept all
before it in one besom of destruction. That the question of slavery
lay at the root of the dissension cannot be doubted by any who are
conversant with the political history of the United States. The tariff
rulings had their weight, as did the unfair division of new territory:
but the main issue was negro slavery, which, always a stumbling-block
to the North, had most violently agitated the whole country for eleven
years before the appeal to arms.

Negro laborers were brought to Virginia and sold as slaves, fifty years
after the first cargo landed at Jamestown. In the year 1619, a Dutch
vessel brought over twenty negroes to be thus held in bondage. To the
men who watched the landing of this handful of Africans it was doubtless
an unimportant matter, yet it was the beginning of a system that had
an immense influence upon our country. In those days few persons in
the world opposed slavery. Even kings and queens made money out of the
traffic. But for tobacco slavery would not have taken such a hold on
America. When it was found that the negro made the cheapest laborer
for cultivating the plantation many more were imported.

They were also employed in the New England and Middle States, largely
as household servants, the soil not being favorable to the production
of rice, indigo, cotton and sugar, which were the staples of Southern
agriculture. Moreover, the African is not physically adapted to the
northern climate. He was especially liable to tubercular disease - hence
he was sold to the Southern planters, except in a few cases where the
Puritan spirit caused his emancipation.

In the year that Harvard College was erected, 1636, the first slave ship
built in America was launched at Marblehead, Mass. It brought a large
cargo of slaves to be sold to the settlers. During the one hundred years
preceding 1776, millions of slaves had been imported to the States. King
George III favored the institution, and forbade any interference with
the colonies in this matter. The horrors of slavery in Massachusetts,
as recorded by reliable documents of the period, far exceed all that
has been charged against the South, by Uncle Tom's Cabin, or any other
records of fact or romance. The Encyclopedia of Political Economy and
United States History, Vol. 3, page 733, has the following taken from
the New York Evening Post:

"During the eighteen months of the years 1859-60 eighty-five slave
ships (giving their names) belonging to New York merchants, brought
in cargoes annually of between 30,000 and 60,000 African slaves, who
were sold in Brazil, there being great demand for them in that country,
owing to new industries. Old Peter Faneuil built Faneuil Hall with
slave money, and many other fortunes were thus made."

Thomas Jefferson says in his autobiography that though the Northern
people owned very few slaves themselves, at the time of the writing of
the Declaration of Independence, yet they had been pretty considerable
carriers of slaves to others. In 1761 Virginia and South Carolina,
alarmed at the rapid increase of slaves, passed an act restricting
their importation, but as many persons in England were growing rich
from the trade the act was negatived, or vetoed. While providing in the
Constitution of the United States for the Southern planters to hold
slaves, the North thought that the laws that were in the course of
events to be passed for prohibiting their foreign importation, would so
work out so that the institution would die a natural death. They little
dreamed that economical and political conditions were destined to fasten
it upon the South. At the framing of the Constitution slaves were held
in all the States except Massachusetts, and she had only very lately
abolished the institution. The South owned twice as many, by reason
of her special agricultural products, and even at this early day the
slavery question became sectional. Mason's and Dixon's line, which was
an imaginary boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, was recognized
as the division line between the free and slave states.

* * * * *

(Here are omitted several pages illustrating the utter absence of
affinity between the two sections of the country, introduced in the
manuscript as social, not historical, matter.)

During the Revolutionary war it was deemed expedient to enlist the
colored race as soldiers. In Rhode Island they were made free by law,
on condition that they enlisted in the army, and this measure met with
Gen'l Washington's approval. After the Declaration of Independence, in
1777, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts freed their slaves and
permitted them to vote, "provided they had the requisite age, property
and residence." The 15th Amendment of a later day was an outrageous
document, framed regardless of any such qualifications, but giving
the ignorant black man rights even above the white citizens.

In order to induce the Southern States to accept the Federal
constitution in the beginning and have the country become a Union of
States, the opposers of slavery had to compromise the use of terms, and
take measures that seemed expedient. They fondly hoped as time rolled
on, to legislate the freedom of slaves. But the invention of the cotton
gin by Eli Whitney, in 1793, immensely increased the value of slave
labor, and forever fastened the institution upon the southern planters,
so far as future legislation was concerned. It had been so difficult to
separate the cotton fiber by hand, requiring a whole day to one pound,
that it was only a minor product; but now the wonderful source of
revenue made possible by the new invention, caused the importation of
many more slaves, and cotton growing in a million acres became king of
the marts. The planter would not willingly give up his property honestly
acquired, and plainly permitted by the constitution.

Slavery was a constant obstacle to the perfect Union of States.
In 1790 during the second session of the first congress, the Quakers
and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, through Benjamin Franklin, its
President, prayed Congress to restore to liberty those held in bondage.
The question was debated in the House in a warm, excited manner. Members
from South Carolina and Georgia argued that slavery, being commended by
the Bible, could not be wrong; that the Southern States would not have
entered into the Confederacy unless their property had been guaranteed
them, and any action of the general government looking to the
emancipation of slavery would not be submitted to. They said that South
Carolina and Georgia could only be cultivated by negro slaves, for the
climate, the nature of the soil, and ancient habits, precluded the
whites from performing the labor. If the negro were freed he would not
remain in those States; hence all the fertile rice and indigo swamps
must be deserted and would become a wilderness. Furthermore the
prohibiting of the slave trade was at that time unconstitutional. James
Madison poured oil on the troubled waters by stating that Congress
could not interfere according to constitutional restrictions, "Yet,"
he said, "there are a variety of ways by which it could countenance the
abolition; and regulations might be made to introduce the freed slaves
into the new states to be formed out of the Western territory." (In
parenthesis I remark that if Madison could have looked down the years,
he would have found that even though emancipated, the negro will not
leave the white settlements. Take our own little city of Lexington where
some 17,000 of them are congregated, living in discomfort and poverty in
most cases; yet their nature is to depend in some fashion upon their
white neighbors and employers.)

It was finally decided in the House that Congress could not prohibit
the slave trade until the year 1808 - that Congress had no authority
to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of
them within any of the States. This last resolution which is of great
historic importance, may be found on page 1523 of the II Vol. of Annals
of Congress.

Washington wrote to David Stuart in June 1790: "The introduction of the
Quaker memorial respecting slavery was, to be sure, not only ill-timed,
but occasioned a great waste of time."

In 1793 the Fugitive Slave law was passed, whereby a runaway slave
captured in a free State, must be returned to his owner. As the new
States were admitted into the Union they came in for the most part
alternately free and slave States. This was done to preserve the balance
of power in Congress.

The great aggressive Abolition movement that led eventually to the Civil
War, had its birth in 1831. Fanatics like John Brown, and Mrs. Harriet
Beecher Stowe, fanned into flame the sparks that had so long-smouldered,
till the helpless negro was dragged from his havens of peace and
comfort. If he felt bitterness towards the whites, what was to prevent
his rising in insurrection and slaying them all? There were plantations
where 600 or 700 slaves were governed by two or three white owners. They
occupied little villages and had no care upon earth. They had their
pastimes and religious worships. "The courtly old planter, highbred and
gentle, the plantation "uncle" who copied the master's manners; and the
broad-bosomed black mammy, with vari-colored turban, spotless apron, and
beaming face, the friend and helper of every living thing in cabin or
mansion, formed a trio we love to remember." The black woman cared more
for her white nursling than her own child. This seems unnatural, but it
was true; and many of us recall the times that the mistress of the house
had to interfere to prevent the kitchen mother from cruelly whipping

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