Excerpts from the diary of Ellie Carus Beckwith Stringfield (1856-1950)

by | Feb 22, 2016 | Confederate, Wake

“This is Ellie Beckwith Stringfield writing. I was born May 2, 1856, in Western part of Wake County, NC. My parents were also born in the same County and State. “My father was Calvin Holland Beckwith and my mother was Ann Hasseltine Holleman. Green Beckwith was my grandfather and Lucinthia Holland Beckwith was my grandmother. They were married young and began their home practically in the woods to make a fine farm. As I remember they had a big plantation, several families of negroes, and regarded outstanding people in civil and religious circles. “My mother’s father Edwin Holleman and her mother Sallie Johnson Holleman were outstanding citizens of the neighborhood and lived about midway between Fayetteville and Chapel Hill and doctors and lawyers going back and forth would stop for a rest and my grandfather enjoyed them immensely and gained much valuable information from them. “They had 12 children. All lived to be married, with families, except the youngest boy who died in the Civil War. All were fairly educated and good citizens. The lived on a big farm with slaves and always had the prettiest horses. My grandpa’s, each, had a cotton gin, among the first, run by horse power, and cider presses too. Grandpa Beckwith distilled his and sold the brandy as he did his other farm produce. I rather think Grandpa Holleman did too, but he always had cider to offer when he had visitors. He would go to the cider press and bring some cider back in a big gourd. It seemed to give him great joy. “That picture and his sitting on the back porch slapping flies and grandma sitting nearby knitting, and grandpa doing the talking, giving the history of some noted person. These two pictures stand out more vividly than any others of my visits to them when I was a child. They lived about three miles from us but we children would go to see them and run much of the way. “Grandpa Beckwith lived about one mile from us towards Grandpa Holleman’s, so you see Pa did not have to go far to court Ma. They were the same age and attended the same neighborhood schools and no doubt were school day sweethearts, but they were 21 years old before they were married in Dec. 1853. They lived at Pa’s father’s till he had time to build and clear land, the 100 acres Grandpa gave him. It was the custom to give the son land and a horse and a negro and the wife’s father to give a cow and negro girl, and of course each had a bed well furnished and other articles necessary for keeping house in the country. Everybody was expected to work. My oldest sister was Emma, only 16 months difference in our ages. Alice was next, and next came a boy, Exum Green. The four constituted the first group of our family and we were taught to work, as well as books. Exum was born in 1860, the beginning of the Civil War. “A point from which I can count is the beginning of the Civil War 1860 when the young men were meeting at Holly Springs four miles east of us where our church was. I had two uncles among them. Pa’s young and only brother, Daniel Green, and Ma’s youngest brother Silas Holleman. They were mustering there preparing for war. I remember many things during the war, Emma and I started to school. We went to a little log school house about two miles from home. My aunts, cousins, and neighbors, grown, went to the same school, taught by one teacher. The school would last about three months. “The second group of our family consisted of Rena, born in 1866, Junie in 1869, and Nettie 1873. We older children were big enough to help out in the work during reconstruction days, and we did. We still went to school our three months a year and we learned some. Pa would sometimes employ a teacher for a longer time and have a subscription school. He seemed more interested in his children’s education than any in our neighborhood. “Negroes were free and we helped on the farm as well as in the house. “About 15th of April 1865 a man came riding up and said the Yankees were coming. Sherman had already marched by the Sea and part of his army came by our house on the way back after Lee’s surrender. They took all of our horses, emptied our barns and cribs, took down the doors and loft of the barn and camped in the barn and outhouses for about two weeks. They ransacked our houses and took all of our meat, chickens, buggy and everything they could find, and destroyed everything they could find. The main part of the army camped between our home and Grandpa Beckwith’s and during their stay Lincoln was killed, and they held memorial services in the camp and Pa attended. “They did many ugly things. It was Spring and our wheat fields were green and were fenced in and cattle were in the woods. They set fire to the woods and burned the fences, turned the cattle on the wheat fields to destroy the crop. They shot cattle and hogs down in the woods and left them there. When they left they gave us Fannie, our family horse, and we had Sam, a mule colt they could not bridle, and he kicked so they let him alone, and they gave grandpa his family horse and mule or two back. They had taken many more. The negroes did not know what to do. Some left and some stayed and worked on. They had to eat. There was much stealing. We worked on for several years and we children growing up with little chance of education and little prospect of making much money beyond our board and clothes.”

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