SUBMITTED BY: Pam Berry
Here is a story written by my great-grandmother, Julia Telfair Small. Julia was the daughter of Alexander Freeland Telfair and the great niece of Edward Telfair, the governor of Georgia. Julia’s father was a doctor in Smithfield and her brother, David Alex Telfair, was an officer in the Confederate Navy. She was raised in Smithfield and met my great-grandfather, Edward Featherstone Small, after the battle of Bentonville. Edward served the Confederacy as Guidon in the 36th Infantry (North Carolina). After the war, they married and had nine children. He was a salesman for Duke Tobacco, and they moved to Atlanta. Julia wrote this story many years after the war. I do not know the year. It was transcribed by her daughter, Bessie Duke Small. This is a copy of that transcription. She uses flowery language and has romanticized the antebellum Southern way of life.
Julia Telfair Small’s “A Leaf from the Old South”
I was a mere slip of a girl in those days, halcyon days they were to me because of the light-heartedness of youth, but pregnant with anxiety to those of maturer years, when the great American people were battling with solution of a political and economic problem the most momentous that had ever presented itself since the nascent bud of provincialism had expanded into the renascent growth of a mighty republic.
I was one of those dreamy children of whom there were many in the dear old Southland; tender buds which by reason of luxurious environments, often developed into the most fragile of human blossoms.
Our beautiful home on the left bank of the musical Neuse, poised like a stately crown on the crest of the old vermillion hills that clustered picturesquely by the river side. As I look down the vista of vanished years it still glows like some mystic gem with unfading radiance. Alas! years ago it was offered up a holocaust by the relentless priestess of Fate, upon the crumbling alter of Time, but its ashes are still sacred to those who once lived and reveled in its great old halls. To me it was always a veritable paradise, with its fruitful orchards, its spacious gardens, its profusion of flowers and above all, its revered inmates.
A quaint little villiage [sic] was old Smithfield, nestling in the cool shadows of great elms and stately oaks; its inhabitants too, were simple and crude, but as staunch and true as their brave old saxon progenitors. Thither my father, a graduate just from the famous medical schools of Kir[k]cudbright and Edinburgh, was enticed by the earnest solicitation of its people. Much to the surprise of his colleagues, he yielded to their entreaty and settled amongst them. Young as he was, he had had many flattering offers to remain at the Capitol, where for a short time he had been associated with some of the ablest of her professional savan[t]s. The truth of it was he had become inextricably entangled in Cupid’s silken web. The granddaughter of Col. Joseph Boon of Revolutionary fame, whose broad estates bordered on the Neuse, was a frequent visitor at the Capitol. There my father met and loved her, and in time they were married in the most auspicious circumstances, and settled for life at Smithfield where the efficient services of the youthful physician soon enshrined him in the hearts of the simple fold whose loving veneration bordered on apotheosis. My beautiful mother – – – they used to tell me she was very beautiful – – – died when I was too young to remember, and we, a group of six children were rendered motherless. My father being a very busy man, we were left almost entirely to the care of the old servants, though at times my stately grand-mother [sic] came to reside with us temporarily. The servants used to amuse us with wierd [sic] stories of hob-goblins, and oft in the moonlight evenings we would sit on the back steps and listen enchanted to their melodious voices from the kitchen, echoing over the spacious grounds. Left so much to my own sweet way, I naturally grew up reclusive in my nature; shy, reticent and timid as a March hare. As I grew up I spent much of my solitary time in the large West Room where the numerous books were stored, looking with wide wondering eyes at the pictures and reading in in a desultory way, of things I could not understand. The large window looked out upon the old river, and I would stand there when weary of the books and listen to the rythmic [sic] swish-swish of the waters till [sic] my young soul would be filled with solemn awe; then the great forrest [sic] trees on the other side would becon [sic] to me with their graceful boles, and I would fly down the broad flight of stairs, down the long graveled walk, over the setting of red hills and across the old wooden bridge into the dense wild woods that fringed the right bank of the wandering stream. Ah! There was a panacea for all my childish perplexities; there in that wonderful habitat of sweet wild roses, blue-eyed violets and golden hearted daises. There the wild crab-apple grew as dense as the banian trees in India; there roseate crown of sweet-sented [sic] blossoms making a bower as enchanting as that pictured by Euripides. There, climbing Jasmine wound their leafy tentacles round slender trees, clothing them with a garniture of rich golden blossoms whose delicate perfume was as delightful as that tossed by Balmy zephyrs over the rosy vales of Suri; there the Columbine dropped their coraline [sic] wreaths from towering woodland giants, leading vividness of color to the exquisite verdure around. That was my child’s paradise. No bower of Eden could have been more beautiful to me. In it I reveled, twined garlands of pink and golden blossoms and listened to the spirit-voices materializing in the song of joyous wild birds. Then when weary, I would fling my diminutive body down on the cool green grass, and gaze up into the cloudless sky til a sensation of a falling into a fathomless sea of ultra marine blue, would come upon me, and, awed and frightened I would spring up and beat a hasty retreat home.
As I grew older I was sent to the old Academy at the foot of River St. or rather road, for it was simply a roadway extending along the river bank. There many delightful days were spent. One of the most fascinating sports indulged in by the wee pupils was to roll down the grassy hills into an impromtu [sic] bed of leaves in the valley below. With sufficient impetus we might have rolled on into the river, but such a catastrophe never occurred. This narrow stretch of valley was thickley [sic] dotted with beautiful trees, and there the leaves fell thick as in “Vallombrosa’s vale.”
Of course I had my knight; every girl has from the age of three to an age unmentionable. After school hours we would trudge homeward together, often pausing on the little rustic bridge that spanned the Conqua Ditch many feet below where the foaming waters tumbled over rocks on their way to the river. Locust trees grew in the deep ravine, towering high above the slender railing, laden with their sweet scented flowers. My chivalrous young knight would climb the railing and gather handsful [sic] of the delicate white blooms, while I stood near with bated breath, lest a mistept [sic] should precipitate him into the foaming chasm below.
One of the brightest festal days that gladdened the hearts of the Old Academy pupils was the annual celebration of the 4th of July. Every girl must have a white dress and a broad blue ribbon sash for the occasion. At early dawn we were awakened by the booming of cannon, and we were up with the lark, making hasty preparations for the day. Our immaculate dresses donned, we assembled on the green whence, to the accompaniment of marshall [sic] music, we stepped it off military fashion to the church where the townspeople and militia had gathered to hear the patriotic oration of the modern Cicero. How our diminutive hearts swelled with pride as he eloquently expaciated [sic] on the heroic deeds of our forefathers. All over, we marched back to the green where numerous long tables, spread with white cloths were groaning under the weight of all manner of tabular dellicacies [sic]. Marshalled around the long tables, our young appetites did full justice to the sumptuous viands. Everything for the feast had been prepared by skilled hands. After dinner we frolicked under the umbrageous trees immemorial. Ages before, little dusky feet had gamboled there as lightly and proudly as our own. The happy day always culminated in a grand pyrotechnic display, after which, tired children were taken home, and coaxed to sleep under the soothing lullabies of their respective black mammies. As the bee sips honey from every visible flower, so does childhood gather sweetness from everything with which it comes in contact. Life to me seemed full of nectar which I was privileged to quaff without any cessation. Simple joys they were perhaps, but all the sweeter for very simplicity. Trips to the plantation where the bees were humming, the flowers blooming and the golden grain waiving in the summer sunshine, under the protection of the old overseer and his busy wife. Long drives over the country with my father on his professional rounds, past endless fields of cotton plants, their brown bolles capped with snowy tufts, over which merry darkies bent, singing old plantation songs as they piled their baskets with pretty cotton – – past long rows of negro cabins where daffodils and holly-hocks winked and blinked at you from the well kept gardens, and little pickaninnies stopped in their somersaulting under the tress to say, “Howdy Massa”. [sic] All these things served to vary and sweeten exhistance [sic]. The negros all loved my father for he it was who brought relief to them in times of suffering. I remember one summer a hundred or more on one plantation were stricken with typhoid fever, but all pulled through except two who were quite aged.
I was a proud little soi-disant housekeeper when I was entrusted with the smokehouse key to give out provisions. Old Bill, one of the hands, was always ready for a gastronomic treat, “Please Missus gimme a black dram,” he would say, and with my permission he would turn the faucet of the molasses keg, and filling his cup with the dark mass, would drink it down with evident gusto. I have seen him scoop a hunk of lard from the can and eat it with simular [sic] relish, but lard in those days was as sweet as butter and flavored with leaves of sweet bay. There was another Bill on the premises, a mere boy, he and my brother were fond of playing pranks on each other. One day they bored a hole in a work bench to use as a miniature cannon; once the powder failed to ignite and Bill was told to look into the hole and ascertain the cause. The treacherous powder of course, instantly exploded. Poor Bill, he was under treatment for sometime for sore eyes, but I do not think it did him any permanent injury.
An old Southern Smokehouse would be a curiosity these days; it would make modern storekeepers blush at the meagerness of his stock. Strong joists, one above the other, reaching up to the lofty roof were hung with hams, shoulders, middlings, long links of sausages and tom-thumbs, while the ground floor was covered with boxes of meat, meal, salt, kegs of lard, huge piles of walnuts, hickory-nuts, peanuts, etc., so thick one could scarcely find ingress as it was dark, there being no windows, only small apertures out in the sides. As it was constructed for smoking meats, a hole was dug in the ground floor and smouldering [sic] fire was kept till the meats were smooked [sic] sufficiently for preservation.
The negro race is fond of good eating, but at the same time they can do with less substance and be more contented than almost any other. It is this perhaps, that makes them so improvident in their present condition; idleness being their predominant characteristic.
Under the old regime, the women were the best cooks when trained by the efficient mistress of a household, herself aufait of the culinary art. A southern kitchen was rigorously presided over by a sable priestess of cookery who jealously guarded her sanctum from all invasion; any intrusion upon her sacred territory was quickly resented, no one being welcomed but her rightful mistress. Hers was a busy realm, and her individual rights and privileges were always respected by the lenient and ever considerate mistress.
The children of the “great ‘ouse,” [sic] as it was called in negro dialect, were never allowed to go into the kitchen. If perchance they happened to stray within its forbidden precincts, the kindly old cook would hastily thrust a freshly cooked dainty into their aprons with the words, “Heah, tak’ dat an’ g’long ‘fo ole Miss kum an’ kotch e in hyar,” then mammy would appear in pursuit of her charges, and, gathering the little trespassers under her wing, with gentle increpation, would hurry them off to some quiet nook, and tell them wierd [sic] tales of hob-goblins which fully compensated them for their peremtory [sic] banishment from the interdicted realm of cookery; particularly as mammy always carried in her capacious pockets a supply of bon-bons for her “chilluns.”
A happy event in the lives of the village children was the arrival of the steamboat from Newberne [sic], laden with fish and oysters; the river being navigable only in time of a freshet. Oysters were bought by the bushel and stored in the smoke-house. Such a time we had roasting them! A large fire was kindled and allowed to burn down to a bright bed of coals in the old-fashioned fire-place, and then the oysters were thrown in. Such popping and such scrambling to get away from the flying fragments of shell; the old room echoing with our joyous mirth. All danger over, how pleasant it was sitting there beside the glowing coals while ministering hands pulled the mollusks out with great iron tongs, and grasping them with a thick cloth, served them hot from the shell. The roasted bi-valves were thrust open with a sharp knife, then a lump of fresh butter and a sprinkling of pepper and salt made them a fit morsel for an Epicurus. Swift says that it was a brave man who ate the first oyster. To us it seemed that it must be a brave man who could refuse them prepared in this unique manner.
In time we were taken from the Academy to be taught at home. My father having procured two lady teachers from the North [sic]. One for the solids, the other for the ornamentals, but my brother was sent to Annapolis to matriculate in the Naval Academy. Sometime after this my father married a sweet northern lady and a change of regime came into our home. Her brother, a scholarly young man, came to visit us and for a time we were placed under his tutorage. He was aufait of elocution and taught me to read well, an accomplishment of which I have always been proud. I was on very amicable terms with my imported tutor and loved to hear him tell stories about his northern home – of the spelling bees, the singing schools, the apple pairings [sic], and above all, the sleighing, till [sic] I could almost
hear the jingling of the bells, and my childish fancy would picture a land of ice palaces where the boys and girls tumbled and frolicked in the snow banks for six months in the year, and never felt the scorching breath of the burning summer sun. About this time I was taken quite ill, and for three months was in quite a precarious condition, but good nursing brought me back to life, leaving me, however, a very frail little body. My school days were not yet over, and I was sent into the country to be put under a private tutoress whom a wealthy planter had engaged for his niece. I would love to linger over the delightful days spent with my dearest girl friend in the older country home under the espionage of our gentle tutoress, but with only a backward glance at the grand old cedars, and a sounding in the auricle of sweet woodland music, I pass on to more momentous events; for our country was now in a state of political uproar. Our Legislative Halls were resonant with incindiary [sic] speeches. Brother was arrayed against brother, and the complete disruption of the government was threatened. Soon the tocsin of war sounded, and our beloved Country was precipitated into the horrors of an internecene [sic] warfare. ‘Twas not that the Southern men loved the Union less, but home more, and without a moment’s hesitation, all brave men assemb[l]ed in defence [sic] of their beloved Southland. My brother of course, resigned his position at Annapolis, and came home to serve in our nascent navy. After the battle of New Orleans, he was ordered to Europe on important government affairs, where he remained until after the war was over. He used to tell us after the war that while in England enjoying every luxury, though in the service of his country, he often felt like he had stolen something when he remembered that his countrymen at home were suffering for the necessities of life.
My young hero of the locust blossoms, though only sixteen was among the first to volunteer. Well do I remember that fair spring morning when full of youthful vigor, he came to me with a spray of peach blossoms. With his knife he had cut a smooth surface on the stem, and in his graceful boyish chirography, he had written the words, “Here I fix my choice.” I can see him now, a veritable Apollo, standing there in the soft auroral light, the embodiment of every boyish grace. The delicate fragrance of the rose-tinted blossoms still lingers in memory, and life, perhaps, is far sweeter because of its early baptism in sorrow. His bright young life went out upon the sacred alter of his country, just as he had been complimented for his valor on the battlefield by his superior officer.
Our little villiage [sic] was so far removed from the scene of hostilities that we realized but little of the distress and horror of warfare; but we busied ourselves with making uniforms for the soldiers and bearing with patience our privations. We were ever ready to encourage the soldier boys when they came home on furloughs, singing patriotic songs and glorying in our homespun dresses. I had one that was pretty enough to grace the form of any queen. It was dark grey plaid woven in blocks by the deft fingers of a country woman. Our stock of buttons being somewhat depleted, I was compelled to resort to the use of persimmon seed as a substitute. They were covered with red to match the trimming, and the oddity of their shape made quite a pretty finish.
In many respects they were happy days, yet fraught with intense anxiety to the women whose husbands, fathers and brothers were away in deadly peril, and whose support depended almost entirely on the negroes. History has never told, nor will it ever rightly unfold all the faithfulness of the Southern slave – – his unparalleled devotion to the wives and children of the Confederate soldiers. Their conscientious fulfilment of the sacred trust imposed on them by their absent masters is enshrined in the [hearts] of all Southerners, and will be handed down in verse and story to their children from generation to generation. As an illustration of the great love of the Southern slaves for their young masters, I will relate an amusing incident.
My sister, a frolicksom [sic], fun loving lassie, delighted in arraying herself in grotesque costumes and perambulating around the premises to frighten the superstitious little colored children. One day she donned my brother’s uniform which really met-amorphosed [sic] her into a splendid likeness of him. Old Heywood caught sight of her from the back yard as she went bounding up the broad avenue that led to the house. With a cry of joy, he ran with outstretched arms, his face beaming with joy to greet his young master. In an instant the frightened girl would have been clasped in a sable embrace, had she not dexterously slid past him and taken refuge in doors. Poor old Heywood was bitterly disappointed, but the best of the joke fell upon the young masquerader. Old Heywood was unique character. I seem to hear him now, singing his mournful song,
“I wisht I wus in heben,
To see my mother when she entered
And put on de long white robe.
Angles flyin’ roun’ de channel o’ de way
To ‘vite dem souls how ter cum.”
Hark! Another refrain, chanted by a dusky sloe-eyed house girl is sounding an accompaniment to this threnitc[sic] hymn, “Rooks an’ de mountains.”
The negro of today is a hybrid creation of whom another story will have to be written; but there will never be a replica of the old-time colored servitor. Often in those perilous days, when the weary mistress of a household would be ready to succumb under the weight of the heavy responsibilities, she would take fresh courage as she listened to the happy songs of the contented darkies as they floated up from the plan[t]ation. Those old plantation melodies were minor poems of those grim bellum days; they sprang spontaneous from the hearts of the simple children of song, and it would be impossible to imitate or reproduce them. The negro voice is rich and full of harmony, more exquisite at times, than was ever drawn from the heart of a rare old violin.
It was now the fourth year of the war, and Sherman’s march to the sea was drawing our little villiage [sic] into a vortex of hostilities. My father, desiring to remove us from the contaminating influence of military life, sent us to a farmhouse in the country. I remember the feeling of suffocation I experienced, as the house of our temporary abode was small, and I had been used to roaming at will through wide halls and spacious chambers.
The Federals did not reach Smithfield as soon as we anticipated, and, growing homesick, we were allowed to return to the villiage [sic]. It was then I had my first glimpse of armed soldiery. Gen. Johnston’s army was encamped about three miles from the villiage [sic] and I was allowed to drive through the encampment. My future husband was Johnston’s aid de camp, but I did not know him till [sic] five years after. My cousin, Capt. James Cobbs, was on Gen. Bates’ staff. This brings to memory that memorable day when Bates and his staff dined with us. For desert [sic] we had flap-jacks and molasses, sugar being an interdicted luxury, obtainable only through the indomitable blockade runner. Luxuries were getting scarce at that time and the General and his staff enjoyed the homely meal to our infinate [sic] satisfaction. About this time Gen. George Maney, my Uncle, came to see us also; of him I could say many interesting things but space forbids.
The two contending armies were drawing closer together and soon the terrific battle of Bentonville occured [sic]. We could hear the booming of cannon as we stood in our front door. My husband has since described to me this battle. He says for hundreds of yards it was impossible to walk without stepping on the wounded and dying. There still lies in the Courthouse yard, at Smithfield, a relic of this sanguinary battle: a huge pine log, which stood a barrier ‘twixt the two contending armies. It is riddled by innumerable bullets, eight cannon-balls having passed through this venerable forrest [sic] giant. Johnston’s army retreated across the Neuse. Our garden gate was left open to aid some of the stragling [sic] soldiers. After all had safely crossed, the great covered bridge was fired. The last of our army had crossed the Neuse when the Federals poured into the villiage [sic], fireing [sic] promiscuously. That was an anxious time for the villiagers [sic]; the women and children had been advised by Gen. Wade Hampton to seek refuge in the Courthouse, but we preferred not to do so, remaining in our houses in a state of solemn awe as the flying balls crashed against them with frightful force. It did not last long however as there was no opposing army to encounter, the enemy ceased firing. Instantly our house was filled with soldiers, and we realized that we were in the hands of the Federals. They did not trouble much in the house, for the officers immediately took possession of it for their headquarters and a guard was placed over the house. Everything outside was taken. Sherman stood in our back door and saw my father’s beautiful horses led away and the smoke-house riddled of their contents. The grounds were filled with dispersed soldiery, walking to and fro, thrusting their bayonets into the earth in search of hidden treasure, but their search was fruitless, for we had burried [sic] nothing except the large life-sized portraits of our great grand-parents, painted in Liverpool by Sir Joshua Reynolds. As they were valuable works of art, my father feared they would be confiscated, so they were removed from their massive frames and sent into the woods by a faithful servant and burried [sic]. These were never found and in time were exhumed from their hiding place. They are still in a state of good preservation and are objects of veneration in the family.
In the high loft of our house the servants had secreted a great quantity of superb hams, shoulders, etc., paid to my father for professional services. This doubtless would have been confiscated had it been discovered.
My father had now no way of visiting the poor country fold in their distress, save when they would send for him in an old rickerty [sic] cart. This would make my dear grand-mother weep bitterly. A few days after the occupation of our town by the enemy, I ventured down to my father’s office for a book. While there, another federal brigade came into town. The office was immediately filled with strangling soldiers. One of them spoke to me in a stern peremptory way which frightened me so terribly that I scarcely knew how I managed to make my egress from the building, but unharmed, I reached the blessed sanctuary of my home. They played havoc with the drugs, emptying the bottles and mixing the medicines in a heterogeneous mass. Such, I suppose, is warfare, but it was a deplorable thing for the sick of the surrounding country. Despite my feelings of indignation against the federals, I shall never forget with what admiration I viewed the stately march of the incoming troops with their silken banners flying, and band after band playing, till [sic] the whole town seemed to rock with the marshall music. The troops were bivouac[k]ed on our beautiful Academy Green. Some of the officers were very courteous to us, although our demeanor towards them was always characterized by a dignified hauteur, because of our fealty to the Confederacy, and our unbroken faith in its ultimate success. It was hard to subj ue [sic] our unconquerable spirits; and one day a friendly soldier advised us to be more guarded, as he had overheard a threat to burn our house.
One morning a general came down stairs, his face beaming with triumph, “Ladies,” he said, “Gen. Lee has surrendered.” Of course we did not believe him and tol [sic] him so, as we indignantly turned away. Oh! it was true indeed, and our hearts were filled with utmost sorrow.
Then came those dark reconstruction days, alike abhorrent to Northern and Southern. Over this we draw the veil of Christian charity, believing that henceforth the re-united States will be indissolubly bound together in the bonds of a great solidarity.