by Sevenstars & Aureleigh
When the Southern ruling class called itself "the chivalry," it was accurate in the most primitive sense, at least, for Southerners spent much of their lives on horseback, and always armed. A Southern gentleman should be accomplished in riding, hunting, dancing, conversation, and manners; should have a practical knowledge of law, agriculture, and military science; and above all should possess a knowledge of the ancient classics. It also looked well to see a gentleman inclined to stand by his rights: it was what every man of property ought to do--and in a society with a property qualification (though now abandoned) for voting, everyone wanted to be seen as a man of property. Northern ideals of equality of all men before the law, though imperfect in practise, had undermined the privileges of the wealthy and wellborn in Yankeedom; to get ahead there required skill at intellectual tasks, not just expertise at manipulating others--or at least so the ideal became. Thus honor in the North had become akin to respectability, a word that included freedom from licit vices (such as duelling or gambling) that once were signs of masculinity, while Southerners expressed a discontent with a new order that seemed to them crass and impersonal, with money, not honor, its chief god. Honor had always required wealth, but only as a means to an end; wealth wasn't an end in itself. In fact, there was even a place for honor apart from wealth, when wealth had been lost or not yet fully achieved: in the South a gentleman was always a gentleman even if reduced to hoeing his own corn.
Suspiciousness in social or business intercourse was the deadliest of sins, for it reflected on a man's honor and that of his society. Men would impoverish themselves to avoid even a taint of shadiness in their dealings. An oral pledge from a gentleman was considered equal to a signed oath, especially in regard to gaming debts (which were debts of honor, whereas debts owed to tradesmen were not); college students were particularly obsessed with the idea of concealing such lapses--friends' as well as their own--from school authorities. Since honor was to a large extent confused with honesty, no real Southern gentleman could refuse to endorse a note if asked by another seeming gentleman, and a great number of families were driven to penury by such careless assumptions of the risks of others, many of whom had nothing to risk, or had protected themselves by assignment to their wives or others. They signed notes for each other at the bank in an endeavor to postpone the day of reckoning, and, still living extravagantly, pretended the day would never arrive. Some, unable to face fact or to continue to support a growing burden from which there seemed no easy escape, freed their slaves and left them to shift for themselves. The old ways predominated in the South: its legislatures didn't enact bankruptcy laws, preferring instead debtor-relief devices. In a cash- and credit-poor economy, ordinary indebtedness was not only unavoidable, it was a means to cement long-standing social connections. The gentry were meshed together through intertwined promissory notes, indentures, and other forms of financial entanglements, all duly recorded at the county clerk's office. It would never do to turn down a friend's request for a loan or a signature to stand liable for someone else, a favored kinsman or boon companion. Repayments were, of course, expected, but sometimes notes were carried for months, even years, beyond the due date. A man of wealth gained authority as well as accruing interest by allowing the number of those owing him to increase. Moreover, the spirit of the age, social customs, and the long habituation to the speculative nature of the tobacco crop caused the gambling instinct to run high. Planters played cards, bet on horses, fought cocks, and had a tendency to turn everything into a wager; land speculation fitted into this age, as did the buying of shares in privateers, of tickets at lotteries and raffles, and the taking of fliers in bank stocks and canals.
Though Southerners presumed women to be no less subject to sexual feelings than were men (unlike the pious Northern middle class, which adopted a doctrine of female "passionlessness"), they were also thought to be childlike and easily manipulated, and their immature emotions to result in moral weakness, so that society decreed that they be circumspect to a fault, and to aid in this gentlemen had to guard their language, literature had to avoid unmentionable topics, and prudery reigned. (This was perhaps the primary cause for the tendency Maude's kin had to look askance at her; circumspection was definitely not among her virtues.) All Southern men would protect their own honor and reputation, but doubly that of their women. A woman, in the popular image, was faithful to her husband, a puritan in her morals, and the center of the Christian family. Her honor was much more circumscribed than a man's; she could not act shamelessly and yet retain respect. She was essentially spiritual rather than physical. She occupied a separate sphere from that ambition, selfishness, and materialism that permeated the masculine world of business and politics. Her place was the home, as mother, wife, or daughter, and because of her spiritual nature, she imbued her domain with piety, morality, and love. Yet the social mingling of the sexes made her almost as politically minded as those of the English aristocracy, though without their influence.
Male lust, conversely, was a recognized fact of life, and to repress natural impulse was to defy nature itself, leading to prissiness and effeminacy--though outright libertinism suggested unmanly self-indulgence and inner weakness. Parents of both sexes tacitly expected their sons to be adequately prepared for the wedding night, the obvious way to this end being to pursue a black partner. Both sexes also believed in respect and support for the church, humanistic culture, gallantry in gentlemen, charm and purity in ladies, and they cherished a merry, carefree love of sports and of social life, of joy in the moment rather than of consideration for the future, whether worldly or heavenly. The plantation legend was one of graciousness and hospitality, of leisurely elegance and quaint courtliness, of pervasive kindliness and deferential courtesy. Southerners traditionally equated manners--the appropriate, customary, or proper way of doing things--with refinement, good breeding, sophistication, and morals, so that unmannerly behavior was viewed as immoral behavior; and, as the cult of chivalry became a major expression of regional romanticism after 1830, a fondness appeared for the ritual of the splendid gesture, theatrical behavior, and extravagant pageantry. Southerners' courtship and marriage had clear expectations of correct behavior stressing male aggressiveness and female coyness, and this romanticized ideal of mannerly behavior between the sexes was reinforced by Victorian sentimentalism and Protestant moralism.
Theirs was a world of leisure, for all their duties; a world with time for sports and horsemanship, for talk, hospitality, reading, study, and friends, and their plantations were happy hunting-grounds for travellers, impecunious cousins, and portrait-painters. Their lives were easygoing, generous, hearty and free, marked by out-of-door activity, where nothing seemed remoter than the kind of introspection that flourished in the Northern regions, especially New England. They attached great value to outdoor sports, the demands of hospitality, "gracious living," and the social amenities that distinguished their way of life, and held to the chivalrous ideals of womanhood and of personal honor, the code duello, family pride and fondness for the tradition that the planting aristocracy had sprung from Cavalier England. Churchgoing was an important activity (though piety in the New England sense was little valued), and status meant a great deal: the former property qualification for voting ensured that family and connections mattered. As in Colonial days, in season, there were horse races, cockfights, and contests of every description, balls and dinners, and even theater in the more important cities. People talked of breeding horses and dogs, of fox hunting and horse racing. Girls married early, bore large families, brought up their children well, managed the complicated domestic machinery of big plantations, and yet at a moment's notice were liable to gaily throw on a scarlet cloak, tie a crimson kerchief over their hair, mount a horse and gallop off to a neighbor's estate to dance all night.
Yet for all their fashionable doings, Southerners, or at least a good many of them, didn't go in for ostentatiousness or show. They didn't flaunt their money; few had much to flaunt. And they didn't reckon things by the dollar or the gross, for if they had wealth, or had once had it in the family, they had learned over the generations to value other and more comfortable things. Even a planter whose financial house of cards was tumbling about his ears, like Robert E. Lee's father, saw to it that his children were taught, in Southern fashion, to be proud of their people and their breeding, and at the same time drilled in the obligation of good breeding, to be courteous and honorable at all times--in other words, "well bred."
In Ezra's case, some of this stuck, some of it didn't--although, looking back now from his perspective as one of the Seven, he thought he'd retained more than he'd have believed if anyone had suggested the idea to him. Reverence for womanhood, dignity, capacity, genial sociability, proficiency at riding, dancing, conversation and manners, a knowledge of military science and the classics, and above all a taste for games of chance and skill, he had definitely made his own. Courage and valor, perhaps more in certain circumstances than in others. Loyalty and self-sacrifice, a sense of responsibility to people who depended upon him, a readiness to stand by his rights...no. Not until recently, at least. As for not lying, cheating, or stealing, the avoidance of shady dealings, honor and truth toward neighbors--it was self-evident that he followed those precepts not at all. And a devotion to personal honor--how could a con artist even have any honor?
At intervals Maude would reappear like a tornado, sudden and upsetting, and demand that he pack his things and come with her; at other times she would simply send for him to meet her somewhere--or to move on to another "home." When he was with her, more often than not, it was because she needed him for a con. A small child was a very effective weapon in her arsenal. By his eighth birthday he had learned to cry on cue, to feign infirmities (lameness and blindness were his best turns), to pick pockets, and to coax the most stubborn lock to open. He had also acquired an assortment of card tricks and sleight of hand. His mother never mistreated him (though on occasion she would skilfully employ makeup to make him look as if he'd been abused): it was to her interest to see that he was kept healthy and physically sound. But she was clearly either unprepared or unwilling to assume the day-to-day minutinae of motherhood. To her, and to the three stepfathers with whom she presented him between his sixth and twenty-second birthdays, he was a commodity or a liability. At least, that was the impression he gathered from her behavior. Often she would leave him to his own devices for hours, sometimes even for a day or two, with money for his meals, and he would make his way to the nearest restaurant and then pass his time roaming about the streets, exploring whatever town they happened to be in, unattended, unwanted, and unloved. These experiences only reinforced the self-sufficiency into which his relations forced him, and convinced him all the more strongly that he was valued for what he could do, not for the individual he was.
Early in his eleventh August, he was shipped to stay with his mother's cousins, the Ainslies, who lived in the immensely fertile and beautifully contoured rolling country of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a long green mountain-sheltered trough stretching thirty miles broad and a hundred and sixty-five miles long (the length of the Valley Pike from Lexington to the Potomac) between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies, a checkerboard of green and brown and gold rolling sweetly to the hazy mountains, with the silver river writing its name across them in flowing curves. At the north end stood Harpers Ferry, beginning near the top of a Blue Ridge mountain and tumbling in steep streets to the roaring junction of the Shenandoah and the Potomac. The riven hills were shaggy with trees and broken by jutting cliffs, and the town was the important link connecting the Valley and the West, by rail and water, to the world of cities and commerce. Along the Potomac and across a bridge ran the B&O Railroad, and the long low buildings of the United States Armory and Arsenal, on which John Brown had yet to set his eye, covered the flat beside the river.
As the traveller headed south from the town, the Blue Ridge, covered with white oak, red oak, and hickory, hung closely to the eastern bank of the river, and the rich fields stretched westward. Along the streams black walnut and yellow poplar raised their lofty heads. There were chestnuts, locusts, and black oaks, sometimes in noble groves, other times standing along a property line to mark where one farm ended and another began, or shading one of the fine old houses that were scattered broadcast over the land. Everywhere was the richness of a loved, well-tended countryside: locust trees white and sweet with hanging bloom, the pungency of box in half-neglected gardens, cool springhouses, watercress in the little rushing streams, old stone walls built by slave labor, blue-green orchards making a festival of spring, peach trees that blossomed in early April, cows coming in at evening with their hooves stained crimson by wild strawberries, the stillness of a hot noon or of moonlight or of snow, the calm old houses where the oak leaves and the doves had time to set up their music in the heart of a child. At Front Royal the river was split in two branches by Massanutten Mountain, a huge monadnock forty or fifty miles long, rising steeply from the valley floor. It was so rugged that only a single winding mountain road from New Market on the pike to Luray, the central town of the smaller Page Valley, crossed it, and its impassability would later be made good use of by Stonewall Jackson. Inside its northern arms lay Powell's Fort, a little secret valley ten miles square, completely hidden from the outside world; legend said that George Washington had dreamed of it as his ultimate retreat when the Revolution was going badly. On the western side of this massif the North Fork, deep and narrow and sluggish, drained the lush bottom of the main valley and looped itself into the spectacular Seven Bends near Woodstock, while the South, swifter and clearer, flowed through the narrow Luray Valley on the eastern side, its headwaters rising at last in the foothills only a mile or two from those of the James.
In its virgin state this valley hadn't been so heavily forested as the Tidewater country or the tangled peaks to the west. It was punctuated with natural meadows and open tracts that had been burned over by the Indians. On the rich limestone soils the landowners raised white potatoes and hardy orchard trees, flax and hemp, oats and rye, horses and poultry, hogs and garden crops. The farms were self-sufficient, the people self-reliant. They lived a frontier democracy, as opposed to the aristocratic pattern of eastern Virginia. Yet in customs, manners, and basic standards they were Virginians--Valley Virginians.
The green-floored valley teemed with historical memories as thick as the blossoming locusts and the bluegrass verdure, the oaks and the climbing red roses in the quiet gardens. England's Toleration Acts, passed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, gave such dissenting groups as Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists new freedom. English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, and German Palatinate settlers had begun filtering into this country about the time of the Revolution, some coming down the familiar route from Pennsylvania, others--Virginia yeomanry--up from the Tidewater. In the forty-odd years beginning in 1745, sixty Presbyterian churches were started between Winchester and the Tennessee line. The Baptists came, having found that their insistence that the Church be free of government control brought opposition from Williamsburg. On the Opequon near Winchester the Quakers established a colony; Welsh ironmakers came by way of New Jersey. The Germans, called Dutch, and the Scotch, called Irish, welcomed these new neighbors. The Valley was long enough, wide enough, and rich enough for everyone--Lutheran, German Reformed, Quaker, Mennonite, Dunkard, and Presbyterian. By 1770 life was already passing out of the pioneer stage: small industries--distilleries, gun factories, iron works--were prospering, wills were beginning to list such items as china cups, looking glasses, and silver spoons. Homes like Jacob Hite's Hopewell, Isaac Zane's Marlboro, William Preston's Greenfield, and Andrew Moore's Cannicello were sturdy and spacious, though few and far between. Native grasses grew waist-high, and cattle-raising was a natural industry--so rich was the land that a single beef could graze sumptuously on one acre of ground. The chief money crop was hemp, of which Augusta County alone produced an annual average of fifty tons, and next in importance came wheat.
The north end, or upper valley (so called even though it lay downriver from the south), was a country of small farmers and rocky farms beautifully framed by close and lovely mountains full of bears and of trout streams where boys could fish with loops of white horsehair. A few families owned slaves, but the sons worked with them in the fields as soon as they grew strong enough. Frederick, Shenandoah, Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge and Botetourt Counties had been settled chiefly by the Scotch-Irish and remained predominantly Presbyterian: McDowells, McClures, Alexanders, Wallaces, Moores, Prestons, Matthewses, Campbells, Ramsays, Houstons, Bells, Douglases, McCorkleses. Their chief crops were grain--rye, oats, corn, wheat--and a few raised cattle to be driven to market in Winchester or Philadelphia. Every household owned its Bible and Shakespeare. The Scotch-Irish had few neighbors, but they were a neighborly people; they came together for log-rollings, corn-shuckings, house-warmings, sugar-stirrings, quilting parties, and apple-butter boilings, to catechize their young, marry their grownups, and bury their old. There was also in this area a heavily German populace who loved their thumping big families, worked them hard, and built for the future; they might let their women work in the fields, but they housed their stock in the winter--even the pigs--and their fat cattle astonished the neighbors; hay was plentiful, so the animals emerged from their confinement in fine health. Their "swisher" or "switzer" barns, with the overhanging second storey, were always larger than their square little houses; they paid for everything they got with their own produce, did their own work and rarely hired labor. Every two or three years they bought new land. German newspapers appeared to service them at Winchester, New Market, Harrisonburg, and Staunton.
South of these lay Roanoke, Montgomery, Pulaski, Floyd, Wythe, Carroll, and Grayson Counties, where the good land spread for thirty miles between the ranges, distinguished by noble trees, old houses, long memories and gentle manners, where the English settlers of gentle blood had built their fine houses and kept their slaves: Carters, Burwells, Nelsons, Meades, Randolphs, Pages, Yateses. They didn't start from scratch as the earlier settlers had: they had taste and money, they brought wainscoting from England, they built sound comfortable houses of brick or stone, with lovely doors and mantels. They braved the bad roads in their carriages, drank tea, quoted the Greek and Latin classics, brought their good horses and their English silver. Page and Warren Counties, in the Luray Valley, were more mountainous and remote.
No frontier area in colonial America surpassed the Valley in its revolutionary zeal. Valley soldiers marched wherever they were needed: north to join Washington, east to oust Dunmore, southwest to fight Cherokees, west to stalk Shawnees. They were at Trenton, Brandywine, Valley Forge, and Yorktown. Seven served the Continental forces as generals. One of them, Peter Muhlenberg, was an ordained minister. He preached his last sermon on the text, "There is a time to every purpose; a time to war and a time to peace." He concluded by saying, "There is a time to fight, and that time has come now!" And, throwing off his black robe, he stood before his congregation in the buff and blue of the Patriot army.
At four o'clock one afternoon in 1834 a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train steamed into Harpers Ferry with a hundred passengers, having consumed six hours in covering the eighty-two miles from Baltimore. A year later a branch line opened between Harpers Ferry and Winchester, thirty-two miles of track; the opening was celebrated with a band, speeches, a banquet, and salvos of artillery. When the engineers surveying the main line for the B&O got as far as Martinsburg, the Lafayette Guards gave a ball for them, and when the first engine came through some of the local boys were so exhilerated that they took a wagon which was standing behind a patient jackass in the courthouse square, dismounted it, and mounted it again in the church steeple with the jackass braying in the belfry. In 1854 the Virginia Central Railroad, later an element of the Chesapeake & Ohio, came across the Blue Ridge as far as Staunton.
Market-towns peppered the valley from an early date: towns like Frederick which became important agricultural centers, and others like Lexington, which, because there were no full-fledged towns in its area before 1778, was destined from its early days to be a major court and commercial center. The Lexington area was but sparsely settled, chiefly by Germans and Scotch-Irish, when the Virginia legislature decided to create a new county and, of course, a new county seat. The surveyor who laid it out, working with a twenty-six-acre plot 1300 by 900 feet, followed the common application of a simple grid form--which, unfortunately, was better fitted to paper than to the actual hilly topography so typical of the Shenandoah Valley. By 1850 the steep streets were considered such a nuisance that the town undertook a major grading project, lowering the natural upward slope of Main Street, from the courthouse northward, by as much as eight feet--and leaving a goodly number of front doors, store and residence alike, suspended many feet off street level. Most people added porches or graded entrances, but a few stubborn souls resisted the change, preferring instead to take up their steps, close off their front entrances, and use their back doors instead. It was an attitude peculiarly suited to a town that had been named in honor of the first great engagement of the Revolution.
As early as 1804, a travelling New Yorker recorded in his journal that Lexington was "a handsome village, with good buildings"--many of them new-built since the Great Fire of 1796. By the time Ezra first saw it, it was an old-fashioned town with red-brick sidewalks bordered with silver maples, and lines of attractive, neat-chimneyed houses of brick and white frame stretching across a level central area and rising towards the hills that encircled it. Farms and apple orchards spread in the distance, and the gardens had a tidy, ordered look in contrast to the grandeur of the Blue Ridge to the east and the rising tangle of the Appalachian and Allegheny ranges to the west. The houses were pleasant ones with a fine simplicity of design, and the households were lively; though everyone was simple-mannered, there was an evident background of taste and education. On Court Days and Saturdays the streets were lively with traders and land speculators, wheat farmers and men of the cowpens, backwoodsmen, and the proprietors of sawmills, flour mills, and other enterprises. In 1841 an elegant county jail had been erected on Courthouse Square, designed by the Philadelphia architect who would later create the dome of the Capitol in Washington; its handsomely proportioned brick front section housed the jailor and his family, while the stone section to the rear held the cells. In 1845 was built the Greek Revival Lexington Presbyterian Church. Here, too, was the Virginia Military Institute, and Washington College, which in after years would be renamed Washington & Lee after Robert E. Lee ended his life as its president. A note part bucolic, part romantic was added by the mountainous surroundings--waterfalls, deep gorges, heavily wooded hills--and rolling fields carpeted with bluegrass.
Some of the towns which were to loom large in the annals of the coming war were no more than crossroads, where one general store served the countryside; others--Lexington among them--were little market towns and small cities. Each achieved its little urban nucleus, usually around a mill, but sometimes at a quarry, an iron furnace, or even a ferry. Here the produce of the farm went to market, to the gristmill, the woollen mill, the tannery, the distillery. Here the farmer obtained his needs: flour from the mill, plows and other ironware from the smithy, credit from the mill or bank, information at the village press or the post office. In towns of scarcely a thousand inhabitants, around 1800, an astounding variety of trades and professions could be found. Lexington was such a one: in addition to doctors, lawyers, dentists, midwives, teachers and ministers, there were mechanics by the score, often with the most exotic callings. Here were the hatter with his beaver pelts, the tailor, the boot-and-shoemaker, the stocking weaver, the milliner and mantua-maker, and beneath the sign of the shortclothes with a wild deer courant the man who made buckskin breeches and gloves--all backed up by the woollen mill, the fulling mill, the tannery, dyers, and others. To house the inhabitants there was a real-estate dealer who sold town lots and Kentucky lands, a conveyancer, builders of all sorts, house-painters, brickmakers, nailmakers, glaziers, joiners, cabinetmakers, blue-dyers, and coverlet-makers. To equip the farmhouse there were the maker of spinning wheels, the artisan of the curled hair mattress, the coppersmith with his apple-butter kettles and stills, the maker of stoves and fireplace backs, the apothecary, potter and earthenware maker, the distiller and the watchmaker. Here were merchants by the dozen, even down to the comb maker and the man who sold drums, and the fashionable "Francis Pie, of Georgetown, Potomac," who came to the Sign of the Indian King for three days at a time to sell an assortment of millinery and jewelry. The farmer came into town to trade with the maker of bridle-bits, stirrup-irons, saddletrees, harness of all sorts, the printer and the publisher at the "Hot Pressed Bible Works" where a choice of bindings could be had. Here came the miller to buy his imported French buhrs from the stonecutter, the hunter to the gunsmith, the drover to the saddler, the teamster to the wagoner, and those with the means and a fine taste to the gold- and silversmith. Here were the church, the local fair, the village school, the tavern. Just on the edge of town, where water power turned the wheels of numerous mills, you could buy plaster of Paris, or nails, or take the cloth the women of the family had woven to the fulling mill; your wool could be carded, your clover seed cleaned, and your barrels made by the cooper, to say nothing of the countless places that ground corn and wheat. Here were the slave market, the racetrack, the cockpit, the dogfights and bear-fights, the elephant kept as a curiosity by Francis Bartley, and the Negro, Anthony Moore, who could outrun a man on horseback a hundred yards and return, and who always won. Here dwelt Tobias Parker, another Negro, who grew incomparable strawberries, and other truckers and market-gardeners who were celebrated for their early vegetables and succulent cantaloupes, and the miller who kept eels in his millpond. Laid out in regular gridiron patterns to facilitate the sale of lots, such towns were quickly built up with the solid brick and timber houses of middle-class artisans.
In the 1720's and '30's you took your life in your hands to come to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and even during the Revolution it was a rough place, a frontier. But by the time Ezra visited it, it was a land of old mills turning flashing wheels, of comfortable red brick houses and well-stored barns, fair market towns, a noble breed of horses, and great, white-covered wagons, of clear waters and sweet gardens, and an honest, brave, thrifty, and intelligent people. In the comfortable 1850's the sound small houses had just settled maturely into their groves. The frontier was a hundred years behind them, and no one remembered it; the country was stable and prosperous. All classes had a good life, plenty of hard work but well salted with amusement. No one starved and no one lived in idleness. It was gay and gracious, and the culture, if not profound, was charming. In the sections settled from the lower Potomac, a sporting note prevailed, with horseraces of all kinds, old-fashioned tournaments, cockfighting, coon hunts, and the generous traditions of Potomac hospitality and the groaning board. Among the clannish Scotch-Irish and the placid Germans the social events were of a more practical turn, with hog-killings, corn-huskings, apple-butter boilings, house- and barn-raisings. Before mid-century the two strains were commencing to intermingle and intermarry, a change reflected by the traditional community dinners that punctuated the year: at Easter the ham dinner, sauerkraut, mince pie, and sherry wine; in winter, the cabbage dinner with boiled middling, pumpkin pie, and hard cider; at Christmas, the turkey dinner with plum pudding and brandy sauce, eggnog with cake.
The houses all had names--Belle Grove, Rion Hall, Carter Hall, Claymont, Media, Saratoga, Graystone, Flowing Spring--and in most instances the names were more pretentious than the houses. Each had a distinct identity, and since roads were bad and public amusements scanty, house parties and visiting made the people happy in their homes. The big bedrooms seemed to have unlimited capacity, and it wasn't uncommon for families of five and six persons to visit other families, not for a day or a week, but for a month or a summer. There would be a crowd every night for music and singing, or for dancing on the polished floors. In summer the moonlight poured through the wide windows and in winter wood fires burned brightly on the hearth. Young ladies learned to ride in spite of corsets. They didn't learn to walk (except perhaps in the garden), and those who had Negroes didn't learn to cook--for in the pre-War South, where help was abundant and cheap, a well-to-do young woman was never trained to keep house, only to manage it. If she could play "The Maiden's Prayer" on the piano, do needlework or paint china, she was accomplished. In the less prosperous families, which were in the majority, girls still needed the old-fashioned arts of spinning and weaving, and rich and poor alike must learn to sew. The young gentlemen rode hard and well, shot straight, and were touchy on points of their honor; they went to study at "the University" (of Virginia), at Washington College, V. M. I., Princeton, or West Point, and came home to run the family place or read law in the office of some friend of Father's, and to gallantly court the girls. In summertime the quality migrated to the resort hotels in the mountains to hunt and fish, race horses and talk politics and read Sir Walter Scott, and observe the society that gathered there in those cheerful antebellum days. The romances of Scott found their perfect audience among these people, and chivalry became not only a fashion but a way of life. Some communities held yearly tournaments on horseback, where the mounted knights jousted for rings, catching them on their lances to present to the Queen of Love and Beauty with her court of Maids in Waiting. Fox-hunting remained a pastime not of the fashionable few alone but of many a simple old country doctor also, who was passionately fond of the chase and kept his own hounds, while men of spirit followed the code duello in perfect good faith.
Slaves were relatively few: only twenty-four per cent of the people of even wealthy Jefferson owned any, and ten to a family was considered a large number, while in the upper Valley the proportion of black to white was no more than one in five, and the Germans had never considered it economical to own Negroes. "Nice people" shunned the words "slave" and "nigger" in favor of "servant" and "colored." The servants carried wood and water, cleaned and made beds, served abundant meals of excellent if limited food raised on the places. They were supposed to enjoy the fuss and stir of company, and they did. They wore black suits and boiled shirts for Sunday, and sat in the galleries of the same churches to which their masters went; great attention was given to their religious education, and besides listening to the white preachers, Methodist and Baptist, with their fiery and wondrous imagery, they developed their own preachers to supplement those of the whites. They harvested to the rhythm of their singing, and the master presided at the harvest feast. The children of the family loved them, and were loved, and from their gentle teaching came that emphasis on "pretty manners" that Northerners found so suspect. They never knew want or hunger, were taught in childhood, nursed in illness, and retired in old age. Many were allowed to buy their freedom, many were freed in wills, and an owner known to be harsh to his "people" was ostracized by his own class. With no large plantations, where overseers came between a master and his field hands, all Negroes lived in intimate proximity to their whites, shared an hourly and constant companionship with them, and knew them with the casual intimacy of members of the same family. In those instances where the farmer worked at a trade, somebody of course had to be in charge of the farm work, but this was likely to be a black slave of particular ability.
Waiting at the stagecoach station for someone to come and meet him, Ezra looked curiously over the two long parallel streets, one at water level, the other much higher, with intersecting lanes between. There were old brick and frame houses, modest enough, settled comfortably into the earth, each with a special flavor, an identity, an air of permanence and peace, tall trees around them, syringas in the yards and windows framed in roses; an old red-brick hotel and three small, white-spired churches; brick sidewalks, many locust and ailanthus trees, a covered bridge thrown across the river to a village on the other side. The double buggy that finally came for him, driven by a dignified Negro in a brass-buttoned blue coat, took its way down the turnpike, and he gazed at rich wheat- and cornfields, at blue mountains, older than measured time, close at hand in the summer haze, at blue sky, cornflowers and bouncing Bet along the roadside catching that sky on their petals, blue thistle in the alfalfa; climbing roses crowding the honeysuckle, hollyhocks clambering down the banks into the gray roads, and apple trees literally by the hundreds--for Lord Fairfax had stipulated that some of his tenants should plant two hundred trees and fence them in, and Braddock's ill-starred army had brought back some trees from Pennsylvania. Blackberry bushes, sumac and elder crowded by the roadside, and there were peach and oxheart cherry orchards too, as well as beech and oak, maple and gum, walnut and pine and hickory, rising singly or in clusters from the rolling farmlands or growing in thick and venerable woods. Ezra had seen much of the South, and even parts of the Midwest and Northeast, in his short life, but this, he thought, was the most beautiful country he had ever set eye on. Though he wasn't conventionally land-wise, he sensed somehow that this was a land that had been loved rather than exploited, and for that reason gave to its owners the best land can give: stability, and a treelike peace which had no cause to fear the slow swing of the seasons. Life moved at its own tempo here, not with the brief fevered grasping of an individual span. The Blue Ridge rocks were old, and the river had survived great changes. The earth was old to cultivation, but not exhausted, for it had been cherished.
His cousins' home proved to be located in a neighborhood of small farms owned and avocationally operated by doctors and lawyers, and of farms whose agricultural income was supplemented by artisanship in small enterprises. After 1730, the liberal land policies of Governor Gooch had made it necessary for a land speculator to settle only one family on every thousand acres in order to receive title. The Tidewater gentry was swift to respond. Tobacco planters of the cradle counties--Randolphs, Beverleys, Bollings, Carters, Cockes, Pages, and others--struck out into the newer regions of the state, such as Jefferson's hill country, where virgin soil offered swift profit. Here the culture of older tradition was thrown against frontier conditions, strong and able men established new estates, and, when they had proved themselves, were usually absorbed into the older aristocracy. One such was Benjamin Ainslie, who was of Scotch-Irish descent. Born in 1690, he became a surveyor, then a Justice of the Peace, and at fifty married into a wealthy family he had assisted in the management of its land holdings. He had two sons, John and Samuel, and a daughter, Katherine. John went to college and studied law, but like all Southerners his great passion was the land: through inheritance from his father he became master of 1900 acres, to which he later added 500 bought with legal fees. Meanwhile, in the foothills, Samuel established himself as a clergyman, magistrate, and planter, and married a granddaughter of one of Colonel Spotswood's companions on the expedition across the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Valley in 1716. She was a beautiful, winsome girl with all the grace of a belle from the Eastern Shore, and related to the Harrisons of Berkeley Hundred, Virginia, who included two Presidents of the United States (William Henry and Benjamin), governors of the state, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and an ancestor of Robert E. Lee; and through them to their ancestor, William Armistead, who came to Virginia from Kirk Deighton, Yorkshire, England. She had been brought up on the eighty-mile peninsula between the York and the James, the demesne of America's first plantation grandees, the country where Washington and Jefferson and many another came for their rich wives. The land was flat, but attractive in an unspectacular way, sliced across by creeks and small rivers, its little valleys lush with Virginia creeper and honeysuckle, its roadsides flanked with sweet-smelling vines, its woods thickly brushed with vines and creepers. The small planters ran their tobacco hogsheads down creeks to public warehouses on the rivers; the big planters shipped from their own wharves, at the bottom of their magnificent riverfront lawns. In a hundred-plus years tobacco would have used up most of the land, forcing the people to change over to general farming, but back then it was king as much as cotton would be later and further south and west. Her father's lands spread out and suitors with improbable family names came by coach and horseback to pay court to the girl whose beauty and rich dowry made her a rare prize in Colonial Virginia. But it was Samuel Ainslie, from the western part of the colony, who won her: a man of high honor and integrity, already established in business at twenty-six, nine years her senior: he owned a small iron foundry and 450 acres of land, to which he eventually added another 550, though parts of it were ultimately gifted to sons as they married, in order to get them well started in life. She took her fine linens and silver and burnished mahogany, her slaves and her saddle horses, and followed her young husband into a new life, a little more rugged, a little less luxurious. They began with a chinked-log one-room cabin, built in 1769. Indians swooped down to kill and burn, and they had no neighbors till after the Revolution. But Samuel built up great wealth as an Indian trader, land purchaser, importer of slaves and indentured servants, and merchandiser of goods from England, and their descendants prospered and added to the house in the Federal style as boom times covered the United States in a glow in the 1820's. They had seven children who lived, and of these the eldest son was the father of "Cousin Tom" Ainslie.
Samuel's sons--Thomas, Edward, and William, born in 1775, 1786, and 1788 respectively--acquired another 1800 acres of land, established saw and flour mills, and became men of affairs. By 1809, when Thomas--a lawyer, editor, and proprietor of a thriving salt-works, whose profits he used in turn to buy land--died, leaving his wife to rear his children alone (Cousin Tom was eleven then), the family was, by Valley standards, well-to-do. Ezra had learned to speak of "Cousin Tom up in the Valley," and to know just how they were related: Maude's mother was Tom's third cousin, their great-grandfathers on his mother's and her maternal grandmother's side having been brothers. He was twenty-eight years older than Maude--fifty-nine when Ezra met him; his children were her fourth cousins, and Ezra was their fourth cousin once removed. Cousin Tom was the third generation of his line to live on the land, and . prospered exceedingly from the California Gold Rush, for his land was chiefly in wheat, and he owned a mill in Richmond besides; Richmond flour bore transportation better than any other, and the demand for it in California was enormous. The mill cleared half a million dollars in just a few years, and Cousin Tom's interest, in little over twelve months, amounted to $130,000, which he shrewdly held onto. He had also invested in the pippin apple which was said to have brought into the country from New York by Thomas Jefferson's physician, Dr. Thomas Walker; he bought up mountain land dirt cheap and created miles of orchards. He farmed and operated a stagecoach line and was one of the most prominent citizens of his little country corner, where there was a children's boarding school, a large distillery, a blacksmith and a wheelwright. In the early days of the century, men would saddle their horses and ride from all the neighboring counties to the principal post-town whenever a new novel by Sir Walter Scott was expected. Cousin Tom had named four of his five living sons--Wilfred Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, Rob Roy, and Guy Mannering--after characters in the Waverley novels, and the fifth after the author of them. He also had five daughters, whose names came from Greek and Roman mythology: Cynthia, Diana, Flora, Electra, and Selene. The oldest four of the children had married and moved out, but the house still harbored ten white folks--Cousin Tom and his wife Cousin Betty Ann, their six unmarried children, their nephew Philip, and Cousin Tom's Great-Aunt Helen--together with about a dozen adult slaves, two free Negroes who had stayed on, and inevitably a swarm of pickaninnies not yet up to steady labor and older children learning their business. Three of Cousin Betty Ann's brothers, two married and one a bachelor, dwelt in the neighborhood.
The house lay two miles from its nearest neighbor, thirteen from town, along a dirt road, always bad, often impassable, and so lonely that you might drive the whole way without meeting another human creature. This passed for much of its length through dense forests of oak and dogwood, pine and cedar. In places it was so narrow that the wheels of a coach actually grazed the trees; sometimes it was as wide as the London turnpike; but always it was bristling with stumps. Yet traffic there was, of a very regular kind--the boys dashing by morning and evening on their sorrel colts or family mares, hurrying their three to ten miles to and from the academy where they were day-scholars; on Sundays, carry-alls, buggies, and wagons, filled with womenfolk and children in split-bottom chairs, wending their way to Mount Zion, a mile or two further along; twice a week the stagecoach rattling along, nobody inside, a Negro in the boot, the driver and the slave-buyer, both drunk, on top; old-fashioned tobacco wagons with their melancholy horns; now and again a florid old gentleman cantering by, with a servant guarding his portmanteau jogging behind, till they turned off and disappeared up one of the vague little roads leading to a country house; once a month the lawyers, in their stick-gigs or "single-chairs," and the farmers on their plantation mares, chatting and spitting amicably on their way to court; once a year the peddler on his rounds, or the plausible oilcloth-tablecloth man; otherwise no one but the doctor or the deputy sheriff going about their business, almost indistinguishable from each other with their leggings and saddlebags.
From the highway, eventually, you turned off onto the Ainslies' forest road, and made your way up it, trying to avoid the two or three really immemorial holes, made by the butts of sawlogs, which made every vehicle lurch and careen worse than a ship in a heavy sea. At the head, this opened out to the farm itself, set in rolling country of peach and apple orchards, tobacco and hay fields, close under the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east. It was known as Ainslie's Delight, which was also the name of the brick farmhouse ringed with mulberry trees, its rooms perfumed by the honeysuckle that crept up the house-wall and the windflower and Judas tree that bloomed in the woods every April. Because it grew no cotton and only a little tobacco, two crops infamous for the prodigality with which they exhausted the soil and eroded the land, its value never dropped very far even in the Panics. Sheep, cattle, grain, and fruit were its mainstays, along with a few good thoroughbred horses. Out behind the main house, but connected to it by a gallery, was a one-storey extension, containing (as in all sizeable Southern houses) the kitchen, along with storerooms and a harness room, and so thickly covered with English ivy that its windows seemed to have been cut into a wall of vines. Its doors, facing the rear, opened onto an arcade where on rainy days bedraggled chickens sought protection. Here also was a high-roofed smokehouse, and an icehouse sunk into the earth, with its squat roof practically on the ground.
A row of white cabins marked the limit of the back yard, and a walk passed between flowering shrubs, down the side of the extension, and ended at the garden gate. A little distance away were the carriage house and the orchard. Beyond the garden the sloping fields led the eye down to the fertile bottoms--groaning in season under a luscious load of watermelons, muskmelons, and canteloupes--and beyond those to a creek lined with willows. On the north, clover-covered hills of pasture rolled to the horizon with fat black-and-white cattle grazing and chewing their cuds or peaceful sheep reposing beneath the tree-clumps. To the south were wide fields of oats, wheat, corn and tobacco, enclosed by worm fences of shrunken chestnut on whose rails lizards and ground-squirrels ran perpetual races, with here and there a tobacco barn or a stable, or a clump of trees about a spring. To the east there were woods; for there must always be woods where there were Negroes, and fifteen or twenty miles of worm fencing to keep in repair. The more woodland the better: how was a man to get along without clearing new ground every year? And must the boys not have someplace to hunt squirrels for Brunswick stew? Everyone was obliged to have wild indigo to keep flies off his horse's head in summer. There must be pine-knots for the Negroes to go fishing by at night. If you had no timber, what became of your hogs when you turned them out? How about fuel? Where was your plank to come from, and your logs for new cabins and tobacco barns? Were you going to buy poles for this, that, and the other?
Following the course of the creek, you came to a tangled thicket from which rose a number of towering sycamores, much favored as a roost by turkey buzzards, and just beyond this a dam, which fed the mill, a quarter-mile downstream. On one side of the property ran the plank road, and on the other the old stage road to Staunton, but the bridge over the river was in such a breakneck condition that no one dared use it as a short-cut between them. There was also a marsh which was a capital place for woodcock.
The house had been a log cabin back in Indian times long before, and they built onto it as they cleared the land in Cousin Tom's great-grandfather's day, and more still in his grandfather's. Starting out with a single room and a corner fireplace, they first added on another chamber directly behind, with its hearth back-to-back on the existing one; then a mirror-image pair of rooms across a hallway; then a dormered attic divided into four rooms, creating a medieval-style storey-and-a-half house, its exterior logs boarded over and painted white to give it a less primitive appearance; then they raised the roof to make a two-and-a-half-storey house with a dozen rooms; then put on a large room at either end, with a fireplace backing up to the corner ones and its own private stair leading to the upper floors, and extended the roof out in a hipped form to cover it. When the Tidewater branch of Ainslie family died out, around 1798, all the old family goods came over the mountains by oxcart--elegant sets of Chinese porcelain table and tea china, Waterford decanters and drinking glasses, old English table silver, plate, a harpsichord, a pianoforte, guitars, flutes, engravings of Hogarth and Claude, Dutch linens, French cambrics, gold and silver lace, damask tablecloths, the Sheraton and Adam furniture (with a few Louis XV pieces to add a French touch) from the Old World, a dining table composed of four Chippendale tilt-top pedestals, the Chippendale chairs and Hepplewhite hunting board, the camelback sofa, magnificent Aubusson carpets, point de Venise table lace, plaques, majolica, a mater dolorosa in marble, a shipwreck by a brother of Horace Vernet, some Herrings and Morlands. That was when they built the brick part of the house, getting the stone from their own fields, the lumber from their trees, the lime from their kilns. Originally it had a broad stair hallway and eight rectangular rooms on two floors, two centrally-located chimneystacks each of which serviced four rooms, a high hipped roof with three dormers on each side to form a two-room garret, and a side entry that gave access to the breezeway linking it with the old fourteen-room "first house." It was to survive even Sheridan and stand into the next century, just as the Ainslies built it. A funny old hodgepodge of a place, it all was, because the Ainslies never tore any of the old parts down. They just built on as they lived, solidly; kept what they had and added to it. The women they married did that for them--kept the blood and kept the progression. Their "treasures" were less intrinsically than sentimentally valuable: the small hair trunk that held the things belonging to the deceased eldest son of the house, the two or three oil portraits and the Saint-Mémin, the box filled with old family, Revolutionary, and Colonial letters, the silver, the ladies' jewelry, the treasured shelf of English poetry, essay, philosophy, and drama, old and mellow of binding, all annotated in Cousin Tom's grandfather's hand, the swords and pistols of the family ancestors hanging in the hallways.
As with most country-dwellers of the South, the Ainslies' attitudes more resembled that of old-fashioned squires than of the urbane and polished gentry of the rice district, the James River Valley, and the Northern Neck of Virginia. A homely simplicity distinguished the life they lived, a certain informality and heartiness, though not folksiness or familiarity. There was a leisurely pace to it, and a strong feeling of kinship among families. They were expected to display open and honest intentions toward friends, closed and implacable ones to the "honorless"--which, in the New World, meant chiefly poor whites. They prided themselves on their chivalry toward women and were quick to defend their own honor and that of their female kin, often by duelling, for Southerners placed a premium on the values of loyalty, courtesy, and physical courage--the accustomed virtues of simple, agricultural societies with a primitive technology, in which intelligence and skills were not important to the economy; if a Southerner was insulted, lied about, or verbally attacked, his honor compelled him to challenge his adversary to a duel. Closely connected to this high sense of honor was the cult of true womanhood, a romantic ideal characterized by piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. And Cousin Tom, though not precisely a planter (he owned enough slaves to be one, if you counted the pickaninnies, but a planter, in his view, was one who sought quick profits through cash-cropping on a large scale, chiefly cotton, tobacco, rice, indigo, or hemp), was like one in being a superb horseman, a splendid shot, a man who knew dogs and woodcraft, a practical farmer, an able director of his bondspeople. He was also a keen player of whist, a great horse-breeder, hearty, companionable, hospitable--not a lord of the manor, but a simple-hearted, cultivated gentleman-farmer. Cowper was his favorite poet, and he could recite delicious lines from "The Pleasures of Hope." He was the soul of hospitality and welcomed travellers to stay with him. He liked having his neighbors in, too, for an afternoon of card playing and an evening of dancing, after which, since it was late, he would insist that they stay for an early-morning fox hunt. He taught his children to swim and ride, and the boys to shoot and fish, which he said had many praiseworthy lessons to teach--rapid glance, steady aim, judgment, promptitude, observation. Music was his passion; his library was well stocked with scores, and his house held a great variety of good instruments: harpsichord, pianoforte, organ, musical glasses, guitars, violins, German flutes, oboes and flageolets; all the cousins played something, and most of them sang too. Cousin Betty Ann was a veteran of summers at the Springs in the Tennessee mountains, and possessed both practical knowledge and an interest in literature and the polite arts. As the responsible head of several departments of a large estate she was something of a factory manager, nurse, physician, and stewardess. She obtained many practical hints from both Northern and Southern ladies' magazines; from her childhood governess and in one of the private female academies she had acquired such accomplishments as drawing, painting, embroidery, dancing, music, and French; and, as did not a few Southern ladies, she had some familiarity with the classics.
Pawn IndexComments to: Sevenstars