Old Relationships, Part 8

What of the slaves who served the McHattons faithfully for years? Cuba and Spain had outlawed slavery long before the Mchattons arrived. Zell and Martha were free once the McHattons arrived in Mexico. The McHattons then moved to Cuba and purchased the sugar plantation that became their home. Zell and Martha were free in Cuba, as they were in Mexico. At the Cuba plantation, the family encountered bandits, a violent uprising by Chinese “coolies,” a hurricane and the more mundane hard work necessary to start a plantation in a strange country. Through all those adventures, Zell was right there, bravely defending the family.

James and Eliza tried to teach Zell to read and write. But, he resisted. Yet, Zell learned to speak Spanish better than James or Eliza. He became their interpreter. When Zell became a young man, Eliza noticed he was looking at women differently. She suggested he open a bank account, if he wanted to marry. She wanted to help Zell safeguard the money he had accumulated. Zell married and started a family. After some ten years in Cuba, James and Eliza returned to the United States. They came to miss the company of others who they could understand better and they missed their “fatherland.”

But, Zell stayed in Cuba with his family. Eliza and James helped him reach an agreed contract with the new owners of the plantation. Zell sent the McHattons letters every year, always written by one of the Spanish workers at the old plantation. He relayed news of the neighborhood and the plantation. And, he always signed his letters “Your devoted and faithful slave (esclavo).” Even then, the common expression was “Your devoted and faithful servant (serviento).” Eliza assumed the word “servant” did not express enough for Zell.

Zell died a few years later. Eliza was not shy in her book. She insisted he was no slave, but their faithful friend.

In the U.S., the McHattons helped Martha apply her accumulated savings to buy a house in Virginia, close enough for the McHattons, then living in New York, to visit Martha every year. Eliza would say after Martha’s passing that she was no slave but a companion who was a tender, faithful soul. And, she was their last connection to a long ago way of life.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 187, 189.

Be Safe.

Visiting the North, Part 7

After the Mchattons were set up in Cuba and had their new plantation humming along, Eliza made occasional trips to New York. She gave a boa constrictor, a type of snake then unknown in the U.S., to the Central Park Museum in New York. Perhaps on the same trip, she visited some friends in Connecticut. Her friends gave her an engraved invitation to a breakfast for President U.S. Grant. Eliza kept it as an example of how new invitations looked. Later, she appreciated it as a collector’s item. Eliza gave no indication that there was anything odd about a Southerner enjoying an invitation issued by a former Yankee general.

For more information about Eliza’s travels, see Rice University site here.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 129, 131, 187.

Yankee Souvenirs

What happened to the McHatton possessions? They left Arlington Point on short notice. But, they secured many of their possessions with neighbors. Eliza heard some of their family portraits ended up in Negro cabins in the area. She had some china which the family received as a wedding anniversary gift. They had never actually unpacked it. The china remained in a cask. A neighbor sent the china to Eliza’s widowed sister’s plantation on Bayou Fordoche in central Louisiana. During the trip, General Lawlor, the local Union commander, “captured” the china. This was probably Michael Kelly Lawlor, Commander of the Artillery Corps of the Federal Army of Louisiana.

Eliza’s sister tried to recover the china, but last the sister heard, the china was shipped north to Gen. Lawlor’s family. All the McHattons could recover, once they were situated in Cuba, was their old books. The rest had been “appropriated” by someone else. And, the Lawlor family had a “souvenir” of the general’s time in Louisiana. No doubt, the general told his family the “found” the china somewhere abandoned.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 103

Leaving Home and Escaping the Yankees, Part 5

Eliza wrote her book in 1888, after a second marriage. But, she wrote that would never forget the events of Dec. 17, 1862. Eliza woke that day to see a fleet of gunboats in the river with transportation barges. The Federals had returned. She knew the family had to leave. She ate breakfast on the run and hastily organized their departure. A Negro, William, was sent to Baton Rouge to reconnoiter. He came back and reported 10,000 Union troops back in the city and pickets stationed all around. William said everyone inside the Yankee lines would have to “toe the mark.” Every white man who had harbored a Confederate soldier during the recent battle would be arrested.

The negro men were summoned to help load the wagons. Eliza never uses the word “slave.” She generally says Negro or rarely, “darky.” Her language was typical of her time.

Eliza wandered the rooms of the two story home, reliving ten years of warm memories. Various trunks, bags and bundles of persons who went off to war or who had evacuated were stored at the plantation. She went through all of them removing any papers that might identify the owner.

Eliza and James tried to sleep that night. Early the next morning, the head sugar-maker of a nearby planation, i.e., a slave, knocked on the door and woke James. He told James all his “niggers” went over to the Yankees. The Yankees were at his (the sugar-maker’s) plantation and they were saying they would arrest James at daylight. James left immediately and told Eliza to come find him right after breakfast. Eliza was certain that if he did not flee, then he would be arrested for sending his Negroes to Texas.

William began to suggest he was perhaps not the best person to drive a team of mules. He was clearly trying to avoid this task. That avoidance was a blow to Eliza. William had been the valet for James during his gay bachelor days. William was their confidential servant. But, she knew that after his visit to Baton Rouge, he was feeling more independent already. Eliza knew some slaves had left during the night and some others would likely soon seek their freedom, as well. Such was the master-slave relationship sat the time. On the surface, the relationship appeared close and family-like. Beneath the surface, not so much.

By noon, Eliza still could not locate a Negro who was willing to drive her and the team of mules to safety. She had approached many of the Negro men in the “Negro quarters.” Various men were making excuses. Mrs. McHatton was heart-sick. Finally, old Dave said he would drive old Sal until she balked. Eliza had few options, so she accepted his offer. As she tried various Negro men, Charlotte watched her with mournful eyes.

Old Aunt Hannah, who had been laundress for Eliza’s mother long before Eliza was born was living in her own cabin. Aunt Hannah had rheumatism and could not work. But, noted Eliza, that day she stood straight in her doorway, despite her illness, as one elevated to a new status, and waved to Eliza, saying, “Good-By, madam, I b’ar you no malice.” Eliza had never seen Aunt Hannah stand straight before. Mrs. McHatton bid good-bye to the poor, “deluded creatures.”

As Eliza returned to the main house, William warned her that a Yankee gunboat had pulled up close to the plantation. She waved bye to Charlotte, a close servant, standing next to William on the veranda of the main house. Charlotte sobbing, waved back. It was a remarkable tableau. On a plantation the residents worked, played and lived in very close proximity. Black and white, their lives were intertwined like a community. But, when it came time to go and risk Eliza’s life and the lives of two small ones, only Charlotte showed regret. The “peculiar institution” never looked more peculiar.

Eliza took one more glance at her home for the past ten years. She would embark on a difficult journey cross country to Houston, Texas in December. Even for people with resources, they suffered along the way, enduring foul weather and hunger. As they approach Houston, her baby will pass due to illness.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 28-36

The Sacking of Baton Rouge, Part 4

The City of Baton Rouge was not of high strategic value. After some weeks of occupation, the Yankees simply left the city. The fleet of gunboats and transportation barges loaded with freed slaves steamed off to New Orleans. This was the beginning of a mass migration of freed African-American slaves making their way to the Federal occupied city of New Orleans. Eliza reports that many freed female slaves abandoned their babies to leave for the Crescent City. I expect that means they left their babies with family members or friends until they could return. One morning the gunboats and transportation barges were simply gone.

Eliza does not know, but she believed at the time that the damage in the City of Baton Rouge was caused not just by the departing Union soldiers but also by what she describes as brutal and ignorant freed slaves. Certainly, there are many contemporary accounts of freed slaves abusing their new found freedom. Perhaps, today we cannot blame them so much for reacting to sudden freedom. But, the Federals even then were responsible under accepted rules of war to maintain order. The Federal authorities often allowed the freed slaves to get away with criminal behavior.

The Baton Rouge residents were not allowed into the city until after the place had been sacked. Eliza and James ventured inside Baton Rouge days after the Federals had evacuated. They went inside the home of Judge Thomas G. Morgan, a native of Pennsylvania. Eliza and James found portraits, family heirlooms, some Revolutionary War era, slashed by Union sabers. Throughout the city, they found tall shade trees cut down and tossed across the streets. Contents of store closets at Judge Morgan’s house were dumped on the floor. Molasses, vinegar, everything that could deface and cause a stain had been smeared on the walls and furniture. Judge Morgan was not a secessionist, although three of his sons did serve in the Confederate army. Unlike many slave-owners, Judge Morgan taught his slaves to read and write. His daughter, Sarah, would later write a diary of the war years.

Upstairs in Judge Morgan’s house, the armoires had all been knocked over and smashed. The dainty dresses of the young women had all been shredded and torn. China, toilet articles and bits of glass that had been used to decorate the rooms were strewn about the beds and ground into a mass of fragments. Family records and the contents of desks in Judge Morgan’s house and that of his neighbors were strewn about the streets. Precious family papers were blowing in the wind. Family records from innumerable Bibles were found on the sidewalks of the city.

After seeing Judge Morgan’s house, knowing if this could happen at his house, then the rest of the city was likely worse, Eliza was heart-sick. She could not inspect another home. After seeing the destruction, James sent many of his slaves to Eliza’s brother’s plantation in Texas.  This move violated Federal rules. James knew this could lead to him being arrested. Under Yankee rule, arrests were common and often arbitrary.

Eliza believed that moving the slaves would ensure the slaves could work and earn some food. It would also remove slaves who, she said, were becoming “discontent” and dangerous. She was likely describing slaves who were starting to view the Federals not as the enemy, but as potential saviors. Because they broke one of the Federal rules – not moving “contraband” – the McHattons made preparations to leave on a moment’s notice.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 28-31

Battle of Baton Rouge, Part 3

General John Breckenridge, the former Presidential candidate in the 1860 election, approached Baton Rouge with a Confederate force too small for the job. He had some 3,000 troops to the Federal force of some 4,500 soldiers. He sought to free Baton Rouge from the Yankees. As the cannon fire awakened Eliza and her now two month old baby girl, the mother flew into action. Hundreds of civilian residents fled the city. They all passed on the one road, by the McHatton home. Many were dressed still in their slippers, and night clothes. Most were hatless and bonnetless. A man would be riding bareback clutching a small child with a terrified woman clinging behind. Men were trundling along with small children in dirty wheel barrows. Eliza provided food for all as best she could.

By noon came news of the Confederate defeat. The half-starved Eliza wept and hushed her two month old baby, also half-starved.

The rest of the day, defeated and wounded Confederate soldiers collected at Arlington Point. Eliza and James provided all the support they could. Near the end of the day came a message from the Federal commander: remove the Rebels or they would shell the house. James was gone with another group of wounded. So, Eliza replied that she could not force all these helpless men to leave. The hungry and wounded, however, recognized Eliza’s plight and gradually left the home. Many left, but dozens still remained at her home. Soon, a Federal gunboat began to shell the home, but far wide of the mark. The home was right on the river, so the gunboat could surely hit the home if it wished. No, this was a warning to the wounded and tired Rebels to leave. By two’s and three’s the wounded left the relative safety of the home.

Arlington Point again returned to some measure of normalcy.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 21-23

Be Safe.

The State Penitentiary (Part 2)

Weeks after taking Baton Rouge, the Union forces opened the gates of the state penitentiary in that city. The inmates were told to leave and report to headquarters to enlist.

One such inmate from South Carolina turned up at Eliza’s door seeking food. He said he had to return home and see his wife and children. The McHattons loaned him a horse, and gave him money. They rifled the trunks left at their house by departing Confederates. They found for him civilian clothes. The inmates were clothed in striped garb by the prison. The McHattons wrote him careful instruction and directions, so as to avoid the Federal patrols.

With moistened eyes, the man left for his distant home.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 13

The Union Iron Grip

The Federal forces captured New Orleans in April, 1862. Soon they also controlled Baton Rouge, just some 70 miles upriver from the Crescent City. Near Baton Rouse was the town of Arlington and a plantation known as Arlington Point. Eliza McHatton-Ripley, 29 years old, lived at the plantation with her husband James McHatton, 46 years old. They had one son, aged 5 and a new born baby girl. The McHattons were quite wealthy for the time, reporting some $100,000 in personal assets in the 1860 census. They owned about 61 slaves in 1860. They were not the largest, but they were one of the larger slave owners in the region.

James, as his wife explained in her book, was not an “original secessionist.” He did not support secession. He hoped an amicable arrangement could be worked out. So, he was quite surprised to arrive home from a two week trip to find the Confederate flag flying above his home.

One day, a company of Federal cavalry suddenly appeared at their door. It came too soon for the servant to rush the silver upstairs and place under Eliza’s pillow. Eliza was still bed-ridden after giving birth two weeks prior. James could not serve in the Confederate army, because he had lost an eye. He greeted the Union soldiers cordially and offered them milk, the only refreshment available. After each soldier drank his fill, the Union cavalry quietly rode away.

Some five miles down river was another plantation. The sons at that farm were all serving in the Confederate army. The old gentleman of the plantation kept a horse tied to the gate, so he could rush on a moment’s notice. As the Federal company left the village of Arlington Point they came to the old gentleman’s plantation. All they saw of the old man was the tail of his horse as he headed to the woods. The Federal forces found only a young daughter-in-law at home. They locked her in her room and moved in for a day. They took all the corn, molasses and hay they could find and sent it upriver to Baton Rouge.

The old gentleman returned after the cavalry soldier left and the plantation gradually returned to normalcy.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 4, 12.