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Kate Stone’s Civil War: Whipped unmercifully

June 11, 2012

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

On June 18, 1861, tragic news darkened the pages of Stone’s diary:

Aunt Laura is ill. She has just lost a young baby and I know is much distressed and disappointed. She is so devoted to her only child, Beverly, the loveliest little girl I ever saw. Dr. Buckner thinks her perfect and really I believe she is, bodily, mentally, and physically.

The little baby, we hear, was horribly deformed. God in mercy took it, but Aunt Laura knows nothing of its misfortune.

June 19 saw an interesting incident:

Great excitement! About nine in the evening we were sitting on the front gallery and a runaway Negro passed just in front of the house. The boys rushed out after him, but he soon distanced them, and I was glad he escaped. I hate to think how he will be punished, perhaps whipped unmercifully.

The runaways are numerous and bold. We live on a mine that the Negroes are suspected of an intention to spring on the fourth of next month. The information may be true or false, but they are being well watched in every section where there are any suspects. Our faith is with God.

Stone expressed anxiety for the fate of the “runaway Negro” should he be captured. Was it private sympathy for someone hunted by a slaveholding machinery whose brutality she knew all too well? She encapsulated the family’s general paranoia as they wondered about their own fate. How did that uncertainty mutate Southern perspectives on American society, their sense of how the future of their nation should unfold, and their interpretation of God’s plan for their society? Was it easier to simply focus on how many berries they picked for supper that afternoon, whose baby was lost, or who was joining them for dinner that night?

As the month closed, Stone’s natural defiance blossomed, she complained about the slaves, and a comet appeared in the sky:

A beautiful sunshiny day. Just enough rain has fallen to perfect the corn and help the cotton. Surely this year we have had “the early and the latter rains” and the promise of abundant crops. The North cannot starve us, try as they may, and God will aid us in our righteous cause. …

The house servants have been giving a lot of trouble lately — lazy and disobedient. Will have to send one or two to the field and replace them from the quarters if they do not settle down. I suppose the excitement in the air has infected them. The field hands go on without trouble. …

There is a comet visible tonight. We were surprised to see it, as we did not know it was expected. Have seen nothing of it in the papers. It is not very bright but has the appearance of a large star, Venus at her brightest, with a long train of light seen dimly as through a mist. Jimmy first discovered it. Two splendid meteors fell just above it, and the boys said it was a big star chased by little ones trying to regain its orbit.

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