From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.
Stone’s last three entries in her diary are from September 1867 and 1868. They form a somber epilogue to her chaotic Civil War journey. They capture a bitter reflection of a shattered Southern slaveholding society, adrift, confused, and afraid of a world in which they no longer rule.
Read her first entry in this series here.
Sept. 22, 1867
A long silence and a year of hard endeavor to raise a crop, reconstruct the place with the problem of hired labor, high water, and cotton worms. Mamma had little trouble in getting advances in New Orleans to plant. Cotton is so high that merchants are anxious to advance to put in a crop, and there is much Northern capital seeking investment in that field. … The Negroes demanded high wages, from $20 to $25 for men, in addition to the old rations of sugar, rice, tobacco, molasses, and sometimes hams. Many of the old hands left, and My Brother went to New Orleans and brought back a number of ex-Negro soldiers, who strutted around in their uniforms and were hard to control. I was deadly afraid of them.
During the spring while Mamma and I were in New Orleans (Mamma on business and she took me for my pleasure), and Uncle Bo and My Brother and Jimmy were away for a few hours, Johnny had a fight with a young Negro in the field, shot and came near killing him, and was mobbed in return. Johnny would have been killed but for the stand one of the Negroes made for him and Uncle Bo’s opportune arrival just as the Negroes brought him to the house a howling, cursing mob with the women shrieking, “Kill him!” and all brandishing pistols and guns. It came near breaking up the planting, and it is a pity it did not as it turned out. Johnny had to be sent away. He was at school near Clinton [Miss.] and the Negroes quieted down and after some weeks the wounded boy recovered, greatly to Johnny’s relief. He never speaks now of killing people as he formerly had a habit of doing. He came home when school closed and there was no further trouble.
Then the water came up and we were nearly overflowed. The cotton planted was very late, and when it was looking as luxuriant and promising as possible and we saw ease of mind before us, the worms came. In a few days the fields were blackened like fire had swept over them. We made about twenty bales and spent $25,000 doing it. What most distresses me is that none of that money went for our personal comfort. All of it went to the Negroes. Mamma would buy only bare necessaries for the table and plainest clothes for the family. Not a luxury, no furniture, carpets, or anything. We are worse off for those things than even in Texas and such a sum spent! But Mamma said it was not honest to spend the money on anything but making the crop. All in this section have suffered in the same way, and for awhile they seemed stunned by their misfortunes. But now the reaction has come, and all are taking what pleasure offers.
Old neighbors and new ones have come in and all seemed to be anxious to be together and talk over their trials and tribulations. There has been much visiting and various picnics and fish frys. I would not go at first. I felt like I did not want to see anybody or ever dance again. I felt fully forty years old, but Mamma made me go after a good cry. Once there, I was compelled to exert myself, and soon I was enjoying it all. The burden of some of the years slipped from my shoulders, and I was young again. It was pleasant to talk nonsense, to be flattered though one knew it was flattery, and to be complimented and fussed over. So since then, Mamma, the boys, and all of us have been going to everything and have found even poverty in company more bearable than when suffered alone. …
In January My Brother rented this place knowing that Brokenburn would be again overflowed, and we moved out the latter part of the month. My Brother lost money again last year planting, and this year he determined to farm, planting a little of everything.
Johnny and Jimmy are both at home, and having nothing to do pulled off their coats and rolled up their sleeves and went to work to raise a crop of corn and potatoes for themselves. They have succeeded well as they will clear several hundred dollars.
We all regret so much Jimmy’s refusal to go buck to the hospital. … We fear he is throwing away the best chance of his life. The boys are so hot and tired when they come in from the fields. …
Sept. 28, 1868
Mother has been in Vicksburg for a month on a visit to Aunt Sarah. It is her first outing for eighteen months. We hope it will benefit her — her health has been bad for more than a year. She is seldom out of bed more than a week at a time. It took great persuasion and the pointed urging of the whole family to induce her to go on this visit that Aunt Sarah has been begging her to take for months.
Jimmy is now on the wharf boat, Johnny at Omega, and Sister, My Brother, and I have it all our own way with but little to do. My Brother is making an excellent crop and is much more cheerful. …
How we wish Sister could be sent off to school for two years, but it has been impossible. No money. … Let us hope that now the current will change and success will be our portion, as the outlook is brighter than for three years.
This is a pleasant neighborhood … and everybody has been kind and polite about calling and coming in at all times. [The other day we] had another of those inevitable dances that have been given so often this summer. Mary and Katie Byrnes, Louise Meagher, and the other girls never seem to tire of them, but they wear me out — such a sameness. I doubt not that I am getting too old for such gaieties. The men and boys about here are so silly and boyish in conversation. …
It has been an enjoyable life since we came here in January. It is a pleasant enough cottage house, after we got it thoroughly cleaned. There is a lovely little flower yard and a splendid orchard, and the kindest and most sociable neighbors with various little entertainments and dances. …We have new books and papers ad libitum, a luxury we missed for years.
My Brother has just sent Mamma money to buy our winter clothes, and Sister and I are jubilant at the prospect of new dresses and bonnets. We have lived on very little of late years, little bought that was not absolutely necessary. They have dressed me better than any of the others. I have not wanted for anything indispensable for a young lady, but the only money I have spent really as I wished was five dollars of the ten Uncle Bob gave me when Mamma and I went to New Orleans three winters ago. …
What splendid fellows my brothers are. They are all so good to us and such handsome boys. Sister looks almost the same, scarcely older than three years ago. We hope she can go to school this fall and make her debut next fall. If not, I shall beg Mamma to put long dresses … on her and bring her out this winter. She has a gay cheerful nature, and I hope will have a happy girlhood.
Mamma’s bright hopeful spirit never change. She is us always the ruling power with us all, the center and light of our home. How much she will have to tell us on her return, and maybe Aunt Sarah will come with her.
Well, this is the last page of the book that has gone with me through all our journeying. Looking back to the beginning so many years ago, I realize what an unthankful, wicked girl I was not to be supremely happy. With youth, health, and everything surrounding me for comfort and happiness. with unmistakable blessings, I was yet an unsatisfied, discontented girl. It has taken trouble to teach me my faults, and how earnestly I try now to enjoy instead of repine, to be thankful instead of fault-finding. I will try always to see the silver lining to the cloud. All my life I have been surrounded with love and care, far more than I deserved, and I will try in the future to be more worthy of the blessings that brighten my pathway.
So this is the end — shall I ever care to write again?