Wednesday, October 7, 2015

1869 Fishing Excursion to the Amite River

Poem by Belle Tisdale,

Poem by Belle Tisdale,

In this poem about a family fishing excursion Belle Tisdale paints a vivid picture of a trip to the Amite by the Pratt, Tisdale, Craig, and other families. The winding Amite River, pronounced A-meet in Louisiana, flows south just a few miles east of the Pratt farm. It is still a popular fishing place today.

There is no date on the page but the ink handwriting matches Belle's letter of April 27, 1869, in which she writes  "...we intend to go to the Amite next Friday to stay all night and all next day and come home late in the evening; ..."  

[Original, 7 3/4" x 9 3/4" paper, written in ink on both sides of the page. There is an imprint in top left corner, the word “CONGRESS” with a domed building. Transcribed as written.]

On our fishing excursion

Twas early in the morn we started,
On that gay and happy tour;
All of us were merry hearted,
But of that you will feel sure,
When I tell you all that happened,
From the time we left our door.

The Sun had set, when all drew near;
The tent and two large fires,
Uncle Jenie, Uncle Emm,
My sister and my cousin,
Were seated on an old dead tree,
Which near our camp had fallen.

Now at a loss for what to do,
We thought we'd have some fun;
Some one says, suppose we dance!
No sooner said than done,
We yelled and whooped & shouted: Jack!
Till he came and danced on the wagon back, which served us as a floor.

Next came Frank who danced so light,
You could scarcely see him move;
Then Henry, well! To look at him,
Would be to much for you.

After that they sung some songs,
Which were funny to be sure,
We had no solemn things with us,
They are to much of a boor.

Then all retired for the night,
Except Eugene and George,
They rowed down to their set lines,
And found they'd caught two gars.
                                       By Belle.

Many years later Belle's younger brother Robert Tisdale reminisced about the trips to the Amite in a letter he wrote to Belle in 1929:

"...I would like to get a drink of water from the blue spring that comes out from under a big tree on the edge of the ravine. Lining the edge of the ravine just back of where we built the house was where the Federal troops built their dutch ovens in the ground when they went out there in 1878 to get away from Yellow Fever, and around the base of the big tree up on the bluff on the other side of the ravine was where the path wound that led to the Amite; it came out under the beech trees where we used to camp when Grandpa and Uncle Genie and you and all of us, went out there on our fishing trips. I can call up in my mind right now just how it all looked both in summer and in winter."

I can call it up in my mind, too, the golden sun sinking into the shadowy trees along the Amite River. I can almost smell the crackling fires and hear the buzz of the locusts. The beech trees and the moss-draped oaks and the sweet-smelling magnolias would cast long shadows toward the wagon. The first weekend in May would have been a pleasant time in south Louisiana for a camping trip, not too hot yet and not many bugs.

Belle mentions Uncle Jenie, Joel Eugene Pratt, and Uncle Emm, Emmett Craig, cousin Kate's father, as well as her sisters and brothers. Belle and Mary sit on a fallen tree with Uncle Jenie and Uncle Emm and watch the campfires after sunset. Perhaps little Lee and Robert sat in their laps while brothers Frank and Willie gathered fallen branches to feed the fire...a timeless scene easy for any camper to picture. 

It would have been a time to forget about the turmoil of reconstruction and the problems that were separating Belle's family.

Monday, September 28, 2015

1869 Letter from Belle Tisdale to her Papa, B. F. Tisdale

Among Belle's letters was an envelope addressed to B. F. Tisdale, Care Chas. Bilchin Co. (or possibly Chas. Kitchen Co.) New Orleans, in his own handwriting. 

I could not find Charles Bilchin in the 1868-1869 New Orleans city directory, but I did find Charles Kitchen, a steamer pilot living in Mobile, and a Mason Pilcher, cotton and sugar factor at 11 Union Street. Was the steamer pilot in New Orleans? B. F. Tisdale had relatives in Mobile and may have traveled there. Or maybe accountant B. F. Tisdale was working for Mr. Pilcher. The economic situation in New Orleans still had not recovered and jobs were hard to find.

Written in pencil on the front of the envelope is the word “Rose” and, sure enough, inside the envelope are three dried rose leaves with crochet thread knotted around the stem. Had  Belle tucked a pressed flower into the envelope?

On the flap is a poignant note, "Dear Papa come soon many love you   good night"

1869 Letter from Belle Tisdale to her Papa, B. F. Tisdale

[Original letter dated April 27, 1869, on 8" x 10" paper with faint blue lines. The paper is folded in half to make 4 pages and the letter is handwritten in ink on pages 1 and 2. The condition is good except for the top of page 3-4 which is torn off. Transcribed as written.]

[Page 1]
Apr the 27th 1869

Dear Papa
I would give any thing for you to be up here now; we intend to go to the Amite next Friday to stay all night and all next day and come home late in the evening; it will be splendid, but it would be so much nicer if you were here to go with us.
We are all well except Mama, she is not sick enough to go to bed; but she has a boil under her arm, so that she can't use it at tall. Robert and Lee are so fat they can hardly waddle along; a few days ago Willie and Frank went rideing on horse-back, they had not gone far, when suddenly Douglas commenced to back, (he had got frightened at something in the road; then he kicked up and run away; they both fell off; Frank got on him again and rode along, but Willie was scared and come back home; he had a bump on his forehead as big as a hen egg; Frank was sick that night, but is well now.

[Page 2]

This morning I had Robert in my lap, talking to him about the Amite, how we would play on the big sand bar, and pick up pebbles, and then jump into the water and bathe; and he says, and my Papa too!
We all weighed the other day, t'was on the 24th.

Grand Pa,    190      [William Henry Pratt]
France,         164      [Aunt Frances Pratt McCaughey]
Eliza,            150      [Eliza Pratt Tisdale]
Susie,            112      [unknown]
Mary,           104      [Mary Bernice Tisdale]
Belle,            104      [Arabella Maria Tisdale]
Annie,          128      [unknown]
Kate,             67       [Cousin Catherine Bernice Craig]
Frank,          50       [Benjamin Franklin Tisdale Jr.]
Willie,           50       [William Pratt Tisdale]
Marion,        45       [unknown]
Lee,                36      [Olivia South Carolina Tisdale]
Robert,         28       [Robert Rafael Tisdale]
Jessie,           22       [unknown]
Uncle Jenie, 140    [Uncle Joel Eugene Tisdale]

I have told you every new that I can think of, that shows how few there are.
Oh! yes, yesterday evening Uncle Jenie went over to the pond and caught 25 fish, two of them were big, one was a Trout, and it weighed 2 lbs and the other 1 ½, write soon,
good bye your best                             
When you receive this, I am afraid you will have to rush to the window to hide your emotions.
I believe that's all.

[Page 3, pencil note in different handwriting, possibly Grandma Bernice Pratt's]

to the left raises the pendlm
 “   “    right lowers it.

[Page 4 is blank]

If B. F. Tisdale had indeed sent for his family, as Mary wrote in her letter of August 4, 1868, their stay in New Orleans had not lasted long.  The continuing political unrest and violence may have been reason enough to send Eliza and the children back to Oakland.

At any rate in April 1869 they were all back at the Pratt farm near Baton Rouge. This time Annie, who is mentioned in several of Belle's letters, had come with them. Belle's brother Frank refers to Annie at a later date as "our Nurse." Jessie and Marion in the weight list are unfamiliar names and may be her children. Many Civil War widows hired themselves out as servants for room and board to keep their families together.

In her letter of April 27, 1869, Belle wrote, "...we intend to go to the Amite next Friday to stay all night and all next day and come home late in the evening; it will be splendid, but it would be so much nicer if you were here to go with us...." 

The Amite is the winding Amite River, pronounced A-meet in Louisiana. It flows south just a few miles east of the Pratt farm. Belle wrote a poem titled "On our fishing excursion" which paints a vivid picture of one such trip to the Amite. I plan to post it next week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Letter from Mary Tisdale to B. F. Tisdale August 1868

Mary Bernice Tisdale, cartes de visite c1873

Mary Bernice Tisdale (1853-1886)

These are two identical photos of Mary Tisdale from Belle's collection and both are damaged. The original carte de visite  was taken by Souby who had two studios in New Orleans, one on Canal Street and one on Magazine street.

Through the magic of photo editing software I was able to repair the picture to something close to its original condition.
Back of cartes de visite

Mary Bernice Tisdale,
Repaired photograph

Belle Tisdale's sister, Mary Bernice, was 15 years old when she wrote this letter to her father, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale. Belle and Mary had been living with Grandma and Grandpa Pratt near Baton Rouge for over a year. Brothers Frank and Willie were there, too. Eliza and the younger children had been there since March. Now they were going home to New Orleans.

The original letter is written in ink on lined paper, 7 3/4” x 9 3/4,” from Mary Bernice Tisdale to Benjamin Franklin Tisdale. The ink is faded. The page is folded in half and then in thirds, one third decorated with scallops in the corners, and addressed “To Papa To Papa from Mary.” There is no address and no stamp, so it may have been included in another envelope. Transcribed exactly as written.

Oak land Aug 4, 1868
Dear Papa
Ant I glad you have sent for us my dream has come true. I dreamed you sent for us and shure enough you did. You will expect us down on the Govener Allen about three Saturday[s] hence forth. be expecting us Mama thought She would not write to you as long as we were writing. We are all very well and Robert is the sweetest little fellow that ever lived and the smartest. the night before last Mama was getting him to sleep and he would not hush crying, and Mama asked him if he was going to hush and he said no sur bebobo.
It has been raining for two weeks and it has just stoped. Grand Pa will loose all of his fder [fodder] from the rain. I am getting along very well in my arithmetic, but I am going backward in writing   I do not know why I do for I write every day. We were very sorry to hear that you had been sick. I am not very well I have got an awful collor and Grand Ma says I need some kind of bitters.
If you see Annie give her my love and tell her [torn] t Robert often speaks of her and says Annie an [torn] good Annie and then he begins to cry.
I have no more news good by God bless you
from your effectionate Daughter
Mary B Tisdale

Back, upper right corner in pencil in B. F. Tisdale's hand:
Mary Aug 4/68
Recd 10

The Steamboat Governor Allen

Perhaps Uncle Jenie drove Eliza and the children in the wagon to the riverfront in Baton Rouge where the 136 foot side wheel steamboat Governor Allen waited. The trip downriver would have taken about eight hours. The Governor Allen was in the New Orleans to Ouachita River trade around that time and her captain was John Smoker.

The wooden hull packet boat was named for Brigadier General Henry Watkins Allen, the last Confederate governor of Louisiana during the Civil War. He was elected in the fall of 1863 and took office in January of 1864. Born in 1820 in Virginia he settled on a sugar plantation on the west side of the Mississippi River, north of Baton Rouge. He fought in the Texas War of Independence and served as an officer in the Confederate army. He was wounded at Shiloh and his legs were seriously injured at the Battle of Baton Rouge and he was never able to walk again without crutches. Allen was an excellent governor and set up state-owned factories to produce cloth and rope as well as turpentine and medicines. He initiated cotton trade with Mexico through Texas but just when his programs were becoming profitable the war ended. “He ordered all the goods in state store sold for state, not Confederate, currency, giving some worth to this paper...” Allen left Louisiana for Mexico and died in Mexico City in 1866. (Taylor, Louisiana, A History, p. 97-99) Port Allen, a small city across the Mississippi from Baton Rouge, was named for him in 1878.

For more on Governor Allen, including a photo, see Louisiana Anthology.

New Orleans in 1868

When Eliza and the children stepped off the steam boat onto the levee at New Orleans on that hot, humid day in August 1868 they would find a city whose political situation was as steamy as the weather.

Gary Van Zante writes in New Orleans 1867, “New Orleans had experienced the humiliation of defeat and capture early in the war and would endure fifteen years of military occupation....” There were 5000 troops stationed in New Orleans in the late 1860s. Many buildings, from cotton presses and hospitals to hotels and private residences had been seized for military use.  “The 'eternal enmity' that, as one journalist wrote, 'animates our hearts, and the hearts of every citizen of our beloved city, to those who have invaded and conquered us,' surely could be felt on the streets of the occupied city.”  
(Van Zante, New Orleans 1867, p. 22)

The Military Reconstruction Acts of 1867 resulted in part from the bloody riot of 1866. The Acts divided the South into five military districts, each commanded by a major general. Louisiana and Texas made up the Fifth District, under General Philip Sheridan. All adult males, black and white, who could swear they had not voluntarily aided the Confederacy, were registered to vote and elected delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868 in New Orleans. State offices were still located in New Orleans at that time. The new constitution was ratified in April of 1868. State officials were elected at the same time and, with former Confederates disenfranchised, Republicans won all offices. Henry Clay Warmoth, a former Union officer, was elected governor. He had also served as provost judge in New Orleans during the occupation. (Joe Gray Taylor, Louisiana, A History)

The occupation and reconstruction period had been repressive and heavy handed. Any word or action against the Union or in favor of the Confederacy was cause for being called before the Provost Marshal and many people were imprisoned at Fort Jackson and Ship Island for seemingly minor infractions. Benjamin Franklin Tisdale's older brother, Nathan O. J. Tisdale, was called before the Provost Marshal because someone brought a cake decorated with the Confederate flag in icing to a bake sale that was being held at his home to benefit the orphans of the city.

When Eliza and the children returned to New Orleans political groups were preparing for the presidential election of 1868. Democrats hoped to defeat the Republican Ulysses S. Grant and end Radical Reconstruction. Feelings between the two factions were so heated that riots erupted on October 24 and lasted for four days until Governor Warmoth called in Major General L. H. Rousseau, commander of the military department of Louisiana. Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour carried Louisiana, mostly because of intimidation of Republican voters, but Grant was elected president. (Taylor, Louisiana, A History, p. 107)

To maintain control of the state, Gov. Warmoth and the Republican legislature passed a law providing for a Returning Board to make the final tabulation of vote and to throw out the vote from any precinct or parish in which fraud or intimidation had taken place. Joel Taylor writes:
“Created to prevent the stealing of elections by the Democrats, in practice the returning Board could be just as useful in stealing an election from the Democrats...In every Louisiana election from 1868 through 1878 there was so much fraud, intimidation, and other skulduggery that it is impossible to say who won a majority of the votes actually cast or who would have won had an honest election been held. In passing, it might be noted that almost the same thing could be said for elections long after Reconstruction was over.”

As an interesting side note, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law, James F. Casey, was collector of customs in New Orleans during this time period and was campaigning to become U. S. Senator from Louisiana. (Taylor, Louisiana, A History, p. 107)

We don't know how long the family stayed in New Orleans, but the next letter we have was written on April 27, 1869 by Belle from Baton Rouge. Eliza and all the children are again living at the Pratt home. They are still living there in 1870 at the time of the census.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

May 1868 letter from B. F. Tisdale to Belle

B. F. Tisdale letter,

Original, 7 3/4” x 12” paper with faint blue lines, handwritten in ink on one side by B. F. Tisdale to his daughter Belle Tisdale, good condition, original in possession of Vera Booksh Zimmerman, transcribed exactly as written.

   New Orleans   May 5" 1868

My Dear Daughter
I am in receipt of Your letter of the 25” of April and it gave much pleasure. I dearly love to hear from You all: and When Your letters tell Me that all are Well I rejoice. I am of Course glad to hear of Your recovery. I Will treasure the lock of hair You Sent Me both for Your Sake and for his Sake from Whose little Sweet head it was taken. In the bundle by the Iberville Friday I Will Send a line for Mary and a Cork for You and Some hooks.
You object to My addressing You as Arabella Maria. Well I Will not do So, but the reason I have done So is, that the Names are associated With pleasant Memories and Sad ones too. Maria Was the Name of a favorite Sister Now dead and gone, one of the Most lovable Women I ever Knew. And “Arabella” Was a pet Name I gave Your Mother in the days that are gone - the days When She loved Me – in the days When I Was happy, and the Future promised No Such Sorrows as I have Met with Since. Their Names are dear to My heart and it Was I who gave them to You. But I Can Keep them to myself now – and perhaps it is Meet that I Should do So – for are they Not like Names upon Graves Showing Where Something We loved lies buried.
Good bye My Daughter, love and Kisses to all. Mr. Pickham & Winnie have Concluded to leave today for Mobile. Winnies health is not good. Pollys eldest child, Maria is With them. She is Sweet and pretty & good.
God bless You My Dear Daughter – Write to me as often as You Can. It cheers Me up some.

Your loving Father           B. F. Tisdale

B. F. Tisdale sounds depressed in this letter to Belle on May 5, 1868. The economic situation in New Orleans was still very unsettled which probably contributed to his mood. He mentions the lock of hair that Belle sent, most probably from her little brother Robert Rafael Tisdale. His gift of a line, a cork and hooks will enable the girls to go fishing in the Amite River and supplement the family's food.

In the paragraph about Belle's name, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale refers to his sister Maria who is “Now dead and gone.” This would be his half sister, Ann Maria, daughter of Nathan Tisdale and his first wife, Mary Bryan, of New Bern, North Carolina. According to family tradition Ann Maria and Arabella Maria's middle name was pronounced Ma RYE ah, and was sometimes spelled Mariah.

B. F. Tisdale remarks wistfully that Arabella was his pet name for Eliza “in the days that are gone – the days when she loved me...” Eliza must have still loved him though because two more children were yet to be born, Marion Eugene in 1871 and Charles Harry in 1874.

B. F. Tisdale's half-sister Ann Maria was born 29 December 1802. Her mother died just before she reached the age of one and her father, Nathan Tisdale, remarried on 4 August 1804 before she was two. Nathan's second wife was Mary “Polly” Wade. B. F. Tisdale was their eighth child and was born 19 March 1823. He was named for the famous Benjamin Franklin, his great great grandmother's first cousin.

The Nathan Tisdale family moved from North Carolina to Alabama about 1830 when Benjamin Franklin Tisdale was seven years old. Though some of Nathan's adult children from his first marriage joined the family in the move to a new state, Ann Maria and her husband Stephen B. Forbes did not move to Alabama with the family. Both are buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery in New Bern, North Carolina. Nathan purchased a small plantation on the Tombigbee River in Alabama to which he travelled [sic] by caravan with a lot of other families." (From a letter by Mrs. Nancy Lee Tisdale Lawson) Many people were leaving New Bern around this time because of the silting in of the approach to the harbor.

B. F. Tisdale's Family

B. F. Tisdale's father, Nathan Tisdale was born about 1766 in New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina. He became a silversmith like his father William Tisdale. By his first marriage to Mary Bryan he had eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood:

William Tisdale, born 30 January 1791 in New Bern, North Carolina
     married Sarah Jane Haddock in 1817
     died 12 December 1861 in Canton, Mississippi
Nancy Tisdale, born 1792, died 1793
James Cutting Tisdale, born 1794, died 1795
Hannah C. Tisdale, born 1796
     married James M. Smith on 12 April 1836 in Mobile, Alabama
Elizabeth Tisdale, born 1798
     married Jacob Gooding
     died 1862
John Tisdale, born 1800, died 1805 in New Bern, North Carolina
Ann Mariah Tisdale, born 29 December 1802 in New Bern, North Carolina
     married Stephen B. Forbes, March 1823 in New Bern, North Carolina
     died 11 October 1855, New Bern, North Carolina
Thomas Bryan Tisdale, born 1803, died, 1804 in New Bern, North Carolina

After Nathan's first wife died on 23 November 1803, he married Mary “Polly” Wade on 4 Aug 1804. They had nine children, five of whom lived to adulthood:

Charlotte Wade Tisdale, born 1806, died 1811 in New Bern, North Carolina
Joseph Wade Tisdale, born 4 May 1808, in New Bern, North Carolina
     married Mary Amelia Wilson on 4 March 1830 in Edgefield, South Carolina
     died 4 May 1848 in Covington, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
Mary Eliza Tisdale, born 1810 in New Bern, North Carolina
     married Jacob Magee on 4 December 1834 in Mobile, Alabama
     died 21 September 1882 in Kushla, Mobile County, Alabama
Hannah T. Tisdale, born 1812
Sarah Tisdale, born 1813, died 1813
Twins Tisdale, born 1815, died 1815
Nathan O. J. Tisdale, born 1816 in New Bern, North Carolina
     married Maria Louisa McCrae, 29 September 1838 in Mobile, Alabama
     married Rosa Roux, 31 July 1851 in New Orleans, Louisiana
     died 31 Jul 1870 in New Orleans, Louisiana
Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, born 19 March 1823 in New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina
     married Maria M. Pike, 25 August 1846 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
     married Eliza Helen Pratt, 29 July 1851 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
     died 16 June 1876 in Kushla, Mobile County, Alabama
John B. Tisdale, born c1825 in New Bern, North Carolina
     married Virginia M. Read, 15 February 1849 in Mobile, Alabama
     died between 1880 and 1887

Nathan Tisdale died 20 September 1839 in Mobile, Alabama. His wife, Mary "Polly" Wade died the next month in October 1839. Both are buried in Whistler, Alabama.

Friday, August 14, 2015

April 1868 Letter from Belle and Eliza Tisdale

Tisdale children by Lilienthal,
William Pratt Tisdale and  Olivia South Carolina Tisdale c1867
This carte de visite of Belle's little brother and sister was taken by Theodore Lilienthal in New Orleans. Both children are mentioned in the 1868 letter from Belle and her mother Eliza to B. F. Tisdale.

William, always called Willie, was born November 1, 1861 and Olivia, always called Lee, was born on February 8, 1864.
Judging from their ages the photo was probably made in 1867.

Theodore Lilienthal (1829-1894)

The year 1867 was the same year that Frankfurt-born photographer Theodore Lilienthal was given the job of preparing a portfolio of photographs of New Orleans and environs to be sent to the World Exposition in Paris. The 2008 book by Gary A. Van Zante “New Orleans 1867: Photographs by Theodore Lilienthal” tells the story of this first municipally sponsored photographic survey of any American city. This outstanding book also tells the story of New Orleans from antebellum city building through Civil War occupation and postwar reconstruction.

Lilienthal worked for twelve weeks and produced 150 12”x15” views, “mounted on gold-trimmed card stock and labeled in English and French.” In late May 1867 the finished photographs were exhibited at Lilienthal's studio. The newspaper Crescent reported on May 26 that “Mr. Lilienthal has just completed one-hundred and fifty photographic and fifty stereoscopic views of this city and vicinity, which are very creditable to the artist.”

The photographic portfolio was intended to show evidence of postwar progress and to show that New Orleans was still a good place to invest and do business. It was also hoped it would attract “immigrant labor to restore productivity to war-ruined sugar and cotton plantations that fueled the city's economy.”

The German language newspaper Deutsche Zeitung reported that the photographs would “give our friends in Europe a correct idea of the size and importance of New Orleans and the numerous places worth seeing in this city, and will therefore create a very favorable impression concerning our conditions.”

Belle and Eliza's Letter

The original letter is written in ink on 7" x 12 1/2" paper. Belle Tisdale writes to her father, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale on one side, signing on the back at the top.  Her mother, Eliza Pratt Tisdale writes on the back. The edges are worn and there are holes where it was folded. The original is in my possession and was transcribed exactly as written.

Oakland   April the 7 1868.

Dear Papa
I received your most welcom letter's and was so glad to hear from you, but was as sorry to hear that you were so lonesome. we are all well; Mama is the dairy maid, Robbert and Lee are as well and mischevious as ever, Willie is the same fellow, not changed A bit; he had been wearing the big straw hat for A long time but this morning he found his old grey hat in the mud, and he took it up and poped it on as it was and started off; the children are all in bed. How are you and all, give my love to Annie when you see her and kiss Frank for me; I do wish that I could see you all. Tell Annie that I miss her so much, When I look at the cows I think of her and when I look at the clothes being washed I think of her and everything reminds me of her. I am sitting in the dineing room writing and Grand Pa and Mister Misener are playing cards; Mr. Misener says that this pack of cards is almost worn out and to send them up another pack please. Grand-Ma and Mary are well to. Robbert has got a little kitten and I dont know what to name it. Tell me A name to name it pleas sir. they are all down in the other room and Mama is reading Vallantine Vox aloud to them. So good night.
Goodbye God bless you Your Affectionate

[Page 2]daughter, Belle.
Oakland Place, April 7th 1868 
           My Dear Husband.
   I was rather disappointed that I did not get a letter from you yesterday but I suppose I should not have expected it as I had got one on Sunday, but I thought as Belle was answering her letters that I would write a few lines also. I hope you are well & doing well, we are all pretty well at present & I hope we may continue so.
   Willie is growing so fast he is not half an inch shorter than Frank & he is getting [hole] real good boy always working round & doing something, Robert is getting his eye teeth one of them is through the gum, Lee is well she plays out all day in the yard. 
    I have been out in the Garden this evening putting sticks up by my pinks & tying them up they are going to bloom & the heads are so heavy that they fall over, when they bloom I will send you some in a letter I planted them myself & my violets too they are growing & Blooming so pretty. I havenot got more than 9 nine roots of the violets-  I believe I gathered all I could of  of [sic] them Sunday & sent them to you. Belle has told you that I am reading Valentine Vaux well we do have some good laughs at it I read tonight about the man where he had the cats in his room, Well havent we got a cold spell again it hailed here yesterday for about ten or fifteen minutes right hard and fast & we had a very heavy storm of wind & rain, goodnight, all are in bead but me,
God Bless you My Dear.          
Your Wife. E.
[PS written in the top and left side margins]

PS Lee says Pappas prayer every day & never forgets Papa
a kiss for Frank tel Annie howdy.
Tell Rosa to send me the patron of that collar like Marie's.
Send it to me in your next letter. I want to make Mary & Belle one like it

Eliza had taken four year old Lee and 16 month old Robert to visit her parents, William and Bernice Pratt, at Oakland Place near Baton Rouge. They would have traveled by steamboat up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. The older children, Mary, Belle, Frank, and Willie, were already at Oakland. Belle mentions that, “Mama is the dairy maid,” which tells us that Eliza is getting up early each morning to milk the cows. Mary and Belle would probably gather eggs and help Grandma Bernice fix breakfast. I can picture Belle sitting at the dining room table using her dip pen to write by the light of the oil lamp as Grandpa and Mr. Misener play cards at the same table. I can hear Eliza's voice from the other room, reading a story to the children who are lying in a big four poster bed. Grandma sits next to Eliza by the fireplace, rocking and laughing at the funny story.

An interesting side note about Valentine Vaux, the book Eliza was reading: 
The Adventures of Valentine Vaux; Or, the Tricks of a Ventriloquist. A Parody of Henry Cockton's "Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox," was writen by Timothy Portwine (pseudonym) and was published in London in 1840. (Google Books)

Drawing by Belle,
A Devil of a Sight: 
 This drawing by Belle may be an illustration of the storm mentioned by Eliza in the letter.
(Thermal copy of Pencil drawing on 8 x 10" paper. Location of original unknown.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Letter to Belle from her Papa

B. F. Tisdale,
B. F. Tisdale
Carte de Visite c.1860

On his 45th birthday, March 19, 1868, Benjamin F. Tisdale sat at his desk in New Orleans and penned a letter to his daughter, Arabella Maria. He addressed the letter to her "Care of Wm. Pratt Esqr., Baton Rouge."

The first page of that letter forms the background of this blog. Belle and her sister Mary were staying with their grandparents, William and Bernice Pratt at their plantation, Oakland Place, about five miles east of the city of Baton Rouge. The situation in New Orleans was still very chaotic with business at a standstill and goods and money scarce.

The original letter is on a page of thin legal size paper, 8 1/2" x 14", in my possession. There is an embossed imprint in the upper left corner of the page that looks like a large building with the letters O & H. Although there is no year written on the letter or on the postmark we know it was written in 1868 because of the mention of the baby Robbie "beginning to talk." Robert Rafael Tisdale was born on 24 October 1866 so he would have been almost 18 months old in March 1868. Belle's sister, Lee (Olivia South Carolina Tisdale), was born 8 February 1864 and would have been four years old. Mother Eliza would have been busy preparing for her steamship trip up the Mississippi to Baton Rouge.

The transcription is exactly as written.
New Orleans March 19th
My Dear Daughter
I received Your very Welcome letter Yesterday and Was Satisfied to Know that all Were Well and that You had not forgotten Your Father. I have to apologize to You for having remained So long Silent. I have been busy and in Some trouble, but that is No excuse for Neglecting to answer Your letter to Me. If We have not the love of our Children to Comfort us as We grow old life loses half its Autumnal Charms, and the Winter of Age Comes upon us Cold indeed. I love My Children as Well as I Was loved by My Parents and in their Smiles and affection for me I find Much Consolation for the troubles that have borne Me down for Years past. Children do Not Know the Sorrows and the Anxieties their Parents have, and Should always try to be as Kind and obedient to them as they Can. I am Sorry you did Not Write to Me as You usually do, and tell Me all the News of the place You did Not Mention Franky Nor Willie.Why? Dont You love them any More? Or, Was it that You Were Angry With Me and Would Not gratify Me even So far? Very Well. Perhaps, You will Know Some day What it is to have trouble and then in the Midst of Your trouble to lose the love of those You love the best. God does Not prosper the Child that Ceases to love and honor its Father and its Mother. Many Cases are in the Bible, as Well as in profane history, illustrating the punishment inflicted upon Children for not honoring their Father and their Mother. You have always until Now Seemed to love Me. Well, I have done Nothing to forfeit Your love, and if I have lost

[page 2]

it I suppose I must bear the loss as best I May. If I Were rich I Could Console myself With the pleasures Money Would buy - but now I am poor indeed if With My fortune I lose the affection of my Children.

Your Mother goes up on Saturday and Will arrive Sunday Morning. Before You Get this however You Will get my Dispatch of today announcing her departure Next Saturday.

Robbie and Lee are Well. Rob is the Sweetest little fellow ever You Saw. He is beginning to talk, and understands everything You Say to him. Lee is Well and as mischievous as ever.

I will Not tell You any of My plans When Your Mother is gone. She Will tell You What We going to try to do this Fall With the help of God. Tell aunt Margaret I Send her a pipe by Eliza.

Give My love to Frankie & Willie and Kiss them for Me. This is My birthday and on it Now, in this letter I say to You My Dear Daughter God bless You and So good bye.
Your affectionate
Benj F Tisdale

P. S. I will try and Send You Something When they start, 
for You and the other Children. The Moneys so scarce it Cant be Much.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Cousin Kate McCaughey

On February 25 1867 Belle's cousin Kate McCaughey married T. H. Durr in New Orleans.
Durr - McCaughey 1867 Marriage,
Durr - McCaughey 1867 Marriage Certificate
Kate McCaughey 1867,
Catherine Bernice McCaughey 1849-1917

When I sat down with my Grandpa Booksh to identify photos he said that he thought this Carte de Visite photo was of Kate McCaughey, his mother's cousin. Judging from her age it would have been taken near the time that she married.

Cousin Kate, Catherine Bernice McCaughey, was born 27 August 1849 to Frances Ann Augusta Pratt. Aunt France was the oldest sister of Belle's mother, Eliza Helen Pratt. On March 26, 1850 when Kate was just seven months old her father, William H. McCaughey, died. Kate's older brother, Emilius Valerius McCaughey, died some time before 1850. Aunt France and Kate went to live with Grandma and Grandpa Pratt.

"William McCoy" is listed in the 1850 U. S. Census Mortality Schedule and his widow Frances and one year old daughter Bernice are listed in the population schedule as living with her parents, William and Bernice Pratt. Their surname is given as "McCoy." Until I saw that census it never occurred to me that McCaughey could be pronounced as McCoy. The family always pronounced it McCoffee.

Several Masonic documents related to William McCaughey were posted to this blog on 9 September 2014.

Kate's marriage certificate identifies the witnesses as her step father, Henry Anthoine; her Uncle Jene, Eugene J. Pratt; and her Aunt Eliza, E. H. Tisdale. It includes their signatures and is signed by the minister Gaylord Lewis More.

Just one month later Belle and Kate's Aunt Bina, Albina Sarah Pratt, married George W. Durr. We can assume the two men were related, although I can find very little information on George and no information on T. H.

On 1 August 1870 George and Albina Durr and their two children are listed as living in dwelling 328 in Ward 3, Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. Eliza Tisdale and her six children are in dwelling 327 and Grandma and Grandpa Pratt and Uncle Jene are in dwelling 326. Emmett Craig, widower of Susan Pratt, with their two daughters, Katie and Mary, are in dwelling 329. So Oakland Place had become quite a family compound.

Kate McCaughey is listed twice in the 1870 census. On 6 June 1870 she is living in New Orleans with her mother, Frances, and stepfather, Henry Anthoine, and is listed as Kate McCoy. On the 29 July 1870 she is listed with her mother and a domestic servant named Martha Washington in Ward 3, Baton Rouge, at dwelling 236. In the1880 census Kate is recorded as living at 249 Treme Street in New Orleans with Henry and Frances Anthoine. Her Aunt Bina and George Durr and their children had moved to Texas by then and are listed in Precinct 2, Wood County, Texas.

We don't know what became of Kate's husband, T. H. Durr, or why her marriage certificate ended up in Belle Tisdale's papers. Kate is listed as a widow in later censuses, but we can find no death record for T. H. Durr. Kate Bernice McCaughey Durr died in September 1917 in New Orleans and was buried in plot 718, Greenwood Cemetery on 19 September 1917 according to cemetery records.

New Orleans in 1867

Although the Civil War was over the political situation in New Orleans in 1867 was still in turmoil. The U. S. Congress passed a Reconstruction Bill early in 1867 to provide for more federal control in the South. Military districts were created to govern until violence could be suppressed and a more democratic political system established. Louisiana was put into the Fifth Military District. Ex-Confederates, mostly white Democrats, were temporarily disenfranchised, and the right of suffrage was to be enforced for free people of color. (Wikipedia and Alcee Fortier, A History of Louisiana, Volume 4)

Our city is in a state of utter hopelessness,” Mayor Edward Heath declared in 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War. The city council had to contend with ruined wharves, hospital shortages, and hungry orphans as well as economic stagnation. In his book New Orleans 1867: The Photographs of Theodore Lillienthal, Gary Van Zante tells the story of an amazing plan for the city to take part in the Paris World Exposition, hosted by Napoleon III in 1867. The city council selected Prussian-born photographer, Theodore Lillienthal, to make 150 large photographs of the city to show New Orleans as a modern metropolis worthy of foreign investment. The photos were sent to Emperor Napoleon III for the Exposition to reassure France and other European countries that the city had not been destroyed and remained a good place to do business.

All but 24 of the 150 photographs survived and were discovered in the Napoleon Museum in Arenenberg, Switzerland, in 1994. They were exhibited at Tulane University and the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2000 and published in book form in 2008 with expert commentary by Gary Van Zante, curator of the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University, 1994-2002. For more information see The Way We Were and How an early photographer captured a shaken city.

To add to the city's woes, there was another yellow fever epidemic in 1867. It started in New Orleans and spread to Baton Rouge. An article by Judy Riffel titled “Yellow Fever in West Baton Rouge in 1867” in Le Raconteur, the journal of the Louisiana State Archives, says:
Yellow Fever was dormant in Louisiana throughout the Civil War years. In fact, the last major epidemic had been in 1855. That eight-year grace period, however, ended in June of 1867 when the disease reappeared in New Orleans. It reached epidemic proportions in August. Deaths diminished by October with the advent of cooler weather and the epidemic ended in November.”
(John Duffy, ed., The Rudolph Matas History of Medicine in Louisiana, Volume II, Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1962, pp. 423-425)

The 1867 epidemic was second only to the outbreak of 1853. There were 50 deaths a day in September 1867. (Van Zante, New Orleans 1867)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

March 14, 1867 Letter from Belle to Papa and Mama

Belle Tisdale c.1865,
Belle Tisdale c 1865
Belle turned twelve years old on January third, 1867. This carte des visite photo of her was made at A. D. Lytle's studio in Baton Rouge during the time she was living at her Grandma and Grandpa Pratt's Oakland Place Plantation. The original is in a carte des visite album in the possession of J. S. Sarradet.

The original letter is on 15 1/2” x 9 3/4” faintly lined paper, folded in half, with manuscript ink writing. Condition is good except for a torn corner on page 3-4. It is transcribed exactly as written. The original letter is in the possession of Vera Booksh Zimmerman.

Page 1
Oakland Place,                         
  March the 14th 1867
My Dear Papa,
Belle Tisdale back, by A. D. Lytle,          I was in A great hury when I wrote that last letter to you; because Grand Pa was in A hury to get to town. Ask Mama if she will come up here and come along with her. Bob, Aunt Bina's cat is A little, wilde because every time that Uncle Jena  sees Bob he commences to dance and that scares  Bob half to death. how are you all wee are all  well.   It  was freezeing cold last; night and it sleeted  last night, and then again this morning about A quarter of an  hour  after breakfast it turned warmer, A little, and then it  turned colder, than ever; and now iceicles About three or  four inches long are hanging on the houses.

Goodbye God bless you; your            
Affectionate daughter, Bella Tisdale.
     Page 2
I have not much to tell you but I thought as that last letter was so short I might as well write some more. As soon as it gets A little warmer I think; that is if the Amit is not to high we wil go and spend the day at the Amit; and if we go  I want you to come up and go with us. How is that blessed little Robert; I do wish you all had some sence, you would come up and go with us. Next Sunday Grace Mary Kate and I are all a comeing going up the road and stay until I see you all A comeing,
   Bella Tisdale

Oakland place March the 16, 1867
     My Dear Mama,
                 I have something splendid to tell you; Grand Pa is a getting up the timber to make A gin and he is a going to buy an engine to work his mill with. We say our lessons every

Page 3

day, and I work two hours every day on my slipper; and I will have it finished before next week is out; and just as soon as that one is finished I will commence the other one. Mary's ball of worsted has given out. Aunt Lizz says that there is no news yet; and Aunt Lizz sends howdy to you all.We have not had more than two or three days good weather since I have been here. Uncle Jena has gone to spend the day at Mrs. David's. Mary and Grace made A cake this morning; and what kind of egg's do you think she made them out of; I will tell you the whole truth; 
there was A goose a wa [torn]
when it [torn]
of water [torn]
that She c [torn]
that was [torn]
the goose [torn]
two or thre [torn]
he hopes th [torn]
your buisne [torn]

Page 4
Good bye God bless you      
 Your Affectionate daughter;
Bella Tisdale.

In her letter, Belle refers to Uncle Jena. This is her mother's youngest brother Joel Eugene Pratt. The family called him Jena, pronounced in the distinctive Louisiana style as Gee NAY. I can just see him doing a little jig and scaring the poor cat. I believe that Aunt Bina is Albina Pratt Durr, Grandma Pratt's sister. Aunt Lizz may be Uncle James Pratt's second wife, Mary Elizabeth Coyle. 

The Amit that Belle mentions is the Amite River just a few miles east of Oakland and a favorite fishing spot. Belle asks about her baby brother, Robert Rafael Tisdale, who was born in  New Orleans on October 24, 1866. Evidently Belle is either knitting or crocheting herself a pair of slippers. This is the only letter I know of that Belle signs Bella.