Thursday, May 21, 2015

1865 Letter from Belle to her Papa

1865 letter,

This letter from Belle Tisdale to her Papa, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, was written on both sides of a single 5 ¼” x 8” sheet of paper. It starts out in what appears to be her mother's handwriting. Perhaps Eliza was helping ten year old Belle learn to write with a dip pen. In a few lines the letter continues in Belle's handwriting. My transcription was made from a copy and is exactly as written. The location of the original is unknown.

[Eliza's handwriting?] Monday, Sept. 11th, 1865
Oakland Place
My Dear Papa,
                    How are you I would be very glad to see you Col Biberon was here this morning I was so glad to here from you we were all very much pleased at the new monney you sent us & very much obliged to you.

[Belle's handwriting] Mama says she is comeing home in two weeks. We have a good many Persimmons, and watermelons are nearly a all gone. oh my darling Papa how bad I want to see you I will soon be there and see you good.. and Papa I will never come up here any more with out


you. bless your heart. Ben says do you know him. Oh how I wish you was only here a minnet.[“here a” inserted in Eliza's handwriting]  Oh how glad I would be. We are all well. I hope I hope you are well to. Frank is not very well to day, and Willie has not been. tell Martha aunt niv  nerve has a baby, a little girl. I send you a thousand kises.
            Your daughter Belle.
                   god by
             good by ga God bless you.
             [“God” inserted in Eliza's handwriting]

When Belle wrote this letter her older sister Mary would have been 13, brothers Frank and Willie would have been 5 and 3, and baby sister Olivia “Lee” would have been 17 months old. We don't know how long Eliza and the children had been living at Oakland Place with her parents, Bernice and William Pratt. Frank, Willlie, and Lee were all born in New Orleans and their births were registered in Orleans Parish.  It was not unusual for New Orleans families to move from the city into the country during the late summer and fall months when the danger of yellow fever was highest.

The period of military occupation in New Orleans was a difficult time which didn't change with the end of the war. Belle's letter was written only four months after the assassination of President Lincoln and the accession of Andrew Johnson. It was just a little over three months after the signing of surrender terms on May 26 in New Orleans for the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy. The city was still a base for federal troops and violence was common. The family may have moved to the Pratt plantation because of the danger as well as because of the scarcity of food and other commodities.

John D. Winters in his book The Civil War in Louisiana says that the banking system was in ruins. Many of the older mercantile firms were in financial ruin or were struggling to exist...Only speculators, Union sympathizers, and carpetbaggers seemed to have adequate money, which they loaned at ruinous rates of interest.”

B. F. Tisdale is listed in the 1861 New Orleans City Directory as living at Calliope and Dryades streets and working for John B. Murison & Co. There were no city directories published during the war and occupation.  When Benjamin F. Tisdale records Olivia Tisdale's birth in February 1864 the family is still living on Calliope Street. In the 1866 directory B. F. Tisdale is listed at 244 Calliope street with no place of business mentioned. So it may have been financial difficulties that sent Eliza and the children to Oakland Place Plantation, as is hinted at by the mention of “the new monney you sent us.”

Life at Oakland was not much better. Winters quotes planter E. W. Moore as writing, “The closing of the war this section of the country having been subjected to the ravages of both armies for the last two years leaves us all in a very exhausted and ruined condition...”  He also states that   “At least half of the horses, mules, sheep, cattle, and pigs had disappeared during the conflict.” The countryside was desolate with many homes burned and fields ruined.

Belle's cousin Kate Craig Couturie writes in her 1904 letter that the end of the Civil War left Grandpa Pratt's “Mills, gins and stables burned, horses and carriages stolen...”( from my blog post of January 15, 2015) At least at Oakland they could grow persimmons and watermelons and other fruits and vegetables to feed the family and there would have been a cistern to provide clean water.

Aunt Nerve that Belle mentions may be Minerva Connelly Calvert, Grandma Bernice Pratt's sister. However, she was born 22 May 1811 which would make her 54, a bit old to be having  a baby. The only other Minerva I can find in the family is Minerva Lowry, born in 1831. She was Bernice's niece, daughter of her sister Olivia Wakefield Connely Lowry. Or she may have been a friend of the family or a servant. It was common in Louisiana for children to call unrelated adults Aunt or Uncle out of respect.

At any rate, in two weeks Eliza and the children would board a steamboat at Baton Rouge and travel down river to New Orleans where Belle would see her beloved Papa once more.

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