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.
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