Friday, March 30, 2018

A Visit to the Magee Farm

On a hot June morning in 2010 we pulled the camper off of Hwy 45 just north of Mobile and drove up the tree-lined drive to visit Magee Farm. The two-story Gulf Coast Cottage was built in 1848 for Jacob Magee (1811-1883) and his wife Mary Eliza Tisdale (1810-1882), older sister of Benjamin Franklin Tisdale. 

The brochure said “...At the Magee farm it's always 1865!” and it certainly felt that way.
Billed as “The Last Appomattox,” the house in Kushla, Alabama, was where Union Major General Edward Canby and Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Taylor met on April 29, 1865 to negotiate a cease fire and the surrender of the last Confederate forces east of the Mississippi. The actual surrender took place several days later on May 4 at nearby Citronelle, Alabama. (For more details see my blog post on April 9, 2015.)

Ken McGhee on the front porch of the Jacob Magee House
On the front porch we met our guide, Ken McGhee, a Civil War re-enactor and no relation to Jacob Magee. While we waited for a group from the local library to join the tour, Ken took us to the family cemetery where B. F. Tisdale was buried. Surrounded by a low brick wall the cemetery was on land owned in 2010 by Robert Eddington.

“That was a surprise!” I wrote in my journal that night. I had visited Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1998 and photographed B. F. Tisdale's name on the monument there along with his wife Eliza Pratt Tisdale and other family members. (See my blog post of January 31, 2018.) We knew from the obituary that he had died at the home of Dr. Grace in Whistler, now part of Mobile, but the story of where he was buried had not come down in our branch of the family.

Mary Eliza Tisdale Magee

By the time we got back to the front porch the rest of the tour group had arrived and our guide showed us through the house. Photos of Jacob and Mary were on the mantel in the parlor where the two generals had met. The dining room table was set for the luncheon the generals shared after their discussions. There was even a photo of Belle's youngest brother Charles Harry Tisdale in the small one room museum.

General Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor wrote in his autobiography, Destruction and Reconstruction:
"...A bountiful luncheon was spread, of which we partook, with joyous poppings of champagne corks for accompaniment, the first agreeable explosive sounds I had heard in years. The air of “Hail Columbia,” which the band in attendance struck up, was instantly changed by Canby's order to that of “Dixie,” but I insisted on the first, and expressed a hope that Columbia would be again a happy land, a sentiment honored by many libations.” []

The Tisdale family has another connection to the Magee Farm in addition to Aunt Mary Tisdale Magee. In 1898 the property was bought by Alfred Henry Sturdevant and his wife Harriet Morse of Illinois. They had six children, among them daughter Helen Morse Sturtevant who was 21 years old at the time. At a dance in Mobile Helen met a young man named Marion Eugene Tisdale, Belle's brother. She brought him home to meet her family and as the wagon pulled up the road to the house he exclaimed, “This is my Aunt's house!”

On August 15, 1903 Marion Eugene Tisdale and Helen Sturtevant were married at Magee Farm, linking the house once again to the Tisdale family. Unfortunately the wedding was marred by tragedy. Helen's younger brother Bradford drowned in Chickasabougue Creek the week before the wedding on August 9, 1903.

Marion Eugene Tisdale, Jr. writes, “After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom along with Alfred Henry and Harriet Sturtevant and the groom's mother Eliza Pratt Tisdale went out to the family cemetery where the bride placed the flowers she had carried on the newly made grave of her brother Bradford, near the grave of Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, Eliza's late husband...” ...Marion Eugene Tisdale evidently had an early stage brain cancer and was destined to live less than 11 years after the wedding...”

Helen and Marion had four children, Dorothy Hope, Margaret Helen, Bradford, and Harry Lee. Harry Lee was born just four and a half months before his father died and his name was changed to Marion Eugene shortly thereafter. His son Marion E. Tisdale Jr. is the author of the manuscript “Some Memories of the Magee Farmhouse” quoted above. It was on line but has now disappeared.

The Magee Farm was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and opened as a museum in 2004. In 2010 it was named a Place in Peril, one of Alabama's most endangered places, by the Alabama Historical Commission. It ceased operation soon afterward. I'm thankful we discovered it before it closed.

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