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A Story of Pecan Grove Plantation

Special to the Jefferson County

 MSGenWeb Project

"Oh, Grandma, I have a chair for you out here on the lawn.  Won't you come out and tell us a story of the Civil War times, when you were a little girl?  Please, Gram, do come," so spoke Elinor, the twelve year old grand-daughter. Arthur, two years his sister's senior, added, "We are both waiting for you, Grandma dear, beside your favorite rocking chair."



They were always eager for the old stories of the southern experiences through which their grandmother had lived and with which she often entertained them.  She was of the South, the "Old South," and enjoyed talking over those long ago days.

"Tell you a story of the Civil War times when I was a little girl, did you say?"

"Yes, Gram, please do, " said Elinor, who loved everything pertaining to the South.  She often said, "I am going to marry a southern man when I grow up."



Their grandmother settled herself comfortably in the chair with sewing, and said: "Now what shall it be: the Brer Rabbit Tales, when Brer Rabbit jumped into the briar patch; or when I looked for the soldiers to come, and kept peeking around the corner of our house until our old black cook, whom we children called Aunt Fanny, pulled me back, saying: 'Chile, do'an you know dem sojers'll see you and just come a runnin' hyar;' or have I ever

told you of the time the gunboats shelled Natchez, Mississippi?"

"Yes, Grandma, you did tell us about that one time, but you forgot to say why they shelled the town.  Why did they?"

"Well, I have been told, it was because the gunboats were refused ice.  You see, in those southern towns, ice was very scarce and the little that was there had to be used for the sick and wounded in the hospitals, so they could not spare any of it for the sick soldiers on board the gunboats.  That is why the boats retaliated by shelling the town.


"You know, Arthur dear, I was born in Natchez, and I think it was about this time that I had my first distinct recollection of trouble.  I remember so well. feeling worried whenever my father, your great-grandfather, left the house.  He was a Presbyterian minister and as he had to be out a great deal of the time visiting the sick and other members of his congregation, my anxiety was intense for fear he would be hurt by the big shells that were being poured over Natchez.  One did come very near our house; it went through a barn next to us and killed a

horse there."

"I have also told you of our leaving Natchez, shortly after this, for the Pine Woods--some twenty-five miles distant, where your great grandfather preached in two or three small country churches during the War; and how the furniture was moved in covered wagons.  We also took with us three or four Negroes who were slaves then, but although my father offered them their freedom before the War ended, they refused to leave us until long afterwards.  My father, mother, little brother, baby sister and I followed the wagons in the family carryall, similar to the surrey of later years, drawn by our faithful horse, Stonewall Jackson, who took us safely to our new home, which was about a mile from the highway leading to Brookhaven."

"We spent the first night on a large plantation owned by a Mr. Gilchrist.  I found a little girl my age there and as it was near our new home, we often had many happy times playing together.  You surely do not want to hear those old stories over again do you?"


"Oh, Gram dear, you must know some others, don't you?  Couldn't you tell us a real new one?" said Elinor.


"Well, let me think a minute.  Have I ever told you the story of the silver water pitcher?"

"No, Grandma, you never have.  That sounds good to me.  It is about the Civil War times?" asked Arthur.

"Yes, Arthur dear, partly, as is happened during that time."

"Oh, Gram, please commence!  I can hardly wait to hear it for I know I shall love it.  Won't you begin right away?" said Elinor.

Mrs. Thornton, their grandmother, was a widow, was spending the summer with her daughter, many miles from the old southern home where her childhood and early girlhood had been spent.  It had been many a year since her home had been in the Southland where the romance of her life had begun, and it was a joy to her that her grandchildren were so interested in the places and scenes of the long ago which she loved so dearly and on which she loved to dwell.

"Well, once upon a time (as old as they were, the children loved to have her begin her stories with the old familiar phase because it reminded them of the fairy tales that they loved), there was a beautiful old plantation home situated on the Mississippi River, about thirty miles above Natchez.  Surrounding the house were spacious grounds filled with ornamental trees of many kinds, such as: magnolias, live oaks, Chinaberry trees of unusual size, and beautifully trimmed cedars.  An avenue of fine large cedars and crepe myrtle trees extended from the front gate to the house and formed a archway over a graveled walk.



"Back of the house was a beautiful old garden that I loved so dearly as a little girl when I spent much time in this lovely home with Aunt Phoebe, your great-aunt.  The garden was filled with flowers of all kinds, and the paths were bordered with box and Cape jasmine shrubs and lined with pomegranate trees.  As you walked along under the arbors covered with yellow and white honeysuckle and Marshall Neil roses, the air was filled with sweet perfume.

"How well I remember the summers I use to spend on the dear old place: the hum of the insects; the buzzing of the bees, as they gathered honey from the over-ripe figs; the songs of the Negroes, as they were wafted from the near-by cotton fields, all filled my childish mind with a wonderful content and happiness.  I loved, particularly, to swing in the hammock on the front gallery (that is what we called the broad, long veranda across the front and side of the house); and to wonder as I looked out on the old River and across to the Louisiana plantations, what the world was like elsewhere and where I would be when I grew up.

"Into this peaceful place where Uncle Peter, Aunt Phoebe, and their two sons, my cousins, James and Tom, lived, cane rumors of a dreadful war in our Land between the North and South, brother against brother.  We cannot think of such a calamity as that happening in our beloved Country today, can we?  It was a shame it ever had to be, wasn't it?

"Before a great while, gunboats filled our peaceful river where beautiful, fine boats filled with happy crowds of people had plies between Vicksburg, New Orleans, and other points on the River.  Travel in those days was carried on mainly by boat, as the railroads, which were few, did not have the luxurious Pullman accommodations that they have today.


"Now all was changed and gunboats had the right of way.  The booming of guns and cannon which filled the air made the nights hideous, and very often the men came ashore to forage about for food and wood to refuel their boats.  Chickens, sweet potatoes, and ham and bacon from the smoke-house often became their property, but as a rule, they were not as lawless as soldiers often are during war times.  You remember the old saying, "All is fair in love and war,' but they never did any real damage to the plantation as they were always treated kindly by Uncle Peter and Aunt Phoebe.  Only once, when the soldiers were apposed because they wanted to find the hiding places of the firearms and ammunition and carry them away from the house, did they attempt the unruly.  However, the officers soon quieted them.

"During such times, it was thought to put valuables in a safe place and as there was a quantity of solid silver and jewelry in this plantation home, all the spoons, dorks, silver pitchers, sugar bowls and teapots were gathered together and carefully packed in boxed.  The water pitcher of our story was put in a box by itself.  Then, one dark night, an old trusted Negro man was called, and told to go out alone and find a safe hiding place for the boxes.  He went through the garden into a cotton field where he dug a hole into which he lowered one box; further on he prepared another hole and put the box with the water pitcher down as deep as he could.  Many times cotton, and sometimes corn, was cultivated over those boxes before it was safe enough to take them out.

(This is not the pitcher in the story)


"Now I must tell you a little bit of the history of this beautiful old silver water pitcher.  Long, long before there was a thought of war in our Land, there had lived on this plantation, a young couple who had come from Louisiana.  This old pitcher was given to them at the time of their marriage, and there was an old tradition connected with it, that it must always be handed down to the eldest son or daughter at the time of their marriage.  Already you have guessed that this young couple was Uncle Peter's parents; and when Uncle Peter married our Aunt Phoebe, the pitcher was given to them.  It was very valuable on account of its size, quality design, beautiful workmanship, and antiquity; and it was always kept brightly shined and carefully guarded.  It towered above the smaller pieces on the side-board in the dining room, a real ornament.

"On a small plantation several miles up River, at Lake Providence, Louisiana, there lived an aunt of Uncle Peter's.  She was a remarkably fine character, generous almost to a fault, hospitable, kind and loving.  She had no children of her own but her home was constantly filled with nieces, nephews, and other relatives for she was devoted to young people.  She often gave different ones permanent home until they married.

"Just before the war began, she came to Pecan Grove---Uncle Peter's plantation, for a visit and brought with her Anna Mason, her latest and most charming adopted daughter.  Her brown hair curled softly about her face and her eyes of blue were the sky's own color.  She was a sweet as she looked and she was thoroughly unselfish, never thinking of herself.  Tom and I were her devoted slaves and Cousin Jim was as susceptible to her charm as the rest of us.


"The days of their visit sped by on wings.  The young people of the community and adjoining town were invited to join in the happy times and weeks were filled with pleasures that the young people loved, such as: horseback riding, which was very popular at that time; picnics; parties; "Coon and "Possum hunts around the lakes back of the plantation, with the Negroes for guides; and boating on the River in the moonlight.

"In the mist of all these good times, came the knowledge of the War, and a call to arms of all the young men of the Country!  Aunt Susan thought she and Anna had better get home before the lines were closed and traveling unsafe.  Accordingly, preparations were made for their departure, and not until then did Cousin Jim and Anna realize what the separation meant to them.  Jim was talking of joining a company of young men from the country-side and near-by towns, and so it was with sad, yet hopeful hearts, that goodbyes were said when Aunt Susan and Anna left Pecan Grove.

"Cousin Jim was the apple of Aunt Phoebe's eye and she could not bear the thought of his going of to War.  She plead with him to wait at least another year when he would be twenty, but the call was urgent and he could not resist going with his own friends and boyhood playmates.  The day came all too soon when, fitted out in the gray uniform from the Southern Army and looking so brave and handsome, he marched gaily away.  We were all in tears but Aunt Phoebe tired to smile bravely as she waved her goodbye.  Tom, who was only fourteen, was quite disgusted that he was so young, and even suggested that he ought to go as a drummer boy.  I was only too thankful that he could not go, at it would have been a desolate place for me with out him.


"The long four years of the war were ended at last.  Cousin Jim had come home on furlough twice, once on sick leave, and once to recuperate after being wounded, but as soon as he was able, he had gone back.  Now, we heard that he was coming for good and his return was heralded with rejoicings by everyone on the plantation.  He was the conquering hero to us, at least, who loved him dearly.  Though the War was over, it meant many bitter days and hard times for the poor devastated South for a long, long time.  There was no sale for cotton, many plantations had been only partly cultivated, and the darkies were too unsettled to do much work, so the readjustment took time.


"Cousin Jim had never forgotten Anna, and he began to feel that he must see her now that he had recovered his health and was ready to settle down and attend to the plantation for his father.   Aunt Phoebe, who was willing to do anything for his happiness as she was so thankful to have him home again, agreed that it was better to have Aunt Susan come for another visit and bring Anna with her.

"Anna was more mature now, but even more beautiful.  Their meeting after the long separation was a joy no one who saw it could forget.  Their warm friendship had ripened into love, deep and true.  Anna was fairly starry-eyed with happiness and Cousin Jim was radiant.  He was certain no one could make him as happy as Anna, and urged an early marriage to which she readily consented.  Both Aunt Phoebe and Aunt Susan entered into their plans with enthusiasm, and decided that on account of the spacious grounds and hospitable, roomy galleries, the plantation was the most appropriate place for the wedding.


"So the preparations for the happy event went merrily on; shopping tours to Natchez and New Orleans filled the intervening days.  The old house rang with the gay, young voices as it began to fill up with cousins and young folks.  Their laughter and gayety became so infectious, that even the older folk were drawn away from the more serious side of life.  The thoughts of the War and its sad aftermath were for the time being forgotten in the merriment and happiness before them.

"Aunt Phoebe began to think of the buried silver and especially the silver water pitcher, as they would need it to grace the wedding feast.  Search for it was immediately begun and even the old Negro man was called in to help.  He had almost forgotten the location, but by diligent digging the table silver was found.  However, no amount of hunting discovered the hiding place of the pitcher and Aunt Phoebe, who was so disappointed that this wonderful old piece was not to be found, feared it had been stolen.  Nearer and nearer came the day of days and in spite of constant search, it looked as though the pitcher would not be found.

"Finally the wedding day arrived and it was one of those days in June.  The soft southern air was filled with the perfume of honeysuckle, roses, and crepe myrtle; a purplish haze hung over the old river, which flowed peacefully on; and the songs of the mockingbirds and robins furnished the music.  All was perfect!  The last touches had been given to the long tables, which were placed on the lawn under the shady branches of the great live oak tree; the beautiful wedding cake stood ready to be cut; and the other viands from Aunt Harriett's willing hands were almost ready.

"All at once a hush fell upon the assembled company of relatives, neighbors, and friends, and our lovely bride and groom made their appearance on the gallery.  The took their places at one end under an arch of roses, crape myrtle blossoms, and cedar boughs, and soon the solemn words of the marriage service were being said by Dr. Robert Price, the Presbyterian minister from Vicksburg.  When the service was over showers of rose leaves pelted our lovely bride and congratulations were said by all the friends.

"In the mist of the happy laughter and hubbub, the voice of Tom was heard asking that he might be allowed to take Samba and go out for one last look for the pitcher.  Consent was readily given and they went out with shovels and spades to the lot beyond the garden.  Tom was wholly unmindful of anything but to relieve his mother's anxiety about the beloved pitcher, and he hoped that it might be presented to his brother on his wedding day.

"Time was flying!  After all the good wishes had been said, the merry feast began.  As they all trouped merrily to the loaded tables, the wedding cake being cut by the bride.  The person getting the piece with a ring in it would be the next to married (an old tradition much believed in at the time).

"In the mist of laughter and merriment, a loud whistle was heard which caused quite a commotion among the guests.  It was the steamboat "Natchez' coming down the River and it would soon land in front of the house to take the wedded pair to New Orleans on their honeymoon.  Anna's friends, who insisted that they assist her in changing from her bridal dress of white satin to her traveling dress, hurried her to the house but before all was in readiness, the "Natchez' had landed.

"All was hurry and bustle, the darkies carried out the bags, while the happy young folks followed with plenty of rice, old slippers, etc., to throw after Jim and Anna.  Goodbyes and last loving directions had been given to them, when, just as they were stepping on the gang-plank of the boat, they heard a great shouting and commotion behind them.  Looking around, they saw Tom and Samba covered with dust and dirt, but proudly bearing aloft a strange looking object.  Calling to them to wait, Tom said,  "We found the pitcher and here it is!'  Samba added.

"We done dug it up,  Marse Jimmy, and we is here "fore you all done leave.'

"Of course, there was not much time to thank the boys as the boat was waiting impatiently to be off.  The bell was ringing and the whistle was blowing as a warning to start, as they walked up the gang-plank.  They stood on deck, smiling happily and waving to their friends on shore, while the gang-plank was lifted and the boat moved out of sight.

"The finding of the beloved pitcher, besides being fitting ending to this joyous occasion, was a great relief to Aunt Phoebe who embraced Tom, dirt and all.  The boys had worked as if their lives depended upon finding the pitcher and in digging for it, found that the box had falling away from the contents and the spade had made a dent in the side of the pitcher.  However the dent, which has always remained as a memorial to the Civil War times, has made this beautiful old silver piece even more valuable.  The pitcher, which was once more polished and out on the sideboard to await the new owners, was more prized, if possible, than ever before.  It has fulfilled its mission, that of gracing many a wedding feast, from that time, so long ago, down to the present day and it is still a much treasured old piece."

"That was a grand story!" said Arthur.

"Oh, yes, it was just grand, Gram," said Elinor, "You were good to tell us such a fine, long one.  I am glad that the pitcher was found, and I hope that Jim and Anna lived happily ever after.


The above was written by my great, great grand mother Bessie Cleland Conklin (Mrs. William Burke Conklin - 1856 - 1942) who lived at Pecan Grove Plantation, Jefferson County, Mississippi.

Although mostly true, it is fiction but I have added this section at the end to explain how it all fits in to both our families and who is really who in the story.  The story speaks of what I think to be Salem Plantation at Lake Providence, LA.

Mrs. W. B. Conklin
330 McKinley Avenue
Kewanee, Illinois


Mrs. William Burke Conklin - 1856 - 1942 was born Bessie Cleland, September 27, 1856 at Natchez, Mississippi.  When Bessie was two her mother, Lucretia Savage, died the 24th of October 1858 of yellow fever in her 31st year.  Lucretia was the daughter of Reverend Thomas Savage and Lucy Woodruff who are portrayed correctly as the "Grandma's" grandparents in the story but incorrectly as the parents of Uncle Peter.  They were in fact the parents of Aunt Phoebe in the story.   Bessie made several artistic changes in the story and changed the names in a humble effort to lessen her own role.  Bessie's grandfather, Rev. Thomas Savage had come to LA as a Presbyterian Missionary about 1820 and married Lucy Woodruff 1821 the sister of Judge Clark Woodruff of the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, LA.  It was at their wedding, probably at The Myrtles Plantation, that the famed Silver Water Pitcher was a gift.  Unlike the story the pitcher was in the Savage Family and had not come down the Robb family.  It was smithed by Fredrik Marquan who is famous for southern silver with operations out of Savannah and New York.  The Savage pitcher is marked "F. M. Marquan New York." 

Rev. Thomas Savage most likely could have been a guest at the Robb's plantation as the story suggest since his brother Dr. John Savage was married to a member of the Norris family who was the sister and brother-in-law of Samuel Robb the owner of Pecan Grove Plantation at the time.  Pecan Grove had been in the Robb family for several generations is was granted to the Robb's as an original Spanish land grant.  Rev Thomas Savage moved from Louisiana to take a parish in Bedford, New Hampshire in the 1830's but his children obviously visited their Aunts and Uncles at the Myrtles plantation & Salem Plantation, and maybe even Pecan Grove Plantation.  Julia Savage eventually married Samuel Norris Robb who inherited Pecan Grove from his father.  Julia Savage probably did visit Pecan Grove Plantation with her Aunt where she met and fell in love with Samuel Robb's only son Samuel Norris Robb and this wedding was most likely celebrated with the splendor as described in the story however it was well before the War and at a time the Robb's had no financial worries.  It was probably then that she was given the Silver Water Pitcher that had been a gift at her parents wedding.   If not at her wedding she later possessed the Savage Family Silver Water Pitcher most likely after her mother's death and it was in fact at their plantation and was buried during the civil war and does have the dent that is described in the story.  It is not clear as to if there was a wedding when it was dug up or if its location was really lost and later found.  Knowing that Samuel Norris Robb had many financial troubles after the War it is not likely that a post War wedding would be of the magnitude suggested in the story.  When Bessie married it was in Nebraska not in Mississippi at her beloved Pecan Grove.

The mother, brother & sister Bessie speaks of in the story that went with her and her father (Reverend Thomas Horace Cleland) would have been her step-mother Sarah Rosannah Ray Cleland and her half-brother Horace Ray Cleland born 16th June 1861 at Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, baptized 18th May 1862 by Reverend Dr. Stratton of the 1st Presbyterian Church in Natchez and her half-sister Effie Purnell Cleland born 27th July 1862 at Natchez, Adams County, MS.  Thomas Horace Cleland preached at Second Presbyterian in Natchez whose congregation did not survive the Civil War but is standing to this day as the oldest African American Episcopal Church.  Bessie did live in Natchez at the start of the Civil War and did later move to the "back country" away from the Mississippi River in Copiah County as the story suggest.

When Bessie Cleland was 12 her father married a third time, and Bessie went to live with her mother's sister Julia Savage Robb (Aunt Phoebe in the story) and her husband Samuel Norris Robb (Uncle Peter in the story) at Pecan Grove plantation near Rodney, Mississippi, which is about 30 miles north of Natchez.

During the time Bessie lived at Pecan Grove plantation, William Burke Conklin and a younger brother Walter Welch Conklin, who were from Grand Gulf, Mississippi, also spent time at the plantation.  The boys were befriended by the Robb's after their father died.  The Robb's had no children of their own as their children died as babies, and they practically adopted the boys.  They sent them to a prep school in New England and expected to send them on to Dartmouth.  However, the Civil War broke out and the boys returned to the plantation.  Samuel Robb later suffered some financial losses, making it impossible to send them on to college.

Bessie Cleland is both the character of Grandma (also known as Mrs. Thornton in the story) and the best I can tell Anna.  Anna can also double as her Aunt Julia Savage as I have pointed out above.  Although Bessie may have lived with her Great Aunt Savage (Aunt Susan in the story) who was the widow of her Great Uncle Dr. Savage who is known to have had a plantation named "Salem Plantation near Lake Providence, LA (as in the story), it is well known that sometime after the Civil war and her fathers 3rd marriage she did live with her Aunt Julia "Julie" Savage Robb and her husband Samuel Norris Robb at Pecan Grove. 

Aunt Susan in the story would be her Aunt Morris Savage, who was not only her great Aunt but also the Aunt of both her Uncle & Aunt, Samuel Norris Robb & Julia Savage, who owned Pecan Grove at the time of the Civil War.

Differing from the story Samuel Norris Robb (Uncle Peter in the story) and Julia Savage Robb (Aunt Phoebe in the story) had no children to live past adolescence however; they had in fact practically adopted two boys they befriended as their own.  These boys William Burke Conklin (James in the story) born 14 OCT 1849 Claiborne County, Mississippi and his younger brother Walter Welch Conklin (Tom in the story) born 1 DEC 1852 Grand Gulf, Claiborne County, Mississippi lived at Pecan Grove Plantation after the death of their father Elijah Conklin who had been a gunsmith in Grand Gulf.  Their mother, Harriett Wilson Conklin was living in the city of Rodney near by with their other siblings.  Unlike the character of James in the story there is no evidence of William Burke Conklin leaving Pecan Grove to fight in the Civil war like his two older brothers Edward "Edwin" Montgomery Conklin and Charles Henry Conklin had.  William Edward was born 16 JUN 1836 in Ohio and died 11 JAN 1875 Rodney, MS of swamp fever.  He was a sergeant in the Mississippi 22nd Infantry, Company D of the Rodney Guards which came to Georgia and in May 1864 they were at the Base of Kennesaw Mountain, Jul 20 Battle of Peachtree Creek, and later during the evacuation of Atlanta at the battle at Rough and Ready, Jonesboro and Flint River. His younger brother Charles Henry Conklin born 25 AUG 1841 Claiborne County, Mississippi was a twin who died during the War 25 AUG 1863 in TN and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia in a shaft with 10 other solders.  Oakland has many famous people there including the author of "Gone With the Wind" Margaret Mitchell. He died as a result of gunshot wound at the Battle of Murfreesboro, TN.  He was a Lt. In Port Gibson, MS Rifles. Later he was part of Army of TN.  Died of lockjaw on his 22nd birthday. (His diary, written in the early part of the Civil War, is in the possession of Elizabeth Woodbury Markley's family. He was the only brother to lose his life in the war.)

When Bessie was 14 she was sent to Omaha, Nebraska, to live with her uncle, James Woodruff Savage, and his wife, Lucy L. Morris Savage, in order for her to complete her education.  She attended Brownell Hall, a private girl's school in Omaha.

James W. Savage was a Colonel in the Union Army.  He was also a judge and a very important man.  He was sent by the railroad out to Nevada to be present at the ceremony of the Golden Spike when the two railroads met.  It must have been a big change for Bessie who had lived in the South her entire life and been on that side of the Civil War to live with her Uncle who had fought against them however this could explain why it was that Pecan Grove was spared during the war since it was his sister who lived there.  It is very unfortunate that the mighty Mississippi was not as sparing.

William Conklin, who was seven years older than Bessie, had fallen in love with her before she left the plantation, and considered they were engaged when she left for Omaha.  The Robb's approved of the match.  This separation is symbolized in the story by the notion that James had gone off to war.  In fact Bessie had gone off to live with her Uncle.

William stayed on at Pecan Grove for a while to look after things for Mrs. Robb after her husband's (Samuel Norris Robb) death in May 1871, but later went to Nebraska, possibly to be nearer Bessie.  They were married October 5, 1875, in Omaha, Neb., and went to North Platte, Nebraska, to live.

Contributed by Sam Lenaeus, from his private collection of his Great-great grandmother's papers.


Special Thanks to Gran Gran for the lovely graphics on this page!


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