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THE SILVER WATER PITCHER
A Story of Pecan Grove Plantation
Special to the Jefferson County
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
"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
"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
"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
"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!"
"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.
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
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."
Contributed by Sam Lenaeus, from his private collection of his Great-great grandmother's papers.