A. B. AMIS, Sr.
This is a reproduction of a small pamphlet published in 1934 by A. B. Amis, Sr. It describes the religious, courtship and social customs of the 1870s and 1880s in rural central Mississippi.
In 1998 the pamphlet was scanned and converted to text using OCR (optical character recognition) by the author's grandson, A. B. Amis, III. It was converted to HTML for publication on the Web by Scott E. Lee. Any questions relating to the work or its author can be addressed to A. B. Amis, III:
No Copyright. This work does not include a copyright statement. Mr. Amis sent me a signed statement that he is the sole inheritor of his grandfather's pamphlet and gives his permission for it to be freely copied and distributed. For more information on copyrights see the United States Copyright Office.
Explanatory notes. Mr. Amis also sent me a letter explaining about the pamphlet. I have included that letter below.
I hope you enjoy this peek into our ancestors' lives as much as I have.
Scott E. Lee
The accompanying material is from a small (6" x 9", 28 pages) pamphlet written and published in 1934 by my grandfather, A.B. Amis, Sr., who was described in A. J. Brown's History of Newton County from 1834 to 1894 as "the best educated man that has ever gone from Newton County". While I don't know for certain, I would imagine that some few hundred copies of the pamphlet were printed for free distribution to friends and family. No copyright notice appears on this publication, which I feel sure reflects a conscious decision on his part, since he did copyright several other documents that he authored and published in this same period. All of these were written at a time when he was Chancellor of the Second Chancery Court District of Mississippi, comprising some six or eight counties in the east central part of the state, an elected office which he discharged with great distinction for three terms.
As Chancellor, he heard civil cases involving all manner of disputes relating to property, debts, damages, etc., but certainly his greatest expertise and contribution were in matters of divorce, probate, and guardianship. One of his early acts after taking the bench as Chancellor in 1930 was to write, publish, and distribute at his own expense three thousand copies of a pamphlet on the "Duties of Executors, Administrators, and Guardians." Quoting from a letter written some years later by an associate who had practiced law in his Court:
"... When he took office, he found the probate business of his district in a sad and derelict condition. His predecessor, always a complaisant and indulgent person, became more so in his later years when he remained on the bench long after his dotage. Chancellor Amis went diligently to work to straighten out his probate dockets, to restore the estates to solvency where possible and to pursue the wasters and looters wherever practicable throughout the district.
His bar had so long neglected efficiency in this branch of their work that to aid them and himself in his efforts, he wrote and had printed at his own expense a paper bound booklet on probate practice which he distributed to the lawyers of his district. ....
... I doubt that Chancellor Amis had any statute of another state which he followed. He didn't need any to show him the way or how to proceed. He was a statesman judge, with a creative and searching mind. He had seen in his district the devious pilfering that had gone on in probate and as the first honor man in the College of Arts at the University, Class of 1889, he had command of terse and fitting language such as the statutes mentioned disclose, and he had the patriotic willingness to labor to correct such evils as these statutes and others he drew were designed to eradicate."
In 1935 he published what he described as "A Brief on the Law of Divorce and Separation in Mississippi". This 500 page "brief" served as the preeminent reference on divorce in Mississippi for lawyers and professors for decades following its issue. In his "Foreword" to this book, he says:
"GENTLEMEN OF THE BAR: This book is a brief in fact as well as in form. The only excuse for its preparation and publication, if any be required, is that I felt that something of the sort was needed; and since no abler man, of whom there are many, would undertake the task, I assumed to do it. ...
... The brief was prepared in a sort of desultory manner, at times when I was not engaged in the discharge of my official duties. For that reason, as will be observed, there is more or less repetition in it, a fact of which I am fully conscious. But if that be considered a literary sin, my defense is, that law like religion cannot be learned in a moment, but must be conned by littles, precept upon precept, rule upon rule, line upon line, here a little and there a little, over and over, until it becomes an integral part of the mental and moral nature. And besides that the various subjects are often so blended that it is difficult to trace the line of demarcation between them. However well or ill the task may have been performed, it has been a pleasant and profitable one to me, in that it has greatly increased my own knowledge of a subject matter, concerning which my ideas had previously been very hazy and uncertain."
During this same productive period, the mid-1930s, my grandfather also researched and recorded quite a lot of material on his own and his wife's ancestry. It was his intention to publish these data also, but in his words "... The publication was delayed because it seemed that I could not well spare the money to have it done. So I kept waiting until I felt I could spare it, but financial matters do not get any better so I am making a number of typewritten copies of it for those who may be interested." I have one "onion skin" copy of this typewritten genealogy, from which I have made a number of poor quality photocopies. I also have several typewritten humorous short stories and family anecdotes he wrote somewhere along the way.
A.B. Amis, III
P.O. Box 414
Grant, FL 32949
30 January 1998
A. B. AMIS, Sr.
Printed for private distribution to those Old Timers who like the writer, recall with pleasure the Scenes and incidents of half century ago.
DEMENT PRINTING COMPANY
Up to the time I was about eleven years old my father and mother lived in the northwestern part of Newton County, in a community of which Sulphur Springs Baptist Church was the religious and social center. They were both members of that church and my earliest recollections center around it. It was a one-story frame structure, about forty by sixty feet, unceiled, unheated and unpainted. It was located in a large grove, on a hill, in the midst of a virgin forest that extended in every direction for nearly a mile. Down the hill, in a deep cool dale, was a cold spring, bubbling up out of the earth, and a path led to it from the church. Near the spring stood a small dogwood tree, one limb of which, some four feet above the ground, had been cut off so as to form a peg, on which hung a long handled gourd that would hold about a quart. At this spring and out of that gourd, all the people slaked their thirst. And down the valley a short distance away, during the later years, was a deep still pool, where repentant sinners were baptized after the manner of John in the Jordan, amid the singing, stanza by stanza, of that old baptismal hymn:
Before they dug the pool, however, they used to baptize new converts in some nearby swimming hole. But the unregenerate boys complained that this forever and teetotally ruined it for its original and legitimate purpose. Because after that, it was always so full of snakes and snags that it was dangerous to swim in it, or else it filled up with sand and leaves during the next freshet. I do not know what effect the baptizing had on the swimming hole, but I do know that it lost caste with the boys after being devoted to such sacred uses. I do not know that this notion of the boys had any influence on the church membership, but I do know that after they had used up about all the good swimming holes in the neighborhood, they dug the pool.
At this church, religious services were had on the third Sunday in each month, but because there was no way to heat the building, the congregations were small in winter. But when "preaching day" came in warm weather, the people came from every direction for miles around. The parents and small children came in farm wagons, drawn by horses and mules, while the young men and young ladies came on horseback. There were no carriages, and even a buggy was a luxury, which no one except Col. Hi Eastland, of Forest, who sometimes came, was able to afford.
When the wagons drove up, father and the boys unhitched the animals and tied them to a tree in the edge of the woods, taking care to avoid yellow-jacket's nests. But where a couple on horse-back rode up, the young man bounced down off his steed, looped the bridle over his arm, seized the reins of his fair companions nag, carefully led it up to the horse-block and gallantly assisted her to the ground. Then, after she had dropped her riding skirt, he tied it in a knot around the horn of her saddle and went to hitch both steeds to a "swinging limb", as high as he could reach. Meanwhile, his fair companion waited for him, smoothing out her dress, feeling her black hair, setting her bonnet bewitchingly on her head, and preening herself generally, as Mother Eve's daughters have always done. When he came back, he opened his umbrella and holding it over her, gravely escorted her to the ladies entrance to the church, where they parted. Because in that church, every seat was reserved for a special purpose, one side for the men and the other for the women, and there was no mixed seating, no courting, no soft glances nor tender hand clasps there.
Although the preaching service did not begin until eleven o'clock the young people always gathered about half past nine and for an hour or more, engaged in singing, the music and songs in the old "Sacred Harp", which is still used in some parts of the country. And because of the entertainment they afforded, many older people and children came to hear them, and of the latter, I was usually one. It has been a long time ago and I may not remember everything about those singings just exactly right, but I think I do in the general outlines.
As I remember, there were three divisions of the singers; the treble, composed of the young ladies; the tenor, composed of young men with ordinary voices; and the bass, composed of young men, having large "Adam's apples" and voices like a fog-horn. There were three or four young men who, in turn, usually took the part of leader and director; and as soon as the singers assembled they would each begin to urge the other to lead. Finally, after much urging, one of them would rise, with book in hand, and face the singers. After he got up, he would reach around in his back coat-tail pocket, fish out his handkerchief and mop his face, and when he put it back, he sometimes missed his pocket and dropped it on the floor. After considerable hesitation, he would pick out an easy tune and announce the number.
While the singers were finding it, he would open his mouth, stretch his neck up out of his paper collar, like a young rooster about to crow, and sound the musical scale, something like this; "Do, mi, sol, do". And after several repetitions back and forth, each time at a different pitch, he would sound the first note of the selection two or three times in succession, and when he raised his hand, they knew he had pitched it and would all join him. Then like a drill master, he would give the order, "sing"; and here they went one and all, treble, tenor and bass, singing something, which to my untutored mind and untrained ear, sounded like this:
Which sounded mighty fine, but didn't seem to me to have much sense to it. I liked it much better when they sang "the words" or "po'try", as it was called, which they presently did.
Occasionally when "histing" the tune, the leader would make a mistake and pitch it so high that the treble sounded like a screech, or else so low that the bass sounded like a bull-frog with a bad cold. When that happened, the singing of the "Dough Ray Mees" broke down in the middle and the leader, amid much embarrassment and perspiration, had to do his "Do, mi, sol, do" stunt all over again. Meanwhile, the treble would titter, the tenor would grin and the bass would work its Adam's apple up and down to see whether it wasn't out of fix. But when the embarrassment wore away and they swung into "Over There" or "Sweet By and By" or some other old familiar song, they filled that old church with melodies that none who heard them will ever forget.
The singing always stopped a short while before preaching begun, and just as soon as it was over, all the treble singers had to go to the spring. And as each one stepped out of the church, there stood her beau, with stretched umbrella, ready to accompany her. So, two by two, along that path down the hill to the spring, they went; the ladies fair, with skirts lifted ever so slightly, tripping along the middle, while their gallant swains held an umbrella over them and stumbled along in their high-heeled boots over the roots and stumps along its edge. When they reached the spring, the rule was, ladies first. And so some one would fill the gourd and hand it to the nearest one of them, and she would pass it to the next one and so it would go around the ring until it reached the last one, before any of them would drink. Finally after many "after you's" one of them would take a dainty sip and pass the gourd back to the next, and so on until all had taken a sip, all out of the same gourd full. And then the young men would make a pretense of drinking, and back up the hill, two by two, they went to the church. Not long ago I asked a sweet old lady, who was one of those singers, and who is now past her three score and ten, if those young ladies really wanted water, and her answer was, "No, we didn't, we wanted a beau". And so there you have the secret.
In all that congregation there was not a single watch or other means of telling the time, except by the sun. And presently old Brother Hutson, the pastor, would cast his eye upward and remark that it was about "preaching time". And as he was seen to enter the church everybody went in and decorously seated themselves, the women and girls on one side, and the men and boys on the other. And the boys, being unregenerate scamps, had to sit beside their respective fathers, even in the "Amen corner."
When the people had all assembled, the pastor arose, in the old high pulpit, and read a hymn through from beginning to end. And then, because hymn books were few, he would line it out for the congregation, couplet by couplet, thus:
And then the people would sing, and as they reached the last word of the couplet, he would continue:
And again all the people sang, the old and feeble as well as the young and vigorous. And as the long quavering strains of song rose and fell, the melody rolled out through the open windows, down the forest glades, echoing back and forth, as the pastor intoned the next couplet.
And when the song was finished, he would pray -- not standing as did the Pharisee on the street corner, but all "humbly kneeling on their knees". In that prayer there were no high sounding compliments to the Almighty, no metaphorical burning of incense to win His favor, no petition for the mighty ones of earth, nor for those in authority, no enumeration of great projects or mighty movements, as being worthy of His special favor; but a simple thank offering for His love, and goodness and mercy to His people in the days gone by, and a petition for its continuance all the days of their lives. For he believed,
After the prayer was ended he read a selection from the Old Testament, usually, as I remember, a Psalm, or else one of the soul-stirring sermons of Isaiah. After that, there was another song, and then the reading of a selection from the New Testament which contained the text of his sermon. Then came the announcements, not of the prayer meeting next Wednesday night, nor of the meeting of the Ladies' Aid, nor the Woman's Missionary Union, nor the B. Y. P. U., because none such existed in that church. But if any one had taken up a stray animal or had lost one, or if anybody's house had burned and he needed help, or if any one was sick and needed to be "set up with", or to have his crop worked out, such matters were duly announced.
The pastor's sermon that followed was characteristic of the man. He was a plain man, above sixty years old, of limited education, who earned his living on the farm, and preached the gospel for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. To him, Greek and Hebrew were unknown tongues and he never questioned the accuracy of the King James version. To him, the writings of the Fathers, and the speculations of philosophers were closed books. But the Bible was to him, the Book of books, the source of wisdom and power, the living word of a living God, written by the finger of the Almighty on the Rock Forever. And the majestic figures that moved across its sacred pages, were living beings directed by God's omnipotent will. To him, Moses wrote the story,
at His direction and under His inspiration. To him, David sang, Isaiah preached, Jeremiah wailed and Jesus died on the cross to redeem man from the curse of Eden, in obedience to the same august command, and in accordance with the same inscrutable will.
He believed implicitly that sin and death came through man's first disobedience, that Jesus died to redeem him from that curse, and that those who believed on Him should not perish but have eternal life. And so believing, that was the theme of all his sermons, the message he always brought his people. In his sermons there was no theological dogma, no discussion of the mission of the church, no description of the horrors of the damned, nor denunciation of particular sins or sinners, but "good tidings" of great joy, -- tidings of eternal life to those under the curse of eternal death. And he would plead with men and women to come to Jesus for refuge, and live forever.
I remember one of his sermons in particular, that I have carried in my memory, almost in detail for more than fifty years. The text was: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have eternal life." And even now I can see the picture he drew of the fiery serpents in the wilderness and the people looking to the brazen serpent that they might live. And equally vivid is the scene he painted of Jesus on the cross. And I seem now to hear his voice as he told how He hung there, "bleeding, groaning and dying that we poor sinners might live." Those were his words. And I can still see him as he stood there looking upward, with arms extended, as though he stood at the foot of the cross watching the mighty tragedy. And I can still hear him, as, with a pleading voice full of emotion, he exclaimed, "Look and live! Oh, look and live forever!" Then quoting promise after promise from the sacred page, he exclaimed after each one, "Look and live! Oh, look and live forever!" And for more than fifty years when doubt has assailed me, I have heard that refrain, "Look and live! Oh, look and live forever!"
Since then I have heard many famous orators and noted preachers, but I have never heard a sermon or an oration which excelled that one. And I dare say, there have been few indeed, who have preached a sermon of such simplicity and power as to burn itself, like a picture, into the memory of a ten year old boy, so indelibly that he carries it with him after fifty years, and will carry it with him to the grave.
When the service was ended and the congregation dismissed everybody wanted everybody else to go home with them, and invitations were extended right and, left, "Come, go home with me". And they were in earnest about it, too, because that was their social diversion. And so it nearly always happened that one family would go with another and stay all afternoon. There was only one exception to this rule of general invitations and that was that the young men, instead of being invited, always asked some particular fair damsel if he "might see her home". But when they rode up to her home, her father was always out front and shouted to him, "Light and come in". And he always lit.
When dinner was over, everybody sat around and talked, the old folks out under the shade of a tree, and the "Courtin' Couple" in the "big room" or on the front gallery. The men talked about crops, politics, the Grange and what cotton would be worth in the fall; while the women discussed their children, their neighbor's children, how to cook this or that, who was going to be married, and to whom and when.
What the young folks on the gallery talked about I never knew, because I never heard them. I only observed them from a discreet distance. But judging from what I saw, I concluded that to a young man, "courtin" was mighty hard work. Because he would smirk and grin, and fan and sweat and mop his face until he could almost wring water out of his handkerchief, as he sat there and paid court to his fair companion, who seemed to be perfectly cool and comfortable. Why this was so, I didn't know then, but I know now that it was because he was wearing his best Sunday suit, which was purchased the last fall, just before Christmas when his Pa sold cotton. Along about "an hour by sun" the visiting family hitched up and set out for home. How long the young courtier lingered, I do not know, but I suspect until the shades of night threw a veil over the parting.
Those old farm houses, built of logs with a "stick and dirt" chimney in one end, a gallery in front and shed rooms around the other two sides, with a separate building for kitchen and dining room, out in the rear, though rude and often uncomfortable, sheltered people of as generous impulses and as simple, kindly gentility as ever dwelt in mansion or castle. And though poor, and often unlearned in books, yet they were intelligent and shrewd, always striving to better their own condition and that of their children. And out of homes of that sort, all over the state, have come men and women who adorn every walk of life and are leaders in every line of human endeavor.
During the summer, social diversions were largely mixed with religious services at some church in the neighborhood. And when the "protracted meetings" were in full swing, there were as many worshippers at the shrine of Cupid as there were at the Cross of Calvary. And then a little later, there would he rumors that Mary and Sallie and Fannie were making quilts, and that John and Bill and Henry were "settin' up" with them two nights in the week, and that when the old folks went off to bed, the fire in the "big room" would burn low, and their chairs got closer and closer together.
Then along about Christmas time, little old Dan Cupid would reap his harvest of weddings. And what weddings they were, with the marriage supper at the bride's home on the evening of the wedding, and the "infair" next day at the home of the groom's father, to which the whole countryside was invited. And how everybody feasted on beef, and mutton, and spare-ribs and sausage and cakes and pies and custards, and the Lord knows what else, that the groom's mother and sisters had been cooking up for a week before hand! And how the old folks talked and joked each other, and the young folks laughed and danced and flirted and made merry at the expense of the newly-weds, just as they do now!
And then a few days later, when the fun and feasting was all over, the gallant young husband and his brave little wife, moved into a little nest of their own, and begun to "keep house", often in a one-room log cabin, furnished with one bed, one table, two chairs a few utensils for cooking on the open fire place and just enough dishes for two, all donated by their parents from their meager store. Though its furnishings were rude and meager, yet that cabin was home to them. And though poor in worldly goods, yet in health and strength, in youth and hope and love, they were rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
When Christmas came, Old Santa Claus was just as kind to the children then as he is now. And though the old fellow wasn't rich then, his simple gifts of an apple, an orange, a stick of candy and a few nuts, stuffed into the little stockings, hanging on nails by the fire place, brought just as much joy to little hearts then, as his more expensive and gaudy toys and trinkets do now. And the eggnog before breakfast made everybody happy, and made the oyster soup and crackers, and the hot biscuits and butter and honey, taste mighty good for breakfast. And then, after breakfast, if it had snowed the night before, as it seems to me it always did, what fun we had tracking and chasing rabbits and building snow-men all over the yard, with never a thought of the cold nor of the dangers of illness from exposure afterwards; for we were strong and hardy youngsters and a little thing like that never hurt us.
Another social diversion of those days, that no longer exists, was the log rollings and quiltings that came along in early spring. All winter, Pa and the boys would work, clearing up a big new ground, and in doing so would cut down the trees, pile the brush in heaps, and cut the logs into convenient lengths for piling, so they could be burned. Now Pa and the boys couldn't pile those logs because they were too heavy, and so they had to request their neighbors, usually the strong, vigorous young men, to come on a certain day next week and help them "roll logs". This was a necessity because the ground could not be cleared of the rubbish in any other way. But when this happened, Ma and the girls suddenly decided that the new scrap quilt, they had been piecing up all winter, must be quilted right away, But although they could quilt it themselves if they had to, yet if Pa and the boys were going to get the neighbor boys to help them roll the logs, it was nothing but fair that they should get the neighbor girls to help them quilt. And it somehow happened that they had the quilting the same day appointed for the log-rolling; for what was the use of making Ma fuss around cooking dinner for company twice when it could all be done at the same time.
On the day appointed, the young men came, armed with their "hand sticks" each one boasting of his strength and how he could "pull down" any body in the crowd, and especially bantering his rival in love, for a test, under the big end of the butt-cut of some former giant of the forest. And after they had all taken a drink out of Pa's jug, to make them stronger, off they went to the new ground to pile the logs.
Pretty soon the girls came too, armed with needle and thimble and a make believe work apron, a dainty little affair, about as big as a good sized handkerchief, with ruffles all around it. What they boasted of or talked about I never knew, because I always went along to see the boys roll logs and see who got "Pulled down". But when Pa and the boys came in to dinner, they always had the quilt swung in the "big room" and were busily at work. After the boys had taken another drink out of the jug, and sat down to dinner, the girls waited on them; and then a little later, after they had finished eating, the boys waited for the girls outside while they ate.
The log-rolling was usually finished before night, but somehow the girls never could finish the quilt until just before supper. And so everybody had to stay until after supper, and while the girls were eating and clearing away the dishes, the boys moved all the furniture out of the "big room". And if Pa was a Methodist, or what was better, if he wasn't anything, religiously speaking, somebody presently began to tune a fiddle. And pretty soon the whining voice of the fiddle was mingled with the sound of shuffling feet and a sturdy voice calling, "Swing your partners", "Do ce do". But if Pa was a Baptist, and especially if he was a member of Sulphur Springs Church, then they played "Charley" and danced to the music of their own voices, rather than to that of a fiddle. For in the eyes of all good Baptists the fiddle was an instrument of the devil, to the music of which Herodias' daughter danced, when she demanded the head of John the Baptist on a charger.
But whether the fiddle whined, or the young folks sang, they danced on till the wee small hours, and sometimes till the Morning Star warned them that the dawn of a new day was near. And then away to their homes they went, to sleep and dream such dreams as only youth and maidens know, -- dreams that gild the hovel as well as the palace and make of earth a mortal paradise.
The manner of making dates, as they are now called, was quite different then to what it is now. If a young man wanted to call on a young lady or accompany her to church or a picnic, he couldn't arrange the matter by calling her up over the telephone, or drive the flivver up and honk the horn as they do now; he had to write her a "card" as it was called, which was quite a formal matter. It was written on a sheet of note paper in this form:
He then folded it over once, turned down the upper right hand corner, wrote "Miss Mary Jones, At Home" on the back, and sent it to her by special messenger. If Mary didn't already "have company" for that occasion, and was otherwise agreeable, she would write him back a "card" of acceptance in this form:
Usually the young fellows would send the "card," by a negro boy and give him a dime for the service; but if they couldn't get a negro or didn't have a dime, they would "swap work" and carry date cards for each other. And I remember one young fellow, who for some reason couldn't get anybody to carry his card, used to carry it himself. He would saunter along past the home of his fair one and manage to toll one of her small brothers off a piece, and then give him the "card" for Loula, and wait around until the answer came. He is a prominent man now with snow in his hair and crow's feet on his temples. Though the course of true love seldom runs smooth, yet then, as now, it always found a way.
While social customs have changed quite a bit since the seventies, the fashions in dress have changed even more. Back in the seventies the men, young and old, wore their hair somewhat longer than now, usually cut in a sort of rounded bunch behind, extending rather low on the neck, with a large roach in front. Every young man wore a mustache and took great pains to sprout and cultivate it, until it stuck out on each side of his nose like a small pair of horns; while all the older men wore mustache and chin whiskers, and the longer they were the more they prized them. On dress occasions, those who could afford it, wore high-heeled calfskin boots, broad brimmed black hats, paper collars and cuffs, and a black or dark brown broadcloth or cashmere suit, with a long tailed frock coat, reaching nearly to the knees, split up the back nearly to the waistline. This was their "Sunday suit" as it was called. They never had but one at a time and they wore it on all occasions, summer and winter; and as it was of heavy cloth, it made dressing up in the summertime a very uncomfortable business. Overcoats were unknown, but in their stead every man had a shawl, as large and heavy as a bed-blanket, with fringe all around it, which he folded three-cornerwise and pinned around his shoulders, with the fringe hanging down all around, in cold or rainy weather. When he went away from home in bad weather he always took it with him, and when he was not wearing it he folded it up, threw it across his saddle and sat on it as he rode.
A little later styles changed and they discarded the shawls for over-coats, bought a light weight suit for summer wear, shortened the tails of their coats, cut off their chin whiskers, swapped their boots for box toed gaiters, their broad brimmed hats for derbies and their paper collars and cuffs for celluloid ones. But they still sported a mustache. And then sometime, after the Spanish-American War, they cut off their mustache and coat tails, shingled their hair, discarded their "biled" shirts, swapped off their box toed gaiters, derby hats, and celluloid cuffs and collars, and thus by a process of gradual evolution reached the present style of masculine sartorial elegance.
But if the changes in the style of masculine attire has been evolutionary merely, then the changes in the style of feminine adornment have been revolutionary. In the seventies and eighties when a lady dressed, she was dressed and no mistake about it. It took twelve to fifteen yards of cloth to make her a dress and the making of it was an event in the family. Because with the cutting and fitting, and putting in a gore here and taking out a dart there, and basting and stitching and ripping out and doing it over again, it took a week to complete the job. But when it was finished, it was, in modern phrase, some dress. It had a high collar, long sleeves a full bust, (into which rumor said, rags or cotton was sometimes stuffed to supplement nature) a small waist, and extended down in front to a point two inches above the floor, where it had to be five or six yards around and long enough behind to sweep her tracks out as she walked. That was her top dress only. Underneath that, she wore, not one, but several petticoats, just as voluminous in size but a couple of inches shorter, all of which, for a foot or more above the bottom, were worked with lace and trimming and all sorts of fancy needle-work; so that when she held up her back skirt with her left hand as she walked, the lace petticoat would be good to look at. But do not imagine vain things, for when she lifted her skirt it was done daintily and circumspectly, and the only thing one saw was the laced petticoats, and her little feet, "like mice, twinkling in and twinkling out", as she walked.
Her long hair was worn in a huge coil at the back of her head, and if nature had not been generous enough, it was again supplemented with a "switch". Her head was crowned with a hat which changed its shape from season to season, but was always adorned with flowers and birds and feathers galore. Her face was innocent of rouge and the lip stick was unknown. But her "school girl complexion" was aided with a dash of powder, applied by tying a bit of starch in a thin rag and gently pounding her face with it. But do not think for a moment, that when she was dressed in all her finery she was not good to look at; because she was, and no mistake about it either.
A little later, milady grew tired of holding up her back skirt and then came the age of hoop-skirts which gradually grew larger and larger until they were three or four feet across at the bottom, and made the gentlemen keep their proper distance. And a little later came the era of bustles (arm supporters, the irreverent youngsters called them) which finally increased in size until they were as big as a good sized rat trap. And then came the vogue of narrowed shirts and "leg-o-mutton" sleeves, when all the cloth left out of the skirt was put into the sleeves. And then the sheath skirt, which milady could no longer slip over her head, but had to get into like a man does his pants, feet foremost. But through it all she clung to her long hair and long skirts, until the World War wrecked customs as well as kingdoms. And now, shades of our mothers! the question is, which will get the shorter, the hair or the skirts. I can't answer the question but, I sometimes wonder what will happen if the ladies generally ever take a notion to cut their hair short enough to expose their ears.
In those days, there were only two holidays in the year that were observed; the Fourth of July and Christmas. Thanksgiving day was regarded as a Yankee institution and the wounds of war were not yet sufficiently healed for the people to observe it. In fact, with all their poverty caused by the freeing of their slaves and the destruction of their property by Sherman's Army, and with a carpet-bag government backed by negro troops, commanded, by Yankee officers, they had, as I heard one old fellow express it, "damn little to be thankful for". But when the Fourth of July came, they always had a "fish-fry" on some pond or stream, or else a "speakin" at some public place where the people gathered to hear the orators denounce the Radicals, as the Republicans were then called, as the cause of all their ills and all their woes. And the most popular orator of all was the one who could say the most and the meanest things about them. Another custom of those days was the preaching of funeral sermons. When a person died, the neighbors came in, made a coffin of rough pine lumber, covered with black cloth, dug the grave, and with kindly sympathy buried the body without any funeral rites at all; unless the deceased happened to be a Mason, in which event the brethren held, at the grave, the beautiful and solemn service of that order. Then some months or even years afterward, if the widow had not remarried, a favorite preacher of the bereaved family would announce that on a certain Sunday at a certain church, he would preach the funeral of the deceased brother. And if the deceased was very popular and especially if the preacher was popular, a large concourse of people would gather for the occasion.
The preacher, after selecting and reading an appropriate text, would read a short biographical sketch of the deceased and would then begin his sermon, which in fact, was usually an exagerated eulogy of the life and character of the deceased, from a religious standpoint, mixed with a religious exhortation to the audience. He usually started out by telling what a good old mother the deceased had; how she had trained him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; how at an early age he had been gloriously converted and joined the church; how he had always shunned the ways of the ungodly but had walked in the straight and narrow path that unto life everlasting; how kind and loving he had been to his wife and children and how they would miss him all the days of their lives; what a good neighbor he had been and how they would miss him; and how, when his labors were ended here below, God, had called him home to glory, and how he now stood among the great white robed throng singing praises to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; and finally concluding with an exhortation to sinners to flee the wrath to come by washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb. And so on for an hour and a half, though the truth generally was that the deceased was just an ordinary good citizen, of no special piety at all.
The custom has fallen into disuse and it is well that it has. Because I have heard many people say, even in those days, that the preacher seemed to think it was his duty to preach the dead man into Heaven, although his neighbors often thought that if he did go to Heaven he missed his route, because that was not the way he had traveled here below. In earlier days when preachers were few and hard to get to attend burials, the custom of memorial services was a good one. But it got to be so abused that the people lost respect for it and it is no longer observed.
In those days the people were too poor to support private schools, and the public schools were few, the terms were short and, as a rule the teachers were incompetent -- usually some ignorant Yankee who had drifted south in search of an easy way to make a living. They knew nothing except the three R's, "readin' 'ritin' and 'rithmetic" and not much of either. They could read in a halting sing-song way, stopping at the end of a sentence like they had butted up against a post; but some of them couldn't even do a simple "sum" in long division, or write well enough to "set a copy". Geography, grammar, rhetoric and algebra were wholly unknown to them. They gave the "scholars" drills in reading and spelling but that was the extent of their instruction.
There was no instruction in arithmetic, nor any attempt at it. The pupils would bring to school a slate and pencil and any ancient dog-eared arithmetic they could find at home or borrow from a neighbor and learn to "cypher" by themselves. They would pick out an example and try this way and that, to get the answer over in the back of the book without the slightest idea of what they were doing. And if they got the answer, no matter whether by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing, they were satisfied, and spat on the slate and rubbed it out without ever knowing how or why they did it. But if they struck one they couldn't "work" it was taken to the teacher and if he thought he could do it he went at it the same way. But if he didn't, he called the first or second or third spelling class, and sent the pupil back to try it again, saying he would "work it out at playtime". Sometimes he would "work" it and sometimes he forgot it.
There were no desks for the pupils but simple seats, often with no backs to them. And when time came to write the pupils stood up beside a long shelf on one side of the room, opened their copy books, made of a quarter of a quire of fools cap paper, covered with an old newspaper, "took their pens in hand", dipped it in ink, made of "poke-berries" stuck their tongues out and began to make "pot-hooks", the figures 1-2-3- and so on or the letters a-b-c-, according to whichever page of the copy book they happened to be working on. For each page had to be filled with the same kind of characters, whether "pot-hooks" numerals, small letters or capitals. But the pupils who were far enough advanced in the art, were given little slips of paper, on which in neat script was written "Command you may your mind from play", or "The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776", which they would copy, line after line until the page was filled. Who wrote these copy slips was always a deep mystery, which no one could ever solve. There was no instruction whatever in the use of capital letters or punctuation. And I remember once that one of the advanced class in writing undertook, with much effort and chewing of his tongue, to write my name, Bobbet Amis, on the fly leaf of my spelling book, which resulted in an unconscious slander, for he wrote it, -- "bobBit a Mous."
There were study periods then as now, but each pupil whispered his lesson over and over, louder and louder until sometimes the combined noises sounded like steam escaping from a locomotive, until suddenly a book or slate fell to the floor and everybody stopped; and the silence was intense, until presently the whispering started again. And sometimes those old teachers would permit us to "get the spelling lesson out loud". And when they did, everybody within half a mile, knew what was going on. But not all of the boys would spell during that unique study period. Some of them would merely hold their books in front of their faces and croak like bull frogs in a mill pond, all the time with one eye on the teacher to keep from getting caught.
On Friday afternoons there was always a spelling match in which the whole school participated, and in which there was great rivalry and sometimes great amusement at the way some of the words were spelled. And then after the spelling was over, the larger boys and girls read compositions on "Spring", "Autumn", "Winter" or some other like subject; or else letters to some real or fictitious friend or relative, which invariably began with these words; "I seat myself and take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and doing well and hope that this will find you enjoying the same blessings."
The wonder is that the people tolerated such teachers as long as they did. But along about 1876 they chased all the Yankee teachers out and began to establish high schools at every village in the country, in charge of really educated men and women; and from that time on the course of instruction as well as the grade of the schools, begun to improve.
The home life of the people was one of much toil and privation, especially for the women. The spinning wheel and the loom were articles of furniture and implements of industry in nearly every home. And as one passed a farm house in the afternoon he would hear the drone of the wheel or the cluck of the loom, as the housewife busied herself about the task of making thread or cloth to clothe the family. Then after the cloth was woven she had to cut, fit and make the garments; and the only tools she had for this work were her needle, thimble and scissors. The sewing machine was then a luxury none could afford.
And the making and fitting of those clothes was a thing never to be forgotten by any boy who had to endure it. I remember that when my mother would make me a coat or pair of pants it was to me a time of torture. She would cut the various pieces of cloth and then make me stand straight while she pinned them on me to see if they would fit. Sometimes a pin would stick me and I would jump and get the whole works out of order. She would trim a little here and a little there and fix and pat, and pin, until she thought it would fit; and then she would baste the pieces together and I had to try it on. Then there would be more trimming and fixing and basting, and I had to try it on again, and every time I had to stand perfectly still and straight, which was a positive torture to me. But when the job was finished I had a suit that lasted until I outgrew it. It simply would not wear out at all. It seemed that the longer one wore a suit of home spun jeans the thicker it got until finally the pants would almost stand alone.
All the "every day clothes" for the whole family and the "Sunday clothes" for the women and girls were made at home. The men could buy their "Sunday suits" ready-to-wear at the store; but "ready-to-wear" clothing for women was a thing unknown. Socks and stockings were all home knit; and after supper and at all other times when the housewife was "resting" she was busy with her knitting. And I have often seen them nodding with sleep after supper while the needles kept clicking.
The shoes for home wear were usually made and rerepaired at home. And after supper, in the fall and winter, while the wife would be knitting the husband would be making or repairing shoes for the family or for a neighbor's family. Some of those old farmers were first class shoemakers and put in their time at night and on rainy days at that trade. Boys were not supposed to wear shoes, except in winter, until after they got big enough to go see the girls; and one pair a year was all they got. But when they were discarded in the spring they never wore them any more because before fall came the shoes had "got too little" for them.
The cooking arrangements were crude and inconvenient, though the results obtained by the old-time housewife, in her cookery were often magnificient. Cooking stoves were unknown in that part of the country until about 1875 or 1876 when some stove peddlers sold a number in our neighborhood. Prior to that time the cooking was done by everybody "on the fire place"; and for a long time after that many families continued to do so. Some because they were too poor to afford a cook stove, and others because they said that food cooked on the new fangled Yankee contraption did not taste good.
When cooking "on the fire place" the housewife would put the vegetables with a piece of pork or bacon in a pot which had a heavy iron lid with a rim around the edge of it. The pot was then swung on a hook or crane over the fire. Live coals, bark and chips were placed on the lid and it was left to boil until the food was cooked. This method of cooking was known as "boiling the pot", because everybody knew what would be in the pot. The meat was fried in a long handled "skillet" which had three legs on the underside so it would sit over a bed of live coals raked out on the hearth. The bread, biscuits, pies and other pastries were baked in the "spider" which was very much like the skillet except that it had a heavy iron top, like the pot, so that live coals and chips could be piled on it so as to make it bake evenly from the top as well as the bottom. A roast was cooked in the pot used to cook vegetables. Potatoes were roasted in the hot ashes or baked in the "spider". It was all very crude and required a lot of hot, hard work for the housewife, and also for the boy of the family to supply the necessary chips. One of my earliest recollections is that I had to "tote in chips" to put on the pot and spider. It seemed to me that it took an awful lot of them and I never could find any but little chips that would not last any time hardly. "Toting in chips" and later, "toting in stovewood" was the nightmare of my boyhood days. In fact, there was only one thing that was worse, and that was having to wash my feet after I got sleepy, before I could go to bed at night.
In those old farm homes there were no books and few newspapers. Most families had a bible and a hymn book but that was all. Post offices were few and far apart, often twenty miles from one to another, and but very few families ever saw a newspaper. The only newspapers I ever heard of until I was ten or twelve years old were the Brandon Republican, The Newton Ledger and the Courier-Journal. My father was a subscriber to all of them, but there were very few men who did even that well. Most of them were so poor they could not afford it, or at least, did not think they could. But a little later along in the Eighties, after the establishment of several high schools in the country, the intellectual life and culture of the people began to improve and books and periodicals soon found their way into many homes.
The economic condition of the people was bad. None were rich and most of them were poor. The Civil War had destroyed their property and their economic system as well, and they had not yet adjusted themselves to the new conditions. Negro labor was plentiful and cheap, but not reliable. Cotton was the farmer's only money crop and his whole financial system was based on it. There were no banks to loan him money and but very few men who had any at all to loan; and they had but little for that purpose. Interest rates were high, ranging from fifteen to twenty per cent per annum. Very few men were able to finance the production and marketing of a crop of cotton which in those days took from March until December, or later. The result was that most farmers had to purchase their supplies on credit and secure payment of the account by a mortgage on their crops and sometimes also on their farms as well. And so along about the first of March the farmer would go down to Newton or Forest to get some merchant to "run him", as the saying was. I do not know how that phrase originated, but it meant to get some merchant to sell him supplies to make a crop, on the faith that he would be paid out of the crop when it was made. If the merchant agreed to "run him" for, say $200.00 he would execute a note and deed of trust and the merchant would then "run him" to that amount. In the fall, if the cotton crop was sufficient to pay the account, with a bale or two over, then all was well and the merchant got the cotton. But if the account was large and the crop was short, and the merchant refused further credit then quite often the word "run" had another meaning. The farmer would "run" a couple of bales off to some other town and sell it, and say nothing about it to the merchant, who had "run him" all the year. Not all would do that by any means, because most of them were honest. But some of them would. It is thus seen that the word "run", financially speaking, had different meanings under different circumstances.
Time has wrought many changes in the old community as well as in the old customs. The forests have become fields and the fields that I once knew are overgrown with pine or brush. The streams are filled with logs, brush and mud, and the old swimming hole is now a mud puddle. And sometimes when I pass a well remembered spot it has changed so that I can hardly recognize it. The faces that I meet on the highway or in the village are new and strange, so that when I attend a public gathering there I feel almost like a stranger, "Like one who treads alone some banquet hall deserted". Of the friends of my boyhood, only a few remain there, and I find that, like my own, their faces begin to look tired, and worn and old. "Time rolls his ceaseless course".