Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cassandra's Circle #3: Louisa Cheves McCord's Palmetto

Cassandra's Circle #3 Palmetto Wreath by Becky Brown
The palmetto is South Carolina's symbol.

In 1851, ten years before the Civil War began, Marylander John Pendleton Kennedy was surprised to see strong sectional emotions at a fashionable Southern resort while President Millard Fillmore was visiting. Young people from South Carolina behaved rudely, refusing to occupy the same room with the President, a New Yorker.
"The place is full of South Carolinians, who are all in hostility to the General Government....The present generation of South Carolinians are educated in the most settled hatred of the United States."

Palmetto flag

Louisa Cheves McCord (1810-1879)

Hate must be taught and one of the antebellum schoolmasters was Louisa Cheves McCord, a successful essayist and playwright.
"I birth, parentage, education, marriage, and residence, a South Carolinian. South Carolina, you are perhaps aware, is the heart and centre of the slaveholding States of this Union, and defends with peculiar warmth her rights and privileges upon the slave question."
Langdon Cheves (1776-1857)
Cheves was a Congressman when Louisa was a
child. As a "War Hawk" he supported the War of 1812.

Louisa Susannah Cheves (her birth name is pronounced as two syllables, like Chivas Regal, the Scotch whiskey) was given to "peculiar warmth" on many subjects, among them her politician father Langdon Cheves, describing her feelings as more than love. She worshiped him.

1431 Pendleton Street, Columbia

Louisa's 1849 home in Columbia, South Carolina has now seen better days. When Mary Chesnut spent time in the city it was at first an elegant social center and later an efficient adjunct to the city's Confederate hospital.

Louisa was a well-respected friend in Cassandra's Circle, Mary's group at the heart of Confederate power. Mary and Louisa often went for rides in Louisa's elegant carriage and met in the evenings. Louisa's intellect was equal to Mary's who paid her many compliments as the "very cleverest" woman she knew. "She has the brain and energy of a man." One of the "larger brained women a Kind Providence has thrown in my way."

"She has the intellect of a man and the perseverance and endurance of a woman."
Mary did admit once to being afraid of her tongue, however.

Louisa, usually writing anonymously for periodicals such as DeBow's Review and the Southern Quarterly, became the antebellum spokeswoman for the South and it's pro-slavery, free-trade philosophy. Although she usually wrote as an anonymous "Lady of the South" many readers knew her identity. When the South was taken to task about slavery she was on the defense.

Harriett, Duchess of Sutherland
by Franz Xavier Winterhalter

England's Duchess of Sutherland wrote about slavery's cruelty and Louisa disagreed:
"Christian slavery...shorn of the barbarities...[mingles] the graces and amenities of the highest Christian civilization."

In 1853 the Southern Quarterly Review asked Louisa to pen an answer Harriet Beecher Stowe's searing attack on slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Her essay signed L.S.C. summarized some incredibly bad but all-too common arguments.
"Make your laws to interfere with the God-established system of slavery, which our Southern States are beautifully developing to perfection, daily improving the condition of the slave...make your laws, we say, to pervert this God-directed course, and the world has yet to see the horrors which might ensue from it. The natural order of things perverted, ill must follow. "

Louisa's priorities about the men in her life live on
in her tombstone

David James McCord (1797-1855)

She married David McCord, a politician and banker whose wealth gave her a financial platform for her causes, but she had a fortune of her own, inheriting on her 1840 marriage a 2,700 acre plantation called Lang Syne on the Congaree River worked by several hundred slaves.  David died in 1855 leaving her to raise four adolescents.

Collection Georgia Historical Society
Louisa's three daughters and their cousin, 1860

Palmetto Wreath by Pat Styring
Pat added embroidery and dots

Langdon Cheves McCord 1841-1863
Captain in Hampton's Legion, Company H
Her only son named for her father.

When the War began Louisa became a leader in local relief groups, overseeing efforts to equip the soldiers in Captain McCord's company of Zouave soldiers but she soon turned her efforts to a hospital ward and kitchen in her home and to more basic needs than uniforms. She wrote Mary in December, 1862 giving her advice on donations.
"Blankets and shoes, etc., etc....From the little I have seen and all I have heard, I think we have a hard task before us to keep our soldiers from freezing to death. ..Carolina troops are now proverbially the raggedest of the ragged....I am about trying her to buy up old carpets, old blankets, anything which if I can get we will line with cotton dyed some sober color and cut into blanket size." 
Her son suffered a head wound at the Second Battle of Manassas in August, 1862 and Louisa headed for Richmond. Finding no public transportation she hired a train to take her to the church in Warrenton, Virginia where he was being treated and then home to Columbia. He was thought recovered and went back to service but as head wounds will his suddenly and unexpectedly killed him in January, 1863.

He left pregnant wife Charlotte Mary Reynolds McCord alone to give birth to their daughter, named Langdon Cheves McCord 11 days later. Louisa's daughter Lou remembered: "Through these days our one delight was the baby, little Chev."

Georgia Historical Society photos From the book Days of Destruction
Daughter Lou and fiance Augustus T Smythe who married soon after Appomatox.

Mary described the once-elegant Louisa riding around Columbia in "the funniest little
one-mule vehicle" looking for eggs for Lou's wedding cake.

Louisa had little of Mary Chesnut's pragmatism, resilience or sense of humor. She was understandably embittered by her son's death, Columbia's destruction (although her house survived), her fading eyesight and the end of the Confederacy. Reconstruction even with its limitations appalled her. In an 1870 letter of resignation she told the women's monument association she was leaving the state, moving to Virginia.
"South Carolina is too odious for me to be willing to come in contact with it.... South Carolina is fast becoming to me, but as one great grave of the great past."
Lagere Street is pronounced Lagree Street

Restless and miserable away from home, she tried living in Canada but returned to South Carolina, spending her last years at daughter Louisa Smythe's home on Legare Street in Charleston.

During the war, her future son-in-law Augustine Smythe described his fiance's mother to his aunt who'd heard Louisa was "eccentric" and "domineering." He had a "very high opinion of her character as a woman. She is well-read and also seems to be a great housekeeper. She is kind, very kind, to all who claim kindness of her & the sick & wounded soldier is ever cared for."

Louisa was far more than a good housekeeper; she was an articulate political theorist, the female fire eater, but she certainly outlived her time, her culture and her fame.

Bust by Hiram Powers, 1859,  pictured in 
Mary Chesnut's Diary from Dixie

The Block
The block is based on a traditional design...

Collection of the Monmouth County Historical Association
New Jersey project & the Quilt Index open wreath, perhaps laurel leaves, seen in quilts from
the 1840s through the Civil War. This Turkey red print example above is from a 
signature quilt made for Phoebe Combs in 1857.

Jerrianne Evans, Pride of the Forest from her Carrie Hall Sampler

In the 1930s Carrie Hall published a version called Pride of the Forest.
We can view it as a palmetto.
You need a four-inch rose and two of the feathers used in Block 1
Washington's Plume, except you have to flip one over.

Applique to an 18-1/2" square or cut it larger and trim later.

The Patterns

One Way to print these JPGS.
· Create on a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11" or a word file.
· Click on the image above.
· Right click on it and save it to your file.
· Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". Note the inch square block for reference.
· Adjust the printed page size if necessary. Do not use tools like "Fit to page."
· Make templates.
· Add seams when cutting fabric.

Behind Louisa's father's grave, a palmetto tree, 

Flag from a United Confederate Veteran's group

These open wreaths often included berries.

Blocks 1-3 in Becky's set

Extra Reading

Leigh Fought, Southern Womanhood and Slavery: A Biography of Louisa McCord, 1810-1879

Richard C. Lounsbury's Louisa S McCord: Poems, Drama, Biography, Letters includes many of her letters, including those written when dealing with her beloved father's dementia, and a thorough chronology of Louisa's life.

W. Eric Emerson & Karen Stokes, Days of Destruction: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston. Letters from Louisa's daughter's fiance during the war.

I'm working half size. I had to move the rose.


Denniele said...

What a story!

QuiltGranma said...

I wonder what the significance of the palmetto means or meant to the people of the south?