Saturday, April 25, 2020

Amanda Ragan Stone's Civil War

Amanda Susan Ragan Stone (1822-1892)
After the war

When the Civil War began Amanda Stone was 37 years old, wealthy head of a Louisiana plantation household. Her Brokenburn was on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River, 30 miles northwest of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

River flooding created prime cotton growing soil 
but living on a flood plain is precarious.
Daughter Kate's last diary entry anticipates her home 
again threatened by the Mississippi.

Amanda's husband William Patrick Stone had died of a fever five years earlier at their Mississippi plantation and in 1859 Amanda bought land in Louisiana to build her Brokenburn cotton plantation, real estate worth $130,000 in the 1860 census. She also owned a personal estate of $83,000, wealth measured in slaves of whom the 1860 slave schedule lists 77.  Enslaved people were 90% of the county's population.

Amanda seems to have been a young businesswoman "in her own right," even when her husband was living. Mary Farmer Kaiser who has researched her life found she was buying land while in her twenties.

Married at 15 Amanda had her children when she was young. The 1860 census lists seven from William 20 down to another Amanda who was ten. (Her youngest girl had died in her first year, possibly of cholera at the same time as her father.) Amanda's motherless brothers Bohannon and Ashburn Ragan, the same age as her children, lived with them as did 25-year-old tutor Albert B. Newton ("wonderfully ignorant" according to daughter Kate.)

A newly built house full of young people from mother, her sisters and brothers down to the ten year old Amy was "a bright and happy home" in Kate's memory, a joyous place for a family coddled by an economic system they would hold on to tenaciously.

Sarah Katherine Stone Holmes (1841 - 1907)

Daughter Sarah Katherine, 21 years old when news of the war came, began to keep a journal  documenting family life. Kate Stone was thrilled to see older brother William join "dashing young officers in magnificent uniforms...inspired by patriotic maidens to heroic exploits." Like many Southerners she was inspired to rebellion by the Waverley tales of British novelist Walter Scott, casting her brothers and friends in what Mark Twain called a "sham absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried."

Kate's diary has been published in several editions

The Stones were obviously fans of Scott. Brokenburn is a place name from a Scott novel.

Quiltmaking was part of the fun (although Kate wanted little to do with it.) In September during the first year of the war:
"Mamma has just finished piecing up a large quilt commenced by my Auntie oh! so many years ago."
But the good times were over. That same day young Uncle Ashburn "went to bed with cold and fever," likely the malaria that would soon kill the 18-year-old.

Silk quilt pieced over papers dated 1865,
perhaps similar to the Ragan sisters' quilt

Auntie's quilt was begun by Amanda's younger sister Laura Ragan Buckner, whose husband owned a drug store in Vicksburg. The silk quilt tells us much about the Ragan sisters' prewar life.
"This will be a lovely silk affair. Aunt Laura always has so many pretty silks and wears them such a little while that they are never soiled."
Laura was then about 30, mother of a girl named Beverly for her father, pregnant at the time, soon giving birth to a stillborn baby, malformed noted Kate sadly. She characterized Laura as a
"sensitive nervous woman," sure her formidable cook Jane was poisoning her. Laura's wartime experiences only added to her sorrows and both she and Beverly died before the war was over.

Amanda worked on several quilts in the winter of 1861-62.

Surely Kate meant hexagons with six sides rather than
octagons with eight
"Mamma has finished the silk quilt, octagons of blue and yellow satin from two of her old dresses. Sister claims it. Aunt Laura's, of purple and blue silk, is done and is exceeding pretty."
"Sister" Amanda Rebecca Stone (1852-1934)
Louisiana & Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, 
Louisiana State University Libraries

In February 1862 Amanda directed some of her agricultural workers to housework.
"Nothing to be done in the fields---too muddy.... Mamma had several of the women from the quarter sewing...They put in and finished quilting a comfort made of two of my cashmere dresses."
Hexagon quilt pieced of various wool and wool blends,
cashmeres, delaines, challis and twills

  "Mamma had Aunt Laura's silk one put in today and Sue [a slave who also worked in the kitchen] is quilting on it. I am so afraid Mamma will commence work on it herself, and if she does I shall feel in duty bound to put up my linen embroidery and help her. And I simply detest making and quilting quilts. Precious little of it have I ever done.... After quilting one rises from the chair with such a backache, headache, and bleeding pricked fingers."
"[Mamma] has had several comforts made during the bad weather, and it has been so bad."

A month later:
"Mamma finished her silk quilt. I helped three days and the begged off. Quilting is a fearsome job."
In the first months of the war Amanda's eldest son William had been "wild to be off to Virginia," fearing that fighting would be over before he had a chance to shine, according to his sister. Over the long war four of Amanda's six sons joined Confederate troops. William and James survived but Frederick Walter just 18 died of pneumonia in February, 1863 and Coleman Patrick Stone, a year older, followed 8 months later after being injured by a falling horse. Both had joined the 28th Mississippi, captained by Aunt Laura's husband Colin Beverley Buckner, which fought near Vicksburg, besieged by Union troops during that summer.

Union Flag flying over the courthouse in Vicksburg,
July, 1863

Fearing the Confederacy could not hold Vicksburg, Amanda decided to relocate to Texas. She sent her most valuable property first. Over a hundred slaves walked to Lamar County, Texas, followed months later by Amanda and Laura, their daughters and the two youngest boys. Perhaps the recently made quilts and comforts accompanied them but few of their possession made it to Texas. Trunks were lost and stolen. Laura who had never ridden a horse in her life turned around and went back to Alabama where she died the next year.

Amanda, not the type to give up, continued to Lamar County where the refugees eventually settled in Tyler at the "Bonnie Castle,"

Bonnie Castle, Tyler, Smith County, Texas, 
Now known as the Goodman-LeGrand House

The Stones found a home in this mansion in Tyler, owned by Franklin Newman Gary who let it to Southern refugees. Many of Amanda's slaves were hired out for work in Lamar County. 

Vicksburg in 1876

The family returned to Louisiana the winter after the war to a stripped house "with bare echoing rooms," all the furniture gone to the Yankees and the former slaves. Raising cotton was no longer the profitable enterprise it had been under slavery as new threats from boll weevils killed the crop. Six months later Amanda was forced to sell Brokenburn. The 1870 census found her living with her surviving boys, keeping house with no estate listed. William, wounded twice in the war, died of his wounds in 1870. That year they moved to the town of Tallulah, Louisiana.

Daughter Kate and her husband Henry Bry Holmes built
Wayside in Tallulah. Here the family gathers in the 1880s.
Amanda may be seated in a place of honor on the porch.

Wayside in the background. Ragan/Stone/Holmes family on a dock
in the Walnut or Brushy Bayou.

Amanda died in 1892 at the age of 70.

Amanda's granddaughter Amanda Julia Holmes (1877-1972)
 with her mother's book. During the WPA projects 
of the 1940s she worked as a cutter in the local sewing room.

See a preview of Brokenburn by Kate Stone Holmes here:

Mary Farmer-Kaiser, "Reconstructing Amanda Stone: Made and Remade by Marriage, War, and Memoir in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. Vol. 56, No. 4 (Fall 2015)


Kerry said...

Oh that photo - if looks could kill! LOL!
Interesting history - the silks that were never worn as to be soiled, magnificent! Thanks Barbara.

QuiltGranma said...

It is amazing that the MEN let her buy property in a time when women, generally, could not. Men only had that right and freedom.