Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cassandra's Circle #7: Maggie Howell's Wild Rose

Cassandra's Circle #7, Wild Rose for Margaret Graham Howell by Pat Styring

Margaret Graham Howell (1842-1930) 
Collection of the American Civil War Museum
One of her nieces or nephews has written
"Auntie (Margaret Howell)" on this portrait

Mary Boykin Chesnut, never able to have children, enjoyed lively adolescents in the house, inviting nieces and nephews and the children of friends to become part of her family circle.

When she lived in Richmond, Virginia and in South Carolina's capitol at various times during the war, she invited her sister's girls to stay where they might have more fun than in their small hometown. She also invited Confederate First Lady Varina Davis's younger sister Maggie Howell, who was about the same age as the Williams nieces.

Varina's note:
" 'Thank you, a thousand times, my dear friend, for your more than maternal kindness to my dear child.' " Mary added, "That is what she calls her sister, Maggie Howell."
Margaret Graham Howell was the ninth child of Varina's mother Margaret K. Howell and financially hapless father William Burr Howell. After Varina married into a more prosperous family she and her husband essentially adopted the girl when she was about 8. Maggie went to Washington with the Davises and when the war began accompanied them to Richmond.

McCord Museum Collection
Varina Davis's four surviving birth children in Montreal, 1867. 
Varina lost two young boys; only her girls survived her. 
The eldest here was named Margaret Howell Davis, 
after her grandmother and her young aunt.

Wild Rose by Susannah Pangelinan

Discipline at Varina's household seems to have been loose. Mary Chesnut recalled an unstructured carriage ride with the family in 1864.
"Drove with Mrs. Davis and all her infant family; wonderfully clever and precocious children, with unbroken wills. At one time there was a sudden uprising of the nursery contingent. They laughed, fought, and screamed. Bedlam broke loose. Mrs. Davis scolded, laughed, and cried."
Joseph Davis (1859-1864)

And indeed 5-year-old Joseph Davis fell to his death at their Richmond home while unsupervised. "This second boy, gentle and lovable, fell from the balusters into the back court of the home and was almost instantly killed," recalled Thomas Cooper DeLeon in 1907. Mary and Maggie Howell were on a carriage ride near Richmond when the news was broken abruptly.
"Maggie and I drove two long miles in silence except for Maggie's hysterical sobs. She was wild with terror."
The Confederate White House, designed by Robert Mills, built in 1818.
 Today this is the rear garden of the house. Did Joe fall from that 3rd story roof?

Mary's first encounters with the teen-aged Maggie at Richmond's Spotswood Hotel reflected Maggie's reputation for rebellion (much like Mary and Varina in that respect.)

"Miss Howell is the rudest, most ill bred girl I ever saw." July, 1861.

Secretary of the Confederate Navy 
Stephen R. Mallory (1812-1873)

Mallory, former U.S. Senator from Florida, agreed. During the same month at the Spotswood he described the Howell sisters. Varina "lacked refinement and judgment---has a riotous sense of humor. Mimics."
"Ill-bred & underbred, & her training of her sister Maggie is making her like herself. – Mag seems to be constantly in an ill-humor & morose. – I cannot share in her ridicule of persons with whom I daily associate, & am condemned almost to silence at the table. She annoys [Jefferson Davis] terribly by her indiscreet, ill-timed & tart remarks."
Mary's opinion of Maggie changed---after all, Cassandra valued tart remarks. At a Christmas day reception in 1863 Maggie sat by Mary whispering about the guests. "A man came in....[Maggie's analysis] Rich, sentimental, traveled and a fool."

Wild Rose by Becky Brown

After Joe died in 1864 and Varina's new baby was born at the Confederate White House the 22-year-old Maggie stayed with the Chesnuts in South Carolina. She returned to her foster parents for the fall of Richmond, escaping south with the Davises where the President of the Confederacy was arrested in May, 1865 in Georgia.

Margaret Kempe Howell (1806-1867), Varina & Maggie's mother,
 was not well and died in Montreal at 61. Her supervision seems
to have been lax.

Varina then sent her children with Maggie and Margaret Kempe Howell to exile in Canada. They arrived in August. Joan Cashin in her biography of Varina Davis reveals that Maggie became pregnant in the fall by a man whose name is unknown. She gave birth to a son in June, 1866. He may have been adopted by another family as the baby disappears from the records.

When Jefferson Davis was released on bail from his Virginia prison the family fled to Europe, welcomed in Liverpool by members of the Southern Club, an international group of merchants who had spent the war years lobbying unsuccessfully for English recognition of the Confederacy.

Charles William Peter de Wechmar Stoess (1821-1891)
Stoess was an amateur Egyptologist

Maggie, now Margaret, was courted by Southern Club member Charles de Wechmar Stoess, a widowed German businessman who was Bavarian consul. Varina gave her sister away (Jefferson Davis was back in the U.S.) at their London wedding in 1870.

St Peter's church in Bellsize Park

The 49-year-old Chevalier (a Spanish title) seems to have been enamored of Jefferson Davis's pretty sister-in-law. Maggie's feelings were not recorded. 

Collection of the American Civil War Museum in the Confederate White House,
 probably a wedding photo of the 28-year-old Maggie

Varina liked Stoess and thought him a good match but rued that there was no romance on Maggie's side. Charles (Carl) had one almost-grown son Charles Anthony (1852-1916) and Maggie gave birth to two children in England, Christine Ida de Wechmar Stoess (1872-1935) and Philip Carl Stoess (1873-1942).

Madame de Wechmar Stoess enjoyed English society in Liverpool and London, but her husband declared bankruptcy in 1878 and thereafter they must have been dependent on friends sympathetic to her Confederate history. Varina sent them money. When Charles died in 1891 he left the family nothing.

Charles died at their Liverpool home

Madame de Wechmar Stoess in the early 20th century

Maggie and her children moved to America in the 1890s, first living in Vancouver and then Washington state where Christine gave music lessons and performed as a violinist. Both of Stoess's sons were engineers. The women eventually settled in the Los Angeles area. Maggie died in Long Beach in 1930 and Christine followed in 1935.

The Block

Wild Rose

A wild rose has five simple petals.
Maggie was never simple.

Maggie's rose is based closely on a mid-19th-century 
Ohio quilt attributed to Isabel Andrews Wilson (1812-1883) 
pictured in Hornback & Thompson's Quilts in Red & Green & 
the Women Who Made Them.

Applique to an 18-1/2" square or cut it larger and trim later.
Cut two 3/8" finished bias stems too. Either straight (5" long) or longer (10") for curvy.

One way to print these JPGS.
  • Create or 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.

Detail of Becky's Wild Rose

Lisa Erlandson owns a mid-20th-century quilt in the
exact pattern as Isabel Wilson's. There must have
been a connection. 

The Davises were rose gardeners. Sister Varina wrote a letter to her own mother about young Maggie's garden at the Brierfield Plantation
"Tell Maggie her little bed is covered with mignonette and purple, and Crimson verbena, and that her cloth of gold rose nearly covers the side of the arbor, and that she had better come back, and get some, and work in her garden."
Cloth of Gold, a hybrid rose

Becky's pretty set. Over half done.

Extra Reading
Maggies husband, the Chevalier, was an organizer of Liverpool's Southern Relief Bazaar in 1864. See a post here:

And read about the Southern Club:

See a preview of Joan E. Cashin's First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis’s Civil War:

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Lucie Barrett's Civil War

 Unfinished hexagon patchwork attributed to the Barrett family,
Jackson, Mississippi
Collection of the Museum at Michigan State University

Lucy Walton Barrett was about 15 years old when the Civil War began. She started this hexagon project during her teenage years, according to an interview with her granddaughter Lucy Curtis in 1999. Her family might have hoped whip-stitching tiny hexagons together would keep her and her sister out of trouble but Lucy's granddaughter remembered:

"Lucy was quite a spitfire. According to family stories the night the Yankees came they went into the parlor and found a vase on the mantle piece, with a little confederate flag in it. The soldier claimed the flag was a war trophy. Lucy said, 'Here's the flag and waved it over his head, which infuriated him (he was probably three sheets to the wind).... He tried to shoot her but was hustled out by other soldiers... Lucy was then sent to a Seminary in South Carolina for her own protection."

Family stories about the Civil War, especially Southern family stories, tend to dramatize the record and in this family the tales of Yankees at the Barrett farm (located where the Jackson Zoological Park is now) were passed down in many branches. The grandmothers must have been entertaining reconteurs (if not tooooo accurate.)

Grant's army occupied Jackson, Mississippi in the spring of 1863 and the Barretts and the Wrights, relatives and neighbors on the Clinton-Jackson Road were in the middle of the battles for every acre of ground around Jackson. The first fight took place in May, 1863 and the Battle of Barrett's Farm was fought in July when Confederates attacked occupying Union troops.

The family at Wright's farm was headed by Oliver Perry Wright (1814-1876) and Katherine Barrett Wright (1834-1897.) At the time they had four daughters and two sons under ten. 

The neighboring household was headed by Sarah Cornelia Walton Barrett (1819-1901). Her husband, Lucy's father (another Oliver) had died in 1858. Lucy had two sisters, Catherine (12-years older who supposedly had a hand in the quilt) and Sarah Cornelia, two years younger.

 1850 census. Rufus Mitchell may have been a resident teacher.

Sarah C has gone down in family lore as just as spunky as Lucy. The story:

"Sarah Cornelia Barrett was my great-grandmother, and my grandmother (her daughter) never stopped telling this story."

During the military occupation, Sarah about 14,

"thought it would be a good idea to take a pitcher of water to the Confederate soldiers outside. About that time the battle started. She got yelled at by a young [Confederate] officer who told her to get back into the house. She yelled back and told him to mind his own business; she had a right to do what she wanted on her own property. They made an impression on each other. After the war, they got married."

In 1869 Sarah married Buxton Townes Ligon [1839-1894,] a Mississippian born in China Grove in Pike County.* Perhaps someone else can find a record of him as a Confederate soldier serving near Jackson in 1863, but I haven't been able to.

UPDATE: Within 24 hours two readers found record of Buxton Ligon on the Barrett farm in 1863. In the comments Jill wrote:
"I checked my subscription genealogy site and found that Mrs. Cornelia Barrett Ligon received a pension from the state of Texas in 1912 until her death in 1932 from her husband's Confederate service. Buxton Towns Ligon enlisted in the Confederate Army, Co A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery on 13 May 1862 until their surrender at Jackson Mississippi. The Company was discharged by "parole at the close of hostilities" at Jackson MS. 12 Feb 1865. By the time of parole, Buxton Ligon was a Sergeant in his Company.
I checked Westar Wright also. It appears he and Buxton served together in Co A, 1st MS Lt Arty."
And Virginia found a book online:

From Jackson to Vicksburg 1861-1865 Memories of the War Between the States. Personal experiences on the Barrett Plantation Hinds County, Mississippi by Cornelia Barrett Ligon as told to her daughter, Kate Ligon McGarvey
"Of course, I was not acquainted with the soldier who fired the cannon that day, but subsequently I met him, Buxton Townes Ligon, and he slept on the front porch that night, along with my brother, and their horses were hitched close by, ready for use. He and brother Thomas were members of the First Mississippi Light Artillery. After the war, Buxton and I were married. We lived right there on that same plantation where we were married and raised a family of eight children."

I wonder if Sarah Cornelia didn't co-opt her older sister's story. Weeks after the war was over Lucy married Wistar Nichols Wright, of Laurens, South Carolina, She was almost 20; he about 30, probably related to the Wright side of the family with relatives in Laurens. Wistar or Wister seems a very Philadelphia kind of name but I found no ancestors from that famous family. Friends called him Wis.

Apparently both sisters married soldiers they met in that July, 1863 battle near Jacksonville.

Wistar Wright did find himself at the Barrett/Wright farms in 1863 as a member of the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, W. T. Ratliff's Battery, which suffered five casualties there in July after the fall of Vicksburg. Wistar survived, perhaps mustered out in July due to a neck wound he'd suffered in May.

Wis Wright is mentioned in his cousin's letter in November, 1861 when he and brother Archibald came upon their cousin Taliaferro Simpson. Archibald fell ill and died in camp in 1862.

Wistar came back to Jacksonville and married Lucy Barrett on May 2, 1865. The 1870 census shows them living as farmers in the neighborhood and interestingly enough Lucy is listed as the land and property owner. New son Archibald was named for his uncle.

The 1880 census found them in Laurens County, South Carolina where they were farming; twenty years later they were still in Laurens. Wistar was a "pattern maker" and eldest son Thomas worked in a cotton mill. 

 Pacolet Mills about 1900

In 1903 Wistar and family were living in Pacolet, Spartanburg County. He probably worked at the Pacolet Mills when he accidentally stabbed himself in the thigh with a metal awl, dying of blood poisoning soon after at 67 leaving Lucy with four grown sons and two daughters.

She lived until 1936, undoubtedly entertaining her granddaughters with romantic tales. The women told another story about their mother Sarah Cornelia, just as spunky as her daughters, during the Battles of Wright's and Barrett's Farm. She'd supervised preparation of a supper for weary Southern soldiers but when Union troops forced the Confederate defenders back to Jackson, three high ranking Union Generals:
"walked right in..sat down uninvited and prepared to eat. This infuriated [Mother] since this was her house, she had not invited them in, and she had not prepared food for enemy officers to eat. There was little she could do since she was alone in the house except for her daughters and other female relatives. However, she refused to be cowed....strode into the dining room and glared.... Although she did not know it at the time, she was confronting three famous Union generals in one room at the same time - Grant, Sherman, and MacPherson. According to family lore, she was known to be steely-eyed, cold, and scary when really angry, and she was definitely angry.... She stared at the Union officers in silence until she got their attention and then said [famous quote in our family] - 'Go ahead and eat all you want.......but don't say I didn't warn you.' She then gave them a hard, malicious smile."

A few Union Generals

All three Generals left in a hurry---too intimidated to eat the meal or molest the household further.

That's a fascinating story, telling us how feisty the Barrett women were and how easily one could frighten a Union General. When talking about a culture where the spoken story is reverently repeated it's probably a faux pas to say these three Generals were NEVER in the same room in Jacksonville, Mississippi in July, 1863, so we'll let that one stand too.

Church at China Grove,
as perfect as Welty's short story

*China Grove, Mississippi was made famous by Eudora Welty in her story "Why I Live at the P.O." where StellaRondo has returned to town with a mysterious child.

See Lucy's Find-A-Grave File here.

Read Cornelia Barrett Ligon's memoir here as a PDF:
Her chapter begins on page 74. It's quite a story---she mentions General Grant and the tale about her mother threatening a poisoned dinner, but not in the same incident. There are some very fanciful stories: e.g. one morning they woke up to see the word Memphis in the fire ashes and sure enough Memphis fell to the Union that day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Briar Rose Blocks

Denniele's Briar Rose
Block #6 for Varina Davis
a close member of Cassandra's Circle

We've got some beautiful examples to show a week before Block #7.

Her background is Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in script.








I noticed the rose with reverse applique detail
in a couple of mid-19th-century quilts with an odd wreath based on three.
See a post here:

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Dressed Picture

Found this in the picture files with the caption: "Free Woman of Color & Her Daughter, Collage, New Orleans." It's a collage but a type of collage known as a Dressed Picture. The Louisiannes here have paper faces but their clothing is actual cloth, pleated, trim, ruched and fussed with just like a real wardrobe.

The piece is from a folk art dealer in New Orleans, Andrew Hopkins. 

The daughter's face

He thinks it's late-18th century and it could well be that old as Dressed Pictures were popular in England and American in that era (and probably elsewhere in the Western world.) I know nothing about Creole fashion in New Orleans so cannot date it from the clothing. 

The woman's face may be painted on paper. 
Her kerchief is perfectly arranged.

She looks just like a woman described by author Kate Conyngham, a Northern visitor to The Sunny South, who published a book about her trip in 1860, describing an impressive Creole woman seen on a train in Louisiana, wearing
 "an orange and scarlet plaid handkerchief about [her head] Turkish turban fashion, a style that prevails here among the Creole servants. She had in her ears a pair of gold ear-rings, as large as a half-dollar, plain and massive, she wore a necklace of gold beads, hanging from which was a carnelian cross, the most beautiful thing I ever saw, upon her neck was a richly worked black lace scarf, her dress was plain coloured silk, made in the costliest manner... In one hand she held a handsome parasol, and the other fondled a snow-white French poodle upon her lap. said poodle having the tips of its ears tied with knots of pink ribbon and a collar of pink silk."
The author thought of the well-dressed passenger as a servant, but it seems obvious from her appearance that she had servants of her own. I quoted The Sunny South in my book Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery.

Nothing in the Sunny South was what it seems, and I was surprised to find that The Sunny South; or, the Southerner at Home was actually written by a man named the Joseph Holt Ingraham using Kate Conyngham as a pen name. 

Creole Puzzle from Facts & Fabrications

See quilts with dressed pictures in a post here: