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Military - Civil War] Garrett, Narcissa and Sarah Garrett Chambliss.

Archive: Sketches of Life on an Ante-Bellum Louisiana Plantation.


[Correspondence] Garrett, Narcissa and Sarah Garrett Chambliss. Correspondence Archive.
Monroe, Louisiana, and other places in the surrounding area, mostly 1858-1861, with a few
earlier or later; together with a family scrapbook.
A substantial archive of correspondence - 68 letters totaling 223 pages and approximately 25,000
words - by a mother and daughter, presenting an important picture of family life on a Louisiana
plantation on the eve of the Civil War, and offering their perspective on life in momentous times.
Concentrated during the three years immediately preceding the Civil War, but extending, in part,
into the Civil War and the reconstruction era, the letters are primarily to Franklin Garrett, the
eldest son of the family. The correspondence provides a moving portrait of a loving family, the
mother and sister concerned for the son and brother, concentrating on preparing him for the
future, worrying over his course loads, expenses, and social standing, all written against a
background of plantation economy, the family's slaves, looming war, diseases (typhoid, yellow
fever, and whooping cough), and births, deaths, and marriages; the correspondence is
accompanied by a family scrapbook from the period.
Isaiah Garrett (1812-1874), born in Franklin, Tennessee and raised in Missouri, graduated from
West Point in 1833, but almost immediately left the service to settled in Ouachita Parish,
Louisiana, where he pursued a career in law. He married Narcissa Grayson, a member of a
prominent area family, in 1836, and they raised five children (six others died before the age of
six), while he served as District Attorney, an important member of the state constitutional
convention in 1845, and a member of the Secession Convention in 1861. The family developed
another life as planters, establishing Lindwood, a large plantation on the river south of Monroe in
the early 1850s. By 1857 Garrett gave up the practice of law to concentrate on the plantation; by
the first year of the Civil War, however, the family had moved back to Monroe. At war's end,
Garrett resumed the practice of law, and the family sold Lindwood.
Inventory and excerpts:
1. Letters from Narcissa Grayson Garrett, (1816-1890; wife of Isaiah Garrett and the youngest
daughter of W.B. Grayson, a prominent north Louisiana planter). 43 Autograph Letters Signed
(138 total pages, approximately 16,000 words), 21 January 1859 -- 12 April 1861 (except for the
last two letters from 1883), 40 to her son Frank, three to daughter Sarah, giving news of family,
marriages, deaths and other sorrows, society in Monroe, activities on the plantation, including
among the slaves, admonishments and lectures on the proper conduct of life, etc. Some examples:
Jan. 21, 1859: "The little negroes seemed to suffer most [from "violent colds"] but I think they
are all better now ... Big Ellen and Bina both have young babies and both girls." Feb. 23, 1859:
"We sent to the city for some evergreens which we received. 6 magnolias, 6 pyramidal cedars,
one doz. red cedars, one doz. Arborvitae, and two doz. English laurels, and also two doz. live
oaks ... your Pa bought a negro girl yesterday in Monroe, of a Mr. Thomson from the hills, she is
17 years old, paid 1350 for her [as a] field hand." Mar. 21, 1859: "Frank it would wound my
pride to have you leave school with an unfinished education. Oh, I have looked forward with
pride and hope to the time when you my son would graduate with honor."
Dec. 27, 1859: "All of the darkies have been married lately. We had four weddings on Saturday
night, Virginia and Gabe, Polly Ann and Nick, Milly and Steve, Henrietta and Blaze. There is not
a single dark gentleman on the place now and only two single women."
Mar. 23, 1860: "I did not tell you that all of the fig trees in the whole country were killed by the
sudden cold. I never heard of that happening before, there is fig trees fifty years old, killed to the
ground, and all the cape jessimines are killed down, and all the light colored roses are much
injured, the cloth of gold was killed down."
Apr. 2, 1860: "Our church has been finished, and preached in, and they have commenced
working on the rail road in Monroe. They have commenced at the river and are working back
towards Boeff River, or the swamp, they speak of having it finished to Vicksburg by Oct., and of
having the cars running back from Monroe by June."
May 8, 1860: "There was a negro hung in Monroe a short time since, for murder. He in the first
place stabbed the Monroe butcher and was arrested, and tried and condemned to be hung. He was
put in jail to await the appointed day. In the mean time he managed to get hold of a small bar of
iron with which he killed the jailer, a man by the name of Williams, he left a wife and four
children. The Negro then got out and hid, the murdered man was not discovered until noon he
having been killed early in the morning. The[y] supposed that the negro would go right off, but he
did not, he hid about town and they finally took him in Mrs. Bass' gin house concealed in the
cotton and he was tried and hung the same evening. The negro was hired on the McRae [a
steamboat] at the time he committed the first offence and belonged to some one in New Orleans."
June 3, 1860: "We are suffering with a severe drouth at this time ... the gardens all look badly and
the corn is suffering very much for rain, we have not had a soaking rain since February."
July 8, 1860: "Your pa has been having a saw mill put up and that will cost him over three
thousand dollars."
Aug. 30, 1860: "We are to have a Bell and Everett Barbecue on next Saturday ... they held a
Douglas Barbecue some time ago. I am not certain whether your Pa will vote for Douglas or Bell.
I am pretty sure he would prefer Bell if he thought there was a chance for him to be elected."
Sept. 15, 1860: "You was asking me about the advertisement you saw in the Vicksburg paper
about the boy Charly. That was our boy, one that your Pa purchased last spring. He was here
about six weeks and then ran away. He was trying to get back to Tennessee where he came from."
Nov. 13, 1860: "Well Frank the election is over and I never have seen so may long faces ... I fear
that we will wind up with a dissolution of the Union and if so we may look for the most bloody
war on record ... what will become of the helpless women and children, for our worst enemies are
in our midst [the slaves]."
Dec. 10, 1860: "Secession seems to be all the rage now, your Pa still holds out for the Union ... I
fear we will have much trouble before it all blows over ... our worst enemies are right in our
midst, I fear they will say so much about it that they will excite them to rebellion."
Apr. 12, 1861: "The report is that several armed vessels have been sent around south ... some
think to blockade the mouth of the Mississippi, that you know would speedily bring on a battle ...
there was a report yesterday that the Monroe company had been ordered to Fort Pickens
[Pensacola, Florida]."
2. Sarah Garrett Chambliss (1842-1909; eldest daughter of Isaiah Garrett). 25 Autograph Letters
Signed (85 total pages, approximately 10,000 words), 11 October 1855 -- 11 April 1861, all to
brother Frank, keeping him apprised of news about school, home, family, and social life in
Monroe and surroundings.
Sept. 7, 1859 (Beersheba Springs, TN): "It was quite gay on our arrival, they were having balls
every evening and the parlor was a treat to the eye every day ... as we descended some of the
wildest and most sublime scenery I was presented, there was a waterfall from the height of fifty
feet which was splendid to those who had never seen the 'thundering Niagara,' as one of our party
had ... Pa has bought a cottage here, it is one of the most romantic spots I ever saw. The cottage is
not entirely completed, was commenced for Bishop Polk who gave it the name of 'Moss Rock.'"
 Oct. 12, 1859: "I suppose you would like to know my Studies. They are Geometry, Algebra,
Book Keeping, French, and Ancient Geography."
Jan. 6, 1860: "I would not be surprised if you did not fall in love with some of those 'Carolina
July 19, 1860: "There is to be a grand Barbecue in Monroe on Saturday next. It is to be given by
the 'Douglas Men.' They are very anxious that Pa should enlist as one of the orators of the day. I
rather think he will decline. Pa is greatly in favor of the nomination of Douglas."
Nov. 30, 1860: "What do you think of the state of affairs in which is our Country? I think is a
very disgraceful one, to think of dissolving our glorious Union, the boast over the world, and after
dissolution what will follow Oh! It makes the blood thrill, at the desolation it must create."
Mar. 17, 1861: "I saw a Rhinoceros the other night at Dan Rice's Circus. Old Dan himself was
present, his first visit to our city. I assure you I never saw such a crowd in Monroe before."
3. SCRAPBOOK: Garrett family scrapbook. Quarto. Half-calf, disbound. "Garrett" in large
letters on front cover. "1858" in large numerals on rear cover. Circa 1855-1870. Material
mounted on both sides of 32 leaves, primarily wood engraved illustrations clipped from
newspapers and periodicals, newspaper clippings printing poetry and literary and historical
articles (including material from the 1868 Louisiana elections), but including also a small
handbill (8 x 6 inches) printing the program for an evening entertainment "Concert & Tableaux
by the Daughters' Aid Society" (Monroe?, ca. 1855?), programs for "Artemus Ward's Farewell
Nights in America" (4-pages, printed in Memphis, ca. 1855) and the "Academy of Music!" (8-
pages, New Orleans, ca. 1870?), and a hand-colored lithograph print of a House Finch from the
"Hesperian" based on a drawing by A.J. Grayson, Narcissa Garrett's brother, with a few
additional similar items are laid in.
A comprehensive view of the experience of Southern women at the beginning of the Civil War, a
viewpoint that has been difficult to document.

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