Reminiscences of a Mississippian in Peace and War by Frank Alexander Montgomery, 1901 ~~~~~ An excerpt
Before I proceed with my story, I must pause to indulge in some reminiscences of that far away time when I was a boy in Jefferson County [MS], and give some account of the manners and customs of the people and of their amusements, and this chapter may be taken by way of parenthesis. There were in those days no railroads, the first in the state being the short line from Jackson to Vicksburg, over which I made my memorable trip to interview Governor Brown. One other was projected north from Natchez, and was actually finished for some seven or eight miles, but this fell through for want of funds. It had a bank, too, I remember, for those were the days of shinplasters, as the paper money of the numerous banks in the state was then called. The mode of travel for gentlemen was on horseback; for ladies, on horseback or in carriages. The first thing, when a gentleman arrived on a visit, if it were not before eleven o'clock, was to invite him to the sideboard to take a drink. This was the universal custom, except at the homes of preachers or very strict members of the Methodist Church, and intoxication was rare except at barbecues or assemblies to hear speeches when politics ran high. The old fashioned barbecue of that time has passed away, for those we have now-a-days are unlike them in many particulars. The men did not go to them loaded down with pistols, for the deadly hip pocket was not then invented, and the pistol of the day, with its long barrel and ugly flintlock, was too troublesome to be carried. If arms were carried, and this was rare, it was the bowie knife or dirk, and nobody ever got hurt except the combatants. Fights were common on those occasions, but they were almost always fisticuffs, a word and a blow. There was always a dance on the ground and, at night, an adjournment to the nearest house, when daylight put an end to it the next morning. The music was the fiddle, played usually by a negro and such music! Old men forgot their age to join in the dance, for it was almost impossible to hear it and keep still. It makes me young again to think of it; not the long-drawn-out music of these days, but such soul-stirring, heel-rocking tunes as "Arkansaw Traveler," MIssissippi Sawyer," "Sugar in the Fourd," "Jennie, Put the Kittle On," "Natchez Under the Hill," and others too numerous to mention. Almost every plantation had its negro fiddler as well as negro preacher, usually the biggest scamp on the place, and the darkeys would dance to the one and shout to the other sometimes the livelong night. The planter and his family often went to look on. Those were the days of militia drills and of shooting matches, usually following the drill. Everybody between eighteen and fort-five was required to attend and bring his gun and such a motley crowd and such an assortment of arms can never be seen again. But those were happy days, for if the daily paper could not be had, the good people never felt its loss, for they knew nothing of it. In these days, we can't live without it, for we must hear the news from all the world every day and twice a day if we live where we can get an evening paper. The shooting matches were trials of skill with the long rifle, sometimes at the head of a turkey and sometimes at a small mark for beef, and there were many who could rival the skill of the Leather-stocking. Camp meetings were another feature of those days which have passed away before the advancing civilization of the times; for if one is held now, I am told, a restaurant is attached where meals are sold. In the days I speak of, a shady grove was selected near a good spring, and the well-to-do members of the church -- Methodist -- for camp meetings, as far as I know, was a distinct feature of that church, though preachers of other denominations often helped -- would build rude but comfortable shanties, each large enough to accommodate from twenty to sometimes forty guests, and to this the owner would move his whole family and his house servants and keep open house with old fashioned hospitality. And then the preaching. With power and zeal sinners were warned to repentance, and a vivid imagination could almost see the fiery billows as they enveloped the hopeless, doomed ones who cried too late for mercy where mercy never came. One sermon I remember by the Rev. B. M. Drake, the father of a prominent lawyer now living in Port Gibson. A man of stately presence, his text was: "Hear, oh heavens, give ear, oh earth, for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me; the ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." Conceive the effect which a sermon from this sublime text from the prophecies of the royal prophet would have upon a congregation already wrougght up to the highest pitch of religious fervor by prayers and hymns, when the preacher was eloquent and full of zeal for the salvation of the souls of those who heard him, and which he firmly believed would be lost forever if they did not repent. The pioneer Methodist preachers in that territory were an interesting class. Some I recall, the Rev. John G. Jones, whose adventures when he was a young man were thrilling to hear; and another, the Rev. Mr. Cotton, who, when I was a boy, was often at our house; and I heard him tell of his adventure with a robber, a story which Mr. Shields, in his "Life of Prentiss," tells, I believe; but a little differently from the way I had it from Mr. Cotton. He was riding along a lonely road, when suddenly a man with a gun stepped from behind a tree, and ordered him to halt. He then made him ride into the woods, and demanded his money. He was like the apostle, for "silver and gold" he had none. The robber, enraged, told him to dismount, as he intended to kill him. Mr. Cotton asked leave to pray before being put to death, and it was granted him. He kneeled down by the side of a log and, with closed eyes, prayed fervently for his own reception into heaven, for the salvation of the world and, above all, for the pardon and salvation of the sinful man who was about to imbrue his hands in his blood. When, at last, he had finished, he arose and, lo! the robber had gone. But, I might fill pages with stories of that time without ever finishing my own. These were the days, also, of quilting bees, and each house had its frame; the wealthiest as well as the poorest planter's wife would save her scraps and sew them into squares, stars and diamonds, until enough were gotten to make a quilt, and then the neighboring ladies would come and gather round the frame while the busy needles flew, and the busy tongues kept time till the work was done. This was a source of great pleasure and amusement to the married ladies, nor were the negro seamstresses, of which there were always one or more on each plantation, permitted to aid in this work. Now and then, in these days, one of these old patchwork quilts may be found, a relic of other days, but then, piles of them were in every house. Sewing machines were not even dreamed of; indeed, long after this, when my wife began to talk of getting a machine, I laughed at the idea, for I did not believe one could be made which would work. In those days, too, cooking stoves were unknown in the south; it was not until I had been married seven or eight years that I would consent to buy one. The kitchen was never in the house, always at a distance from it, and the fireplace, a huge affair, with an iron crane to hang the pots over the fire in which boiling was done, while upon a great wide hearth, the coals would be raked out, upon which the skillets were put to do the baking, while heaps of coal were put on their lids. These were the days of hoe cakes, ash cakes and Johnnie cakes, and no such cooking has ever been done since, and it makes my mouth water now to think of it. But, goodbye to those good old times, though memory still often brings them back. In my earliest recollection, there were a good many Indians still to be seen in the country; these belonged to the Choctaws, for the brave but ill-fated Natchez had disappeared from the face of the earth. They made their last stand on a place known, perhaps yet, as Cicily Island in what is now Louisiana, not far from Natchez, and the few who were not killed or captured were dispersed and lost forever as a tribe. It has been said that the dead Indian is the only good Indian, and it may be so. But their story is a melancholy one, and it is a pity a better fate was not reserved for them. The Indians I knew were a peacful people, the women making baskets from cane and the men subsisting by hunting and making and selling to the white boys blow-guns, a favorite weapon with the boys to shoot birds with in those times. While I was still a small boy, the great Prentiss was often in the county, sometimes attending the courts and sometimes speaking at the political barbecues. I remember to have heard him in two of his great speeches, noticed specially by his biographer, Shields. One was near Natchez and the other was at Rodney. I was too young to appreciate his arguments, but I remember well the words seemed to flow from his lips in a torrent and with what enthusiasm they were received by his audience, and his face and figure still dwell in my memory. He was a wonderful man, an unrivaled orator. Coming from the land "of steady habits" to Mississippi, he became in a little while a typical Mississippian of the olden time, when that name implied all that was honorable and true. After I grew up and became acquainted with the life and writings of Byron, I always associated the two together, for each had the same lameness, and to this physical likeness there were many things in their temperaments which were alike. Each died in his prime. The name of Prentiss occurred to me here as I remembered another custom of that time among gentlemen, an "imperious custom," as it was called by a noted divine in his eloquent funeral sermon at the burial of Alexander Hamilton, who had fallen in his duel with Aaron burr -- the custom of dueling. Mr. Prentiss fought two duels with Henry S. Foote, but is is no part of my plan to give an account of these duels, but only to mention the fact that in those days, no man who had any regard for his honor or character could refuse to fight if insulted or if he had insulted another. The custom is just as "imperious" now as it was then, for while the laws condemn it, yet public sentiment will condemn any man in public life, or whose business or profession makes him prominent, who dares to refuse, to demand, or give satisfaction on the field of honor in those cases where custom has made it proper, if not imperative. But I must leave those old times and hasten on.
Frank A. Montgomery was a member of the MS Legislature, elected in 1880, 1882, 1884 & 1886; and a judge for the MS 4th Circuit Court,