Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cousin Betsey Witherspoon

This entry is from Mary Chesnut's Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward. Mary Chesnut  was married to James Chesnut, United States Senator from South Carolina, 1859-1861, and afterward an Aide to Jefferson Davis, and a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.

A cousin of Mary Chesnut's,  Betsey Witherspoon, had recently been murdered by her slaves.
From entries dated September 21 and 24, 1861:

Last night when the mail came in, I was seated near the lamp.  Mr. Chesnut, lying on a sufa at a little distance, called out to me, "Look at my letters and tell me about them."

I began to read one aloud; it was from May Witherspoon -- and a brok down.  Horror and amazement was too much for me.  Poor Cousin Betsey Witherspoon was murdered!  She did not die peacefully, as we supposed, in her bed. Nurdered by her own people.  Her negroes. . . .
Her household negroes were so insolent, so pampered and insubordinate, that she lived alone and at home.  She knew, she said, that none of her children would have the patience she had with these people who had been indulged and spoiled by her until they were like spoiled children.  Simply intolerable. . . .

. . . .Hitherto I have never thought of being afraid of negroes.  I had never injured any of them.  Why should they want to hurt me?  Two-thirds of my religion consists of trying to be good to negroes because they are so in my power, and it would be so easy to be the other thing.  Somehow today I feel that the found is cut away from under my feet.  Why should they treat me any better than they have done Cousin Betsey Witherspoon?
 Sweet potato planting, Hopkinson's Plantation, from Library of Congress Collection

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