Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mary Louisa Michel Binckley Memoir, 1906 (and 1899): Part I

Mont Calm (aka Montcalm), Campbell house, Abingdon, Virginia. Source: Duke University*
[Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley Memoir, 1906 (and 1899), Part I. Additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading.
Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing scans of the original documents, and in turn many thanks to Peter Johnston Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]                                                
                                                                December 19 20  1906

(The original was written in Saucilido [Sausalito, California] 7 years ago [1899]) 

To look back fifty sixty years or more must always be more or less painful to the average man or woman, for few lives of three-score but have had their griefs, cares and adventures that seem to start out sharply when age begins to dim the background of remembered pleasure. But I have promised to look back, and whether the fulfilling of a promise be hard or not, it must be done.

I must close my eyes on this landscape and recall the one I first remember with a child's queer distinctness of recollection for some salient points, while all the rest of life is misty.

A white house with veranda -- a green grassy yard and the shade of trees. An old apple tree under which I played with a baby brother. The faces of one or two negro servants, that of my nurse being clearest. My father's gay voice I can hear now, and even the memory of the strings in my heart faintly the delicious thrill that sound always brought me.

I can see mother as she was then with her fresh color and quiet ways, and I again stand and watch fascinated while Amy brushes out the great masses of mother's long fair hair, and can see it shine in the morning sunlight. 

This same Amy, by the way, was the one who was generally sent on errands into town (our cottage was in the western part of Abingdon, near what is now the dépot [aka dépôt].) and was sometimes allowed to take me out to walks. Once walking in a dark wood, she showed me a lonely cabin, and on my solemn promise not to tell "Miss Jane" if she told of its mysteries, in a tragic whisper informed me that in that lonely spot the doctors brought the bodies of '"bad [plural of n-word]" & boiled 'em into castor oil.'

Children then were required to take the vilest medicine without protest, but no earthly power ever succeeded in making me take castor oil.

Amy was also allowed sometimes the felicity of dressing me in my best (red morocco slippers I remember as one bit of grandeur) and taking me visiting. 

Once in a highly decorated condition I was taken up a long hill to Gov. Campbell's old mansion that stood among great trees. A severely stately old lady made polite enquiries as to the health of my family, and then bestowed upon me a large peach. But the bliss of possession was at once destroyed when I was made to go out on the veranda and eat it with my neck painfully stretched over the railing, so that no drop of juice could stain that spotless floor. 

This old lady (Gov. Campbell's wife) was noted in Abingdon for her stinginess (a very unusual trait then), her love of stately display where it could be done economically, and her excessive cleanliness. Having no children and a staff of well-trained servants, her ruling passions were easily carried to absurd lengths. 
Source: Find a Grave under "David Campbell (1779-1859)" 
[Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).
First memories are of "Lilliput." See 1841 letter from Jane (Mother), link here
Father = Harvey Mitchell/Michel (1799-1866).
Mother = Jane Mary Wood Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Amy = enslaved servant. There are two Amys listed in the estate (dated 1832) of Peter Johnston, Jr. (1753-1831), and we may suppose that this Amy is one of them. Link here.
Campbells = David Campbell (1779-1859) and Mary Hamilton Campbell (1783-1859). Virginia Campbell, a niece, and David H.R. Campbell, a nephew, also lived there for a time.
*Linked to  Campbell Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University; photo from the collection of Professor Norma Taylor Mitchell. Link here.]

1 comment:

  1. See also "FEAR OF THE DARK: THE NIGHT DOCTORS IN FOLK BELIEF AND HISTORICAL REALITY" at http://www.cvltnation.com/fear-of-the-dark-the-night-doctors-in-folk-belief-and-historical-reality/