Letters and Diary

Emma Mordecai


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This text includes hate speech against people of African descent. It provides insight into Jewish history; however, The Posen Library does not condone or promote hate speech of any kind.

Exeunt the Slaves

The negro movement is still a most vexatious and mischievous one, and its effects are painfully felt in every Southern household. This morning Cy came to high words with George and John, insisting he had a right to stay here, to bring here whom he pleases, to keep his family here. He was, he said, entitled to a part of the farm after all the work he had done on it. The kitchen belonged to him because he had helped cut the timber to build it. He also insists that the land belongs to the U.[nited] States, and that it is to be divided among the negroes, etc. Willie told him that he would give him three days to find a place to move to, a thing which he declared this intention of doing three weeks ago.

Georgiana continues for the most part sullen and perverse. Lizzy, though she has resumed her duties in the house, is still in an uncertain position and devotes much time to her maternal cares and, though not impertinent, is rather too independent to be satisfactory. . . .

May 5th. This morning, without giving any warning of their intentions, all the servants were discovered to be packing up to go. Lizzy, whom we considered engaged for a month, was the first to get ready. Her husband told Rose he was mighty sorry to take her away from her, but that he liked to have his friends to visit him, and as this as not liked by the family, he had rented a room at Mr. Harwood’s and was going to move there. Of course, this was a false pretext, as this place has always been run over with negro visitors. Cyrus has rented a house on the turnpike, near the battery, and is moving there with the rest of this family. They all seem anything but joyous at the change, and Rosina is really and greatly distressed at parting with the foolish creatures. She thinks Cy already repents of his late improper conduct, which alone has brought about this change. Rose gave them all presents of old dresses, etc., and also some meat, meal, and potatoes, for all of which they seemed very grateful.

We shall not be left entirely [without] a servant, as Willie told Cy he wanted Georgiana to stay a few days, until we had found someone to take her place, and Elick to mind the cows, to which Cy willingly consented, for which condension [condescension] on his part, Willie gave him leave to pick up firewood about here for his own use for a few days longer.

His wife, Sarah, has behaved as well as possible the whole time, and we all respect her for it. She does not seem to approve of Cy’s arrangements. They will now begin to find out how easy their life as slaves had been, and to feel the slavery of their freedom. Rose has walked over to Mr. Taylor’s to make enquiries after other servants. The afternoon is lovely. I forgot to mention that when in town last, I met Mrs. John N. Gordon, a lady who has a very large family, and who was entirely burnt out in the conflagration of the fourth of April. She saved nothing but her beds. She told me all her servants [slaves] have since left her, but she found it a great relief, as there were so many children among them to provide for. She now has a woman to cook for her, who was living at the place to which the family had gone (a furnished house, from which the owners had fled on the approach of the enemy), and she gets a woman to come and wash for them one day in the week, and they dispense with other service. I told her I had heard how wonderfully she bore her misfortunes. She replied: “I don’t regard my private troubles as of the slightest importance. It is public calamity, the loss of our cause and the misfortunes of the country that distress me. If that was all right, I should not care, and I do not care for my losses!”

May 6th. The servants all went Friday evening [yesterday]. Georgiana and Martha returned at dusk and are still with us. They behave well so far and are very useful. Willie milked the cows that evening and I strained the milk. Susan, one of the former Gardner servants [Negro], came up from the mill and engaged to milk and to get breakfast every day until we get supplied with a cook. A niece of hers, a very nice girl who is out of a place, thinks of hiring herself here. She got dinner yesterday and cooked it very nicely.

Poor Rose is miserably depressed. She scarcely slept at all Friday night. She is not only entirely upset in her domestic affairs, but she is grieved to part with Cy and Sarah and Lizzy. She said: “If they felt as I do, they could not possibly leave me.”

Cy came back yesterday after his fowls and sought an opportunity to take leave of his “Mistiss” (as he still calls her, in spite of his declaration to me to the contrary) and of the boys. He expressed to Rose his regret for his improper conduct the other morning, and was very much affected at parting with her. She could not take leave of him without emotion and has felt miserable ever since.

What an uprooting of social ties and tearing asunder of almost kindred associations and destruction of true loyalty, this strange, new state of things produced! The disturbance to the Whites and the privations it will at first entail upon the poor, improvident negroes is incalculable. . . .

The End of the Old South

Several corps of Grant’s Army had been passing up the turnpike all day, returning to Washington, there to be disbanded. I went on top of the house to see the living stream, in one compact mass, pouring up the road as far as the eye could reach in both directions. An admirably disciplined and well-organized force: no straggling, no uproar; a quiet, steady stream, moving in an almost unbroken current. They have finished their work of destruction and subjugation, and are going in triumph to uninjured, undisturbed homes and customs, only ruining a few more farms in their progress, the owners of which have just returned from our army destitute of everything and having some hope of making something to live on, as the surrender took place in time to plant. They camped all over the farms above Mr. Stuart’s, as far as the eye could reach, burning fences to make their camp fires and treading down the wheat and oats. It is said Sherman’s Army is also to pass this way. If so, all farming operations on their line of march had as well be suspended.

Last night the coops with setting hens and these with broods of young chickens were robbed of seven hens. Three large broods are thus left to shift for themselves, and four settings of eggs, two of the nests being duck eggs for which a high price was paid, all probably rendered useless. The eggs were left behind the pigpen. This was doubtless done by Yankee soldiers who were prowling about the place yesterday.

May 7th, P.M. Martha (one of Cy’s [children]) left us this morning and Georgiana and Elick, this afternoon. Susan was sick and could not come up to milk. So Willie milked, I set the supper table, and Rose fed the fowls and attended to everything. . . .

May 11th. A day of rare beauty, following a stormy night. The air so clear and cool, the sky so blue, and the slopes of the leafy woods so green. The birds are numerous and the air is filled with their warbling. Thus it is in the outer world. Within, there is no beauty, no enjoyment, no harmony. Rose has had two days of nervous suffering and mental torture. She is still unsupplied with servants and we have no definite prospect of getting any. I have been doing drudgery for the greater part of the week, assisted unwillingly and inefficiently by a little white girl from town, who is so miserable at being in the country, that she thinks of nothing but how to get home again. My efforts do not meet with the only compensation I desire for them, the satisfaction of knowing that they afford one ray of comfort, or are in any way appreciated.

The events of the last two days have arisen from the moving of Sherman’s Army from Richmond to Washington. Last night a general (perhaps Sherman himself) and his staff were camped at Westbrook, and the troops are moving up the turnpike today, leaving behind then [them] the ruin and desolation and misery they have spread through our land, to return to their own and find it untouched by these four years of cruel war. Sherman’s Army is perfectly ruthless, and now that the War is over, are as destructive as other armies are when engaged in hostilities. They . . . camped in the yard under the dining room windows, turned the horses out of the stables to put theirs in, put their horses in the carriage house, and parked their wagons before the kitchen. I only hope they may continue such practices north of the Potomac [River].

May 13th. . . . I must here record two anecdotes told me by an eye and ear witness, illustrative of the new disorder of things. My informant was working in his garden, which lies on the public road.

He heard a negro man, who was passing by, thus soliloquizing: “Dis what you call freedom? No wuk [work] to do, and got to feed and clothe yourself.” The same person was in town a few days ago, talking to an acquaintance on the street. A negro girl passed them, with her books on her way to school. They stopped her and asked what she was studying. She replied: “I studyin’ dis here book.” Let me look at it,” said the gentleman. It was a French grammar! He returned it to her, gravely remarking that it was a very suitable book for her to study.

The fifteenth. Corps of Sherman’s Army (the last, they say) passed up the Brook Turnpike yesterday, exciting admiration, even among our own soldiers, by their numbers, equipment, and discipline. How is it that we have sustained a four-years’ war with an enemy who can present such armies at its close? The men boast of the destruction they have spread through So. Carolina and Georgia. They say they left nothing standing but houses, and [they] destroyed many of them. They have in their train cows that they have driven all the way from Georgia, mules, splendid horses, and handsome equipages, all taken from once wealthy Southerners, whom they have left stript of even the necessities of life. Doubtless the officers’ baggage wagons are loaded with stolen family plate and other valuables. . . .

Wednesday [May 17th]. . . . I met with Moses, my former slave, who was at work (he is a bricklayer) on Broad St. No servant could behave better than he has done. He showed great interest in me and all of us, and begged me to call upon him whenever he could do anything for me. His freedom will be little to me, nor gain to him, for as his wife, who also belonged to me, is a very sickly woman and the children only an expense, it took nearly the whole of the wages he paid me [for the privilege of being allowed to hire himself out], to pay the d[octo]r’s and druggist’s bills and to clothe them. . . .

Heard of President Davis’ capture. Only hope it is not true that he was disguised in Mrs. Davis’ clothes! . . .

Got up very soon, made fire, and took up the ashes in R’s [Rose’s] room while Gusta swept, and then I dressed, strained the milk, swept back and front porch, fixed things on the table, got ice water in the pitcher, by wh.[ich] time breakfast was ready. After breakfast we cleared away the table, washed up, and I cleaned knives while she [Gusta] swept and dusted the dining room. Then she practiced while I gathered strawberries. Willie went to town servant hunting and returned with a woman and two little boys, the only one he could find willing to come to the country. Rose says she is an untaught field hand. She certainly cannot cook well, but is said to wash and iron well. At any rate, her being here relieves Gusta and me from housework, as Ellen, the girl whom I omitted to record, was cooking, [and] can now come in the house. [The kitchen was separate from the house.] The new woman expresses willingness to learn what she does not know. Had a visit from Mrs. Oscar Taylor. All the talk, everywhere now, is servants. . . .

May 21st. There was a tremendous rainstorm at night, doing much damage in town and country, cellars overflowed, etc. Out here the milldam broke and the pond was emptied. Corn on hillsides washed up, Sunday, while I was in town. Before coming home on Monday I succeeded in getting some whiskey for Rose at $1.15 a quart. I went to see Gen’l Patrick, the provost marshal, who won my heart by his kindness, courtesy, and attention. He gave me unsolicited an order to get a mule or horse, in place of Charlie the stolen horse, and an order on the commissary to let me have two qts. whiskey for R.[osina]. Came home in triumph. . . .

May 23rd, Tuesday, I rose early. After our early breakfast, did some mending, heard Gusta her French, and gathered about ten qts. strawberries for market. R. helped me wash them (the heavy rains making this necessary), and this took till near dinner time. Then changed my dress and lay down to rest until dinner was ready. Willie and George went to town after the promised mule and returned while we were at dinner with the mule and a cowboy, having also seen bl[ac]k George [the former slave], who told them where the stolen cart was. So we are making up for our losses. . . .

May 24th. The Fifth [Sixth?] Army Corps, Gen’l [H. G.] Wright, passed up the turnpike, occupying the whole day in the transit, consequently Gusta was detained at Brook Hill. We hear that many of the troops that have passed here to be disbanded have been sent to Texas, Kirby-Smith refusing to surrender and, it is said, being still in command of a large army. Some think the Trans-Miss.[issippi] country will still achieve its independence. Willie went this A.M. after the stolen cart and succeeded in getting not only it, but the harness and cover. In our misfortunes we have been wonderfully fortunate. . . .

May 30th. Got a note from Caroline [Myers, my niece, in Richmond] on Saturday, telling me that brother Alfred [Major Alfred Mordecai] was in town! [He] arrived Thursday afternoon. Felt very much agitated at learning this. Got Willie to walk in with me Sunday (the cars not running) to see him. On reaching my cousins’ found that he had gone the day before on his way to Raleigh [to see the family]. . . . I felt at once disappointed and relieved, so much had I dreaded seeing him. They told me he was very sad, though he looked well. [Major Alfred Mordecai resigned from the United States Army in 1861. He would not fight against the South nor turn against the Union.]

I staid in town till Monday afternoon, when I returned in the cars. Got interesting letters from Raleigh while in town. They have suffered much more in the vicinity of Raleigh than we have near Richmond. In the town, property was protected, but in the country, destroyed wantonly. [Nephew] Jacob Mordecai’s place six or eight miles north of Raleigh—ruined. These letters contained the first direct information we have received of my dear, good brother Sam’s death. He died on Sunday, April 9th [1865], of erysipelas, after a painful illness of a week’s duration. His old friends in Richmond express the highest admiration of his character and intellect, and sincere regret at his loss. [He was the author of Richmond in By-Gone Days.] For himself he had little left to make life desirable. Although age had not rendered him incapable of enjoyment, circumstances deprived him of all its opportunities. . . .

The tattered sheet containing this sad record is the last I can find of those containing my diary.


Words in brackets appear in the source text.


Emma Mordecai, “Emma Mordecai Diary,” 1864–1865, Collection 00847, Subseries 3.1, Folder 103, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00847/#folder_103#1.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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