My Girlhood at Dungeness
My Girlhood at Dungeness
I do not remember what year we went to Dungeness. I stayed principally at Retreat with Aunt Polly and my Aunt Martha until the death of Mrs. Payne when we all, Aunt Martha and the servants of the household went to Dungeness, as Aunt Polly gave my father the personal property. The estate Retreat was by my Grandfather’s will to be sold to pay the legacies to his nephews and nieces. The house at Dungeness was a plain wooden one with only four rooms. I always wondered why the Randolphs did not have a better one, but we lived in it until I was fourteen and it was then remodeled and greatly improved. One little incident which happened I have not forgotten. My sister and aunt rode in the coach and four, we, like all children were exuberant at the change. She clapped her little hands and said, “Us is gong to us’s house!” I corrected her and said, “That is not the way to say it, Sister. You should say, “We is going to we’s house.” So many years ago, and yet I remember it!
In the time there had come a little girl, Jean Dandridge, and a boy named George Woodson, and another boy, John Lee. I think these three were born at Dungeness. If so, my father moved there in 1843, and my Grandmother died in 1847. I do not recollect anything of my life here until my school days except that my sister and I often went with my beautiful mother to dinners at the neighbors.
Hospitality was easy in those days of elegance and comfort, plenty of servants, plenty of food and no lack of money.
But to go to school days, all Southern homes had governesses and tutors. We had no public schools until after the Civil War. Our first governess was a Miss Morison, a Presbyterian and a fine woman, but delicate and cross. Number two was Miss May Laurence, an Episcopalian. Lovely as a teacher and intimate, she taught us two years. While she was with us there were two little girls, Ruth and Ella Watkins, who walked to school with us. They loved dearly to come and it was a great joy to us to have them. Their old colored mammy always brought their lunch and often our mother gave us our lunch with them. It was lovely, and how happy we were! It seems but yesterday. When I lie resting these pictures of the old days come so plainly. Our teacher was so lovely and sympathized in all our pleasures. We had a little box in the hollow of a tree, half way between the Watkins’ and our house, and although we saw each other five days out of the week we always found a letter. They never failed us nor we them.
These little girls mother died and they went to live with their grandmother, Mrs. Elfresh. We never met again. They both married in Virginia, Ruth a Mr. Schot and Ella a Mr. Hannah. Ella was so pretty. I can see her flower-like face now. She has been dead a number of years. Ruth is living and is 77 years old.
After this digression, I go back to our third teacher, a Miss Jane Grubb, a most intelligent and clever woman. But again a digression which I can never forget. My twelfth birthday occurred while Miss Laurence was with us. My mother, always willing for our pleasure, decided upon a birthday party and I was to be queen of the May. Miss Laurence arranged it all, teaching us our parts. We had a favorite cousin, Hugh Patton of Richmond, Virginia who took part in the performance about two weeks before the 24th of May. I decided that I would not be “The Queen”, but that my sister had to be. Why this idea possessed me I know not. So we changed places, and everything went on well. My mother turned it into a society event, made lordly preparations, inviting friends from all over the country and from Richmond. I remember the handsome ladies and their admirers. But alas the day of the 24th was cold and with snow, so our fine outdoor performance had to be changed to an indoor affair. The throne was moved up to a side porch and the hall was our theatre.
Two of the most beautiful women were Miss Bettie Harrison of Elk Hall, afterwards Mrs. Douglas Gordon of Baltimore and Miss Julia Bolling of “Bolling’s Island”, afterwards Mrs. Philip Cabell. Others, though not so beautiful, were charming in mind and manners.
This affair has always been a treasure in my memory, not only for its pleasure, but the wonderful kindness shown me in my strange perversity.
I cannot close this subject without mention of a friend of my father, who in my mind and heart was a perfect man. He lived next to us at Rock Castle. A bachelor, his classic face and elegant appearance appealed to me as a child, and I thought his opinions golden. He came every day to see my father and mother. He was a lawyer of fine mind and gracious manners, and was our best friend. When I was about 14 he married a Miss Anne Roy of Gloucester, and I was frightfully jealous. I remember my sister and I wept over it, because we thought he would not love us anymore. But not so, for she proved our dearest friend, faithful through sunshine and shadow, even after he died. They had three children, Nannie, John and Helen.
Our friend, Mr. John Coles Rutherford, died a young man. His wife continued to live at Rock Castle and was ever a loyal friend, sympathetic and kind in “Weal and Woe”. I could write a volume concerning these dear people, both dead now. God grant I may meet them again. Their daughter Nannie, Mrs. Bradley Saunders Johnson, John, lawyer and Judge, live at Rock Castle, and Helen, Mrs. George Ben Johnston, celebrated physician of Richmond all live in Virginia.
Now comes our third Governess, Miss Jane Grubb, a very bright woman but dictatorial and aggressive. We did not love her as we did our dear Miss Laurence. She was a bigoted Episcopalian, the uncharitable type who thought only Episcopalians could get to heaven. We were instructed in catechism and well taught, but as our father was a Presbyterian, our grandfather a Presbyterian minister and our dear old uncle and aunt Presbyterians we could not agree with her in her heavenly limitations.
One circumstance in her stay with us. We had an old slave “Uncle Jacob”, a privileged character, as all old ones were, came every morning to the dining room door for “his dram”. He would say “good morning marster” and “marster” knew that meant the dram. Day after day Miss Grubb would argue with Uncle Jacob about the sin of drinking. At last the old man lost patience and drew himself to his full height, about six feet two inches, and said, “Miss Grubb, if you will examine yourself kurfully, you will find you have a corresponding sin to my infirmity.”
We could not help it, we clapped our hands as he turned with stately dignity out of the room. Miss Grubb was for a moment speechless, and then gave a lecture in impertinence of servants and children. We knew she meant the children part for us for our clapping for Uncle Jacob. Miss Grubb wished to stay another year and she did. She was a good teacher, so my parents allowed her to return. After her second year transpired, my father decided to add to the house. The family had several additions, a baby brother named James William who lived only a few days and then a sister, Ellen Lewis, born in 1850, a second James William in 1857, and Joseph David 1853.