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2. A man_with_a_small_farm
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Image by Jim Surkamp
George Flagg’s Stagefright – 1850s – Jefferson County, VA by Jim Surkamp TRT: 9:17

George Flagg’s Stagefright – 1850s – Jefferson County, VA by Jim Surkamp 2126 words

1. most_remarkable_feature
The most remarkable feature of the situation in our section was that refinement and even elegance could exist on such very small means.

2. A man_with_a_small_farm (Eastman Johnson – "Winnowing Grain)
A man with a small farm (say 300 acres), worth about ,000, and a few slaves was really a prince — a

3. J. P. Morgan_no_millionaire
prince of the kind that no millionaire of the present day in 1913 can even emulate.

4. head_of_the_house (Eastman_Johnson_Old_Man_Seated_1880-1885)
The head of the house was free from some of the carking cares which beset the most favored people of the present age. He had leisure to think, to read, to

5. cultivate_his_mind
(Eastman Johnson self portrait) 1860
cultivate his mind and manners, and to indulge himself

6. indulge_in_social_pleasure
(D.H. Strother card players from "Swallow Barn," P. 13)
in social pleasure. He was a better-educated man, a better-read man in current and ancient literature, and he

7. a_better_mannered_man
(D.H. Strother card players from "Swallow Barn," P. 14)
was a better-mannered man than the man of the present age;

8. freed_from_little_worries
(men working in field on Confederate 0 bill)
freed from little worries,

9. his_heart_was_softer
(Eastman Johnson "Sunday Morning")
his temper was better, his heart was softer, and his disposition

10. more_sunny_and_genial.
(Eastman Johnson, The_Story_Teller_of_the_Camp)
more sunny and genial.

I have known men of this stamp who knew well their

11. Homer_and_their_Thucydides,_their_Bacon_and_ their_Shakespeare (
Homer and their Thucydides, their Bacon and their Shakespeare, and were ready and apt in quotations, and at the same time were not lifted above current events, but rather gave them the preference in

12. using_their_knowledge

conversation, using their knowledge of the past in illustration of events of the present. Among such people social events were very different from those of the present day. A

13. twenty-five hundred millions of dollars (New York Armory Show – 1913)
friend of mine told me of a dinner in New York the other day at which twenty-five hundred millions of dollars were present.

14. what_they_said_or_what_they_did (Vanity Fair, 1913)
He told me nothing of the people, what they said or what they did, he only told me in bated breath of the money. Such a dinner in olden times was of course unknown. I can remember some of those dinners when the ladies had retired, and the decanters of old

15. old_Madeira_went_circling
Madeira went circling round over the polished mahogany. In our neighborhood, there was a debating society which met at the different farm houses in winter every Saturday night, the host at each meeting being ex-officio chairman. . . . The debate was of unusual excellence, although there were the usual ridiculous failures.

17. David_Strother (Library of Congress)
The farmers were not the only people who lived in the country. There were artists, notably

18. afterwards_General_Strother_Library_of_Congress
David Strother (afterwards General Strother of the Federal Army), who, in the late forties

19. wrote_for_Harpers
and early fifties, under the nom deplume of "Porte Crayon", wrote for Harper’s

20. Harpers_December_1854
21. Alexander_R_Boteler_Duke_University
22. as_well_as_a_caricarturist_Duke_University
Magazine and illustrated his writings; Alexander R. Boteler, who was in Congress at one time and was an orator as well as a caricaturist,

23. and_Henry_Bedinger_Duke_University
and Henry Bedinger, orator, poet, and wit, who during his short life represented his district in Congress, and had been also minister to Denmark and a friend and favorite of

24. King_Frederick_VII_Denmark_wikpedia
25. and_the_parson_(Rev_Alexander_Jones_Jonathan_Brown)
26. among_them_the_wildest_boys_Harpers_Sept._1874_P_457
the king. And the parson (the rector of our church) lived on a farm and reared a family of twelve children, among them eight of the wildest boys.

27. debate_at_our_house (Gap View – WV Regional Collection)
One Saturday, the debate was at our house, and I remember it well, from an amusing incident. We had staying with us a cousin who had lately taken a wife and had brought her to make our acquaintance. During the day, he told my father he thought he would like to speak on the question for the evening. He was posted on it and had thought much upon the subject. My father told him that after the regular debate was over, anyone could speak. When the regular debaters had finished their very able efforts, my cousin George sprang to his feet. He was usually a mild, amiable sort of young man, but now he looked quite fierce

28. Mr_President_it_strikes_me_Strother_WVU_1847
and determined, and, stretching out his right arm, began: "Mr. President, it strikes me," — but somehow he stuck there.

My father bowed and smiled encouragingly, and he began again. "Mr. President, it strikes me," — and still the words did not come. And yet a third time he took on an attitude of defiance, and, stretching out his right arm, said, "Mr. President, it strikes me — ." Now his little wife was sitting over in the corner behind some other ladies, and when he came out for the third time with his " Mr. President, it strikes

29. said_quietly_dumb_George_Strother_WVU_Winchester_1845
me, — " she leaned forward and said very quietly, "dumb, George."

Instantly he turned and looked at her, his fierce face breaking into a smile, as he said, "My dear, you are quite right, it strikes me dumb," — and down he sat; and this was my cousin George’s speech. I have often thought

30. I_inherited_some_Sam_Bug_Strother_WVU
I inherited some of my cousin George’s talent for public speaking, for whenever I have been called upon, no matter how full I thought I was of ideas upon the subject, — a very ocean of impending eloquence, — a rapidly receding wave swept all away, leaving me (intellectually) a stranded wreck, and as dumb as my poor cousin.

31. adjourned_to_the-dining-room
32. cold_turkey_ham
33. And_the_women
On the evenings of debate, the company always adjourned to the dining-room, where a supper of cold turkey, ham, etc., was washed down with good old Madeira. And the women, — the matrons and the maids of that time, — their soft voices and their gentle ways! They were generally educated at home by governesses. Every girl had her maid, who waited on her, and she was a stranger to drudgery. I have seen a girl of thirteen take the head of her father’s table, in her mother’s absence, and play hostess in such a simple and sweet fashion as would charm her father’s guests. She had watched her mother in these trying ordeals, and had insensibly learned her lesson, and when it came her turn to preside at her husband’s table and take upon herself the cares of a family.

34. the_John_brown_Raid_came_Library_of_Congress
Then, the John Brown Raid came in October, 1859, as a clap of thunder from a clear sky. And when the great Civil War came, with what splendid heroism she stood at her post at

35. when_the_struggle_ended_Eastman_Johnson
home, and sent her husband and her sons to battle! And when the struggle was ended, with what uncomplaining cheerfulness she undertook the drudgeries of her altered circumstances!

36. Henrietta_B_Lee_Goldsborough_Surkamp_Collections
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All arrangements and compositions copyright Shana Aisenberg at

This is taken from one of six essays written for Sewanee Review from 1913 to 1915 by Ambrose Robert Hite Ranson (1831-1919) about his growing up years living at his family home, Gap View, and his experiences during the Civil War as a Confederate officer. His observations are very informative about daily life pre-war amid unacceptable observations condoning the enslavement of other human beings. His account is still important in its rendering of daily work on a farm in the 1840s and 1850s in Jefferson County, Virginia, one of the most agricultural counties in the Virginias. These conditions were substantially different in the northern Shenandoah Valley when compared to the brutal monocultures in the deep South. Enslavement in Jefferson County, based on writings of those – white and black – who lived here then – was one of diverse work, the pervasive fear of being sold south, pockets of profound cruelty, and the tantalizing nearness of the option of escaping to freedom.

“Reminiscences of a Civil War Staff Officer By A Confederate Staff Officer, First Paper: Plantation Life in Virginia Before the War.” Part 4
A Life of Leisure . . . On The Backs of Others: Ambrose Ranson’s Enthusiastic Elegy
More at

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