How Mrs. Ladd Saved The Masonic Jewels
My mother, Mrs. Catherine Ladd, whose name may be recalled by hundreds of her old pupils throughout the South as one of the most noted and successful teachers of her day, gave up her loved vocation in the beginning of the struggle between the States and devoted herself wholly to the cause of the Confederacy. She had lived in Winnsboro for twenty years where she had a established a large and prominent institution of learning. Her literary talent was recognized as that among the best. Of her poems one noted (....) said: "They are sweet, smooth and flowing, particularly so, but, like Scotch music, their gayest notes are sad." In her childhood days she had been at one time, a playmate of Edgar Allen Poe. Perhaps she caught some inspiration for her poems from these early associations.
She was also greatly gifted as a play writer, and her papers on education, home manufactories and the encouragement of white labor showed that she realized long before the war that the prosperity of the South would depend ultimately upon the latter.
When the dark war cloud arose in its fury in 1861 this grand woman closed her school, laid aside her pen and took up her needle, and flung her doors ajar for the soldiers to enter.
She was president of the Soldiers' Aid Association all during the war and by her untiring exertions kept it well supplied with clothes.
Once when a gentleman friend said to her: " The first time I ever saw you, you were under my father's kitchen looking for old iron vessels to send off to make shells to kill Yankees with," the old lady seemed to warm up to the old war spirit, and replied: "Oh, yes; and I also sent my full set of German tableware to be melted into bullets and my fine telescope to the officers. It was one with which you could see thirty miles."
She was one of the originators of the Confederate flag. Those were busy days and nights for her, but her energy never grew weary, and she never was too tired to lend her personal supervision to any benevolent work.
At the last, when we lived in dire dread of "the Yankees coming through," she still showed her noble patriotism. Although but a mere girl at the time, I can distinctly recall those dark, miserable days when we listened anxiously for the unwelcome intruders -- how, with almost bated breath, we watched each night the glowing fires of our beautiful Columbia and numbers of country homes around us. The troubles and anxieties of those gloomy times had cast their dark shadowed pall over us, and we lived in hourly expectation of our ultimate ruin.
Oh! Was it not enough that our fathers, brothers and all near and dear to us should be lain on the sacrificial altar? No, this could not satiate the unrelenting fury of the terrible war fiend.
The torch of the barbarians from the North, as we viewed Sherman and his brand-bearing followers, must come with their destructive work, leaving in their tracks only standing chimneys, grim sentinels over blackened ruins where once were the comfortable homes and happy firesides of a brave generous people--monuments to Sherman's relentless pursuit of war, in which a Nero might have glorified, from which a Washington or a Lee would have shrunk in horror.
Rumors were afloat that they had orders not to burn our town, and as they swooped down upon us like wild Indians, we had this for a hope--a hope alas! too soon to fade into an echoless past.
My mother's house was ordered to be guarded. My father had painted a large, handsome Masonic chart, which stood on an easel in the parlor.
When the crack and the snap of the fire was first heard and we could see the red flames leaping upward and house after house succumb, suddenly we noticed a Federal officer ride up to our gate, quickly dismounting, dash into the house, and, securing this chart, hurriedly give orders to some of his men to dig a hole in the garden, place between mattresses and bury it.
Recognizing in this man a member of the Masonic fraternity, mother asked him to follow her, and together they rushed into the already blazing Masonic hall and saved the Masonic jewels. She anxiously and frantically sought the charter, but was prevented from securing it by the smoke and flames, knowing as she did that leaving her own home for only these few moments meant the loss of all her own property, including the literary works of thirty years. We can but say it was only one instance of her entire unselfishness.
The flames roared and crackled and spread with desperate rapidity, devouring everything within reach. Only too vividly can I now recall those terrible scenes. I can still see the glowing blaze which seemed to reach the lurid heavens, hear the cries of terror-stricken women, shrieking children, groans of slaves, all commingled with the taunts and curses of a relentless enemy, who filled with liquors, acted more like demons than human beings. Swiftly as her feet would carry her, my brave mother put the box containing the jewels in a place of safety and returned to her own house which was by this time burning. The officer ordered his men to carry out our piano, which they did with the loss of one of its legs. Strange to say, the only thing saved of Mrs. Ligon's piano was one leg, and it was a counterpart of mother's.
I have in my house the old melodian which did service in the Episcopal Church for many years. While this sacred edifice was burning some of the heartless vandals carried it out into an open space, and as one of their lawless band defiled its virgin keys by playing some uncouth tune, the others leaped and danced like heathen savages--danced while our women cried for hopeless mercy.
In 1891 mother was stricken totally blind, but even thereafter she could not fold her hands in idleness. Her pen has even since brought forth many sweet poems. The following is one among her last, written in 1898:
Though our way be dark and dreary,
Though life's trials press us sore,
Thou hast mansions for us ready,
Homes where troubles come no more.
O, my Saviour, guide me, watch me,
Lead me by Thy loving hand,
Let me feel that Thou art near me,
Until I reach the Promised Land.
When the shades of eve are closing,
And the hour of death draws near,
Let me feel Thy arms around me,
I will cross without a fear.
By faith I'll see my home of rest
In that glorious land afar;
I will hear the angels singing,
"Come! the gates of Heaven ajar!"
MRS. K. L. CURETON
Return to Catherine Stratton Ladd (1808-1899)
7 March 2003, Brian Brown