THE STORY OF THE JACKSON SISTERS - HILLSBORO, JASPER COUNTY, GEORGIA
The following article was published in the Macon Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, sometime in the 1930's and was transcribed by Suzanne Forte (email@example.com), from information provided by Benny Hawthorne, December 2004.
Article written by Susan Myrick
"FIVE SISTERS LEAD PIONEER LIVES"
"Maiden Sisters Living Near Hillsboro Do all Work on Their Farm, Ploughing, Harvesting, Wood Cutting at Advances Ages - Oldest Is Eighty Three and "Baby" is Seventy-Three"
"This is the day of equal rights, but there are few women who really want the right and privileges enjoyed by the "Jackson Girls", five maiden sisters, who live near Hillsboro and who have done all the ploughing, rail splitting, harvesting, planting, wood cutting and stock feeding, as well as the milking, cooking and washing, for many years. Just how many it is hard to say, for since their father "went away" to the Civil War, there has not been a man on the place.
The eldest sister is 83 and the baby is 73, and they are all active and able except the eldest, who had a stroke a few months ago and spends the greater part of her time in a rocking chair.
After driving down a dozen different roads, in vain effort to locate their house, I came upon a group of Negroes digging a grave in a lonely country churchyard and prevailed upon one of them to ride on the running board to show me where to turn off. He rode a mile or two, showed me a path which rambled through an old field, twisting and turning to avoid the pine trees and stumps, and told me to "drive rate on down dat road wen her git's ter Mistah Rich Garland's place, over dah bout half a mile, den you drive rate on pas' de house an' you see er tater patch on do lef', an' de road forks rat dah. You takes de lef an' de white ladies lives bout er half er a quarter mile down de straight road."
Carefully following directions, lurching and bumping in second gear, dodging stones and trees and bushes, wishing I had taken the other rut, which ever one I selected. I finally arrived at the place where lived the "Jackson Sisters".
A rambling rail fence surrounded the place, the kind commonly known as a worm fence, and a gate closed against intruders, was leisurely guarded by a large black hound dog. Bending over the wash pot in the front yard was an old lady with snowy hair, a dress which reached to the ground and an old fashioned sun bonnet which completely shielded her face from the sun and observation.
She came at once toward the gate, shying, a stone(?), meanwhile at the dog in order to induce him to do his duty toward guarding the place from intruders, but on being informed to the nature of our visit, and recognizing the Hillsboro lady with me, as the daughter of an old acquaintance, she opened the gate and put the watch dog "at east".
"Ya'll come in", she invited hospitably and led the way onto a porch cluttered with boxes in which the dogs were wont to sleep, festooned with strings of red pepper pods and decorated with various tin cans within which small green shoots struggled to bring beauty into a drab world.
"Rat in that room," she urged, and opened the door for us. We entered a large room, lighted only by the open door on the opposite side and the one which we had left open as we came in, for the only window was shuttered by a heavy wooden blind, and was minus any sort of sash or window glass.
The pine floor had been washed white with many scourings and the two beds which stood in opposite corners of the room were beautiful examples of furniture of a generation agone: one a spool bed, the other a hand carved four-poster, and both were adorned with coverlids of hand woven beauty which made me gasp.
Seated in her chair before the whitewashed fire place was Miss Julie, the eldest, partially paralyzed, patient and sweet. She is a pretty old lady with a face remarkably free from wrinkles and a skin which showed clearly that she was a beauty in her younger days. Her hair is not very gray, despite her three score and twenty years and it was easy to see that her sisters gave her patient and loving care.
Miss Lucy, for it was she who had met us, performed the intruductions simply by saying "Julie, here's some ladies come out to see us" and then she found chairs for us all.
Almost immediately, there entered the room, Miss Marjie, herself, white haired and clad in garments which reached to her feet and were obviously home made and of the style of our grandmothers. In fact, the entire sisterhood scorn modern styles and the foolish fancies of fashionable dress.
In her mouth, Miss Marjie wore a tooth-brush of the sort affected by snuff dippers and when she smiled, what few teeth remained showed unmistakably that I had made no error in bringing a present of a jar of "Rail Road Mills".
"Now, who be ye?" she said as she offered her toil worn hand. I explained as best I could the reason for my visit and after surveying me curiously, she started from the room. I sought to detain her and she replied, "I ain't got no time to be a foolin' long of you. I got to go out in the kitchen where sister is a gittin' dinner. She is run down in her manner this morning and I reckon I better go morter help her a leetle."
THE ROLL CALL
Turning to Miss Lucy, the sweet looking blond sister of 79 or there-abouts, who had met us upon our arrival, I asked her to tell me the names of all the family.
"I hain't got much time to set here", she replied, "I got to git that washin' done. I aimed to git it done before 10 o'clock, but that old mule got out and I had to go fetch him and I sorter got behind".
Imagine it! Seventy nine year old and doing the family washing! Not only that, but runningf down a recalcitrant mule.
Then she sat down upon the narrow boxed stair way which led to the attic and said "Whut wuz it you're a wantin' to know?"
"The names of your sisters and all about you", I replied.
"Well, I'll start at the oldest Julie yonder, she's eighty-three"
And at once Julie interrupted, "I took the axe one morning an' went out to chop some wood and arter I had been a choppin for about two hours, I come home and I couldn't hardly use this hand".
But Miss Lucy went on serenely, "Julie thinks that's wnut brought on her stroke, but I tell her 'hit woulder happened anyway".
"The next 'un is Mary Anna Lizabeth, but we call her Betsey, she's the one out in the kitchen agettin' dinner". She then pointed toward herself with the finger of a work hardened hand and said "I'm Lucy, I come next, then ther's Marjie, that 'un whut jest went out er hare to the kitchen and Cynthie, she's the baby."
Cynthie sat in her straight chair near the door which stood open giving a glimpse of the back yard and showed no sign that she heard her name mentioned. In her eyes was a lookk such as is seen only in the eyes of lonely mountain women or farm women in whom knowledge - her ample page, rich with the spoils of time, did never unroll. Women whose genial currents have been frozen by chill penury; who are, like the man with the hoe, bowed by the weight of centuries.
The front good opened and Miss Marjie returned followed by an old lady actually bent double with age and toil, her hair not yet quite gray and her eyes black and shrewd with the keenness of a mother tiger or an animal at bay and her eyes did not belie her tongue for it, like the old Uncle Remus told about, "Knew no Sunday".
"Howdy", she said and the grip she gave my hand felt more like the grip of a woman of 18 than 81. Giving me a look that was embarassing in its keen scrutiny, she asked abruptly "You haint's come here to make fun uv us, have ye?"
I hastily explained that I had come only to find out about their wonderful experiences, and their remarkable lives that I might tell others, saying, "I think it is wonderful that you five girls have lived here all these years without the help of any man and - "but, she interrupted proudly, "We hain't needed no man. I kin plow good as any man or split rails or do anything else that's a needin' to be done. Least ways, I could before I got sorter old. I hain't so much account now. I can't do no plowin' much, jest a lettle in my garden."
She looked at me with no hint of humor in her sharp eyes and added, "I bet you ain't never done nothing like that. I bet you're a lazy sort of a gal."
Laughingly, I admitted this accusation, which Mrs. Samons (who had accompanied me) said, "O no, she is not lazy, she is one of the smartest women I ever knew".
"Well, I bound you she wasn't smart til she got Old Man Have-To behind her", asserted Miss Betsey, vigourously.
Then changing the subject suddenly, she said, "You'll 'uv come ter a hospital here today" "I'm sorry you are sick", I said. "I haint' sick, I'm just down in my back today, just sort of low in my body", she replied and Miss Marjie, who was the best humored of the five, talking much and laughing a good deal, interrupted: "My back ain't what hit ought ter be. I hurt it about four years ago and it ain't been right since. I was a going along leading the old mule an a totin' a jug er water an I caught my toe - that there'ns right there (pointing to the toe of her left foot which was encased in a pair of men's shoes, with broad toes and flat heels, and laced up with a purple cord) - I caught hit in one of these here roots, you know how they pull you. I kept a pullin' a thinkin' it would turn aloose and it wouldn't turn aloose an the mule kep a pullin an the first thing I knowed, it had jerked me down. My back ain't been right since. Hit kept a gettin' worse an' I would er gone ter the doctor but I thought he couldn't do it no good lesses it was broke. I think I mighter jolted my kidney a loose.
"And another time I had put the mules in the pasture where they could graze and they got a nit fly after them an' they wuz a running round an' takin' on an' I went to cary him to the spring ter water. Lucy was leadin' one, we finally got there to the spring an' the fly got after them again and that 'un Lucy had wus cuttin' up so, I said "Lemme hold 'im an' while I was a takin holt er that bridle the one I had been er holdin' hit me some way in the back. I ain't never knewed whether he pawed me or bumped me with his head, but he hurt my back.
"An' another time, I wuz a goin' to cut wood - no let's see, I wuz a goin' ter the fiel to haul some grass and the mule run over one of these deep gullies and dumped me in the road an' when they picked me up, I couldn't hardly breathe"
"An' another time - " but Miss Betsey interruped "Stid er holdin' on ter the lines, Marjie helt on to the side uv the waggin".
"I been workin' on the farm as long as you, mighty near", said Miss Marjie, a little hurt at the aspersions cast by Miss Betsey. "I dropped punkin seed before my Paw went off ter War".
"We are all a gettin' sorter old now" said Miss Betsey, "We are so slow now it takes all day long ter git anything done. Take that fence out yonder, hit's been a needin' fixin' fer the longest, but looks like we just cain't ketch up ter git to it"
ROCKER WITHOUT ROCKERS
Miss Marjie interruped again, "I got a big load er manure needs ter be hauled out, but I cant life like I used ter could an' I been trying to git a Nigger to remove it for me, but he said after all these rains we oughter let the ground settle. I think it's plenty settled now, but they's a Nigger buryin' in the neighborhood somewheres an' of course I couldn't expect to get any work done under the circumstances."
"That is such a pretty bed", said Mrs. Sammons, pointing to the spool bed, and Miss Marjie immediately retored "Paw bought that there sted fer Jule when she was a growin' up".
Not to be outdone, Miss Betsey rose from her seat and walked across the room, her bent form swaying awkwardly, "I got the cheer my paw bought for me when I wus a baby" she declared.
"Hit wus a rockin' cheer, but hit's been knocked around so much the rockers is done tore off. Old Man Ben Merritt made that cheer, it was painted green but the paint is all done wore off."
Proudly, she displayed a child's size chair, hand made and pretty with a severeness which characterizes furnitue made by the pioneers. It was indeed worn smooth and devoic of paint from the handling of countless small fingers and the rockers were "tore away".
"Won't you get in it? she turned to the little girl who had accompanied us and her face lighted up as it had done at nothing else since our arrival. The child, about three years old, went at once and seated herself in the chair, but she evidently misjudged the height of the seat and sat rather hard into it.
"Ef you wuz glass, you sho wud er broke" laughed Miss Marjie but she got no answering smile, save from the visitors.
"How old is that chair?" I asked Miss Betsey.
"Hit's near bout old as me", she responded. "I'm a going on eighty-one and Julie's a goin on eighty three. Cynthie, there, she's the youngest and she is the grayheadest one of us all".
"Miss Julie doesn't look the oldest", I said. "She really looks like she might be the youngest of all."
Miss Julie smiled at the compliment and Miss Marjie laughed out-right. "She ought ter be the youngest lookin", she said, "She ain't got nothin' to do but jest set in that cheer, the rest uv us got to work".
"Yes", Miss Betsey spoke up, "I took off eighty little chickens the other day an' when I went out to feed 'em they wus five of 'em dead. A stinkin old rat had cut through the board and dug a hole up under the coop. Hit had been a "rainin" so the whole yard wuz in a loblolly, but I said "doggone you, I'll fix so you caint git in here again". An' I got a hold er some slabs that somebody had sent here for us to burn and I cut a plank and fixed it.
"Yes", Miss Marjie put in, "we have worked the farm and done all there was to do, and then when it was rainin' we couldn't work the farm, we wus a standin/ up spinnin' or weavin'. We used do a heap uv that, but hit got so we either had ter give up the farm or give up the weavin'. Hit wuz just too much an' I told Betsy that we'd just have to leave off some uv it. As we couldn't give up the farm, it had to be done".
"That is certainly a beautiful quilt on the bed. Did you spin that?" I asked.
"That there aint no quilt, hit's a coverlid" said Miss Betsey in a superior manner, putting a decided accent on the "lid".
"Well, it is mighty pretty whatever it is", said I rising and going over to the bed to examine it more closely. "Did you dye the threat for it?"
The "coverlid" was a handsome square design on black and lavender upon a natural colored background and was woven with the art of a Roy Crofter.
"Course I dyed that thread", said Miss Betsy with her voice full of scorn for all who would buy thread already dyed.
"I bought the dye for that there purle, hit wus this here analine dye or analeen dye whutever you're a mind to call it. But that black, I made myself out'n walnut hulls and He Pusley. You can't buy no black dyes that will hol". They'll every one fade out.
"What is He Pusley?" I inquired.
"Haint you never seed no He Pusley?" There was an unmitigated scorn in her voice. "You're seed Milky Pusley ain't you?"
I was obligated to confess I had not and she said witheringly: "You ain't never seed much have you?"
I admitted in shamelessly and asked if I might see her loom, saying that I had never seen any one weave and should like very much to watch her.
"You wouldn't know nothing bout it ef I was to show hit to you", she said. "You aint seed much. As I aint a goin to git it. I bet ef I was ter come to yo house and want ter see somethin' an' you wuz as tired as I am, you wouldn't want to git it"
I urged her, trying to be as good natured as possible, but she was adamant, "I ain't a going ter git it nor they shaint", was final.
While Miss Marjie endeavored to explain to my untutored mind the intricacies of a seven-star quilt pattern I let my eyes rove about the large room. Besides the two beds the room contained an old chest, nearly large enough for a coffin, the one rock er in which sat Miss Julie, seven straight chairs worn by time and much scrubbing to a smooth whiteness, and a small iron pot which sat in the corner beside the fireplace, obviously to heat water in. Over the door was a rude support made of branching hickory sticks, to hold the old fashioned muzzle loading gun. Beside the back door was a "water shelf" with the usually country bucket and dipper and wash basin. Underneath them stood a little wooden truck of the yellow painted variety of the gay nineties. Hanging in one corner was a saw and the four steps which showed before the stair turned to lead into the attic, were adorned with plant in old buckets, and boxes with snuff jars of varying sizes and with nondescript old pieces of quilts, clothing, etc.
THE WAR RECORD
I came back from my survey, just in time to hear Miss Betsey assert, "Thank God I am pore and thank God I was raised pore. I always have knowed how to work for my livin'. I ain't able to do much now, but I have done a heap in my time."
"Our father left us in sixty three and my mother died in seventy-one. After she died, there was some claim we couldn't stay here, just us five female girls with no man person. They wuz some talk about taking the youngest ones and I told 'em they weren't a going to do it. Ma had give me that baby (pointing to the white-haired 73 year old Marjie); and I warn't a going to give her up."
"I ain't able to work like I used to could. I didn't get the rest I need. I used ter wake up fo' day ev'ry nornin' but now I have ter wait for the chickens as "birds to wake me up. Some nights I don't git my rest. I don't git to sleep before 10 o'clock, I reckon".
"Did your father fight in the war?" I asked.
"Yes he wint ter the Civil War and he never did come back. He died with the jellow janders up clost ter Dalton".
Trying to be polite, and interested I said inanely, "Well, I declare, is that so!".
Leaning toward me with a rather angry look, Miss Betsy said "You don't think I'm a telling you a lie do you?".
I hastily reassured her and she went on. "I remember mighty well when the Yankees come here. The yard wuz just a work with 'em. One of them officers told Lucy to go to the spring to git some water and she wuz skeered to go. He said "Why don't you go on"? I said to him, "She's skeered, that's why". And he told her to go ahead and if any one of them Damyankees bothered her he's learn 'em how to bother her.
"So Lucy went and when she came back, she put the water inside the do, and I stood inside and reached the water to 'em in the goard.
"Shaw! I seed them Yankees when they wuz two miles from here. I said "The Yankees is a comin'", and Maw said "how her ye know?" I said 'cause I see that fire burnin' over yonder". The word had done been give out that they wuz a comin." An after a while, here they come, hollerin' and ridin' their hosses hard as they could. You could hear the water splosh in the creek half a mile off. I bet they rode them hosses cross that creek in a lope".
"Paw had a fine stallion horse and they took that off and he had a filly with a colt and they took them too. They killed Ma'e three turkeys and the chickens. An' I heared that over here at Mister Rich Garland's house, they poured all the syrup out an' walked all over the house just a poppin'' groun'peas an' throwing the hulls on the floor."
Much more conversation followed about the mules "a gettin' out", how good the missionary s'ciety in Hillsboro is about helping them now that they were not so young as they had been, about folks who come there a wantin' to see things an' a tryin' to buy things but Thank God they didn't have to sell nuthin' in their house yet and folks wouldn't want to give half what they was worth any how, and finally a cordial invitation to stay to dinner, which indicated to me that it was time to leave.
So I departed amidst many invitation to come again and dark hints on their part that I would never do it. Miss Lucy insisted on opening the gate so's I could drive in the yard to turn the auto mobeele aroun' and waved a kindly goodbye, but Miss Betsey was already back a gettin' the dinner and still low in her manners.
I drove away with my emotions in a turmoil as to which would gain the ascendency; laughter over the amusing expressions, tears at the pitiable conditions, sympathy for the gentle sister who sat so patiently in her chair of affliction, pain at the terrible tragedy of growing old and helpless. But overtopping all was my admiration for their courage, their hopefulness, their patient acceptance of the hardships which were theirs, their glory in it, the resentment they felt toward a pitying attitude and my large appreciation of the pioneer spirit which has enabled five women to make a living, however meager, and pathetic it may have been, out of the gullies and hills of a farm, and to be happy in spite of trials and hardships.