PIONEER HOME LIFE AND CIVIL WAR HARDSHIPS
Recalled by Mrs. Minnora Proudfoot
Captain Absalom Knotts
PIONEER HOME LIFE AND CIVIL WAR HARDSHIPS
Recalled by Mrs. Minnora Proudfoot
I am the daughter of Captain Absolum Knotts and was born seventy-nine years ago (written in 1934) in a house that stood where George Hamilton's garden now is. The home of my birth was two stories high and had four rooms each sixteen by sixteen feet square. It was really two cabins with a hallway between them, latticed up neatly with strips, which I think were shop sawed. The logs for the walls, I well remember, were about two feet wide, so I presume they were whipsawed, too.
Our furniture was strong, but would seem queer today. Our beds were wooden with rope cords for slats. We children used to help tighten these cords when they came loose. The task was done with a little tool similar to a wirestretcher. We used blue and white striped straw ticks which we filled with new straw every fall after the threshing was done. We used oat straw because we didn't have much wheat in those days. As far back as I can remember we had feather beds on top of these ticks and everywhere you saw large flocks of geese which supplied these much-prized feather beds. My mother had two company beds of which she was very proud. The headboards were higher than my head. On these were hung curtains woven of flax and made by her own hands. The flax she used was grown in her garden.
The walls of my childhood home were never papered but long curtains made of materials similar to muslin hung from the ceiling to the floor, completely covering the crude walls.
My mother made doormats of corn husks and everyone was required to clean his feet carefully before entering the house. Mother was a dainty housekeeper. Our floor covering consisted of plaited rugs made of wornout clothing, blankets and hose. Window shades were made of muslin, painted on both sides, or of oilcloth. My mother's sister realized considerable money by making and selling window shades in the city of Clarksburg. Curtains were made of muslin also.
We had split-bottomed chairs and fallen leaf tables. Mother had a bureau, too, higher than my head. It contained five drawers but no mirror. We always kept a homemade tallow candle on each end of the bureau for decoration. My chief delight was candle making. First we tore long, thin strips from an old sheet and twisted them firmly to use for candle wicks. We cut these wicks about a foot long and put each into a candle mold. (Molds were made of tin, and about as large around as my thumb and a foot long.) We kept the wick in the center of the mold while the tallow was being poured in. We had to economize on candles so we often used pine knots in the kitchen and in the place of lanterns. We kept them stuck in the cracks in the jamb around our immense kitchen fireplace.
We used tin plates for everyday eating and had big heavy plain white dishes for company. I can remember how very proud we all were when mother bought her first set of blue and white dishes which we call willowware today.
Our knives and forks had bone handles, the forks having only three tines. Mother was proud of the few silver spoons used with the willowware dishes, but for general use we had tin spoons. How well I can remember that the handles were always coming off!
In our kitchen we had a long iron rod with hooks on which we hung our iron teakettle, iron pots, big oven and a special big skillet used for frying and for making biscuits. Mother had a cook stove but often baked her light bread and sweet corn bread at the fireplace.
The Home Guards were organized by both the Blue and Gray for the purpose of protecting the women and children left alone at home, but only too often they burned and robbed instead of protecting. I have always thought that many of the deeds blamed on the Home Guards were committed by deserters and other outlaws. Guards and outlaws alike were called bushwhackers because they went "whacking" around destroying and stealing everything they found.
Several times they came to our home and ordered us to carry our furniture out so they could burn the house. When they appeared in the fall with the usual order we were both shocked and surprised to find they really meant to carry out their threat. We were allowed to carry out only the furniture which was downstairs, and we were proud that Mother's sidesaddle, which usually hung in the upper hall, was in the downstairs hall that day. We small children rejoiced most over saving this prize along with a family cat. It was late fall when this happened. We begged hard to be allowed to keep our meat, laid in an outbuilding for winter use, but deaf ears were turned to our pleas. It took two weeks for our meat to burn entirely. This meat had been secured by tolling and driving in a herd of untamed hogs of which the woods were then full. The pen for this herd had to be very strong and high because these hogs were quite wild and were great jumpers.
Uncle Rufus Knotts's family lived up where Harley Knotts's new home now stands, and his wife, whom everybody called "Aunt Tip" gladly gave our family and Ike Conley's family a home in her cabin until new homes could be provided for both parties. Conley's home was burned on the same night as ours. It stood where the old house above Carl Knotts used to stand. There were thirteen or fourteen of us on the Knotts's hospitality then, but danger and hardships drew us very closely together in those days. People would do almost anything for each other.
An old man by the name of Daniel Sharps, who was too old for military service, helped Mother, my brothers and sisters and I to fix up an old abandoned house that stood where Bee Hopkins's garden is now. We had to make a new chimney. The family did this with rocks and mortar, without any help. The rocks we carried from the surrounding fields and the mortar was made by mixing clay mud with sticks and sometimes hog hair. This mortar was used to hold the rocks together. I can remember so well how hard Simon, my baby brother, worked on that chimney. He was a regular little man.
Children endured many hardships during the war and assumed many responsibilities. While Father was in the Confederate army we children fed a large number of cows and calves during the winter. Men who were unable to go to the war cut our grass for us. Pauncy Badget and Daniel Sharps were especially good to help. This grass was all cut with scythes and we cut acres and acres of timothy where the farms of Bee Hopkins, Captain Knotts, Hazel Hersman, George Hamilton and Carl Knotts now stand. Along with this feeding of stock, we often milked from ten to twenty cows but lost all our cows near the end of the war when the Home Guards sold them at a public auction. When the Guards appeared for the sale my brothers had the cows hidden in the woods. Mother was threatened with a gun because she would not tell where they were hidden. After much abuse and argument, the Guards found the cows themselves. My father was able to secure most of the stock again through legal action after the close of the war. This was fortunate for us, indeed.
Father was stationed in what is now Virginia during the war. He became very ill and sent a special message for my mother to come and visit him. She went alone on horseback all the way. It was still winter in the Alleghenies, though early spring here, and the snow was up to her horse's breast as she crossed a mountain over in Greenbrier County. Two men were climbing the hill at the same time and declared she saved their lives by riding up the mountain ahead and breaking the road. Father was better and after a few days of visiting she made the long journey back to her home and children alone.
Near the end of the war, Father came home on a furlough to visit and care for his family. Someone reported to Union officers that he was a spy and the officers came to arrest him. We children were sitting on the fence when he hurriedly kissed us and started running his big black horse, Blackhawk, up Hardway's Run, hoping to escape. The Union men were too close for this and he soon turned, faced them with his hands above his head, surrendering to save being shot from behind. He was taken to Charleston and tried before a court of Union officers. He would probably have been court-martialed had Mother not visited him and secured a famous lawyer by the name of Judge Summers to defend him. It was near the close of the war and this fact, too, evidently helped secure his release. Summers told the court that Knotts's blood would be on their hands if he were convicted.
I have mentioned only a few of the dangers and hardships endured during the war, but despite these hardships our mother always had time to teach us children the Bible and God's goodness toward us. The Commandments and the Golden Rule were learned by heart. Obedience came first in our pioneer home.
I must not forget to mention my early educational training. We had no public school so Father hired private teachers. The earliest of these were Alice and Lee Hays, daughters of Attorney John E. Hays of Glenville. They lived in our home and received room and board and were paid eight dollars a month for their services. They were educated and religious girls and their influence has been an inspiration to me all through the years.
Source: "Reminiscences of Southern Calhoun," by Mrs. Hazel Hersman, published in The Calhoun Chronicle in 1934 and 1956.
(To Table Of Contents)