Lydia’s grandparents had danced in their primitive state on Africa’s sunny shore. She, however, was born a slave, yet her faith and trust in God was pure and abiding, ensuring to her the love and devotion of all about her.
In stature she was of medium height, her skin a glossy black, with broad forehead and great, loving, tender eyes. Unlike most negroes, too, her nose was not very flat, nor her lips thick, and, in laughing, she showed a double row of faultless teeth.
Her apparel was always simple,–a white apron and a coloured turban being the most conspicuous parts of it. In her black hair was stuck a large plain tortoise-shell comb–a gift from her mistress, whose grandmother had worn it when such ornaments were stuck high in the coiffure.
No Turk coils his soft white muslin more gracefully than Lydia coiled her bright bandanna. And with the shell to uphold its folds, there was a certain individuality in its symmetrical arrangement. Other negroes might don hats and furbelows on Sunday, but Lydia, No. Over a half-worn dress of her mistress, she tied her own spotless tucked apron, gave a twist to her bandanna,–and she was dressed in her best.
Proud of her position in the nursery, she dignified it with rare good sense, and thus endeared herself not only to the children, but also to all our visitors.
Lydia was born on the estate of one Samuel Jameston, an Englishman, living near the village of Riseburg. Her father Belfast held the position of foreman on the place, and her mother Nancy that of cook. And what a cook!–sending to the squire’s table the richest gumbo, the lightest and hottest waffles, and the fluffiest of biscuits.
When but a girl Lydia’s master died, leaving an only child, Samuel, already motherless, in
possession of Fairfield. And so, in time, the old homestead, with its massive English sideboard supplied with the choicest of wines and finest of cigars, became, with the young master at the head, a rendezvous for fast young men, fond of hunting and drivjng. The metaphorical latch-string hung outside the door, as it ever hangs in many Southern houses, and invited friends to enter. But nights of revelry for the men were followed by mornings that were trying to the heart of old
“If Mars Sam don’t git him a wife what will keep him sober, Nancy must quit de kitchin!” she often cried in bitterness.
One person alone on the plantation had any power over Samuel when he was not himself ; and that was old Chloe, who had nursed him from infancy. With her black face wreathed in smiles, — notwithstanding the tears of distress welling up at the sight of ” her boy’s” red eyes, — she often soothed him as none other dared to do. One morning, quite accidentally, Nancy detected Chloe’s occult power, when she heard her outside the library door, praying:
“O blessed Lord ! I is done all I kin fer Mars Sam; certain an’ sure de big Devil is laid hold o’
my boy. O Master, you what ‘buked de storm a ragin* on de sea, come down wid dy mighty power an* say, ‘Git behin’ me, Satin.’ Sure, my w’ite chile will ‘spect de, O Lord. At chu’ch Mars C. C. tells us if we prays an’ believes, dat de Lord will answer. He will, only we must wait, ‘umble-like. Oh, God ! ole Chloe is a-waitin’!”
Nancy’s cares increased : her husband sickened, and died. Then a less experienced man was made
foreman at Fairfield.
After this the crops in a measure failed, debts were increased, until, at last, it became necessary for the young master to sell his negroes, one after another.
Lydia accordingly was advertised to be “knocked down ” to the highest bidder, at Riseburg, January 20, 1830. Her mother — determined to seek for her a good master — came and implored
my father — living at a small place called Navarre — to buy her.
“Massa, she’s as likely a gal as you kin find, an’ will make a smart housemaid fer de young lady folks says you’s goin’ ter bring ter Navarre.”
Riseburg, it may be added, was the county seat, and boasted of a court-house, two stores, one
tavern, and a half-dozen residences.
At the stores negroes exchanged eggs and chickens — not always their own, alas! — for sugar,
calico, and tobacco.
A dilapidated stage-coach, which ran between Savernake and Darius, stopped at the tavern.
Here passengers refreshed themselves on “hog and hominy,” accompanied, whenever wanted, with sweet yams and corn-bread.
Moreover, on certain days in the year, a shrewd business man, with a twang in his voice not Southern, mounted a block or a live-oak stump in front of the court-house, and, in auction style,
“knocked down” to the highest bidder negro after negro.
In this wise Lydia fell to my father ; and, after a touching farewell with her mother, she was driven away, seated beside the coachman Marlborough.
Before parting, however, Nancy gave her good advice, and likewise overwhelmed Lydia’s new
owner with thanks:
“De Lord bless you, massa, an’ help my gal ter sarve you well, so you won’t neber be sorry of your barg’in.”
Not long after, Lydia waited at the front steps for her master’s bride, whom she conducted to her chamber. Before adjusting her mistress’s slippers, she kissed the tiny feet in token of welcome, and said, “We is all on us goin’ ter love you lots, missy.” A dainty hand patted her gay ban-
danna in appreciation of love so fervently shown; for, in slavery days no stiffness existed between mistress and maid.
Click the title for a link to a full text, courtesy of Archive.org:
by Eugenia Bacon, 1898
Image by kudryashka