The month of July, 1861, found me with my little 모던바알바 boys at "The Oaks"—the residence of Dr. Izard Bacon Rice, in Charlotte County, seventy miles from Richmond, and miles away from the nearest railroad depot. There I might have enjoyed a peaceful summer with my kind host—a fine type of a Christian gentleman, sometime an Old-Line Whig and fierce Union man, now an ardent advocate of states' rights, and a stanch supporter of the New Confederacy. I might—as I had often done before—have revelled in the fine trees; the broad acres of tobacco in their summer prime, when the noble plant was proudly flinging out its banners before its fall; the old garden with its box-edged crescents, stars, and circles,—I might have dreamed away the summer in perfect contentment but for General Beauregard. Distant as was his army, a message from his guns reached my summer retreat more than a hundred miles away.

Dr. Rice lived in a large, old-fashioned house, on a plantation of two thousand acres or more. An oak grove, alive with chattering squirrels which had been held sacred for two generations, surrounded the house. The squirrels held conventions in the trees, and 147 doubtless expressed their opinions of the family below, whom they had good reason to consider inferior beings, inasmuch as they were slow-motioned, heavy creatures, utterly destitute of grace and agility, and with small appreciation of hickory-nuts.

The Doctor cultivated tobacco, and when I arrived the fields stretched as far as the eye could reach, now a vast level sea of green, now covering the low, gently rounded, undulating hills as they sloped down to the Staunton River. There was never a season when these fields were not alive with laborers of every age; for the regal plant so beloved of men—and ranking with opium and hemp as a solace for the ills of mankind—has enemies from the hour it peeps from the nursery of the hot bed. It can never be forgotten a moment. Children can hunt the fly which seeks to line the leaf with eggs, or destroy the unhatched eggs, or aid the great army which must turn out in haste when the ravenous worm is born. The earth must be turned frequently at the roots, the flower buds pinched off, the shoots or "suckers" removed. The Doctor's tobacco field was an enlivening spectacle, and very picturesque did the ebony faces of the little workers look, among the broad leaves. No lady's garden was ever kept so clean, so free from sticks, errant bits of paper, or débris of any kind.

I do not claim that Dr. Rice (my uncle) was a typical planter—as far as the government of his slaves was concerned. He had inherited liberal ideas with these inherited slaves. His grandfather, David Rice, had written the first published protest 148 in this country against slavery as "inconsistent with religion and policy." His father had ruled a plantation where severe punishment was unknown, where the cheerful slaves rarely needed it. The old gentleman was considered eccentric—and eccentric it surely was for a master to punish a fault by commanding the culprit to stand in his presence while he recited a long passage from Homer or Virgil! The punishment was effective. For fear of it, the fault was rarely repeated.

It was my uncle's custom to assemble every slave on his plantation on Sunday morning, and to speak a few words to each one, commending the women if their families appeared in clean, well-kept garments, rewarding with a pair of shoes the urchins reported by "Uncle Moses" as having been orderly and useful, exchanging a pleasant jest here and there.

He presented a tight, comfortable house to every newly married pair, with timber for the bridegroom to add to it, or to enclose the piece of land for a garden or a poultry yard which went with it. Every mother at the birth of a child was presented with a pig. The plantation, which was large and fruitful, and from which nothing but tobacco and wheat was ever sold, yielded vegetables, poultry, mutton, beef, bacon in lavish abundance, while the orchards and vines were equally productive.

Some hundreds of the negroes of the neighborhood were members of the Presbyterian church of the whites. In the old church books may be seen to-day records of their marriages and funerals, and how (for example) "Lovelace Brown was brought 149 before the session for hog-stealing and suspended for one month." But there were better records than this. These Presbyterian negroes were at one time led by an eminent patriarch, Uncle Abel, who deserves more than a passing notice. He had been taught to read and had been well drilled in the Shorter Catechism. But his marriage ceremonies were always read from the Episcopal Prayer-book, every word of which he held sacred, not to be changed or omitted to suit any modern heresy. "I M, take thee N," was the formula for Jack or Peter, Dilsey or Dicey—and "with this ring I thee wed" must be pronounced with solemnity, ring or no ring, the latter being not at all essential.

My uncle's old family coach, punctual to the minute, swept around the circle on the lawn every Sunday morning, with Uncle Peter proudly guiding the horses from his high perch. And high-swung was the coach, to be ascended (as we ascended our four-poster beds) by three carpeted steps,—in the case of the carriage, folding steps, which were tucked inside after we had disposed of ourselves, with our ample hoops. There was plenty of room inside. Pockets lined the doors, and these were filled by my aunt with beaten biscuit and sugar-cakes "for the little darkies on the road."

Arriving at the church, the gentlemen from the adjacent plantations, who had been settling the affairs of the nation under the trees, came forward to hand us from our carriage, after the manner of old-time cavaliers and sedan-chairs; and my aunt and I would be very gracious, devoutly hoping in 150 our hearts that my uncle and his sons would not forget a reciprocal courtesy when Mrs. Winston Henry, Mrs. Paul Carrington, and Mrs. Sarah Carrington should arrive.

The women all seated themselves on the right side of the church, while the men, during the singing of a preliminary hymn, came in like a processional and took the left as their portion,—all of which (except the advertisements on the church doors) was conducted precisely according to the customs of Revolutionary times, when Patrick Henry and John Randolph, now sleeping a few miles away, were themselves (we trust) church-goers.

Church dinners at home were simple, but abundant,—so that if three or four carriages should arrive from distant plantations in the neighborhood, there could be welcome and refreshment for all, but on the great days when my uncle and aunt received the neighborhood, when the Carringtons and Patrick Henry's sons, John and Winston, came with their families to spend the day, the dinner was something to be remembered. Perhaps a description verbatim from an old family servant will be better than anything I can furnish from memory.

"Yes, sir! We had fine dinners in them days. The butter was moulded like a temple with pillars, and a rose stuck in the top. There was a wreath of roses roun' all the dessert dishes. Viney biled the ham in cider. We had roas' pig, biled turkey, chickens fried an' briled, spring lam', ducks an' green goslin'. An' every cut-glass dish in the house was 151 full of preserves, an' the great bowl full of ice-cream, an' floatin' island, an' tipsy-cake, an' cheese-cakes, an' green sweetmeats, an' citron. John was bothered where to set all the dishes."