This blog will continue my last one posted on the 5th and will explore the impact of the Civil War on our panhandle ancestors’ ability to produce food and eat, some examples of food production in the panhandle in the last decades of the 19th century, a brief moment in time when my Mom and her siblings celebrated Thanksgiving closer to their ancestors and some closing remarks for 2016. Some of this will be history, some will be genealogy of the panhandle, some will be memories and some will be personal thoughts. Stick with me, you might come away with something to ponder as we approach 2017.
Hard work was not a stranger to our ancestors. Their primary jobs were to provide the basic necessities and food for both the human and animal inhabitants of their homesteads, have seeds for the following year and hopefully have some additional crop for cash. Because even in the 19th century cash was important for taxes and the few basics that were hard to produce on the farm. For instance, while cane could be raised for molasses and that worked as a sweetener for a lot of uses, refined sugar was much more reliable (and better tasting) for canning and preserving. Likewise, cotton certainly grew in the South but preparing it for weaving cloth for clothes was a real challenge. Cotton fibers are very short and spinning it into usable threads for weaving was time-consuming and difficult though it was useful, after carding, for quilt batting. Regardless of how hard our ancestors worked to have a well integrated homestead, there was always something that needed to be bought, even for those in the middling and lower income brackets.
By the 1860s many homesteads had moved toward more dependence on purchasing some of the more difficult to produce (or impossible, like coffee and tea) items that the family just didn’t want to do without, so when the War begin in 1861 the South was impacted very quickly on the availability of basics and higher end items. Price gouging became common because many of these items had to be smuggled in and the smuggler wanted to be paid well for their effort. Then what could be produced on the farm was subject to confiscation by Confederates, the Union out of Pensacola and the gangs of deserters. While my ancestors in the panhandle did lose some members of the family during the war, I am amazed that it wasn’t more than it was. Children were particularly vulnerable to constant levels of hunger and malnutrition. If you were at the lower end of the economic scale you just hoped for enough food to quell the hunger but in the middling and upper classes efforts were made to substitute. Chicory or dried black-eyed peas was added to coffee to extend it and many other available products were tried with varying assaults on the taste buds. Meat, when it was available, was extended to last as long as possible by making a watery soup, or by decreasing portions to feed as many as possible. In Ersatz in the Confederacy by Mary Massey, she indicates that by 1864 an ounce of meat per person per day was considered ample. Next time you sit down to dinner with a huge chunk of meat on your plate, give that some thought.
Thankfully for those of us here today, our direct ancestors survived the War or produced the next generation of ancestor before they lost their lives to disease or wound. Recovery in the South was slow because Reconstruction was not well thought out or well carried out and was resisted. By 1885 the panhandle appears to have recovered enough that we can find some pretty extensive homesteads in the 1885 Florida Agricultural Census. This special census is an interesting treasure trove of information on our late 19th century ancestors and what they grew and raised. Since, if you’ve been following my blogs you know many of my ancestors were in what was then northern Santa Rosa Co., and what is now Okaloosa Co, I’ll start with a summary of Richmond Barrow’s farm of 1885. Richmond was 72 by this time with a houseful of youngons. He still had 4 children in the household with him and 9 grandchildren. Thankfully, one son and a couple of the grandsons were old enough to be of assistance with the farm. He managed:
15 acres tilled/improved 105 acres woodland 105 acres other improved $400 value of the farm (about $9500.00 in 2016 dollars) $10 value of farm implements $388 value of livestock $300 value of farm production (about $7200.00 in 2016 dollars) 1 horse 1 working oxen 7 milk cows 14 other cows 8 calves dropped 6 died, strayed or were stolen in the last year 60 sheep 23 lambs dropped 17 died of disease 50 fleeces - 150 lbs of fleece 50 barnyard chickens 10 acres of Indian corn - 175 bushels 2 acres of oats - 65 bushels 1/2 acre of cane - 35 gallons of molasses 75 bushels of cow peas 40 bushels of Irish potatoes 75 bushels of sweet potatoes 75 bearing fruit trees 40 lbs of honey
Now, just in case my followers have come to imagine that all of my ancestors in the panhandle were in Santa Rosa/Okaloosa counties, I will introduce you to one of my ancestors on my Dad’s side of the tribe. John C. Pitts was in Holmes Co, FL in 1885. He had served in the War in the 60th Georgia Infantry, Co G. He lost a toe at Bristoe Station in 1862 and the use of his right hand and arm at Fredericksburg. He had been born in Telfair Co, GA in 1833 to Margaret Pitts and Ephraim Yawn. For those of you quick on the draw, yes, there is a fascinating story there but we will do it at another time. John had been driving cattle north from south Florida when the War ended and he was processed out in Tallahassee, FL. They were a little more south in every census until 1885 when they were finally in Florida. He too had a large family to feed, including my ancestor and his new wife that would stay in Holmes Co. when John and George went back to Georgia. The farm was a joint effort of John and his brother George and was one of the most diverse farms from my ancestors of 1885. They managed:
70 acres tilled/improved $500 value of farm (about $11,900.00 in 2016 dollars) $5 value of farm implements $940 value of livestock (about $22,400.00 in 2016 dollars) $45 value of fences $20 total value of orchard products $50 cost of fertilizer $16 cost of wages $500 value of farm production (about $11,900.00 in 2016 dollars) 6 horses 5 oxen 35 milk cows 60 other cows 20 calves dropped 15 died, strayed or were stolen 25 lbs of butter 200 lambs dropped 10 slaughtered 30 died of disease 115 died of stress of weather 600 fleeces - 1762 lbs 15 swine 45 barnyard chickens 40 other chickens 50 dozen eggs 1 acre rice - 150 lbs 30 acres of Indian corn - 200 bushels 8 acres of oats - 40 bushels 2.2 acres of cotton 0.2 acre of cane - 25 gallons of molasses 2 acre of sweet potatoes - 50 bushels 20 peach trees - 20 bushels 50 lbs of honey 10 lbs of wax
I would recommend tracking down your ancestors in the 1885 Florida Agricultural Census if you haven’t already. It is a wonderful insight into their lives.
Now I would like to wrap this post up by sharing some photos and info on my Mom and her sisters celebrating Thanksgiving in the late 1980s in their great-grandparents house at the edge of Oak Grove. The cabin had been built in the 1870s and rather than see it torn down when it became inconveniently located, one of my aunts’ husbands moved it to their property and restored it. The sisters that I introduced back on 7 November 2016 decided they would gather at the cabin and cook on the wood stove (they grew up cooking on a wood stove) and have Thanksgiving together. It was probably the last one where the majority of them came together to share laughter, love and food. The 90s saw two of them pass away. I wasn’t there that year, I was in Texas and regret that I didn’t make the time to come back. It would have been fun to learn some techniques of cooking on a wood stove and I would have enjoyed watching and listening to them. They were always great fun to be around because while they were individuals and very different in many ways, they loved each other and loved to chatter and tease and laugh with each other.
Imagine yourself managing the complexity of the kind of farm systems listed above and talked about in the last post. Imagine knowing your family depended on you making that successful by producing enough to feed the family, extra to sell for cash and a bit more for the pantry through the winter and when the weather was uncooperative. Then think about what you have to do to eat today. Which appeals more to you? The food and economic system of the past or the present one. Which one would engender the most sense of gratitude from you when you sat down to eat? I am somewhere in-between frankly. I was raised to believe that you do not run a household with “just-in-time” food. Have a garden, learn to preserve some of the harvest, learn to cook from scratch and then appreciate the ease of food acquisition that we have today while working to not waste so much. We didn’t throw much away when I was a kid. Friday night dinner was often what my Dad called “Mrs. Smith’s Special” which was all the vegetable leftovers from the week in a big pot of broth with some meat added if we had it. Our food system today wastes about 40% of what is produced from the production end of the system to the end location of household. I promise you our ancestors would be shocked by how much we throw away. Be thankful for all that we have because we are here because our ancestors had to do much more to see that the generations flowed down to each of us and we should endeavor to ensure that we too pass to future generations a system that can be sustained.
Be thankful this holiday season. Be thankful for your friends and family, the conveniences and the abundance. Be thankful for each day you have with your parents and your children, or the days that you had with them in the past. Be thankful for our ancestors’ willingness to push out into the great unknown, do without and work hard so that we would one day be able to enjoy whatever we have. Be thankful for the gift our ancestors gave us of a representative democracy that we have a critical role in and that must be guarded and cherished by informed citizens to be maintained. Gratitude and thankfulness are both key to a life filled with joy and happiness. I wish that for each of you this season and into the coming New Year.
Next post? I’m debating so it will be a surprise. Until next year have a blessed Christmas and New Years.
- Featured photo is of Byrd Barnhill, according to the family who shared with me. The Barnhills married into some of my lines but aren’t in any of my direct lines. I just love the photo.
- Ersatz in the Confederacy: Shortages and Substitutes on the Southern Homefront by Mary Elizabeth Massey, University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
- History Lover’s Cookbook by Roxe Anne Peacock, 2012, eBook edition.
- Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book by Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding, ed., The University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
- Inflation calculator.