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McMurran-Austen Family Papers

[Transcription begins on second handwritten page.]

Riverside November
Monday Morning

…From my letter you see dear Papa what part of the world I am situated. Saturday afternoon as we drove off from Melrose I felt a wanderer—where next? Since we left Pacault it has been my lot—Filston—Frederick—Hog Hollow—Newport Princeton and now far far away from you all mistress of plantation of hundred and fifty souls in some measure responsible for and dependent upon for although little more than twenty-four hours here. I see and feel how many many items a mistress and she along must govern and provide—But you can imagine some of my feelings yesterday as party after party came up “to the house to see their mistress.” Each in their best, many bringing their offerings of Pecaund as they call them. Belle the cook was mistress of ceremonies and I am sure you could distinguish as well as I between the Amils—Margarets—Belles—Jacks and every name under the sun whereby man and women are distinguished. A few here and there (?) marked characters I could recognize but there are few and far between: among them a family of “Quinces” “as black as black can be.” Belle the cook a member of said species. Father I wish you could see Riverside tis–magnificent place—its natural beauties—for truly nature has been most bountiful here—sketching along the river some two miles reaching back to the high hills that bound the place—almost mountains the lofts of which end john's plantation. We left Natchez Saturday afternoon five o'clock in the Princess—one of the finest crafts on the river—carries Mr M T J his cotton. We landed on the early morning—sun shining brightly in Riverside and for a first impression this was well. Owing to the river being so low (Lower that it has ever been known to be before) we had seep bank to climb. Mr. Wicherie (?) the overseer and a number of the hands were waiting . The boat stops just in front of the “cabins, nice little white-washed house in a long line about twenty feet apart—and large noble trees in front. The effect is very pretty, all having galleries.” We walked to the house. The “log hut” that John has talked so much of—a house, Papa, which in the hands of an Austen would soon be turned into a large two story house and without a single additional room—though I think John does wisely in deciding to tear down and build a new house entirely—a little above this. He has not your talent Pa for renovating—'twould be twice the labor and cost. Then again the foliage is so dense here that tis damp and to cut down any of these beautiful trees would be bad. Forrest trees—growth of so many years. The ground is higher and just trees enough—about twenty yards this. With little labor Riverside can be made a lovely spot. I mean grounds around the house. Nature has done so much. Some grand old trees almost as green now as in summer, many of them covered with my moss. To my eyes, one of the most beautiful sights. Tis hung in such graceful festoons…

I shall have [a] good laugh at John when he comes in. Ever since our marriage John says he has promised the time was just coming when we should be alone together and that it has not come yet but he felt sure of Riverside. This morning Dicy said “O, Mistress, I forgot to tell Master that D. Taylor said he would be over to see him this morning.” Short time after Bella came upstairs, “Mistress, Mr. Brandon sent his compliments and a piece of venison for you.” I was truly grateful for the venison thought I fear Mr. Brandon may think it necessary to pay his respects. Tis a bachelor cross the river—friend of M:M:S. D. Taylor is a cousin. John started off directly after breakfast—to cotton field. There is still some two hundred bales to be picked so I shall have an opportunity of seeing this and ginning. Mr. Humason, an engineer, is still here tending the draining machine. I ride over tomorrow. Tis three miles from house. Will try, dear Papa, to give you some little idea of possible. John has six ditches at work. The health now is excellent and cotton though between season and storms is but half crop—has brought good returns so far, prices being proportionately higher. John I think is agreeably disappointed for the prospect and in time was gloomy enough. But, father, you must come and see this plantation life for yourself and Riverside. I can give you but poor descriptions and just now that every hour almost brings something new under the sun to light. I feel somewhat like the old woman in the shoe. If my letters partake of the confusion and jumble you can not wonder. Not [a] quarter of Melrose had I seen when I was transported here where all tis entirely different, a new feature in southern life.

Melrose is beautiful—very elegant, one of the handsomest places I have ever seen, North or South—and everything in such perfect order. System, Papa, is everything. Servants in the house and you would never know of there being there, excepting that they are always ready for orders. I never saw so perfectly-arranged household. John says tis owing to his father. Everything bears the stamp of wealth in doors and out. All their table arrangement—great deal of silver and very handsome—but withal father, the most simple unpretending family I ever knew—gentle, refined, cultivated, and such a spirit of love and kindness….

…From one and all have I received a warm, kind welcome, as much attention as though I and pretentions of “first family in Maryland.” Of this all I will talk in spring. We that think the South behind the times—certainly so far I have seen nothing to prove it. Beautiful residences, well-kept grounds, fine and certainly the elegant establishments that have driven up to the door at Melrose—magnificent hundred-dollar dresses—but I have looked in wonder and astonishment certainly in the forty calls I had before leaving…There is a great wealth mostly planters having residences around Natchez—Oh these grandees. I wonder if they would be so polite, so wondrous prompt in their attention if they knew Mrs. McMurran was a plain farmer's daughter…


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