CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE PAST
This section includes notes by Carol McDavid and Mary Lynne Hill. These excerpts comprise about 8% of the total text of the diary.
Questions or Comments?
Sallie was born in 1840 in Louisiana, and moved to Texas with her family when she was 9 years old (in 1849).
Because her diary is in the process of being published, we are unable to include the text in its entirety. However, we have included sections of the diary to give you some glimpses of Sallies life on the plantation, and of the ways in which the diary has been used by archaeologists. (See Ethnography, which includes some comments about how historical documents can be used by archaeologists.)
This web site also includes the introductory chapter from a masters degree thesis written by Mary Lynne Hill, entitled The Discipline of Social Corsets: Negotiation of the Gender Typification of the Southern Lady by Female Descendants of Levi and Sarah Stone Jordan (Hill 1997).
In this thesis (excerpts from which also appear occasionally below), Hill examines the roles of women in both the past and the present. She looks at the ways that the roles of the archtypical "Southern Lady" were and are enacted by women in both periods, in terms of race, religion, creativity, politics, status and other categories of human interaction.
From Hills thesis:
"Sallie McNeill composed her diary between 1858, while attending Baylor University in Independence, Texas and 1867, while living at the beach in Texas. In the years she wrote, Sallie lived initially at Baylor until graduation in 1858, then primarily at home, the Levi Jordan Plantation, in Brazoria Texas Neighboring plantations included the homes of the Mims and Rowe families At the Jordan Plantation, Sallie, who never married, resided with several generations of her family: grandparents, Levi and Sarah Stone Jordan; mother, Emily Jordan McNeill; siblings, Calvin, Anne, Missie, Mollie, Charlie and Archie. Charlie and Anne also attended Baylor University shortly after Sallie completed her education at this institution.
"By the time Sallie commenced her diary, her father, James McNeill and a brother, Levi Jordan, were already dead. By the time she completed her diary, her sisters, Missie and Mollie, had also both died. During the Civil War, her brothers, Charlie and Calvin, served as privates in Company C, Browns Regiment, Texas Volunteers, Confederate States of America (McNeill 1988). According to the text, her grandfather Levi was clearly the patriarch and master of his 2222 acres. Emily, Levi and Sarahs only child and Sallies mother, appeared to serve at the plantation mistress during the period of the diarys production. It seemed that at this time, Grandmother Sarah was semi-retired from her role as mistress. The presence of grandmother, mother and daughter, who were all in the appropriate age range to enact the duties of plantation mistress, sometimes resulted in the proverbial danger of "too many cooks in the kitchen." Sallies struggle with her ambiguous status as adult-child runs throughout her diary after her graduation from college." (Hill 1997:7-9)
The entries for Sallies time at Baylor began on the date below and continued until October 22, 1858. The next entry is dated February 1, 1859, and was written at home. Following are some excerpts from her Baylor entries.
May 1, 1858
The rain is pattering on the roof, the clouds are dark and lowering, making all objects look gloomy, and causing my spirits to be depressed, so much are we affected by the things with which we are surrounded. Faint flashes of lighting are playing in the north, and the low muttering of thunder is heard at intervals. How sublime is the appearance of a thunder-storm, though there is a danger in the forked-lightening (sic), the knowledge of which generally prevents our admiration of this grand phenomena. On such a day as this, how unconsciously does (sic) the thoughts of the absent turn homeward. Memory recalls the loved ones, who are far away in the home of our childhood, and the thought rises, do they miss me at home? Much, much has been said and written on this one subject, nearest to the hearts of all, and yet can this theme ever be exhausted, or do we ever tire of hearing its praises sounded? Ah no, the dearest spot on earth, to me, is home sweet home, is the sentiment of every true heart. My mother, what does that name recall to me? The Being who most I love on earth, the dearest best of Mas, how I long to see her, this morning and I know full well, that [she] thinks hourly of her absent children, with the fondest solicitude for our welfare. Shall I ever be enabled to feel the debt of love and gratitude that I owe my mother, alas, I fear not, how erring is frail human nature, when absent, I think I never could grieve Ma thoughtlessly again, and yet I often give her pain when I am with her. How bitter the sting of ingratitude in a child must be to a mother. I can think without remorse of my conduct to Pa, when we was alive, for I always loved and obeyed him, yet I feel I would love him more, if he were with us again, but never, no never, can that be. But what would my feelings be if my Ma was taken from us, when I remember, the many acts of disobedience and unkindness that I have done, but I cannot bear to think of this. Oh, I want to go home; why did I ever leave it, why?
Sallie isnt always this depressed; and some of her entries from her Baylor days discuss social events, friends, and teachers.
May 22, 1858
Weeks have passed since I wrote in my Journal, something tells me, that I would be better for communing oftener with thee my irregular diary. Our tableaux party passed off pleasantly, Miss DeS (Miss de Sasseaux) asked me to be a nun and I consented, Puss was the bride-nun and Lucy, the Mother Abbess. The high priest Puss H acted admirably, while on each side of Em Alcorn and dear Becca stood, by their other side as haut-boys. Annie Muckelroy, O. Gresham, and M. Wilson, G. Owen were arranged. Rachel kneeled by my side, while Dearest Dora clasped her hands solemnly on the opposite side. The Brides dark curls were very beautiful. Mrs. Daffodil was applauded, also her son Pete. The Count prosecuted his suit eagerly while George and Annie amused themselves at the expense of the rest of the party. The Witch was received with a shout, also the Beaux. The bride and her Robber lover represented their characters to the life. But Mrs. Fitzgeralds May scene was the most beautiful of all. Sister in green was not as beautiful, as some of the others, her hair refused to curl. Green is my favorite color, as belonging to nature. M. Whiteside and myself seated ourselves, after the tableaux, soon Mr. O Leland took his seat just behind us, presently he was on the same seat. Mary proposed vamosing, and we retreated to a back seat
October 15, 1858
Only six weeks to the examination. Joyful news! But I shall reluctantly bid adieu to my Alma Mater, and extend the parting hand with a sad heart to my much loved friends and schoolmates. The memory of the last two years spent at Independence will often recur to me when in my own home far away. Oh, I hope my Mama will come for us. Sister A. and Rach are lamenting that they have to play this evening.
Sallie then describes her Commencement, her mothers arrival to take her back home, and her feelings upon leaving.
The following excerpts were made after Sallie returned home to the plantation.
February 1, 1859
More than two months of my life has fled since last I wrote here I can hardly remember all the events that have occurred. I have been teaching the children a month; Bob Stanger will remain here. To-night seems lonesome. Mollie is asleep, Missie playing, the boys reading, and Grand Parents abed. We must soon follow their example as early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
February 9, 1859
Again days have past unrecorded here, but it seems as if I have nothing even now to write, worthy of being remembered. Sometimes, the misbehavior of the children almost discourages me, but I would be discontented, very, without something to do, or employ my time. I would tire of reading always, even if I was so fortunate as to have a great variety of books. Today I have read Midsummers Nights Dreams, though it is not the first time .
February 17, 1859
Great excitement has prevailed here for the last two hours. Jacobs cabin caught fire about eleven oclock, when first discovered was in a light blaze. Grandpa and all ran, but could not extinguish the flames, which were soon communicated to the unoccupied Hospital. Calvin rescued old Lydia, who was chained to the chimney. [It is not known who or what Lydia was she could have been a milk cow who was kept close to the house, a mule, or, perhaps, a pet dog]. The south wind was high and there was great danger of burning Claiborns Cabin and the cribs, when all would have been lost. They stripped the old house, and poured water on it constantly. We ran about confused and half wild. Ma was so frightened, though there was no danger of losing life. We pulled down fences and kept it from reaching any combustible matter. I can see the smoking ruins now. How grateful we should feel that life was preserved, and let the stuff go without complaining. But poor negroes, they have lost all their worldly possessions. Aunt Fanny and Milley have nothing Calvin ran himself sick, he says I ran about the fire and gave more orders than Grandpa himself. The negroes cam in haste from the field and Sugar House. All are tired with the unusual exertion. Missie cried until the flames subsided, poor, terrified child. This is the first accident of the kind that has happened to us in Texas. How thankful we ought to be for the continued mercies of God! Who ever watches over and shields us from harm. How easily can the work of years be consumed by the devouring flames; so is mans life, but a dream, brief and fleeting.
March 31, 1859
All of little interest but serve to break the monotony of country life for a few hours. Mrs. Henry Jones is stopping here for a few weeks, while her husband is making preparations to clear the Bernard [River] of rafts, so as to communicate with the railroad I have experienced some trouble in governing my unruly brothers in school lately. I dislike to have Grandpa punish them and Ma cant, or wont. Isaac, who had the misfortune to break his leg two weeks ago, while loading the schooner, has suffered great pain and is complaining now. Bob [Stanger, most likely] went to Brazoria this week, for the filly Elfleda, who swam across the river Charley killed his first deer this morning. He was highly elated. Grandpa covered his face with blood in honor of the occasion I suppose. How tired and dissatisfied I am sometimes with this quiet life. And yet I would not change it I believe. I would like to go away from home for a short while. I am afraid I shall grow quite rustic in taste and appearance. But my chief desire is to avoid evil and to do good, though I often and continually fail. I hope to become better by the grace of my Heavenly Father! I am conscious of my deficiencies in many things. Vela, Vole.
Many of Sallie's entries reflect her boredom, her feelings of discontent with herself and her surroundings, and her loneliness despite being surrounding by family members). She misses her life at school, as well as her friends who are still there. She mentions the many books she reads (Milton, Shakespeare, Harpers). She also frequently mentions her love for her family, and her relationships with neighbors in the area names of people whose descendants still live in the area (such as Mims (especially Leo Mims), Wilson, Graves, Rowe, Sweeney, Cousins, Reese, Dance, Stratton, McNeel, and others) appear in various entries. She frequently expresses her frustration with young men of her acquaintance, and with the expectations people have of her in regard to marriage.
September 1, 1859
I believe I am a restless being, and must have inherited the propensity for rambling from the McNeills. I soon tire of company, especially the nonsensical talk of young men. It is a poor compliment to my sex (weak though they too often are) to suppose that they can only be amused by flattery and sentiment
Sallie also bristles under the narrow confines of expected behavior in other regards, such as her love of books.
March 30, 1860
I think it is somewhat hard that I cannot have many books, or society either. Grandpa says I may have all I need, but he has no idea of allowing that I do need many. Sometimes I know that I too easily submit to deprivations and Ma always, but anything for peace, and he is sure to get angry and say hard things. I dont like to disturb and initiate his feelings when he is so old. I reasoned with him once, and we were both so excited I am afraid I wasnt as respectful as I should have been I never intend to contend about extravagance with him again. Though I cannot altogether abide by his decisions, I am no longer a child to be governed by his rigid and old-fashioned notions and he cannot expect me to be as compliant as Ma is.
June 13, 1861
Long have I neglected writing, and now with what feelings do I resume the pen. "A change has come over the spirit of my dreams". The world has darkened. Our Missie, my favorite sister, is here no longer, brightening lives with her dear presence. Nevermore shall we behold those beautiful gray-blue eyes upraised to meet our faces, and with her perished my almost dearest hope When the children are going to or are returning from school, imagination pictures the dear form as of old, in neat dress with her books balanced on her hands, or wrapped in her arms She departed this life on Monday, June 3 after an illness of one week. On returning from school at noon the Monday before, she complained that her leg had pained her. Someone suggested that the cause was rheumatism I thought it was the effect of the unusual exercise of the day before in searching for a pet fawn. That evening she had fever which continued till Wednesday. Tuesday Ma noticed her leg, but could discover nothing but the scratch from the bite of an insect, which being inflamed she imagined was the cause of the fever. Next day a swollen red spot appeared on the limb, which she and Dr. Rowe pronounced St. Anthonys fire and treated accordingly. Wednesday night she was watchful and delirious. Calvin started for Dr. Sanford before day. By breakfast she was better Next morning, still wakeful and delirious, Dr. S. was again called out that evening, he was sent for the third time. The child had not slept for 36 hours Dr. Chinn came, but human power could not avail our darling to save Many times she said she was going to die, her time had come Sunday we endeavored to keep her asleep and on awakening and taking refreshment or ice, I would tell her "shut your eyes and go to sleep". Towards night she grew weaker. I gave up all hope and went downstairs. She asked for me, and I returned, but I could do nothing more but sit by and soother her. What agony it was to watch her labored breathing, and wipe the cold dew from her forehead and know she was dying Conscious to the last, her expressive eyes were raised to Mas, and her lips would move, and yet no sound came forth from those pale lips We laid her dust by the side of our fathers, whose especial pet she had always been. Vole.
Only six months later, Sallies sister Mollie dies as well, of a stomach ailment of some sort.
December 9, 1861
Oh still! I cannot realize the truth ___. They never return. I almost fancy I can hear their footsteps!
From Mary Lynne Hills analysis:
March 21, 1860
Cleveland, told that it was reported by Calvin, that I would be married shortly. Pshaw! What do I care for such rumors? Somebody would care here, if I were coquettish at all. But if I know my own heart, my beau ideal has never presented himself for my inspection. According to novelists (sic) opinions, I should have felt the grand passion long ago. And since I havent the conclusion is, that I a, as I have always been called, a predestined celibate. Eh bien! I am free to act much as I like within myself. But when one marries, their identity is generally lost even. "Love, honor, serve and obey" is the model of life. I dont say that I would not marry for any consideration; but that I never will give myself to one, whom I cannot Love as well as Respect. Imagination cannot conceive of a worse state, than a loveless marriage. A certain gentleman advised me, that my sentiments in regard to this matter, would change in a few years. But they are reasonable and bid fair to the last, since I am not at all anxious on the subject. I look forward to a lonely life with no apprehension, since if "God" wills it is all for the best. And if my earthly destiny is otherwise ordered I shall certainly know it, without troubling myself. I never claimed a sweetheart. It seems immodest t me, to do so even if I had any such desire. Marriage is far preferable in some respects, than a single life, though the risk is greater. It is a life-long mistake, as well as sin to marry on unsuited. I am higher, than I merit, but I will not lower my standard. And with the help of my Heavenly Father will endeavor not to render myself or another miserable, through ignorance.
Throughout the diary, Sallie continues to reflect on the ways that her opinions differ from those of her grandfather and brothers, and of her mother, whom she sees as overly submissive to Levis wishes. At the same time she reveals a great deal of internal conflict she says she is not "good enough", or "pious enough". Her life is an ongoing struggle with expectations both hers and others about what her role should be.
Mary Lynne Hill commented that "toward the end of her life, Sallie revealed her disagreement with her mothers continual submission to Grandpa Levis wishes" (Hill 1997:130)
February 8, 1866
Ma has practiced obedience and self-denial all her life. And I cannot feel, that her course has con___ed [contributed?] to the happiness of herself, or others. On the contrary her uniform practice has brought trouble, and annoyance to the Family. Life, health and her childrens every wish is sacrificed with scarce a murmur, to her Fathers whims. Grandpa dont see this she scarce acknowledges this fact to herself. And yet I feel too truly, that is truth But the spirit of freedom is an inborn one. All my life Ive been trammeled by this wish and opinion others even of my neighbors, and the world, in general. Hope for better things! ___! I do not. The Present only is mine. I fill it with good deeds, and thoughts, I would be content
Sallie was very much a woman of her
time, and her class, in terms of her attitudes towards
slavery and race. Even so, she struggles with her
attitudes and her feelings about the tumult around her.
Lynne Hill puts it:
Other entries illustrate that the blacks on the plantation were by no means anonymous and unnoticed. Though Sallie makes little mention of house servants or other so-called "close" domestic workers, the enslaved people living on the plantation appear to have been regarded as a part of the general ebb and flow of plantation life.
February 16, 1861
The negroes caught alive a species of swan. He is easily domesticated. From my perch at the back windows I can see him stalking majestically in the rear of a flock of geese, looking as if he thought he was among them, but not of them. We suppose that he is not entirely grown. His long neck is of a grayish hue
The carved shell cameo found in the slave and tenant quarters of the plantation does have a large bird carved in the top portion of the scene depicted on the object. Archaeologists have speculated that perhaps the scene is one from the plantation, and some archaeological testing has been done to see if that might be the case. See the section of the interview with Ken Brown for comments on that topic.
the cameo mentioned above, with a bird at the top of the carving
Other comments about the blacks on the plantation reflect the ongoing interaction between the two groups. Once Sallie refers to watching the blacks dance at Christmas ("Looked at the negroes dancing, thought they seemed strangely in earnest"; December 26, 1860), and once she refers to a local preacher who came to give a sermon to the blacks (March 1, 1861). She also refers once to returning early from a gathering at a neighbors to "witness the Negro wedding" (March 22, 1861).
The entry for November 12, 1860 contains the first entry related to the Civil War.
Stirring news! Lincoln is elected doubtless, but them will be bloody struggles ere he reaches Washington Oh, I am just beginning to realize the possibility of a Civil War with all its horrors. God forbid that our glorious Union should be dissolved Our worst foes are in our midst. Negro insurrections will be constant and bloody under the guidance of abolitionists I have always pshawed and hooted at the idea of disunion, but I can no longer close my eyes to stubborn facts. It is terrible the thought of fighting against ones own, for we are one people Southerners will not allow interference with their peculiar institutions. We can hope.
In the above excerpt Sallie
expresses the fear and suspicion of Northerners, as well
as a fearful awareness that her world, along with the
power and social relationships comprising it, were
starting to dissolve around her. Mary Lynne Hill
October 12, 1861
The Hounds caught Mose the runaway who was fettered with a stiff-leg of iron, so that he could neither out-run the dogs or climb out of the way, consequently was bitten in several places. Poor negro! He is idle at work and runs to escape it and the lash. And is treated with severity when he is caught, besides half-starving in the woods. Our negroes are treated well in general, much better than those of most of the surrounding Plantations they say themselves, yet discipline must be maintained. The tears rose indignantly to my eyes, when Mose was led up that evening ragged and bleeding. I could say or do nothing, for he brought the trouble and pain upon himself. Words of abuse and ridicule only were given him. Mr. S. highly elated at catching him; Bob likewise in good spirits, Calvin quieter as if disgusted with the affair. [Sallie goes on to express her disappointment in Bob] It is painful to lose the confidence in one we trust The impression of wrong has faded, but I havent altogether forgotten.
Hill continues her comments:
This passage reveals Sallies struggle between her attitudes about race and her religious attitudes, which demanded that other people be treated with respect and "charity". Later on she seems to struggle with the institution of slavery itself:
December 16, 1861
Grandpa is summoned to B. [Brazoria] to attend a meeting of the Citizens in order to try suspected abolitionists. I pity the offenders! Calvin and I yesterday almost agreed that we sometimes felt like crying out against slavery.
During the Civil War, Sallies diary entries become somewhat less frequent sometimes there are several entries in a row from the same time period, then there will be a break, then another flurry of messages, and so on. The day to day life of the plantation continues; two of Sallies sisters die during 1861, and the war and other events continue:
April 25, 1861
Archies birthday. He is just six years old. I told him that he must have a cake to celebrate the anniversary of his little life, but I havent been able to attend to its composition The war is getting unpleasantly near us. The U.S. troops have or intend landing at Brazos Santiago God help the poor soldiers. A heavy responsibility rests on the officers of this civil war. Mc and I propose to wear the "willow garland" till the safe return of our volunteers. For several days Ma has been petting a little, wild, gray rabbit from the woods. Such a timid, soft little creature, it is hopping about my chair as I write. She cant keep it, and will set it free soon if Grand Ma dont kill it in the meantime. Calvin tied his mule in the thicket last eve and could not find him. This morning he has gone out in search, but has not returned though it is nearing on to noon, and the rain is falling. Little does he care, I suspect, loving hunting and disliking school as much as he does. I am afraid he will never accomplish a great deal at study. I read his Cicero daily and encourage him all I can
May 11, 1861
Yesterday was Bob [Stangers] 19th birthday. I asked him if I should congratulate him. What for, was the wondering reply. He hadnt thought of it. I wanted to make him a cake, but couldnt get enough eggs and an attempt at candy-making resulted in lumps of sugar. However, it was liked sufficiently well. Our county has furnished 100 men for the general government. Many of our neighbors are enlisting. Boys of 17 are required. Bob will volunteer rather than be drafted. Oh how tired I am of the war already.
July 16, 1862
The battalion changing from place to place is not at Chocolate. Calvin came home for two days; Bob visited us three times, having horse hunting for an excuse, he slips home
September 22, 1862
Summer is over and gone, and a long, dry and dusty one. For two weeks the rain poured daily, causing much sickness in camp. Calvin came home convalescent, looking ill, but with a ravenous appetite. Bob did not seem well Dick Haynes fell before Richmond Friend after friend departs Sometimes the end appears to my desponding heart. Again, hope will brighten at the glad tidings of numerous victories achieved by us
December 3, 1862
Bob took away Calvin after a stay of three weeks. Ed Brown was kind to allow C. and H. Rowe to assist in sugarmaking.
February 21, 1864
Another new year and still ____. Struggle continues unabated The all-enduring South has buckled on her armour of defense and [will] wear it even till liberty is regained From our home circle we miss a valued friend. Bob is a prisoner Poor Bob, would that he could write to us of his safety. Ma is slowly recovering from a severe illness of a months duration Grandparents are so old, and almost helpless...[this is] the last page of my neglected book. Hard times will no longer allow paper to scribble on.
There are no more entries until the following:
November 10, 1865
Tis long since Ive felt like journalizing. The days, and weeks of the last two years, have been spent in anxious suspense, or patient waiting. Heroically the South struggled against adverse fate, and endured all ills till exhausted and "overpowered" by numbers, she surrendered her gallant little army, and the Confederacy was no more. The bitter suffering, the sacrifice during four long years of bloodshed, has all been in vain; all is lost save honor Slowly, we are awakening from the feeling of utter despair...The realization of the change is bitter indeed, but Time the consoler is healing some of the old wounds Necessity inexorable necessity teaches patience, and submission The proud Southerner is humbled. We are but dust
Sallie begins to cope with the changes that the end of the war will mean to her familys lifestyle, and livelihood:
November 28, 1865
the last night of sugarmaking. And everyone rejoices that the cane is cut, and this grinding season is over. The Freedmen have tried Grandpas and Bobs patience to the utmost. The institution is certainly a "trial". The theme of every tongue and the subject of busy thought and speculation for the past six months. Next year, the experiment will be made, of free Negro labor
Toward the end of her life Sallie is living at the familys beach home, in Beach Hills. There are a few entries which mention a yellow fever epidemic in the area during the same period. She writes of visiting back and forth between other families, and having visitors who bring news of "home". September of 1867 is very rainy, and Sallie, her mother and other family members are stranded from time to time because of rising water. The only access to the area is by boat.
September 9, 1867
And what do I thats worth the doing, this dripping weather? Sew sometimes oftenest sit on the bed, looking out upon the tossing waters, and dream idly of bygone days, while fragments of rhymes pass through my mind descriptive of the Deep blue ocean and rainy days. "Into each life, some rain must fall." Some days must be dark and dreary. In the face of threatened starvation, I passively eat hard bread, till I was shocked to discover I had broken a tooth . Uncle Ellis came Tuesday with supplies.
Her last entry is on September 28, 1867. It is not known how Sallie died possibly of yellow fever? or exactly when.
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