|days seven and eight
(Dec 27 29, 1838)
Fanny Kemble's Journey
Charleston, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia
Last Thursday evening [December 27, 1838] we left our hotel in Charleston for the steamboat which was to carry us to Savannah: it was not to start until two in the morning, but, of course, we preferred going on board rather earlier, and getting to bed. The ladies' cabin, however, was so crowded with women and children, and so inconveniently small, that sleeping was out of the question in such an atmosphere. I derived much amusement from the very empresslike airs of an uncommonly handsome mulatto woman, who officiated as stewardess, but whose discharge of her duties appeared to consist in telling the ladies what they ought, and what they ought not to do, and lounging about with an indolent dignity, which was irresistibly droll, and peculiarly Southern.
The boat in which we were, not being considered seaworthy, as she is rather old, took the inner passage, by which we were two nights and a day accomplishing this most tedious navigation, creeping through cuts and small muddy rivers, where we stuck sometimes to the bottom, and sometimes to the banks, which presented a most dismal succession of dingy, low, yellow swamps, and reedy marshes, beyond expression wearisome to the eye. About the middle of the day on Friday [December 28, 1838], we touched at the island of Edisto, where some of the gentlemen passengers had business, that being the seat of their plantations, and where the several families resideafter the eldest member of which, Mr. Seabrook, the boat we were in was named.
Edisto, as I have mentioned before, is famous for producing the finest cotton in Americatherefore, I suppose in the world. As we were to wait here some time, we went on shore to walk. The appearance of the cotton fields at this season of the year was barren enough; but, as a compensation, I here, for the first time, saw the evergreen oak trees (the ilex, I presume), of the South. They were not very fine specimens of their kind, and disappointed me a good deal. The advantage they have of being evergreen is counterbalanced by the dark and almost dingy color of the foliage, and the leaf being minute in size, and not particularly graceful in form. These trees appeared to me far from comparable, either in size or beauty, to the European oak, when it has attained its full growth. We were walking on the estate of one of the Mr. Seabrooks, which lay unenclosed on each side of what appeared to be the public road through the island.
At a short distance from the landing we came to what is termed a ginning housea building appropriated to the process of freeing the cotton from the seed. It appeared to be open to inspection; and we walked through it. Here were about eight or ten stalls on either side, in each of which a man was employed at a machine, worked like a turner's or knife grinder's wheel, by the foot, which, as fast as he fed it with cotton, parted the snowy flakes from the little black first cause, and gave them forth soft, silky, clean, and fit to be woven into the finest lace or muslin. This same process of ginning is performed in many places, and upon our own cotton estate, by machinery; the objection to which, however, is, that the staple of the cottonin the length of which consists its chief excellenceis supposed by some planters to be injured, and the threads broken, by the substitution of an engine for the task performed by the human fingers in separating the cotton and presenting it to the gin.
After walking through this building, we pursued our way past a large, rambling, white wood house, and down a road, bordered on each side with evergreen oaks. While we were walking, a young man on horseback passed us, whose light hair, in a very picturesque contempt of modern fashion, absolutely flowed upon the collar of his coat, and was blown back as he rode, like the disheveled tresses of a woman. On Edisto Island such a noble exhibition of individuality would probably find few censors.
As we returned toward the boat we stopped to examine an irregular scrambling hedge of the wild orange, another of the exquisite shrubs of this paradise of evergreens. The form and foliage of this plant are beautiful, and the leaf, being bruised, extremely fragrant; but, as its perfume indicates, it is a rank poison, containing a great portion of prussic acid. It grows from cuttings rapidly and freely, and might be formed into the most perfect hedge, being well adapted, by its close bushy growth, to that purpose.
After leaving Edisto we pursued the same tedious meandering course, over turbid waters, and between low-lying swamps, till the evening closed in. The afternoon had been foggy, and rainy, and wretched. The cabin was darkened by the various outer protections against the weather, so that we could neither read nor work. Our party, on leaving the island, had received an addition of some young ladies, who were to go on shore again in the middle of the night, at a stopping place called Hilton Head. As they did not intend to sleep, they seemed to have no idea of allowing any one else to do so; and the giggling and chattering with which they enlivened the dreary watches of the night, certainly rendered anything like repose impossible; so I lay, devoutly wishing for Hilton Head, where the boat stopped between one and two in the morning. I had just time to see our boarding-school angels leave us, and a monstrous awkward-looking woman, who at first struck me as a man in disguise, enter the cabin, before my eyes sealed themselves in sleep, which had been hovering over them, kept aloof only by the incessant conversational racket of my young fellow travelers.
I was extremely amused at two little incidents which occurred the next morning [Saturday, December 29, 1838] before we were called to breakfast. The extraordinary-looking woman who came into the boat during the night, and who was the most masculine-looking lady I ever saw, came and stood by me, and, seeing me nursing my baby, abruptly addressed me, with: "Got a baby with you?" I replied in the affirmative, which trouble her eyes might have spared me. After a few minutes' silence, she pursued her unceremonious catechism with: "Married woman?" This question was so exceedingly strange, though put in the most matter-of-course sort of way, that I suppose my surprise exhibited itself in my countenance, for the lady presently left menot, however, appearing to imagine that she had said or done anything at all unusual. The other circumstance which amused me was to hear another lady observe to her neighbor, on seeing Margery bathe my children (a ceremony never omitted night and morning, where water can be procured): "How excessively ridiculous!" Which same worthy lady, on leaving the boat at Savannah, exclaimed, as she huddled on her cloak, that she never had felt so "mean in her life!" Considering that she had gone to bed two nights with the greater part of her day clothes on her, and had abstained from any "ridiculous" ablutions, her mean sensations did not, I confess, much surprise me.