Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Life on Turnpike Road - Late 1800's

Carl Bennett with the Madisonville LA Historical Group Facebook page shared this glimpse into life along the Tchefuncte River on Turnpike Rd. around the time of the Civil War as written in the words of Augusta Bennett Stanga.

"I thought some would enjoy a glimpse into the Civil War days around Madisonville," he wrote. "This is an excerpt from a paper that was written by Augusta Bennett Stanga (born in 1876) about the days of her father Leroy Preston “Pres” Bennett (1851-1928) and her grandparents Daniel “Dan” Bennett (1825-1885) and Sarah Mixon Bennett (1832-1885).

Augusta Bennett Stanga married Frank D. “Fritz” Stanga.

The first account tells about her grandparents Daniel “Dan” Bennett and Sarah Mixon Bennett.

"Grandma Bennett's log house was up off the ground on cypress wood blocks. It was plastered with red clay and sealed with boards. It had four rooms - two in front and a drop shed in the back with two rooms. The floor was wood planks.

"Built off to the end of the front porch was a dining room and kitchen. The larger room at the front had a glass window in the end, and the fireplace at the other end. That was their bedroom. They had a big four-poster bed and a big black armoire. On one end was a table that was just a big block of wood - a section of log, cleaned. ( I have been told there was two such tables.) 

"They had a wash stand with the bowl and things. The living room end had a drop leaf table, and a chest made against the wall where they stored things and kept their books. Grandma Bennett kept scarfs on everything, all the time! There was a porch across the front. They had two rocking chairs by the fireplace, and a few odd chairs. (Mother described the rockers as plain - like the old ones heat up on Aunt Ida's porch.)

"Ten feet, or so, from that was another pretty, well built cabin that was the dining room and kitchen. On the side was a window with just a wooden door. The front door was the same. (upright boards). In the back was a room without a closed ceiling (unsealed, I suppose). 

"There was a window by the stove that had a glass window. The other end had shelves and a table with benches. The dining room was the front room, with a porch across the front. It had a table with a bench on the end, and a few chairs. In the corners of the room she had two tables that were sawed logs. 

"She had a lamp and cookie jars on them. She had reflector lamps by each door and a table lamp that stood on a foot on the table. That's what she had for light if they had to eat after dark. She made a great effort to finish in the kitchen and get it locked up against the varmints before dark. A vine grew on the porch that made a little purple fruit.

"An immense oak tree stood in the yard. (Mother believes that tree is still standing.) Grandma Bennett had a set of blue willow ware dishes, from England. She had a set of blue glasses with a foot on them - she had a shelf full of them. (Mother has some) 

"She had a pitcher with strawberries on it. The back yard had a little smoke house with the floor build up a foot, or so. Benches ran down both walls, and that's where they kept their sack of flout and can of syrup. They locked it up at night against the varmints with a stick of wood through a hasp. 

"Grandma Bennett swept her yard every morning, she made biscuit every meal, and corn broad if she had company. She loved to cook pumpkins, and always cooked two pots - one sweet and one seasoned.

"Grandma Bennett was quite proud of her wash bench, and delighted in her sweet smelling wash when she took it inside. She had a long bench right by the well - with three tubs on it. She kept the bench scrubbed white - no dirty legs. She also had a boiling pot and a beating block for her wash. She would haul water up from the well in the well bucket and empty it into her tubs. 

"Mother says she can remember when she was older, that the well top was covered with boards, and a hand pump installed. "That was much better than having to lift the bucket full the length of the well." My grandma told me her mother took clothes down to the river to wash if the weather was good. It was less work "than pulling the bucket". Sometimes her father carried water for her.

"Mother says Grandma Bennett kept white shams on the pillow all the time (ironed!). If she sat down she crocheted - shams, drawers and slips had to have edging. "

War Story

Carl Bennett notes that the next account tells of a Yankee patrol out of Madisonville that had just been ambushed at Lanier Crossing on the Tangipahoa River. The Yankee officer wrote in his diary that they pulled up and watered at the home of ”Dan Bennett” on Turnpike Rd. who was actually Daniel Bennett. Little did they realize that Dan Bennett was not at home because he most likely was one of the Confederates that had just ambushed them. 

"I am most certain that had they known this they would not have been as polite as they were. What is mentioned here as “The county wireless” was a slang term for yelling through the woods from household to household. When this Yankee patrol left here they rode off to Madisonville."

The story begins: "My grandma said Grandpa Bennett was teenage when the Yankees marched down the Turnpike (remember he was the oldest of 12) from toward the Bennett Bridge. There was a family of color living above the bridge, and they also had a teenage son. 

"When the men left to fight the women joined forces to survive. They kept the garden and place by working the two boys together - first one place and then the other. When the "county wireless" sent word the Yankees were coming, his mother told grandpa to hurry and hide the gun and horse. (An old rifle and plow horse). 

"He took them to the branch, as he was told, tied up the horse, and in fear threw the rifle in the branch. (We are talking about the branch that ran in front of the cemetery behind the old Bennett place - now the ostrich farm). There were 10 or 12 soldiers in the company - they looked in bad shape. The officer knocked on the door and told her to "cook the mutton they had killed". 

"They had apparently taken the animal from the pasture on the bridge side of the house. They cleaned it, and she cooked it. The officer came in to eat but the other men stayed in the yard. One of the men carried it out. No story of conversation, if any. When they were ready to leave the officer led grandpa to the "hidden" plow horse, and had him fish the rifle out of the branch. He asked if he could clean a gun, and told him to do it right away or he would end up without a gun to hunt with to feed the family. 

"They did not take the plow horse or anything else. The children tried to hide the geese in the branch brush, but they came home while the Yankees were there. One was eaten but the others left."

"Things were hard to get during the war. One thing was material to make pants. (most clothing was made at home by hand). His mother made him long shirts to hand below the knee and that had to do, - but everybody had to do the same thing, so the boys couldn't mind too much."