Interview background: Life on the Plantation
Education for the de Saussure Children
GVD: What kind of education was provided for plantation families?
NBD: We had a schoolhouse on the plantation where we went after breakfast with our governess. In those days, as teachers were not paid well for their services, it was difficult to find refined and cultured people to fill the position. Knowing this, father paid the highest salaries and thus secured the best talent there was to be had for us.
GVD: Did your education include exposure to music?
NBD: Besides a governess, we also had a music teacher, so we were expected to devote many hours to practicing music, and thus we were employed while mother was busy housekeeping.
GVD: Did you or your siblings attend college? If so, where?
NBD: As soon as the girls in our family were old enough they were sent North to school to finish their education, and the boys were sent to Northern colleges.
Social Life around a Plantation community
GVD: we have heard that it was common for planters to host guests fairly often, and oftentimes, many at one time. Can you speak to that?
NBD: As there were no inns in our country, and plantations were miles apart, some provision had to be made for the entertainment of travelers, who were never turned away. We often had delightful house parties and hunting parties, but our chief enjoyment was riding through the wild and beautiful country. We also went on fishing excursions, and on picnics. We thought nothing of driving ten miles to dine at a neighbor’s house.
Life and Times in Charleston during the Civil War (1861-1865)
Early in the War
GVD: What were the times like in South Carolina, more specifically, Charleston-area, in March 1861, just a month before the firing on Sumter?
NBD: It was a turbulent time; the feeling ran high between the North and the South, and we heard rumors of war, but it seemed too far away to invade our peaceful country.
The Firing on Sumter, April 1861
GVD: We understand you reached Charleston on April 12th, the very evening (and following eraly morning) that Sumter was fired upon. Tells us about that.
NBD: We reached Charleston about eight o’clock in the evening. My father-in-law met us, and after a warm greeting to the little stranger and ourselves, said, “You are just in time to see the fight at Fort Sumter, for it begins to-night.” I was terrified and begged to be taken home, but there was no train until morning and, therefore, we had to remain.
GVD: You were 24 years old and had a five-week old baby girl in April 1861; did you sleep that night (the 12th)?
NBD: That night I was too frightened to sleep.
GVD: Did you personally observe the bombardment of Ft. Sumter? If so, from what vantage point?
NBD: Toward morning, about four o’clock, the first gun was fired, and it seemed to me as if it were in my room. I sprang up, as I suppose everyone else did in the city. I hurriedly dressed myself and went down to cousin Louis De Saussure’s house, which is still standing on the corner of South and East Battery. From its numerous piazzas, which commanded a fine view of the harbor, we watched every gun fired from the two forts, Moultrie and Sumter.
GVD: Did others join you?
NBD: The house was crowded with excited mothers and wives, who had sons and husbands in the fight, and every hour added to their distress and excitement, as reports, which afterwards proved false, were brought to them of wounded dear ones. It was a day I can never forget.
We spent another most anxious day following an anxious night, but when Fort Sumter took fire and the white flag was raised, our spirits rose over the Southern victory, to confidence and hope.
GVD: Not knowing how long the war would last (four years), and the devastation Charleston would endure; how do you reflect on this today, some 40 years later (1909)?
NBD: We little realized the long years of struggle that were to follow ending in defeat, and ruined homes and country. Later on I was in Charleston several times when it was under shot and shell and heard the explosions of the shells as they shrieked over our houses. Those were sad and exciting times, the awful memories of which are still active with me.