The Hermitage — part 3 of 4

Published 12:20 am Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Hermitage

(Part 2 of 4, by Don Wicks)

Continuing with Elsie Farr’s narrative: “Another young Pennsylvanian, Leonard Kimball, had meantime come South, and had located in Pearlington. Judge Cook, who was often in Pearlington, for Pearlington was then the navigation junction for New Orleans, took a great liking to the young man, and this liking afterwards ripened into a deep friendship. In 1838, when Kimball was thirty-five years old, the judge persuaded him to come to live with him and manage his place for him, for in addition to the store, the Judge and Mrs. Cook now owned a number of slaves. So strong grew the Judge’s affection for his young friend that in 1842, four years after Kimball first made his home with him, Judge Cook made him his heir, with the proviso that Kimball should live with the Judge and Mrs. Cook and care for them the rest of their days.

“Mr. Kimball, in 1849, had married Miss Jane Potter Russ, the daughter of Samuel P. Russ and sister of Mrs. W. J. Poitevent. Three years later they adopted little Eliza Jane Poitevent.”

(Eliza Jane, Mrs. W. J. Poitevent’s daughter, went to live with her aunt and uncle around the year 1852 and later became the poet, Pearl Rivers, and owner and publisher of the Times Picayune of New Orleans.)

“Kimball had inherited a number of slaves from Judge Cook, and his wife had brought others as her wedding dowry, so that Kimball was now filling the role of a Southern farmer and slaveholder. The slave quarters were located where the home of Mr. L. O. Crosby now stands, and some twenty or more of the old Negroes lie buried in the Negro graveyard in front of which the garage has since been erected. (The L. O. Crosby house and garage are no longer standing.) The traditions, the hospitality, all the ideals of the old Southern planters’ homes had long been close to Kimball’s heart and now his pride in the little Eliza stimulated his desire for a lovelier home.”

“The kitchen part of the new house was completed about three years after building preparations had begun and the family moved in during 1860. But now Kinsler and Kimball did not agree. Kimball resented Kinsler’s manner toward the slaves. He said he was stirring up rebellion among them. In consequence of which, Kinsler was discharged. Captain John Poitevent, a cousin of W. J. Poitevent’s took up the work where Kinsler left off, and it was Captain John, familiarly greeted as Longbeard John, who put in the foundational work. Then the storm clouds of the great Civil War began to gather. Captain John left for the Army. Kimball, who had some $52,000 invested in Negro slaves, suspended work on the house.”

“Everyone, North and South, knows how the year 1861 shook the very foundations of Southern Civilization. The hitherto peaceful retreat besides the Hobolochitto River vibrated to the thunder of the cannon, and above the song of the wind in the pines, the little Eliza Jane heard, all too often, the tragic march of soldiers.”

“After the Northern armies had captured New Orleans and Gainesville, Kimball was unable to replenish the stock of goods in his store, which was then the only store within a radius of twenty miles. As war continued to impoverish the country, his fast diminishing supply was in demand at premium and some of the old settlers who remember those days, tell astonishing stories of the prices demanded for staple articles. At one time it was rumored that the Federal authorities in possession of Gainesville, having learned of Kimball’s store were sending a detachment of cavalry to plunder and destroy. Kimball thereupon appealed to John Poitevent, then Captain of the Calvary, in Gainesville, who detailed to his defense a company of partisan rangers 126 strong . The company camped south of the store, on the site where Mr. Crosby has since built his home and a strong picket guard stationed around the place. A cannon, their one piece of artillery, was placed in the curve of the road in front of their camp, and this old cannon needed in defense against the Federal detachment, was fired in celebration of peace.

“Jayhawkers now began to infest the country – deserters who plundered farms and houses in the absence of the men who were still fighting. It was a simple thing to steal cattle and other livestock and supplies from the defenseless women, carry the plunder across the Honey Island Swamp and into Louisiana where it could be sold. To combat this, the Home Militia was organized under the direction of Captain Rob Jones of Jones County and several of the Jayhawkers were captured in and around Picayune. Two were shot here and one, Bob Reed, is buried in front of the row of houses facing south, south of Mr. Crosby’s residence. The other, Charles Moody, lies in the location of Kimball’s old brick kiln.

“The close of the war found Kimball, like so many other former slaveholders almost bankrupt. So it was not until 1866, after the rumble of war had died away, that he was able to finish building the home he had started nearly ten years ago. The store, meantime had been burned; no one knows by whom, though Kimball himself suspected freed Negroes who had not then learned how to use their liberty. After rebuilding the store, Kimball resumed work on the new house.

“A German, a Mr. Huber, a master of the building art, was engaged to finish the house, and the cornice work and wainscoting bear witness that he was indeed an artist. In the wood-work above the fireplace in Mr. Kimball’s room, Huber carved a pair of clasped hands, said to symbolize the union of the North and South, though some there are who will tell you that these are the hands of the young violinist and her lover, locked in eternal unity. Both symbolisms are doubtless true. When Mr. Lamont Rowlands restored and remodeled the house into the present residence, he had this piece of wood-work removed and placed above the fireplace in the front living room, where two hands, locked together, are an expressive greeting to all guests in this hospitable home. This symbol of the friendship of North and South is peculiarly fitting in this lovely colonial southern home, in a spot typical of southern loveliness, which from the time it was relinquished by the old Choctaw Chief, has been cherished by Northerners, attracted and held here in the romance and beauty of this section.”