Old Times in the Old South

Once upon a time ours was a land of gallant gentlemen and fair ladies.  Gaiety and opulence were commonplace.  It was almost like another world, where the elite lived in luxury and the slave toiled to serve his master.  It was almost like a dream now. No one is alive who remembers the time before the war.   Few even survive who listened to  first hand  tales of the old South.  When the South collapsed following the Civil War, some memories endured, particularly on one Twiggs County plantation.

Inglehurst was built before the Civil War by Dr. Henry Bunn and his wife Nancy Thorp.  Their daughter Harriet Maria Bunn married first to General Hartwell Tarver, for whom the community of Tarversville is named.  Bunn was an early minister of Richland Baptist Church.  Harriet remarried to Frederick Davis Wimberly.

Bunn built his home in one of Georgia's wealthiest rural communities, one which was home to the Tarvers, Wimberlys, Slappeys, Faulks, Bunns, Solomons and Glovers.  Of typical colonial style ante bellum construction, this magnificent home featured a separate library, which housed many important books and manuscripts and was decorated with portraits of the Wimberly and Bunn families.  One striking feature of the interior of the main house was the mahogany paneling, which was taken from Dr. Bunn's ancestral home in Virginia along with pine and oak boards from his own plantation.

After the Civil War, the home was occupied by Frederick Davis Wimberly, Jr., a son of Frederick Davis Wimberly, but a step son of Harriet Bunn Tarver Wimberly.  Just after his graduation from Mercer University, Wimberly was elected a second lieutenant in the local company.  For gallantry in action at the cataclysmic battle of Sharpsburg, Lt. Wimberly was promoted to captain of his regiment.  Wimberly returned to a home which had escaped the torches of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's army but one which had not escaped the ravages of economic depression.  His bride of five years, Miss Isrelene Minter, was a daughter of Col. William F. Minter, who was killed in the last battle of the Civil War at the age of sixty.

The oldest child, William Minter Wimberly, was born just as his father's regiment was engaged in vicious fighting in Northern Virginia and Maryland.  Warren, the second son, was born at the end of the war.  Clara, the couple's first daughter, was born in 1868.  The second girl, Isrelene was born two years later.  The last Wimberly child, Frederick Davis Wimberly, III, was born in 1874.

Life on Inglehurst Plantation was tough, but not quite as tough as on the surrounding smaller plantations and farms.  Many of the family's slaves remained on the plantation, serving in the house and operating tenant farms surrounding the main house.  William Minter Wimberly went on to a successful political and legal career.  He was most well known as the counsel for the Macon, Dublin and Savannah railroad and for his service  in the Georgia legislature.

Clara Wimberly grew up in the hard times following the war.  Still surrounded by many of the plantation's former slaves,   Clara observed the customs of her family's servants and workers.  It was said the Clara inherited all of the charms and hospitality of the south's finest women.  

On a trip to New York to visit relatives, Clara attended a performance of Negro songs, which despite the distinctive nasal tones, fondly reminded her of the days of her youth.  Clara increasingly became interested in the customs of the Negro.  She told stories in their dialect adding a banjo to her monologues to capture their musical heritage.    She reminisced about the days of Inglehurst after the war.   One of her most well received skits was "Ole Miss and Sweetheart," in which she portrayed the stereotypical mammy of the old South.  Playing a mammy came easy to Clara, who drew upon her memories of her own mammies.  The "Ole Miss" in the story was her own mother.  During the war, Miss Isrelene  presided over Inglehurst.  She became President of the Soldier's Aid Society.  It was said that "no one, white or black, whatever his condition, was ever turned empty handed from her door, and at her board, where governors and senators have sat as honored guests, the wandering pilgrims of the road have received always an ever tendered courtesy."

Clara was fascinated with customs of the Negro, especially their dances like "The Cake Walk" and "The Holy Dance."  She began to develop artistic interpretations of poetry, prose and song.  Her interest became so intense that Clara packed her belongings and headed to New York where she planned to pursue a career as an impersonator of female Negroes.  

Just as she arrived in New York, she received word that her mother was gravely ill.  Clara rushed home and comforted her mother until her death in 1906.  Other relatives returned home for a brief period of mourning, only to hastily return to their own homes.  Clara loved Inglehurst.  She couldn't leave.  Just like her mother, it was her duty to maintain the home during times of trouble.  

But something was wrong.  As she walked through the dark house, it's windows shuttered with the pall of her mother's death. There was no joy and no music.  The house's dutiful servants stoically carried out their daily chores.   Clara soon realized that she had enough of gloom and depression, and with her gentle, but firm, voice, ordered all of the windows thrown open.  She restored the library and spent many fond times there.  The servants were revived "now that Miss Clara was carrying the keys to the house, just like her mother, whom they affectionately called "Ole Miss." Aided by her brother, Dr. Warren Wimberly, Clara restored the home to its ante bellum grandeur.   Her younger sister and an unnamed aunt also resided at Inglehurst.  

Tragically, just after Christmas in 1909, Inglehurst burned to the ground.  Not a single remnant of a memento of the family's heirlooms could be found among the ashes.   Minter and Warren died at relatively young ages.  Isrelene married Eugene Robbins and moved far away to Selma, Alabama.    With her days at Inglehurst behind her, Clara decided to settle down.  At the age of fifty-two, Clara married Mark Cooper Pope, a brother of her brother Minter's widow.  Today there are no traces of the stately Inglehurst, nothing there to remind us of the genial days of noble cavaliers and grand ladies of the Old South.


Brandon said…
I'm a Bunn, descendant. I'm African American but my family had to adopt the last name of our slave owner, Dr. Henry Bunn. My dad and I kept having a conversation about family history and the plantation we've come from. None of our family has ever seen it before, except today. I kept tracing back my family's history on every solitary thing my dad has told me, which would also include proof of all data. Now that we know our family history since 1800, we've found the very plantation that kept my family enslaved. I'm not sure how to feel. If I should be upset because I've found the very place my family was trying to run away but never forget or if I should be happy that we've found this place that was hell to my folks but in a way home/prison to many of us. I'm truly interested in visiting this place because I feel the pain that my folks had to endure and what it was like to be on this land. Kinda interesting. They knew the land better than our slave master, Dr. Henry Bunn. I'm interested in visiting this place but want to show my ancestors that we've never forgotten about our people. I keep looking at this photo because I'm trying to envision my folks walking up this porch when granted access. I think about how my folks would assist in preparing this how for his Master's gatherings. I often think about if my folks would run away or did something the Master didn't approve of, how they would get beat or killed. Foots cut off, tongue, shackled, basically treated less than an animal. Please don't let society tell you that slavery was good because it truly wasn't if you were black or African descent. It was absolutely horrible. They've worked their asses off to grow towards freedom but also worked hard at staying alive. See, it wasn't easy for them. They wonder what's happening with our relationships with police officers or people in authority. Sometimes, and to be quite honest, I still haven't forgiven slavery. I just feel my ancestors hurting and it's like we're supposed to just forget about what truly happened to us. I don't take out part of my inner anger on anyone. Young people, while we're busy living our lives, let's all pay homage to our ancestors and live up to our family names. Let's all use our minds and grow. Keep your circle small and close. Find your roots. Know where you come from so we know how to properly move forward. While we're still trying to figure out the next move on how we can grow (come up, lol) and start loving your family. Get curious. Start talking to the elders of your family. It's actually pretty cool. Hurts sometimes when you see them getting older and having more problems but we can't leave them. Make sure your last name is good. Bring no shame to one's family. Your name is something that we have to protect and carry on. Do your best to be a good parent. Get to know God (It's incredible. I'm still learning. I'm not the best Christian because I've some things I'm trying to fix in my life. I'm sorry, I can't hide. I've got to fix my life on many ways. Our biggest enemy was our minds. We need to get stronger and breathe. You know, I just don't want to forget about where I come from. I promise you, on some serious stuff, when I'm going through something, my intermediate family be right there for me. I love that. This photo is devastatingly, beautiful.