The Historic Home of the Illustrious Confederate Vice-President

Overlooking the little town of Crawfordville in the distance, there stands on the green slope of the hill, directly in front of Liberty Hall, a statue of the wondrous little giant among statesmen Alexander H. Stephens. The mortal ashes of the Great Commoner sleep peacefully to the left of the monument. Nor is there a spot of ground anywhere on Georgia's wide bosom in which the ashes of Mr. Stephens could rest more fittingly than beneath the trees of Liberty Hall. For, here it was that in life he always found balm when wearied with the feverish strife and turmoil of politics; and there it was that, in measures of abundance, seasoned with wisdom's salt, he dispensed a hospitality which has made his fireside fragrant among American hearthstones.

The monument to Mrs. Stephens is an impressive structure, measuring a total elevation of thirty-six feet. On three sloping blocks of granite, which form a secure foundation, there rises a handsome monolith, designed and executed by Theodore Markwalter, of Augusta. It is a work of art, embellished on each of the four sides with sculptured wreaths of laurel. The marble statue which surmounts this splendid pile was carved in Italy, from the finest quality of stone to be found in the most renowned of quarries. The figure represents Mr. Stephens in the characteristic pose of the orator. It portrays him in the prime of life, as he is supposed to have looked when he delivered his great speech in Congress, on January 15, 1855, at which time he contrasted Ohio and Georgia.

There was quite a strong sentiment in favor of depicting Mr. Stephens as he was best known to the present generation, seated in his familiar roller-chair. But Dr. Beazley, his home physician, recalled a conversation with Mr. Stephens, in which the latter stated that he disliked to be pictured as an invalid; that he did not wish his countrymen to remember him as one who was maimed and crippled; that such an exhibition of his infirmities would only excite pity; and that he preferred to be recalled in after years as he looked when at his best. Of course, as soon as the views of Mr. Stephens were thus made known any thought of the invalid's chair as an appropriate memorial was instantly abandoned.

On the front of the monument appears the following inscription:

Born February 11, 1812. Member of the Georgia House of Representatives, 1836 to 1842; member of Georgia State Senate, 1842; member of United States House of Representatives, 1843 to 1859; retired from Congress, 1859; vice-president of the Confederate States, 1861 to 1865; United States Senator-elect from Georgia, 1866; member United States House of Representatives, 1873 to 1882; Governor of Georgia, 1882. Died in Atlanta, Sunday morning, March 4, 1883.

Author of a Constitutional View of the War between the States and of a Compendium of the History of the United States, from their Earliest Settlement till 1872.

Underneath, on the pedestal, is inscribed:

ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS

On the rear of the monument, looking toward Liberty Hall, the following words are lettered:

The defender of civil and religious liberty. He coveted and took from the republic nothing save glory. Non sibi, sed aliis.

On the left side of the monument appear the following extracts from the Augusta speech, delivered in 1859. The selections were made by two Georgians, who were bound by close ties to the illustrious dead Hon. Horace M. Holden and Hon. Patrick Walsh. The extracts read:

I am afraid of nothing on earth, or above the earth, or under the earth, except to do wrong. The path of duty I shall ever endeavor to travel, "fearing no evil and dreading no consequences."

Here sleep the remains of one who dared to tell the people they were wrong when he believed so, and who never intentionally deceived a friend or betrayed an enemy.

On the right side of the monument is inscribed the following tribute from the pen of Richard Malcolm Johnston, a life-long friend:

Throughout life a sufferer in body, mind, and spirit, he was a signal example of wisdom, courage, fortitude, patience, forbearance, and unwearying charity.

In the decrepitude of age, called to be Governor of the State, he died while in the performance of the work of his office, and it seemed fit that having survived parents, brethren, sisters, and most of the dear companions of youth, he should lay his dying head on the bosom of the people.

The funeral of Mr. Stephens in Atlanta was an occasion long to be remembered. It was held in the hall of the House of Representatives and was marked by the presence of General Toombs who, with tear-bedimmed eyes, and in a voice husky with emotion, bade farewell to his life-long friend. This was the last public appearance of the great Mirabeau. He survived Mr. Stephens by only two years. Following these sad obsequies, the body of the Great Commoner was placed temporarily in the Cotting vault, in Oakland Cemetery, at the State capitol; but, on June 10, 1885, a committee of citizens from the town of Crawfordville brought the remains from Atlanta to Liberty Hall for final interment in Georgia's soil. The casket was accompanied by an escort of distinguished Georgians, including Governor Henry D. McDaniel, ex-Governor James S. Boynton, Captain Henry Jackson and Georgia's two United States Senators, Joseph E. Brown and Alfred H. Colquitt. The body was met at the depot by an immense concource of people, not withstanding the dark clouds which overhung the afternoon sky.

Plans for holding the exercixes on the lawn were abandoned, due to the inclement weather; and, in the auditorium of the Baptist Church, from the doors of which hundreds were turned away for lack of room, occurred the last solemn and impressive rites over the ashes of the illustrious dead. Hon. George T. Barnes, Congressman-elect from Georgia and president of the Stephens Memorial Association, delivered the principal address. Brief remarks were also made by Governor McDaniel and Captain Henry Jackson, after which the body was tenderly borne to the new-made grave on the lawn, and there committed finally into Georgia's keeping until the resurrection.

Eight years later on May 24, 1893 with august ceremonies, the monument to the Great Commoner was unveiled on the green hillside, in front of Liberty Hall. There were no clouds in the soft vernal sky overhead. In every respect the day was an ideal one; and the number of spectators in attendance was roughly estimated at 10,000. Long before sunrise, every country road leading into Crawfordville was alive with vehicles. Hundreds of people came by rail.

Over the arched gateway, leading to the famous old mansion, were draped the national colors. Both the platform for the speakers and the front veranda of the Stephens home, displayed the patriotic emblems, thus attesting the broad statesmanship which characterized the Southern Confederacy's former Vice-President. On the platform a number of distinguished guests were assembled, representing every section of the State. Hon. Horace M. Holden, afterwards judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia, then a young man just entering the legal profession, gave an outline history of the movement. He also read a number of letters of regret. The president of the Memorial Association, Hon. George T. Barnes, having been detained in Washington, D.C., the vice-president, Hon. Patrick Walsh, introduced the orator of the day, Hon. Thomas M. Norwood, of Savannah, whose splendid address was a masterpiece of eloquence, characterized by deep emotional power, as well as by keen analytical insight.

Another feature of the occasion was a poem from the pen of Chief Justice Logan E. Bleckley, read by Mr. Walsh.

At the proper signal, Miss Mary Corry, a great-niece of Mr. Stephens, drew aside the veil. There is a choice bit of romance in this connectionl. Within a few days afer the unveiling, Miss Corry, whose sweet face beamed in the background of this historic scene became the beautiful bride of Judge Holden. Subtler and finer cords than any which were seen by the vast throng of spectators were silently knitting two lives together; and thus through the sombre woof of an occasion which touched many to tears ran the golden threads of Cupid's net.

The officers of the Stephens Memorial Association at the time of the unveiling were as follows: George T. Barnes, president; Patrick Walsh, vice-president; M.T. Andrews, local vice-president; W.O. Holden, secretary; W.R. Gurn, treasurer; A.G. Beazley, corresponding secretary; R.J. Reid, director; W.J. Norton, director; J.N. Chapman, director; T.J. Harrison, director; and W.A. Legwin, director. The officers of the Ladies' Auxiliary were: Mrs. James W. Asbury, president; Mrs. Casper Myer, vice-president; Mrs. W.J. Norton, treasurer; and Mrs. A.G. Beazley, secretary.

To this list must be added also the name of Miss Mary A.H. Gay, of Decatur, Ga., a lady who, with the zeal of Peter the Hermit, canvassed the State from border to border and for nine years gave to this monumental crusade an ardor of devotion which never once waned or wearied. It may be said in conclusion that the Memorial Association sought to accomplish three things, viz.: the purchase of Liberty Hall, the erection of the Stephens monument, and the establishment of a college to perpetuate the great statesman's deep interest in the cause of education. Two of these objects have already been successfully attained; but the third yet remains to be realized. There has never lived in Georgia a man of equal means who has defrayed the college expenses of a large number of ambitious youths; and the State will owe the memory of the Great Commoner an unredeemed obligation until the Stephens High School at Crawfordville is made a college, in honor of the illustrious sage of Liberty Hall.

On July 12, 1912, the deferred centennial exercises in honor of the great statesman's birth were made the occasion for giving a renewed impetus to the movement for establishing the proposed college at Crawfordville. Judge Henry Lumpkin and Hon. Thomas E. Watson, both of whom were among the speakers, subscribed $1,000 each to a fund to be used for this purpose. Miss Gay, of Decatur, contributed the copyright of her book, "Life in Dixie," which Mr. Watson agreed to advertise free of charge in the Jeffersonian; and citizens of the county pledged a sum of $10,000 for the proposed school. Judge Horace M. Holden was requested by the Stephens Chapter of the U.D.C. To present the matter to the State Convention of the U.D.C., a commission which he readily undertook. The result was a most enthusiastic endorsement of the enterprise by the Georgia Division. Mrs. W.D. Lamar, the State President, was furthermore instructed to urge co-operation on the part of the General Conference, which was soon therafter to meet in Richmond. On October 20, 1913, a horizontal tablet of marble was placed over the grave of the Great Commoner by the historic Gate City Guard of Atlanta, an organization to which Mrs. Stephens was warmly attached, and one of the first companies to enlist for the Civil War in 1861. Short addresses were made on this occasion by a number of well-known Georgians, among them Colonel Joseph F. Burke, a former captain of the company and organizer of the Old Guard, an honorary band composed of survivors; Hon. J.R. Smith, State School Commissioner M.L. Brittain, State Historian and Compiler of Records L.L. Knight, Mr. Joseph A. McCord, Hon. George M. Napier and others.

This description of the Great Commoner's home is from the pen of his intimate friend and biographer Richard M. Johnston, author of the famous "Dukesboro Tales." Says he: Liberty Hall is just beyond the village of Crawfordville, in a skirt of native forest. Large oaks and hickories, interspersed with many fine transplanted trees and choice exotics, are scattered over an enclosure of about three acres, casting a delightful shade over a grassy lawn. The house is a spacious one, furnished with elegant simplicity; and, at the rear, separated by a piazza, are the owner's study and library, the latter more richly stored than is usual among Southern country gentlemen. His law library contains about fifteen hundred volumes; his miscellaneous library about five thousand, collected during many years, at a cost of more than sixteen thousand dollars.

This is probably the only mansion in the country where the domestic and social arrangements are entirely unaffected by the sickness or health of the master of the establishment. Visitors come and go, partake of his hospitality, make themselves at home, whether or not he is able to receive them in person. Almost every train brings coming guests and bears away departing ones; dinner is served at one o'clock; late visitors take supper and early ones breakfast; and as night trains are sure to bring one or more who take what sleep the time allows, the breakfast table always presents new faces. It was the habit of Mr. Stephens, during his latter years, to rise at nine, and after dressing to be rolled in his easy chair out upon the piazza, where he usually called for a game of whist, an amusement which had grown to be a habit with him and which helpted to solace many an hour of suffering. The mid-day meal was the only one which he took in the dining room, at which time he sat at the head of the table. Dinner over, he engaged in conversation, or played whist; and at seven he went to bed.

For many years, during court week, it was the habit of Mr. Stephens to entertain the entire visiting bar. As for the people of Taliaferro County, there was not a soul who did not feel at home in the house of Mrs. Stephens, who was not free to enter it whenever he pleased and to remain an inmate as long as he liked. Though his personal manner of living was of the simplest kind, it can easily be surmised that his personal expenses were quite burdensome; and besides the sums which he bestowed upon the education of young men, he expended much of his income in gifts of charity to the poor.

But little change, to the eye of the guest at least, was made in Liberty Hall after the war. The same servants were there, and the same order of domestic economy. Harry was still at the head of outdoor affairs; Eliza, his wife, was still cook and laundress; and the children of these servants did the housework. When we drove out in the afternoon, Pluck, who had then, like his predecessor, Rio, became blind, and old Frank, were lifted into the carriage beside the master, from whom they could not bear to be separated. When night came, and Harry had put Mr. Stephens to bed, some newspapers were spread at the foot, on which Pluck mounted to sleep for the night. A small riding-whip was stuck under the master's pillow, with which he could repress any encroachments of his companion. Then the guest would read aloud until Mr. Stephens had fallen asleep, after which he retired to his own apartment.

When Mr. Stephens was absent from home, Harry remained at Liberty Hall, and took care of everything with the fidelity which always characterized him. The only alteration in his domestic arrangements was in the management of his plantation, which, after the war, he divided into a number of small farms, most of which were occupied by his former slaves. Old "Aunt Mat" and her husband, "Uncle Dick," both superannuated, remained with him as long as they lived. There was the same simplicity as before in everything, and the same freedom from constraint which induced him to give his home the name it bears: Liberty Hall.1

Better still is the picture furnished by another biographer, who writes thus:2 Half-hid by the magnificent grove of oaks in which it stands, on an elevated hill, is the unpretentious mansion. There are eight rooms in the main building; and two more, with a wide veranda, have been built to the rear. From the front porch, a door opens into the hall or passage, its floor spread with oil cloth in mosaic, and without furniture, except for an iron hatrack and a giagantic barometer. On the right of the hall is the parlor, its carpet of green shades frosted with gold. On the mantel is an engraving of the United States Senate, during the great speech of Daniel Webster, in 1830; there is also a small bust of Senator Berrien; and a fine cast by Saunders, intended as a model for a statue of General Oglethorpe. Lastly, a cigar case, the much prized gift of a lady friend.

On the right and left of the fireplace are fine old family portraits. On the wall hang two medallions, one of Mrs. Steele, of the Revolution, offering a purse to General Greene; and one of Oglethorpe, with curly wig, looking like Milton, but the neck fractured. Besides there are a lithograph of Mr. Stephens himself and an excellent likeness of his life-long friend, the superb Robert Toombs. Upon a small table is the large family Bible, which contains the usual entries, not only of members of the immediate household, but also of plantation servants; and, resting upon a pillar of green and white marble, is a bust of the great statesman himself, among the very first executed by the young artist, J.Q.A. Ward. With the sofa, easy chairs, and other ordinary drawing-room furniture, these were all which met the eye upon entering the neatly papered room.

Opposite the parlor is the dining-room. It contains an extension table, an ancient sideboard, a silent clock on the mantel-piece, before whose modest face no hands are held, and a frozen traveler watched by St. Bernard dogs, displayed upon the fire screen. Next a pantry. Then a bed-room, carefully reserved for an occasional visitor. There is another bedroom next to the parlor. The upper rooms, four in number, are neatly furnished and kept for the guests, male and female, who often come and are always made to feel at home. In the back passage there is always a cedar pail of pure cold water; and, connecting the two rooms built to the rear, with the main building, runs a wide veranda, with massive square pillars. The first of the rear rooms is the library, fifteen by twenty feet. Many rare books belong here, but numbers of them are in the hands of borrowers. Numerous trunks contain the accumulated letters of a lifetime; and a bronze bust of Daniel Webster looks gloomily down from a shelf over the inner door.

Next is the sanctum sanctorum. If the visitor come in winter, a light tap is given at the door, and a quick but pleasant voice bids him enter. All is open in summer. There is a neat carpet of flowered green, and a low French bedstead draped in white. The walls, too, are white. There is a bureau and a mirror, besides a cot-bed for the waiting-boy, Tim. Over the mantel is Brady's imperial photograph [of Mr. Stephens], taken in 1855. It is flanked on the right by "Faith at the Cross," a picture given to him while at Fort Warren by a much valued lady friend; on the left by an embroidered watch-stand and a pair of lamps. Then a bookcase, with broken glass, and bundles of paper in great seeming disorder. But the owner can readily find what he wishes, and before the confusion incident to the late war, no statesman kept such perfect order among so many various papers. There is a little round-top writing table, with eyelet press. Papers and scraps are on it, but still more are in the little table drawer, and the mind of the owner is an index to them all, if they are not disturbed; and any distrubance greatly annoys him. At the court-house is his old office, and another library, to which, however, he seldom goes.

On the worsted hearth-rug of this room, in winter, and on the grass in the yard, in summer, lounges a huge brown mastiff named Troup. Near this large specimen of the canine species is usually to be seen a little black terrier, with a chronic growl; he is called Frank. Sometimes a restless yellow pup intrudes, but he is generally sent away with the proper rebuke from his grave seniors. He bears the appropriate name of Sir Bingo Binks, one of the characters of Sir Walter Scott [St. Ronan's Well]. Rio, the famous poodle dog, for years the favorite pet and companion of the great statesman, both at home and abroad, has had, since 1863, a dreamless sleep in the garden. The red clay mound, which marks the spot of his burial, still awaits the tablet for which an appropriate epitaph was once written:

Here rest the remains Of what in life was a satire on the human race And an honor to his own --- A faithful dog.

On the left of the fireplace of the room, in winter, and on the veranda in summer, is generally seen the owner of the premises: a man known from the St. Lawrence to the Rio Grande. The face is so kind it is almost handsome; and many years of high thought and patient suffering have given it the peculiar look of the maturely good which is almost beautiful. He now weighs ninety-two pounds, but weighed only eight-four when he began the practice of law.



1 R.M. Johnston and W.H. Browne, in Life of Alexander H. Stephens.
2 Henry Cleveland, in Life of Alexander H. Stephens. 

Source:
Knight, Lucian Lamar. Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials and Legends, Atlanta, Georgia, Byrd Printing Company, 1913-1914. pp. 142-153

Photographs: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record


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