Margaret Wadlington Dinkins

by Nancy Hood Stone

Margaret, my paternal great grandmother, was the youngest of 14 children born to Mary Heslep and Mercer Wadlington. After they moved to Madison County, Mississippi, their land in Princeton, Kentucky, was sold to Princeton College. Margaret was only five years old when her father died of cholera in 1833.

She lived mostly in Mississippi and died in 1911 at Magenta Plantation in Washington County. Her writings include a story about how her parents fell in love and married in 1778 and a wonderful memoir about "running the Yankee blockade" to get necessary supplies for the family farm during the Civil War, when her husband (James Alexander Dinkins) was away at war.

The language and prejudices of the South in the 19th century are obvious in her writings, but try not too judge this feisty woman too harshly.

Note: Sometimes the last name is given two "d's", but the single "d" is used most often in my own old sources. There is also a "Watlington" spelling, going back to England.

(This memoir was sent to me by Hermine Dinkins Lamar, her granddaughter. The journey Margaret describes took place in 1864, after the fall of Vicksburg to Grant.)

HOW GRANDMOTHER DINKINS RAN THE BLOCKADE
by Margaret Wadlington Dinkins

"Tom," I called, "bring around the carriage!"

"Yes'm, Miss Margret, jes as soon as I dust off dem cushions."

In a few minutes, my four children and I were seated in the old-fashioned carriage on our way to Canton where Captain Singleton's Company in the Eighteenth Mississippi Regiment was in camp. Today the soldiers leave for Virginia and as we roll along on the brick-covered highway we meet carriage like our own, full of leave-takers.*

When we reach town we find a dense crowd around the courthouse square where the soldiers are drilling. Finding it impossible to get near enough to see them from the carriage, I decided to try it afoot. My husband is in the company and I must see how brave he looks in his new uniform.

Captain Singleton had just given any who wished an opportunity to step out of line. How I longed for James to step out, but no, he grasped his musket tighter. Two men step out and then the order to march is given, the band strikes up a lively air, and we follow the men to the depot for the last kiss, the last embrace.

The last car has moved out of sight, the streets are deserted. The last carriage of the plantation mistress with its ebony coachman has rolled out of town. The strength of despair dwells with these women of the lost cause. Lost, in the providence of God, before a blow was struck!

At every turn I missed my husband's love and protection. I knew nothing of practical life. Uncle Tobe had been accustomed to carrying on the field work, so we continued to make good crops of corn, cotton and sweet potatoes. "Taters" are apples of gold to our southern darkies.

I learned to card, spin and weave, but this was such slow work that, as the months filed by, there was a distressing unequality between demand and supply. The blockade had killed the cotton market, at the same time cutting of four luxuries, such as flour, sugar and coffee. Then we stopped the cultivation of cotton and planted instead, wheat and sugar cane. We made coffee out of dried sweet potatoes and parched corn.

Soon Vicksburg surrendered and we lived in daily dread of a raid, so I was not encouraged to plant anything. In fact, most of the Negroes had gone to the Yankees or had taken to the woods. Extravagant reports reached our plantation of government rations. Letters from the Front were passed from house to house. My husband had not been wounded, yet I expected to hear at any moment of his death.

My oldest child, a daughter, was seventeen. One morning while standing before a wood fire, her dress caught and in a second she was a mass of flames. My colored mammy threw a big woolen blanket around her, smothering the flames, but not until her skin was blistered. No medicine could be procured, as this was during the winter of '64.

Getting desperate, I decided to try to get into Vicksburg with a bale of cotton to sell. A friend who wished to sell one or two of her diamonds joined me in the enterprise, so we proceeded to get up an outfit in which to make a "state entrance" into Vicksburg, fifty miles to the west. It consisted of a wagon of ancient pattern, drawn by two old lean mules. Neighbors on every side assembled to see us off and to wish us success on our "fool's errand." The wagon was loaded with the cotton, hay for the mules, food for ourselves, and above was the frame over the wagon covered with towels, for we expected to camp out.

My friend and I sat on the hay leaning against the bale of cotton, while my little boy of twelve sat on a plank across the front to drive. Not much resemblance to the carriage and the ebony coachman, you say. The carriage had long ago given up its leather for shoes and the coachman had gone off to the Yankees.

The trip would have been a dangerous one in summer. It seemed almost like suicide in winter. The roads were like one long streak of red mortar. Old Uncle Tobe marked, "Dem mules most picked up deir own traks." In the worst places, little Lewis would get on one of the mule's backs and use both whip and spur.

The first night we were so fortunate as to reach the home of an old friend. Gates were barred and doors locked. I had to call at the top of my voice, "It's your old school friend, Margaret Wadlington! " Doors and gates flew open at that and there was no mistaking the welcome.

The second night found us at the home of another old friend, and the third day we entered the region overrun by Sherman's Raiders. The stillness of a death chamber brooded over the desolate farms. I had no more friends along the way, so that third night shelter soon became a problem. Toward night we drove up to the home of Dr. Richardson, who at first refused us lodging, but upon finding that we were really not spies, relented and became very cordial. His premises had been thoroughly sacked -- not even a rooster left to herald the dawn. He himself was too old for service but his son-in-law, a surgeon in the Confederate Army, had recently made his escape from some Federal scouts. On this account, the family was under strict surveillance.

Here, we met an old citizen of Vicksburg who had passed through the siege, witnessed the capitulation and, after taking the oath of allegiance, was allowed to go and come through the lines as he chose. He seemed very much interested in my venture and advised me not to attempt to get into Vicksburg, but to go to a point on the Big Black River where there was an encampment of Federal troops and a trading post. He was kind enough to give me a letter to a Mr. Barbour, a cotton buyer who he said would assist me.

We left the next morning in a very hopeful mood and reached the river at ten o'clock. A pontoon bridge was the only way of crossing the river to the Post on the other side. Our mules were too jaded to object to this unusual method of crossing but it took all of Lewis' whipping and shouting to make them climb the steep, muddy bank opposite.

The Provost Marshal questioned us sternly until I exhibited the letter to Mr. Barbour. Then he allowed us to pass. That gentleman, Mr. Barbour, was not only kind and courteous, but advised me how to proceed with the sale of my cotton, saying that he would give a quarter of a cent more a pound than the highest bidder. He also told my friend how to dispose of her diamond.

It was necessary for me to cry off my cotton myself. I felt my courage oozing out at my fingertips. Mr. Barbour stood by me, however, putting words into my mouth until the last bid was made. Then he gave me the promised quarter of a cent more. So it was knocked down to him at fifty-six and three-quarter cents a pound. How I blessed that man. Blessings be on all his descendants. My bale brought three hundred and fifty-one dollars and eighty-five cents. It seemed a small fortune. I proceeded to invest in comforts for the home.

In the meantime, Lewis had been invited to take a seat on a camp stool. He wore a suit made out of a blanket dyed in a concoction of plum root and sweet gum bark. When he left home, one knee of his trousers bore an artistic patch. When he reached his destination, the other needed one. So the proud little fellow crossed his legs and covered the top knee with his cap, which was fashioned by a sister's deft fingers from the skirt of his father's old coat. Of course, one after another would pass, lift the cap, and say with a grin, "Aye, aye, Bud." After several repetitions, he threatened to report them to an officer, this only provoking more hilarity.

"Where's your dad, Bud?"

"He's in Lee's army."

"So-ho, so he is only one of Lee's Miserables, is he?"

"No, he is one of Lee's brave men and you old blue-nose Yankees would never whip them if you didn't have so many more men." The child was in a perfect passion of rage and asked to be shown to an officer's tent.

The officer listened with apparent gravity to the little fellow's account of ill usage and ordered the men to be put under arrest. The men understood the joke and concealed themselves near enough to see the end of the little comedy. Questions brought out the history of the trousers, the cap, the incidences of the trip, and amusement changed to interest.

"Bud, you've been treated badly and if you will call it square, I'll give you three dollars and a new hat for your cap."

"No, sir, my cap is not for sale."

This made the officer more determined to get the cap as a souvenir. "Find your mother and tell her to come here."

It filled me with pleasure to hear him call Lewis a brave little man. "I have no son, Madam, and if you will allow me, I should like to give a new suit to the boy whose counterpart I should like to have in my own home."

I could not refuse so generous an offer and begged him to keep the cap as a souvenir if he still wished it. In a few minutes, officer and boy emerged from a suiter's tent. I hardly recognized my little boy, so resplendent was he in a new suit, new hat and red-topped boots. The soldiers then carne out of hiding and gave three cheers for the "little Reb."

I felt my prejudice slipping off. They loaded my wagon, assisted us in crossing the river, with cordial wishes for a safe return home. By such as this is bitterness sweetened.

The first night on our return trip home we asked for lodging at a grand old Southern mansion, whose portico was supported by carved marble columns. The owner was afraid we had smallpox so would not let us in until we gave positive proof of non-exposure.

The only food in the house was meal and potatoes, and when we shared our good things with them the old gentleman said, "Ah, Madam, I feel ten years younger to have eaten two meals of palatable food."

We were in constant danger of meeting raiders or being held up by our own starving people, but we managed to reach home safely, after an absence of ten days. Never was an absence so fraught with incidents to both sides.

My husband had come home on a furlough and Sherman's Army had dashed through the country. If I had not gotten off with my cotton just when I did, it would have been burned. When my husband was asked what he was doing there, he replied, "I am at home with my family." "Well, what are you doing with that old Confederate hat and coat on?" "I have no other." He was not made a prisoner.

My daughter who had been severely burned was very much frightened by the soldiers crowding around her bed, but they only said, "Poor child," and left the house.

The raiders stripped the place of livestock so my two old mules were now treasures.

What fun the children had unloading the fairy wagon -- sugar, coffee, salt, hams, calico and shoes, not forgetting the doll with real hair. Mammy cooked a substantial meal and coffee was served to all the neighbors who came to rejoice with us. A friend, growing stouter despite the hard fare, offered to exchange a handsome black dress, silk, for one of calico. I made out of it a party dress for my daughter, to wear when the boys got an opportunity to slip in at home. We would hold high carnival. The first time she wore the dress, she met a gallant soldier whom she married when the cruel war was over.

My husband soon had to return to the Front and I saw him no more until after the surrender.

"What did I think of the results of the war? you ask. Well, it was such a struggle to make ends meet that I gave never a thought to results.

*Her husband served in battles around Richmond, both battles of Bull Run, and was with Lee at the surrender in Appomatox. When he returned, they had six more children, my grandmother, Lolah Dinkins Hood, being the youngest. James Alexander Dinkins died in 1893. Margaret lived until 1911.

This is a story Margaret Wadlington Dinkins ( 1828-1911 ) wrote down. It is a story of her maternal grandparents, her own mother's marriage, and their coming to Mississippi. (This account was sent to me by Hermine Lamar, Margaret's granddaughter, in 1990. She had received it from "Aunt Hattie's g.grandson, Richard Shaw, at Sidon, Miss.")

As far back as I know anything of my family history dates to 1778 when my grandparents Heslep were married. I do not know my grandmother's maiden name.

Grandfather Heslep took his bride (Mary) to a log house on the French Broad river in North Carolina. Grandfather Heslep was a Patriot. The mountain patriots of N.C. were called the rear guard of the Revolution.

After the war was over, rumors of rich lands farther west were alluring to the mountain people. Long grandfather resisted the temptation, but when my mother was 18 he sold his land and part of his stock and they started out in covered wagons on a journey they knew not where it would end. Progress was slow, roads mostly trails and no animal so slow as an ox.

Weeks passed and grandmother was almost resigned to spending her life in a covered wagon, when they reached Princeton, Kentucky, and camped by a large spring called Sink Hole Spring. Here lived my father, Mercer Wadlington, a pre-emptineer. He had built a log house on public land which gave him the right to purchase in preference to other applicants.

Mercer Wadlington loved at first sight Mary Heslep, and they were married under a beautiful tree in 1798. Among wedding presents were a rag carpet, homespun counterpanes, bed linens, quilts that were a work of art, and a brood mare.

After the marriage my grandfather started again in quest of a house. My father and mother lived in Kentucky until their house became too small for the increasing family, then one day he packed his saddle bags and rode into Mississippi on a prospecting tour. Being pleased with the country he entered a large tract of land in Madison County [near Canton].

On his return trip he fell in with a Mr. Norfleet of Memphis and they rode some days together. He became ill near Memphis and Mr. Norfleet asked him to stay with him until able to travel. When he could resume the journey he offered to pay for the time spent in Mr. Norfleet's home, but he said no -- should he have another son to name him Cordell Norfleet for him. The next child was a son and bore the name of the man who had been a good Samaritan indeed. My brother was killed by being thrown from a horse, at 21 years of age. My father sold his land in Kentucky to Princeton College and moved his family to Mississippi. Cordel and I were born in Mississippi. I was the last of 14 children. [Note: Margaret Wadlington Dinkins had 17 children of her own, my grandmother Lolah being the last.]
Lolah Dinkins Hood

Lolah Dinkins Hood (1874-1943)

 

There my father prospered and became a man of means.

In 1833 he with two neighbors rode horseback to Vicksburg. Here he contracted cholera and died on his way home.

I remember him slightly. I was only 5 when he died. He was tall with black hair and eyes.

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