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Lancaster County SC Genealogy

Desdemona Ivy Baker's Memories of Reconstruction

by Louise Pettus

In 1915, Desdemona V. Ivy Baker shared her memories of Reconstruction with fellow members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She was then living in Georgia, but her memories were of life on the Ivy plantation on the Catawba River north of Van Wyck in Lancaster County.

Born April 10, 1855, she was barely 10 years old when the Civil War ended. Her father, Rev. Adam Ivy, was a planter and slave owner. Her parents, 11 sisters and 2 brothers lived in a big 10-room home of vernacular Greek Revival architecture that was added to in the 1920s. The house, known as "Ivy Place," is still occupied by descendants.

Desdemona clearly remembered her eldest brother, James Morrow Ivy, leaving South Carolina College immediately after secession to join the Confederate Army. James was severely wounded at the battle of Seven Pines but survived and later moved to Rock HIll, where he became intendant (mayor), introduced futures trading in cotton to the area, and founded The Herald. The youngest brother, Adam Clark Ivy, was too young to serve.

Her memories were vivid. "For weeks after the surrender you might see long lines of straggling, ragged footsore men plodding their weary way along the highways, bound for distant homes, if such a desolated country could be said to offer homes."

The Ivys took in any soldier who found his way to them. "My mother cooked whole hams and great loaves of bread and kept the big pot of parched wheat coffee ever ready to the hungry, while her hands never tired of dressing wounds."

Desdemona could remember holding the basin while her mother washed the long neglected wounds. She further recalled that "often their trousers were split to the knees and they were barefoot and sometimes polluted with vermin." But Desdemona said that they were polite and "were from our universities, law schools and medical colleges and belonged to the wealth and refinement of the Old South."

The Ivy plantation was off the beaten path and untouched by the torch or depredations of Union soldiers. But an older sister, Sarah Susan, who was 33, and alone with small chidren while her husband, J.W. Twitty, was off to war, had her home burned. Horror stories abounded. One story Desdemona never forgot was the firing of a Columbia home where the owner was ill. The widow fled and gave birth to a child on the street.

Most of the former slaves on the Ivy plantation signed a contract to work cotton the following year. The contract called for the ex-slave to receive one-third of the sale price. But some signed contracts with other planters who offered one-fourth or one-fifth of the crop because they thought that a larger amount than one-third.

An "old mammy" surprised the family by going to Charlotte and complaining to Union soldiers stationed there that the Blacks were being "dogged" about their work. The Union soldiers interpreted that remark as meaning that Reverand Ivy set dogs upon the Blacks, rather than that the workers were nagged to keep them busy. The mammy's son "rode off on my brother's fine horse," and a year later wrote his mother to tell Jim Ivy that the find horse was none the worse for a change of armies. Jim Ivy's fine horse, which had been a wedding present from his father, was never seen again.

After the election of 1876, Wade Hampton, who was elected South Carolina governor, went to the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes as president of the United States. Hampton negotiated the withdrawal of federal troops from South Carolina. Desdemona well remembered going to see Hampton's train, "decorated with flags and bunting and flowers," and hearing the crowd yelling themselves hoarse.

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