Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
It was in the Autumn of 1812 that my father and mother left Virginia never to return. With sad hearts they bade adieu to the scenes of their youth, parted with friends, and looked for the last time on the graves of their kindred. Those only who have had an experience of this sort know how painful it is to pronounce the word farrewell, break up the associations of an old home, and seek a new residence in a distant land. Kentucky was then considered a distant land, for the point of destination was seven hundred miles away. There was an intervening “wilderness,” so-called, to be passed through, and it was infested by Indians. The “red men of the forest” were objects of terror even to grown persons, and the most effectual way of quieting the noise made by children was to tell them that Indians were probably near. Emigrants were often plundered and some were killed. It may well be supposed therefore that passing through the “wilderness” excited gloomy apprehensions.
I do not know how many wagons were provided by my father for the accommodation of his family,but they were under the general superintendence of a cousin of his, Robert T. Pendleton, a young man determined to make Kentucky his home. In after years he often told of the difficulties of the way and of the almost impassable roads. I remember hearing it said that it was sometimes necessary to descend hills so steep that the ordinary locking of wheels was not sufficient, but that branches of trees were fastened to the wagons to make their descent safe. This always impressed me as a strange thing, and it will so impress all who are familiar with good roads.
After a wearisome journey the travelers reached their new home in Christian County, Kentucky. Their number was nine, and among them were three young servants – slaves – for nobody then thought that there was anything wrong in slavery. My father had bought a tract of land, three hundred acres, with an unfinished dwelling house, and his farming operations engaged his attention for some years. I was only a year old at the end of the journey, and the servants gleefully told me afterward that I had been knocked down by the wagging of a dog’s tail. They thought it something to laugh at, and I had no recollection of it. My memory goes back no farther than to my sixth year. That date (1817) is indelibly impressed on me by a visit of Rev. Andrew Broaddus (already referred to) to my father. Mr. Broaddus was then considering the question of removal to Kentucky, and was elected Principal of an Academy in Hopkinsville.
He, however, decided to remain in Virginia. I remember his walking the floor and calling the attention of my mother to a “shirt” which he said had been “spun and woven and made at home.” He referred with evident pride to the fact. While sojourning with my father, Mr. Broaddus preached at the only regular preaching place in the neighborhood. It was then, and I believe is now, called Salubria Spring. I remember nothing of the sermon, but I distinctly remember that at its close was sung the old hymn beginning, “How tedious and tasteless the hours.” There was but one line in the hymn that riveted my attention. It was this, “Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers.” The “sweet birds” struck my fancy, and if I had known the language of modern childhood I would have thought, if I had not said, “splendid.” Mr. Broaddus came out of the pulpit and passed through the congregation “shaking hands” – a thing much more common then, even in the South, than now. He shook hands with my mother, but of course he did not notice so small a child as I. Little did he think that more than seventy years from that time I would be writing about the matter, with tearful eyes, in thinking that of all who composed that congregation only two or three are now living. On all the rest the stroke of mortality has fallen.
After some years my father resumed his former vocation of Teacher. The neighbors built a school-house about a quarter of a mile from his own residence on his own land. It was one of the typical school-houses of that day. It was built of rough logs, the chinks between which were imperfectly filled and daubed with red clay. There were no windows worthy of the name, but parts of logs were cut out to let in the light, and panes of glass were so adjusted as to keep out the cold. The floor was of dirt and the chimney had a fire-place six feet wide and four feet deep. The benches were made of slabs, and these were the outsides of sawed logs. There were no backs to the benches, and everything seemed to be so arranged as to keep the feet of small children from reaching the floor. This, though not so designed, was the refinement of cruelty. Not less than six hours a day were spent in school, and during that time the small children had no support for their backs and feet! I know of no epithet that can describe the injustice of this arrangement, and I say no more about it.
I think I must have been nine or ten years old when I first went to school, though I had learned a little at home. I was required to devote special attention to spelling and reading. Noah Webster’s “Spelling Book ” was used, and when I got as far as “Baker” I thought my progress considerable, but when at the end of the book I was able to spell and define from memory, “Ail, to be troubled,” and “Ale, malt liquor,” I supposed myself very near the farthest limit of scholarship. The course of reading embraced Murray’s “Introduction to the English Reader,” the “Reader” itself, and then the “Sequel” to it. No other book was read in the school. In due time Arithmetic, as far as the “Rule of Three,” “Geography and Grammar” were studied, but not thoroughly. My studies were often interrupted, for, when necessity required, I had to work on the farm. I, too, was the “mill boy.” I remember well that about three bushels of corn were put into a bag, the bag thrown dcross the back of a horse, and I lifted on the horse. The “mill” was four miles distant and I sometimes thought I had a hard time of it. If I had only known that Henry Clay was called the “Mill Boy of the Slashes,” it would have seemed quite respectable to go to mill. When the mill stream failed, as it did in the Summer, it was necessary to go to more distant mills on larger streams. Then my father would send his wagon, and his servant “Ben” was the driver, while I went along. I remember how Ben cracked his whip, and I thought if I ever became a man, the height of my ambition would be reached if I could drive a wagon and crack a whip. I saw nothing beyond this.
I had very few difficulties with my fellow-students, though some of them were irritable, and so was I. My temper was bad in my boyhood, and when mad, the appearance of my face, as I once happened to see it in a glass, was frightful. It was sometimes necessary for my father to whip me, though I believe he never did so in the school. I richly deserved every whipping I ever received. I remember well my last whipping, when I was thirteen years of age. It happened one day that my father wished to avoid the necessity of teaching in the afternoon, and he protracted the forenoon session rather unreasonably, as it seemed to me. When we went home I was mad and hungry, and when my mother asked, “Why are you so late?” I replied, “Because father was so bad.” It was an outrageous thing for me to say, and justice human and divine demanded my punishment. I was whipped and for the last time, but it might have been better for me if I had received a few subsequent chastisements.
I was a very bashful boy. In company I was greatly embarrassed and was almost startled at the sound of my own voice. I can remember when I would go out of my way rather than meet a person to whom I would have to speak. No one will ever know how much I suffered from foolish embarrassment, and it was a long time before I recovered from it. When I first gained courage to ask a neighbor about the health of his family I thought the achievement wonderful, and reflected on it with satisfaction for some days. I was much afraid of thunder and lightning, so that when there was a storm at night I would get out of my bed and go into the room where my parents were asleep, and there I would remain till the storm was over. Meanwhile I would pray for divine protection, but when the thunder and lightning ceased I thought no longer of my dependence on God. I see now how inconsistent and wicked I was in the days of my boyhood.
My children may feel interested in knowing that there is a section of country about six miles long and three miles wide, embracing parts of Christian and Todd County, in which Jefferson Davis, Roger Q. Mills, J. B. Moody, and myself spent some of our childhood years. How different has been our destiny! All the world knows about Mr. Davis and Mr. Mills has been for years and is now (1890) a member of Congress from the State of Texas. For almost sixty years I have been preaching the gospel of Christ, and I to-day “thank God who counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” Mr. Moody is also a preacher.
In looking back to my boyhood, I think of spells of sickness I sometimes had. There was no doctor in less than ten miles, and my mother administered medicine. The two prominent remedies then were “Tartar Emetic” and “Calomel.” They were both nauseous, especially the former. It required an effort to swallow it, and I had to take it in several portions, draughts of warm water intervening, and O! how offensive it all was! The object was to produce vomiting, and this followed every portion of the medicine I took. My mother held my head as I threw up the green bile, and when she thought my stomach in a proper condition she gave me a little chicken soup, which was highly exhilarating. Afterward came warm water with toasted bread in it to allay my thirst. However much I suffered from fever, I was lectured as to the danger of taking a swallow of cold water, and was told of a boy who brought on his death by drinking cold water.”
No one then thought it possible for cold water to come into beneficial antagonism with the hottest fever, but blood-letting was the resort. I am glad that many changes, in the practice of medicine, have taken place since the days of my boyhood. My children have sometimes expressed the opinion that I, like Adam, was never a boy. This is a mistake. I was a boy fond of play and fun and frolic, with sufficient perception of the ludicrous to call forth many a laugh. I always appreciated and enjoyed a good joke, even if it was at my own expense. I was usually cheerful, but sometimes had melancholy hours. I thought but little of the future and enjoyed the present. I did not neglect my studies at school, but anticipated with pleasure what was called “playtime.” It was delightful to sport and romp with my fellows, and I thought it no little thing that I could outrun most of them, and was quite adroit in avoiding balls that were thrown in some of our plays. But enough: my children will now believe that I was once a boy.
It was in my boyhood that I went with my sisters to a “singing-school.” I remember the teacher well. He was a large man and enjoyed in a high degree feelings of self-satisfaction. His musical abilities were not of the first order, but he thought they were and made his pupils believe it. The different parts of music he called “tenor, treble, and base.” To show us what he could do, he sometimes sang what he termed “counter.” Seats were so arranged that he could stand and walk between them. I thought it the wonder of wonders that he could sing any part he pleased. He could help the tenor bench and in a moment go to the failing treble, giving it more life, and pass to the drawling base
which badly needed assistance. We had small “singing books,” which contained what were called “patent notes,” and we sang four tunes, “common, short, and long meter” with “sevens.” Sometimes there was discord, and the teacher would stop everything by stamping the floor. Having explained the cause of the discord, he would require us to try again. I do not think we learned much, and to hear such sounds as we made would now excite the risibilities of every musician on either side of the Atlantic. Within the last sixty years there has been, perhaps, as much improvement in music as in anything else. Many changes have taken place in human affairs, but all changes are not improvements.
It may be proper for me to say something of myself as a boy-hunter. My father had a shotgun which I learned to use, which would not be used now, for it had a flint lock and was not attractive in appearance. I often killed squirrels, and this was remarkable, for I could not, in taking sight, shut one eye and open the other, nor can I yet. In a moonlight night I shot an owl that was disturbing the chickens in a tree. On but one occasion did I shoot a wild turkey. There was a better way to capture these turkeys. It was this: A trench about eight feet long was dug, wide enough and deep enough for the turkeys to pass through it. Then a rail pen was made one side of it, crossing the trench midway. The pen was covered and a little brush laid across that part of the trench that was inside. Corn, as bait, was scattered along the trench all the way. The turkeys would pick up the corn outside and then make their way inside, when, coming up, they found themselves in the pen. They looked up, anxious to get out, but could not, for they never looked down into the trench through which they had passed. Poor things, their lives were the forfeit they paid for not looking down. This fact is suggestive. My way of catching partridges was by means of traps, which I set in suitable places on different parts of the farm. When I went to a trap and saw it down and the birds struggling to get out of it, my boyish heart was filled with joy.
My plan for hunting rabbits was peculiar. On moonlight nights, an hour or two before day, I would go into the woods with dogs, which would very soon find a rabbit and rush in pursuit of it. The rabbit would flee for safety to a hollow tree and go up the hollow. The dogs would stand at the tree and bark. I would go to the tree and run a switch up the hollow to see how far the rabbit was from the ground. Then with my ax I would cut a hole in one side of the tree, pull the rabbit down, and put it alive in a bag. I remember that one morning I caught four rabbits in this way, and carried them home alive that they might be more easily skinned as soon as they were killed. Their skins I sold for a trifle.
It was my business as a boy, between thirteen and fifteen years of age, to take care of my father’s sheep. One of the ewes died, leaving a lamb which was given to me, and I raised it, feeding it with milk out of a spoon. When it grew up I sold the wool from it, and, with the money received, I made my first investment. I bought a Bible, and this was the first thing I ever bought. I prized it highly and found great use for it, as will be inferred from the following chapter.