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Affluent living in Camden -- 1850-1860

Posted: May 4, 2012 9:57 a.m.
Updated: May 7, 2012 5:00 a.m.

“In those days, the people of any means moved from Camden to Kirkwood in early summer and remained to a few heavy frosts,” wrote Mrs. Alfred Doby reminisce in 1906. 

A previous column entitled “The Man over the Mantel” explored the early life and the career of Captain Alfred English Doby as an Aide-de-Camp of General Joseph B. Kershaw in the Civil War. At that time the columnist had no letters of Alfred’s wife, Elizabeth Kennedy Doby and little other information about her.

Since that time the “Reminiscences of Elizabeth MacMillan Kennedy Doby” she wrote in 1906 has come to light in the collections of the South Caroliniana Library. Her reminiscences vividly describe how those of affluence in Camden lived just before the Civil War.

Elizabeth relates her birth in the village of Kirkwood adjoining the town of Camden, S.C., in what she called the “Old Kirkwood House”, on October 19, 1841. Mrs. Doby next describes her Scottish ancestry, her early years, and attendance at Sunday school.

She states, “One of the most vivid events in my early life was the coming of my dear Husband to live with us and go to school with my brother. His father, Uncle James Doby having died and his brothers being too young to take one of them, my parents took him to live with them….

“One of the chief amusements in Kirkwood was for a bevy of us girls to meet at a place called ‘Pine Flat,’ where a great many low pines grew, bend them down, and ride horse back. Ah those happy days when we knew no troubles or anticipated any! Among this crowd of lively, pretty girls, no one was as dear to me as Elizabeth Cunningham … who afterwards became the wife of my oldest brother, John.

“In the year 1855 I began school under the finest teacher Camden ever had, Mrs. McCandless, who had come from Vermont, many years before, having educated a great many girls. She, herself, had been educated by the celebrated teacher, Mrs. Willard, who was head of one of the finest schools in the United States at that time.

“In my class were many pretty, bright girls who grew up to womanhood….At this writing all of my class have passed into the silent land but three, Ella Desaussure, nee Reynolds, Alexina Elmore, nee Taylor, and myself. The class was composed of the following girls, viz: Elizabeth Cunningham, Caroline Perkins, Ella Reynolds, Alexina Taylor, Meta Deas, Leila Ancrum, Dinah Tweed, Elizabeth McKain, Mary Cunningham, and Elizabeth Macmillan Kennedy.

“Mrs. McCandless was a fine teacher, making one love education for the pleasure it gives, but she crammed too much for thoroughness, a fault many of her patrons found with her. She had under her several teachers, among them a French and German teacher, also a fine music professor. From this school I went, from the beginning of November, 1857, to the latter part of May, 1858, to a large school, conducted by Dr. Ferdinand Jacobs in Charleston, where I formed some very pleasant acquaintances, some of them ripening into life-long friendships, to wit, that with Leora O’Neill, who was a Miss Sims of Columbia.

“That spring when I returned from Charleston, my dear Mother was in bad health and the doctor advised Father to take her to Sullivan’s Island where we spent four or five weeks. As the change did not benefit her the way it was hoped it would, Father took us all up to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, coming home the last part of September by way of Caesar’s Head. We were gone the whole summer, travelling in our own private conveyances with a large baggage wagon in which were the two maids, Mary, ours, and Hannah, brother’s and Lizzie’s-for they went with us in their own carriage, they having been married a few months before….

“After coming from our trip to the mountains, I did not go back to Charleston, but studied at home, taking French and Music from the professor at Mrs McCandless’ school, because I was very fortunate in having brother to direct my reading in which he took much pleasure. He had a fine library, which was an advantage to me, and then, too, I was getting one for myself, for I have always loved books above all things else.

“I remember the summer of 1859. Father let me go north with Uncle Robert, Father’s brother, and Aunt Margaret. We had a most delightful time, visiting Saratoga, Niagara, the Lakes, and staying some time with our kin in Hamilton, Toronto, and Montreal. That was a bright, happy time in my life, for being young was just lovely.

“Our stay for a month in New York was a gala time, for there was a great many people in the city from Camden and with northern friends of Father and Uncle Robert’s who were kind to us, taking us to the opera and the theatre, and to Greenwood, Central Park, besides other places of interest. It all looks at this dim distance, like fairyland, so bright and beautiful it….             

“The winter of 1859 and 1860 we had many fine parties given at different houses. We took horseback rides and buggy rides and were a happy set of young people. I remember that I would spend several days at Cousin Sally’s, and dine always one day with my dear brother and Lizzie, who had a beautiful home, with fine horses and carriages in which we would go riding whenever we wished to. Being the only young girl in our family connection, I had a happy time with my young men cousins, who were kind in taking me to parties and concerts.

“In those days Camden had no opera house but a miserable apology of a hall over the market on Main Street, which was poorly lit, badly ventilated and with poor acoustics, but it was the best the town had and in it we sometimes listened to fine singers.

“In the fall of 1859 the men of our set gave a fine tournament at the old race track, and the successful knight, Edward Niles, Lizzie’s half-brother and Mrs. Arty Goodwyn’s full brother, crowned me queen of love and beauty with quite a cheering and loud playing from the band. There were four maids of honor selected by the knights who rode next best, but I cannot now remember their names. That night we had a fine ball at which were gathered all the beauty, grace and chivalry of the old town. I kept my wreath for many long years as a souvenir of a very enjoyable occasion, when life was one gala day….

“In the fall of 1859 I went down to Charleston with cousin Brevard, Alfred Brevard, her husband, Uncle Robert Kennedy and Cousin Sally Dunlap. We stayed at the Charleston Hotel which was a fine place in those times, and we had a royal visit, faring sumptuously every day, riding around the town sightseeing, going every night to the theatre. It was a common occurrence for us to run down to the city by the sea two or three times a winter. It was a good thing we had some pleasure as the time was drawing near in which we were to lose all our possessions to a cruel, vindictive foe.

“I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was this winter for I was engaged to one of nature’s noblemen, a man whose like I have never seen….He was a man on whom every God did set his seal.  We became engaged on my eighteenth birthday in October…the happiest time of my happy life that far.”

The fall of Affluence

The two were married January 1, 1862, spent two weeks together, and had a child nine months later. Alfred participated in 20 engagements during the Civil War before being killed by friendly fire at the Battle of the Wilderness. His death only preceded the end of the Civil War by a few months and the end of the affluence she so vividly described above. She lived very modestly until her death and never ceased mourning for her lost love, Captain Alfred English Doby. A photograph taken late in life poignantly portrays her mourning for him.

(The Kershaw County Historical Society provided this column, written by historian Harvey S. Teal, to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)

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