As the cottage is being renovated, more and more hidden treasures are revealed. Recently, Forrest, with Bolin Construction Company, was removing the flooring upstairs in preparation for new electrical and duct work. Tucked neatly in the floor joists, he found five crumbling sheets of paper, the top titled “Autobiography of Belle Howard Mayfield.” As of this point, I can find information online about Mrs. Mayfield and can tie her to north Louisiana. But I’ve yet to be able to tie her to the cottage. Maybe someone reading can provide the missing link. I’m transcribing the autobiography below word for word, down to the punctuation. Due to tears in the aging paper, some words are unreadable and those are replaced with xxxxx.
Autobiography of Belle Howard Mayfield
I was born in Carthage, Miss., in 1854, January first. We moved to Louisiana (we started to Texas) when I was about two years old. My father was a northern man from Vermont and had been in the mercantile business in Carthage with Mr. Townsend. I was the fifth child of a family of seven:-
When we came to Louisiana, we stopped in Vienna to visit the Townsends who had come west the year before; and Mr. Townsend persuaded my father to stay and go in business with him again.
About the first thing I can remember is sitting in my father’s lap while he read Godey’s Ladies Magazine to mamma at night. And then I remember his trips to New York when he would go to buy goods. When he returned he would bring us such good things to eat, such as raisins, loaf sugar (it was in big hard cone shaped blocks always wrapped in blue paper), Ju-Ju paste (it came in sheets) and chewing gum–none of these things could be bought in Vienna, and beautiful Paisley shawls and lovely bonnets he brought mamma. The young ladies of the town used to borrow mamma’s beautiful things for special occasions.
We always keep a cook, a nurse and a boy; they were the only slaves my father owned. Aunt Rose was the cook, and Jack was the boy we brought with us from Mississippi.
The most vivid recollection of my early childhood is the death of my father in April, 1861-of congestive chill. I was seven years old. During the war I learned to cadr and spin. Mamma bought some homespun and made us dresses; we wanted them because all the other girls were wearing them. We had all sorts of beautiful materials in my father’s store, -silks, cashmeres, and also hoopskirts. Some of the silk mamma took out of the store was preserved, and I used it when I made my wedding clothes.
My two older brothers, Eugene and Hector belonged to Harrison’s cavalry–Joined late in the war.
The Townsends lived in Montgomery, and Gertrude and I visited them twice. We also visited the Watson’s. Oscar was a young man of the Watson family, and one morning he met me around the corner of the house with an ax, and told me he would chop my head off if I did not tell him I loved him.
On that visit we had a great deal of fun rowing on the river, fishing and dancing. Then was when I first read St. Elmo.
The last visit we made there, the water was very high, and the horses fell through the bridge over the Duglamona bayou. They had to be cut loose from the carriage to swim ashore. That night we spent at a farmhouse near Winnfield, there was no lock on the door and the hounds came in and got on the bed with us nearly scaring us to death.
Captain (?). G. Cobb was a young cavalry officer who had clerked for my father before the war; mamma’s business got in bad shape and he, knowing more about it than anybody else, persuaded her to marry him so he could look after it for her (1865). She did not tell any of us about it until the day came. We girls were very much distressed and cried bitterly; the three older boys were furious. Captain Cobb was of very common family, and was ten years younger than mamma. Coarse and unrefined as he was, he was always kind to me. The marriage was not a happy one. I know, because I remember how mamma was always in tears. The older boys resented his authority, and there was always trouble in the home.
He mis-managed the estate, and what was once a fortune of $50,000 was soon all gone.
When I was sixteen years old, the school teacher named Chapeli, made love to me, and I begged mamma until she consented for me to stop school. That was the end of my schooldays.
The social life in old Vienna was very delightful. It was just a small town but all the young people knew eachother and were congenial. We could get up a dance at a half hour’s notice. We went here and there to weddings, infairs, picnics, funerals. Zeke Holland, Andrew Madden, Tom Stuart, Jeff Stuart, Harry Stevens, the Mayfield boys, Kate Slaton, Lizzie Mays, Mary Holland, Petty Gibson, Ollie Shepard, and the Mayfield girls were among my closest friends in those old days. I was Ollie’s bridesmaid in December before my own marriage in February. I had been bridesmaid before that to Miss Mary Armstrong and Dr. Stevens, and to Kate Slaton and Dr. Manning.
My trousseau consisted of linen chemises, flounced petticoats, and nightgowns made of jaconet, a glazed material which rattled like paper,–all made by hand. My wedding dress was white cashmere made with a little tight short basque xxxxx skirt with train, and a wide lace flounce. I wore a veil and xxxxx too. My second days dress was love colored cashmere. Besides these, I had a green pla(xx) silk (saved from my father’s old merchandize stock), and a dark red cashmere trimmed with black velvet edged with white. This was the prettiest one of all my dresses to me.
After our marriage, we set up housekeeping the second day in a five room house. We lived there one year, then moved to Capt. Cobb’s farm. Ed lived out there with us. In ’73 our first child, Minnie, was born. We went to mamma’s for the event, and later went back to the first house we lived in. Here, eighteen months later, Rochester was born. When he was about two years old, we moved to the country, where in 1878, Mary Gertrude was born. We were in very reduced circumstances at this time, and your papa worked very hard; we had a few conveniences and many privations, but we all were well, and were happy in spite of financial losses. When the baby was four months old, we moved back to Vienna to a little house known as the Ray place, turned over to us by my brother for debt. It was a poor little three-roomed house with a big front and back yard. The back sloped down to a branch which gave the children infinite pleasure. They waded in it, dammed it up, caught tadpoles and crawfish out of it, and never missed a day playing there. We lived here about four years, then went to live with Ma Mayfield while your papa helped to establish Mays and Holland’s business in Ruston. Your papa began building a home in xxxxx when it was partially finished, we moved down to be with him, living in the kitchen and pantry, while the rest was being finished. One Saturday afternoon in May, I was getting things ready for the Sunday dinner-had just dressed a turkey hen-when a big rain and wind storm came up. All the children, except Gerty, were at xxxxx of the neighbors. The wind caught the unfinished part of the house and turned it off the foundation. We were both bruised badly, but not seriously injured. While the house was being rebuilt, we rented a room at one of the neighbors, and lived there until the house was entirely completed.
The three younger boys were born in the new home;
Alvan died of diphtheria on August 27, 1898.
And that’s where the autobiography ends. The last page is torn off about one-fourth of the way down. I’m certain there’s more to be found and hopefully it’s somewhere still tucked away in the cottage and yet to be discovered.
One extremely interesting point…One of Belle’s good friends was Mary Holland. I introduced you to my sweet friend, Karrie, who’s family lived in the cottage back in the 1970’s. Karrie’s sister, Whitney, named her daughter…Mary Holland! How cool is that!?
Here are a few details Jessica Stewart Gorman dug up and shared on Facebook:
“After a quick check of Ancestry and FindAGrave, she is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Ruston. Her parents were Huptial Hulvatus Howard and Jane Stribling. She married Ainsley Hall Mayfield in 1871 and had the following children: Minnie, Roy Lester, Mary Gertrude, Irwin Hall, John Hulvatus, and Alvan Howard. At the time of her death, in 1937, she was residing in Webster Parish. In 1920 and 1930, she was living in Shreveport and prior to that she lived in Lincoln Parish.
It appears that her connection to Minden is through her daughter, Mary Gertrude who was married to Samuel Wood Brown and lived in Minden. He died in 1937, the same year as Belle. In 1940, Mary Gertrude was living with her daughter Edith in Monroe.”
I am fascinated by history and the discovery of this autobiography has captivated me! If ANYONE out there can tie Belle Howard Mayfield to the Simply Southern Cottage, please be sure to reach out.
What do you think? Any ideas of how this letter ended up hidden away in the floor joists? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!