Mrs. Sudie Knight send in another
interesting story of pioneer life in South Floida, based on an interview
with a highly esteemed old lady who was born in Hillsborough County and
who passed on to her home in Heavan but a few months ago. In Mrs. Molly
McLeod Whidden's own words, Mrs. Knight presents a realistic recollection
of frontier life.
"My father was Wfiliam McLeod and
his father was born in Scotland. Grandfather McLeod married Emily Sloane,
and all their children were born in this country~ez_mdash~though not In Florida. In
Georgia, I think. They had four girls and four boys. Father married Susan
Howard, a widow with two daughters, Virginia and Missouri. Her parents
were Seth Howard and Harriet Weeks.
"Father and mother were married in
Tampa. They had 10 children, three boys and seven girls. I was the oldest.
We were always happy at home. We loved each other and we were brought up
right and did not see other people enough to learn anything bad. We didn~ez_rsquo~t
have many neighbors, and most of them were good people.
"Mother was converted when she was a
girl. Father was converted during the Civil War and baptized at night. I
do not know why It was at night, unless it was because they did not have
time for church in the daytime.
"He was usually cheerful, but when
he did get mad he really got his Scotch up. His mother died of smallpox
during the war while he was gone, and was buried by Grandfather and a
colored man. Neighbors were afraid to come to help them.
"FATHER FOUGHT through the Civil
War. He was never wounded, although he fought in the battles of
Chickamauga and several others I don~ez_rsquo~t remember. He almost froze one time
when he was barefooted and it snowed. He caught a cold, and couldn~ez_rsquo~t speak
above a whIsper for three years.
"His captain was named Josh Riggs.
He used to come and stay all night and he and Pa would sit up till alter
midnight talking about the war. We children loved to sit up and listen.
"He fought in an Indian war, too,
and my father-in-law Whidden was killed in a battle with the
Indians at Payne~ez_rsquo~s Creek.
"OUR HOME WAS about four miles from
where the New Zion Church now stands. Most of. our children were born
there and Pa and Ma died there.
"All of us children learned to work
as soon as we were old enough. Ma made all of our clothes. We~ez_rsquo~ raised the
cotton and bought the wool. Pa did the carding till we older ones got to
where we could do it He would card the rolls at night after working In the
field all day, and Ma would sit up and spin and weave.
"As soon as we could all of us girls
learned to spin and weave andthat kind of work and
remember she used copperas In making yellow.
The first sewing machine I ever saw
was a little thing that sat on a table and turned with a handle.
You had to crank with one hand
and hold the sewing with the other. It didn~ez_rsquo~t sew very fast.
"The first calico dress I remember
was bought from a peddler. He had one piece of calico with blue and white
stripes about two fingers in width with red roses in the white stripe. My
two half-sisters got dresses off that piece. Mine was pink with fine white
pin stripes and white flowers in it.
"We wore home-woven dresses for everyday. We went
barefooted all Winter around home and saved our shoes for Sunday to wear
to church. We had church.then under a brush arbor.
"MA COOKED in the fireplace and used
a.long iron rod to hang pots on, called a crane. We didn~ez_rsquo~t can anything. I
never saw a glass jar for canning until alter I was married. But we dried
a lot of things. We dried green beans, corn and pumpkins. We had to soak
them before cooking.
"Most every family had a cook
scafold to use in the Summer, when it was too hot to have a fire in the
house. The men folks built a stout table about waist high and put boxing
around it. Then they filled this box with sand. They made it large enough
that when we built a fire in it the wood planks would not catch on fire.
"There were no orange groves in this
part of the country then. There were a few orange trees In Tampa, and
Grandpa Howard had one in his yard. My father bought two and set them out
on our place and. soon we had oranges of our own. Sour oranges and lemons
grew wild In some of the hammocks. Grapefruits got scattered through the
country while I was growing up, but I never knew of a pineapple in this
region until several years after I married.
"WE DOCTORED with home remedies, and
one of them was Jerusalem Oak. it was a weed that made an awful bitter
tea, and all of us children hated to take It. But all the same they gave
us a lot of it.
"One day Naaman. my oldest brother,
and I thought of a way to keep from taking the tea. We took Pa~ez_rsquo~s hatchet
and went all around the yard. and in all the fence corners and chopped
down every Jerusalem Oak on the place.
"Almost everything we had cooked the
juice till it was ready to go to sugar and then would have holes bored In
the bottom of the barrels and let the syrup drip into a pan. He stood up
stalks of sugar cane in the barrels so he could stir the sugar every few
days to keep the crust broken so it would dry out and drip better. When it
got dry and crumbly he would take it out and stack it in another barrel
and it was ready for use.
"Old Man Strickland and his boys
used to make sugar barrels of cypress. They bent the staves while they
were green and then seasoned them. We saved our barrels and used them year
after year. We children used to slip to the sugar barrel sometimes, but we
had to be careful, for they thought that too much sugar was not good for
us. We used to beg for lumps of sugar like children nowadays beg for
"PA ALWAYS raised enough rice to do
us. He built a tight little room to put the rice in after it was threshed
out and cleaned.
"I remember one Spring there was a
late frost, in April I think It was, and everybody~ez_rsquo~s gardens and truck
patches were killed. Many families were already about out of what they had
saved over to run till Spring, and some people were absolutely without
anything at all and moved away. We still had plenty of rice and we had
"That is what we lived on until Pa
could put out another garden and it grew up. We would eat rice one day and
cabbage the next till one time Ma said ~ez_lsquo~Let~ez_rsquo~s try a cabbage and rice
pilau.~ez_rsquo~ So she made it and we all liked it, but we sure did get tired of
cabbage and rice. Pa gave lots
of it away.
"We generally had plenty of
meat. There were lots of deer in the woods in those days and a lot of
venison was wasted. Deer hams could be sold in Tampa, and some men would
cut out the hams and leave the rest of the deer wherever they had killed
It. But Pa never did that. He sold hams In Tampa to buy our shoes and
other things, but he always brought the deer home, and if we didn~ez_rsquo~t eat it
at the time we would dry it.
"We dried turkey breasts, too. If
we had two or three turkeys at a
time Ma would cut off the breast meat, salt it down and then after it had
taken salt would string them up and hang them in the sun to dry. When it
was sliced and fried It was fine. Of course we had plenty.
There were not any free schools in
those days. The neighbors who lived close together would join in and hire
a teacher. My first teacher was an old man named Davis. He taught school
in my ~ez_lsquo~Grand. father Howard~ez_rsquo~s barn. The men made benches and put them
along the sides of the wall, they were split logs smoothed with a plane
with wooden legs pegged into them.
We didn~ez_rsquo~t have any black beards nor
any slates. A few had pencils and paper, but paper was scarce. When.a
child got a sheet of writing paper he thought he had something wonderful.
At my second school the big boys and
girls had slates. We little ones had the Blue Backed Speller. It had
reading in It, and that is all we had to study out of. I went with my two
elder half-sisters, and besides us there were my grandfather~ez_rsquo~s three boys
and two girls, the Roberts children, Lizzie Tucker, two Hendry girls and a
boy of the name of Dan Pate. Yes, there was an Arnoa girl, too.
My next school was taught by a young
man named Buddie Payne. The schoolhouse was in a harnmock this side of
where the New Zion Church is now. I~ez_rsquo~d not learn much from him, for be put
inall his time with the big boys and girls. We little ones had
only one lesson a day.
"My third school was taught by Miss
Lizzie Berry, It was called the Taylor school and was five miles from
home. My two half-sisters, my little brother Naaman and I went from our
house. The other childreni were the Taylors, Knights, Wingates, Stevens,
Harrises and Pitts, I studied the Blue sacked Speller and a reader. I had
a pencil and paper. I don~ez_rsquo~t remember any blackboard in this school.
"WE CARRIED OUR dinner in tin
buckets~ez_mdash~if we could get the buckets, Some of us had to use homemade
baskets that some of the family had made out of strips of inner bark of
"They were all right, but everybody
had baskets of this kind of all sizes from little to big, while tin
buckets had to be bought at the store. and that made us feel like they
were more valuable.
"Our dinner usually consisted of
corn bread, rice, and meat of some kind. Sometimes
we had biscuits, but flour wasn~ez_rsquo~t as
plentiful as corn was. We didn~ez_rsquo~t always have flour, but we always had corn
meal, grits, and rice. One of the best things we had was sweet potato
pone. It was made of grated sweet potatoes, eggs and spice and sweetened
with some of our homemade sugar.
"We had to walk five miles
to Miss Berry~ez_rsquo~s school. We took a path through the woods and we often saw
Sometimes mother would carry Naaman part of the way on
her back. She would talk and laugh with us and tell us stories, and we
loved for her to go home with us to stay all night. Then, of course, we
would have her to go along with us back to school the next morning.
"AT RECESS WE played ball and Three Old Cats. Sometimes
the boys played Bull Pen. Boys and girls did not play together. We girls
played such games as Dare Base, Poison Stick and Wood Tag. I was almost
grown before we learned to play Handkerchief and Go In and Out the
Windows. Singing games like Skip to Ma Lou came in at about this same
"We had recitations on Friday afternoons. Some of the
neighbors would come in to hear us and most all, of us learned little
pieces to recite. We would sing songs, too. We never had a Christmas tree
at school nor at home either, but we always hung up our stockings.
Sometimes we would get a little toy made out of wood, but we never got any
china dolls. Our dolls were all homemade. We always got candy and
sometimes an apple.
"We never had parties. I didn~ez_rsquo~t know what parties were.
If we had anything like that we would all get together and go to the creek
to fish and have a fish dinner. Of course we went to church and had church
dinners on Sunday. We generally would camp out on Christmas night and next
morning kill deer or wild turkeys to cook for our dinner. Times have
changed a lot since then."
Aunt Molly died last June
28th In the Palmetto Clinic at Wauchula and is buried In the New Zion
Cemetery, between ,Wauchula and Myakka City.
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