Tuesday, April 16, 2019
A Story About Ashtabula
When I opened the book's large cover, it felt more like I was entering the world of a children's storybook than a volume on the local history of Anderson County, South Carolina. And that would be no surprise; that very hands-on dynamic has saved the entire publishing business from collapse, thanks to folks who understand the need for curling up with a book on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Enough people have a need to get their hands on a book, or we'd all have no choice now but to read e-books.
So I had to shake myself of that dreamy feeling of stepping into a storybook world when I lifted the wide cover to delve into the Ashtabula story. Reading the full title of the volume did help shake me from my reverie. I won't give the whole title right now, but it begins, "The Diary of Clarissa Adger Bowen, Ashtabula Plantation, 1865, with excerpts...."
I have no idea who Clarissa Adger Bowen is—although I'm sure I'm about to learn—but I do know a little bit about Ashtabula. Located in the historic Pendleton District, it was once—for a brief fourteen years—the plantation home of my third great-grandparents, Ozey R. and Sarah Taliaferro Broyles. Though the home had passed through many hands, my ancestors' included, it is still standing, now rescued as a house museum run by the Pendleton Historic Foundation.
The Broyles family sold their home in 1851 to someone who, in turn, sold it to Robert Adger, a Charleston man who purchased it for his daughter and her husband. If you guessed that his daughter was named Clarissa Bowen, you are an astute family historian. It was she whose diary, begun at the close of the Civil War, comprises the bulk of the contents of this 1973 used book recently given to me.
The book not only contains the text of Clarissa Adger Bowen's diary, but also includes supporting historical detail from a variety of other sources, skillfully woven into the rest of the publication by Mary Stevenson. You can be sure I perked up when Stevenson mentioned one of those other resources: "long passages" contained in a manuscript from the Maverick-Van Wyck Papers in the South Caroliniana Library, said to contain "the remembrances of Mrs. Sarah Broyles Williams, who spent her childhood...at Ashtabula."
That Sarah Broyles Williams was sister to my own second great-grandfather, Thomas Broyles—born just two years prior to his arrival in 1842. Any observations she may have made about her childhood years would serve to inform me of my own direct ancestor's experiences, as well. And whether those are actually quoted in this book or not, now I've gleaned another resource for researching the details of daily life of this ancestral family.
That, in fact, was how I stumbled across the Ashtabula book in the first place: a mention, a brief aside, in the narrative of something else I was reading. Research may oftentimes find us what we want through logical processes like keyword searches online or in finding aids, but in so many cases I've seen, it's been those little side mentions while I'm reading about something else that leads me to the answer I'm seeking. That's how the Ashtabula book arrived in my hands and, apparently, how I'll be led to other helpful resources in exploring the day to day life of my southern ancestors both before and after the Civil War era.