Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fannie Smith Sightings

It happened again while I was soaking up the sun (and a cup of coffee) while still plugging away at a book. The book, Far, Far From Home, has been my coffee companion of late, as I'm still seventy pages away from the finish line. Perhaps I'm concerned that, by the time I read that last page, I will have forgotten what the beginning had said. But I now have a second motivation for racing to the finish line: I want to figure out just who that femme fatale of Pendleton, South Carolina, was—the one who had smitten so many of the local young men, including one soldier who had fallen in love with her, sight unseen.

That one soldier was my first cousin four times removed, Taliaferro Simpson, private, Third South Carolina Volunteers. The war had been dragging into the earliest stretches of 1863, and Tally, dreaming of a day far beyond war, was thinking of "a topic which interests me"—a possible bride to begin life with, once he returned home from his duties. His aunt and his sister made one suggestion in their letters, and he was immediately smitten, solely by their written description.

That one suggestion was a young lady by the name of Fannie Smith.

I had already "met" this Fannie Smith through the journaled observations of Emmala Reed in A Faithful Heart. (Emmala, incidentally, turned against her, once their own friendship had faded.) Apparently, the same Fannie Smith had been mentioned in the letters of other Pendleton young people, as well.

She has, over the century and a half since her unwitting debut in such private communications, piqued my curiosity, and I've started tagging spots in my current volume where she had been mentioned.

Today, for instance, I read that, in plotting his possibilities with his Aunt Caroline, Tally worried that his chances might be even slimmer than previously thought:
Look ye here, I got a hint of something which perhaps you have not thought of, that is, she is engaged to a young man now in the army and that her father is bitterly opposed to it. If this be true, it's a dead day with my cakes.
Tally goes on to explain:
Her father's opposition makes the matter stronger against me, for if she loves contrary to his will, being at the same time his pet and favorite, she must be in earnest, and if she be in earnest, it will be give her heart to any one else.

He's worried about his chances with her—and he hasn't even met her yet! What kind of charmer is she?

Adding that detail to my newly-composed list of Fannie hints, I now want to race to records to see if she did, indeed, end up marrying someone from the army. But I restrain myself, reminding my better side that this is not one of my highest research priorities, and certainly not in my research plans.

But just a little peek, from time to time, surely wouldn't hurt, would it?


  1. It is remarkable that Fannie Smith had such a strong effect on so many people, including Emmala Reed. One of my great-grandfathers remarks about her (in a letter to his sister): "are [you] in earnest about my changing my mind as to being an old bachelor? Do you really think my chances are so good that I can come to that determination? Do you not think that my humble self will be entirely forgotten in the midst of the gay crowd and the unceasing efforts of my rivals (for the sake of argument only, I admit I am an aspirant)? Do you think that the very vissionary and romantic young lady can come down to plain matter of fact as I do?"

    I'd give my eye teeth for a photo of her - a real one, not the magazine drawing poor Tally carried around next to his heart. There must be photos somewhere, as she was a well-known Charleston charmer, and married into a prominent family.

    What a great little side story to keep in the back burner!

    1. Yes, it would be grand to locate an actual photograph of this Miss Fannie Smith, Lisa! But what I'm fascinated by is the combination of her mannerisms, speech and action which concocted such a potent elixir. She seemed irresistible to the men of her era. It makes me wonder just what it was about her...

  2. That is the truth - she did seem irresistible. And I think women were fascinated by her, also. Her personality drew in all the people around her. I am reading that into Emmala's reactions to her - and also the fact that Tally's cousin and aunt were so willing to go along with his schemes (the lock of hair!); and the willingness of the very practical, pious Annie Jeffers to fan the flames of Henry's infatuations even after he declared Fannie too much of a flirt for him. A good story could be written about Miss Frances Rosa Smith. BTW, there are good records for her on Ancestry, as you have probably seen.


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