Saturday, November 9, 2019

"The Taylor Shop"

How can a non-fiction book be classified as a page turner? Moreover, how can a non-fiction composition include a plot twist? I'm not sure, but what keeps me reading through the letters home from Tally Simpson during his Civil War service is the race to discover whether his fascination with Fannie Smith, "The Fair Unknown," gains any traction before his inevitable fate closes in on him.

Tally, my first cousin four times removed, had become infatuated, sight unseen, with one particular young woman from Charleston seeking refuge with her family in the safety of Pendleton, South Carolina, during the Civil War. Tally's hometown relatives plotted with him to court her from the distance of his ever-changing position as a soldier in the Confederacy.

There was, of course, an obstacle to this plan, which reared its threatening appearance in the unlikely form of what Tally and his cousin called "The Taylor Shop." There was little explanation of what that code-speak meant, but I think I know. The explanation on this diversion from our Fannie Smith Sightings may both provide some insight as well as lead us to an interesting additional connection in a future post here.

While the book I am still reading—Far, Far From Home—has been developed into an annotated guide to Tally Simpson's wartime letters, it is more helpful in identifying historic battles and identities of the military personnel referred to continually, but there is not as much editorial guidance to piece together the family structure. I, of course, already know the family tree for that generation, being that Tally's mother, Mary Margaret Taliaferro Simpson, was sister to my third great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Taliaferro Broyles, but not every reader of this collection of letters would have that advantage.

When Tally conspired with his sister Anna, his cousin Carrie and her mother, Caroline Taliaferro Miller, his goal was to secretly win the heart of one Fannie Smith. There was a potential adversary, however, in the form of what the relatives referred to as "The Taylor Shop." It happened that the Taliaferro sisters—Tally's mother Margaret, my third great-grandmother, and Tally's aunt Caroline—also had another sister. This sister was named Lucy, and she had married a man by the name of David Sloan Taylor.

The Taylors, also living in Pendleton during the time of the war, had many children, including two daughters born at about the same time as Tally—Lucy, two years older than Tally, and her sister Susan, born two years after him in 1841. Tally's own sister Anna was born only a few years beyond that, in 1844. Perhaps as Anna served as Tally's eyes and ears, back home in Pendleton, she sniffed out some competition regarding Miss Fannie Smith—or at least disapproval—coming from her cousins' direction, and may have warned Tally.

While reading books such as this may afford me a wonderful opportunity to spy out the everyday complexities of life among my ancestral families, there is still much reading between the lines, even in this context. And yet, being a mere twenty six pages from the conclusion of the story, I am not sure anything further will be revealed on just what it was that kept Tally speaking so obliquely about his cousins.

There is, however, the historic context beyond the text of this book of letters. And I certainly know how to mine that vein of gold nuggets. Fannie Smith, herself, scattered a paper trail of her own micro-history behind her, which anyone can access, despite the challenge of a name as common as hers. What a wonderful rabbit trail of research to add to my list of diversions. I believe I shall set up a tree to see what has become of "The Fair Unknown" and her legacy.


  1. Really enjoy this post! When I read the book, I also noticed Tally's concern about his Taylor relatives - as if he feared they would mess things up for him. My impression was that Tally thought they were snobbish, and would disapprove of a connection with the Smith family. There is some corroboration of that perception in Emmala Reed's journal - she disparaged the Smith's social status as being less than that of the Heyward family into which Fannie married.

    From the distance of time, we can see that these concerns about family status were ridiculous in light of the wrecking ball of the Civil War. I often feel admiration for all those family members, before and after the war, who just packed up their wagons and moved west. I wonder if some of them were just getting away from it all.

    1. That's an interesting observation on those from the South who picked up and moved west after the Civil War. I know Emmala's father often dreamed of it, himself, and her journal tells of organizers who promoted such ventures. I suspect, wrecking ball or not, families like the Taylors and the Simpsons--and even William B. Smith--had too much to lose to leave it all for the risk of a venture out west.


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