It’s “show and tell” day! … with a family artifact

Posted on January 27, 2010 by


I consider myself truly fortunate to have a range of family “artifacts”, though I wish I had more that related to the Civil War era… sigh…

Anyway, for your consideration today, I have, well, let me simply call her “Aunt”. I say this, of course, because in the days of slavery, so many slaves were referred to as “Aunt” or “Uncle” ___. Please understand, I don’t do this to demean, but rather, I have a hunch that what you see in the photo that follows was referred to as “Aunt ___.” I have no idea what my great-great grandmother called “her”, but suspect I’m on the right path.

What is it exactly? It is a doorstop, and it dates to sometime before 1930, but I suspect it wasn’t created before 1900. I tried to clean it up before the photo, but I need to spend considerable time in doing so as the piece is getting more fragile with age (especially the cloth). I plan on getting a display case for it sometime soon, and thus, I brought it out again today and figured it would be an interesting item for discussion. It’s especially interesting when we consider the culture (in relation to slavery) of the Shenandoah Valley as conveyed through the movie Shenandoah (which also happens to be a focus in Kevin’s blog yesterday and today) and the impact that slavery had (though not as many slaves lived in the Valley as opposed to the Tidewater region). As you can see, the outside is made of a variety of cloth materials, excepting the broach and eyes, which are made of plastic (the eyes and broach are all made from buttons and the fact that they are plastic would probably help to date it a little better). Hidden underneath is a mason jar, filled with rocks. Regretfully, the mason jar cracked years before I came into possession of this family item, but it still holds-up quite well. No, I don’t use it as a doorstop…

As you may have gathered from what I mentioned above, my great-great grandmother made the doorstop. She was born in 1853 and died in 1930, but before your imagination gets the best of you… her family (Painter family) did not own slaves. In fact, I find more Unionists sentiment AND “leave-alone’r” sentiment with her line of the family than I do with any of my other lines. She was from Page County, Virginia and her name was Sarah Ellen Painter, daughter of Noah Painter and Susan Huffman. Two of her mother’s brothers were Confederate soldiers, one in the 7th Va. Cav. (part of the Laurel Brigade) and the other in the 33rd Va. Inf. (part of the Stonewall Brigade). In fact, Sarah’s husband (James Harvey Mayes, one of my gg grandfathers) was also a Confederate soldier in the 7th Virginia Cavalry and was wounded at Ninevah, outside Front Royal, Va., in November 1864. Again, none of them owned slaves. So, I’m taking it that this may have been a culturally induced artistic creation. No doubt, she lived in the time of slavery… in fact, she just turned eight in February 1861, and would have been twelve by the end of the war. I just find this piece one of my most fascinating ones, especially for the fact that it shows how slavery touched whites who did not even own slaves. Also, by serving as a doorstop, I wonder if it sent a message describing where, in the social hierarchy, this branch of my Southern family saw blacks, even well after the Civil War. Or was it merely a reflection of what she remembered from her youth?

Hmmm, note the hand on the hip… doesn’t look like that was made that way unintentionally. Truly interesting.

I think I’ll double-post this… also appearing in my Too Long Forgotten information blog.