1862: Virginia (Conrad) Ribble to Elizabeth Susan Conrad

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How Ginnie might have looked

This letter was written by Virginia (“Ginnie”) Catherine (Conrad) Ribble (1834-1889), the wife of George W. Ribble, Sr. (1830-1876) — a physician originally from Roanoke County, Virginia. Ginnie was the daughter of George Conrad (1785-1850) and Susan Miller (1793-1861). She probably wrote the letter to her sister Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Susan Conrad (1825-1897). According to family records, Dr. Ribble practiced medicine near Blacksburg, Virginia.

The year of the letter is not given but it was clearly written during the Civil War and the author mentions cases of Yellow Fever in Charleston which would suggest 1862. Ginnie also hints that the reason for going to Florida was for her husband to regain his health.

Ginnie provides some details of the trip from Salem [North Carolina] to Monticello, Florida. The leg of the journey was on the Savannah, Albany and Gulf railroad which extended from Savannah southwestward through two hundred sparsely settled miles to Thomasville, Georgia, though they departed the train at Groover Station and took a stage the last 21 miles through the sand hills of the Florida panhandle to Monticello.

TRANSCRIPTION

Monticello, Florida
October 30th [1862]

Dear Lizzie,

We started from Salem in the fifth and after a fatiguing journey of two weeks, reached this place yesterday morning just at daylight. We avoided night travel as much as possible. Spent the first Sabbath in Charlotte — a beautiful little city of 3,000 inhabitants in North Carolina.

On Monday we came to Columbia [South Carolina] where we spent Tuesday. Wednesday brought us to Augusta [Georgia]. Dr. Ribble was so unwell when we reached there that he went immediately to bed. We remained there until Saturday when we came to Savannah [Georgia] where we spent the second Sabbath.

On Monday we came to Groover Station ¹ on the [Savannah, Albany &] Gulf Railroad where we had to remain until the next night about ten o’clock when we started in a crowded stage for Monticello — distant only twenty-one miles but a heavy load and sandy roads kept us jogging along at a slow rate until daylight. I think it was the most disagreeable night I ever spent. There were only five white adults, six children, and two servants inside. The atmosphere was so odorous that we were compelled to leave the windows open and put our heads out every few minutes from which we both took cold and Dr. Ribble has been quite unwell ever since.

We are at a hotel ² — the only one in town — where the cooking, as I have generally found it in the South, is almost intolerable and the price $250.00 per month each for ourselves and half price for Caroline, making $675 per month for us all. We will remain here until we can do better. We want to get rooms and board ourselves if possible. We brought here clothing and dishes with us. Our landlady seems to be very kind which somewhat compensates for other discomforts.

I have not seen much of the town yet but must confess I am not very favorably impressed — and am quite disappointed in all the country I have seen. The portion of Georgia we passed through is scarcely anything but pine forest and swamp and South Carolina was not much better. I suppose we saw the best part of North Carolina for I liked it better than any state we passed through.

The streets of Monticello are not paved and the sand is shoe-mouth deep which makes walking very unpleasant. There are no oranges or lemons in this part of the state this year. They were all killed by frost in the spring — a circumstance I very much regret. We found traveling very expensive and I am glad the journey is over. We were fortunate not to lose anything but a cane and a box of matches on the way although we had a great deal of baggage.

So much for our trip. I hope when I write again to tell you I am more pleasantly situated and in better health. I want you to write just as soon as this reaches you for I am more than anxious to hear from you all. Did the Yankees leave anything to eat in that country? They claim to have destroyed everything in the paper. I was very much disappointed at not hearing before I left Salem. I think it is at least 2 months since I heard from you although I have written repeatedly to different members of the family. I was also much disappointed in not seeing you before we left. Where is George? Has Jacob been called out?

I just wish you could have seen our dinner today. We had chicken — mutton — rice — sweet potatoes — pumpkins — and cornfield peas. But Oh! such cooking! Everything looked like it had been cooked in a dirty iron vessel — more like it was done for dogs or hogs than people. I just eat enough to live and find it a task to do that. I do think it is a sin to ruin food in that way — and then charge $250.00 a month for eating it! I would not eat it for that much a month if I could help myself. Half the people in the world don’t know what good cooking is. I don’t think Dr. R. can improve on such diet under any climate. Oh for a home of my own if it is but a cabin! I hope he will soon be well enough to look out for better quarters. Still I ought not to complain. I have seen many others in more uncomfortable circumstances than we since I have been traveling. We saw great numbers living in cars along the railroad. There were some cases of yellow fever in Savannah when we were there but it is not yet epidemic. It is raging in Charleston.

I walked out on Sunday evening in Savannah. I happened to walk in the prettiest street in the city accidentally. Went to the park which is very beautiful. A fountain of about 20 jets is in the midst surrounded by pleasant walks among trees of various kinds. ³

Be sure to write as soon as you get this and direct to Monticello, Jefferson County, Florida. Give my love to all our friends.

Yours affectionately, — Ginnie

Tell Fannie to write.

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The 1858 fountain in Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia (ca. 1862)


 

¹ Groover Station was 181 miles from Savannah, just 19 miles short of the western terminus at Thomasville, Georgia.

² In the 1860 U.S. Census, there were two hotels in Monticello, Florida. One of the hotels was operated by a couple from Germany named Bliss. The other hotel was operated by William “Mack” Humphrey (1830-1880) and his wife Theresa B. Watts (b. 1840). My hunch is that the hotel in which the Ribble’s stayed was the latter as I think it likely Ginnie would have mentioned the landlady being German. The Humphries moved to Seminole County, Florida, after the Civil War.

³ Ginnie has provided a description of Forsyth Park — a 30 acre park created in the 1840s. The fountain at the north end of the park was added in 1858. 

 

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