On my way back from the USA Rice Outlook Conference in New Orleans, I stopped by the Hill Memorial Library on the Louisiana State University campus to read a piece of history — the diary of Dr. Dick Eggleston, the husband of my great, great, great aunt, the former Elizabeth Gildart.
Eggleston wrote of farming operations and daily life on Learmont Plantation, near Vicksburg, Miss., in the 1830s. Learmont Plantation was directly across the Big Muddy from Ashley Plantation in Louisiana, which was owned by Sophia Gildart, widow of my 3G grandfather, Captain Francis Gildart, who fought for the wrong side in the Revolutionary War. Francis eventually fell in love with this country and its people and happily lived out the rest of his life here, forsaking his native Liverpool, England.
In his diary, Dr. Eggleston’s wrote of weather, from warm, dry and dusty to windy and cold. He described his house calls, and the lingering illness, untimely death and undying hospitality he encountered.
He also wrote about the daily grind of the farm. He described “beating down and cutting up corn and cotton stalks,” hauling and spreading manure, “ploughing new ground,” ginning and spinning of cotton and traveling to New Orleans to pay bills.
He wrote about beautiful Christmas mornings and attending the Birthnight Ball at Buckner and Canfields in Woodville, Miss.
I also read the diary of another relative, Horatio Nelson Gildart of Woodville, who dreamed that a young America would one day flourish — although at the time it was still struggling mightily through growing pains. Tragically, he drowned in England at the tender age of 28 while tending to family business, leaving a wife, Mary, and a daughter he expressed so much interest in raising.
On this Christmas day, we might take a moment to think of the farming pioneers who have come before us. Little may remain of their physical bodies and their tombstones have all but eroded away, but their perseverance, toil and hard work are evident in every asphalt road that was once a leafy trail, in every field that was once a hardwood bottom, in every city that was once a collection of scattered, hand-hewn buildings and in every low-yielding, field anomaly that was once an old home site.
They weren’t perfect as we all know. But agriculture is by its nature an imperfect business. Farmers can’t pass on their rising costs, control the weather or figure out how to keep the government’s heavy hand from their lives.
And so, as we look around at the wonderfully modern world that defines and often defies us, I’d like to say “Merry Christmas” to all my farmer friends out there, past, present and future. Thanks for keeping us warm, dry and nourished, and may you be blessed in all your endeavors.
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