Mary Catherine Brisbane Hickox on
Abbott Hall Brisbane 1804 - 1861
Mary Catherine Brisbane Hickox 1832 - 1913 wrote a memoir of her childhood, as she explained it "thinking that after I am gone my children may want to know some thing about their relations when there is no one to tell them". She had two children, but only one grand child and this grand daughter, Zillah Keese Hickox 1892 - 1975, would herself die unmarried. Mary Catherine's memoir lives on, however, and includes many delightful reminiscences of her kinsfolk including the one below. Thanks are due to Zillah Keese Hickox who ensured the preservation of the text and to Tom Tucker who brought it to the compiler's attention.
Uncle Abbot Hall [Abbot Hall Brisbane 1804 – 1861] , born 1805, married Miss Adeline White in 1828. They had only one son, who died in infancy and his loss nearly broke his father’s heart. He and Aunt Adeline, I never saw until I was eleven or twelve years old. Aunt Adeline seemed to take a fancy to me at once, as she thought I looked like her little boy. I returned her love with warmth. She was one of the sweetest little women I ever knew – bright, intelligent and learned. Her friends called her the walking dictionary and Uncle Abbot worshipped her. He always called her ‘Wifie’ and she called him Mr Brisbane as did most of the wives at that time in Charleston. I don’t know what the custom was elsewhere.
Both Uncle Abbott and Aunt Adeline took a great interest in us children after they came to Charleston to live, we being the only nieces and nephews in the family and I especially was much with them. Uncle Abbot [Abbot Hall Brisbane 1804 – 1861] was all enthusiasm and impulsive as a boy, while Aunt Adeline was calm and self-reliant as a man. When he was despondent, she was cheerful and always helpful in sharing his burdens to the last. Fortunately for him he died some years before she did, just after the opening of the civil war in 1861. I am sure he could never have lived without her protecting love. Uncle Abbott graduated from West Point, was in the Mexican War and was, for years, professor at the Military Cidadel Academy in Charleston, SC. From time to time he undertook works belonging to his profession and he was about to engage in the War of Secession when he died.
Aunt Adeline after his death, joined the nuns of the Ursuline Convent of Columbia, SC. She was sent from there with one of the youngest nuns, who was to meet some friends in New York and after discharging this duty, she paid us a delightful visit in Litchfield. I went back to New York with her and I saw her several times before bidding her good-by forever. She died a few years later. She contemplated taking the black veil, but I am not sure that she ever did. We heard afterwards that she did not do so. Uncle Abbott and Aunt Adeline became Roman Catholics after the death of their only child, when they were almost crazed with grief and therein under Bishop England’s ministrations seemed to take heart and find consolation. They both continued faithful to that religion through life. They were a most striking contrast but all the more charming together. Aunt Adeline said, when I saw her last, that had she known just how we were situated in Lichfield, she would have decided to spend her remaining days there, living near us. Would that she had!
Uncle Abbott [Abbot Hall Brisbane 1804 – 1861] was a very fine draftsman and quite literary. He once wrote a novel called “Ralphston”, but it was not very interesting and I never could wade through it. Some years before Uncle Abbott returned to South Carolina, he was engaged in surveying a road in Georgia, which was called Rabon Gap and which he was convinced would become the greatest railroad in the country and open up vast possibilities for agricultural and other improvements. He was either mistaken in his views or looked too far ahead. At any rate, the road has never been built. On the strength of this road, Uncle Abbott bought eight miles of land from which he and Aunt Adeline fully expected to realize an enormous fortune. They persisted and struggled, always with a bright prospect just ahead, until they spent every dollar they had in taxes and working out project for the improvement of the property. I have heard them say that at the end, when they were leaving Georgia, there was a letter for them in the Post Office which they hadn’t the money to take out. Postage, you see, was not prepaid in those days as stamps had not come into use. After it was too late, the letter was redeemed and found to contain the proposal for a loan. This might have set them on their feet again, or might have been good money thrown after bad. The land remained a burden to them as long as they lived, but they would not or could not sell it and continued to pay taxes on an unproductive property. Uncle Abbott was so convinced of the immense value of this land that he used to say to us “Never mind, children, you will all be millionaires, some day”. It only shows how sensible people can be entirely misguided, as things turned out, a most ridiculous provision in his will. He divided his estate between his wife and two sisters, during their lives. They were to receive this, however, only in case they remained unmarried. The will says “This I do for their protection”. Believing that the property might at any time become of immense value, he wished to guard his wife and sisters from possible fortune-hunters. At this present day how ridiculous such a clause strikes us.
They had not pondered much on the subject of women’s rights at that early date, although I remember that I was even then, a strong believer in equality and often argued with my aunt on the subject and the two Misses Grimballs, Charleston women, were at the time in the North in bloomers, lecturing to the “Subordinate Class”,
Well, after the death of my aunts, their Georgia lands were to be divided among us, the nieces and nephews, twelve in all. We were settled in the North at the time and many of us married and with household duties that could not be left, so we agreed together to put the settlement of the estate into the hands of (____ _____), a Georgia lawyer, whom we supposed to be honest and competent. He brought about a settlement without evident effort, selling our eight miles of land and sending each of us something less than twenty- [line cut off] …for himself, we do not know, but our millions – where are they?
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