Beginning in January 1933, John B. Cruise shared in The Pioneer News some of the reminiscences of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Pottinger about her old homestead in Bullitt County. Born Mary Elizabeth Trunnell on 30 Aug 1849, daughter of Henry and Mary (Field) Trunnell, her memories of growing up are a delight to read.
Mr. Cruise began with this statement: "Near the center of Bullitt County midway of a fertile little valley still peacefully stands an old-time frame house. Stoutly and imposingly it stands built years and years ago by tireless hands to withstand the many winds of winter, and the many storms of summer. Those hands that built it have long since resigned to mother earth, but the work of those hands is still standing old and worn in places, yet willingly a home. As this old home happens to be the present abode of the writer, he was very happy to find one who held in memory some of the events of the past that happened within and around the mute walls. Mrs. Elizabeth Trunnell Pottinger after an absence of many years has come to the scene of her childhood and young womanhood. She remembers the vivid incidents of the days when men were men and women were ladies. She had kindly consented to relate to us some of the happenings of the past as they occurred in her life."
Another year and he would have been too late for Mrs. Pottinger passed away on 4 Sep 1934.
As we read these memories, we must remember that she grew up in a time when slavery was a fact of life, and attitudes reflected this. Even at the time that these articles were published, segregation and discrimination were the norm in our country. Some small parts of the original articles have been edited, but for the most part, what is printed below is just the way she told her story. While these memories were printed as nine separate newspaper articles, we have combined them into one narrative.
Real tales of Elizabeth Trunnell Pottinger's Life told to John B. Cruise
As I sit here on this dear old front porch my mind flits and struggles in the quiet sphere of imagination of scenes that have partly vanished, after over sixty years have flown away, vanished into the realm of shadows. Those departed scenes were realities to me in the lifeless past. Now they are only the beautiful things laid away in my storehouse of memories. Dear reader visualize with me, if you will, the scene as it was some eighty years ago before the Civil War.
The dirt road that led up to our large two story house was a broad one with a white plank fence on each side. The road came straight up to the front lawn then parted making itself of further assistance by circling to the right by the carriage shed and turning to the left to wind by a row of cabins and into the woods beyond.
There was an old style-block on the edge of the front lawn where I mounted well-groomed horses many times to pleasantly ride away with my girl friends. In the spacious front yard were many beautiful trees. The pecan, the maple, the beech, the elm, and others were our best friends through many hot summer hours. We children played beneath them while they held bird-song and bird homes in their rustling leafy arms.
The backyard was more informal as most backyards are. Yet it was pleasingly arranged. Negro mammys scurried to and fro. Each had a task to do. There the washing was done, while the fowls chattered in their everyday way. Below the backyard was a big garden, Long rows of gooseberries, strawberries, and grapevines lined across it. Old Ed was our gardener, and he was a good one. He raised the finest celery that I ever ate and many other good things.
In the midst of all of this stood the old house, the witness of many kind gestures, joys mingled with sorrows, Negro songs, laughing children, modest women, and stern-visaged men. Such were my surroundings in 1852 when I was but three years old.
At this time the L. & N. Railroad was a new accomplishment though this section. One day shortly after it was built, Mother and Father took us children in our two horse carriage to see the first high officials as they were passing through in a private car to examine the road. The occasion proved a great thrill for us because the railroad then was something new and high above the common place of things.
Although the railroad was in use, the principle way of traveling was by horse and carriage. People used to travel great distances by that method. Time was not to be reckoned with in those days, yet there were no installments to look after.
I remember a trip that Father and Mother made to Louisville. They went to buy clothes, shoes, and boots and the necessary eats for both white and black people in our large household. Of course my mother asked me what I wanted and I told her I wanted a gold ring. Off they went in their stylish carriage with Old Ed, the Negro, driving and a footman at his side. They were gone for three or four days. All the time I was eagerly waiting for my gold ring. Oh, how delighted I was when I saw them at last coming down the lane. I ran down the hill to the old creek and jumped in the carriage beside them. With childish expectancy, I asked for the ring. Mother tenderly held my hand and placed a shining little gold band on an altogether clean finger. You see, I had prepared for the jewelry that I was to wear. At that moment I was a proud three year old.
Two years later in 1854 great torrents of rain fell. Old Salt River overflowed and decided to make an uninvited visit to my great-grandmother's home at Shepherdsville. The water kept pouring in until her life was in great peril. Father and faithful Old Ed knew of Grandmother’s danger and they decided to battle the dangerous stream in a skiff. They rowed across it right up to the front door and into the hall, tying the boat to the bannisters. Dear old Grandmother gladly came down the steps and climbed over the bannisters into the boat. The strong arms of old Ed and my father rowed her across the high waters to safety, occasionally having to shift aside to avoid the heavy floating drift.
The summer following the floods cholera played great havoc among the people in the community. People died by the dozens. At one time in the old home we had seven families from Shepherdsville.
My great-grandmother took the cholera while here. I sat upon the bed and fanned her. I was just five years old then and viewed the poor suffering old lady with a deep child-like sympathy. She died in a short time.
My father, Dr. Kalfus, and another man were kept busy burying the dead. Finally, Father got sick. The doctor was called. After an examination the doctor found that my father had the dreaded disease. For days he lingered on between life and death. But slowly he began to show signs of improvement. Before many days he walked out in the clear sunshine, breathing the fragrant air of summer. The cholera had lost it's intended victim.
Of course we owned a good number of slaves. We always kept enough Negroes on the place to conveniently do work. Mammy Charlotte tended the ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, guineas, and peafowls; did the milking and made the butter. There was Aunt Flora who weeded and made clothes for us all. America was the cook and general helper. Sarah, Liz, and Mary Ann were the house girls. Good old Ed served as our carriage driver and he did his work admirably. A stable boy looked after the stables and two or three others helped in the fields. The rest of our slaves were hired out for a year at a time.
My first school was at Smith's Schoolhouse in the Smith woods. We had a man teacher. And he proved, in my estimation, to be a very cruel and unkindly man. One day I missed two words in my spelling lesson. And I found myself in a very unfortunate circumstance later. The teacher got out his switch and whipped me good but very unproperly. He kept beating on me until my back became red with blood. Finally he ceased his lashing and bade me go home. I put on my little pink bonnet and pulled it down low to half-hide my tear-stained face.
Finding a hog path back in the woods, I unhappily followed it to the main road. When I passed Dr. Birkhead's home I was running at top speed. Mrs. Birkhead saw me and called, "Mary Lizzie what's the matter?" I never halted a minute for I saw the teacher running hard after me. Mary Ann our house girl was coming down the road on a horse. I tried to climb over a fence to get to her but I was so exhausted that I fell back two or three times.
By this time the teacher had caught up with me. He grabbed me and gave me several hard smacks, "Let her be, you White Devil," yelled Mary Ann. He let me go and she took me in her lap and rode on to get Abram, my brother, who had been whipped too. With Abram behind, Mary Ann in the middle, and I sobbing in her lap, we rode for home.
When we got home Mary Ann took me upstairs and undressed me. She found my back and clothes all spotted with blood. She rushed down and told my mother who certainly became indignant. The teacher was boarding with us at that time. This night he never left his room when he was called out to supper. When my father leaned of the affair he did not hesitate to send him away.
The trustees met the next morning and the "White Devil," as Mary Ann called him, had to depart in a hurry. The rod had been used and used severely all because I had missed two words. Truly I had been the victim of a lashing that I did not quite deserve. After that I never went back to the SMITH school again. Soon afterwards, Father and Uncle George Bowman decided to build a schoolhouse on their line. When the building was finished Aunt Louise wrote to her brother in New York for a governess. For several years we had ladies from that place as teachers. The Bowmans, the Trunnells, the Chapezes, and all the neighborhood children attended school here. The governesses were always kind to us and proved to be our best and most helpful friends.
By the time I had reached the age of nine. Still a little girl, gay and energetic, my paths were yet covered with pink petals of happy childhood. Paroquet Springs was a delight-place in the 50's and 60's. Then the sulphur springs there drew people from all parts of the country. Houses, large and comfortable, were built and occupied by many families. It was noted for its famous visitors and rare entertainment. High class bands played for gay balls.
I remember a young lady from New York was visiting some of her friends at the springs once. Then, when we saw a person from New York we always looked up to that particular fortunate one. This lady happened to be a great dancer. She very gracefully asked the band if they could play "Pop Goes The Weasel." They replied in the affirmative and began to strike up the strains of the requested song. The ground was quickly cleared to give the girl plenty of space in which to perform. She did her dance prettily, while I wistfully looked on, watching her every graceful step. When we got home that day I began to try the new dance steps that I had seen.
Uncle Sam O'Neal was on the back porch, watching me as I came up the front and he said to me. "Mary Lizzie, dance like that there girl and I'll give you a five dollar gold piece."
"I can't," said I. "I have no music."
"Well I'll whistle it," said Uncle Sam. And he puckered his lips and whistled, occasionally accompany his lip organ with a loud clapping of his hands. I danced through the hall onto the back porch trying to imitate the fair lady's graceful moves. I must have pleased Uncle Sam for he handed me the five dollar gold piece. Thanks to the lady from the big city.
After I had finished my education at the little school across the field, I was sent to old Brown's College at Mt. Washington. This was in 1860. For some reason or other Father could not take me there, but he got John Hoagland to accompany me on horseback. When we got to old Salt River it was running high. John dismounted and examined my saddle girth explaining that I would have to straddle the saddle, put my riding rod between my teeth, never look down at the water and hold tight. Believe me, I followed his instructions, holding tight all the way, we forded the river safely but not without some anxiety. I was met by Patty Pope on the other side and we went on to school together. Patty was good and kind to me and proved to be a loyal friend.
"Grand" Spragens was old, tired, and without a home. When father learned of her sad state he took her in. The old lady, generally, sat in a chair close to the wall by the fireplace and smoked her pipe. When she wasn't smoking, she dozed, snoring all the while. Finally, she got too old to climb the stairs so father built a room for her near the Negro cabins. My brother, Willie, and I took turns about carrying meals to "Grandma" and sleeping with her. And oh, how we dreaded to go down and sleep with her. The end of each week found us trying to bargain with each other to avoid being a sleeping partner for the old lady. Doubtless, in our minds we often wished for an early peaceful passing of "Grandma." Late in the night in 1861 Sarah our house-girl came up through my room to get a head dress out of the attic for "Grandma."
The big-eyed girl came over to my bed and spoke to me, "Mary Lizzie, Grandma's dead. You knowed you wasn't good to her and treated her mean. But I'll fasten this attic door good and maybe she won't come and get you."
My cousin and I covered up our heads good, but Sarah walked heavily down the steps and slammed the door hard. When she did this, the attic door opened and out rolled everything that had been piled up there. We jumped out of bed scared stiff and fairly leaped down stairs, spending the rest of the night in the lower room with Mother and Father. Oft did we watch the old attic door but "Grandma" never opened the door again. If she did we never saw her.
One day about 1862 when all was quiet and peaceful around the Trunnell house and the sky had began to show traces of the approaching twilight, a group of Federal soldiers came dashing up our high-planked avenue, carrying pointed guns and riding foaming steeds. The Negro stable boy was riding my father's highly-prized stallion. The horse was a perfectly formed steed. His silky tail touched the ground, and his mane waved over his arched neck beautifully. My father had refused a large sum of money for him. It was the horse that the soldiers were after. The stable boy saw the soldiers coming and galloped the stallion at high speed past the cabins, hoping to reach the woodland gate just beyond. He had to open the gate and the officers caught up with him, as he lifted himself to the saddle. They took the beautiful horse and the frightened Negro boy and quickly rode away. The boy came back the next morning but we never saw the stallion again.
A short time after the horse was taken, the soldiers came again. This time they were after my father. But a kind neighbor and northern sympathizer directed the men in a round about way to our house and quickly took a short cut himself and warned Father of their approach. They finally came and told my mother that they wanted Mr. Trunnell.
"He's not here," said mother.
"Well, we want him," said the leader. "And when we find him we'll hang him on that big beech in front of your window so you can look out and see him hanging there." Mother turned from them in deep fear. The soldiers searched and searched. They even looked in the cistern. But they could not find Father. He had slipped away to the woods to spend the night there.
Once an owl hooted and broke his deep slumber. He raised both hands, thinking it was the soldiers' familiar "halt." He was much relieved however, when he saw that it was only an owl.
It was late in the year of 1862, and the second invasion of Kentucky by the Confederates was slowly progressing. Many skirmishes had already taken place. At last, after being impatiently awaited by other generals here, General Braxton Bragg began making his slow march into Kentucky. He moved first westward to Nashville, trying to mislead General Buell. He had lost ten days when he entered Barren Co. When he entered Bullitt County he took another short rest. We were greatly elated that autumn afternoon when General Bragg with a company of men came riding up our lane. The men were strong, tall and handsome and wore bright gray uniforms. They dismounted, hitched their horses and came in the house. Knowing that we were southern friends, General Bragg and his men made themselves at home. Mother fixed a big supper and Bragg and his fellow soldiers ate with us. He was a tall man, rugged, stern, yet handsome. And he possessed a pair of dark strong eyes. Bragg left shortly after supper, slowly pushing his men on to Lexington.
On October 8, the battle of Perryville was fought, resulting in valuable losses for both sides. On the next day, Bragg withdrew his forces escaping from the state without having accomplished his purpose.
It was during Christmas week of this same year that John Morgan and his wild riders spread terror throughout the state. Morgan was a daring man himself and all his soldiers dared with him. I remember he and his men passed through this section that week and tore up the post office at Bardstown Junction and destroyed the railroad bridge at Shepherdsville.
One night a part of his riders came to our house and stayed awhile with us. We joined in their laughter and listened intently at the telling of their daring exploits. A bright moon was shining outside as, unknowing, another group of men rode out of the woods and stationed themselves down below the cabins. When they saw the horses hitched up by the house they proceeded cautiously. A man was sent up to investigate. The soldier quietly came up to one of the cabins and poked a gun through the open window. Aunt Charlotte was sitting by the window rocking a baby and singing away. At sight of the gun and soldier she rolled her eyes in terror.
"You scream and I'll kill you," said the soldier. "Don't lie to me now. Who are those soldiers up there?"
"My Lawd, Massa dem is Southerners, dem's Southerners." explained Aunt Charlotte. The soldier left, muttering if she lied he'd kill her. He came up to the house looked in the window saw the gray uniforms and yelled joyfully to his comrades. What a joyful meeting it was. Old friends and brothers clasped hands and hugged each other. The anticipated battle had turned out to be a very pleasant meeting of old comrades. Courageous, capable, and coolheaded were these followers of John Morgan. Yet they were kind hearted and loving away from the line of battle.
In the large rooms of our old house many lively parties were had. Square dances, games and gay pleasantries of the finest sort ensued through the course of many happy evenings. Rhythmical music of fiddle, guitar and banjo echoed from wall to wall and out of the open doors far across broad meadows to draw kind neighbors in from every direction. They came to dance, sing and play the old games.
When winter came, cheerful log fires blazed in every room, fed with wood piled on by faithful Uncle Ed. There before the open fires while the wind set up a frightful howl outside, amusing stories were told. Corn was popped, nuts were cracked and the incidents of the day were made known. The old backlogs blazed on, sensing their duty of coping with the chill of the winter air.
Among my acquaintance there was one fair lad whom I had grown to love. He was sober, energetic and thoughtful and wanted by me and I by him. It was spring when Tom Pottinger came. Fresh buds of maples were bursting into new life. Flowers opened up their sweet smiling faces, while the soft grass wriggled through a brown carpet of dead leaves. New life was everywhere. And a new life and new surroundings awaited me. I had spent twenty-one years of my life around the old place. The bloody Civil War had been fought and a new period of reconstruction had began. The Smith school days, the dreadful cholera, mingled with childhood joys had been passed through and I was to be ushered into other scenes far from the placid old home that I had grown to love.
I cannot say that I was not a little sad that beautiful spring morning that I left it a blushing bride over sixty years ago. Now there are only three of that Happy Family left, Morgan, Tom, and I. Tom was the youngest of us children, and I was the oldest. I have come back after passing many eventful years away, come back to live with Tom and his charitable loving wife Lou, who live at the foot of that dear old valley near where I romped, a rosy-cheeked, laughing girl, so many years ago.
I have traveled far, through desert sands,
Through flat broad acres in distant lands
I've seen great rivers flowing to sea,
But home in the valley is wonderfully blest
With three things great-peace, love, and rest
If you, the reader, have an interest in any particular part of our county history, and wish to contribute to this effort, use the form on our Contact Us page to send us your comments about this, or any Bullitt County History page. We welcome your comments and suggestions. If you feel that we have misspoken at any point, please feel free to point this out to us.