From the Publisher
"Editors Wiggins (emer., Univ. of Alabama) and Truss (Univ. of Montevallo) provide the first complete transcription of this 19th-century Alabama woman's journal. Gayle was the wife of prominent Alabama politician and eventual governor John Gayle. While her husband worked in politics, Sarah Gayle managed the family household in Claiborne and later Greensboro, raising their six children and overseeing the family's slaves. Isolated and lonely, Gayle found solace in her journal, which she never intended strangers to read. Her candor openly reveals her struggles with bearing and raising children, slave management, health issues, acquaintances, and being wife to an absent husband. While others have created transcriptions of Gayle's journal, Wiggins and Truss have painstakingly compiled the most complete version, restoring portions of the journal that had been defaced and reorganizing pages to place them in correct order. Their accomplishment provides valuable insight into the lives of white antebellum southern women and, as this is the only extant journal of an Alabama woman from this period, a valuable source about white Alabama women from the era. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."
"The journal kept by Sarah Haynsworth Gayle (1804-1835) illustrates poignantly how much women's lives have changed since the early nineteenth century.... Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins and Ruth Smith Truss have achieved an impressive reconstruction of Gayle's journal, which some legacy-minded descendants had disordered and defaced. The resulting definitive text is a treasure for scholars of antebellum frontier, southern, and women's history. Those interested in illness and death, religion, family life, or literary reception in the antebellum Southeast will also find material here."
The Journal of Southern History
Anyone interested in the lives of early-nineteenth century women will rejoice at the publication of this important edition of Sarah Haynsworth Gayle’s engaging journal. Married at fifteen in near-frontier Alabama to John Gayle, a young lawyer who would quickly rise as a jurist and politician to serve as the state’s seventh governor, Sarah Gayle filled the days and weeks of her husband’s absences by recording in a free-flowing journal her daily concerns, memories of her own childhood, her hopes and fears for her children, and her struggles to manage the slaves who served her. Sarah writes with a lively intelligence and a clear eye, giving us a rare extended look at a woman’s world. She recounts jokes and joys, but hers is a world punctuated by childbearing, illness, and death; one by one her girlhood friends suffer loss, sicken and die. Only twenty-three when she begins the journal, Sarah has already borne several children, and mourns her youth and her beauty (she fears that the loss of her teeth will lessen her husband’s love for her). Her death from tetanus at the age of thirty-one left six young childrenand a matchless legacy in this journal. Thanks to skillful application of recent technologies, editors Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins and Ruth Smith Truss have been able to restore many passages hitherto unreadable. We are in their debt.
Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, author of Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Biography
We have in Sarah Gayle’s Journal the captivating story of a remarkable life. Its sharp focus on a variety of issues in Alabama during a specified period is unique. Gayle’s story finds its center not in over-arching political power of the day, masterful triumps in business, or the insatiable lust for land, although she is a keen observer of those things, especially in her husband, or her friends’ lives. Gayle’s contribution to Alabama, to scholarship, and to the generation then unbornto usis her human story. Her life resonates because we can hear the vibrant heartbeat of her community, and sense the fear and excitement of the time when she still lived so remarkably close to an American frontier that she and others worked so feverishly to transform.
Jimmie Lewis Franklin, author of Back To Birmingham: Richard Arrington, Jr. and His Times
“Now we have a full edition of one of the most-quoted journals in Southern history, that of Sarah Haynsworth Gayle. The editors have discovered new material and restored censored passages in the original, bringing to light many features of nineteenth-century lifegender expectations, family life, race relations, drug abuse, and early death. Gayle is more fascinating, and more tragic, than ever. This book is a gift to historians and a boon to the general reader.”
Joan E. Cashin, author of First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War and A Family Venture: Men and Women on the Southern Frontier
In the first modern edition of the Journal of Sarah Haynsworth Gayle, 1827-1835: A Substitute for Social Intercourse, co-editors Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins and Ruth Smith Truss brilliantly animate the words and the life of a little-studied nineteenth-century southern woman diarist. Gayle’s writerly eloquence, psychological acuity, and emotional accessibility earn her book a proper place among the works of Frances Kemble, Phoebe Yates Levy Pember, and Mary Boykin Chesnut, all of whom brought to bear extraordinary intelligence and imagination to their vocations. Writing from what was, at the turn of the 19th century, the Alabama frontier, Gayle suffered existential anxieties also depicted by northern midwife Martha Ballard in her forty year long journal, illuminated by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her Pulitzer Prize-winning study, A Midwife’s Tale. With enormous patience and care, the editors have crafted a model edition, the lucid apparatus of which never intrudes on the journal’s power as a page-turner. Scholars and aficionados of American women’s life writing will find a sympathetic, compelling, and fully human figure aware of her flaws and missteps, sensitive to the vicissitudes of friendship across a desolate landscape, avidly attentive to both the companionate and abusive marriages in her purview, and afflicted by despair-inducing loneliness in the face of her husband’s habitual absences. Wiggins’s and Truss’s edition is a must-read for lovers of American literature and history, scholars and aficionados alike.
Julia Stern, author of Mary Chesnut’s Civil War Epic
It is a rare privilege to be able to read the journal of a young woman from almost two hundred years ago, especially a woman as enchanting and articulate as Sarah Gayle. The editors have lovingly reconstructed this remarkable and compelling journal, taking extraordinary pains to deliver as full and accurate a rendering as possible from the many extant typescript copies and to restore through modern technology and infinite patience the pages of script that the passage of time had destroyed. Sarah Gayle reaches out to us across the centuries reminding us of the universality of the female condition, with its demands for care-giving, sociability, and endurance. The editors are to be commended for the dedicated labor that has preserved this remarkable life for all of our uplift and edification.Elizabeth Jacoway, author of Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis That Shocked the Nation
Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins and Ruth Smith Truss have performed an invaluable service in editing Sarah Haynsworth Gayle’s insightful, perceptive journal she kept between 1827 and 1835. This diary had been in various stages of disrepair, with incomplete, defaced sections and scattered, unreadable pages. Through the use of modern technology, including computer scanning, the editors have saved and restored many of these defaced pages and created a nearly complete and valuable edition of the diary. Gayle’s journal is unique in revealing a young woman’s world in early frontier Alabama. She begins writing her journal as a young mother during her husband’s rising political career. His frequent and lengthy absences mean she often finds herself alone, a “sort of widowhood,” as she characterized her situation. In her journal, Sarah describes her daily experiences, often in intimate detail, and pours out her heart until dying of lockjaw in 1835, not yet thirty-one years old. Interestingly, Sarah shares few details about slaves who eased her daily life, though she often expresses frustration in trying to control them. Sarah’s thoughts on courtship and marriage, her descriptions of daily activities with family and friends, her church-going and strong reactions to various ministers, and her several health problems due to bad teeth and an opium addiction are fascinating to read. Like so many other women in similar circumstances, it was female friendships that sustained her. Scholars as well as those fascinated by antebellum southern women will find this an important addition to the growing number of published volumes of southern women’s personal writings.
Sally G. McMillen, author of Motherhood in the Old South: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infant Rearing and Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South
Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins and Ruth Smith Truss have made this challenging manuscript available to a much wider audience in a superbly edited edition. Sarah Gayle offers a fascinating look into the world of antebellum marriage and motherhood in a journal filled with valuable information on social life, religion, slaveholding, mental anguish, drug use, and a host of other important topics. Invaluable.
George C. Rable, author of God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War
“This lively and engaging journal is a much needed addition to the literature. It offers an insight into the world of women in the Old South and the struggles of a wife of a relatively absent husband immersed in Alabama politics. Her words bring into high relief the joys and sorrows of raising children, caring for kin, and maintaining social ties. Gayle’s journal, moreover, provides important digressions of her memories growing up and past encounters with those who came in and out of her life. In that vein, her detailed descriptions of her relationships with other women add to the historiography on the creation of a female culture distinct from the world of men.”
Victoria E. Ott, author of Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War
Read an Excerpt
The Journal of Sarah Haynsworth Gayle, 1827—1835
A Substitute for Social Intercourse
By Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, Ruth Smith Truss
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS Copyright © 2013 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
There is indeed, in a woman's affection, a singleness, a fervor, a purity, that man's scarcely hath.
27 July 1827 I am pleased with Mr. [Thomas] Clinton's simple, earnest, frank and unaffected way of preaching. One at once perceives, he is a man regardless of self, having the honor of his Master, and the good of his auditors alone at heart. His language is free, at times almost polished; and I never heard any one use comparisons more apropos—often beautiful; but rarely allowing them to sink. I fear there is frequently an affectation of more humility than they really feel, amongst many of his Methodist brothers—of this he has none. I am glad of it, for otherwise, I should have no patience with him. It is no matter of regret that he did not have the advantages of a liberal education.
August 8  On saturday, the 3d. Nancy [Gayle, wife of John's nephew, Billups,] brought into the world a dead son. By no occurrence have I lately been so affected. The birth of her child, was an event to which she had been looking forward, with the utmost delight; and this sweet hope of soon holding in her arms, the pledge of her almost worshipping love to her husband, has been blighted by an unknown cause. Her sufferings were excruciating, but she bore them with an angel's fortitude. The slightest entreaty from Billups, for the exertion of patience, was enough to silence even her gentlest moaning. At last the physician announced its birth, and for a moment, I held my lips to her forehead in thankful, unmixed joy for her relief; but it grew less, while I witnessed the ineffectual efforts to restore animation to the little, blackened object before me. "It is dead" said Nancy, mildly and calmly. Unable to articulate a word, I shook my head, to intimate a hope to the contrary. "It is,["] she again said, "or it would make a noise. Poor little soul," she continued, "it's far better off, and I thank God. I feel resignation to His will. We ought to congratulate ourselves that we are now the mothers of Angels in Heaven. May I look at it? Well, never mind," she said, as some one told her she had better not. I almost suffocated with my feelings, I left her a short time, and on returning, found them busy with the baby and imagining the color changed. ["]Bless its heart,["] I cried, ["]I hope it will live." ["]Bless your heart," answered Nancy, whom I thought asleep, but whose eyes were fixed on my face.
Earnestly, warmly, do I pray that this lover of children may yet cherish one of her own at her bosom, without again experiencing the agony of her first birth. I give my testimony chearfully, to the kind attentions shown by Mrs. [Catherine] Hunter and Mrs. [James A.] Weymes [Wemyss].
Last evening Miss Jane Fisher and Majr. [Samuel] Reed were married. The last year was spent at school, and now she has assumed the duties and responsibilities of a wife. How little may she be calculated to discharge them [with] patient attention, industry, firmness, uniformity, good nature, and love, love boundless for her husband.
Night  Mr. Gayle and myself rode out on horseback in the afternoon, and finding time enough on my return, Harriet [Gayle, John's niece], Sarah Ross [, daughter of Sarah's close friend who had died,] Sarah [oldest daughter of Sarah Gayle] & myself call'd upon Mrs. [Maria M.] Lawson, & Mrs. [Mary] Caskaden and her sweet-looking daughter. The latter is a charming little miniature of a woman. Her Northern prejudices against southern customs & habits, are just at the stage of effervescence, and I hope for her own quiet, they will settle down to a temperate, milder point, than they have yet reached. She little dreams too, of the dangerous tendency the fostering of suspicion against the morality of the other sex, will have. She says, her motto, is "to hate a man, untill she knows him." On the contrary, I, from policy, give a man credit for what I desire he should have, 'till circumstances compel me to know he has it not. In a laughing way, I combatted her assertions; but inwardly, I hoped she might escape the net she was weaving for herself—from a similar one the friendly counsel of an amiable woman released me; and now that I have passed it, I am sensible of the danger of my situation. I rather think, most women, some time, during the early years of their marriage, undergo a revolution in their opinions and feelings. This very fervency will produce one.
In the innocence and warmth of her heart, she beleives all to be noble—more as they were when God made them, than as they have made themselves by their degrading vices. Painfully undeceived, she flies to the other extreme. But to indulge this last idea is ruin—those dearest to her on the earth, belong to the proscribed. The only safe opinion to adopt is, that there are good, and bad; and Providence has kindly bestowed a blessed, blessed credulity, which enables us to think the former is ours.
Friday [August] 10  We have chalked out a plan, so delightful to contemplate that I cannot force myself to dwell on any other. We are not calculated to carry on a farm—for that business great firmness, uniformity, strictness, industry and economy are requisite. I have always prefered Mr. Gayle's wearing the long robe, and if that can be done, advantageously, away we go to Mobile; enjoy ourselves there in the winter, and during the fever season, take refuge at Mount Vernon amongst the hills & shades & streams whose paths I trod in my childhood, but to which I should return, a changed, changed, but, (my heart swells with gratitude while I acknowledge it) a not less happy being. The mother who made me her idol, has long been an inhabitant of Heaven; and the indulgent father whose companion I was, in all his riding and fishing excursions, has been more recently given to the earth. The officers, whose petted favorite I was—where are they? Separated from their own families, their kindly affections were given to the child of a stranger. Caressed by all, these men of "noble daring," delighted to make my whims their law—the hands, able to deal death to their fellow beings, were employed in preparing my toys; and the bosom, full of honor, of bravery, of generosity, utter disregard of self, and of very high-minded principle—that bosom was bowed down to meet my feeble clasp. The sight of regimentals affects me yet; and I discover a scarcely developed wish in myself, to have at least one son, in the service of my country—not in the Cabinet, for it seems to be cold—but in the field, at the cannon's mouth.
Monday [August] 13  Dr. [William] Christopher preached a most excellent sermon yesterday, from the verses in Peter, reading, and to your faith, add virtue, &c. His fine voice gives effect to his language; I scarcely ever was more sensible of its powerful aid. I brought him home to dine with us. The conversation was far from gloomy. Mrs. [ Jane] Buchanan whom I verily beleive to be one of the "salt of the earth," came too. At night, we heard the Dr. preach again, tho' I rather think, from fatigue, he did not do as well as in the forenoon. He sent me [Adam] Clarke's commentaries on the New Testament, to read, and at the same time, Mrs. Ashe sent the "Life of Fletcher, and of Mrs. Fletcher.["] In order to read these vols, I must divide my time more regularly. [Clarke was a British Methodist theologian, and John William Fletcher was a British interpreter of Wesleyan theology.]
Mr. Moffat, a young lawyer from Virginia, call'd this evening. He appears to be a man of good mind and education, rather fond of conciliating the good will of those to whom he addresses himself, by putting them in good humor with themselves. I was amused at my old man's awkwardness in swallowing this bait. I sincerely hope, however, that his sense and delicacy will always impell him to reject the dose; at least when offer'd in its own undisguised, and nauseating favor. I feel unwilling to put aside the paper to night, without testifying to the frank kindness Dr. [ John] Hunter's family ever show me. I the more readily beleive it unaffected, because they have no possible reason to put on this bearing toward us. I never pass their door, without a hand being stretched out, and a cordial invitation to come in. Should I leave Greensboro', no other family will cause more regret to me, or inspire more gratitude for the friendliness with which I have been treated by them.
[August] 14  Mrs. Caskaden & [Mrs. Franklin] Robinson sat an hour or two this morning. In the latter I discover the same festering suspicion of the other sex. Much as she is to blame, I pity her from my heart; for altho' vain she gives herself pernicious opinion she yet nourishes, like an adder, to sting in peace, has nothing in reality for its foundation; she feels fully as much unhappiness as if the visions of her distempered imagination were matters of fact. 'Tis a great misfortune, as she has it apparently in her power to lead a very happy life.
I have commenced Clarke's commentaries. The weak state of my eyes will prevent my reading as much as I wish. I deprecate this, as one of the greatest calamities I could sustain. Forced to be much alone, how shall I contain myself, if unable to read? Mrs. [Reuben] Saffold has become a member of the Methodist Church. Her afflictions have been a means of awakening her mind to these important matters. Her tenderest feelings come in aid of the work; and I sincerely beleive, if any good ever arises to me, from my own imperfect attempts to understand the doctrines of the Bible, I may refer it to the death of my excellent mother. It was impossible to beleive, when the turf was placed on her bosom, that it became an eternal seal; and if it did not, my heart equally rejected the idea, that she existed in any other than a state of bliss. A thousand tender, fond recollections urge me to the frequent contemplation of this matter. Friend after friend has joined her, and can I endure the thought that I shall not hereafter be added to the number.
Thursday [August] 16  Harriet Gayle has returned, after a visit of a month, leaving with us, many impressions in her favor. It is most unfortunate that her intellect should have been so neglected. She appears to possess plain good sense, and an amiable disposition. Her uncommon love of home, and those who compose it is not the least amiable trait in her character. Her property will be something like eight or ten negroes.
Maria Hunter staid with us last night. Harriet & myself call'd upon Mrs. Reed; and from there we went to see Mrs. [ John] Erwin, who was not at home, but we fell in with her on our return. She complained of being low-spirited. The climate she said disagreed with her constitution. I rather think her heart is pining to warm again under a mother's deep, deep love—it has been several years since she left her, a lovely, childless wife, & a stranger in our country. She has now two little daughters, and I know she longs to baptize them in her own native air. I thought the very name of [Henry] Clay had a talismanic power of all Kentuckians, but she spoke with indifference of both him, and his eloquent address. What pride his daughters must feel, in reading this powerful vindication of his conduct. An unbiased judgment could scarcely be formed of it, when he is his own pleader. With Clay's genius, [ John Q uincy] Adams['s] experience & education, and [Andrew] Jackson's honesty & promptitude in action, what a president could [have] be[en] made [in the 1824 presidential election]. But all these cannot meet in the same man, and the only thing to be done, is to select the one who possesses the qualification most necessary. Common sense will teach who that is. [The next presidential election (1828) saw Adams and Jackson competing again.]
Friday [August] 17  Mrs. Buchanan and Miss Parthenia Webb spent the day with us. We were a sociable, unreserved little party. Miss W. is an unaffected, pious, quite pretty girl—small and delicate. She is a member of the Church. In the evening, Mrs. Hunter & [Franklin] Shaw came up; and all took a cup of coffee with me. No wonder Mrs. S. doats upon her daughter, a fairy creature, just six, yet not so large as Sarah who is nearly three years her junior. I have remarked that the Northern ladies have a neatness of dress, and composed propriety of manner, I would give much to possess. If Yankee tidiness and southern liberality could be joined, it would be well for both. The day has been unusually sultry, and the appearances above auger a storm. I must go in the other room and keep lonely company.
Tuesday [August] 21  I walked to Dr. Howell's yesterday afternoon to see Mrs. Buchanan, who has been quite indisposed. I found the room filled with her friends. Mrs. [Frederick] Peck, the younger Mrs. Chapman, who in her youth, inexperience and interesting beauty, will, in a few months, assume all the responsibilities, attached to the maternal character; Mrs. Wemyss, who is spoken well of, by all who know her; Miss Webb, and her neice Mrs. Howell. They were lively. On my return, I stepped in at Dr. [ John] Hunter's. She was alone, friendly as usual; and the plate of light-bread, butter and jelly were placed before me. The girls were out, Margaret [Hunter] at Mr. Erwin's, and I met Maria [Margaret's sister] in the street. This evening, Nancy made her first visit since her confinement, to see Mrs. Malone. In a few moments, Mrs. Hunter came; & we spent several hours pleasantly. The young Mrs. M. looks exceedingly pale, and pensive. The elder has an appearance of almost masculine strength sternness and activity. She is blunt in her language, but I rather think, under this show of harshness, much real benevolence, and kind-heartedness is concealed; certainly she treated us with both.
Mrs. Hunter seems mortified at the asperity shown by [the Rev.] Mr. [James] Hillhouse, in consequence of his furnishing the ball-supper. However, if she is free from any inward reproaches, she may feel at ease, for I am sure, none of her friends blame her, in the least. I think had I been in her place, I would have rather my seat at the Sacrament table on the last Sabbath—that is, if she could have eradicated any bad feeling toward Mr. H., from her heart, if any had sprung up there.
[August] 17  With pleasure, I record upon a sheet of my journal one more day, happily spent. It is such a one as I shall look back to, in future days, with the purest satisfaction. Nothing of ceremony, of reserve, of selfishness, to chill our best feelings; all was a frank, and, I beleive, a sincere manifestation of friendship. Mrs. Chapman has the endearing innocence, and not much more than the age of a child, the idol of her parents, lacking much prudence, and evincing many amiable traits of character. Her little carryall was literally crammed on our return, with Mrs. Buchanan, Nancy & myself as driver, our three work-baskets, an enormous loaf, a fine one of wheat-bread, a large basket of ripe plumbs, and a bag of wool for old man's socks, all presents from Mrs. Peck. I dwell upon these little spontaneous offerings of a kindly heart, with infinite pleasure. Darkness has caught me. I cannot read what I write.
Friday [August] 24  After finishing Mr. Gayle's pantaloons, today, Nancy and myself took the round of the little shops in our village, partly thro' a fidgetey sort of feeling, caused by the approaching separation from my friends, partly from insolence, and partly from the inclination I find ever alive in me, of being with those whose acquirements, temperament, and natural characters render them pleasing companions. Observed Dr. Shaw, Mr. Moffatt, and several others, with the papers just from the office, engaged in an animated discussion, no doubt, of the merits of their different favorites. I fear their will be too much personality and heat in their arguments. It is but seldom that a man sets forth, with mildness and moderation, the advantages he imagines he has over his opponent, and points out without triumph, and without bitterness, the reprehensible parts of the conduct pursued by those on the other side of the question. Dignity and calmness are too often forgotten in the intemperance of dispute. I met Mrs. Erwin again at Dr. Hunter's. I suppose she thinks I am always there, and vice versa.
Mrs. Reed dashes by regularly, up the Erie [Eutaw] road. Pray Heaven she may, for many a long year, possess the affection of her husband, in the fervency and singleness she does now. Upon this earth, there is not a thing so blest, as the bride of a month conscious of her power, she yet exerts it but to please. Her simplest action has an indescribable charm, to the enamoured being, who has yet, scarcely found out that she is a mortal. Does she raise her smiling countenance to his? The thrill at his heart, sends the blood to his face. Has grief or indisposition paled her roses, and are her tearful eyes no longer sparkling? He snatches her to his bosom and feels that it transport[s], too deep to be told, to hold her there as in a sanctuary, in her loveliness, her helplessness, her confiding tenderness. It would be unfortunate for love to continue as it is at marriage. It would shut out all care for the concerns of the world, and the persons that inhabit it.
All go on Sunday and I dread to think of that Sunday. What I shall do, is more than I can tell. I must bring some friend to enliven my situation during old man's absence. I must read the newspapers.
Excerpted from The Journal of Sarah Haynsworth Gayle, 1827—1835 by Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, Ruth Smith Truss. Copyright © 2013 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS.
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