An Old Kentucky Girl

by Lucy Jane Dunaway

In eighteen-and-forty-eight,
In old Kentucky, in the Blue Grass state,
When the beautiful flowers were all in bloom,
And the garden was laden with rich perfume,
A baby girl was born.
This baby girl who came into the world
Found nature her greatest treasure.
Each bird and field and flower and brook
Was all an added pleasure.
Out in the garden, down the walk
Grew beautiful pinks and hollyhocks,
Honey-suckles and roses rare, their sweet perfume
Just filled the air.
Out in the orchard near the barn,
Where the finny tribe seemed to swarm,
Where the hogs and sheep came to slake their thirst
At the old pond on the farm.

I had an old black mammy,
Who was trusty and good;
I loved to sit by her fire
Made of hickory wood.
I love that old black mammy.
Who wouldn’t do the same?
She kept my lamp of life burning
From her own heart’s steady flame.
She took me from my mother’s arms,
Bathed, dosed, and cured me of the croup
When I was nearly gone.

Down at the creek, where we
Washed our clothes in warm weather,
I’d build a fire and fill the kettle
For mother and “aunt” Summer.
Down the lane in a secluded spot
Stood an ordinary blacksmith shop.
This shop was like many another
–The important part– It was run by my father.
I can almost hear the anvil ring
And see the fire aglow,
And watch the forming of a shoe,
While I the bellows blew.
I can almost see the manly form
With the damp curls on his brow,
The muscular arm, with the sleeve rolled back,
Hammering on the plow.

Well now, I’ll tell you something true
I am the little Kentucky girl,
And mother of the Dunaway crew.

This poem was written by Lucy Jane Dunaway nee Allder who was born August 2, 1848 in Christian County, Kentucky the fifth of six children born to James Allder and Sarah Jane Pyle. Lucy had a very interesting upbringing and at the age of 19 married Ben Dunaway and they had 14 children together known here as the ‘Dunaway crew’.

Jane Dunaway’s description of her mother, Lucy, in her book Dunaway – Allder – Pyle Family brings clarity to the poem.

James Allder, Lucy’s father, was one of seven, the son of George Allder and (Nancy) Ann Jett of Virginia. Ann Jett was disinherited by her wealthy father because she married a blacksmith. They left Virginia and moved to Kentucky where James was born. Later in life, however, Ann’s children inherited their share from Ann’s single brother’s estate. Part of the estate consisted of slaves. This is how the James Allder family in Kentucky came by Aunt Summer, the colored woman. Aunt Summer was a great asset in helping grandmother Allder rear her six children, as well as to run the household on the plantation.

This Kentucky farm where my mother, Lucy Jane, was born and reared seemed to be a kingdom within itself, for there they raised about everything for the table and everything necessary for clothing too. They raised flax for linen, cotton to be picked, carded, spun, and woven into cloth, sheep to be sheared, the wool washed, carded, spun and woven into cloth or knit into mittens, socks, and stockings…’Pap’, as the children called their father, made their shoes as well as managed their farm, and his own blacksmith shop.

They raised geese to supply the filling for their feather beds and down for the pillows. They wove rugs, blankets, and coverlets, made and quilted patchwork quilts…Besides the truck garden for vegetables and orchard for fruit which offered a variety of stuff to pickle, preserve, and dry, there were maple trees and sugar cane to supply sugar and syrup for the table.”

…During the growing up period of my mother, Lucy Jane, and her five siblings there was much work to be done. The girls were taught to sew, knit, tat, and do embroidery, card, spin, and weave. The girls learned early. Some could knit at four years of age, to sew at eight or nine and all were experts with the needle. The family lived in a double log house with fireplaces which not only provided warmth but also heat for cooking. To add spice to life Aunt Summer (the colored woman), whose husband was owned by another planter, had two sons, Tom and Fritz, near the age of the younger children to play and fight with. Aunt Summer had her own log cabin on the farm. Lucy thought it was a great treat to go to the cabin for the night out which was allowed on special occasions when the big house was full of company. The fascination was ghost stories, superstitious tales, roasting corn or apples in the fire or cracking nuts. Mother, Lucy Jane, talked so much about Aunt Summer that one of my sisters was fourteen years old before she knew that Aunt Summer was not Grandmother’s sister.

Schools were only for two or three months in the winter and if children could be spared from the work, there was a subscription school during the summer. During this time people did not think it was necessary to educate girls however, they did teach them to read and write and Lucy was an excellent reader and could spell well.

Pap, as the children called their father, was too fond of his Kentucky home brew: when he was ‘in his cup’ the family life was somewhat disturbed and disrupted. He was a ‘Jack of all trades’ as every pioneer had to be, but in addition he was a would be doctor. He was often called to visit the sick, especially when the patients, as they thought, needed bleeding. He had considerable knowledge of drugs, kept a kit including morphine, to which he became addicted. This, led to his untimely death in 1858.

…After his death shortly before the Civil War, his widow, Sarah Jane Allder, with her five single children, and one married daughter and family moved in three covered wagons to Missouri.”

They arrived at the Pyle relatives’ home in Missouri on Christmas Eve, 1859 when Lucy was 11 years old.

Shortly after the Civil War started the school building at Dadeville was burned by the Rebels, after Lucy’s one day’s attendance at the academy. Thus ended her formal schooling but not her ambition for an education. During the war, Lucy was the errand boy for her family and female relatives, her uncles, brothers, and male cousins all being in the Union army. She was daily on a horse herding cows and sheep, riding for mail, hoping for a letter from her brothers, Nicholas or John; or riding miles to a neighbor’s with messages or errands.

Lucy often told her children stories of how the Confederate soldiers attacked the homes in the area. During this time staple foods were almost not attainable. Her family found ways to survive by carrying their corn to the mill to be ground into meal or gathering wild grapes, berries and nuts.

The first nine years of Lucy’s life seem to have been secure.  After her father’s death, the family’s lives change dramatically then they moved to Missouri where they endured more hardships during the Civil War.  According to Jane,

Lucy was a teetotaler, abolitionist, suffragette, crusader; she could easily have suffered martyrdom for any great cause with her strong feelings and convictions.

…all of these things contributed to make of her a very sensitive, keenly perceptive, critical and dominating personality, hard to live with, for no one could live up to her expectations of native ability or of acquired skills, to say nothing of her high moral standards.”

Lucy’s grandson Cecil Nipps, in describing her in Jane’s book said:

Grandmother was the leader and fount of inspiration to her children and all those around her.  She strove to see that her children were properly reared and was very determined that every one should go to college.  I have never seen one person who generated a greater enthusiasm for education and being somebody in this world. …Grandma was strict, never allowed playing cards; bad language, intoxicants, dogs, nicknames or smoking in the home.  …she certainly left her mark on the world, particularly her progeny.  When she passed on at 91, she left a host of descendants of whom she could be proud and who in turn revere her memory.  There will never be another like my grandmother Dunaway!

The poem Lucy wrote shares her fond memories of the places and people most important to her during the first few years of her life, which she clearly believes contributed to her surviving hardships and her values as a mother.

Click to enlarge

There’s more to Lucy’s story that I’ll write about later.  For now, you can also read about her children at my previous post Brothers & Sisters.

Lucy was my husband’s maternal great, great grandmother.