grandfather of the author below had bought his original tract of land
in Bedford from Thomas Jefferson, who owned thousands of acres in that
county, and who had built his second home “Poplar Forest” there.
recalls Aunt Nancy and Uncle Jake from her childhood, whom her mother
referred to as “the Darby and Joan of the African race,” and that their
devotion to one another was a poem. Both were “colored servants who had
remained with her [grandmother] since slavery times . . .” Aunt Nancy
“was entirely respectful to Mother and “Old Miss,” as she called
Grandma, but she ruled us children and Uncle Jake with a rod of iron.”
Funeral for Our Old Friend
beloved Uncle Jake died during the last summer I ever spent at Forest.
He must have been nearly a hundred years old. We had never known him to
be ill. But one morning he did not wake up; and when Aunt Nancy came and
told us about it we could not believe that he was gone.
was the first time I had seen my father so overwhelmed with grief that
he was quiet and meek. He did not go to his office, and all day he
roamed around the farm, silent and disconsolate. On the day of Uncle
Jake’s funeral he was like a lost child.
all went to the little wooden church which was near our place. We sat
together at the back so as not to interfere with the seating of the
colored congregation. We were dimly worried about Father – sorrowful at
parting with our old friend.
preacher at the little country church was a handsome mulatto who
rejoiced in the high-sounding name of Jefferson Monroe. When he arose to
begin the service and saw us grief-stricken in the back pew, he
announced that his salary had not been paid for three months, and fixed
my father with a piercing eye. He said he would not go on with the
funeral until his back salary was paid.
for one, was shocked that Jefferson Monroe should take this occasion to
mention such a thing as money. I looked for father to spring to his
feet . . . and tell Jefferson Monroe to go to hell – that he would
perform the funeral himself.
Father did not utter a word of protest: With profound, and perfectly
detached dignity, he went forward and laid in Jefferson Monroe’s hand
the sum he had demanded.”
(The Vanishing Virginian, Rebecca Yancey Williams, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1940, excerpts pp.250-251)