1800’s snuff box

Published 8:06 am Thursday, February 1, 2018

Brother against brother, they said. A terrible war had fallen over the land. It was now January 1865, and the bloodshed raged on and on. Near a small North Carolina town, a 9-year-old girl named Priscilla struggled to understand why they didn’t always have enough food; they lived on a farm, and there always used to be plenty. But there had been some recent fighting in their fields, and everything that had still been growing was trampled flat. Even though they had hidden the cow and pigs in the woods, soldiers found them and took them. They took the chickens, too, so there weren’t even any eggs. Her dresses had split at the sides, and she had to put newspaper in her shoes — after all her family and neighbors had read those papers. And why couldn’t her cousins from Pennsylvania come to visit anymore? They had always had so much fun together, but now her Papa called them Damn Yankees. It didn’t sound very nice when he said it, either.

Last year, her beloved older brother had come home from fighting. But Johnny had a silver plate in his head, and he never whistled any more. Priscilla remembered when he had whistled all the time. Mama sometimes cried when she thought no one could hear her, and Papa rarely ever smiled anymore.

One afternoon, Johnny’s old classmate from Virginia Military Institute stopped to visit for a few days. Tom was on his way home to Richmond. His left arm was gone and he could no longer fight. Priscilla asked him what happened to it and he told her he had misplaced it near a town named Franklin in Tennessee. She puzzled over that, but she knew people said strange things anymore. Johnny mostly ignored him, but Tom helped on the farm for a while.

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One pleasant Sunday afternoon, he wandered around the once-pretty front yard, tossing a blue enameled snuffbox into the air and catching it in his one hand. Priscilla wanted to know where it came from. Tom said his fiancée had sent him off to war with it. She was gone now, dead of a fever. Priscilla was fascinated by the snuffbox, and dared to ask if she might have it. Tom smiled.

“What will you give me for it?” She replied, “You may have a bite of my cookie.”

And it happened that the trade was made, and the snuffbox became one of her prized possessions.

Priscilla kept that snuffbox all her life, and when she was old, gave it to her second youngest daughter, Ica. She, too, treasured the box, and it eventually came to Mary, her second youngest daughter as well. And more than a century later, Mary’s second youngest daughter came to own the snuffbox, and she loves it still.

PATSY MIESSLER is the Raines Tavern correspondent. Her email address is pmiessler@hughes.net.