A Fictional Account of Christmas 1868 Based on Documented Historical Facts

Julia Ann Joines Carvell was a real Giles Countian and the great-great-great grandmother of Claudia Johnson, who hosts this page. Although no journal exists attributed to Julia Ann, everything included in these three installments of her mythical memoir written by Claudia Johnson is factually based on information obtained through issues of The Pulaski Citizen, Giles County Tax or Census records and Civil War records. Julia Ann’s memoirs were published in The Pulaski Citizen during the 2003 holiday season.

The above image is from the Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, published in Philadelphia, was very popular in the mid-late 19th century. It was advertised in the Pulaski Citizen. Not only did it contain poetry, articles, and engravings created by prominent writers and other artists of the time, it included a hand-tinted fashion plate.

These now provide a record of the progression of women’s dress. The ladies of Giles County would have had the chance to purchase fashions such as those shown from the magazine that was mailed just before the opening of Antoinette Hall in December 1868. Local merchants made annual buying trips to Philadelphia to acquire clothing and fabrics for the new season each year. 

The “Diaries,” by Claudia Johnson

December 1868

Minnow Branch, Giles County, Tennessee
The holiday season will begin in a few weeks, and this is the first time since The Pulaski Citizen resumed printing in January 1866, the paper has mentioned anything about Christmas before the holiday.
After Christmas of 1866 The Citizen reported that Pulaski had been vandalized by drunks. Fires were set, cotton bales were slashed open and storefronts were damaged. Other than that, those of us who faithfully read The Citizen would have had no idea that Christmas was coming.
Not this year. This week’s Citizen is filled with holiday advertisements, announcements of special events and news of the opening of Mr. Angenol Cox’s opera house on the east side of Pulaski’s square.
I’ve read The Citizen as long as I can remember. The paper started in 1854 when I nine years old. It was around Christmas we got the first one. Over the years Papa read it to me, my 10 brothers and sisters and, since she could not read well, to Mama. I didn’t understand a lot of what he was reading, but I listened anyway, and it was not long until I could make out the words myself.
We depended on the newspaper and really missed it after it stopped printing during the late war when Union troops were occupying Giles County and the presses were hidden from the Yankees.
Papa was gone with Co K of the 53rd Tennessee Infantry, and after he was captured at Fort Donelson, he spent most of the war in prison camps up north. Mama still has the letter he sent from Port Hudson, La., in February of 1863 during one of the brief periods he was free asking for her to send a pair of pants, a pair of socks and some underwear. We had not heard from him in a long time, but he explained that he was in the hospital, which was under quarantine for fear of smallpox.
“I hope the time is not far off, when I will meet with you, if not, I hope to meet you in a better world,” he wrote, making us all cry as I read the letter out loud.
Papa was discharged in March and came back to our home at Minnow Branch near Campbellsville, but some Union sympathizer in the neighborhood told the Yankees, and Papa was sent back to a prison camp. We did not see him again until after he signed the oath of allegiance in May of 1865 at Rock Island, Ill. Four months later Bob Carvell and I got married. I had known Bob all my life since he grew up just the road from our family.
Ever since The Citizen began printing again in January 1866, we’ve subscribed to it. It costs $4 a year and is only four pages, but it takes me all week to read it having to take care of our baby, Mollie, and the house, while Bob works with his Pa on their farm. My Papa is not an educated man, just a farmer and a stonemason, but he does like to read and has carefully followed the Citizen’s stories about state and national politics, negro suffrage, reconstruction, President Johnson’s impeachment and most recently, the election of Gen. Grant as President.
Papa says he does not always agree with what the editor and publisher, Mr. Luther McCord, has to say or even what he chooses to reprint from other papers, but he does agree with Mr. McCord that the only way a local newspaper can survive is with local support. Mr. McCord often dwells on that subject and is hard on the businesses that do not advertise. But there are plenty of advertisements in this week’s paper. It sure makes me wish I could go to Pulaski with plenty of money.
The west side of the square burned in May of 1867 and the east side burned in April of this year. The Citizen printed a list of all the businesses, how much they lost and whether they were insured. The square has been rebuilt and the paper has been full of news about the new grand buildings.
The paper announced last week “old Kriskringle has just arrived” at J.C Lambeth and Co. with his entire stock of goods for Christmas. There are fancy ornamented cakes, raisins, figs, oranges, lemons, nuts, coconuts. sardines, oysters, cheese, pickles, coffee, tobacco and cigars. Sumpter and Percy’s drugstore has an assortment of toys, which their advertisement claims is the most extensive ever brought to this market.
Osborne’s bookstore offers stationary, pens, ink stands, books of all kinds for all ages and picture albums as well as toys. “Go early if you want something nice,” the paper writes.
Another ad tells how J. F. Moffett has returned from the eastern markets with readymade clothing, queensware, boots, hats, hardware and home furnishings. William G. Lewis, a merchant tailor, will make clothes to order or sell them off the rack.
A separate proprietor, Walter Moffet, calls himself the “Broadway Tailor.”
McGuire, Ezell and Hill are cotton merchants and sell clothing, farm implements and groceries as does the house of John D. Flautt . H.K. Brannan advertises overcoats, beaver suits, cloaks, shoes, hats and boots. A. Craine advertises similar items as well as luggage, trunks and sewing supplies. Rosenau and Bro. includes carpeting in its ad.
F.G. Tignor sells saddles and other items for horses, but I most want to see a buggy trimmed in “the most modern manner” as his ad claims.
I’d also like to have a watch made for Bob by Leon Godfrey and have a portrait taken of our family by the photographic artist, Charles Hall.
I will write more later as the plans for Christmas of 1868 in Giles County unfold.
Julie Ann Joines Carvell

Clippings from the Dec. 18, 1868, Pulaski Citizen, show more about how Christmas was celebrated.

19 December 1868
Minnow Branch, Tennessee
How I wish Bob and I could attend the opening of Mr. Cox’s new theater Christmas night. The Pulaski Citizen says that the vocal and instrumental concert by the amateurs of Pulaski assisted by the Pulaski Brass Band and the local orchestra will be the grandest concert ever given in Pulaski. It costs $.50 to get in, but the money benefits the orchestra and band.
The night after Christmas a theater season will open. The men in the Ben Jonson Club will perform a comedy, “Heir at Law,” in five acts and a nautical drama, “Black Eyed Susan,” in two acts. Their big advertisement in the newspaper says it costs .75 to be admitted to the parquette and .50 for the gallery. At Sumpter and Pearcey’s Drug store private seats can be reserved for $1 and box seats for $5.
It seems that this fall and winter the paper has been full of reports about events in our county. There was a big circus in town in August. In September a concert was given by amateur musicians to benefit Giles College, the school Gen. Brown is helping to get started. During the week of the agricultural fair in October, there were several balls and concerts. It has been a year since the Tournament Club is held a joust with some of the county’s men taking the roles of knights and competing for prizes. I guess this year rebuilding the square after the fires and raising money for the new school has occupied their time.
The paper has been talking all year about the Ben Jonson Club. Ben Jonson wrote plays at the same time King James was translating the Holy Bible. Before Mr. Cox’s theater, they performed in Mr. May’s new building, the first three-story building in the county. This club seems only to have men in it, because no women are ever mentioned in the paper as being in the shows.
Sometimes I don’t understand Mr. McCord. Like this week he reprinted a long article from another paper about how every woman is bound to make the best of herself. Yet he makes rude remarks about Mrs. Anthony and Mrs. Stanton, those Yankee ladies trying to get the vote for women – which I hope they do! The paper often includes news of fashion from New York and Paris, but he criticizes women for being fashionable.
“A fashionable woman is not half as anxious to win the admiration of men as to provoke the envious admiration of her own sex,” McCord states one recent clipping.
Anyway, I’m sure there will be plenty of fashionable men and women at the opening of Mr. Cox’s theater. The paper reported that Mr. J. Love Pearcy’s new store hosted an opening that included what Mr. McCord called “a select assemblage of Pulaski’s famous beauties and a like number of its gallant beaux.” He described the “fresh supply of streaming oysters, sardines, cakes, candies, fruits, nuts, wines.”

A milliner and mantua maker, Mrs. Pantenella Higgins, has located in town, and a bootmaker, R. Ellis, has begun advertising. There are already several department stores that advertise fashions for men, women and children, all with big notices of special things for the holidays.

It is interesting to see news of Pulaski’s increasing prosperity. Earlier this year they expanded the city limits. The newspaper said last month that there is a demand for houses and store buildings and rents are pretty high. One thing that is a big problem is pavement. There’s not much in Pulaski, so when it rains, the streets are a mess.
Last year the city built hitching racks for horses along the Pleasant Run Creek behind the store buildings on the East Side of the square. That has helped keep the streets a little cleaner and less smelly. Mr. McCord has criticized the city in the paper saying that the $5 fine for not using the racks is not properly enforced. He called the city’s laws “a humbug.”
It’s about 12 miles from our house on Minnow Branch to Pulaski, and it is not often I make the trip. But something that may be starting in 1869 makes me want to make the tiresome trip every month. A lawyer, Mr. T. M. Jones, is the one promoting the idea. He suggests that at least 100 citizens pay $5 per year to maintain a room where periodicals from the United States and Europe can be collected. Every member and his family can use the room to read magazines and newspapers about medicine, law, politics, agriculture, art and other subjects. He says that in a few years Giles County could have the best library in the country.
I thought the Ku Klux had just about died out in Giles since there has been little mention of the secret society in recent newspapers. Then, last week among the 300 guests at Squire Ferguson’s house at Cornersville when his daughter, Mary, married Jesse Garrett, were 20 Ku Klux ghosts. Last year the Ku Klux showed up at a picnic near Pulaski. The paper said that at first the ladies were frightened, but the hooded men mingled with the revelers and left without anyone knowing who they were.
I hope they don’t appear Christmas night at the new theater. I am sure I would be very frightened to see them in the tall pointed hats and long flowing robes that Mr. Luther McCord that runs the newspaper described in such detail.
Julie Ann
30 December 1870
Minnow Branch, Tennessee
As 1871 approaches The Pulaski Citizen has been talking of major changes to the paper for 1871. Subscriptions are a special price of $2, which is half what we’ve been paying. Looking at the advertisements in the newspaper gives me an idea of what things cost in Pulaski.
Sometimes I am surprised at the prices. For example at the livery stable it costs $10 per day to rent a horse and carriage. A short drive costs $2. For $25 per month the stable feed horses once a day. Out in the country we have plenty of grass and room for our horses, and we use a wagon when we need to go somewhere.
The paper says that a lot of building is going on in Pulaski. Lots are advertised for sale west of the square in every newspaper, and houses are already being built on the hill east of the square that used to be Indian Territory when my Grandpa Joines was a young man. It is a long trip for us to Pulaski, especially because there are no good roads.
Mr. McCord, the newspaperman, is always writing about how nobody is trying to make the county better by building turnpikes. He’s been on that subject for years calling it “a lack of public spirit and enterprise,” and I still think that none are being built.
He did say that North Main Street in Pulaski has been graveled. Not long ago he reported about a road within a mile of town that is completely impassible even in the dry months because there is no bottom in it. In one article he reminded the grand jury that there is a state law that requires people in the county to work on their roads, and there are fines if they do not.
Mr. McCord keeps saying that even though Giles County’s census taken earlier this year shows more than 32,000 people living here and makes it one of the biggest in Middle Tennessee, if there are no good roads the county will not develop.
Bob and I live on a dirt road that runs along Minnow Branch. It’s bad to flood here when it rains, and sometimes you can’t tell where the road is at all between our farm and the nearest town, Campbellsville.
There are five businesses there, a church and a doctor. There’s a library that is growing all the time. In January of 1871 an academy is supposed to open. I was noticing in The Citizen that another little town called Bethel in a part of the county I’ve never been to has two grocery stores, two mercantiles, a Masonic Hall, a church, a school and two doctors. That town is only four miles from the Nashville and Decatur Railroad station at Prospect. Our closest stations here at Minnow Branch are at Waco, Buford and Wales.
You can take a passenger train to Nashville or Decatur and all points in between everyday. There’s also a freight train that goes both directions daily. Over 6 million pounds of freight was shipped from Pulaski and about the same amount was received. Most people ship their crops that way. The newspaper said that more than 50,000 bales of cotton, 100,000 bushels of wheat and 138,000 bushels of corn are shipped on the N&D in one year.
Our family does not grow cotton in the hilly, rocky area, but the cotton market is important to us all. This year’s cotton crop is bringing about 14 cents a pound. The price has gone down each year since the war. In 1866 it was about 30 cents. The paper said there will be about three million bales for sale in the south this year.
Dr. Westmoreland of Prospect, a captain in the 53rd during the war, won the best bale award at the state fair, and the paper says the cotton here is always the best. Even the Nashville Banner had an article in 1868 saying that W.I. Henderson of Giles County had produced the finest bale of cotton ever sold in the Nashville market. Messrs. McGuire and Hill have built a large cotton storage house near the square in Pulaski for storing cotton until it goes to market.
The Citizenis filled this time of year with advertisements for cotton merchants and factors, some from as far away as Memphis and New Orleans. Mr. Frierson of Columbia has several local agents for his business in New Orleans. Papa noticed that former Confederate soldiers Col. James T. Wheeler from Lynnville, P.W. Nave from Elkton and Gen. John C. Brown from Pulaski are local agents for the company. I guess the confederates will always stick together.
Julie Ann

This is a photo of the real Julia Ann Joines Carvell (known as Julie to her family) and her husband, Robert “Bob” Carvell in their older years. Both were born in Giles County in 1845 and both died in 1924 in Giles County. They were married here in 1865.