Saturday, March 8, 2008
Today we feature a photograph of my Great, Great Grandmother, Georgia Lavinia Woods. She shared that name with her Mother, so she was known simply as "Little Sweet". She was born on August 15, 1855 in San Marcus, Texas. Her father was the respected physician Dr. Peter C. Woods. With the start of the Civil War in 1861, her father laid down his medical instruments, picked up his sword, and mustered up a Confederate Cavalry Regiment, which became known as the 32nd Texas Cavalry. Dr. Woods was elected commander of the unit, and he became Colonel-Doctor Peter C. Woods. In 1862 Little Sweet watched her father, and his cavalry unit ride off to war. The plantation was left in the care of her mother, Georgia Virginia Lawshe Woods, and the family slaves (note- I am embarrassed that my family owned slaves. I am proud of many aspects of my family history, but am sorry that this dark spot stains that history). They effectively managed the plantation in the absence of Peter. As the Civil War came to a close, union troops moved into Texas, acting as sort of an army of occupation. At this time, southerners really did not have any property or other rights, and were pretty much subject to what amounted to martial law. The practical implication was that you pretty much had to do whatever someone in uniform told you to do, right or wrong. If you did anything to resist, the reprisals would be much worse than the original offense. As union forces reached San Marcus, a group of soldiers approached the family plantation. As the senior Georgia went out to see what they wanted, Little Sweet was perched up on the balcony of the home with a rifle, and she took a shot at the group of soldiers (She would have been about 10 years old). She missed, but did startle them, and they all scurried for cover. As Little Sweet was reloading to fire again, one of the slaves was in the home, and saw what was happening. He ran out onto the balcony, took the gun away from her, and whisked her out behind the house, and into the woods. He likely saved her life because there is no doubt that the soldiers would have soon returned fire on her. Not much was said at the time about the incident. The soldiers did tell Georgia, however, that they were commandeering her home and property. She had one day to vacate the premises. The family was given the option that they could remove themselves from the property completely, or they could live out back in the slave quarters with the (former) slaves. They moved back into the slave quarters.
The soldiers were very abusive to the family, and the abusive behaviour became worse and worse. Of particular concern was that Little Sweet had a very beautiful older sister named Cherokee. One of the Union Officers had a very strong interest in Cherokee. His inappropriate advances became more and more aggressive, and he began to make explicit threats of violence to the family if Cherokee did not become more receptive to his inappropriate advances. It was very clear what the tragic endpoint of these unwanted and most unfortunate advances would soon be. The family had no choice but to take action to defend themselves. They had Cherokee approach the officer and express interest, and make arrangements for him to meet her that night in the barn. When the officer showed up, Cherokee was waiting for him inside, but the remainder of the family was hidden in the barn. When he entered the barn, they jumped him, overwhelmed him, and killed him. His body was disposed of some miles away. Being an officer, his disappearance was noticed by the authorities, and they did suspect foul play. The only good thing was that he had been abusive to many, many people. So, while they suspected foul play, there were scores of people who could have had an axe to grind with him.
Peter C. Woods did eventually return from the war. He had been seriously injured, and he had lost the use of his entire left arm. When he returned from the war, he freed all his slaves. The slaves would have really already been freed by the government, but Peter thought it was important for them to see that they were not just free in the eyes of the state, but that they were also free in the eyes of their former owner. Upon freeing them, he split the plantation into equal parts, giving each of the former slaves an equal part of the land. The only stipulation was that when he deeded them the land, he made a provision in the deed where they, or their descendents could not sell the land for 100 years. He did this to ensure that no one would be able to ever cheat them out of the land. By making this provision, he ensured that they would always own property.
Little Sweet had a long and happy life. She married, and had a very large family. She lived through, and had loved ones fight in the Civil War, The Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. In her life she observed the impact of both the mini-ball and the Atomic Bomb. She died on October 11, 1946 in Christoval, Texas at the age of 91.