The men and women of the Mackay family in Savannah, with their love of letter writing and interest in their family and their times, have provided fascinating glimpses into our past. A Savannah Family, 1830–1901 is a continuation of the Mackay family history which it has been the privilege of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Georgia to present both at the Andrew Low House Museum on Lafayette Square in Savannah and in its publications.The society’s publications now cover the five generations between 1795 and 1901. Chronologically by subject matter they are as follows:
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Leila Elliott Habersham wrote in her strong handwriting on eight and a half by eleven inch lined paper, in a notebook three quarters of an inch thick, bound with a leather spine and marble patterned cardboard covers with leather reinforced corners. She painstakingly sewed original letters from friends and family members into the leather spine. Since writing paper was difficult to come by at that time, Leila used every square inch, not even wasting space with paragraph breaks.
Leila Elliott Habersham’s niece Miss Caroline (“Lina”) Pinckney Huger inherited and maintained this collection of family papers in her home in Bluffton, South Carolina, passing it on to her niece Clermont Huger Lee of Savannah. A cousin brought me the Sketch of the Life of Frederic Augustus Habersham, with Clermont’s permission, and asked me to look at it, saying it was very sad and difficult to read, but since I owned the portrait of Fred’s father Joseph Habersham Jr. (a fourth great uncle) it might be of interest. Taking time from my architectural work to transcribe it as an interesting family relic, I realized Leila’s Sketch would be of great interest to those trying to understand this complex period. I was fascinated by the characterizations of Andrew Low and his wife Mary Cowper Stiles. It was this larger interest that caused me to bring the sketch to the attention of the Historical Activities Committee of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Georgia, which is responsible for their publications.
Clermont Lee called attention to the later family letters in her collection and suggested that the book should not end with Fred Habersham’s death in 1863. Even though The Light of Other Days partially covers the postwar period, Caroline Couper Stiles (Mrs. Todd Lovell) was born in 1862. Those who reached maturity before the war saw this critical period of the late 1860’s and early 70’s in a very different light. In fact, Caroline, not having any direct knowledge of the war, missed much of the real situation, particularly in describing the Fred Habersham family. This was largely because families at the time pulled themselves together tightly and kept their pain to themselves, putting on a brave front which the younger generation accepted at face value.
The first phase of this project was to transcribe the Sketch, then break it into parts at points where the action changed significantly, then introduce paragraphs and punctuation as required. Original letters that are sewed or pasted into the sketch are printed in Italics to differentiate them from Leila’s narrative writing. The Appendix provides genealogical charts for the Elliott, Habersham, and Mackay families and the Index includes most names by which an individual is addressed.
The Epilogue is composed primarily of letters to and from members of Leila’s immediate family.
The second phase of this project consisted of identifying
the people and situations described in the letters and Sketch.
Many people mentioned are missing or misidentified in published genealogies
due to a number of circumstances, including high infant mortality, similarity
of names, large extended families, lack of descendants, and the postwar
diaspora. One exception to this is The Story of An American Family,
privately published by Stephen B. Barnwell (Marquette: 1969) which was
invaluable assistance on the Elliott family. I had a head start on the
Habershams, benefiting by existing family papers in my possession. Clermont
Lee was a great source of information on the Mackay, Elliott, Habersham,
and Huger families. I also consulted innumerable books, old newspapers,
and many files in the special collections of the Georgia Historical
Society. Slowly the cryptic references in these letters blossomed into
real individuals and situations. In fact, this collection of such intimate
documents reversed the usual process of struggling to breath life into
characters from dry facts, often having to resort to outright fiction.
The writers of these letters caught my attention immediately, though
not knowing who or where some of them were or why or what they were
doing. Identifying the time, place, and context was great fun and provided
the support for their fascinating stories to unfold.
Gordon Burns Smith and Anna Habersham Wright Smith © 2012
P.O. Box 10041 | Savannah, GA 31412 | USA
Telephone: (912) 857-3351 | Facsimile: (912) 233-2543 | FactorsWalk@Earthlink.net