SOUTH CAROLINIANA LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY
Virginia Carolina Smith Aiken JournalThirteen manuscript volumes, 1872-1898, comprise the personal journal of Virginia Carolina Smith Aiken (1831-1900), second wife of Confederate soldier, agricultural editor, and congressman David Wyatt Aiken (1828-1887). A native of Abbeville District, Virginia Aiken was the daughter of Joel and Isabella Elizabeth Marshall Smith. She was married to David Wyatt Aiken on 27 January 1857. They were the parents of eleven children, and Virginia helped rear two children by her husband's first wife, Martha DuBose Gaillard Aiken (1833-1855).
Of primary interest among the journal are the first three volumes. The earliest, 1 January 1872 - 31 December 1873, is particularly compelling for what it reveals of the dynamics of a marriage in the post-Civil War South, at a time when a woman's responsibilities were shifting from those of plantation mistress to those of housewife. Volumes two and three provide a detailed account of David Wyatt Aiken's final illness and death.
A common difficulty which confronted Mrs. Aiken and other women of substance after the war was that of securing reliable house servants. "I have at last a house boy," she declared on 25 January 1872. "Preston begun his duties the 24th he seems to be smart—& smart or stupid, he will save me so many steps, do so much of the drudgery, which I had to do myself till he came, such as bringing in heavy sticks of wood, taking up ashes, churning, sweeping & c & c & c—We have fewer & more inefficient servants this year than we ever had—Gabriel knows very little about cooking, Clara knows nothing about washing & they with Preston are a poor dependence." Though she chided herself for not knowing how to cook and thereby fostering her dependency upon her servants, she fully understood how difficult it would be to find replacements for them. Another entry, 10 February 1872, echoes that realization—"Sat[ur- day] night is not dreaded now, as it was a few years ago—we can get through without having a servant, to change the water...to renew the fire & put things to rights, & c & c—I wish we were as independent about the cooking, washing, & ironing, but alas! we are not, & I fear in my day never will."
"Mr. Aiken," as he is referred to throughout the journal, oversaw the hiring of farm hands, which at times included foreign laborers, but Mrs. Aiken was oftentimes concerned over his choices and the family's heavy financial burden. Writing on 7 March 1872, she lamented—"my poor husband is so low spirited, & disheartened, by his failure to pay debts...he seems miserable, & makes us all miserable, by the way he talks, says none of us, try to help him,—or try to take care of any thing, & that we all seem bent upon destroying every thing that belongs to him, & c & c—& that none of us do any work—& oh! ever so much in that strain—oh! what can I do to relieve him in any way—all I can do, is to pray for him."
The Aiken home at Stony Point was seldom without visitors, and on more than one occasion during 1872, Mrs. Aiken recorded the presence of upstate men who had fled their own homes in order to escape persecution on Ku Klux Klan charges. House guests also meant more work for Virginia. Writing on 21 April 1872, she hinted at the complexity of her daily duties—"Today I have been very unwell, on my feet so much, sweeping the parlor before breakfast, almost kills me, for I have to lay out all my strength on it, & I get very hot over it—then I go to the cellar & while doing the dairy work I cool off—then I come to the pantry, slice up cold meat for breakfast put butter on the table & a half doz other things that is invariably forgotten the night before, then I dress my darling baby very hurriedly, & before I can finish dressing myself the breakfast bell rings—The young ladies cannot get down till the bell rings—they are so tired from their hard tasks of the day before—& yet I—poor me—have to get up sick or well tired or not—no rest for me." Her journal often voices Virginia's despair over having enough meat, eggs, and butter to feed her family and guests, and other entries, such as that of 30 April 1872, lend credence to her worries. That day, the journal records, she fed sixteen farm hands in addition to the Aiken family's seventeen members.
To add to Virginia's burdens, communication in the Aiken household was strained. David Wyatt Aiken was often away on Grange business, and, as she wrote on 18 April 1872, stayed "busy all the time he is at home—looking after things, & writing, answering letters & c & c that come in his absense." Virginia consequently found it troublesome to interrupt him. On 17 April 1872 she described one of their chats—"Mr. A & I talked a long time, I complaining of my hard work & he think I do not work too hard, & that, I grumble so much for nothing, Oh! me, if I was as strong as a giant I might do my work cheerfully & not feel it, but I am so weak—feel as if I could hardly live—so faint—men are so unreasonable—they dont know what a poor weak woman has to go through with." On another occasion, 28 June 1872, she wrote— "Mr. A is absent so much, & when he is at home I dont dare to speak to him except at meals for he is always reading or writing & no one can approach him then—a few times I venture to talk at night but I am always put off—by being told it is time to sleep `now dont lets talk on that subject if you please'—so I never get to talk on any subject—so I know nothing or very little of his work, plans, troubles or any thing." And again, [22 July 1872], she recorded—"Mr. A. & I got to talking about my taking things so hard & I trying to convince him, it was impossible for me to do otherwise, when I had no help—so this got me awake & excited & I couldn't sleep till nearly day—tis no use trying to make men understand that woman's work is anything—I get no sympathy from anyone neither children or husband—they never seem to see or know that I never get any rest—but live the life of the most menial slave when I have company, I scarcely see any thing of them—for there is always so much extra work to do—so much extra washing of dishes to do & no extra help—I enjoy very much sitting down hearing gentlemen talk, but tis a privelege I seldom enjoy—only by snatches."
Other portions of the journal are given over to ordinary details of daily life, such as meal preparation, gardening, canning and pickling, the care of children, and weather observations. And an entry dated 31 July 1873 records David Wyatt Aiken's exchange of Stony Point, Virginia's family homestead, for a more humble house at Cokesbury. "I feel that tis a great come down, to go to that Cokes[bury] place," Virginia wrote. "Oh! tis a real heart trial to leave this place—but we feel we cannot help it—the children cannot be educated unless we move to a village school—tho, I know we will all miss this comfortable place."
Following a lapse in journal entries between December 1873 and November 1885, the diary continues with two volumes, 18 November 1885 - 31 December 1886 and 1 January - 7 April 1887, devoted largely to Mrs. Aiken's account of the lengthy final illness of her husband. Entries dating between 18 November and 16 December 1885 detail their travels to Baltimore for consultation with a number of prominent physicians. Unable to relieve the patient's suffering through treatments that ranged from drugs, plasters, and traction to bleeding, the consulting physicians reluctantly advised the couple to return to South Carolina for fear that Mr. Aiken could not survive the cold of a Northern winter.
David Wyatt Aiken suffered intensely during this time and received injections of morphine with increasing frequency. Mrs. Aiken chided herself for her fears that her husband's dependency upon the drug was becoming habitual, yet she realized that his illness was terminal and that he needed relief from pain. Despite the gravity of his illness, life in the Aiken household went on as usual, and although Mrs. Aiken remained at her husband's bedside constantly, she recorded many of the details of daily activities, punctuated with frequent visitors and large family gatherings. One diary entry not directly bearing on Mr. Aiken's illness is particularly compelling to South Carolinians. Writing on 31 August 1886, Virginia Aiken related details of the great earthquake which devastated Charleston—"5 min of ten o'clo[ck]—we felt the house shake terribly & a rumbling noise with it—we were all frightened—& all rushed into Mr. Aiken's presence—he was very calm & tried to make us all so....There was service at negro church & there was a panic there— negroes ran over & hurt each other badly in their efforts to get out—we felt the shock 4 distinct times & then in the night again."
David Wyatt Aiken died on 6 April 1887 at age fifty-nine and was buried the following day at the Greenwood Cemetery. Diary entries following his death continue to reveal details of daily family life and Mrs. Aiken's travels. Virginia Carolina Smith Aiken died on 16 January 1900.
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