“Thy Will Be Done” (21) – Tom Beall, “Kizzie,” and Her “Secret Society” by Jim Surkamp

1874 words

https://web.archive.org/web/20181024154226/https://civilwarscholars.com/2014/12/thy-will-21-tom-beall-kizzie-and-her-secret-society/

Chapterette 21 – Spring, 1864 – Netta Lee Remembers Tom Beall and Kiziah, and Kiziah’s “Secret Society.”

Spring, 1864 (estimated): Tom Beall and his daughter Kiziah at Bedford. “Kizzie” appears to work for the Federals, as remembered by Netta Lee:

“Uncle Tom” had been a member of my father’s family for many years and enjoyed the distinction of being the oldest person on the place. He was a cripple and Father had given him a tall bay horse for his own use. All the family at Bedford were devoted to him, with the possible exception of some of the younger negroes, whom he bossed around with his powerful voice. When he yelled at the little children, they ran to do his bidding or scrambled out of reach of his cane.

“Uncle Tom” was honest and reliable and (my father) often sent him to the county-seat on important errands, either to the bank or with papers to be delivered to the clerk of the court. Tom was proud of the trust reposed in him. Upon one occasion I happened to be in the kitchen when the old man came in from one of these Charlestown expeditions in order to warm himself and get his supper. Turning to Nace, a younger man, who had risen from his meal, Tom said: “Nace, what’s the reason Mr. Lee didn’t send you to Charlestown instead of me?”

“Because, Tom, Mr. Lee wanted me to help John to haul the logs from the farm.”

“Huh!” chuckled Tom. “No, Nace, that isn’t the reason! Mr. Lee had money he wanted to put in the bank; he doesn’t send that money in care of nobody but Tom! That’s why.”

Netta continued in her diary:
Upon one occasion, my father met him near his cabin and thought he looked very dejected, so he asked him: “Tom, how did you leave your daughter? I heard she had been sick.”

“Oh, she’s well; that is, she isn’t sick; but we are in great trouble.”

“What are you in trouble about, Tom? Tell me, and perhaps I can help you,” said my father.

“Well,” replied the old man, “you know all about Kizzie’s owner Mr. Moore, a dying a few weeks ago, and the home all broke up Kizzie will have to go so far away to live with one of their sons. I know I ain’t never gone to see her again. Mr. Lee, Kizzie and I have talked it over and we don’t know what to do. So I’ve come to ask you please to go over to Charlestown and see if they won’t let Kizzie come here to live with you-all and work for you-all and take over the care of me till I dies; and you know, Mr. Lee, that won’t be very long, for I’m most one hundred years old now. Kizzie isn’t young either for she’s clear lost the sight of her left eye.”

Father said: “I will indeed help you, Tom, if it is possible. You have always been a faithful, honest servant to me.”

“God bless you, Mr. Lee.” Tom said fervently.

Mr. Lee went to Charlestown and made some bargain by which Keziah was installed at Bedford, much to the delight of Tom and his daughter. Soon the tall, one-eyed cyclops became an established member of the family. Her chief work was in the laundry and in caring for her old father which for a time she did faithfully. Somehow she seemed to keep aloof from the other servants; when the war came on and old Tom grew more feeble keeping to his bed, Kizzie became restless, spending most of her evenings in town and not with her father. This led the other servants to look upon her with suspicion and one day Peggy came to her mistress, who had been in the habit of sending Tom some little delicacies from her own table and which she thought the old man might relish. Peggy said: “Mistess, Kiz has gone to town and I wish you would come and see Tom. He called me to give him some water, and said he hasn’t had anything to eat today.”

“I don’t believe a word of it, Peggy! You know I have sent his meals every day from the house by Kizzie. He doesn’t know what he is saying; I’ll go and see him.”

Mrs. Lee followed Peggy to Tom’s cabin and was astonished to see how feeble the old man had grown in the past three days. Giving him a glass of wine which she had brought and which he eagerly drank, she said:

“Why, Tom, Peggy tells me you say you have had nothing to eat all day. What do you mean?”

“I mean just that,” and lowering his voice and looking around, eh said: “Where is Kiz?”

“She’s gone to town to her society meeting,” replied Peggy.

“Well, don’t you all tell her, but Mistiss, she’s gotten tired of me and she wants me to hurry up and die. I begged her for vittles, but she said, “Mistiss said I mustn’t eat anything.”

“Why, Tom,” said Mrs. Lee, “I’ve asked her every day since I was last here how you are and she said you were up and about and better. That is why I have not been down for the last day or two.”

He continued: “Mrs. Lee, I’m afraid of Kiz. Please don’t tell her but I haven’t been up, and she wouldn’t give me a drink of water and took the cup away from the stool, cause she says I make trouble when I drink too much.”

Mrs. Lee continued: “Why, Tom, I have sent you three meals every day from the house.” “What did she do with them?”

“I don’t know for the Lord. She hasn’t given them to me. She put something in the stove.”

Peggy said: “Bless goodness, just look over here, opening the door of a large old ten plate stove, from which tumbled pieces of moldy bread and meat and other things.”

Mrs. Lee looked and found piles of good food, all hard and dry and moldy.

“Why Tom, what is the reason Kizzy didn’t give you these things or eat them herself?”

“Mistess, she gets plenty to eat up at the house and she said it wasn’t fit for me to eat, that it would make me worse.”

Mrs. Lee expressed her indignation, saying she would speak to Kizzy in the morning, but old Tom pled for her and seemed to fear Kiz’s wrath. Mrs. Lee and Peggy concluded it was wiser to shut their eyes for the time, as long as the old man lived, which could only be a few days; he was in his ninety-eighth year.

Under Mrs. Lee’s supervision, Peggy fixed him comfortably for the night and brought down a good supper from the house. Peggy told her mistress: “Kizz is going to leave as soon as he father dies, and upon my soul, Miss Netta, I believe she’s trying to starve him to death.”

“Well, Peggy, we will watch him and keep the breath in him as long as we can. You will have to take his meals to him yourself.”

“No indeed, Netta, I was afraid of Kiz too. When she rolls that one white eye at me, I won’t cross her path. You don’t know that woman.”

Netta continued:
I was standing near Mother and Peggy and said: “I will take all of Uncle Tom’s meals to him, Mother, and see that he eats them too.”

Next morning, Kiz was doubtless surprised to find that her fasting prescription had worked so well and that her father was much stronger. I took Uncle Tom a fine, hot breakfast and watched him eat it. Then he turned to his daughter:

“Kiz, Mrs. Lee says it won’t hurt me to eat all I want to,” Keziah gave him a sour look:

“Well, I didn’t say it would. You wouldn’t eat what I fetched you.”

Tom made no reply; perhaps he did not hear her; but each day he grew stronger.

For some time we had suspected that one of the servants was a traitor in our home; now we felt certain it was Kizzy. The house was constantly being searched by the yankees on one pretext or another. One day a squad came in and went from room-to-room; no one seemed to know what they were after. Finally, when they were in my room, adjoining Mother’s, she said: “This is my daughter’s room, what can you possible want here?”

“Well, Madam,” replied he officer, “I will tell you. We were told that there is a hole cut in this floor, beneath the carpet under the bed, in which you have hidden arms and ammunition.”

With great calmness and possession of mind, my mother said: “You have been misinformed. I assure you there is no hold in this room. But you can satisfy yourself; make the men take up the carpet and look!”

I stood aghast at Mother’s self-possession. Adjoining my room was Mother’s chamber, where just such a hole was to be found. In it were my father’s papers – he was a lawyer- as well as other things of value. While the officer stood undecided about ordering the carpet taken up, I said to him:

“Who could have told you such a thing?”

“One of your own servants, madam,” he answered.

“Oh, I know what you must mean!” said Mother. “There is no cellar under this room, but from the cellar proper a person can crawl under it. Come! I’ll lead you there. I see now what you mean; the cellar door is a hole cut in the floor, but it is the porch floor; I will show you.”

By this stroke of diplomacy, Mother led them from the house through another door, while I stepped behind and drew the portiere over the door to Mother’s room. At the same time, I turned the key and taking it out, I put a large chair against the door. The upper part of the door was glazed hence the effect of a large window was produced.

In the meantime, Mother led the men to the back porch,

“Yes, this is just what was described.” said the officer, “ a trapdoor in the floor.”

“Well, gentlemen, search to your satisfaction,” said Mother, “and you are welcome to any government supplies you can find.”

A look of intelligence passed between Mother and me, which the officer caught but misunderstood. He seemed at first determined not to enter, but now changed his mind, supposing he had a bonanza. Turning to a soldier, he said: “Go ahead and search that place thoroughly!”

The soldier entered but hesitated and drew back when he saw only a dark black hole. Mother said to her young son: “Harry get a lamp, that they may see the better, my dear.”

This produced a ripple of laughter among the men; but they waited for the light, though Mother assured them nothing was there to harm them, unless it was the rats. They looked rather sheepish when they came out, the office swearing at his captain for believing negro lies and sending him on a fool’s errand. – (1).

References/Image Credits:

Chapterette 22: About April, 1864 Netta Lee Remembers Clever Horse Snatching by Her Brother.

1. Alexandra Lee Levin’s book “This Awful Drama” implies without specifying that this incident occurred in the spring of 1863. It has been placed in the spring of 1864 here, because Edmund Lee’s service record indicates that in April-May, 1864 Lee was on “horse detail.” The mentioned soldiers, Clemmons and Jones who were with him, also have service records showing their presence in April-May, 1864 in Shepherdstown was easily possible.

2. Netta Lee, pp. 23-24.

NEXT: Chapterette 22. https://civilwarscholars.com/uncategorized/thy-will-be-done-chapter-22-edmund-lees-horse-snatching-caper-by-jim-surkamp/