Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Jubal jewel, or a rural myth?

There's no way I could have made this up. It's a great story, and I've been including it for years whenever I give talks on local history.

Last weekend out at New London Day, I told it to Mike Mahaffey, who impersonates Civil War general and post-war Lynchburg character Jubal Early at re-enactments. He grinned broadly.

"You've got to find out where that came from," he said, "so I can use it."

Basically, the story involves Early's father and uncle, who were raised on the family homeplace in Franklin County.

Jubal's grandfather passed on to his reward somewhat prematurely, and his grandmother grew lonely. Eventually, she and the overseer on the plantation became attracted to each other and planned to get married.

Jubal's father and uncle were appalled. Maybe it was because they cherished their father's memory and thought their mother should remain a widow forever. Or maybe they just disliked the overseer. At any rate, they vowed to do everything they could to sabotage the wedding.

On the morning of the big day, while their mother was upstairs getting ready, the two sons -- then in their late teens -- went out to the small family cemetery armed with two shovels and dug up the coffin containing their late father. Then they hauled it into the house, covered with mud, and set it at the bottom of the stairs the bride-to-be would soon be descending.

According to the story, Mrs. Early came downstairs in her bridal finery, saw what her rebellious sons had done and told them: "You can just put him back. I'm still getting married."

During my years in journalism, I've learned (sometimes the hard way) how stories can become embellished over time. Is this one of them? Or did it really happen? And if so, where could I find out more?

Mike Mahaffey and I would like know.


lee said...

...I love this story!
My husband loves to name pets after Civil War personalities, and we currently have a cat named Lieutenant Colonel John Singleton Mosby, aka Mo Cat. I know this has absolutely nothing to do with this story, but maybe we'll have another stray cat come down the street. I don't think Jubal's such a great name for a cat, do y'all?
I really want to know if the story is true, too. Who's the Civil War authority in Lynchburg?

lee said...

I went home last night and asked my husband and mother-in-law if they had ever heard the story. They are native Lynchburgers, my mother-in-law is 92, and they had not. My husband did share a story with me that he had heard about Jubal Early. He was practicing law in Lynchburg, and one day while he was sitting at the desk in his office the floor collaped. It fell right out from under him and he went straight down with it, sitting in his chair. When somebody finally came to rescue him, he yelled up for them to stop gawking, and to get him a rope and a bottle of whisky because he needed both badly! That was quite a story, too.