By Earlene V. Brown (as told to her by her grandmother Caroline Venie)
Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Family Library
Caroline Venie (Gran).
One day during the spring of 1862, my paternal grandmother, Caroline Venie, was instrumental in saving the valuables on the plantation in which her mother and father were house slaves. The plantation belonged to Taylor Griffin. The Griffin Plantation was located in Griffinsburg, west of Culpeper. It was rumored that the Yankee soldiers, having been defeated by Confederate forces at the Battle of Bull Run, were camped in several communities nearby.
According to plantation neighbors living in Griffinsburg, Mr. Griffin was too kind to his slaves, trusting them and treating them “like they were human”. The talk in the town was that the Griffins were “off agin” on one of their trips, leaving the slaves in charge of the whole place. The day the Griffins were due back, the plantation was humming with activity. The field slaves were plowing and planting crops. Great-grandmother and the other house slaves had finished cleaning and had started cooking the mid-day meal, when one of the field hands came running in to the house shouting, “Yankee soldiers are coming this way taking horses and letting all dem slaves loose. They is all over da road.” Great grandma Venie told the field hand to go back to work and act as if nothing unusual was happening.
Caroline was asleep in her crib in a corner of the kitchen. The women had stopped working and were wringing their hands and wailing. Great-grandmother snapped, “Hush that noise and bring me a hook rug, bring all the good linen, candlesticks, silver, everything y’all kin carry. We can put them in the root cellar.” The root cellar was under a trap door which was in the middle of the kitchen floor. There was a ladder leading down into a room; shelves filled with canned goods were on the walls. Bins with potatoes and onions were on the floor. Salt pork hung from the ceiling. The women put all the things they’d had time to grab in the cellar. Great grandmother closed the trap door and placed the hook rug over it. She then pulled the crib with Caroline in it on top of the rug. She watched the road until the soldiers were in the yard. She cautioned the women to remain quiet, pulled the rocking chair beside the crib and shook the baby awake, which started it crying.
The soldiers pushed their way into the kitchen, not bothering to knock. Great grandma was rocking the crib and singing when one of the soldiers walked over to her and demanded she be quiet. He asked, “Where is your master? Where does he keep the food? We need supplies.” Great grandma started talking in such heavy dialect he couldn’t understand her. He turned and ordered his men to search the house. He muttered, “You all probably don’t know where nothing is anyway.” He looked at the trembling women and said, “You all can leave now, you’re free.” Nobody moved.
Photo/Courtesy of http://www.old-picture.com/civil-war
Freed slaves in Culpeper, VA – “Contraband” of the war.
The Yankee soldiers came back after searching the house, complaining they did not find food or anything they could use. The soldier who had given the women permission to leave said, “We came all this way fighting and you folks don’t even want to be free.” Some of the men took the steaming kettles of food from the fireplace and went out and put it into a supply wagon they had driven into the yard.
“Lordie, Venie” one of the women said when she was able to talk, “Massa will have a fit if he hear you talk like you did to them soldiers. You know how he make us talk in the house on account of the children talking plain.” Venie sniffed, “It worked, didn’t it? He gave up trying to figure out what I was saying. I hardly understood myself.”
Photo/Courtesy of the Brown Family Library
The crying baby in the story, Caroline Venie.
A short time later the Griffins arrived home. They looked shocked when everything appeared to be in order. Old man Griffin hurried into the house to check on the women. The slaves who came out to unload the wagon came behind him carrying the luggage, telling him that the soldiers taken some horses and hay. Mr. Griffin told them how worried the family had been. “We expected the worse. Almost all the plantations between here and Culpeper lost their slaves with the owners on the place. Venie, why didn’t you all tell them where the food was and leave?” Great grandmother said, “Cause we wouldn’t have had nothing for our suppers that way. They told us to leave, but they didn’t say where we was to go.” Mr. Griffin went out of the kitchen laughing. He turned and called back, “Venie, keep that rug handy. We might need it again before the war is over.”
The Federal Census shows Caroline Viny as being part of the Griffin household in 1880.
Census data courtesy of The National Archives
1880 United States Federal Census – Virginia | Culpeper | Salem | District 0021
Earlene Brown, a Remington, Virginia resident, this story was passed down by the grandmother who raised her, the crying baby in this story.
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Revised: Sept. 2013