Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s Notes on the Carr Family for Henry S. Randall

The Carr Family.

My grandfather’s sister, Martha, married Dabney Carr a man of great merit. He died young but left six children, three sons & three daughters. Their history, of course, is without interest for the public but Mr Randall may like to know something of them.

Peter, the eldest son, to whom many of My grandfather’s letters are addressed, might & would have been a distinguished man but for his extreme indolence. He was, as I knew him, corpulent and self-indulgent, loving his own ease, but a most pleasant companion, and an excellent friend. He had fine talents, a finished education, great powers of conversation, a warm heart an affectionate & generous temper & large views on almost all subjects. His knowledge of literature, especially English literature, was very extensive. He read aloud better than almost any one I ever heard, and his lessons in reading poetry, given to me when I was very young little more than a child, have stood me in good stead ever since. He had a decided taste for music and a not unpleasant base voice. I loved him very much, my dear “Cousin Peter” as I always called him. He was to me like an excellent uncle & to my mother a kind, affectionate brother. His devotion to My grandfather was extreme. It was both personal & political. He died when I was very young and in him I lost one of the best friends I ever had. His memory is dear to me and my farther acquaintance with other men has only made me think better of him.

Poor “Cousin Sam,” the second of Aunt Carr’s sons, had been, as I was told, a quick & clever boy but a change had come over his spirit & he was any thing but a clever man. He was rather coarse & somewhat of the country squire,—He was fond of wearing buckskins because he thought they had a manly look, and was a little vain of the cleverness which he had lost, & of the good looks he could never have had.

Dabney or Judge Carr, as he was afterwards called, possessed respectable abilities, an amiable character and gentlemanly manners. He was superior to Sam in understanding & breeding, & to Peter in perseverance & application. He was the intimate friend of Mr Wirt.

The eldest of Aunt Carr’s daughters, Jane, married the only son of Col. Wilson Miles Cary of Carisbrook, Fluvanna Co. Virginia, a person of large property & considerable importance before the Revolution but who, surviving to great age outlived both. His son died young leaving his widow with several children. Col. Cary was a gentleman of the old school, a man of distinguished manners though not otherwise remarkable. In one instance I saw him shew a wonderful degree of courage and calmness. Being very expensive in his mode of living, (he had been one of the old Williamsburg court, under the Royal Governor,) he had greatly impaired his large fortune. At the time I speak of he was advanced in years and suffering under pecuniary embarassment, in fact burthened with debt. He depended almost entirely, for an income, upon the crops of wheat and tobacco made on his estate of Carisbrook. He owned there a noble body of low grounds as they were called, lying on the Rivanna not very far, I think, from it’s junction with the James. This land was in the highest degree fertile, but subject to be laid waste at long intervals, by freshets. I happened to be on a visit at Carysbrook. Col. Cary’s grandson, the eldest son of Jane Carr, had married my father’s sister, Virginia Randolph, and was living with his grandfather. I was with my aunt and of course the guest of Col. Cary. There had been heavy & long continued rains & fears were entertained of a freshet. The river was becoming swollen & turbid. At this time the beautiful expanse of low grounds was covered with a large wheat crop, just reaped and thrown up into what were called shocks, all ready to be carried to the barns on the high land. One morning the sun came out & the weather was soft & fine. We were seated at an early breakfast, when the alarm was given that the river, which had risen considerably in the night, was still rising rapidly & overflowing it’s banks. We all hastened from the house to a spot that commanded a full view of the fields & stream. I never saw a finer or a sadder sight. Nothing could be done but stand idly by & see the ruin. The flood came not impetuously, not with a rush, but slowly, majestically, the waters heaving & swelling & rolling over the level grounds, bearing before them the hopes of the year, an abundant crop of the finest wheat grain, on which depended the family income, the support of the plantation, the payment of interest on debt, almost all to which Col. Cary looked for meeting his most necessary expenses. He stood silent, grave, collected, watching the progress of the devastation. He uttered no word of complaint and no exclamation. He made no comment, and after seeing that the case was hopeless, he walked with a measured step and a firm countenance back to the house, took his seat in his accustomed chair and but for a graver look and more subdued voice when he spoke on other matters, no one could have perceived that any thing more than usual had taken place. The impression made on my girlish mind was very deep, especially when I saw the old man open his Bible at the usual hour, and read as usual, only with graver and more fixed attention. I was too young to ask myself what I have since done, whether the old Colonial education did not make men more manly than the modern systems have ever been able to do. The remains of the old southern aristocracy, even as I remember them, were a superior race, in manners, bearing & I should say education to their descendents. I suppose this deterioration is a necessary consequence of democratic institutions and what we gain in one way we lose in another, less important no doubt but still to be regretted.—

The second daughter of my Aunt Carr married Mr Terrell & removed to Kentucky where both husband and wife died and the children were sent back to Virginia. The son, Dabney Terrell, was the great nephew to whom my grandfather addressed a letter on the study of the law. He inherited the family talent in a remarkable degree but died very young at New Orleans. One of my earliest childish recollections is of the terrible grief of my great Aunt Carr on hearing of the death of her daughter Mrs Terrell. She was on a visit to Monticello when the news arrived. I was too young to understand much of what was going on, but the rigid form of the miserable mother as she sat in her chair, stiff and stoney-eyed, without a tear or the possibility of shedding one, and the agitation and alarm of the assistants I can never forget. I do not know how long this statue-like state continued nor by what means the paroxysm was subdued.

The third daughter, Mary Carr, Cousin Polly as we used to call her, lived and died single—verifying the truth of Dr. Johnson’s saying that if marriage has many pains celibacy has no pleasures.

Tr (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, Letterbook); in the hand of Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge.

marriage has many pains . . .pleasures is from Samuel Johnson’s Prince of Abissinia: A Tale (1759).

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Date Range
January 1, 1858 to December 31, 1858