Suffolk in later summer 1864

Published 10:29 pm Thursday, August 14, 2014

By Kermit Hobbs Jr.

Even in the trying days of 1864, when the citizens of Suffolk and Nansemond County were suffering the ravages of war, one Suffolk resident had an experience that he later fondly recalled. Clay Kilby related the following story in his 1876 historical novel, “Vernon Londsdale.”

“I can never forget the time when my brother and myself, he fourteen and I twelve years old, clad in our homespun suits, with wheat-straw hats on and barefooted, we would daily, with hoes on our shoulders, wend our way to the field and work steadily through the day under the burning sun of June. Thus with the assistance of father and a small boy, who preferred to remain with us, we produced enough to support the family. At this time father, brother, the boy, and myself had two suits each off the same piece of homespun — one for a dress suit and the other to work in.

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“When our crops were laid by (harvested), the boys of the town, numbering probably forty or fifty, would congregate together and devise ways and means for enjoyment and pastime. As all the farm-houses within six or seven miles of Suffolk had been destroyed by fire, there were of course no tenants upon the land, and in the months of June, July, and August the farms were laden with fruit, which was free to all who desired it.

“One of our favorite pastimes was to visit these different orchards, and plucking the choicest fruit, would bring it to our several homes. It was really astonishing to see the endurance of some of the boys. It was considered a small feat for a boy twelve years old to bring a half bushel of apples a distance of six or seven miles.

“Each one in the party would take with him on these expeditions a large bag, which would hold about three bushels. After placing in it all the apples he could conveniently carry, and tying a string around the open end, he would divide the apples so that an equal quantity would be in each end, then place it over his neck in the form of a yoke; thus he was enabled to carry it with the greatest ease.

“I remember going on one of these expeditions with a large party to Hill Point Farm (the current site of Nansemond River Golf Course), which is about five miles from Suffolk, and situated directly on the Nansemond River. We had filled our bags with apples and were returning home, when the bag belonging to one of the party burst, and his apples were spilled upon the ground.

“What was to be done? No one had an extra bag, and it would never do to leave them after bringing them part of the way. In a short time a happy expedient suggested itself. Our mothers were our tailors and not being acquainted with the latest fashions from Paris or London, had a fashion of their own, and cut our pants very large and baggy in the legs, and the same size all the way down.

“Now this young man quickly took his pants off, and tying a string around each leg near the bottom, filled the legs with apples, and placing them over his neck, moved on amid the shouts of triumph that arose from his comrades. You can well imagine what a ridiculous aspect he presented when you learn that muslins (underwear) were exceedingly scarce in Suffolk at that time, and the weather being warm, none of us were cumbered with more than one garment on our limbs.

“When we arrived at the river, just at the edge of town (near Wendy’s on North Main Street) our hero hid himself in the bushes, until one of the party crossing over and borrowing a bag, gave it to him. He immediately put his pants on and entered the town with the party, bearing as many apples as anyone in the party.”

Kilby declined to name the hero of the story but stated that he had gone on to become a successful Suffolk businessman.

Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at