Family Matters

McDowell County - The Reconstruction Years
(As told by Flora Angeline Burgin Smith)

Following The War Between the States, all the slaves had been freed, but three had chosen to stay on with Robert Hoard Burgin and his family to help with the work and restoration. It would be difficult to attempt to describe the relationship that existed at the time. The Black man and the White man were working side by side trying to survive the hardships of so much destruction around them.

Son of Major Ben
Robert Hoard Burgin & Wife Catherine

Robert H. Burgin (#15234) by this time had five children in his household; “Neely" and “Whit” by his marriage to Zilla Williams and "Gus", "Rosy" and baby Flora, by Catherine Burgin, whom he married in 1857. Catherine was the daughter of James Burgin (#1564) and Leah Burgin (#1527).

Among the slaves who stayed on with Robert was a Black Lady named Polly and her baby Prissy, who was about the same age as Flora. When Flora was a baby, Catherine fell gravely ill and was unable to nurse her. Polly nursed Flora until Catherine was well. Flora talked about the many times she and Prissy played while the women did the laundry.

On Family Customs: “I remember when fires had to be started with flint rock. If the live coals in the fireplace died out during the night, Negro Polly would wade thru the snow to a neighbor’s to borrow some live coals to start our fire. And I’ve studied my lessons by pine torches in the big fireplace.

We had to break and card wool, which had to be spun and woven into material for clothing and blankets that were all handmade. Flax was raised and cut by hand. It was also hand processed and woven into linen and made into beautiful tablecloths and white linen suits for my father. All the thread was also hand spun. I was several years of age when they started peddling cotton to that part of the country. Cotton was yellow and a hen or duck could be exchanged for one pound of cotton.”

On Education: “The building where I went to school was a big room with a big fireplace at each end. A writing desk extended across the middle of the room. Every day, right after lunch when books was called, we all had to sit at the desk and write. Our books consisted of the blue back speller, Webster Dictionary and Webster’s Readers. A stage ran from one end of the building to the other. At the age of nine, I danced to the tune of DIXIE on this stage from one end to the other.”

On Recreation: “When something special happened, like a wedding in the family, the whole community was invited to a big infaire dinner and all nite dancing. There was also corn-huskings with a big dinner.

Horseback riding with side saddles and riding skirts was also a favorite sport. We would race our horses until our riding skirts would stand straight out in the breeze. Sleigh riding down the mountain slopes was another thrilling sport.”

Peggy Silvers adds: “Catherine’s (Kate) hair was a deep auburn red, and measured about 1-1/4 yards in length. She was fair and had freckles which cause her much distress. She would wash her face in the dew on the first day of May, hoping to rid herself of them. This was a standard mountain remedy for freckles at that time.

Robert was fairly tall and only slightly darker than Kate. His hair was without that reddish cast of James’ family. He must have looked very distinguished in those white linen suits he so favored.

Flora was born March 24, 1862 in McDowell County, NC. She died June 4, 1961 in Bonham, TX. and was buried in Willow Cemetery. Through her notes, letters, newspaper interviews and talks with her daughter Bertha, she has provide a wealth of information for this book which I am deeply grateful."

Source: Peggy Silvers, Echoes In The Mist (The Burgin Family 1677 - 1989)
A PRESS Printing Company 1989