Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Myrtles Plantation - Part II

Legend, or the rumer mill tells us that ten murders and at least one suicide occurred at the Myrtles. General Bradford's daughter and two grand-daughter's were three among the ten.

As the story goes, as many southern "gentlemen" of the time, Clark Woodruff (the General's son-in-law and former law student) was in the way of forcing himself on one of the house slaves, Cleo.

Cleo, like many other female slaves of the day, now found herself in quite a predicament. Being in the home, forced to work with "Miss Sara: (Clark's wife - obviously knowledgable of her husband's indescretions), she must hide her awkwardness and be even more attentive and do nothing that mght anger her mistress or she might be sent to the fields to work where the manual labor was so hard that it actually lowered the life expectency of a slave to about 32-34 years of life.

Then, there was Master Woodruff. Cleo tried to avoid him at all costs, lest he get it in his head to come to her at night in her quaters. He could sell her away if she refused his advances, or have her whipped, or even worse. Then, there were her own people to consider. The other slaves.

The house slaves of the plantations had a secret job-unknown to their owners. As they worked earnestly through the rooms dusting, polishing, they also watched and listened. And they learned. They learned a lot about the Master's business. They leared who might be being bought from a nearby plantation. Who was about to be sold away or traded, when the next slave auction was being held and when the Master might be going out of town and the like.

Cleo's people counted on her for this information. What she could tell them was often the only small bit of security they had that they were staying together, at least for a little while. Now, the listening became even more important, because it was SHE who might be being sold off! So, she listened even more earnestly, but unfortuneately, not with more skill. Cloe was caught by the Master himself and as punishment, he cut off her ear!

From that day forward, Cleo always wrapped her head in a head scarf to hide her disfugurement. Her precarious place in the household had now escalated from bad to worse! Caught in a dishonest act, could the Mistress ever trust her? No longer beautiful, would the Master want her? Probably, the answer to both of those questions, was a resounding "NO!"

One idea came to her. Cleo loved the children and they reciprocated. She knew she still had use where they were concerned. The next time Master Clark went out of town, Cleo baked a cake for the Mistress and the two little girls. Into it, she put the juice of Oleander leaves. She wanted to put in just enough to make them feel a little under the weather so she could love them and tenderly nurse them all back to health and prove how useful she was and that no other house slave could do a better job than she. But, Cleo miscalculated. She used to much oleander juice. Her mistress and the girls grew deathly ill. She tried her best to help them, she nursed them all day and though the night but they just grew worse and writhed in agony on the bed. The little ones went first, then a few hours later in misery, her Mistress died in her arms.

With shrieks of grief, Cleo ran from the home and down the paths to the slave quaters, screaming for help with tears streaming down her cheeks. When she relayed to the other slaves what she had done they became horrifed. Not just for Cleo, but for their own lives! They knew their Master was a cruel slave-owner and would want revenge. All because of this silly girl!

Overpowered by all the slaves, thinking it was better to take their own justice upon Cleo and maybe earn the Master's thanks instead of his wrath, the slaves hung Cleo from a tree on the front grounds. When the Master returned home, it was over. Over for his family, and over for Cleo....but the begginning of the hauntings for this home. Perhaps Cleo's wounded soul on this sorrowful ground was the perfect recipe for misery.

People who stay at the Myrtles today (now a Bed & Breakfast) have witnessed seeing a figure that fits Cleo's description, as well as two figures that sound like the two little girls who died by her hand.

Clark Woodruff sold the property to Ruffin Gray Stirling in 1834 who restored the plantation. The Stirling family held it through 1894 when it starting changing hands many times. We'll learn more about this fascinating place in part three.........


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