Interviewer: William Cash
Interviewee: Mary t. Vandeventer
Date: February 21, 1974
This is William M. Cash of Delta State College interview Mrs. Mary T. Vandeventer; affectionately know as “Mary Addie”. Today is February 21, 1974.
W.M.C.: Now your family is one of the pioneer families of Issaquena County. Could you give us a little biographical sketch of your parents, your grandparents, or perhaps even of your great-grandparents?
M.T.V.: My great-grandfather was J.L. Root. He came to this county from Virginia, I believe. He was a United States timber inspector, and it was in this country that he met my great-grandmother, who was a Lumas from North Carolina. They were married in Lake Providence, Louisiana, which is right across the river from Mayersville. I know very little about my grandfather Root, because he was in and out of Issaquena County most of the time, as an inspector. But, I was very close to my great-grandmother, who lived to the ripe old age of 95, and died after I was married. My grandfather was William Hester Brown, who came to this county in the late 1800’s or the early 1900’s from Cary, Mississippi. I understand that when he arrived in Issaquena County, or at Myersville, he had 50¢ in his pocket, and he worked in a saloon here in Mayersville. At that time there were several saloons in Mayersville, and he worked there, and he became very friendly with a Frenchman by the name of Jean P.L. Connar, who financed him when buying the home, the place where we were all born and reared, the Riverdale Plantation, which is north of Mayersville about 7 or 8 miles. And now my mother is still living in the home that my grandparents bought from Mr. Turnville in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, and I believe that she will be able to fill us in a little bit more on the events during her time.
W.M.C.: Perhaps you might share something concerning your early formal education, your schooling in the county here, or early memories, or as we might characterize them, childhood memories.
M.T.V.: When I started school, there were no schools in Issaquena County, except a little frame building here at Mayersville. All of the children in the northern end of the county went to school at Glen Allan Consolidated School, which was about 7 or 8 miles from my home. We rode in a school bus that was nothing more but a pick up truck, with just maybe a tarpaulin to keep the rain off of us. Among my early childhood memories is a fact that we had no cafeteria at the school. We all had to take our lunches, and I don’t believe they even had a cafeteria, well maybe we had one before I graduated from high school at Glen Allan. I had just started to school when the levee broke in 1927, and I remember very well that day; my grandfather came to the school to get us because they had gotten worried that the water would be there by afternoon. So, by the time we got home from school, he had time to get the cars on the levee and move the chickens and cows up to what was the upper place, which was at Ellwood, about 10 miles north of the home place, water never did get there, and anyway, he moved his cattle up there, and he had time to get the commodities out of the little store that was right across the road from the house, and these were placed in the hall. All during the flood people would come up to the front door in a boat, and we’d sell them tobacco and sugar as long as it lasted, and we stayed right in the house during the 1927 flood, with water lacking nineteen inches of getting in the house. And, one of the things that I distinctly remember was the steamboat Sprague, which is now at Vicksburg, would come up and land at the Addie boat landing and bring us supplies, not only us, but all of the refugees and the people that were in that area. I had never seen as many loaves of bread in all my life as they brought in once or twice a week to us as well as other supplies. There was another boat that we used to watch. It was real fun to sit on the levee and watch the Uncle Oliver come up the river. It was an old boat that picked up the stranded cows and horses that didn’t make it to higher ground before the water got in. And, the only entertainment that we had during that time – there were about, I guess, twelve of us in my grandfather’s home, and we had a great big open skiff, as they called it then, and we would put a rocking chair in there, and put my great-grandmother in there, and we’d all go riding on Sunday afternoon and watch my grandfather shoot the snakes out of the trees, and we had an old victorola that I remember on of those with the dog on it with the big speaker, and one of the records that was very popular during that time was “Muddy Water at My Feet” and it surely was during that time. I believe that’s just a few of the things that I remember, maybe later on I can think of more. After I graduated from Glen Allan the school, I sent to Jackson to Draughon Business College and finished there, came back home and I went to work. My first job was in the Chancery Clerk’s office in Mayersville. At that time the Chancery Clerk’s office was in the ground floor of the jail, so we can appreciate this modern business today. And I married my childhood sweet heart, Louis Vandeventer, whose family were life-time residents of Washington County, just south of Glen Allan. We have two children, Louis Vandeventer, Jr., better know as Buddy, who graduated from Rolling Fork High School and went on and graduated from Delta State in 1971. Our other son, William, better know as Bill Vandeventer, is a senior this year at Mississippi State.
W.M.C.: Certainly Issaquena County has played a significant role in the history of the Mississippi Delta. Indeed, I have been working with people in Sharkey County, but we are certainly aware of the fact that the development really was from Issaquena County in 1844 back to Sharkey County which was created in the 1870’s. In the process, then, we perhaps have seen great changes that have taken place in the county, going from a boom town to maybe a slightly depopulated stage, a declining business center. Could you share with us your knowledge of some of the changes that have taken place in the region?
M.T.V.: I believe maybe one of the major changes is in transportation, when the highways began to be developed. We had better roads, and the people could move out better, and they were going other places. They could go to other cities or towns nearby, and we began to lose people then. Then in the early days the packet boats were very prominent here, at Mayersville. Mayersville was a thriving little town. Now, this has been passed on to me down through the years, the packet boats were just a little bit before my time, but Mayersville had a Chinese bakery, a hotel where all of the salesmen, they called them drummers back in those days, always stayed at Mrs. Herzog’s. That was one of the major boarding houses then in this area. Also was the old Halship Home, and the Birdsong’s. Those were prominent families back in those days, and as could come in to Mayersville in wagons, on horses, or in buggies and that was away, and as I said the roads were opened up and transportation was better, then Mayersville began to decline. And as well as the population of Issaquena County. We had the big plantations back in that era, and all of the work on equipment and modern gins began to come in, then this all began to dwindle. Whereby now, not too many years ago, these big plantations were sold to the government and divided up into forty acre tracts, and this made people leave here too, because one family would be on forty acres, you see, well that was all that they could work. And also people began to go to factories, and as they went to school and were educated in different fields, so many of the children were not interested in agriculture and because Issaquena is a predominantly agricultural county, there was nothing for them to come back to in this area. And, most of the young people who did come back were either sons of farmers or grandsons or uncles, I mean cousins, they had roots here. And we do not have too many young people coming back to Issaquena County now, for that very reason. They are either going in to education or business administration, some professional type work and they’re not interested in agriculture.
W.M.C.: Certainly, your family has been prominent in Issaquena County government for years, an exceptionally large number of years. Could you share with us something of the participation of the family, going back as early as the first offices held and things of this type?
M.T.V.: My grandfather, William Hester Brown, was in county government for a number of years, having been a member of the Board of Supervisors from the fifth district for approximately 20 or 24 years, I’m not sure, and out of that time he was president of the Board for about fifteen years, I believe. And they had always taken interest in county government, and I have been in the county government since, well I’ve been Chancery Clerk since 1960, the former Clerk having died and I filled her unexpired term and have been in office ever since. Prior to that, as I told you, my first job was in the Chancery Clerk’s office, and I worked there until – I believe I worked in the Clerk’s office from about 1938 or 39 until about 1942, and then I was out rearing my family for a while, and then I went back into the Clerk’s office and was deputy clerk from about 1955 until 1960 when I became Chancery Clerk. And, during that time, from the time that I can remember we have all been in county government or have taken and interest in it.
W.M.C.: Certainly, I would like to congratulate you, and as a historian, express appreciation for the condition of the records that I have seen here, under you custodianship, and as custodian of official records, well certainly you have a knowledge of how these records have been preserved, and perhaps you could share with us some expression of the type record that one might find in the Chancery and Circuit Clerk’s office, how these might be utilized in history projects and things of this nature.
M.T.V.: I believe one of the best sources of information for historical purposes in the Chancery Clerk’s office would be the minutes of the Board of Supervisors. As we all know, the Board of Supervisors is the governing body of the county, and I think the minutes speak for themselves. At the very beginning of the county, in 1844, the first meeting of the Board of Supervisors, or Board of Police, as it was known during those days, was held in the Tallulah District, and the purpose of this meeting was to select a county seat, and this was Deer Creek Mayers, that was the selection that was made, and this was where the first courthouse and jail were built in Issaquena County. From my records I find that somewhere between 1845 and 1855, there must have been a small courthouse at that time, and I also have found that around 1860, the Clerk, the Chancery clerk, was ordered to move all the records and papers form this courthouse at Tallulah for safekeeping, and from all indications, the Clerk moved them some several times, and it seemed to have been from house to house. And on of the amazing things to me is that some of the records that he mentions in his reports are still intact, still in my office, and he only, in his reports to the Board of Supervisors he tells them that he has moved these records and where they are located at that time. He mentions the fact that there was only one map that was never returned. It seems that there were some U.S. gunboats coming up Deer Creek, and one of the pilots wanted a map, and he let him have a map of Issaquena County, and it was never returned. Mayersville has not always been the county seat, as I told you. In the beginning the courthouse was at Deer Creek Mayers. When the courthouse site was changed in 1870, by a special act of the legislature, the courthouse was to be built at Gibson Landing, which is also Mayersville now. But, I think the way they got that name of Gibson Landing was the fact that Mr. David Mayer deeded six acres of land to the county for a courthouse or a county site, and the name of his plantations was Gibson, and I believe that’s where it got its’ name. They had the first meeting of the Board of Supervisors at Gibson Landing in March of 1871, and the first courthouse was sold, for fifteen hundred and fifteen dollars back in 1872. Now, when Mr. Mayer deeded the Board of Supervisors this six acres here, where the courthouse is today, he also was the successful bidder in building the courthouse and the jail, and they were both built for nineteen hundred and ninety five dollars and fifty five cents. And at that time, that was about 1871, and he had about a year to complete it, and the records show that he did complete the courthouse in June of 1872, and that’s when they changed the name then, I believe about that time, to Mayersville, and I’m sure they got the M-A-Y-E-R-S from Mr. Mayers’ name, M-A-Y-E-R, I’m sure that’s where the name came from. The records were house in the ground floor of the jail, which was also the Chancery Clerk’s office, Circuit Clerk’s office, Superintendent of Education, the Sheriff, and we had a small room for the Board of Supervisors to meet. The new courthouse that we are in now, was built in 1957. We moved in here in December of 1957, and the old building, the old courthouse building, which was a plain building, was sold and moved away, and then the jail was torn down, and the records were moved into the new courthouse. The new jail we have now was not built until about four years after that, which would have been in the early sixties. I can certainly appreciate this modern building now, having had worked for some several years in the ground floor of the jail, with poor lighting conditions. Now by that I mean a light bulb on a string coming from the ceiling. My typewriter was on a big round table, and we had no air condition, our heating was from a coal grate, and if you got across the room from it you were freezing to death. But, one particular summer when we were working over there in the jail, we had an abstract crew working, and we had a group in rebinding some of our old records. We were very crowded and some of the workers, the lawyers were down on the floor with the books. So, we can appreciate all of the nice working space that we have over thee, I think it’s very funny and I’ll pass it on to you. The inmates were upstairs over our desks. The jail was over the Chancery Clerk’s office, and there were two inmates at that time. The sheriff had confiscated a truckload of whiskey that was coming through Issaquena County, and had stored it in the vacant room upstairs, and that particular day the inmates got a coat hanger and fished out some of the whiskey that had been confiscated, and they had a hilarious time that afternoon, in fact we had to get the deputy sheriff to go up and quiet them, so we could work.
W.M.C.: Certainly being an agricultural type county, it seem that the County Agent, Home Demonstration Club, have probably played a very significant role in history of the county. Would you share with us some of your memories of these organizations?
M.T.V.: Far back as I can remember, Issaquena County had always had a Home Agent and a County Agent. These have always played an active part in Issaquena County, and back at the time of my childhood, we did not have the news media that we have today, and the ladies depended upon the Home Demonstration Agent to bring the information into the home, and they also looked forward to these weekly or monthly meetings that they have. It was informative as well as a social gathering for them. I can remember taking an active part in the 4-H Club, in my younger days, and we do not have the 4-H today as we had then, because of the news media and the educational programs that they have in the schools for the children now. Our fathers depended on the County Agent to come and help him with this planting and his poisoning, just as they do today. Also they used them for spraying the fruit trees, the pecan trees, and so forth, and also in the vaccination of their cattle and the other livestock that they had. We didn’t have veterinarians back in those days, so the County Agent was the one that brought the medicine of vaccination material in to the farmers. Also, Issaquena County has always had a Health Nurse, far as I can remember, most of them lived in Issaquena County, and they played a very active part during the 1927 flood in seeing that the people had their immunizations from the typhoid fever and so forth during the flooding.
W.M.C.: Would you share with us some of your early memories of religious training and present membership in the church?
M.T.V.: At the present time, I’m a communicant of the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Rolling Fork. In my early childhood days there was not an Episcopal Church in Issaquena County. We attended a Union Church in Glen Allen in Washington County. This church was deeded to the three denominations, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal, by the Spencer family, and we would have a Baptist minister there one Sunday and a Presbyterian the next Sunday, and an Episcopal the next Sunday, but we all had Sunday school together. And, I was confirmed in the Union Church by Bishop Green, who only came over, the Bishop only came about once or twice a year because we had very few communicants at that time. The Union Church still stands today. It’s been remodeled and is used by the Baptists as a Baptist Church now because there are no more Episcopalians or Presbyterians in that area.
W.M.C.: What changes have you observed in the religious patterns here of the community over, say the past 20, 30 years?
M.T.V.: I have noted that in the last 20 years, that only part-time ministers are being employed by the Baptist and Methodist churches in our county. The reason for this being the decline in population, and also our young ministers seem to prefer staying in cities and towns, and there’s not too much activity in a small community, we’re scattered, and I think that’s one of the main reasons for the decline in the resident ministers in Issaquena County.
W.M.C.: What changes have you observed in architecture or housing styles and things of this type, say over the past 20, 25 years?
M.T.V.: Back during my early childhood, I can remember the large plantation homes and Negro cabins, or the tenants’ cabins that went along with it, and down through the years these have all been demolished. The trend has been to replace them with modern homes with bathroom facilities and a lot of them are air conditioned. You do not see very many dilapidated cabins anymore. Many of the old silos and cotton gins that were in the county are gone and you will find only maybe, one or two modernized gins. Down through the years each farmer has his own gin on the plantation, but this has all been done away with now.
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