This post will further describe the homes of the planter class in the area known as Pleasant Hill, Mississippi Territory, later Alabama. The area is still rural and one can imagine it as Phillip Henry Gosse saw it in 1838. There are two white frame churches, one of which would have been there at the time, the other built in the 1840’s after Gosse had returned to England.
The home Gosse’s employer built in the late 1840’s still had the same set-up for preparing meals and the brick bake oven, minus the doors, is preserved in the cellar. Due to it being partially underground, and because of the thick concrete floor, the cellar would have stayed relatively comfortable in the oppressive heat of South Central Alabama. Let’s listen to a description of the village in Gosse’s own words.
Very many of the houses, even of the wealthy and respectable planters, are built of rough and unhewn logs, and to an English taste are destitute of comfort to a surprising degree. There is one about a mile distant, belonging to a very worthy man whom I have often visited, which is of this character…It is a ground-floor house of two rooms. Fancy the walls full of crevices an inch or more in width, some of them running the whole length of the rooms, caused by the warping of the logs, the decay of the bark, or the dropping out of the clay which had been put in to fill up. There is no window in the whole house; in one room there is a square hole about two feet wide, which a shutter professes to close, but as it is made of boards that have never felt either saw or plane, being merely riven by the aid of the broad-axe out of an oak log, you may guess how accurately it fits. A door formed of similar boards, rarely shut, at least from dawn till night, gives light and air to each room, though the crevices of the logs, and those of the roof, would afford ample light when both door and shutter were closed…the boards [of the door] have never been made straight by the plane; the fact is, the boards are not laid edge to edge, but the edges lap over each other, as board-fences are sometimes made in England.
A bed-room has been added since the original erection; unbarked poles were set in the ground, and these riven boards nailed outside, edge over edge, by the way of clapboard; there is nothing of lathing, or boarding, or papering within, nothing between the lodger and the weather, but these rough, crooked, and uneven boards, through which, of course, the sun plays at bopeep, and the wind and rain also. It forms a lean-to, the roof being continued from that of the house. The lowest tier of logs composing the house, rest on stout blocks about two feet from the ground; beams go across from these logs, on which the floor is laid; the planks are certainly sawed, but they are not pinned to the beams, being moveable at pleasure; and as the distance between the lowest logs and the ground is perfectly open, the wind has full liberty of ingress through the seams of the floor, as well as in every other part.
The roof is of a piece with the rest; no ceiling meets the eye; the gaze goes up beyond the smoke-burnt rafters up to the very shingles; nay, beyond them, for in the bright night the radiance of many a star gleams upon the upturned eye of the recumbent watcher, and during the day many a moving spot of light upon the floor shows the progress which the sun makes towards the west. But it is during the brief, but terrific rain-storms, which often occur in this climate, that one becomes painfully conscious of the permeability of the roof; the floor soon streams; one knows not where to run to escape the thousand and one trickling cascades…
There is a fireplace at each end of the house, a large open chimney, the fire being on the hearth, which is raised to a level with the floor; the chimney itself is curiously constructed; simply enough however, for the skeleton of it is merely a series of flat slips of wood, laid one upon another in the form of a square, the ends crossing at the corners, where they are slightly pinned together, the square contracting from five feet at the bottom to little more than one at the top. As this frame-work proceeds, it is plastered within and without with well-beaten clay, to the thickness of two or three inches. This is a sufficient protection against the fire; for though, on account of the clay here and there dropping off, the slips of wood often ignite, and holes are burnt through, yet the clay around prevents the fire from spreading, and these holes are regarded with a very exemplary philosophy. I should have observed, however, that at the bottom of the chimney, and more particularly at the fire-back, the clay is increased in thickness to more than a foot. ..Now poor and mean houses may be found in every country, but this is but one of the many; it is not inhabited by poor persons, nor is it considered as at all remarkable for discomfort; it is according to the average, a very decent house. There are some, certainly, much superior; but these are frame-houses, regularly clapboarded, and ceiled, and two, or even three stories high, including the ground floor. They are mostly of recent erection, and are inhabited by planters of large property; these have comforts and elegancies in them which would do no dishonor to an English gentleman.
Having described this home belonging to a neighbor, Gosse proceeded to describe the property of his employer, Judge Reuben Saffold:
The house in which I am residing stands in the middle of a large yard, formed partly by a fence of rails and posts, and partly by the offices and out-buildings, such as the pantry, kitchen, spinning-house, dairy, &c.; these are distinct buildings, formed of logs, and always more or less distant from the house. ..Shade is a luxury in this hot climate, and therefore trees are in much request around the house; the oaks, and the sycamore, seem to be generally preferred, doubtless on account of their dense and massy foliage.