Eliza and Sarah

 
 …..a different story
 
The previous story, of Caroline, does not end on a happy note. Hopefully, there were better days to follow.
 
Another story, also found in the Hancock County probate records, is only less poignant. It is primarily about the legal reporting of a guardian of several children, declared orphans in 1853. Their father had been Thomas Doby (original spelling D’Aube); their mother had died before him. The guardian was Samuel White.
 
The locus of the story is itself a fascinating place. Literally, countless thousands of people must have passed close-by over the years when they traversed Highway 90, which runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific, without knowing anything was there. Until Interstate 10, it was the main east/west route in the southern part of the country.
 
Just south of the 18th century town of Pearlington and down the east side of the Pearl River was once the Doby plantation. It measured two sections, 1280 acres, on which the Doby family farmed and raised cattle.
 
It is now only a wilderness, bounded by Cowan, White’s, and Mulatto Bayous. A tributary of White’s is Pate’s Branch, the site of the hanging of a Confederate deserter. An Indian midden, to my knowledge never explored, rises on the banks of the Cowan. Other than that, there is one place of significance, and it is enclosed by an ancient, rusted, broken iron fence inside of which are three graves.
 
There probably are more burials nearby, as legend has it that many Confederate dead lie below, victims of the battle of Gainesville, just upriver. There are, sadly, no markings for them.
 
I went there a few years ago to find the graves of Francisco and Florentine Netto. He had died in 1836, and she in 1858.
 
A third grave was the subject of mystery. It marked the burial place on one Sarah Splitly, wife of Henry Gabriel. A neatly etched granite stone, broken in three pieces but since repaired, says that she was born in 1834 in Columbus, Miss. A little poem reads,
      “Oh, there of the home
        over there by the side
        of the river of light
        where the saints all
        immortal and fair ones
        robed in their garments
        of white.”
Her date of death is given as December 31, 1888.
           
She was unknown to the Koch family.
I had been invited by members of the Koch family, who were having one of their reunions in Waveland, MS. (I have written extensively about the Koch family, partly in a small book called Mississippi’s No-Man’s Land, and also in an article found on this site, called “The Letters of Two Historical Families.”)
 
Netto was a progenitor of the Koch family. He had married one of Doby girls (probably a daughter of Jean Baptiste D’Aube, who had received a Spanish grant in 1809) and had served in the war of 1812; a marker commemorates that service. A descendant was Annette Netto, who married Christian Koch; it is they who figure prominently in the articles cited above.
 
The probate record is primarily concerned with the death of Doby, about 1850, and the appointment of White as guardian for the children in 1853. White, who owned a nearby plantation and is the person after whom White’s Bayou is named, had previously administered the estate, producing an inventory showing 224 head of meat cattle, 1280 acres, personal effects from bedsteads to frying pans, and the schooner Elodie. Also, there were eight slaves: Paul 35, Teresa 22, Octavine 5, Octave 2, Madaline 23, Mary Ann 2, Washington 16, and Rose two months. As administrator, White joined Thomas and William Brown, who also undertook obligations to the court in order for White to serve; the three were required to bond themselves in the amount of $8,000.  
 
In the 1853 court proceedings, White listed seven Doby children: Thomas, Eliza, Estelle, Raphael, Jose, Elizabeth and Elodie. A number of reports were submitted by White to the court, including one to the effect that the slave boy Octave had been burned. He had been treated by Dr. J.W. Pendleton at a cost of $2.00. As he was not listed in the next inventory of slaves, he had apparently died.
 
At least one of the 1853 reports seems to have been a correction to previous documents, in that it is of happenings from the year 1850 and 1852. In White’s words, he had “…to make report of the deaths of two of the said to wit Raphael who died in New Orleans some time in the fall of the year 1850 and Eliza who died of consumption in April 1852 at Madam Gabrail’s [sic] near Pearlington.”
 
It was not unusual for children to die young in those days, but there seemed to be something pathetic in Eliza having died, already an orphan and away from her siblings. Surely, there might have been a reason, but none was apparent.
 
It was not until some months later, in a casual study of the census of 1880, that I found what I want to believe was part of the answer. I cannot write a script for what had happened between Eliza and Sarah, but I think there was a loving, caring relationship between the two.
 
The census does not give a lot of information, but there is enough to suggest my hypothesis. Henry Gabriel, age 40, his wife Sarah, age 35, and their son, Alexander, age 18, were boarders at the home of Leander King, in Pearlington. Census figures were often approximations, and it probable that Sarah was actually 46 years of age, as determined by her gravestone, considered more accurate. She would have been about 18 when Eliza died.
 
All are listed as mulattos.  
 
In reflection, I can think of only a limited number of reasons why a mulatto woman would be buried in the same enclosure as Caucasians Francisco and Florentine Netto. I believe that Sarah Gabriel was given a place of honor, and that she had earned it over the years. It must have been that other Doby family members had recognized the character of this young woman in order to give Eliza over to her care.
 
Many years elapsed after Eliza’s death, but it appears Sarah’s care was long remembered.