Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Catharine Littlefield 1755-1814 m Rev War Gen Nathanael Greene & helpled Eli Whitney change the economy of the South

James Frothingham (American artist, 1786–1864) Catharine Littlefield Greene Miller

Catherine “Caty” Littlefield was born in New Shoreham, R.I., on Block Island.  The 3rd child of 5, she was the 1st daughter of John & Phebe (Ray) Littlefield.  Catharine Littlefield was born off the coast of Rhode Island on Block Island, which her family had helped settle in the 1660s. Her father, John Littlefield represented the town in the colonial assembly from 1747 to the Revolution.  Her mother, Phebe Ray, was a descendant of the earliest settlers of Block Island.

Caty's mother died, when she was 10 years old; & she was sent to live with an aunt & uncle, Catharine Ray & William Greene, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.  Her aunt, Catharine (Ray) Greene, was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin & corresponded with him for years.  Her uncle William Greene was a leader of the Whig Party & governor of Rhode Island.  Benjamin Franklin was a regular visitor at the Greene house, while Caty was growing up.  Another frequent caller was Nathanael Greene, a successful merchant who was a distant cousin of her Uncle William's. Nathanael, the son of Rhode Island Quakers, who was 14 years older than she. The two began a courtship in 1772.

Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827) Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) 1783

At William & Catharine Greene’s house in Warwick that Kitty Littlefield on July 20, 1774, was married to Nathanael Greene of Coventry, R.I.  Nathanael Greene, brought up as a pacifist Quaker but turned to military concerns by the threats to his country’s liberty, had left his father’s forge; & in 1774, was helping to organize the Kentish Guards, a volunteer military company.  Catharine's new husband was selected by the Rhode Island Assembly as brigadier general, in charge of Rhode Island's 3 Continental regiments. During the war young Caty was not content to sit at home awaiting word of her husband. Instead, she visited him at his headquarters & joined him at his various encampments, where she witnessed many battles firsthand.

Catharine came to the notice of Washington & his troops at Valley Forge in the grim winter of 1777-78.  She had followed her husband, soon to become quartermaster general, to the Schuylkill headquarters to sharing the hardships of those bitter months with the men upon whom the success of the Revolution depended.  She was with her husband again the following winter at Morristown.  “We had a little dance at my quarters,” wrote General Greene, “His Excellency & Mrs. Greene danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.”  Catherine’s gallantry of spirit won Washington’s grateful admiration, although some gossiped about her association with mostly men at these encampments. Catharine Littlefield Greene stood out among Revolutionary War military wives, engaging in political discourse, maintaining friendships with men & bearing her children at the same time.

Three of their 5 Greene children were born during those years-Martha Washington in 1777, Cornelia Lott in 1778, & Nathanael Ray in 1780.  George Washington Greene, the oldest, was 8, when peace came in 1783; Louisa Catherine, the youngest, was born the following winter.  Greene's presence at her husband's encampments endeared her to the troops & to the other military leaders. George & Martha Washington became friends & supporters of Greene. The trips were made more challenging, when she began to have children. By 1779, she had three—George, Martha, & Cornelia—& was expecting a fourth. She was looking forward to joining her husband again; when word arrived, that he had been appointed commander of Washington's southern forces. It was not until 1781, that she was able to head to Charleston, South Carolina, to join him. By then their 4th child, Nathanael Ray, had arrived.

When the war finally came to an end & the family was reunited, Caty looked forward to having Nathanael there to share in the responsibility of raising the children & handling family business affairs. His presence at home "brought a peace of mind unknown to her since the conflict began." She was eager to let Nathanael take charge & to settle herself into the life of a respected, well-to-do gentleman's wife.

Though Nathanael was not required to be of further service to his country, his involvement in the war continued to affect their lives. During his Revolutionary command in the south, he faced very harsh conditions. In order to clothe his soldiers during the winter, he had to personally guarantee thousands of dollars to Charleston merchants. He later discovered that the speculator, through whom he had dealt, was fraudulent. At the end of the war, the merchants began pressing him for payment on the notes & judgments began coming down from South Carolina courts. He was without sufficient funds & heavily in debt.

 In recognition of General Greene’s war services, Georgia deeded him a sequestered loyalist estate that included Mulberry Grove plantation on he Savannah River.  Here he hoped to make a living by cultivating rice & pay off their debts by selling their other lands, when real estate markets proved favorable. This decision was particularly hard on Catharine. She had lived her whole life in the north. She would be leaving behind many friends & what was left of her family on Block Island.  There the family settled in the autumn of 1785, while the 43-year-old Nathanael undertook to restore the long-neglected land to productivity.  He would die only 9 months later.

When her husband died of “severe sunstroke” in June 1786, the widow Greene was left alone to raise their 5 children & oversee the family plantation. Catharine decided to remain in Georgia. The plantation was still not a financial success; but by 1788, with the help of the new plantation manager, originally their children’s tutor Yale grad & Connecticut native, Phineas Miller 1764-1803, Mulberry Grove was thriving.

She also gratefully yielded to General Lafayette’s request to let him educate her eldest, son of his beloved comrade-in-arms, with his own son in France.  Retaining her place in the “court circles” of the new republic, Mrs. Greene returned every summer to the cooler air of Newport, a center of Rhode Island society.  Her cultivated manners & warmth hade Mulberry Grove a gathering place for all her southern neighbors, as well, who valued such status & social graces.

In 1791, the Greene family of Mulberry Grove entertained George Washington during his presidential tour of the South.  Soon after that visit, Catharine personally presented to the United States Congress a petition for indemnity to recover funds that Nathanael had paid to Charleston merchants. On April 27, 1792, President  Washington approved & signed an act that indemnified the Greene estate. In a happy letter to a friend, she wrote:

I can tell you my Dear friend that I am in good health & spirits & feel as saucy as you please-not only because I am independent, but because I have gained a complete triumph over some of my friends who did not wish me success-& others who doubted my judgement in managing the business & constantly tormented me to death to give up my obstinancy as it was called-they are now as mute as mice-Not a word dare they utter... O how sweet is revenge!

On her journey homeward from Newport in the fall of 1792, a traveling companion was Eli Whitney 1765-1825, newly graduated from Yale, whom tutor-turned-plantation-manager Phinaes Miller had secured as a tutor for a South Carolina family across the Savannah River. 

During Whitney’s youth, the tall, heavy-shouldered boy with large hands & a gentle manner was a blacksmith, a nail maker on a machine he made at home & at one time, he was the country's sole maker of ladies' hatpins.  In his early 20s, Whitney determined to attend Yale College; so unusual a step for anyone not preparing for either the law or theology, that his parents objected. He was 23, before he got away from home & 27, when he received his degree, almost middle-aged in the eyes of his classmates. Again the most serious drawback facing him was that no profession existed suited to a man of his talents.

Eli Whitney 1765-1825

When Whitney’s teaching plans collapsed, Mrs. Greene invited him to accompany her to her plantation & read law. In the meantime, he could make himself useful in one way or another helping the tutor-turned-plantation-manager, Phineas Miller.  Miller was also a Yale alumnus, about a year older than Whitney. Whitney accepted the offer.

Being from New England, Whitney was unfamiliar with cotton farming, but Greene quickly brought him up to speed. She explained the difficulties of raising green-seed cotton.  Struck by his ingenuity in designing & fashioning a new tambour frame for her embroidery, Catherine Greene persuaded him to turn his talents to devising a machine that could rapidly strip the tenacious seeds from short-staple cotton & thus make it a profitable crop to raise. 

Some believe that she not only suggested the idea of the cotton gin, but she drew the rudimentary design, made corrections for improvement, & later financed the patent & fabrication. In Woman as Inventor, written in 1883, Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted that it was Caty & not Eli Whitney who should be credited with the invention.

Gage wrote that the cotton gin “owes its origin to a woman, Catherine Littlefield Green.” Gage goes on to describe Whitney as familiar enough with “the use of tools” to be able to build the machine. Nonetheless, the young man’s first contraption featured inefficient wooden teeth & he nearly quit, but the widow Greene’s suggestion to substitute wire for wood proved successful.

At the urging of Catharine Green & Phineas Miller, Whitney watched the cotton cleaning process of the slaves & studied their hand movements. During the slow process, one hand held the seed while the other hand teased out the short strands of lint. The machine he designed simply duplicated this.  To take the place of a hand holding the seed, Whitney made a sort of sieve of wires stretched lengthwise. More time was consumed in making the wire than stringing it, because the proper kind of wire was nonexistent.

To do the work of human fingers, which pulled out the lint, Whitney had a drum rotate past the sieve, almost touching it. On the surface of the drum, fine, hook-shaped wires projected which caught at the lint from the seed. The restraining wires of the sieve held the seeds back, while the lint was pulled away. A rotating brush, which turned 4 times as fast as the hook-covered drum cleaned the lint off the hooks. Originally Whitney planned to use small circular saws instead of the hooks, but the saws were unobtainable. That was all there was to Whitney's cotton gin; & it never became any more complicated.

Whitney worked developing his cotton gin for 6 months in a basement room of the plantation house.  In that interval Caty’s older son, returned from France, drowned in the Savannah River. 

When Whitney announced in April 1793, that he had completed a working model of an engine, or “gin”, his hostess called the attention of influential planters in the neighborhood to the potentialities of the new machine.  With no more than the promise that Whitney would patent the machine and make a few more, the men who had witnessed the demonstration immediately ordered whole fields to be planted with green seed cotton.

Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin

Word got around the district so rapidly, that Whitney's workshop was broken into & his machine examined. Within a few weeks, more cotton was planted in the area than Whitney could possible have ginned in a year of making new machines. Before he had a chance to complete his patent model, or to secure protection, the prematurely planted cotton came to growth. With huge harvests pressing on them, the planters had no time for the fine points of law or ethics. Whitney's machine was pirated without a qualm.

Descriptions of the main features of the gin leaked out; as it was simple to build, copies began to appear in Georgia, almost before Whitney secured his patent in March 1794.  A newly formed partnership with tutor-turned-plantation-manager Phineas Miller, could manufacture few more than half a dozen gins.  A prolonged struggle to establish the partners’ rights early threatened the new firm with bankruptcy. 

Whitney’s partnership with Miller ran into problems immediately. The agreement was that Whitney was to go north to New Haven, secure his patent, & begin manufacturing machines, while Miller was to remain in the South & see that the machines were placed. Having no precedent of royalty arrangement to go on, the partners' initial plan was that no machine was to be sold, but simply installed for a percentage of the profit earned. Since they had no idea that cotton planting would take place in epidemic proportions, they did not know that they were asking for an agreement that would have earned them millions of dollars a year. It had been Miller's idea to take 1 pound of every 3 of cotton, & the planters were furious. Meanwhile, cotton, one of the easiest growing crops, was coming up out of the ground engulfing everything around.

Catherine Greene in 1795, enabled the venture to continue by committing her entire resources to the effort.  According to The National Archives, Greene’s “support, both moral & financial were critical” to Whitney’s efforts. When Miller began charging farmers a fee to use cotton gins, & disgruntled farmers started building their own.

By the time Whitney & Miller were willing to settle for outright sale or even a modest royalty on every machine made by someone else, the amount of money due them was astronomical. He & Miller were now deeply in debt & their only recourse was to go to court; but every court they entered was in cotton country. At length in 1801, Miller & Whitney were willing to settle for outright grants from cotton-growing states in return for which the cotton gin would be public property within the boundaries.   By 1807, Whitney had re-established title to his invention, but his patent expired in that year, ending any real hope of financial return.  He was penniless, & his patent worthless.  Whitney was 39 years old, & most of the past 10 years had been wasted either in courtrooms or in traveling from one court to another. He returned north, turning his back on cotton, the cotton gin, & the South forever.

As for why Caty Greene did not attempt to patent the cotton gin herself, Gage suggested that doing so “would have exposed her to the ridicule” of friends & “a loss of position in society,” which disapproved of women’s involvement in any "outside industry." Perhaps she didn’t receive credit for the invention, because women were not allowed to hold patents. Regardless, neither Whitney nor Caty profited from the invention, after Congress refused to renew the patent, & it was mass produced. 

An unforeseen by-product of Whitney's invention, a labor-saving device, was to help preserve the institution of slavery in the South by making cotton production highly profitable. Exports of cotton from the U.S. skyrocketed exponentially after the introduction of the cotton gin. Between 1820 & 1860, cotton represented over half the value of U.S. exports. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, slavery was in decline. The profitably of crops grown with slave labor, such as rice, tobacco, indigo & cotton was steadily decreasing. Some slaveholders began freeing their slaves in response. By effortlessly separating the seeds from the cotton fibers, the cotton gin removed the main obstacle to producing cleaned cotton. As the price of cotton decreased, the demand for cotton soared; so too did the demand for more land & more slaves to grow & pick the cotton. The number of slave states increased from s6 in 1790 to 15 in 1860.  By 1860, 1 in 3 Southerners was a slave. The labor-saving device Whitney created effectively rejuvenated the institution of slavery in the South & helped split American society.

Catherine married Phineas Miller on June 13, 1796 in Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church. The President & Mrs. Washington served as witnesses to the wedding.  Despite the couple’s best efforts, by 1798, Mulberry Grove fell upon hard times.

Post Civil War ruins of Dungeness Plantation on Cumberland Island

Catharine, in financing the cotton gin firm of Whitney & Miller, had lost a great deal of money. Caty was forced to sell the plantation along with many of Mulberry Grove's slaves, moving her family to Cumberland Island. There she & Phineas established a new home on land that had been given to Nathanael for his Revolutionary War service. The plantation, located near the southern end of the island & called "Dungeness," thrived. They held a total of 210 slaves to work the plantation. Miller succumbed to a fever & died in 1803, worn out at 39. Catherine Greene Miller died of fever at “Dungeness” in 1814, at 59, & she is buried there.

Post Civil War ruins of Dungeness Plantation on Cumberland Island

From Southern Belle to Socialist Botanist - Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

What would turn a fashion-loving, privileged Southern Belle into a Socialist botany geek?  From her birth in 1840 to her death in 1931, the world she had known turned upside down.  Eliza Frances Andrews (1840-1931), was born at Haywood, her parents' plantation near Washington, Ga., a thriving planting community in the northeastern part of the state.  She had the history to guarantee her a firm position in the highest social circles of the Old South. The 2nd daughter & 6th of 8 children of Garnett & Annulet (Ball) Andrews, she was descended from James Andrews, an Englishman who had settled in Virginia about 1670.  Her father, a prominent lawyer & jurist, encouraged his children's literary & academic interests.  Fanny, as she was known, attended the Washington Seminary for Girls & in 1857 received an A.B. degree as a member of the 1st graduating class at the La Grange (Ga.) Female College.

Strong-willed, determined, & sophisticated, Fanny Andrews possessed a freedom & self-assuredness unusual for a woman of her time. But soon, the Civil War exploded & was easily the central event of her life.  Garnett Andrews, though himself the owner of 200 slaves, was a Unionist who deplored & worked against secession, while all his children were ardent Confederates, 3 sons serving in the Southern armies.  Their home was not directly in the battle area, but late in 1864, after General Sherman's "March to the Sea," Fanny & her younger sister were sent for safety to a brother-in-law's plantation near Albany, in southwest Georgia. 

Haywood House & Plantation, erected in 1794-95 by Judge Garnett Andrews, from a photograph taken in 1892, after 20 years of neglect & decay, just before it was torn down to make way for a roadway.

Petite, lively, auburn-haired, & not noticebly inhibited by her traditional Episcopal religion, Fanny Andrews here enjoyed frequent parties, dances, & flirtations.  She also bitterly recorded in a diary her reactions to the fall of the Confederacy & the beginning of Reconstruction.  In 1865, once more at Haywood, she vowed never to marry but to pursue "the career I have marked out or myself." She would become a writer. 

In July 1866, Godey's Lady's Book published her views on the difficulties of remaining fashionable in wartime; here, as later, she wrote under the pseudonym "Elzey Hay."  In 1865, Andrews published an article in the New York World about the theft of gold & jewelry that was stolen along with Confederate gold from a wagon convoy in Georgia, purportedly a Northern officer's lament over the evils of Reconstruction. 

In the 1870s, she wrote about Eli Whitney & his invention of the cotton gin, giving credit to Catharine Greene for helping Whitney to refine his gin design. It would be a long time before historians acknowledged Greene's role in Whitney's accomplishment.

But as life resumed a semblance of normality with the Civil War & Reconstruction fading into the background. her interests in authorship, not a particularly trade, seemed to fade, & for some years she resumed her privileged life at home.  In 1873, however, her father's death & the loss of his estate through the speculations of a "trusted" adviser brought her to the verge of poverty.

Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

The secession & the Civil War destroyed the Southern family's aristocratic way of life. Andrews's mother & father died within 8 years after the South's defeat. Fanny Andrews & her siblings were forced to sell the family home & plantations.

Confronted at the age 33 with the problem of day-to-day survival, Fanny Andrews initially turned to school-teaching.  For one year, 1873-74, she attempted to serve as principal of the Girls' High School in Yazoo City, Miss., where a brother was practicing law. Working under a Negro superintendent of education, she seemed to experience the painful alteration in status common to many of her class throughout the South at this time.  Returning to Washington in 1874, Fanny opened the Select School for Girls with a cousin. In 1885, after 3 years of illness, she joined the faculty of the Wesleyan Female College at Macon, teaching literature & French & working in the library. 

Circumstances had likewise renewed her interest in writing, & throughout these years she appeared frequently in print, under both her own & her pen name.  During this time she also began work on her 1st novel, A Family Secret, a fictionalized account of her wartime journal. It was published in 1876 to much critical acclaim & enjoyed a wide readership. A Family Secret, published in Philadelphia by J. B. Lippincott & Company, was said to have been that firm's most successful offering for 1876. Two other novels followed: A Mere Adventurer in 1879 and Prince Hal: or The Romance of a Rich Young Man in 1882. 

Though romantically nostalgic, these novels revealed Fanny Andrews' abiding disdain for what she saw as the vulgar postwar plutocracy & her resentment of the limited sphere of action prescribed for women. She never seemed to rid herself of the bitterness felt when her antebellum lifestyle was lost & seemed to hold both greedy Yankee capitalists & African Americans responsible. She also published serial stories in various periodicals & briefly attempted lecturing on the Tennessee Chautauqua circuit.

Fanny Andrews' most memorable literary work, however, was her actual personal diary she had begun in December 1864 & which she continued during the remainder of the war & the months immediately following.  Forth years later she decided to publish it. The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, issued in 1908, is a revealing record of experiences both major & trivial.  It has been compared by some historians with the diary of Mary Boykin Chestnut, & cited as offering "unexcelled" insight into "the minds & sentiments of many Southern women during wartime & early Reconstruction."

By 1900, Fanny returned again to Washington & began teaching in Washington's public high school Science. Turning serious attention to one of her lifelong interests, botany, she spent a summer immersed in research at Johns Hopkins University.  In 1903 her 1st textbook, Botany All the Year Round, was published. It was a simple, practical book especially useful in rural schools which seldom had laboratories or supplies. From 1898 to 1903 she taught botany in Washington's public high school.

Fanny Andrews had never been fully satisfied with merely sentimental or nostalgic justifications of the Civil War. Discussions with her Unionist father had forced her to seek a rational basis for her Confederate sympathies, & by the time she published her War-Time Journal she had found this, surprisingly, in Marxist socialism.  Economic determinism seemed to offer not only scientific confirmation of the Southern belief, that the moralistic Yankee crusade had masked economic purposes, but also the bittersweet knowledge that the rebellion had been "doomed from the first by a law as inexorable as the one pronounced by the fates against Troy." She also found satisfaction in the thought that although "wage slavery" had vanquished outmoded chattel slavery in 1865, the Yankee capitalists, in their turn, were soon to fall before socialism, her vision of the next evolutionary stage.  From 1899 to 1918 she listed herself in Who's Who in America as a Socialist, & she contributed at least one article to the International Socialist Review "Socialism in the Plant World," July 1916.

Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

After her retirement from teaching, Fanny Andrews spent much of her time pursuing the study of botany, in which she had become interested as a young girl. Andrews became a strong proponent of conservation, writing articles to rail against turpentine distillers & developers for destroying woodlands.  She  was largely self-taught but ultimately achieved considerable competence in this area & produced 2 textbooks. Long an advocate of making botany a basic part of school curricula, she published high school textbooks, Botany All the Year Around, in 1903, & A Practical Course in Botany (1911).  

In 1911 Fanny’s 2nd, more advanced textbook was published. A culmination of 6 years of study in Alabama, the text was aimed at high school & college students.  She collected more than 3,000 plant specimens during summer travels throughout the American West, Mexico, & Europe. Having spent time at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute editing the text & working with other botanists, Fanny donated more than 3,000 plant specimens she had collected to the Alabama Department of Agriculture. Her 2nd textbook was translated for use in the schools of France.  She continued to write, mainly on botany, throughout the last years of her life in Rome, Ga.

The “Remarkable Behavior of a Veteran White Oak” was published in 1926. The royalties from her textbooks provided her with a comfortable income during her later years. In 1926, she was invited to become a member of the International Academy of Literature & Science, the only American woman so honored.

Dying in 1931 at the age of 90, she was buried in the family plot in Rest Haven Cemetery, Washington, Ga. "The exigencies of the times did away with many conventions," Fanny Andrews had written in 1908 of the impact of the Civil War upon Southern women (War-Time Journal, p. 21). Certainly its unsettled aftermath had opened the way for her own productive career.


Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971

Georgia Women of Achievement  - Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931 

New Georgia Encyclopedia - Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931