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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Poverty and gentility for aristocratic families of Virginia

Though many of the descendants of the important families in Virginia had fallen on hard times, they still clung to their ideas of pride and respectability. One widow refuses help from her family, insisting on giving her cousin the family silver rather than selling it to them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

And I remember there was a woman that I went to see one time, whom somebody in Birmingham had asked me to go see, who was a cousin. This was Tinsley Harrison's relatives, you don't know who he is, you know the great doctor. Well, this is his mother asked me to go see the cousin. So I went there, and my heavens, here was this handsome woman with all this brood of handsome children. The windows were out, and it all looked like it was just a wreck. Some of the windows were out, and her poor old mother, or something, was huddling over a little wire. And she greeted me with perfect grace. So when I came back on a visit, I told Mrs. Harrison about her cousin and what a desperate time she was having. And she said that was on account of the fact that her gradnfather'd been a gambler, or maybe it was her father, anyway she laid it all to the fact that there was a streak of gambling in the family and they'd lost alll their money. She said, you know, this cousin of mine has all the family silver-came from Virginia-and if she's in such a desperate condition-it must be worth several thousand dollars-when you go back, you ask her if I can buy the silver from her. Because that will give her . . . And they really were in a bad fix. So I went out there one cold, after Christmas, cold as it could be, and their house was freezing, and the old lady was crouched over the fire. They never had but the pains in the windows, you know they had wood in the windows. And I told the lady as nice as I could that her cousin in Alabama Mrs. Harrison, would like to buy the family silver. I think Mrs. Harrison's name was Ella. She said, dear Ella wants that silver? Why it had never occurred to me that she'd like that silver. If she feels that way about it, I'll send it to her tomorrow. I said, but she wants to buy it from you. Oh, she said, I couldn't think of selling the family silver. She said, but I'll certainly share it with her, and give it to her if she feels strongly about it. You know, what could you do about that? She was not going to accept any money for the family silver, that was something that was sacred. Well, Virginia was a fascinating place to me because it provided a haven, if you know what I mean.