Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> First-Person Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

Burton Harrison, 1843-1920
Recollections Grave and Gay
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.


Constance Cary was born in Vaucluse, Virginia in 1843 to Archibald and Monimia Cary. The family was related to Thomas Jefferson and spent a great deal of time at Monticello. Her grandmother was a frequent guest at George Washington's Mount Vernon. When the Civil War began, her mother sent Constance and her brother Clarence away from their home in northern Virginia to protect them from the dangers of the impending fighting, and for some time the pair lived with an uncle in Millwood, Virginia. The family home in Vaucluse burned down during the war. Amidst the conflict, Constance began writing and editing for the Examiner. At this time, she met Burton Novell Harrison, who was a personal secretary of Jefferson Davis, and in 1867 the two married. Under the name Mrs. Burton Harrison, she published several works of fiction, a memoir, and a work on home economics.

Recollections Grave and Gay (1911) recounts experiences from Harrison's childhood and early adult years in Virginia. She begins with an extensive examination of her lineage—citing her family's connections to some of the great men in American history. She vividly describes the daily experience of life close to the front lines of the Civil War, including greeting wounded soldiers, listening to lists of daily casualties read aloud, and meeting and dining with various generals, including Beauregard. With the close of the War, Harrison traveled with her mother to Paris and returned to settle with her husband in New York City, where he was practicing law. There she performed in a handful of small musical productions and continued her writing. The narrative closes with a description of her travels in Europe.

Works Consulted: Dole, Nathan Haskell, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor, comps., The Bibliophile Dictionary: A Biographical Record of the Great Authors, with Bibliographical Notices of Their Principal Works from the Beginning of History. New York: International Bibliophile Society, 1904; Elms and Magnolias: Old Blue in a Coat of Gray, Gary L. Reeder, II, 1996, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, 21 October 2003, <>.

Harris Henderson

Document menu