On this day in 1843 Sallie Anne Corbell was born in Nansemond County, the eldest of nine children and the only one of them to grow up and marry George E. Pickett. It was marriage number two for George, who out West had hooked up with a Haida Indian and even produced a son. But Sallie stole his heart. Heck, she stole everybody’s heart, or so she’d have you believe. After the war, she changed her name to LaSalle and fashioned herself the “Child-bride of the Confederacy.”*
According to our entry, “She subtracted years from her age (sometimes five, sometimes even more) and told stories from the perspective of a child, smoothing the complexities of the antebellum South and slavery into a self-justifying myth soaked in the ‘fragrance of the snowy magnolias.’” She also wrote a book called Pickett and His Men (1913), and it’s only mildly surprising that she likely made most of it up.
By my lights, though, her best book is Kunnoo Sperits and Others, published in 1900 and claiming to offer a “phonetically genuine” guide to African American speech. For instance, here Mrs. General Pickett demonstrates how an African servant “preached the gospel of contentment”: “You ‘bleeged ter be satusfied wid w’at you’s got. Nobody hain’t got ebbyt’ing in dis worl’.”
Which is true, and why the Lost Cause tells us the slaves were so danged faithful. This was especially so with mammies. Listening to her own rendering of phonetically genuine speech transformed the former Miss Corbell into “a child again, looking up into the dear dusky face of that beloved black mammy, listening with my unhurt, unclouded faith to the folklore of her speculative midnight race, as she solved in her own random, shadowy way the dim mysteries of creation …”
It almost goes without saying that this made our author famous. Help! Somebody should make a movie!
* That honor might better be reserved for Helen Longstreet, but who am I to judge?
A version of this post was originally published on May 16, 2011.
ADDITIONALLY: Here is a program to one of Mrs. General Pickett’s lectures.
IMAGE: “‘Twuz a long time ago“ from Kunnoo Sperits and Others by LaSalle Corbell Pickett (1900)