August 19, 2021

CONNECTING THE DOTS AT LONGWOOD

In April, 2017, on a visit to Mississippi, Patrick and Julia took the boys and me on a day trip to Natchez.  It was during their big spring festival of tours of antebellum homes—a major tourist attraction each year.  We drove around, took a double decker bus tour of the town and chose one home to tour.  In this photo, Patrick and the boys are on the front porch of Longwood.

After reading A Place Like Mississippi by W. Ralph Eubanks this month, I’ve been reading books by some Mississippi writers he mentioned that were new to me.  I especially enjoyed this book by Elllen Douglas, Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell. She was Josephine Haxton from Greenville, MS, and took her pseudonym to protect her maternal aunts in Natchez who let her use some of their family stories in her fiction. This memoir was her last book, published in 1998. In it she tackled some hard truths of some of her own family stories and in one of them, “Julia and Nellie”, Longwood.played a prominent role.

This is another photo of Longwood I took in 2017.  Ellen Douglas describes it as “a wildly extravagant Moorish castle of a  mansion (Nutt’s Folly, people called it) left unfinished in 1861…No one in the Nutt family ever again had the money…to finish it. Instead, they…sold away or lost most of the land, lived on the finished ground floor, and left the top four floors…to mice and owls and bats and children’s explorations.”

This photo shows Patrick and others exploring the unfinished upper floors of Longwood in 2017. Ellen Douglas said her father’s family (her grandparents and their four sons) rented Longwood when the boys were in high school so the boys could be closer to school. She remembers seeing that finished ground floor with her grandmother’s furniture in it. Her grandmother told her that the author’s father had his bachelor party at Longwood.

I also took this photo at Longwood—a large wooden shipping crate addressed to Miss Julia Nutt, the daughter of  the builder, Dr. Haller Nutt.  She lived at Longwood but often rented it out to help cover expenses.  At other times she lived at a nearby farm called The Forest (where this crate is addressed to her). 

“Julia and Nellie” tells the story of Julia Nutt and Nellie, Ellen Douglas’ maternal grandmother.  The two were lifelong best friends.  The author remembers Miss Julia coming to call on her grandmother when she was a little girl and the two women were in their 60s.

Douglas tells about the love story of Julia and her distant cousin Dunny.  They lived together many years, mostly at The Forest where they kept cows and raised their food.  They were ostracized by the community but Julia and Nellie continued their friendship. When Dunny died, Julia buried him.  When she died, her friend Nellie had her funeral in her home.  Julia was a Catholic but because of her longtime relationship could not be buried from the church.  Her staunch Presbyterian friend Nellie persuaded some kind priest to come pray over Julia.  She is buried in the Nutt family’s Longwood cemetery near the mansion.

Ellen Douglas concludes, “In defiance of her church and his marriage vows, they committed themselves to each other and for a lifetime honored their commitment.”

Four years after visiting Longwood, I now understand who Miss Julia Nutt was—and I’m glad to have discovered another outstanding Mississippi writer.

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