Never let it be said that the Quaker girls of Waterford, Virginia, were without a sense of humor. In spite of the scarcities and terrors of the Civil War, despite the constant harassment of the father of Lida and Lizzie -- a good Quaker and an outspoken Union man, John B. Dutton spent a great deal of the war either in exile in Point of Rocks, Maryland, just across the Potomac, or under Rebel arrest -- the defiantly pro-Union newspaper they published during the last year of the war was a tribute to both their feminine aplomb and their innate sweetness.
The Waterford News, a monthly that their father arranged through a friend to have printed on the presses of the Baltimore American, is shot through with their defiant drollery. The targets of their barbs weren't just the Rebel interlopers who made their lives miserable; the privations of the war itself came under attack -- and some of the humor had very little whatever to do with the war.
An understanding of one circumstance in particular helps to explain quite a few of the girls' jibes: The Quakers of Waterford had been firmly against slavery and secession, but once war became inevitable, in the pacifist spirit of their faith they tried to adopt an attitude of strict neutrality to both sides. Their Loudoun neighbors to the south and west sorely tested this undertaking. They mounted a drive to press the young Quaker men of the area into military service, prompting many of them to flee, like John Dutton, to Point of Rocks. This meant that these girls spent the war pining for their service-aged fathers, brothers and boyfriends, and in the company -- sometimes welcome, sometimes decidedly not -- of the men of both sides of the war who passed through their town.
One thing the girls understood well is the value of that old reliable standby, the Running Gag. In the first issue of the News (May 1864) a repeated feature titled "Pop-Gun" is introduced. The first installment:
General Order No. 6:Oh, SNAP!
The young ladies of Waterford, Loudoun Co., Va., are hereby notified to meet at the first opportunity and lend their mutual aid in filling a large mud-hole being located in the middle of Second Street, and the men have driven around it so much that it is extending each side. Being fearful the men will get their feet muddy, the ladies will try and remedy it.
The next month's installment:
We record with pleasure one exception to the general apathy of the gentlemen. Are sorry 'tis only one; but think the truth should not be withheld. Our thanks are due to this citizen for one load of sand deposited in the mud hole. We think it well to forewarn all young ladies of other neighborhoods not to let their hearts' devotion rest on young men who are so lost to the spirit of chivalry once the boast of Virginia's sons...A letter to the Editor says:
Misses Editors of the Waterford News: -- Will you allow a much abused member of the Porcine species a word in your columns? Hitherto one of the greatest enjoyments of myself and my fellow grunters, was an afternoon siesta in the mud hole on Second Street, which enjoyment you have been the means of lessening by having one cartload of sand deposited in the deepest and most comfortable corner. If it should be filled, I don't know where we shall go, for there is not another such hole in the corporation.Next month, the pothole is forgotten, but the twitting of the menfolk continues unabated:
General Order No. 7:The "Pop-Gun" featurette ends here, but the insouciant gags don't. Another running feature is "Marriages." In the first issue:
The young ladies of this place are hereby ordered to meet again upon the first rainy day, at the farm of A. Hough, situated at the head of Rocky-Way, and set out, in the large field lying to the left of the Mansion House and bordering on "Sleepy Hollow", a quantity of Tobacco plants to gratify the refined taste of the few Lords of Creation left in this vicinity.
Young men, will you see this "should be interesting" place vacant, when you could so easily remedy it?
We hope to be able to fill this vacancy ere long.
We think there is no prospect of having this long-continued vacancy filled until after the war; we will discontinue it for the present.
But they didn't:
After the marriage column was closed, the young gentlemen became very patriotic, volunteering to serve a lifetime, and proposals numerous flocked in. We will make them feel that delays are dangerous.
Sarcasm, in one so young? Well... Next month:
Words are inadequate to express our feelings on this subject.
How can you not just love these girls?
Next week, the Marriages column looks like this:
"There's many a true word spoken in jest,"
And so we'll just say this column's a pest.
For the last few issues, they finally had some actual marriages to report on, and they played those straight.
After the war, Lida and Lizzie Dutton both married Union soldiers they'd met during the war and moved away to New York and Indiana, respectively. Sarah Steer stayed in Waterford and became the teacher for a school for black children that was opened by the Quakers and the Freedmen's Bureau. She was married in 1904.
Here's the Dutton House in Waterford:
Since the girls moved away I couldn't find their graves, but here's Pa Dutton's, in the Quaker Meeting House graveyard:
Unlike last week, no tragedies here. John lived a long, prosperous and eventful life, and it can only have been made that much richer by the presence in it of such delightful and brave daughters.
Next Up On the Mobberly Trail: What did you do for fun during the Civil War, Grandpa?
The Waterford News: An underground Union newspaper published by three Quaker maidens in Confederate Virginia 1964-65, introduced and annotated by Taylor M. Chamberin, Bronwen C. Souders, John M. Souders, (c)1999 Waterford Foundation, Inc., Waterford, VA.
"To Talk Is Treason": Quakers in Waterford, Virginia on Life, Love, Death and War in the Southern Confederacy, from their Diaries and Correspondence, (c)1996, Waterford Foundation, Inc., Waterford, VA.