DAR celebrates Women's History Month

 Linda Millsaps interviews Mary Mann Hamilton (Anna Sims.) This was the program for the Horseshoe Robinson Chapter of the NSDAR. They heard a little of Hamilton's life during the early settlement in the Delta in the 1800s in recognition of Women's History Month.
Staff Writer

In celebration of Women's History Month at the meeting of the Horseshoe Robertson Chapter of the NSDAR, Linda Millsaps interviewed Mary Mann Hamilton, (portrayed by DAR member, Anna Sims) who was the first white woman to settle in the Mississippi Delta. A book by Helen Davis, "Trials of the Earth" tells the story of Mary Mann and her life with Frank Hamilton.

Anna Sims quotes from the book as she describes the life of Mary Mann during the interview.

"The Delta we know today, took on the look of farmland in the early 1900s," Millsaps said. "During the time Mary Mann Hamilton lived there it was home to panthers, red wolves and black bear. It was still an unclaimed wilderness."

“Trials of the Earth” is a story of the day–to–day struggles of an ordinary woman who lived from 1885 – 1936. After building a cabin in Rosedale, the Hamilton family fell victim to Mississippi River flooding, losing their home, clothes and all their possessions. They almost lost their lives in that flood.

Hamilton (Sims) said that she was originally born in Illinois. Her parents worked in a sawmill until the death of her father, when her mother moved herself and her children to Arkansas and opened their home as a boarding house.

"A tall, well - dressed dandy moved into one of our rooms," Hamilton said. "His name was Frank Hamilton and he was from somewhere in England. I didn't like him, not one bit. But mama and my family were quite taken by his looks and his manners."

She continued to say her mother and brothers became ill and died. Before her death, Hamilton's mother promised that Mary would be the wife of the English gentleman.

"I was 18 and he was 35, and I couldn't stand him," Hamilton said. "Frank had problems and he drank. That was the problem."

Frank Hamilton put together logging camps in the wilderness of Arkansas and Missouri, before moving to what is now Vicksburg in the Mississippi Delta. Mary Hamilton cooked and laundered and sewed for the loggers.

"I've been laughed at for saying we used a barrel of flour a day; but you bake 115 loaves of bread a day, biscuits or flapjacks for breakfast, at least thirty pies for dinner, and always tea cakes for supper, as I did, and you will see," Hamilton said. "Then we had to make our own yeast, and that took lots of flour. The only leftovers of anything we could use were bits of beef roast or soup meat and boiled ham, run through the food chopper. To this we would add cold potatoes and onions press in a pan and bake brown. We served this hot for supper. It is boarding house hash, older, I think, than boardinghouses themselves. It didn't make any difference how much we had left over, but God help us if we didn't have enough."

While still in Arkansas, Hamilton buried her first baby, laid it to rest beside her mother and brothers. This was a hard life for a woman and for children. After the death of her baby, life continued.

"I was broke, poor and in bad shape," Hamilton said. "I got a job cooking. My boss was surprised that I was the wife of Frank Hamilton. While he was in England he was an aristocrat. Now he was in very bad health and had to be in a hospital."

Hamilton sold everything she had to pay for Frank Hamilton's hospital bills. The family moved to Missouri and lived with Sam Mann, Hamilton's brother. She had two babies while they lived in Missouri but Frank Hamilton could not stay in one place for long and moved to Mississippi.

"He sent for us, me and the babies," Hamilton said. "He started up another logging camp. This one named Frank's Camp. We did good till it started raining and wouldn't stop."

Frank Hamilton left his wife and two babies in a chair at the top of hill with a blanket.

"It was my dream to build a house high up on an Indian mound," Hamilton said. "We were near Parchman. I was the only woman in that area. They started the penitentiary while we were there. They began laying tracks for the railroad. I buried two babies in Arkansas, one in Missouri and another a doctor gave strychnine by accident so I buried another girl."

Linda Millsaps said "Trials of the Earth" is a book everyone should read to understand what pioneering women endured to bring us to where we are today.

"Mary Mann Hamilton was a strong and extraordinary woman," Millsaps said. "And was the grandmother of former Mississippi Governor, Ronnie Muskgrove."