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In 1830 Randolph Bryan married Elizabeth Tucker Coalter, granddaughter of St. George Tucker of Williamsburg, and settled at Eagle Point, a plantation on the water, at the mouth of the Severn River, near Gloucester, Virginia. They had ten children, of which Corbin Braxton Bryan was the youngest. Elizabeth died in 1856 at the age of 51.
Having been born on a sea island and having served in the navy, it was natural that he sought a home on the salt water. In this respect, Eagle Point supplied all that could be desired. The plantation was so cut up by the water, so largely taken up with points and coves and creeks, that the waterline could not have been less than four miles. The bathing, fishing and sailing were of the best. Eagle Point under his and Mother’s hands was made a home which had no superior in this state of homes, with appointments of the old, substantial sort and gardens with a wealth of flowers and fruits – apricots, pears, grapes, figs, and even pomegranate.
In almost every direction lay the Severn River, so changing yet so constant. Sometimes at high tide it crept up over the green sward of the yard, then at low tide laid bare its margins and irresistibly invited youngsters to wade and capture crabs. It was the water, with its fitful changes, its squalls, its whitecaps, its placid ripplings, its fresh breezes, its beauties by day and night, that drew Father to Gloucester.
By my mother’s death (March 28th, 1856) when I was not quite four years old, I was drawn very near to my bereaved father. At that time, I was the only little child in the house. My sisters were grown, my brothers at school. Among my earliest recollections of him are our morning talks, when he would tell me wonderful stories of his sea life and of distant lands.
There was a New Testament in large print which lay on his bureau, in which he would often read while dressing. In it he would show me passages to read, and explain long or hard words, such as “the darkness comprehended it not.” His prayers were always the last thing before leaving his chamber. He never said his prayers until he was dressed. He prayed often and loud, and I used to be much impressed and solemnized. I sat by him at the table, rode behind him on the plantation. He would sometimes pick me up just as I was, bare-footed maybe, and in my everyday clothes and take me off, to the dismay of my good sisters, for a drive to the courthouse or a visit in the neighborhood.
He was full of information about things out of doors, and whether we were in the garden, field or woods he would be constantly calling attention to and giving the name of some plant, shrub, bird, or animal. He was impatient, too, of forgetfulness on my part and would impress his instruction now and then when it needed to be repeated with a cut on my bare foot and leg with his switch. As I was behind him on the horse, he had me at his mercy.
“Remember, Sir, I told you that was a kind of Eupatorium – Bone Set.”
I remember well his giving me a sound box for not learning to tie a bowline knot as quickly as he would have me. But I never forgot it afterwards and have used it thousands of times. He thrashed me severely for carelessness with a colt, which might indeed have been the death of me if he had not come up when he did. And he fairly slapped me over for a mistake in loading my gun.
But who so sure to have a good gun for his boy and plenty of good powder, the best English caps, and all sort s of shot. Who so certain to have fishing lines, hooks and sinkers in all variety, even to the entrancing “Sockdolinger” spring hook, which would catch a fish almost before he bit. And who so ready to teach you how to use and not abuse it all.
The first year of the war brought a large number of our kin and friends from South Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. Our home was headquarters for Bryans, Severins, Proctors, etc. Eagle Point being only about six miles in an air line from Yorktown was an easy rendezvous for our friends engaged in the peninsular campaign.
The country lies so flat and open, and the water brings the sounds so distinctly, that all seemed close at hand. The bombardment whether from the federal gun boats and shipping or from the confederate forts jarred the house. When the big fight between the Monitor and the Merrimac (Saturday, March 8, 1862) in which the Cumberland was sunk, took place, the windows at Eagle Point rattled with the big guns. We had not yet learned what war was. To me it was fascinating to sit on the steps of the back porch looking across our sweet garden and the bright river towards the south, and watch the interval between the firing of the guns down the river and the bursting of the shells over the York.
Such days would bring a stillness over us at home and an intensity of interest in what was taking place that would generally carry Father down to Gloucester Point or across the York River there to Yorktown. He even bought himself a repeating rifle which he would put into the carriage and carry along, but he never had a chance to use it. Some friend or cousin would likely come back with him, and we would have the news, generally insignificant. We had to make the most of it to realize that we were having a war.
When Father carried us up the country to spend the summer of ‘61, we happened to go soon after the engagement at Big Bethel in June. Below Yorktown on the peninsula, it was the first fight on Virginia soil. Henry Wyatt of N.C. was the single confederate who was killed in the skirmish – for it was nothing more . His body was carried up on a steamer, and we went on. What an object of sympathy and interest that one man in his pine coffin was. How the people came on board at every landing to look at it. It was sacred in all eyes.
Well, a few weeks brought Manassas, on July 21, 1861. That fight could be heard from Carysbrook, but we had to listen closely to catch the boom of the cannon. We learned something more about war that summer, and had our share of the wounded from Manassas in the homes and public houses in Fluvanna.The real trial came in May (it was the 3rd) of the next spring (‘62). News came to us at Eagle Point that the peninsula was to be evacuated next morning, and Father had to settle at a moment’s notice the question of leaving his home for what promised to be a long time, and proved to be forever.
The sisters, then all married, were already gone, Ran was on McGruder’s staff and St. George was in the Richmond Howitzers – both with the army on the peninsula. Only Joe and myself were with Father at Eagle Point. In one short day such disposition was made of the furniture, books, paintings, portraits, etc., as time allowed, and the next morning, Sunday May 4,th saw Father and myself in a buggy and Joe on horseback (on old Luck), with a cart containing our necessary baggage, following along with the army. So we left our home, never to see it again as such. Next