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St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. 5, July 1878, No. 9   By:

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VOL. V. JULY, 1878. No. 9.

[Copyright, 1878, by Scribner & Co.]



Far down the Carolina coast lies the lovely island of St. John, where stood, one hundred years ago, a noble brick built mansion, with lofty portico and broad piazza. Ancient live oaks, trembling aspens, and great sycamores, lifted a bower over it to keep off the sun. Threading their way through orange trees and beds of flowers, spacious walks played hide and seek around the house, coming suddenly full upon the river, or running out of sight in the deep woods.

The owner of this place was Robert Gibbes. With his beautiful young wife he kept an open hall, and drew to its doors many of the great and noble people of the times; for he was wealthy and cultured, and she had such charming manners that people loved her very presence. The great house was full at all seasons. Eight children had already come to this good couple, and seven little adopted cousins were their playmates the orphan children of Mrs. Fenwick, sister to Mr. Gibbes. He himself was a cripple, and could not walk. In a chair which ran on wheels he was drawn daily over the pleasant paths, sometimes by the faithful black servants, sometimes by the still more devoted children, who tugged at the rope like so many frisky colts. In their careless joy he forgot his own sufferings, and would laugh heartily when they deserted him and hid, with shouts, behind the great trunks, until every tree in the park seemed to cry out "Papa!" and "Uncle Robert!" The loveliness of the spot, and the happiness of its dwellers, suited well its name of "Peaceful Retreat," by which it was known through all the country.

But in those troublous times it could not always remain "peaceful." In the spring of 1779, the British took possession of all the sea board. General Prevost marched up from Savannah and laid siege to Charleston. The beautiful city was about to fall into the enemy's hands; all night the men had toiled in the trenches, the women had prayed on their knees in their chambers, expecting every moment to hear the besieging cannon roar through the darkness. At daylight the next morning the housetops were thronged with anxious watchers; but as the sun came gloriously out of the sea, it shone upon deserted fields; not a tent was to be seen. Hearing that General Lincoln was hastening on with his army, Prevost had struck his tents in the night, and was retreating rapidly toward Savannah. He crossed the Stone Ferry, and fortified himself on John's Island, as the island of St. John's was often called.

For weeks now the noise of musketry and heavy guns destroyed the quiet joy at "Peaceful Retreat." The children, in the midst of play, would hear the dreadful booming, and suddenly grow still and pale. The eldest daughter, Mary Anna, was a sprightly, courageous girl of thirteen. She had the care of all the little ones, for her mother's hands were full, in managing the great estate and caring for her husband. The children never played now in the park, unless Mary was with them; and when the frightful noise came through the trees, they ran to her as chickens to a mother's wing.

After a time, the enemy determined to take possession of this beautiful place. A body of British and Hessians quietly captured the landing one midnight, and, creeping stealthily onward, filled the park and surrounded the house. At day break, the inmates found themselves prisoners.

Then came trying days for the family. The officers took up their quarters in the mansion, allowing the family to occupy the upper story. They may have been brave soldiers, but they certainly were not gentlemen, for they did everything to annoy Mrs. Gibbes, who bore all her trouble nobly and patiently. Little Mary had entire charge of the smaller children, which was no easy task, for they were continually getting into some sort of trouble with the troops... Continue reading book >>

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