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The wedding was a simple affair, befitting the times, with only a minister and a few relatives in attendance. Sidney Harding, a young cousin of the bride, found the entire affair distasteful, as she wrote in her diary:
“Who wants to think that we would have a wedding in this old log house--as [Allie] was married to Mr. Weightman at three o’clock this afternoon… We had a nice dinner for these times, which is very rare now. Turkey, ham, boiled chickens, Oh how could she marry that man--so common looking and disagreeable… He is so hard headed, ugly-altogether it was a funny affair, he married in the same gray clothes he wore all this year--but all owing to the times… We spent a quiet day-laughed at the bride and groom-He does not seem to know what to do exactly, so awkward, and ugly. ...I do not like him much-without reason--he is just disagreeable.” [Excerpts from Sidney Harding’s diary, March 1864, in ProQuest History Vault, Southern Life and African American History, 1775-1915, Plantations Records, Part 1, Records of Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series I: Selections from Louisiana State University, Part 1: Louisiana Sugar Plantations, 002422-004-0989]
“Cousin Allie” was Harriet Weeks Meade, and contrary to her young cousin’s impressions, Harriet’s marriage to Thomas Weightman was a joyous occasion. For Harriet, this marriage provided a second chance in the wake of tragedy.
Harriet Weeks lived during a time when women did not have the right to vote or own property. But, upon the death of her first husband, Harriet takes on the management of the family’s sugar plantation. Death was commonplace in the 19th century and Harriet suffered loss in her life. Nevertheless, the records indicate she overcame tragedy to build a family and live into old age. Harriet shared the challenges women faced in the 19th century but lived a privileged life. With ProQuest History Vault, Southern Life and African American History, 1775-1915 researchers can compare and contrast the lives of women in the American South. Continue reading to learn more about Harriet’s life.
A Plantation Belle
Harriet was the daughter of Louisiana sugar planter David Weeks and his wife Mary Conrad Weeks. David Weeks died in 1834. In 1841 Mary Weeks married Judge John Moore, a Whig who represented Louisiana in the U.S. Congress during 1840-1843 and 1851-1853. Thus, Harriet’s privileged childhood included travel, and during her stepfathers 1840s Congressional term, she attended an elite finishing school in Washington D.C.
Described as “a plantation belle much sought after” Harriet apparently turned down several proposals before her first marriage to Dr. David Meade. The couple lived in St. Mary’s Parish, Louisiana, where their only child Edward was born around 1849. When David Meade died in 1854, Harriet was left to operate their sugar plantation along the Bayou Teche on her own.
On Her Own
For much of the next decade, Harriet managed the plantation by herself, seeking advice from her brother William, who operated his own sugar plantations. History Vault’s David Weeks and Family Collection, part of Southern Life and African American History, 1775-1915, Plantations Records, Part 1, includes their correspondence, as well as letters between Harriet and her mother, stepfather, and other family members.
By one account, Harriet owned 141 slaves. The 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedules for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana however, lists her with 83 slaves. The 1860 census lists the value of her real estate at $50,000 and her personal property at $60,000. [1860 Census, HeritageQuest Online]. In 2015 dollars, according to Measuring Worth.com, Harriet’s real estate would be worth at least $1.1 million and her personal property could be worth approximately $1.76 million.
The Civil War Years
During the Union occupation of Louisiana’s sugar country, many of Harriet’s relatives and neighbors fled to Texas, taking their slaves with them. Harriet joined family members in East Texas, where, in August 1863, she received the devastating news that Edward, her beloved 14-year-old son, had died suddenly after a brief illness.
“Oh how hard it is for me to realize that my bright beautiful boy has passed away forever,” Harriet wrote in a letter to her stepfather John Moore, adding “It was Gods will to take him, and I am resigned to his will. I have prayed my dear father for fortitude and resignation to hear the blow without a murmur, and I feel that he was taken for some wider purpose and that he has only gone a little while before me.” [Letter from Harriet Weeks to John Moore, September 22, 1864. History Vault, Records of Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series I: Selections from Louisiana State University, Part 6: David Weeks and Family Collection, 002432-018-0145]
Six months later, in the old log house they called “Halls Place,” Harriet married Thomas Weightman, a fellow planter. As the wedding date approached, Maggie Weeks, Harriet’s sister-in-law (wife of Charles Weeks) wrote to William Weeks, "The wedding is our chief topic of conversation, and I wish sister Mary [Mary Palfrey Weeks] and yourself were with us to assist us in our jokes about the loving couple...Neither Allie or [Mr. Weightman] mind being teased, and it is well they do not, as they would suffer if they did."
We can only speculate why Harriet married so soon after the death of her son. Was she hoping to have another child? Various sources put her age then at between 36 and 40. [Harriet Weeks birth date is listed in various records as 1824, 1826, and 1828. Similarly, census records list her age as 36 (1860), 42 (1870), and 48 (1880).]
Harriet may have loved Thomas Weightman. She may have even planned to marry him before Edward’s death. We just don’t know. Certainly her life after their marriage was not carefree. Six months after the wedding, Harriet was badly burned, when her clothing accidentally caught fire while she was rendering tallow in the yard. “I was burned on one side from my hip nearly down to the knee,” she wrote, in a letter to John Moore. “I had high fever for five days after and suffered intensely, the place has healed...but is very tender." [October 24, 1864, ProQuest History Vault, 002432-018-0601]
Harriet did eventually get a second chance at motherhood. In 1866 or 1867 (sources differ) she gave birth to a son, William. Two years later Anna was born, followed a year and a half later by Roger. When the 1870 Census was taken, Harriet, Thomas, and their children were living in Centreville, Louisiana, not far from Harriet’s old plantation, which they had sold. The family later moved to Pass Christian, Mississippi, where in the 1880 Census Thomas Weightman listed his profession as civil engineer. [1880 Census, HeritageQuest Online]
Harriet Weeks Weightman died March 19, 1899, at her home in Chicago, Illinois. She had lived long enough to see her youngest son Roger wed, and to become a grandmother. [ProQuest Obituaries, Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Mar 20, 1899]
This account of the life of Harriet Weeks Weightman is just one example of the fascinating stories waiting to be told via the Southern Plantation Records in ProQuest History Vault. Southern Life and African American History, Part 1 and Part 2 both include numerous collections documenting the different experiences of women on Southern Plantations. The major collections on women in Part 1 of the Southern Plantation Records can be found on page 4 of our Women’s Studies brochure. For more information on the records on Southern Life and Slavery in History Vault, see these related blog posts as well as the History Vault brochure on Southern Life and Slavery.
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