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Ripley, Eliza (Moore Chinn) M(cHatton)

RIPLEY, Eliza (Moore Chinn) M(cHatton)

Born 1 February 1832, Lexington, Kentucky; died 13 July 1912

Daughter of Richard H. and Betsy Holmes Chinn; married James A. McHatton, 1852; M. Dwight Ripley, 1873

Eliza M. Ripley was the 10th child of a judge. Ripley grew up in New Orleans and lived at Arlington Plantation on the Mississippi River below Baton Rouge after her first marriage to James Alexander McHatton. After the fall of that city in June 1862, the McHattons began a nomadic existence, living out of an ambulance while carrying Confederate cotton from Louisiana to Mexico to be sold. Six weeks before the fall of the Confederacy, the family joined a growing number of Southern exiles in Cuba. Using Cuban and Chinese coolie labor, they attempted to run a sugar plantation on the Southern model. James McHatton died in Cuba and Ripley returned to the United States.

From Flag to Flag: A Woman's Adventures in Wartime (1889) is autobiographical, dealing with Ripley's flight from Louisiana and life in Cuba. Although she and her husband spoke little Spanish, they were welcomed on the island and soon moved in the highest social circles. For the most part, life in Cuba was pleasant and the exiles adapted quickly. Ripley notes but does not condemn the arrogance and extravagance of the plantation owners and shares their fears of reprisal by the peasants.

Social Life in Old New Orleans (1912) is a combination of personal reminiscences and social commentary. It is Ripley's attempt to preserve a vanishing past as a standard for future generations. Written in the "Moonlight and Magnolias" tradition of Southern history, Social Life in Old New Orleans deals in great detail with the life of Southern women before the Civil War. These were easy, carefree days, when life moved slowly and conventions governed social relationships. Ripley did not claim to be an apologist for slavery but was, in fact, a firm supporter of the institution. Although she states that "the whites suffered more from its demoralizing influence than the blacks," this is not substantiated in the text. Ripley gives us an idyllic picture of life on a Southern plantation, with happy, well-cared-for slaves and kindly masters. She entitles one chapter "A Monument to Mammies," and paints an affectionate portrait of those hefty black women of indeterminate age who governed both white and black with an iron hand. Yet Ripley is reconciled to the changes undergone since the halcyon days of the antebellum South. "We lived," she concludes, "a life never to be lived again. " Taken together, Ripley's works provide a wealth of information on manners and customs of the prewar South. Her descriptions of fashions and entertainments, although rose-colored by memory, are unequaled.

Bibliography:

Eaton, C., The Growth of Southern Civilization (1961).

—JANET E. KAUFMAN

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