A String of Pearls

Alice, Dr. Sewall and childrenThis post was inspired by this passage from Alice’s 1880s journal.

After Aunt Kitty*—my grandmother’s sister—died of pancreatic cancer in 1988, her daughter Joyce was in the attic of her mother’s home where she found two journals wrapped in a quilt. The house had been her grandmother Edna Mae’s house before Kitty lived there, so it may have been decades that the journals had been waiting to be seen by family eyes again.

These journals were written by Alice Marshall Finch Sewall of Woodvale, Virginia. One journal—which I didn’t know about until decades later—was written in after the Civil War 1866 when Alice was still a teenager. The second journal—which Joyce read and transcribed into a spiral notebook with a more modern hand—found it’s way to me in 1989, the year I graduated from high school.

My task, it had been agreed, would be to type what cousin Joyce had transcribed on my electric typewriter so that the family could have an easy-to-read copy of Alice’s later journal.

It was Alice’s final journal—written between 1880 and 1890, after the Finch family moved from Virginia to Alabama, and then to Texas—I came to know well. It was in this journal where I had the first chance to meet my great grandmother, Edna Mae. I had seen pictures of her and had heard stories about her in old age, but Alice’s journal gave a new perspective of her, playing as a young girl with her brothers while her mother wrote in a journal under a tree.

Alice’s journal gave me a fresh view of what it was like to be a woman 100 years earlier. Just like any woman today, she fretted about household duties, late periods, and worries about her children and finances. She even berated herself about not writing more, just like I did as a teenager and to this day.

Her journal opened my eyes to her struggles, and made me see that we weren’t that much different. It made me see the bounty of my choices that I had 100 years after her death.

It was a gift to be a young woman, carrying this story from my family’s home and the end of my high school years into college. (I even wrote about the journal in my Freshman Composition class.)

I wore Alice’s story—my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother story—like a string of pearls as I set out to find out to discover the woman I would become.

* Kitty’s eldest son, Johnnie Johnson, passed away Sept. 17, 2017. (Also on Sept. 17, 2017, Alice’s great-great-great-great grandson, Braegon Foote is born.


Alice’s Resting Place

Alice Marshall Finch Sewall is buried in the Old Waverly (Texas) cemetery, at the back corner, set apart from her husband’s family.

Vocabulary words…the last page of her journal.

(The handwriting is very small on the final page of vocabulary words.)

Autocrat (?): an absolute sovereign

Hetat____: sacrifice of 100 oxen

Pyre: a funeral ___

__ander: a mean wretch

Battlement: a wall with enclosures

Turret: a little river

Censtaph (?): a monument

Amalgamate: to mix

Alie__ate: to transfer to another

Immaculate: without blemish

Reversible: that may be changed

Scenic: theatrical, dramatic

Lobbies: halls or openings

__ved: fettered, shackeled

Avena: a open place of gr__ing

Didactic: inclined to instruct

Automation: a machine maned by invisible ____

Atheist: one who claims the existence of God.


Deist: one who denies a revelation from God.

___ition: learning, knowledge

Espimaye (?): practice of employing spices

Erydipelas (?): an e__ption, It ____ _y’s fire

Legend: an incredible story.

Deprecated: pr___ed deliverance from

Chronology: a reckoning of time

Ethnography: a treatise of the ____ different ___ separately.

Pantehism: doctrine of the ______ to god.

Chalice: a communion cup

Anti___: those living on the opp__.

Aborigines: the first inhabitants

Cosmogony: history of creation

Topography: description of a particular place

Nucleus: a body around which something is collected(?)

Elliptical: oval


Lenuity (?) thinness

Barometer: an instrument to weight to air

Perih____: point of a planet’s orbit ____ and ____

Luminous light: enlightened

Naiad: a water nymph

Nereid: a sea nymph

Kaleidoscope: an optical instrument that exhibits a variety of beautiful coors.

Microscope: instrument for magnifying objects

Telescope: instrument for viewing

L___tion: a shifting

____: neat, elegant

Sarcophagus: a stone coffin

Sarcophoagous: flesh-eating

Summary: an abridged account

Supine: careless

Contour: general outlines of a face

Profile: side face, outlinie

Cynic: a morose man

Laconic: brief, expressive

Coyen (?): a cheat

I__partune: to urge, to press

Irrigate: to water

Curmudgeon: a miser

Probity: honesty, sincerity

Kra__: a village

Egotism: self-commendation

Emanate: to flow from

Unsophisticated: Pur__tless

Badinage: a playful discourse

Eclaircissement: act of explaining an affair

Elah: applause, renown

El___mosynary (?): living on charity

Comopa___ite: ditig___ of in___yoed

Contama____: conumtituous long ____

Physics: science of nature or ____

Metaphysics: science of the mind




Education is the companion which no misfortune can depress nor crime can destroy. No enemy a__nate, no disposition enslave. At home a friend, abroad an introduction, in solitude a solace, and in society an ornament. It chastens vices, it guides virtue, it give at once grace & government to genius. Without it who is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage.


Forget not that life is like a flower which no sooner is blown that it begins to wither.


If there is a person to whom you feel a dislike that is the person of whom you ought never to speak.


When thou art tempted to throw a stone in thine anger, try if thou canst pick it up without bending thy back if not stop thy hand.


Though the world is wide enough for everyone to take a little & there appears no reason why we __stle & make one another unhappy as we pass along; yet so it is, we are continually thwarting & crossing each other at right angles; and some lose all sense of memory of what t___ which governed us at our first setting out.


An empty head & a full purse are more refreshed than a man of sense whose purse has been lightened by the unavoidable shafts of misfortune.


Beauty as the flowering blossom soon fades, but the divine excelled of the mind, like the medicinal virtues of a pl___ remains in it when all those charms are withered.

(The follow is cut of in the left margin. There appears to be pages that follow it that aren’t in the copy I have. Or perhaps the pages are out of order.)


____ the first action of manhood be to govern your passions, for he who knows how to govern himself, always becomes a favorite with society.


____tial duty. There is no virtue that adds so noble a charm to the finest traits of beauty as that which exerts itself on watching over the tranquility of an aged parent. There are no tears that can give so well as a lustre to the cheek of innocence as the tears of filial sorrow.


Happiness and virtue are twin sisters which can never be divided. They are born & flourish or sicken & die together. They are offsprings of good sense & innocence & while they continue under the guidance of such parents, they are invulnerable to injury & incapable of decay.


Human happiness has no perfect security but freedom; freedom not but virtue; virtue none but knowledge; neither freedom nor virtue nor knowledge has any vigor or immortal hope except in the principles of the Christian father & in the sanctions of the Christian religion.


Good nature is the best feature in the finest face. Wit may raise admiration, judgment may command respect & knowledge attention; beauty may inflame the heart with love; but good nature has a more powerful effect: it adds a thousand attractions to the charms of beauty & gives an air of beneficence to the most homely face.


Tell me whom you live with and I will tell you who you are.


She that e____ another should lead the way herself.


Friday evening  Sept. 22nd ’66

Woodvale! Place of my birth and home of my early youth! In a short time again must I bid thee a silent adieu, again leave thy peaceful haunts to mingle with the gay and thoughtless youth of my village ho__. Probably I shall never visit thee again _____ such pleasant circumstances never indulge again. The delightful rambles or enjoy again the numerous means of pleasure which thy sacred bounds afford. Perhaps too before I return, thy only link in the chain now that unites us to this loved spot will be broken and then —– but I can go no further. The thought is too painful to bee indulged therefore I instantly banish it beside sorrow often comes at such an hour and in such a form as we least expect and for this reason apprehending trouble before it comes causes much unnecessary unhappiness.

 (The bottom half of this page is torn out.)

Laconic  sentences & ___

Nobility is a river that sets with a constant and undeviating current, directly on to the greatPacific oceanof time. But unlike all other rivers it is more grand at its source than at its termination.

When you have nothing to say, say nothing; a weak defense strengthens your opponent, and silence is her infusions (?) m___ a late reply.

Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.

Tis always safe to learn even from our enemies. Seldom safe to ___ to instruct even our friends.

Vice stings us even in our pleasures but virtue consoles us even _______ pains. (The bottom of this page is torn off.)

Awkward bashfulness is as ridiculous as true modesty is commendable.

The wise man his follies no less than the fool, but it has been said that herein lies the difference–the follies of the fool are known to the world, but are hidden from himself. The follies of the wise are known to himself but hidden from the world.

A harmless hilarity and a buoyant cheerfulness are not infrequent concomitants of genius & we are never more deceived than when we mistake gravity for greatness, solemnly for science, pomposity for erudition.

The last day we attended school our Latin Teacher gave us some ideas in regard to the origin of the heathen deities. The parents of Saturn, the father of the other gods were Uranus and Titean meaning heaven and earth the descendants were called Titans. They were all however dethroned by Saturn with the assistance of his son Jubiter (She spelled it with a B). Saturn declared that he would never raise any male children and would have eaten them all up but his wife gave him rocks to eat and in this way she pre__ed the likes of her three sons Jubiter, Neptune, & Pluto. These united and overthrew their father and divided the kingdom between themselves, Jubiter reigning in Heaven, Neptune the sea and Pluto the Infernal regions.

Juno was the daughter of Saturn, married her brother Jubiter, noted for her jealousy. Venus is said to have sprung from the sea nearCythera. Very much in love with Adonis. Mars, Mercury & Anchises (?). She was the goddess of beauty & love, mother of Aeneas, the hero of Virgil, & Cupid. She was given to Vulcan as a punishment by Jubiter.

Vulcan was the god of blacksmiths. His name is supposed to be derived from two Latin words Vallo & ignis, meaning fire-fly.

Pan was the god of shepherds and from his name is derived the word panic. He made an instrument of reeds which was used to frighten and ____ an enemy when seen to approach. Hence when a body of men is thrown into confusion we say there is a panic among them.

The other gods and goddesses were descended from these mentioned and were assigned to their places by Jubiter who was supreme god. Such was the superstition of the ancients.

“What would my mother think…”

Friday evening, September 1st

How time flies! A few more years of toil & sorrows and we shall pass into eternity. The question that naturally arises at this moment is am I prepared for this approaching change? Am I living in such a manner that I shall be ready to give a strict account for “the deeds done in the body?” Alas I fear not! Too numerous to mention are my daily yea hourly sins. How hard it is for me to do right; for “when I would do good, evil is ever present with me.” Ah! how easily am I enticed from the path of duty by the allurements of sin & folly.

My books too of late have been sadly neglected & I fear sometimes I am going backward instead of forward in the progress of knowledge and ah this mourn__ ___ent bitterly ____ feel a sense of my ignorance, my nothing ___. Yet I might not despair for I am resolved to do better, to spend my time more profitably. What would my mother think did she know how I have been wasting my precious time since I left her? Mortifying indeed would it be to her. Therefore for  her sake, if not my own, I shall endeavor to keep my resolution.

“my dear grandmother is prostrated on a bed of sickness…”

Friday morning, Woodvale, August 28 (25?)

Ah! my neglected journal. When sorrows come and other friends forsake me, then do I turn to thee for relief, then burden they pages with tales of grief. But today let me pause and think calmly why it is that I fell so depressed. Alas the reason soon dispersed–or for at this moment–my dear grandmother is prostrated on a bed of sickness, probably never to rise from it again. At this however though tis hard to bear. I will not murmur for it is the Lord’s will. “Blessed be his name.”

The next thing that disturbs me is my own sinfulness. “O wretched being that I am.” Who shall deliver me from the wrath of a just God? I often fear (and wretched is the thought) that there can be no mercy left for such a sinful and depraved mortal as I. But Lord help me. If I perish, I will pray and perish only at the “throne of Grace.”

Would that I could banish the gloom which hovers over me, but it seems that I am doomed to be miserable and the horrid thought cannot as least at present be shaken off.

Time will I hope heal all my sorrows and restore peace once again to my troubled breast.

There are many other things that trouble me but I have indulged long enough in the sadness and will now endeavor to commit myself into the hands of God. Knowing that He doeth all things well, I must now return to my dear grandmother and let nothing in my power be wanting to make her comfortable.