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Laura (Lollie) P. Starling (1854-1946)

Lollie Starling, ca. 1930. Photo Courtesy Margaret Hink Starling,
Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada.
Lollie Starling came to Chicot County from Kentucky after her father, William Starling, purchased the Sunnyside Plantation in 1868. In her “Memories,” Lollie describes details of the Lakeport home and the marriage of her brother, Charles, to Annie Taylor Johnson at Lakeport in October 1878. After the sale of Sunnyside to the Calhoun Land Company in 1881, the Starlings moved to Greenville, Miss. Her brother Charles and his family moved to Canada in 1908. Lollie later moved back to Kentucky writing many letters to family in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Canada.

Lakeport Selection from Memories of Laura P. Starling
The Johnson home at Lakeport, Arkansas, was really a beautiful home. Mr. & Mrs. Jonson had built it to suit themselves, soon after they were married. There was a long broad hall opening into a reception room at the back. In this room there was a lovely bay window that made it a beautiful room for entertaining. Several wedding ceremonies were performed here (Cave’s mother and father were married in this room).

[Lollie is referring to the marriage of her brother Charles Starling to Annie Taylor Johnson and their son Cave Johnson Starling (b. 1885 in Greenville)]

A very large parlor and family dining room were on the left side of the hall. Cave’s father made the punkah (swinging fly brush used over the dining room table). The parlor had beautiful brasses and a very handsome velvet carpet, Aubusson, I think–that Mrs. Johnson’s mother-in-law had used fifty years, then given it to Mrs. Johnson and she used it fifty years.

[Lollie discusses the South Parlor of the house, which is the most formal of the parlors. In this room portraits of Lydia and Lycurgus hung above the mantle (portraits were painted by William F. Cogswell in the mid-1850s). This is also one of the few references we have to floor covering in the house–possibly a French Aubusson carpet. Traditionally, floors were completely covered in antebellum and Victorian homes with carpets and floor cloths. We see evidence of carpet in many of the rooms (i.e. tack marks in the corner),as well as photographic evidence of the carpet that once went up the stairs. And, of course, we have the entire 15′ x 26′ floor cloth from the entry of the home.  

Update 12/11/12: Lollie may have remembered an Aubusson,  but  they are delicate carpets that would not be fitted to a room or tacked down.  Therefore, the tack marks in the South Parlor at Lakeport would have been for a fitted carpet such as a Wilton (cut pile) or Brussels (loop pile).  

Lollie also makes the only known reference to a “punkah” in Lakeport’s dining room. You can still see “the swinging fly brush” at many antebellum homes in Natchez. Lakeport’s punkah is gone, but evidence of its installation was found in the ceiling during restoration.]

Recent Media

A few items related to Lakeport and history in general appeared in the media recently.

First, the Log Cabin Democrat (Conway, AR) published a little story about the restoration of our piano back on June 29.

Second, that story was picked up by the AP and republished in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (behind pay wall) on Sunday in the Little Rock edition and today (Monday, July 12) in the state edition. The stories are essentially the same, with some minor editing by the AP. The one thing they didn’t fix is the wrong date for the construction of Lakeport. It’s 1858/1859, people. That time frame is based on historical documents and dendrochronology of the large beams in the attic. I have not idea where they got the 1856 date.

Third, the Sunday Democrat-Gazette (paywall, but see link to text in the bibliography) published an interesting guest column titled “‘Historical truths’ not always based in fact” by Elliott West, a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. The column is a response to a July 6 column by Mike Masterson, opinion editor of the NW Arkansas edition, titled “Deconstructing history.” The issue on the table for Masterson is the historical relationship between African Americans and the Democratic Party. Masterson recites arguments based on “historical facts” he heard recited by a speaker at the Arkansas African American GOP Caucus. The issue for West is Masterson’s understanding of history and “facts” and not checking if they are true or not. West writes, “The majority of the ‘historical truths’ in Masterson’s column are, to borrow his own opening words about what he has been taught, ‘incomplete, inadequate and just plain wrong’.”

Masterson’s agenda is to paint Democrats consistently on the wrong side of slavery and African American Civil Rights throughout history. Oversimplified political rhetoric like that does not make for good history. West, a world-class historian, catalogs Materson’s errors, half-truths and omissions. For instance, Masterson claims that the Missouri Compromise “reversed earlier abolition and allowed slavery in much of the federal territory.” West points out there was no government effort to end slavery, but the Compromise did forbid slavery in western federal territories north of Arkansas. Masterson’s errors of omission are just a egregious; while he notes the first African Americans elected to Congress were Republicans, he fails to mention “that Republicans almost wholly abandoned the interests of former slaves, and in the 1930s…the Democrats found it useful…to step up on their behalf…and most African Americas switched parties.”

The historical complexity of politics and racial allegiance applies to Arkansas as well. Of the 85 African Americans elected to Arkansas General Assembly in the 19th Century, only a handful were not Republicans–two Democrats and at least four Greenbackers. In 1874, Democrats “Redeemed” state government and ended Reconstruction, but blacks were still in representative government until the passage of the Election Law of 1891. The bill, passed largely on party lines, helped suppress black Republican votes and rural third parties like the Agricultural Wheel. After 1893 there were no African Americans elected to the General Assembly until the 1970s, when they were elected as Democrats.

The shift to the Democratic party began in the late 1920s with the formation of the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association. In the early 1920s, the Republican Party’s Lily White movement (which also reared it head in the 1890s) tried to force out black Republicans like Scipio Jones from the Arkansas Republican Convention. The exclusion of black delegates in 1920 led black Republicans to nominated their own gubernatorial candidate, John H. Blount, a Forrest City educator and former slave.

The founder of the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association, Dr. John M. Robinson, acknowledged his own ties to the Republican Party—his grandfather was a Republican and Robinson voted Republican all his life; however, Robinson, according to an Arkansas Gazette account, “expressed the opinion that after 60 years of proof of gratitude for ‘emancipation,’ the negroes of Arkansas now should be free to express their admiration for [Arkansas’s Democratic] Senator Joe T. Robinson.” The Preamble to the October 1928 Constitution and By-Laws and Order of Incorporation of the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association of Arkansas stated:

Based upon conclusions established by years of experience, it is the common understanding of the American people that government functions can be best promoted and maintained by or through political parities with well defined ideologies, and feelings that we have proved our loyalty and expressed our gratitude to the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln and that the day has arrived that the Negroes of this country must become more largely interested and integrated in all political faiths and creed, and feelings that those of who find ourselves in accord with political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson—the founder of the Democratic party—that shall take this method to declare our faith in and allegiance to the principle of the Democratic Party and in order to unite Negroes and promote continued service and activity, we have this day ordained and established this Constitution and By-Laws.

The ANDA’s 80 year old political rhetoric is a bit opaque, but it plays fewer games with facts and history than today’s rhetoric. Of course, the ANDA rhetoric was part of a larger political strategy to win back the right to vote and to do that within the only party that mattered in Post-Reconstruction Arkansas–the Democratic Party.

Parts of the history of the ANDA can be viewed at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center–a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage devoted to Arkansas African American History.


Dillard, Tom. “To the Back of the Elephant: Racial Conflict in the Republican Party,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 33 (Spring 1974), 11-12

Pulaski County Democratic Committee Scrapbooks, Book 4 in Arkansas History Commission.

Wintory, Blake J. “African American Legislators in the Arkansas General Assembly, 1868-1893,”
Arkansas Historical Quarterly 65 (Winter 2004): 385-434.

Lakeport Explores the Delta: Hollywood Plantation, Benoit, MS

Last Tuesday my wife and I made a trip up to Benoit, Mississippi to see restoration work on Bolivar County’s last antebellum plantation home–The Hollywood Plantation (Burrus Home or “Baby Doll House”) .

Overseeing the restoration of the ca. 1858 home is Eustace Winn, a descendant of the original owner. Eustace has visited Lakeport on several occasions to check on our progress and compare notes.
John C. Burrus began construction on the Hollywood Plantation around 1858. According to the 1860 Census, nine Burrus family members lived in the house–the 45 year old J. C. Burrus, his 39 year old wife, Louisa, and seven younger Burruses ranging from 20 to 2. The two-story Greek Revival, was likely unfinished as the Civil War began in 1861. Most notably, the second story door lacks a balcony. This is a familiar theme for a home built so late in the antebellum period. We tell a similar story about Lakeport and how its interior was likely unfinished–unpainted, bare plaster walls, a missing medallion, and an unfinished ceiling medallion.
As far as I could tell in my limited search, there is not a lot of academic history written about the home or the Burrus family. James Cobb in The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992) mentions John and Louisa three times, citing the John C. Burrus Papers at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History, as well as a family account of the Civil War published in the Journal of the Bolivar County History Society in 1978. Citations of the Burrus Papers also appear in Harold Woodman’s King Cotton & His Retainers: Financing & Marketing the Cotton Crops of the South, 1800-1925 (1968).
The Historic American Buildings Survey documented the home in 1936 as the “Burris House.” In 1936 the house was likely vacant, but, from exterior photos, in decent condition.
Hollywood is most famous as the setting of the 1956 film Baby Doll. However, by 1956, Richard Sylbert, set director for Baby Doll, described the house as “a dilapidated, ramshackle, and hollow wreck.” Four of the columns were laying on the ground and the building “listed to the left about five or six degrees.” The interior was worse: “the entire stair railing, balusters, and curved handrail were gone”; “parts of floors burned away”; and “the walls had huge areas where the plaster had come free of the lathe.” According to Sylbert, the house was straitened, walls and ceiling were repaired “to exactly the state the story required.” (That last phrase definitely sticks out to me.) The stairway was also reconstructed. Sylbert claims to have found an original spindle sticking out of the yard; it was used to reproduce all the spindles you see in the film.

Until just a few years ago, Hollywood was again a shell, as evidence from this 2005 photo in Flickr. Even the Corinthian columns added by the set designers were gone. (Correction– The Baby Doll movie seems to show original columns, so Corinthian columns were likely added later by the Bolivar Historical Society by whom, then? .)

This image from the 1956 film Baby Doll seems to show the original Doric columns. It is not clear when the Corinthian order columns were added.

This image from the 1956 film Baby Doll seems to show the original Doric columns. It is not clear when the Corinthian order columns were added.


Eustace is making great progress since he began working on the family project three years ago. The new front columns, made of solid redwood from Washington state, replicate the originals and the interior is coming back to life again with new plaster, new woodwork that compliments what was left of the original, and, most recently, new stairs. When the restoration is finished, Hollywood will be open for tours and available for events.

After our tour, we headed up the road to Rosedale for some great food at the Blue Levee.

If the history and restoration of the Burrus House interests you, then you should visit the Lakeport Plantation across the river in Chicot County, Arkansas.  Lakeport is the last antebellum home in Arkansas along the Mississippi River.  Click here to learn about visiting Lakeport. 

Update (12/17/2012):  The Hollywood Plantation opened to the public in June 2012.  It is available for rentals and tours by appointment. We’ve had several groups schedule tours at Hollywood & Lakeport the same day. Visit their website —

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Cobb, James C. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sylbert, Richard and Sylivia Townsend, Designing Movies: Portrait of a Hollywood Artist. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.
United State Census, Manuscript Returns, Schedule of Population, 1860.
Woodman, Harold D. King Cotton & His Retainers: Financing & marketing the Cotton Crop of the South, 1800-1925. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Lakeport’s Piano Returns

Lakeport’s original piano, a ca. 1869 J.A. Gray square grand and centerpiece of entertaining during the post-war era, returned to the house on the evening of June 14th. The piano was donated back to Lakeport by the Epstein-Angel family after spending roughly the last 60 years in storage at the Epstein Cotton Gin in Lake Village. Bradshaw Piano Services of Conway, Arkansas restored the piano.

The piano first shows up on the Johnson’s county taxes in 1870. Before that date, there likely was no piano in the house. As the Johnson’s moved into the house in 1860, they were still decorating, until the war interrupted their plans. We know much of the interior paintwork was not complete by the start of the War; it is also likely that the Johnsons were not able to completely furnish the home until after the war.

Shortly after the war, Amanda Worthington (1845-1896) in an August 25, 1865 diary entry, did describe music during her visit to Lakeport, but no piano. At “Aunt Lydia’s” house, she says, we “spent a very pleasant evening, danced several sets, talked and had music from several sources–we had a nice supper too.” At the nearby home of Lycurgus’s father and mother, Amanda does mention their piano: “we would run out of conversation in the daytime and after every body had played on the piano we would be at a loss what to do…Linnie & Fanny Davis both played splendidly on the piano and we made them play a great deal. ” (Worthington 2008 : 92)

Tom DeBlack has noted, the Johnsons began to get their financial feet back around 1870 making Lycurgus again “leading planter” in Chicot County. As the piano was added to the taxable property, so was a gold watch and a pleasure carriage (DeBlack 2002: 32).

Annie Taylor Worthington (1875-1963), daughter of Mary Jane Johnson and Isaac M. Worthington,
Annie Taylor Worthington, ca. 1880
Jr., began learning the piano during the time she lived at Lakeport–1876-1888. Her granddaughter, Annie Paden, remembers her playing piano beautifully, playing for her own pleasure” and at “weddings and special occasions throughout her adult life.”

The 1500 lb piano was likely left in the house in 1917, when Victor Johnson and his family moved to Greenville, Mississippi. There it stayed until the fall of 1950, when Alvin Ford and his family moved into the home. It was then moved to the Epstein Gin and put in storage.

When Lakeport received the piano, it had been sitting on its side for 60 years; rodents had chewed on some of the wood; the legs were detached with some damage; the piano’s lid was completely split; strings were broken, and the piano’s rosewood finish was unrecognizable.

Bradshaw Piano Services of Conway was selected to do a museum quality restoration of the piano. Barry and Phyllis Bradshaw have over 75 years of combined work in the piano restoration and quality control. Bradshaw Piano disassembled the piano, replaced missing rosewood veneer, cleaned and re-plated hardware, repaired damaged legs, restrung the piano, replaced blue steel tuning pins…(the list goes on)..,and restored the rosewood finish (matching the faux rosewood doors in the home).

We are excited to have the piano back at Lakeport. It is beautifully restored and again a centerpiece in the home. We hope you come out to see it.

P.S. Our next event will be Barry Bradshaw talking about restoring the piano. Time and Date still to be determined.

Miss Nancy Sherrard: Lakeport Tutor

Image Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, U. Grant Miller Library, Washington and Jefferson College, Washington, PA

One of the few glimpses of life at Lakeport during the antebellum period comes from the “autobiography” of Nancy Sherrard, the private tutor for the Johnson’s children between the summer of 1860 and the spring of 1861. Sherrard, a native of the prosperous Ohio River town of Steubenville, Ohio, wrote a short autobiography around 1890 as she was nearing the end of her teaching career.1 In reference to Lakeport, she tells a few details about the Johnson family and slavery not recorded elsewhere. However, most importantly, it reveals the strain of a Northern woman living and working in the Deep South as the country descended into civil war.

Published in 1890 as part of The Sherrard Family of Steubenville, written by Nancy’s father, Robert Andrew Sherrard, and edited by her brother Thomas Johnson Sherrard. The book is long been known to historians, but can now be read more widely through Google Books and the Internet Archive.

Nancy Sherrard graduated from the Steubenville Female Seminary in 1851. In the summer of 1860, following a number of teaching engagements at schools in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, she was recommended to “Mr. Lycurgus Johnson, a wealthy planter of Lake Port, Arkansas, who wished a private instructor for his children.” Accompanying the 30 year old Miss Sherrard was Miss Martha Torrance of New Alexandria, Pennsylvania. Miss Torrance taught two children at the home of Verlinda Johnson, Lycurgus’ mother, who lived about a mile away, while Miss Sherrard taught three girls and one boy in the Lakeport home.2

At the Lakeport Plantation, Miss Sherrard reported, “there were one hundred and fifty slaves” raising “twelve hundred acres of cotton and three hundred acres of corn.” Inside the home, Sherrard noted: “in the family of Mr. Johnson there were seven or eight house-servants,” including “a well-trained dining-room servant” purchased the year before with his wife and child for $3,000.3

As the summer of 1860 turned to fall, the U.S. presidential election became the flashpoint for tension between the Republican North and the Democratic South. In November 1860, antislavery Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was elected president infuriating the Democratic slave South. From December 1860 to February 1861, led by South Carolina, seven southern states left the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee would remain in the Union for now.

Miss Sherrard’s political upbringing could not have been more different from the Johnsons. Her family was made up of die-hard Northern Republicans, while the Johnsons’ were Southern Democrats with deep political roots in Virginia, Kentucky, and now Arkansas.4 The country’s political differences and those between her and her employer led Miss Sherrard to think of leaving Lakeport. She wrote to her father on Saturday, February 16, 1861, stating, “I am meditating seriously on going home, for I do not feel satisfied to say here in the present state of the country. I do not know yet how soon, but indeed I begin to feel uncomfortable.” Miss Sherrard wrote, “People down here are strong disuionists, and blame everybody else differing from them even in slight matters.” She then described a dinner conversation in which Mr. Johnson said to her “Miss Sherrard, there are a great many good people in the South.” To which she curtly replied, “Yes…and it is a pity that they let the rascals lead them.” Later, she worried, “Now, I suppose the next thing they will think I am an Abolitionist…I suppose Mr. Johnson will think I went beyond my sphere, which is to teach his children, and not to talk politics with him, which is undoubtedly true. I wish I was at home, where I could talk without people getting angry about what I say.”5

Following Lincoln’s election, the country’s unfolding drama focused on Fort Sumter at the bay entrance to Charleston, South Carolina. Federal troops, holed up inside Fort Sumter since December 26, were attacked by Confederate forces on April 12 as the Federal troops awaited new supplies. The Civil War had begun and Confederate forces won their first battle on April 14, when the Federal troops at Fort Sumter surrendered.6

After the fall of Fort Sumter, Nancy Sherrard left Lakeport on a “Southern boat.” It stopped in Memphis after hearing Federal troops were at Cairo, Illinois. She continued her journey on the Queen of the West, a “Northern boat” bound for Cincinnati. At Randolph, Tennessee, the “Northern boat” was fired upon by “rebels.” Finally, at Cairo, Illinois, she saw the United States flag for the first time on the trip. On Tuesday, April 30, 1861, she arrived back in Steubenville, Ohio. Six days later, on May 6, Arkansas delegates to the special convention voted to secede from the Union.7

In 1874 Miss Nancy Sherrard, after a few years of teaching in Kentucky Indiana, and New York, was elected as Principal at Washington Female Seminary in Washington, Pennsylvania. She stayed in that position until in 1897. A notice of her retirement stated, Miss Sherrard “kept the school in the front rank of schools of its kind, as well as making it a financial success.”8 In 1890, Miss Sherrard reflected on her time at Lakeport and wrote, “I have always been glad that I saw the South in the days of slavery, and also had the opportunity of seeing the inside workings of Secession during that winter.”9 She died in April 1914.10

1. On Steubenville, see “Steubenville, Ohio”, Ohio History Central, July 1, 2005,

2. Nancy Sherrard quoted in Robert Andrew Sherrard, The Sherrard Family of Steubenville, Thomas Johnson Sherrard, ed. (James. B. Rodgers Printing Co: Philadelphia, 1890), 287. Martha likely taught 15 year old Robert Adams and 13 year old Linnie Adams; Robert and Linnie were the offspring of Nancy Johnson Adams, Lycurgus’ sister. Nancy likely taught Mary, Linnie, Theodore, and Annie, ages 11, 9, 7, and 5 respectively. See U.S. Census, Manuscript Returns. 1860. Schedule of Population, Louisiana Township, Chicot County, Arkansas; Crop creek Township, Jefferson County, Ohio.

4. Her father, Robert Sr., a native of Ireland, was described as a “lifelong Whig and a Republican from the day of the organization of that party.” He “voted for Abraham Lincoln and warmly endorsed his policy” and “[w]hen the War of the Rebellion broke out” he “remained a strong supporter of the Union.” Her brother, Robert Jr., served in the Ohio State Senate in 1861 as a Republican and in his 1895 obituary, he was described as a “staunch Republican, loyal to the party at every crisis.” See Thomas Johnson Sherrard in The Sherrard Family of Steubenville, 302. On Robert Sr.’s Irish nativity, see “’Death Loves a Shining Mark.’ Hon. Robert Sherrard, Jr., Passes Peacefully away this Morning,” Steubenville Daily Herald, November 15, 1895. The most prominent politician in the Johnson family was Lycurgus’ uncle, Richard Mentor Johnson, who served as Vice President from 1837-1841 under President Martin Van Buren. Three of Richard Johnson’s brothers served in the U.S. House of Representatives and another, Benjamin Johnson, became a territorial and then federal district judge in Arkansas. See DeBlack, “’A Model Man of Chicot County’: Lycurgus Johnson and Social Change,” in The Southern Elite and Social Change: Essays in Honor of Willard B. Gatewood Jr. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), 16-17, 19.

Archeology Week at Lakeport

During the week of February 16 to 20, archeologists from the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Lakeport Restoration Team members flocked to Lakeport to try to answer burning historical questions about the antebellum layout of the plantation. Skip Stewart-Abernathy, a survey archeologist stationed at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Mt. Petit Jean, led the project. Dr. Stewart-Abernathy, who first visited Lakeport in 1984, specializes in historic archeology.

Lycurgus Johnson constructed Lakeport ca. 1859, just at the end of the antebellum period. Lycurgus built his house just north of Joel Johnson’s house—his father. Joel Johnson arrived at that location in 1831 with 23 slaves. By 1860, Lycurgus, after consolidating his father’s holdings with his own. had over 4,000 acres of land and 155 slaves.

An antebellum cotton plantation like the Johnson’s is typically centralized with enslaved labor (i.e. slaves) occupying the “quarters” and the master occupying the “Big House.” The master employed an overseer who supervised gangs of labor who worked to grow and then pick cotton. A post-Civil War plantation looks a lot different. Land ownership usually didn’t change (as was the case with Lakeport), but labor arrangements to grow cotton did change dramatically. Now free, the labor that once grew and picked cotton in gang labor transitioned into family units of tenant farmers and sharecroppers. These families, in a contract with the owner, farmed and lived on smaller sections of land.

On this archeological “dig,” no digging was necessary. All the land around the house is still in cultivation and had been recently plowed, giving high visibility. Crews walked the furrows looking for significant artifacts—bits of dishes, marbles, bottles, agricultural parts, etc.—all of which can be dated. Artifacts collected during the “dig” have been labeled, numbered and cataloged and will remain in the permanent collection at Lakeport Plantation. Most artifacts around the plantation dated to after the Civil War and usually represented the former tenant farmer homes that dotted the land after the Civil War until mechanization; however almost all of the antebellum artifacts, were found south of the Lakeport home around where Joel Johnson began building his plantation out of the wilderness in 1831. This leads us to believe that Lycugus kept the location of his father’s “quarters.”

This week of archeology is part of the on-going research at Lakeport Plantation and helps fulfill the mission of interpreting the people and cultures that shaped plantation life in the Mississippi River Delta during the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods.  We’re open Monday thru Friday with tours at 10am and 2pm.  Visit our website for directions.

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