Women’s history is fragmented, elusive and enticing

Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 3/28/18

Until recently, recognition of women in the history books has been sadly lacking because they rarely held public office, wielded vast and influential wealth or even appeared in public and primary …

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Women’s history is fragmented, elusive and enticing

Posted

Until recently, recognition of women in the history books has been sadly lacking because they rarely held public office, wielded vast and influential wealth or even appeared in public and primary sources. Equally overlooked have been the men who similarly lived private lives, just regular people working hard, raising families and building strong communities.

But March is Women’s History Month so an introduction of a few of Clay County’s women is in order.

Aunt Net Griffis lived over at Sand Hill Lake where Camp Blanding sprawls now. Her brother was a Rebel and was killed in Olustee and buried there. He was killed during the war over at Olustee and buried there the same day.

Now, Aunt Net had some age on her and it wasn’t easy but at least once every year she packed up a little cloth sack, put her hoe over her shoulder and struck out to tend his grave. She always stopped about half way, in Lawtey, to spend the night with her daughter. And she did this until she died.

In 1866, Augusta Jane Evans, noted Southern woman novelist, published a book called St. Elmo which struck a strong chord in the hearts and minds of Southerners of the time. The federal government banned the book. So, of course, it became a best seller.

In the South, it became the fad to name everything from farms and buildings to pigs for the Italian Saint in a sort of subtle rebellion. A decade of martial law, reconstruction regulations and frequent swearing of loyalty oaths was taxing.

There was a St. Elmo Hotel in Green Cove Springs but not until 1902 when the Morganza Hotel was purchased and renamed by Penelope Borden and Eliza Graves. One wonders if the northern proprietors were aware of the political connotations or were merely selecting a name that was widely recognized in the South.

Were it not for the Civil War, Mary Muse Padgett, a charming and courageous girl from Charlotte, N.C. would never have become a part of Clay County history.

The Civil War was over and Martin Padgett, called “Bud” by friends and family, was making his way home when he stopped at the Muse family farm to water his horse. It must have been love at first sight because within a short time they were married and soon raising two children.

Then Bud began missing home and kin but was concerned he might not be welcome because he left so abruptly. He just upped and joined a contingent of Confederate soldiers headed north without a word to anyone. It wasn’t until dark when he never showed up for dinner that his brothers tracked down someone who had seen him with the soldiers in a pieced together uniform.

So, he wrote a letter asking if he would be welcomed. His family had given him up for dead so they were ecstatic to have Bud and his family home again in Long Branch, just west of Green Cove Springs.

Bud and Mary were enthusiastically welcomed and it wasn’t long before four more children joined one of Clay County’s pioneer families.

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