"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." ---- Henry David Thoreau
With Halloween on the horizon, I can't help but reflect on the sugar kettle which sits out back, situated in the landscape, steps from our slate patio. As a kid I used it at our home, on the Enon Road, to entertain trick-or-treaters, stirring up a witch's brew.
The kettle has its roots in Washington Parish. It belonged to my great-grandfather Thomas Hezekiah Brumfield (1861-1931) before it was passed down to my grandfather Thomas Colter Brumfield (1893-1981) and to my mother Margie Nell Brumfield Ellzey (1925-2011) before me. I have packed it from place to place. Cast iron, the artifact's the real deal. Until recently, I didn't understand its significance. But when I purchased a second sugar kettle, I instantly understood the value of the first, which dates to the mid to late 1800s. Yet plenty of people knew well before I did. It caught expert landscaper Katie Lee's gimlet eye when she first passed through our back gate, and she utilized it as part of the landscaping project.
But a more famous sugar kettle exists within the confines of the Washington Parish Fairgrounds. It was in March of 1979 that what is known as the Stafford Syrup Mill and Kettle was donated to Mile Branch Settlement. All I had to do was reference my files from renowned local historian Daunton Gibbs to find material from September 1979 in which he detailed its origin. At that time, the kettle was approximately 100 years in age. At this time, it is around 140 years old. Four feet across and two feet deep, it is about 250 pounds in weight.
The kettle originated with Whit M. Erwin (1831-1911) who resided near Enon and who owned a total of two kettles. Upon his death, his son John moved both the kettles and mill to Highway 25 near the parish line where they remained until the 1920s when he moved away. At this time, he sold the kettles and mill to McCaully Stafford who moved the property to his father's residence in the Bonner Creek area. Then, McCaully replaced the old Erwin mill with a new mill and also purchased a third, smaller kettle. With all of this apparatus, he and his family had the wherewithal to produce between 115 and 120 gallons of syrup daily.
Mrs. Collins (Tessie Stafford) Pope donated the McCaully Stafford Syrup mill and large sugar kettle to Mile Branch Settlement in March of 1979. It is noted in the Mile Branch Settlement booklet that the kettle is the last of the three Stafford kettles and is one of the two that originally belonged to Whit M. Erwin. Also, the kettles are what was used to make syrup prior to the advent of rectangular tin pans.
Mr. Daunton detailed the lineage of the family. McCaully Stafford and brothers Eddie and Loyd W. Stafford and sisters Mrs. Horace Jones and Mrs. Mat (Ira) Reese, together with an unnamed sister who was deceased at the time of Mr. Daunton's writing, were the children of Claiborne Stafford and his wife Nancy Rebecca Glaze Stafford.
The story that Mr. Daunton related of Nancy Rebecca Glaze's heritage was most interesting. Her mother was Nancy T. Fussell of Washington Parish. Nancy Fussell married a fellow by the name of Glaze around the time of the Civil War. She had moved to near Farmerville in north central Louisiana where his family's plantation was located. A Confederate veteran, Mr. Glaze died right after the Civil War ended.
With three little children, worthless Confederate money, and no way to work her part of the plantation, Nancy Fussell Glaze returned her part of the property to her late husband's family. Loading up her three small children and possessions in an ox wagon, she made her way back to Washington Parish. Arriving in Vicksburg after travelling about 100 miles, she purchased passage on a steamer to New Orleans for her family and her four oxen and wagon. Once in New Orleans, she drove the ox team to her old home in Washington Parish. It didn't surprise me to learn that Nancy T. Fussell Glaze is buried near Enon in the old Corkern Cemetery. After an experience of that magnitude, once home, she likely cleaved to it.
Taking the ancestry back a generation, Claiborne was the son of Eli Stafford who was born in Alabama in 1842 and came to Washington Parish by 1860. Mr. Daunton recognized that Eli may have been kin to Abraham Stafford, but there was no corroborating proof at that time. Eli, a Confederate veteran, served in the Civil War in the Third Louisiana (Wingfield) Cavalry.
In the preface to Mr. Daunton's article, Virginia Killingsworth, Publicity Chair of Mile Branch Settlement, explained the value of the historical implements and tools - all moveable items - that had been donated. And she emphasized the safekeeping of them. Surely, she was referring to that sugar kettle. Heeding my mother and Ms. Virginia's advice, I don't keep mine on the old home place where it truly belongs. It isn't because it's worth too much. Rather, it means too much, to me.
And I've got a good mind to put the sugar kettle to good use a week from Saturday on Halloween night. The passel of little children in my cul-de-sac might enjoy seeing a witch's concoction smoldering in it. And it might be their first introduction to an authentic sugar kettle.