Donated dolls offer clues to child's plantation life By DARROLL ANN MIDGETTE/Correspondent A doll's trunk was recently donated to Museum of the Albemarle by Eugenia P. Swartz of Shelburne, Vt.; it was hand-carried to MOA by her cousin, Frank W. Hollowell, who had strict instructions from Swartz to have museum staff unpack the contents. Inside, carefully packed under the removable tray, were dolls and an extraordinary variety of doll clothes that belonged to her grandmother, Eugenia Hollowell Parker. They give a glimpse into a girl's life on a large plantation in 19th century Pasquotank County. Eugenia Hollowell (Parker) was born on Nov. 12, 1859 at "Bayside," the plantation of her father, Christopher Wilson Hollowell, located south of Elizabeth City. Then, Pasquotank County was a far different place than it is today. To a child growing up on a large plantation, the household consisted of a hierarchical structure of people from different cultures. Eugenia would have come in daily contact with slaves at Bayside before Emancipation, and those who were employed as servants after 1865. How did Eugenia come to understand the society in which she found herself? Her doll trunk, a miniature version of what might easily have transported her mother's finery on a steamship or carriage, might be interpreted as a microcosm of her world. Filled with doll clothes made from homespun, wool and cotton muslin, it also contained a doll's parasol, a small mirror and one tiny shoe made in Germany. Two cloth "mammy" dolls, one with evocative gray hair, and two china-head dolls, were carefully nestled in the trunk. The dolls and their clothes could date stylistically anytime from the period of the Civil War up to the turn of the century. Some of the dresses are particularly reminiscent of fashions popular in the 1860s; others would be more typical of the latter part of the 19th century. A slave or servant might have made the cloth mammy dolls for Eugenia. The gray-haired doll has teeth made from white beads and shows distinctly African stylistic influences. This doll was donated by Abbey Hollowell Manning of Elizabeth City, daughter of Frank. W. Hollowell. It is also possible that at least some of the cloth dolls were made by Eugenia. Family tradition relates that she was "skillful with sewing needle, knitting needles, crochet hook and tatting shuttle." The fact that these mammy dolls were carefully packed away in the doll trunk shows that they were loved. They may even have been made to represent individuals, or one particular individual who was important to the young girl. To a child, the death of one's mother is an unfathomable event. Eugenia's mother, Alpine Douglas Bodine Hollowell, died on Nov. 6, 1867, just six days before Eugenia's eighth birthday. Three years later, on Sept. 7, 1870, her father married Parthenia Weeks Gatling of "Cedar Vale" plantation in Perquimans County. Hollowell family history contained in the scrapbook "Who Am I," which is in MOA's collections, records that Parthenia had a servant named "Mammy Sally." Did Sally accompany Parthenia to Bayside after her marriage to C.W. Hollowell? It would not be unreasonable for the dolls to have been made to acquaint the child with her new stepmother's maidservant. It is also possible that, during the three years Eugenia was without a mother figure, some of that missing nurturing came from the household servants at Bayside. Perhaps these dolls were made to help her through the terribly painful ordeal of losing her mother at such a young age. There are family records that list the names of some of the slaves who worked the plantation at Bayside. Some of the females listed were: Venus (who was the cook), "Aunt" Cherry, Fanny, Sarah, Eliza, Betty Commander, Jane Hollowell, Clarissa and Charity. There was also a slave named Margaret who ran away from the plantation and went to Roanoke Island when the Union occupied it in 1862. Any one of these women could have been the inspiration for these dolls. Slaves, and later free women, were mammas both for white and black children born on plantations throughout the South. The mammy became a caricature that portrayed a black woman as a faithful, maternal figure, totally dedicated to the welfare of the white family. Her affections sometimes substituted for those of a missing mother or grandmother. The doll with the gray hair may have been made to represent a grandmother figure, emphasizing her steadfast presence, despite the harsh reality of her slavery or servitude. Our knowledge of the history of these dolls, and what they represented to Eugenia, may never be fully understood. We do know that Eugenia Hollowell was taught by a governess at Bayside and then attended and graduated from the Wesleyan Female College at Murfreesboro. She married John Newly Parker of Baltimore on Oct. 10, 1888 at Bayside. There were only two attendants at her wedding, her sister Margaret and a friend. In a doll trunk upstairs there were, of course, more. Eugenia Hollowell Parker died at her son's home in Ellicott City, Md. on Nov. 29, 1943. She is interred next to her husband in Greensboro. Darroll Ann Midgette is the registrar for Museum of the Albemarle.
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