The angel went down to Georgia

The first chapter in Whitney’s biography is an “unfinished autobiography,” consisting of a series of Sanford’s sepia-toned reminiscences about her youth. Following a brief account of her illustrious ancestors, she describes her parents and their happy, loving marriage. Shortly before Sanford was born, an incident occurred that would shape Sanford’s childhood and form the basis for her opinions about debt and honor:

Some time in the first seven years of his married life1Maria Sanford was born roughly seven years after her oldest sister, and this might account for why her father’s time in Georgia is remembered as beginning within the first seven years of his marriage., my father went to Georgia and set up a shoe store, and he was successful. But the years of 1836 and 1837 were not only years of financial panic, but also of anti-slavery agitation and of great prejudice in the South against Northern people. Somebody sent my father anti-slavery newspapers. He never saw them. They were taken out of his office and distributed among his customers.2If this memory is credible, there would have to have been someone other than Sanford with access to the shop, and it is possible that he was absent for part of the year. All at once his business fell flat. He could sell nothing, he could collect nothing, for even in the best days Southerners, at that time, paid their bills only once a year. He came home to do the best he could by his business creditors. He sold the place he and my mother loved so well,3It’s notable that Sanford did not sell his Connecticut house before opening his Georgia shop. Did he keep only a shop in Georgia and not establish a residence there? moved his family into part of his father’s house, and when he had thus raised all that he could, there still remained a debt of a thousand dollars, for which he gave his note; and of which, I rejoice to say, he paid every cent. It was a heavy burden for a man with only his hands and courage, and with a delicate wife and little children to care for, but he bore it with unwavering cheerfulness. He might have taken advantage of the bankrupt law, but he said proudly: ‘No man shall ever look me in the face and say I wronged him out of a penny.’4

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