She was a dainty, dark-haired southern girl in white. Her pale complexion seemed to exhale fragrance from the peach trees on Georgia’s hills. With her blue eyes flashing, she could be funny, poetic or reproachful, but one thing she could never be: a Yankee. She loved the plantation and its way of life until she died, when they were just memories.
If you are thinking of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, it is not an accident. For a newspaper story Margaret Mitchell once interviewed a woman nearing ninety who reminisced about dances, picnics, and riding parties before the Civil War. Evelyn King Baker also told of being a bridesmaid in a beautiful wedding at nearby Bulloch Hall. It is believed Mitchell used details from that interview in her famous story of the Old South (the movie celebrates its 75th anniversary this year). In real life, Mrs. Baker had been the attendant in white muslin; Martha Bulloch the vivacious bride in white satin; and Theodore Roosevelt of New York, the groom. Mr. Roosevelt, she said, was “firm against slavery.”
National Park Service photo.
Martha was called “Mittie.” Descended from the Scots, she grew to her adult height of just five feet in a big house fronted with pillars and surrounded by white oaks near Roswell, Georgia. Besides Mittie’s childhood nurse Mom Grace, her widowed mother owned about twenty slaves who worked in the house and fields. Theodore Roosevelt, also called “Thee,” came calling in the early 1850s, having heard of Mittie through his brother’s wife. They courted, and the southern belle and northern gentlemen were married and moved to New York. Her world changed forever.
In 1854 the Roosevelts moved into a Manhattan townhouse that was a gift from his parents, Cornelius Van Schaach and Margaret Barnhill Roosevelt. The Roosevelts followed Dutch traditions. The father and five brothers imported plate glass for city storefronts and buildings elsewhere. Margaret, herself a gentle Quaker from Pennsylvania, had married into a family different than her own and probably felt empathy for her southern daughter-in-law. It was a rather stiff group with which to spend Sunday evenings.
Thee and Mittie’s first child was a girl, Anna, also called “Bamie” for “bambino.” Their second was a little boy who was born on October 27, 1858. He looked like a terrapin, his mother said to her own mother and sister who’d come to help out. The son was named Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Mittie couldn’t bear for her family to return to Georgia and pleaded with them to stay. So they did. They remained in New York City for the births of two more babies, a son, Elliott, in 1860 and a daughter, Corinne, in 1861. By the last child’s September arrival, the nation was at war.