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Eliza Moore Chinn McHatten Ripley, 1832-1912
From Flag to Flag: A Woman's Adventures and Experiences in the South During the War, in Mexico, and in Cuba
New York: D. Appleton, c1888, 1889.

Summary

Eliza Ripley, daughter of Judge Richard H. and Betsy Holmes Chinn, was born in Lexington, Kentucky on February 1, 1832. The family moved to New Orleans when Eliza was just a toddler. She returned to Lexington in 1852 to marry James Alexander McHatton but relocated with her husband to Arlington Plantation, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ten years later, the couple fled their plantation when Union gunboats appeared on the Mississippi river near their home. Eliza, James, and a small caravan traveled with cotton and supplies through Texas into Mexico, and remained there until they, like many other southern escapees, sailed for Cuba in 1865. There, the McHattons ran a sugar plantation, using the southern antebellum model with which they were familiar, and joined the highest social circles. From Flag to Flag, published in 1889 by D. Appleton and Company of New York, describes the family's escape and details their life in Mexico and Cuba. Eliza, along with her son and daughter, returned to the United States after James' death. She then married Dwight Ripley in 1873 and lived the rest of her life in the North. Just one day before her death on July 13, 1912, she completed an agreement to publish her second book, Social Life in Old New Orleans, which chronicles her coming of age in the bustling southern city.

From Flag to Flag begins with Ripley's fond memories of pastoral plantation life in the early years of the Civil War and her role in the efforts to create the first Confederate flag. When the Union army finally threatens to take their home and free their slaves, the family and two servants who choose not to stay behind join a caravan bound for Texas. During the journey, the McHattons lose an infant son and are forced to deal with the rapid devaluation of Confederate currency. Due to this inflation as well as the scarcity of resources in Mexico, the caravan is forced to be both thrifty and innovative. Ripley recalls making handkerchiefs from a dress, a coat from a sheet, and a dress from a blanket. While the family is in Mexico, the war ends, but Ripley sees hope in the defeat. She comments, "Thus faded the Confederacy. We prayed for victory—no people ever uttered more earnest prayers—and the God of hosts gave us victory in defeat. We prayed for only that little strip, that Dixie-land, and the Lord gave us the whole country from the lakes to the Gulf, from ocean to ocean—all dissensions settled, all dividing lines wiped out—a united country forever and ever!" (125).

The family does not return to their home after the war's end but decides to continue their explorations. While perusing a potential supply route, James McHatton (whom Ripley and others refer to as Lamo, based on a contraction of the Spanish word for master), takes his wife on a visit to Havana. There, the couple meets other displaced Southerners and decides to run a plantation called Desengano. In addition to enslaved blacks, McHatton uses the labor of indentured Chinese servants on the plantation. Although Ripley describes a Chinese rebellion in the area, she clearly favors the Chinese workers over the black workers in her comparisons of the two groups. Ripley includes many other descriptions of Cuban life, commenting on such diverse topics as religious beliefs, death rituals, and lack of law enforcement. The latter is treated in detail as her husband is attacked and nearly killed by a group of highway bandits. The family returns occasionally to the United States, but Ripley seems content in her elite Cuban social circles. Yet, when land skirmishes and taxation become overly trying for the family, and illness and fatigue weaken Lamo, Ripley closes the narrative by expressing her longing for a permanent return to America.

Works Consulted: Conrad, Glenn R., ed., Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, New Orleans; Louisiana Historical Association,1988; Janet E. Kaufman, "Ripley, Eliza (Moore Chinn) M(cHatton)," American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present, New York: Ungar, 2000.

Jennifer L. Larson

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