Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section009/John Ratteree

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

John LeRoy Ratteree was born in 1857 near Rock Hill, South Carolina. Throughout his life, he experienced both adversity and America’s changing cultural landscape on a large scale. A Southerner and a working-class citizen, Ratteree’s family were not slaveholding planters, yet his father was initially employed by a member of the rich slaveholding planter class. Though Ratteree himself emphasizes the fact that his father did not support the inhumane treatment of enslaved people, it should be noted that Ratteree's father enlisted as a soldier of the Confederate army. A contemporary of the Civil War, Ratteree witnessed the horrific and gargantuan effects of the conflict. With his father passing away in the wake of the war, Ratteree, a young boy at this time, was subjected to Sherman’s March to the Sea, in which much of the South was simply burned to the ground (Dixon 1939, 11314-11320). Ratteree's South Carolinian town specifically underwent massive amounts of plundering and burning, leaving a lasting impression on Ratteree for the rest of his life. Being devout Christians and an average family negatively affected by the Civil War, Ratteree precisely recalled his mother praying for God's protection. Though he believed God did protect his family, they were most definitely financially affected in the fallout of the war.

Shortly after the Civil War, John Ratteree attended school for a brief period of time. Moving from one school to another between only a few years, Ratteree's teachers were Annie Duffy and John Whirley. Between the lack of quality education due to school structures being structurally damaged from Sherman's March to the Sea and the death of his father, Ratteree was essentially forced to shift his focus from education to joining the workforce as a teenager.

Take note of current address - later life

Working and Middle Life[edit | edit source]

After the death of his father, John Ratteree was left with his mother and four sisters. Though no record is given of Ratteree's age as compared to his siblings, employment of women during the 1870s was largely considered to be a taboo within Ratteree's society. As a result, Ratteree did not get the chance to complete schooling and instead acquired a trade as a carpenter. While Ratteree also worked on a farm temporarily, carpentry became his lifelong trade. Later on, he worked at a South Carolina hospital as an authority over a corn mill before switching back to carpentry at the same hospital later on in life.

Growing up, Ratteree lived much of his life in poverty, and with the loss of his father as well as the displacement championed by the Civil War, he remained poor. Devaluation of currency as well as an extreme loss of capital within Ratteree's locality made it difficult for an average citizen to establish financial stability. However, an individual named Andrew McDonald is credited as being Ratteree's mentor in fashioning him to be hardworking.

(maybe something about carpetbaggers/bad roads)

Religiously, Ratteree was avidly involved in the Presbyterian Church. He moved around South Carolina quite frequently, and, according to Ratteree's own account, he registered a letter of membership in every township he claimed residence in. Consequently, Ratteree met his wife, Mary Emma Sloan, at at church function, and they later got married on December 20th, 1882. The two had seven children together: Minnie, Estelle, John, Ruth, Lorena, Marion, and Nannie. Ratteree detailed all of their lives and occupations as an interviewee

Later Life[edit | edit source]

John Ratteree continued to live in South Carolina until the end of his life. As an 80-year-old interviewee of the Federal Writers' Project during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, Ratteree was given the opportunity to recount his life in detail. At the time of this project, his address was 1327 Woodrow Street, Columbia, South Carolina. He lived with his wife as all of his children had either gotten married or found occupations of their own. Within his interview as an elderly man, Ratteree speaks extensively about the changes in the American cultural landscape he had witnessed throughout his life. The most dominant ideas were an explosion of convenience and a lack of religiosity as compared to his childhood, likely results of the Progressive Era, the peak of the American industrial scene, and booming social change in 1900s America. According to the Ancestry Library, John Ratteree died on September 9th, 1945 in Richland, South Carolina.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Sherman's March to the Sea and Civil War Fallout[edit | edit source]

Towards the end of 1864 and in the beginning of 1865, William Sherman, a Union general, launched a series of hyper-aggressive attacks within the Confederacy to destabilize the American South. In an effort to force the South out of secession, Sherman employed the usage of total war against the residents and structures of the rebel South, attacking nearly every major city in the area, including Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina; as well as many smaller Southern cities and towns.

Primarily gaining steam between Atlanta and Savannah in Georgia, Sherman essentially burned everything in his path and claimed the remaining structures, resulting in a large loss of capital. This marked another turning point in the war; with much of the Confederacy's literal institutions destabilized, there was not much Southern generals could do to salvage the war. Between railroads, fortresses, and homes, much of the damage done was actually militarily unnecessary, much research proposes that nearly 80% of capital destroyed were not specific military targets.

The same tactics took place on a smaller scale within the Western front as well as the Carolinas. In early 1865, scorched-earth tactics continued, but Sherman also demanded that Confederate governmental structures leave Charleston.

Religiosity[edit | edit source]

Within the 1800s, America experienced a religious revival, further implementing Christian ideals throughout the nation.

Male Breadwinners[edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

·      Ruggles, Steven. 2015. “Patriarchy, Power, and Pay: The Transformation of American Families, 1800-2015.” Demography. U.S. National Library of Medicine. December 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5068828/.

·      Imai, Kosuke, and Jeremy Weinstein. 2000. “Measuring the Economic Impact of Civil War.” Center for International Development at Harvard University. June. https://imai.fas.harvard.edu/research/files/cid.pdf.

·      Lerner, Eugene M. 1955. “Money, Prices, and Wages in the Confederacy, 1861-65.” Journal of Political Economy 63 (1): 20–40. doi:10.1086/257626.

Congress, Library of. 2021. “Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929 : U.S. History Primary Source Timeline : Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress : Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/progressive-era-to-new-era-1900-1929/.

Weber, Jennifer L. 1998. “American Civil War.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. July 20. https://www.britannica.com/event/American-Civil-War.