Marshall family walls can, do talk

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 26, 2011

ERIC J. SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Anna Mary Rowell, who is a descendant of the Marshall family, gazes out of the dining room window of the Richmond antebellum house as she waits for tourists to visit during Natchez’s Spring Pilgrimage Tour on Friday. The Richmond house has remained in the Marshall family since 1832.

NATCHEZ — Droves of tourists at Richmond Friday shuffled over the 200-year-old-cedar floors that have endured foot traffic from nearly two centuries of Marshall descendants.

Like many hoop-skirted ladies at Natchez Pilgrimage, Anna Mary Rowell pointed to an austere portrait of one of the house’s earliest antebellum owners.

But unlike the gestures of many Natchez Pilgrimage hostesses, the man she pointed to was her relative.

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Levin R. Marshall, the man above mantle and the great-great-great grandfather of Rowell, bought Richmond from its previous owners in 1832 for $7,500.

A Marshall descendant has lived in the house since that date.

The Marshall house was built in three stages with three district styles. Its architecture represents French Plantation, Colonial and Greek Revival.

Rowell explained to a huddle of pilgrims Friday that the interior furniture dated back to the 1830s.

“The furniture floated down the river from New York, where (Levin R. Marshall) was from,” Rowell said.

Since the house has not changed hands since then, the house is still stocked with all of the original furniture, Rowell said.

“I don’t remember ever breaking anything,” Rowell said of growing up in the now 16,000-foot antebellum plantation.

Rowel, 63, lives in Brandon nowadays, but her sister, Lela Jeanne Nall, 60, currently lives at Richmond.

Their mother, Josephine Marshall Nall, was one of 10 children of parents John Shelby Marshall and Anna Mary Stone-Marshall. Nine of the siblings were girls.

Six of the nine sisters never married, nor did the their brother.

Nall said her maternal grandparents died before she was born, but all of the children stayed at Richmond.

“It was wonderful, living with six old maids and a bachelor uncle,” Rowell said.

The Nall family of four moved just down the street when the girls were young, giving her father some relief from the Marshall ladies, but they never stayed gone long.

“We kept that gravel road hot,” Rowell said.

Rowell said her aunts and uncle spoiled her and Nall by giving them warm Cokes and Fritos after school and letting them watch whatever TV show they wanted in the “back hall.”

Nall said the back hall, which is the entrance hall to the original, French provincial part of the house and the size of a regular room, was where the extended family often gathered.

The doors that opened in front and back made the area well ventilated in the summer, Rowell said.

Nall and Rowell received much attention, Rowell said.

Rowell’s favorite memory growing up in the crowded Richmond house was one she said happened quite a bit.

“The family was hanging out in the back dining room with all the aunts and uncles, and Aunt Pedoty was at the head of the table.

“She would play 10-million games of solitaire, and everybody was talking all at the same time. If anybody else had walked in, they would have had a hard time following the conversation,” Rowell said.

Rowell said Aunt Pedoty’s real name was Theodora Britton Marshall, who was one of the founding ladies of pilgrimage.

Nall had fond memories of playing Canasta in the back hall on Fridays.

Rowell, who was queen of pilgrimage in 1965, said she has had 10 to 12 antebellum dresses throughout her long pilgrimage career.

Nall said she has not experienced one spring without pilgrimage.

“I’m famous for saying my mother had a costume for me before I could walk,” Nall said.

Most of the aunts and uncle lived at Richmond until their deaths, with Nall and Rowell’s mother the last to die in 1995 at age 82.

Rowell has two children and two grandchildren ages 2 and 5, who will add to future generations of Marshall descendants running around Richmond, careful not to trample the antique furniture.

Nall, who has been back at Richmond for 15 years, said that life at Richmond is the only life she knows.

“When I think of myself, I don’t think of this house, but it is a part of me — that’s for sure,” Nall said.