Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston was born to a wealthy eastern North Carolina planter. She was one of six girls in the family and they were all taught traditional instructions on how to be the proper ideal image of a woman. Catherine learned to sew, cook, organize a large household and be ladylike in her manners. She also had a governess that taught her music, arithmetic, reading, writing, French, history and other subjects. In 1821 her grandfather, John Devereux, would describe the type of woman the family admired: “A modest diffident and soothing style as well in writing as in conversation when combined with simplicity of character and truth are amongst the finest ornaments of the female mind. A bold, self-assured and positive manner is the very reverse, and out to be avoided both by men and women.” The Civil War would force Catherine to go against her grandfather’s ideals.
She married Patrick Edmondston in 1846, where they settled in Halifax County, North Carolina. Together they operated three plots of land worth almost $20,000 and owned 88 slaves. Catherine was horrified when she learned that her husband felt her number one priority should be cooking; “Is this what I have been educated for?“, she wondered.
Catherine and her husband were staunch secessionist supporters though many of their family members – including her father and sister – were fervent Union supporters, causing a great amount of friction.
In 1860, sensing the mood of the time, this plantation mistress began a diary that would continue through 1866. She wrote of her strong feelings against the North, the valiant and charming manner of Confederate soldiers and her frustration with family that did not agree with her views. She was in Charleston Harbor in January 1861 when the Star of the West came in to try and resupply Fort Sumter. Eventually, like many Southerners, she would be hit hard by the war at home. Unlike others who kept diaries at this time, Catherine continued her writings for over a year after the war ends in an effort to show reconstruction efforts and how it affected the relationships between whites and blacks in the South.
Her diary is eventually published over a hundred years later in 1979 and is titled “Journal of a Secesh Lady.”