Written by Edna Liggin – 1939
Granddaughter of Mary Ann Chavers Matthews
Submitted by Molly Liggin Rankin
Her father abided by the law, “The show must go on” and she abides by the one “Life must go on”. Her father was Jesse Chavers, actor on a showboat of long ago that plied the muddy Mississippi. The life that was made immortal by Edna Ferber not so long ago. Today is rather the other law that keeps up the spirit of Mary Chavers Matthews, daughter of Jesse Chavers, who celebrated her 90th birthday, May 21 at Chase, near Winnsboro, LA, although her birthday is really May 23.
Known and beloved by that small community as “Aunt Mary”, her most outstanding trait of character is the jolly and contented spirit she imparts to her friends in spite of the many sorrows life has brought her. She has seen eight of her ten children die; and the close members of her immediate family; has grandchildren she hasn’t heard from in years; has never known much more than the necessities of life; has suffered from many spells of bed health; yet she smiles and says she refuses to worry about anything because at her age she’s found it really isn’t any use.
The romantic career of Jess Chavers began when he was a small boy, fishing a long ways upstream in the river. Along came a showboat and induced the boy aboard. They then refused to let him go; or maybe deep down inside he wanted to go. Anyway, his parents never saw him again.
When he was grown into manhood, the boy made a stop at historic old Natchez, then in all the prosperous glory in antebellum days. Here Jesse Chavers met and wooed pretty but unhappy and orphaned Eliza Chandler who lived with a cruel aunt. On August 9, 1846 they were married and moved up the river on the Louisiana side to a big plantation where Jesse Chavers got a job as overseer over hundreds of Negro slaves. The children came to bless this union, three girls and two boys. The family moved back to Mississippi and the oldest little gird died at the age of four. Then only a few years later, in 1858, death struck again and the young wife of Jesse Chavers died; his home broken up. Years later he remarried.
Educated in Natchez:
For some reason he was unable to keep his children, so Joel Franklin, William Horace, Mary Ann and Caroline Chavers were sent to Natchez to enter the Protestant school there. They were unhappy at first.
“Pa said we did nothing buy cry ever time he came to see us.”, recalls Mary Chavers Matthews today.
When the children were in their early teens the Civil War started and the possessive Yanks came to Natchez. She recalls on her 20th birthday how the homes of Natchez were seized at the whim of the officers and pillaged and how useless resistance was.
Once they had a very narrow escape. With other children they had been playing in the yard when something told them to get on the porch. Just then a cannon ball stuck the tree under which they had been playing. They fled screaming in terror into the house.
“Aunt Mary” remembers that she was finished with school when in her eighteenth year. For the next eight years she worked as a companion for a Mrs. Booles, an old lady of a prominent family in Natchez.
Marries in 1873…
When she was twenty-four she was married to Samuel Harmon Matthews at Natchez and until the early 1900’s they lived near Natchez on an old plantation. There she gave birth to 10 children, four dying as infants.
Meantime, before she marries, her sister Caroline had married a widower, James Thornburg of Natchez and in four years lost both her baby and husband. Mrs. Thornburg lived in Natchez until her death a few years ago, her home on Union Street, just south of the very old Catholic Church and the school is occupied today by her step-daughter, Mrs. Minnie Winkler.
The two Chavers brothers both died in their early thirties.
“I didn’t like Louisiana when we moved,” recalled Mrs. Matthews as she told her grandchildren of her entrance into Franklin Parish. “Winnsboro was nothing but mud with board walks and the men all sat out on the front porch with their stocking feet propped upon the banister. No man in Mississippi would do that. I would have gone back but your grandpa and the boys wouldn’t”.
So in Franklin Parish she has lived ever since. Five years ago her husband died and since then she has made her home with her oldest son and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Matthews. Her only other living child was J. A. Matthews of Chase. Throughout the parish are many branches of the family. The children dead are Mrs. Charlotte Smith; Mrs. Minnie Brown; Frank Matthews, C. M. Matthews and four infants. Eight great grandchildren were present at the birthday celebration.
She has lived to see the U. S. go through three war periods. The ages of she and her oldest son total 154 years. Her philosophy of life is to want only the simplest and to be cheerful over that. Her greatest happiness comes from being with her family or descendants, and to be grateful for the blessing of comparatively good health. Although not able to leave the house, she can walk to the dining table and can hear perfectly and see some, though her eyesight is bad.
No matter what happens, life goes on and she is determined to abide by that and make the best of everything.
Born: 23 May 1894
Died: 23 Jan 1941
Married: Samuel Hamon Matthews on 14 May 1873
29 Apr 1874 – 23 Oct. 1874
James Samuel Matthews
08 Dec. 1875 – 20 Mar 1969
10 Mar 1877 – 10 Oct. 1878
02 Oct. 1879 – 21 Aug. 1881
Charlotte R. Matthews
17 Oct. 1881 – 9 Dec. 1905
16 Mar 1884 – 25 Mar 1884
Minnie Mae Matthews
10 Feb. 1885 – 22 Feb. 1917
John Aikman “Dock” Matthews
21 Oct. 1887 – 5 Jan 1964
Benjamin Frank “Bennie” Matthews
8 Nov 1890 – 11 Feb 1930
Clarence Moody Matthews
12 Feb 1894 – Jun 20, 1936