Sons are often said to be the “spit n’ image” of their fathers–daughters, less often so. This is a story of a daughter who was so like her father that she was given a diminutive form of his surname as a nickname. She was also very like him in other ways–and possibly, for sheer stubbornness, could outdo the old man.
Virginia-born Richard Archer and his wife Ann moved to the Mississippi river town of Port Gibson in 1837, to a home they named Anchucha. There, Richard settled in as a successful planter and amateur scientist, while Ann bore and raised nine children: five daughters and four sons.
One of the five daughters from birth looked so much like her father that a nurse laughingly called her “Archie” as a nickname, and the name stuck. Archie Archer, as she grew up, became her father’s intellectual companion as well; they shared books, discussed politics, and laughed over his somewhat unorthodox scientific experiments, triumphs and failures alike, joys his other children took no interest in whatever.
It was the failure of one such experiment that inadvertently strained the relationship of father and daughter to the breaking point. One summer Richard Archer, who dearly loved fresh oysters and could only get them on his trips to New Orleans, tried to farm his own oysters by “planting” them in a pond he’d filled with salt water. The result was a stinking failure, and the family was forced to leave Anchucha and spend several weeks in a Port Gibson hotel.
While they were there, Richard Archer noticed that Archie was slipping away on her horse almost every afternoon, returning late with a dreamy smile and almost floating with happiness. He thought he knew the cause: she was in love. Unfortunately, her first love was not of her social standing. He was the son of Richard Archer’s overseer.
Determined to put a stop to any plans Archie and her lover might have for the future, Archer followed her on one of her rides. As he had suspected, she was riding out to meet Josh Melvin, the overseer’s son.
Josh Melvin told him that his intentions were honorable and asked his permission to marry Archie. Archer’s response was to slash Josh across the face with his riding whip and order him to leave Anchucha forever.
Archie, to avert more violence, told Josh to go. The quarrel that broke out between father and daughter after his departure ended their close relationship forever; Archer made the mistake of calling Josh Melvin “white trash” and blustering that he would make sure the young man was dismissed from the plantation.
A white-faced, enraged Archie’s answer would have repercussions far beyond both their lives: If you send Josh away, I will never again eat a meal at your table.
Pigheaded Richard Archer did indeed send Josh Melvin away, and Archie never saw her first love again.
She carried out her threat, too. From that day forward, she barely spoke to her father, and, once they were back at Anchucha, never again joined the family for meals; she took hers in the parlor, standing at the fireplace with its marble mantelpiece.
No doubt Richard Archer in later days expostulated and explained and puffed and blew, as fathers do when they have exasperated their children beyond endurance. Archie heard him out in complete indifference, and at each mealtime ate in the parlor–right up until Richard Archer’s death in 1867.
Anchucha was sold some years after Richard Archer’s passing. Its new owner had the house dismantled and moved to a property he owned near Vicksburg.
In 1966, the house was purchased by a man named Jack Lavender, who moved in with his wife, daughter and a small servant staff, including a butler named Harry.
Mel Lavender, the daughter, was the first to report something strange in the house. One day, around time for a meal, Mel went into the parlor and was startled to see the figure of a young, very pretty girl in a brown antebellum dress, standing at the fireplace. Mel was startled, but not frightened; she stood and watched the girl for some time until she simply faded away.
In describing the incident to her parents later, Mel said that while she was not afraid during the encounter, she did feel very sorry for the young girl.
That was not the last time Mel, and other members of the household, saw the girl in the parlor. Nor was the parlor her only haunt, so to speak; the Lavenders’ butler, Harry, also met her several times when he was downstairs in the basement on various errands. Like Mel, he was not frightened, but he felt sorry for the lovely young girl.
It took Mel Lavender five years, but eventually, she tracked down the probable identity of the ghostly girl: Archie Archer, still angry, still stubborn, still taking her meals from the marble mantel over the fireplace in the parlor, a century and more after she took a vow never to eat from her father’s table again.
The late great Kathryn Tucker Windham told the story of Archie Archer’s sad romance and stubborn vow in her 1974 book 13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey.
Today my Vols take on Mississippi State in Starkville; hence my choice of a Mississippi ghost story. I haven’t heard who’s favored or what the points spread is, and I think Coach Dooley is a bit crazy to travel so soon after surgery, but there’s really only one thing to say about it all–
Update: My Vols lost 41-31. There is no joy in Knobite Corner. . .