Dr. John J. Dickey's Diary: Conclusion


David Yancy Lyttle
December 7, 1898

I was born in Russell County, Virginia, at King's Flat, January 27, 1818. My father's name was Harrington Lyttle. My mother's maiden name was Susana Bays. She was the aunt of William and Hezekiah Bays of the Holiton Conference. They are Methodists, as was my mother. The name Lyttle is English. I do not know when the first ones came over. My father's mother's maiden name was Sneed. Bays is French.

I spent my boyhood days fishing and hunting. My mother taught me my ABCs on an oven lid, making the letters in the ashes. From these I learned my letters. We had no spelling book. "Come In and Welcome To Jesus Christ" was the name of the only book in the house, and my mother taught me to read from that. She could read and write. My father could only spell.

We were poor, though my grandfather, Peter Bays, gave my grandmother a tract of land; but after living on it until I was seven or eight years old, my father removed to King's Flat again, where I was born.

My father was a hunter. He loved the sport. He was a great bully, and he had many encounters. My mother always said that she was never uneasy about him, but she knew he would always conquer.

I went to school to my uncle, John Bays, and Benjamin Sneed, my great-uncle. The Bays were fond of learning. The Sneeds were a talented people. Nicholas Sneed was a distinguished physician. He was worth, perhaps, $100,000, when the war broke out. He was a trustee of Emory and Henry College.

When I was 13 or 14 years old, Andrew Martin, my uncle, who married my mother's sister, told me I ought to go to Dale Carter; who was a self-made man and would probably do something for me. I went to Mr. Carter, not far from my home. He was walking behind three yokes of cattle in the branch. He was a lawyer. I told him I wanted to work. He told me I was too small to be of any service. I told him I would stay a year with him, and he might pay me what he pleased. He said he would not turn a boy away who would make such a proposition as that. He told me to take my clothes to his house. I did so, and I gave them to his wife and told her our contract. I won her by always providing wood for cooking.

I was attentive to my patron and was very faithful to every trust. He had a great many slaves and a white man hired, 20 or 30 in all. I would report to him the delinquencies of his hands. At the close of the year, he told me that he and his wife had concluded to send me to Emory and Henry College. This was the burning desire of my heart.

I had heard Rev. Creed Fulton say, at the laying of the cornerstone, that his college was for the education of poor boys. I then resolved that I would someday be a student of that school.

I told Mr. Carter that I did not know whether I had means sufficient. "How much do you need?" was the reply. He gave me $75 and three good suits of clothes, and I went to college seeking admission.

Rev. Charles Collins, of the state of Maine, was president. Rev. Ephraim Wiley was teacher of ancient languages. Prof. Harlow taught mathematics. I was about 16 years old. Mr. Collins said that the sons of the men who had given the money to build the college should have the preferences. Mr. Fulton chanced to be present and remarked that that promise would be faithfully adhered to. Mr. Collins told me that I must wait until those men were first served.

My first impulse was to go back to my fathers and have a big time spending my money. But I thought I must first go to my patron and tell him, or else he would deem me unworthy of the kindness he had shown me. I went to Mr. Carters. He was not at home when I arrived, but came home after I retired. I told his wife my story, and she gave it to him.

He wrote a letter to Mr. Collins as follows: "I never expect to send a child of mine to an institution that seems to be so cold and heartless as yours, though I have given $500 toward the building, but I demand the admission of the young man on the merit of my donation."

He left home the next morning before I arose, but left the letter for me. I did not see him. I read it, and his wife told me to take it and go back. Now I retraced my steps and, upon the presentation of the letter, I was promptly admitted. I was always treated with the greatest courtesy.

At the close of the first year, I was appointed to deliver an address at the annual commencement. I thought the clothes unfit for the occasion, I went to Abingdon, ten miles distant, and applied to a merchant for goods for a suit. The merchant asked me what voucher I could give. I drew from my pocket the printed paper containing the notice of my appointment, and I showed it to him.

He said to the clerk, "Let that young man have anything he wants. Any young man that can get such an appointment as that can have all the goods I have!"

I went back to school, and I told the president that I had goods for a suit of clothes for commencement. He said I would not have time to have the suit made. I told him that my speech was ready, and I could learn it as I walked to Lebanon, 25 miles distant. He gave me permission. I had a cousin named Bratton, at Lebanon, who was a tailor. He made my clothes. They were of black cloth. I got a pair of pumps.

I rehearsed my speech before Prof. Wiley, and on commencement day, when I stepped upon the platform, I felt my foot tremble a little; but the thought of greatness of the occasion, the interest of the faculty in my success, and the envy and jealously awaked by my promotion rushed over my mind. At once I rose above all the fear and delivered my speech with an enthusiasm that was akin to inspiration.

The immense chapel contained but a small part of the audience. There were several hundred students in attendance, among them many sons of rich men. These said that the prompting of pity had moved the faulty to give me the honor.

I returned the next September and remained five months. I went back to Mr. Carter and became a tutor for his children. I, at first, taught in the Methodist Church, but objection being made, Mr. Carter built a house on his own premises. The children of the community attended. I had to collect some of the tuition, by law, and got judgement before Esquire Boyd at Lebanon.

From there I went to Copper Creek in Scott County. The patrons were Methodists and Baptists. Evangelist Drake, of the Methodist Church, held a revival in the neighborhood. George Hartsock, a prejudiced Baptist who had opposed shouting, was a real scoffer; while he stood listening to Drake, fell to the floor.

He was prostrate for some time, but at length arose shouting, "Glory to God, my sins are forgiven," he cried.

Mr. Carter, my patron, became immensely rich. He had 60 Negroes and 10,000 acres of land. Mr. Lincoln sent for him to come to Washington after Lee's surrender to consult with him about matters in the South. I was supremely happy in helping to elect him a member of the Constitutional Convention of Virginia.

General Brittain of Lee County, my father-in-law, at my request, wrote a letter to the leader of the Baptist church in Russell County, asking him to support Carter, though Carter was of different politics than them. Carter wrote to me asking my support, and I consulted with Mr. Brittain with this result. Four hundred votes was the result of this letter, and this elected Mr. Carter.

I went into a dark corner of the courthouse, and I wept like a child when the results were known. My feelings of gratitude and joy were so great.

From Copper Creek, I came to Lee County, Virginia, and taught school on Powell River. I bought books for some children named Osborne, who were too poor to get them. From there I went to Harlan Courthouse, Kentucky, and there I taught one or two sessions. This was in 1842 or 1843. At this time, I received a letter from General Garrard to come to Goose Creek and teach at the seminary near his home. It was of brick.

Carlo Brittain came over to Goose Creek at the close of my school. His presence awoke in me memories of Miss Drusilla Brittain, his sister, whose charms had kindled a sacred fire in my heart. Our meeting was a case of love at first sight. She declared that her whole being was thrilled with emotion when she first met me. When I asked General Brittain, her father, for his daughter, he said he would have to study about it. Things went on this way for 12 months.

I had studied law while teaching school and was admitted to a practice in 1842. Judge Quarrela, of London, and Judge Bridges, of Somerset, examined me. This was in 1842. I began the practice of law, living at Harlan Courthouse. It was in 1844 that I defended ______ Howard for killing someone. Green Adams was prosecuting. After the argument of counsel was over, someone remarked at the hotel that Adams had made a wonderful speech.

"Yes," said General Brittain, but I think that boy overmatched him.

Shortly afterward, Howard, whom I had acquitted, came to me with authority to secure a license from the clerk to marry his (Brittain's daughter). The speech had, at last, brought him to a decision.


Editor's Note: After six years this is the final installment we will be using from Dickey's Diary. Maybe it will be repeated in the future.