Days Gone By - stories from the past

Anne Newport Royall – Can you believe that in 1818 Spanish moss was used in mattresses for padding?

Anne Royall (June 11, 1769 – October 1, 1854) was a traveler and writer and was one of the first newspaperwomen. Anne traveled Alabama after her husband’s death for four years. She wrote letters to her friends about the evolution of the young state. The letters were published as a book entitled Letters from Alabama in 1830.

In the following letter written in 1818, she describes the lay of the land around Madison County and North Alabama. The letter has been transcribed exactly as published (including misspellings).

Melton’s Bluff, January l6th, 1818.

Dear Matt,

I Am here for the winter, doubtless, and shall while away the time between writing to you, viewing the country, and “chatting with the beaux.” As you are desirous to hear a particular account of this beautiful region, I shall finish what I began sometime back.

I said the land was divided into bottom, table land, and Bluffs. It also contains Bayous1 and mountains. The bottom land is held in little estimation; for, though more fertile than the table land, it is hard to clear, being thickly covered with heavy timber, and often not only by these bayous, but often overflowed; this renders it too wet for cotton, which delights in dry soil. These bayous are formed by the water of the river forsaking the channel, and, running off in various directions, returns to the river and unites with it again.

Table land is not dead level

The cotton, or table land, is separated from the bottom land, by the Bluffs, andthey meet the river, they are evidently the same elivation which divides the bottom from the table land. The table land is not a dead level, but waving, and varies from 20 to 25 miles wide; then comes the mountain, a narrow strip of pine land, very little higher than the table land generally,and, though stony, might be tilled. Then comes the table land again; next mountain. These varieties run parallel with the Tennessee river.

Stereograph shows tree covered with Spanish moss and cotton plants in the foregroundStereograph shows tree covered with Spanish moss and cotton plants in the foreground 1870 in Montgomery, Alabama by Josephus Holtzclaw Lakin (Library of Congress)

Moss resembled horse hair

Then comes the long moss, sixty miles on this side of Cahawba, running in the same direction; and beyond it the table land appears again. In the region of this moss it is sickly, as it also is, on the rivers; but keep off the rivers and it is as healthy as any climate, or perhaps more so, than any part of the Union. There is no such thing as consumptions. Those families subject to it perfectly recover from it in this climate. Of this I have been an eye witness.

I saw some of the moss just mentioned. It looks like hay when cured in the sun, though much finer. It has joints like timothy grass. A gentleman who brought some of it in his saddle bags to this place, informed me that it hangs loosely upon the trees, as though it were thrown on by the hand, and has no connection whatever with the branch upon which it hangs. This is most singular. He said that trees of all descriptions were enveloped with it, from the top to the bottom, hanging down to the ground; and that cattle lived on it. I ought to have said that a narrow blade branches out from the joints of the moss. When it is soaked in water, it discharges a thin coat with which the stem is enveloped; it is then black, and resembles horse hair, and matrasses are made out of it.

Cotton most profitable

But to return. This land produces upon an average 1000 pounds of cotton in the seed. Sweet potatoes grow very fine, and are an article of food for the negroes. Corn grows well, and, also, wheat; though the weavel destroys it almost instantly; consequently, as they can buy it cheaper, and turn their labor and land to better account, by raising cotton, wheat is not raised. Tobacco, also, grows well, but they prefer the cotton as more profitable.

I have seen no meadows since I left Tennessee; and though clover grows well in Madison county, north of the river, the soil is said to be unfavorable to grass. Vast numbers of cattle are raised here upon the cane.

Yours, &c.

1Pronounced Bias.

Read more of Anne Newport Royall’s letters on Alabama Pioneers

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  • Description of Native Americans of early Alabama including the visit by Tecumseh;
  • Treaties and building the first roads in Alabama.

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Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. Boil it first, probably be comfortable.

  2. Boil it because it’s got red bugs in it.

  3. Sixty years ago when I was a boy in Florida we pulled moss and sold it to furniture companies which used it to stuff chairs and sofas. I hated doing it because we were eaten up by red bugs and other creepy crawlers which lived in it. A dose of kerosene spread over our clothes and skin was the only help for the damn redbugs. We did what we poor folks could to make a living in those days before the fast food places like McDonalds came along with better poverty wages.

  4. It was still being used in the twentieth century for chair stuffing.

  5. Confederates saddle blankets were also made from Spanish Moss.

    1. Blake Davis it wasn’t very comfortable and it was full of red bugs .

  6. Henry Ford started using it in the seats of his cars and found out it was giving everybody “red bugs”

    1. Roger Gardner that was the cause of the first car recall

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