"Live the best you can. Life has so many surprises for us. Ask the Lord to hold your hands and lead you to the Promised Land."
That is how Sarah Victoria Scott Nephew, 103, answered when I asked for advice for living in 2015. Vicky Nephew is probably the oldest living person in Long County and a native of the county.
Her home is in the Macedonia area of Long County on Broad Level.
Two of her daughters, Catherine and Sally, and a granddaughter were at her home when I interviewed her. "Granny" can’t hear well, so her granddaughter asked most of the question. When she heard the question she would quickly answer, eyes sparkling as her mind went back in time.
Her great-grandmother Sarah was born into slavery in May 1840, in Spartanburg, SC. She lived on a South Carolina plantation, where the owner kept demanding her to bear children for him. Sarah knew that she was just property with no rights. She also knew she was treated unjustly and did not want to bear his children. Each time she fought him off, she would be stripped and lashed with a leather whip that cut into her skin. Sometimes salt was poured into her cuts.
After many beatings Sarah gave in. She had five children by him; named for his relatives including a Victoria and one who became Marcus Scott Sr. after Sarah later married Benjamin Scott.
Marcus Senior married Caroline Wright of Tarboro, SC. They had nine children and one of them was Marcus Scott Jr. (1890-1977). Marcus and Caroline moved to Burke County, Georgia, in 1895 and to Liberty County in 1908. He bought and ran a turpentine and timber farm on Broad Level.
Marcus "Big Bubba" Scott Jr. married Maggie Williams and they had seven children, including Sarah Victoria, their second child, born on May 4, 1913. Her siblings were Allen, Grace, Obidiah, Lewis, Marcus III and James. Maggie died in 1926. Then Marcus married Lena Rountree (1906-1972) of Savannah in 1929. They had one child, Louise.
Marcus Scott Jr. joined Macedonia Church in 1919 and became its clerk in 1934. He was ordained in 1949 and later became assistant pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. He was a Bible teacher in the Ludowici District Union of the Tattnall Missionary Baptist Association until incapacitated.
Vicky stayed with her family in Savannah for a time and attended Sand Fly school. One of her teachers gave her a book for her good behavior, though she said her favorite time at school was recess, when they played hopscotch and basketball. She was little and laughed about knocking down a big girl. They wore high-top shoes to school.
She recalled one little "Geechee" girl who carried fried fish and bread for her lunch every day and it smelled up the classroom. On most days, Vicky went home for lunch and took the rest of the day off to babysit her siblings while Marcus III got to go to school. Vicky finished the sixth grade.
She said her great-grandfather and her teacher, Professor Reed, were slaves together. They had to walk white children on the plantation to school and wait for them. They picked up a little education there.
"I used to work in the tobacco fields, setting it out, hoeing weeds, suckering, picking the large green worms off the plants, topping it and finally handing the leaves to a stringer. Then we had to take off the dry cured tobacco and pack it into sheets. All that was work! One year a huge rain and wind storm came through and blew all the tobacco plants down. All of us had to go into the fields and prop up each stalk by putting dirt around the bottom… Now, that was a job!"
(I had stopped by a cotton field on our land and plucked four bolls off a plant to take to her. She was so tickled she had her daughter put the pure white cotton into a plastic bag.)
"Yes, I had to pick cotton. One old lady picked with us. She was 80 years old, and she could out pick all of us. I finally got up to 100 pounds a day. That stuff is harder to pick than one would think. However, I liked doing it. I really liked when it came to weighing time to see how much I had picked that day."
"One day, we were all picking cotton and my youngest brother was in the field and he was so sick and crying. He had a rash on his neck and I stopped picking and picked him up. My stepmother, Lena, pulled up a cotton plant and began beating me with it and told me to put the boy down and get back to work. I told her that the little boy was given to me by my mama to take care of and I was taking him to the house. My grandma lived near the cotton patch and I took the boy there and told grandma what had happened. She got the hoe and stood it by the front door in case Lena came and started trouble! Finally, daddy came and took us home. He told his wife, Lena, my stepmother, that she was not to mess with me again and my little brother did belong to me to see about. She never bothered me again!"
"When I was very young, I was sent to Ossabaw Island to babysit for Mr. Strouffer, an Englishman, who raised flowers in a greenhouse and managed crews that maintained the landscape."
He was the gardener for Dr. Henry Norton Torrey and his wife Nell Ford Torrey, who purchased the island in 1924.
"I was sitting in the sandy road one day making frog houses with the little boy. I did this by putting my hand down and covering it with the damp sand and then pulling my hand out. One of the overseers came by and saw me sitting there playing and said to me, ‘You should not be sitting there wasting time like that. You ought to be out there in the fields working.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘I have already done all that in my time. I was sent over here to babysit and take care of this little boy and that is what I am going to do.’ It was while there that I married my first husband, Sandy Jackson, whose mother was from Ossabaw Island and his father was from Liberty County.
"I recall that however rich the Torreys were, they acted as very common people. They treated all the servants very well and each liked the other. It was on Ossabaw Island and while I lived at Montgomery Crossroads that I got my love for oysters. They could be harvested very easily and were plentiful… "That was my favorite food to cook and eat. I ate my share on them while over there.
"The most beautiful sight that I remember on the island was during one moonlit night. Between the colored quarters and the big house were some large fig trees filled with ripe figs. I watched a whole drove of deer come out of the woods and go together to the fig trees and eat all the figs they could reach. I will never forget that beautiful sight!
"During World War II, my husband was helping cut timber to build ships for the war use and a tree fell on him and killed him. We did not have any children."
Around 1947, Vicky met John Nephew while fishing. John was born around 1920 near Darien. They married and lived on Broad Level. John worked turpentine for Archie Smiley. They attended the nearby Macedonia Church. Vicky was 36 when she had her first child, the first of four: Johnny Mae Grant (1949), who lives in Townsend, Fannie Sallie Trafton (1950), who lives on Broad Level, John Nephew Jr. (1952-2013) and Catherine "Dugger" Nephew (1953), who lives on Broad Level and takes care of her mother. Sally, who lives next door, also take care of her mother.
John Sr. was killed in a car crash in Walthourville in 1968, leaving Vicky with four children.
Vicky has outlived all her siblings. She loved all of them and her sisters-in-law, but Canzola (Mrs. Marcus Scott III) was her favorite. She visited her often and sat talking and laughing for hours. The two were known to drink a little Mogen David wine, "for the tummyache."
Canzola’s husband had died in 1965 and Canzola died at the age of 93 in April 2015. Vicky attended her funeral. She misses Canzola.
Vicky worked for many families in Ludowici and the area, doing housework and ironing clothes. She also picked peas, butterbeans and berries. She said she picked many berries for men to make wine.
While I was there, Vicky asked for her pouch of Taylor’s Pride Chewing Tobacco. She also dips Navy Snuff. She says the tobacco keeps the snuff in her mouth. She estimates she has been using it for 90 years. She does not take any store-bought medicine, preferring medicinal plants she used to collect and now has her children collect. Sassafras roots, dog tongue and catnip are some. Her favorite, and one she says people from far away as Virginia come to collect, is life everlasting. Catherine pulled up a hill of life everlasting to show me. Vicky makes tea from it and drinks some every winter day. Sally said she doesn’t remember her mother ever having a cold.
Sarah Victoria Scott Nephew received a certificate from President Barak Obama and Michelle Obama on her 102nd birthday in 2015.