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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bettie Row Rawlings

     The youngest daughter of Absalom and Nancy Row, Bettie Baker Row was born at Greenfield plantation on October 24, 1832. Like her sisters Martha and Nannie, Bettie benefited from life as a privileged girl whose parents had the ways and means to see to her proper upbringing and education. In the early 1840s the Row girls were tutored by Adeline McDonald, a pious young woman who stayed in touch with the Rows long after she left Spotsylvania for Middlebury, Vermont. Bettie's father made specific provisions for Bettie's continued education in his will written in January 1847: "...Bettie Baker to be sent to a good school until she is seventeen years of age..."
     Bettie was courted by Zachary Herndon Rawlings of nearby Ellangowan plantation. Zachary's father was James Boswell Rawlings who earlier in life enjoyed some notoriety as a spendthrift who got into some difficulties over unpaid debts; his mother was the former Anne Cason. Bettie and Zachary were married at Greenfield on November 1, 1860. 

                                            Fredericksburg News November 13, 1860

    On December 26 of that same year Nancy Row, in her capacity as executrix of her late husband's estate, gave Bettie and Zachary two slaves. Both of them were quite young. Adeline, age 16, was valued at $400. David, 14, was valued at $425.
     I believe that Bettie and Zachary lived with Nancy and Nannie at Greenfield in the early 1860s. Their first child, Estelle, was born there on October 16, 1861. Bettie's brother George came home from school and enlisted in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. Zachary joined the Thirtieth Virginia Infantry, the same regiment his younger brother had transferred to early in 1861. Zachary came home from the war in the early fall of 1862; whether from wounds or illness we do not know.
     Zachary bought a 120 acre farm from John Decker in February 1863. This tract was situated just off Gordon Road south of the Poor House  and west of Lucy Alsop's farm. The Rawlings would farm this land from the end of the Civil War until about 1871.

                                                   John Decker deed to Zachary Rawlings

     Early in 1864, with the threat of a new Federal invasion of Spotsylvania imminent, Nancy and Nanny Row, the Rawlings, and Zachary's parents gathered what belongings they could and packed them on wagons and fled the region. They made their way to the crossroads village of Hadensville in Goochland County, and there they would live as refugees for the next year. In due course, once the violence near Greenfield had subsided and it was safe to do so, Nannie and Bettie and Zachary would frequently return to Greenfield to attend to business matters and do what was possible on the farm without the help of any slaves, as most of them had escaped to freedom in 1862.

                                                        Bettie Row Rawlings
                                                        Courtesy of Byrd Tribble

     After the war Bettie and Zachary and Estelle settled at their new farm and there were born their three remaining children--Annie Belle in 1865, Charles in 1867 and Mattie in 1869. Charles Rawlings, their only son, died at home on May 5, 1869. His heartbroken parents published this notice in the May 17, 1869 edition of the Virginia Herald:

     By 1871 Zachary was ready for a new opportunity and found one as a contractor for the Norfolk and Western Railroad. He worked at this in the Shenandoah Valley for the next couple of years. Perhaps because Bettie longed to have a settled life with her husband and children, or maybe because Zachary's attention was caught by another promising enterprise, but in any event the Rawlings bought a grist mill and nineteen acres in Vesuvius, Rockbridge County in 1874. Purchased from Hugh Lyle, the Osceola Mill once belonged to the brother of Cyrus McCormick, whose farm was nearby. Zachary built this fine house across the road from the mill, as well as the store from which he sold his flour and meal:

Here Bettie and Zachary would raise their daughters and live out the rest of their days.
     Bettie's mother died in January 1873. Her brother George qualified as administrator of Nancy Row's estate and he spent several months trying to get his sisters Martha and Bettie to see his point of view regarding how the Row estate should be settled. It did not take long for disagreement to arise regarding two issues. First, George believed that Greenfield could not be fairly subdivided and should be sold in its entirety and the proceeds divided among the heirs. Martha and Bettie, on the other hand, wished to have the plantation surveyed and subdivided. The second bone of contention related to the slaves that Bettie and her sister were given before the war. Their father's will stipulated that such advancements should be properly valued and deducted from the individual shares of each beneficiary. However, George's sisters emphatically contended that because the post war values of those slaves was exactly zero, it would be unfair for their individual shares to be thereby reduced.
     In a bill in equity filed in 1873 in the Spotsylvania Circuit Court by George Row and marked on the docket as Row, Administrator vs. Rawlings et al., George sought the help of the court in sorting this out. As for dividing up Greenfield, the court ruled in favor of the sisters. Bettie and Zachary received two tracts, one consisting of 135 acres and the other 69 acres. The court ruled against them regarding the deduction of the slaves' values, and their shares were reduced by their pre-war appraisals.
     Bettie and Zachary were faithful and generous members of the Greenville Baptist Church in Augusta County. They are buried side by side there.

                                                         Memorial card of Bettie Rawlings
                                                         With appreciation to Byrd Tribble



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