Named for his mother's younger brother, George Washington Estes Row was born in Spotsylvania County at Greenfield plantation on June 21, 1843. By then his parents were well into middle age; Absalom was forty six years old, Nancy was forty four. It had been eleven years since the birth of his sister Bettie, his next oldest sibling. I have wondered if George's arrival was a surprise to his still vigorous mother and father. Perhaps Absalom and Nancy made the conscious decision to try for another child after the death of their daughter Sarah in 1840. In any case there can be little doubt they were pleased by the birth of their first and only son.
George's childhood was characterized by the advantages attendant to growing up on a thriving plantation of 889 acres worked by a contingent of at least two dozen slaves, including house servants. George's father was a well connected and respected member of the community; in addition to his responsibilities at Greenfield he was a gold miner, justice of the peace, school commissioner and overseer of the poor. Under his father's tutelage George learned how to manage a large farm and how to keep records in the family ledgers. Like many southern boys of his era George also learned to ride and shoot well, skills he would come to rely on during the Civil War.
In the early 1840s George's sisters were taught by Adeline McDonald, a tutor hired by their father. Even though she moved to Middlebury, Vermont the winter after George was born, the pious and civic minded Adeline continued to remain in touch with the Rows for years. In 1852 Adeline enrolled George in the American Home Missionary Society, an organization set up to operate on the American frontier to "preach the Gospel, establish churches and give support and ministry to the unchurched and destitute.''
|George Row's membership in the American Home Missionary Society|
|Locust Grove Academy|
A number of George's school books also survive, including his geography book and Latin lexicon:
George Row's formal education came to an abrupt end in April 1861 when Virginia voted to secede from the Union. Seventeen year old George left school and returned to Spotsylvania where he was enlisted in Company E of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry by Francis C. Beverly. A story handed down through the generations says that George's mother selected a slave close to George's age who would take care of him while away from home. Nancy gave them the two best horses at Greenfield and watched them as they rode off to war.
[Special thanks to artist Deborah Humphries for her skillful rendering of George Row's 19th century portrait]