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Sunday, June 19, 2011

George Washington Estes Row, Part 3

Henry Slaughter's labor contract

     The war was over at last and George, Nancy and Nannie Row came home to Greenfield to begin life again in a world turned upside down. While it was true that the farm showed signs of serious neglect--sections of fencing were gone, the livestock missing, the fields overgrown--the Rows were more fortunate than others. Their house and outbuildings still stood and had not been reduced to a charred monument to a bygone era.
     In order to reclaim Greenfield and its more than 800 acres as a viable farming enterprise it was first necessary to reconstitute the work force. Except for a small handful of former slaves who had remained loyal to the Rows after the rest had escaped to freedom in 1862, the new laborers would be comprised of freed men, women and children. His mother was now 67 years old and the responsibility for hiring and provisioning these people fell to George. Over the next eighteen years he would hire and maintain records for dozens of employees who worked at the Row farms and saw mill.
     In the immediate aftermath of the war George engaged the services of freed blacks through the use of labor contracts such as the one shown above. This agreement between George Row and Henry Slaughter, signed in February 1867, was in essence a sharecropping arrangement. George pledged to "furnish the land and team and also to feed the same." For his part Henry was obliged to "work as much land as he can in corn and oats" and divide the crop with George. They also agreed to each share the work of rebuilding the fences. Henry was also to provide the labor of "his grown son and two small boys."

Annie Tutt Daniel

     On October 31, 1867 George--now twenty four years old--married nineteen year old Annie Daniel of Culpeper County. Annie had grown up at Forest Grove plantation, built in the 1850s by her father Samuel Alpheus Daniel. Daniel had been killed in 1862 during the fighting at Mechanicsville. Annie's mother Sarah struggled to take care of Annie and her brother and sisters during the long periods of Federal occupation. Sarah Daniel moved the family to a boarding house at Culpeper Court House after the battle of Cedar Mountain (during which the Daniel house was used as a Confederate hospital) and rented rooms to Federal officers. Sarah found caretakers to live at Forest Grove who managed to prevent the house from being destroyed by the roving gangs of Yankee pillagers who systematically vandalized much of occupied Culpeper.
     The wedding took place at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Culpeper and was officiated by the Reverend John Cole, who had been befriended by Robert E. Lee during the war. During the ceremony George placed upon Annie's finger a ring made from gold mined from Panther Run at Greenfield by Absalom Row. George and Annie returned to Greenfield to live with Nancy and Nannie. The following year Annie spent the the latter part of her confinement at Forest Grove where she gave birth to their son, Absalom "Abbie" Alpheus Row, born on December 1, 1868.

Nancy Row's gift of land to George

      Now that George and Annie had begun a family, Nancy decided that it was important that they have a place they could call their own. Three months after her grandson's birth, Nancy Row gave to George a section of Greenfield, consisting of 166 1/2 acres, that the family called the lower plantation. In a document witnessed by former overseer James Brock and Row neighbor Bernhard Kube, Nancy retained a life estate in this property, appraised at $490. George would come to call this place "Sunshine."

H.J. Eckenrode receipt to George Row

     In addition to the management of farming operations at Greenfield (and--in time--at Sunshine as well) George Row ran his own saw mill business. One of his best customers in these early years was the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad, for whom he provided sills, ties and fence stock. George kept track of his employees' production in his ledgers, as noted in the "tie account" of freedman Mortimer Sullivan:

1870 tie account with Mortimer Sullivan

     Along with his mother and sister, George also had to pay his share of the county tax burden. The tax receipts kept among his papers show that he was conscientious in taking care of his obligations, one of which from 1867 is seen below. However, in later years the taxes he owed in Culpeper would escape his attention and cause difficulties for his son Abbie as well as Nannie Row and Sarah Daniel.

George Row's tax bill 1867

     In letters written by and about him is evident that George Row was a dutiful but unenthusiastic farmer. He would seek opportunities that could possibly better leverage his native abilities. In 1871 such an opportunity seemed to present itself in an episode of interesting possibilities, if one that is not fully understood from this distance.

George to Nancy Row, July 1871

     Soon after the birth of his daughter Virginia Isabella in March 1871 George Row went to Texas. His wife Annie and his two children were left at Greenfield to be cared for by Nancy and Nannie. George spent about six months in Freestone, Texas with Annie's uncle Dr. Vivian Quisenberry, who practiced medicine and ran a drug store. Originally from Orange County, Dr. Quisienberry was married to Sarah Daniel's sister Annie. The 1860 census shows that his brother in law James Robinson, sheriff of Orange County, lived with them. Dr. Quisenberry was assistant surgeon in the 59th Virginia Infantry. After the Civil War he and his wife moved to Texas.

Dosage scales of George Row

     In a remarkable letter written to his mother on July 3, 1871 George describes what life is like in Texas and we are given some inkling as to his motive for going out there. George writes that he first worked as a carpenter for $3 per day "but the sun is so hot I found it affected my head so much that I was afraid of apoplexy." So he began working in Dr. Quisenberry's drug store, despite the cut in pay. In this role George sees a side of human nature that is a novelty to him. "Living like I am in a Drug Store see what other people would never know. The women nearly all of them dip snuff and both men and women eat morphine and opium. It is hard for us to keep in morphine and opium. They don't mind the price."
     George tells his mother details about the soil, what grows well, how the horses are, cattle prices and so on. He was impressed with the abundance of wildlife: "Plenty of deer and turkeys all over the country but I have hunted very little. Killed one deer and stopped hunting. You may ride along the road and see four or five jump across the road and look at you. I always give them a round from my six shooter."

From George's memorandum book

From George's memorandum book

     So what was George doing in Texas for half the year 1871? A possible clue appears near the end of his letter: "I hope you all have confirmed the trade as it would dispose of the Plantation and do a good thing to get the trade. I will take the Plantation tract if the other children object to Texas land if the trade is to be made a reasonable price." I think George was trying to put together a land deal whereby the Rows would be able to divest themselves of Greenfield. George is full prepared to move to Texas: "If I was a single man would drive down here." His memorandum book, captured during the Civil War, contains the names of contacts in Texas and the legal descriptions of property he was considering.
     George also gives mention to the family's growing interest in the railroad business. "Annie writes that Zach [his brother in law Zachary Rawlings] is going to work on a railroad near Lynchburg. Hope he makes money. How is the F&G [Fredericksburg & Gordonsville] RR getting on. Have they commenced work on it or have they paid up."
     George returned to Spotsylvania in September 1871 in order to give a deposition in the court case intended to resolve outstanding issues in the estate of his mother's sister Mary "Polly" Carter, who died in 1863. Mary had lived at Greenfield for the last twenty five years of her life, George testified, having left her husband (because of his drinking, it was said). The case carried serious import for the Rows, as George's mother was seeking compensation for maintaining her sister's lifestyle during this period.

Estate sale of Annie Row

     Just weeks after his appearance in court, the first in a series of hammer blows fell that completely changed the lives of the Rows and made irrelevant any notions of moving to Texas. On November 4, 1871 twenty three year old Annie Row died of diphtheria. Stunned by this shocking and unexpected loss, the Rows held an estate sale at Greenfield four days later. The Rows appear to have left Greenfield for a time, leaving a Mr. Childress to take care of the farm. Nancy, now in declining health, and Nannie lived with Martha and her family for much of 1872. Then George's daughter Virginia Isabella died. For the next few years a grief stricken and depressed George Row divided his time between Spotsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley, where he often stayed with Bettie and Zachary.
From Row vs Rawlings et al, filed 1873
     Nancy and Nannie returned to Greenfield in late 1872. Nancy died at home on January 5, 1873 and was buried (like Absalom, Annie and Virginia Isabella) in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery. Nancy had no will of her own--Absalom's will of 1847 was still the controlling legal document--and George qualified as the administrator of the Row estate.
     Fundamental differences of opinion soon emerged between George and his sisters Martha and Bettie regarding what was considered a fair division of the estate, both real and personal. First, George was of the mind that Greenfield could not be efficiently subdivided and that the property should be sold in its entirety and the proceeds distributed among the heirs. Martha and Bettie disagreed, each wanting a deed to their share of the acreage. The other problem concerned the valuation of the slaves given to Martha and Bettie by their mother in the late 1850s. Absalom's will stipulated that the respective values of those slaves should be deducted from their shares in the final accounting of the estate. Martha and Bettie argued that since those slave lost all their value by an act of law (the Thirteenth Amendment) they should not be charged with their pre-war values.
     A resolution to these dilemmas was not immediately at hand, so George petitioned the Circuit Court of Spotsylvania for its assistance. The court ruled for the sisters regarding the land; each of the heirs received a portion of Greenfield (Nannie, the logical choice, got the Greenfield home place and outbuildings and 244 acres). However, the court ruled against Martha and Bettie on the point of the valuation of the slaves.
     While all this was being sorted out, George's finances were constrained and would remain so for several more years. On a check for $100 drawn on his account at Conway, Gordon and Garnett in October 1873, he added this somewhat plaintive plea: "I am in real need of money."

George Row's check for $100 written in 1873

     By 1874 Bettie and Zachary had settled in Rockbridge County and George spent much time with them. This is the period of his life when George appears to have been most active in the business of railroads. Zachary had just recently been a contractor for the Norfolk & Western for a few years. When his brother Ben Rawlings returned to Virginia from out west he, too, worked for the same railroad line. George and Ben were partners in some business venture. By October 1874 George cashed out from that enterprise and Ben wrote a notice releasing George from any further financial liability:

     Perhaps one reason why George dissolved his partnership with Ben was because  by that time he had bigger fish to fry. On November 21 George made application to the Commissioner of Patents for consideration of an improved design for a railroad car coupling. Patent number 159,120 was granted to George Row on January 26, 1875, shown below with two views of his handmade model of that coupling:

     While George's business with Ben Rawlings did not bear fruit, he did derive one permanent benefit from Ben's presence in Rockbridge County. Ben had been pursuing Florence Gibbs, daughter of sewing machine inventor James E. A. Gibbs. In the natural course of events George became acquainted with the Gibbs family and their relatives, including Florence's aunt Annette Houston and her husband George of Mount Pleasant farm. George became smitten by their older daughter, Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Houston and from 1874 to 1875 vied for her attention with the young men of Rockbridge (he was eleven years older than Lizzie). The letters they exchanged during their courtship survive and deserve a closer look in a future post. In September 1875 George asked Lizzie's parents to bless their union:

     Another opportunity had presented itself to George, this one to recapture the happiness he had previously known with Annie,  and he seized this one with both hands.

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