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Thursday, July 21, 2011

"It would be my heart's delight to do it"

Absalom Alpheus Row

      Well. How to write about Abbie Row? The details of his life's story which have come down to us are a combination of verifiable facts and tales that beggar belief. Separating the wheat from the chaff is made more difficult by Abbie's "restless, roving disposition" and his fondness for telling embroidered stories to his granddaughter, Marie Clark. In 1985 Marie wrote an ambitious history of the Row family in Virginia which includes a section featuring Abbie. For better or worse, then, some of what appears below is derived from Marie's book, chaff and all.

Forest Grove, Culpeper County
     Absalom Alpheus Row (1868-1931) was the son of George Washington Estes Row and Annie Daniel of Culpeper. He was named for his two grandfathers--Absalom Row and Samuel Alpheus Daniel (who was killed near Mechanicsville in 1862 during the Seven Days Battle). After their wedding in October 1867 George and Annie Row came to Spotsylvania and lived with George's sister and mother at Greenfield. Annie went home to Forest Grove, the Daniel home in Culpeper, to be cared for by her mother Sarah J. Daniel during Abbie's birth on December 1, 1868.
     Abbie's sister, Virginia Isabella, arrived on March 4, 1871. Soon after her birth George Row traveled to Texas to explore the possibility of buying land and perhaps moving the family there. He came home to Spotsylvania in September that year. Within weeks of his return a series of tragedies occurred which had a profound effect on the lives of George and Abbie. Between November 1871 and January 1873 Abbie's mother, sister and grandmother Nancy Estes Row died at Greenfield.
     In the aftermath of all that heartache Abbie's father spent much time away from Greenfield. George Row often stayed with his sister Bettie and brother in law Zachary Rawlings at their home in Rockbridge County. George's sister Nannie, I believe, took a hand in helping to raise Abbie during this time and she came to be regarded as his second mother. Nan was absolutely devoted to her nephew.
     George Row married Lizzie Houston of Rockbridge on December 14, 1875. They rode from the church to Staunton where they took the train to Fredericksburg. After  a long and cold carriage ride from the train station to Greenfield George and Lizzie arrived after dark. According to Mabel Row Wakeman George and Lizzie went to the weaving house to visit with Lucius Estes and his wife, who lived and worked at Greenfield. This gave Nannie the opportunity to sweep up around the hearth where Abbie and the Estes boy had been engaged in a whittling contest. 
     In a letter written to his cousin Emma Farish on February 1, 1876 George Row wrote: "Abbie is shaking the table now and looking over my elbow. Cousin Nan is teaching school at Cousin John's [in Orange County]. Abbie has been going to her but has been home ever since Xmas. Will soon return as he will not learn at home. I was married just before Miss Lizzie Houston of Rockbridge Co...about 21 years old and a splendid woman. Abbie loves her dearly."
     In 1876 Abbie's grandmother, now remarried as Sarah Jane Stewart, at long last settled the estate of her first husband, Samuel A. Daniel. George Row received eighty acres of the Daniel farm and Abbie got his own parcel of twenty four and one half acres.
     An interlude mentioned in Marie Clark's book occurred sometime before the death of Abbie's father. According to Marie, George took Abbie to Missouri to visit relatives who lived  there. While they stayed out west Abbie drove a wagon to deliver milk to several customers, including Cole Younger, a member of the outlaw James gang. Marie said that Cole Younger owned a livery stable in the town near the place the Rows were visiting.

Culpeper tax notices for George and Abbie Row, 1879

     As owners of land in Culpeper County, George and Abbie each received his own tax bill. Abbie, of course was still a young boy and his father would therefore be responsible for paying both obligations. George Row kept meticulous records for his business in a series of ledgers. His bills, bank book and correspondence were kept neatly filed. He paid his Spotsylvania taxes routinely. And yet, for reasons I have yet to understand, George did not pay the taxes he and Abbie owed in Culpeper.

State Auditor to Nannie Row 5 December 1884

Bill for unpaid taxes for 1881

Bill for unpaid taxes for 1877 and 1878

     This lapse did not become known until the year after George Row's death. Nannie began to receive correspondence from the State Auditor informing her that the taxes for both parcels in Culpeper were in arrears. At that point Nannie and Sarah Stewart took it upon themselves to straighten this mess out for Abbie, now fifteen years old.

Sarah Stewart to Nannie Row 14 January 1885

     In a letter written to Nannie Row in January 1885, Sarah Stewart described the difficulties she and her husband were encountering in their effort to resolve this issue at the court house: "[Mr. Stewart] went to see the town clerk about the tax for 1881 and could not see him. The deputy clerk said he could not find it but would look soon as he came and be ready in a day or so. Mr. Stewart went up yesterday but nothing had been done...It is the hardest matter to find them in the office and get anything done by them." Years later Abbie finally sold both parcels to Sarah's son in law, Charles Bruce Williams.

Sarah Stewart to Nannie Row April 1884

Sarah Stewart to Nannie Row April 1884

     While his aunt and grandmother were sorting out his tax problems, Abbie had other things on his mind. Unlike his sister Mabel, Abbie had been an indifferent student and appears to have dropped out of school at the age of thirteen or so. In a letter written to Nannie in April 1884 Sarah commented on fifteen year old Abbie's prospects: "...everyone thinks Abbie ought to have gone to school two years longer and then he could get into business. As it is he will have to work with his hands and his head not able to help him..."
     In 1886 Abbie left Greenfield and struck out on his own. For a time he worked as a laborer building bridges, first in Roanoke and then in Chattanooga, Tennessee where he boarded with the family of B.C. Pons. One day a piece of steel got into his eye and for several weeks Abbie suffered in bed in a darkened room until he healed. By then his job had been given to another man. He left Chattanooga and Mrs. Pons wrote a letter to Nannie Row on November 26, 1887 to let her know of his present circumstances, which were still not very good: "Two weeks ago we heard Abbie had gone to work for some bridge company on the St. Frances River in Arkansas, and was taken with a congestive chill and was carried to a hotel and after being ill there five weeks the hotel took fire and burned down and he lost all his clothes and came near being burned himself. They then carried him to the hospital, he is now able to be up..."

James T. Williams to Nannie Row 16 June 1888

     Nannie received a letter from James T. Williams in June 1888. James described a visit with Abbie and tried to alleviate her anxiety about his welfare: "You seem to be more uneasy about Aby than anyone else. Now don't feel badly or uneasy about him. When he was here near two years ago I had a talk with him and was glad to see had your principles--no bad habits--but had a restless, roving disposition. I have no doubt but what he is alive--and perhaps at some distant place and may be doing well. At all events we can hope that he is doing so."

Page 1 of Nannie Row's will

     Nannie Row began writing her will in 1873 and over the years revised and amplified it as circumstances required. Her last entry was made in January 1888: "I have been looking over my will and wish to make some alteration and not feeling very well will do it now. I give Greenfield farm to Abbie Row on condition he gives Mabel Row his interest in his father's land [the original 166 1/2 acres of Sunshine], also his interest in the land given to George's children by Martha J. Williams."
     Abbie wrote to his Aunt Nan from Malvern, Arkansas on September 19, 1888: "I could not come to take care of the farm now for the reason that I am under the care of Dr. Beatty of Little Rock. I have consumption and have to stay close to the springs so that I can bathe and get water to drink...I would like to come home and take charge of the farm very much, and I could see to you and nurse you. It would be my heart's delight to do it. Your child, Abbie."
     Nannie died in June 1889 but the ever wayward Abbie did not come home to take charge of the farm, at least not yet. His sister Mabel recalled that "Abbie was a stoker on a ship and went around the world, swam in the Red Sea, and while in London he was so handsome he was offered a position as one of the Queen's Guards but he declined and when they reached China Abbie was taken sick with smallpox and hid in the hold of the ship for fear of being put ashore all alone in a strange country."
     By 1891 Abbie was in the dairy business with a Mr. Charles in Fort Worth, Texas. While there he executed the deed which ceded his interest in Sunshine farm to his sister Mabel. He now owned Greenfield free and clear.
     Abbie married Annie Juliet Rosser, a distant cousin of General Thomas J. Rosser, in Summers County, West Virginia on September 5, 1893. Abbie was working as a conductor for the Southern Railroad. Their first two children, Inez and Thomas, were born in West Virginia. In 1899 the family moved to Greenfield. That winter Annie's sister Clementina came to visit them. While there she fell ill and had the dubious distinction of being the last person to die at Greenfield. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery. On a brighter note Abbie's daughter Maxine, who arrived in 1902, was the last child born at Greenfield.
     During these years at Greenfield it had been Abbie's dream to continue to work for the railroad and save enough money to buy modern farm equipment. In this quest he was not successful. Abbie went heavily into debt trying to make a go of farming. By 1905 he ran out of options and sold Greenfield to Scott T. Stephens. One hundred and ten years after Richard Estes bought the plantation in 1795, Greenfield passed out of the family's hands forever.
     Abbie took his family to Strasburg, Virginia where his son Abbie Rowe II was born that same year. As an adult the younger Abbie affected the "e" on the family name. The Rows stayed in Strasburg for five years and then moved to Alexandria. After almost twenty five years of his "restless roving" Abbie finally stayed put there for the rest of his days.
Horace and Judy Row with Abbie, c.1929

     Abbie Row died in Alexandria in 1931. As was the custom then his body was laid out in the parlor and then taken to Strasburg, where he was laid to rest in Riverview Cemetery.

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