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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Slavery, War and Nancy Row

Nancy Estes Row (Courtesy of Ellen Apperson Brown)

     Nancy Estes was born on Greenfield plantation on October 13, 1798 and lived there virtually her entire life. She was one of six sisters and four brothers. These children grew up in relative affluence and the Estes family were numbered among Spotsylvania County's gentry. During his lifetime Richard Estes, Nancy's father, owned a farm that then consisted of 748 acres and in any given year was worked by as many as two dozen slaves.
     The Estes children would have been accustomed to the presence of black slaves from birth. Field hands would have spent six days a week, from sunrise to sunset, working in tobacco, wheat, corn, clover and so on. Those with special skills would be found in the blacksmith shop, the carpenter shop, the shoe shop or the weaving house. The house servants saw to the needs of the family--cooking, cleaning, caring for their clothes and the endless chores performed in a day before modern conveniences.
     Family tradition has it that the Esteses were a stern, dignified people and one look at my great great grandmother's photograph above certainly tends to confirm that. The house servants were supposedly imbued with the same sense of dignity and felt empowered to reprove their young masters and mistresses when they might stray from the straight and narrow. The death of any of these slaves was occasion for mourning at Greenfield, and as was the custom the deceased would lie in the parlor before being buried in the cemetery set aside for the slaves.
     But there was never doubt in anyone's mind at Greenfield as to the nature of the relationship between master and enslaved. As we have already seen, slave auctions could be held at any time and for any reason sufficient to Richard Estes. Families could be separated forever when the auctioneer's gavel came banging down.
     Nancy Estes married her second cousin, Absalom Row of Orange County, on November 2, 1825. Over the next eighteen years Nancy would bear five children, four of whom would survive to adulthood. Nancy's four brothers looked westward to seek their destinies and by the late 1830s they had all moved to either Missouri or Kentucky. Their longing to move away from Spotsylvania made it possible for Absalom to buy Greenfield from the estate of Richard Estes after his death in 1832.
     For the twenty three years he lived at Greenfield Absalom typically would employ twenty five slaves in any given year. These men, women and children performed the same tasks as those who had worked for Richard Estes. In addition, they would be hired out to neighbors, sent to work in the gold mines or otherwise utilized as circumstances dictated.
     Absalom Row died in 1855. In his will he named Nancy as the executrix of his estate. After his will was proved in April 1856 Nancy Row became the mistress of Greenfield, now grown to 889 acres. She also became the manager and caretaker of twenty five slaves (Absalom intended his estate to ultimately go to his children; he "loaned" it to Nancy for as long as she lived). The names of those enslaved black people are listed on last week's post. In 1856 Nancy was fortunate to still have the services of overseer James H. Brock, who also lived at Greenfield.
     Absalom's will empowered Nancy to give to her married children any of the family's property, including slaves, as long as a proper valuation was made. The intention was that the values of these slaves would be deducted from the individual share of each heir who had received them in the final accounting of the estate.

Slaves given to Martha Row Williams

     In February 1851 Absalom Row gave to his daughter and son in law, Martha and James T. Williams, two black children--twelve year old John and eleven year old Ellen. In June 1857 Nancy gave them nine year old Patsy, whose name appears on the inventory of Absalom's estate.

From Greenfield's ledgers

     This page from one of Greenfield's ledger books tells us how slaves might be utilized by the Rows to make money when not working on their farm. On February 7, 1855 Absalom noted that he had hired out Addison and William to work at the gold mine at Grindstone Hill in Spotsylvania for fifteen dollars per month. In June 1859 Nancy sent Thornton to work in the blacksmith shop of J.W. Landrum for nine dollars per month.

1860 slave census

     The 1860 schedule of slave inhabitants living in St. George's Parish in Spotsylvania County shows that Nancy Row owned twenty three slaves. Nameless here, they are listed by age in descending order. Otherwise we know only their sex and race ( all of Nancy's slaves were deemed black. Mulattoes were designated with the letter 'M'.) The oldest of these people was a fifty year old man; the youngest a six month old girl. Half of Nancy's slaves were children under the age of thirteen. One of these children was designated to run errands for Nancy's sister Polly Carter, who lived at Greenfield after leaving her husband about 1838.

Slaves given to Bettie Rawlings

     On November 1, 1860 Nancy's youngest daughter Bettie married Zachary Herndon Rawlings at Greenfield. The day after Christmas that year Nancy gave them a bed and other furniture and two black children, sixteen year old Adaline and fourteen year old David. The ever conscientious Nancy Row noted the valuations of this property given from the estate of her late husband, as required by his will. Again, the intent was to have this on record in order that these amounts could be deducted from Bettie's share of the Row legacy after her mother's death.
     Virginia seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy in April 1861. Nancy's seventeen year old son George returned home to Greenfield from Albemarle County, where he had been attending the Locust Grove Academy for Boys. George enlisted in Company E of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. Nancy selected one of the slaves closest in age to George and provided them with the two best horses at Greenfield. And so young George and his servant rode off to war.
     Except for the not wholly unexpected rout of the Yankees at Manassas, much of 1861 passed without the scale of deprivation and bloodletting that would come in the following years. Most Virginians remained convinced that the independence of the Confederate States would not be successfully challenged by the North.
      Change in the Row's world would come early and often beginning in 1862. Forty seven year old James H. Brock, the overseer at Greenfield since 1849, resigned his position in March 1862 and was replaced by John W. Hopkins. I do not know why Brock would have left at such a crucial time. He had been both a friend and employee of the Rows and lived at Greenfield. Did he see the handwriting on the wall? Was there a change in the attitude of the slaves that made him uncomfortable? Regardless, it is likely what happened next would have occurred no matter who was overseer at Greenfield.

Runaway slave notice 1862

List of Nancy Row's runaway slaves

     During the summer of 1862 as many as ten thousand slaves escaped their bondage in Spotsylvania and surrounding counties and made their way to Union camps north of the Rappahannock River. Included in this exodus were twenty slaves belonging to Nancy Row. These were primarily the Upsher and Taliaferro families [A personal note here. Among my classmates at Spotsylvania High School were the Upshurs and the Tollivers, a variant of Taliaferro. We sat in class together with no idea of our shared past]. Thornton, who had been hired out to Mr. Landrum in 1859, also made good his escape.

Notice to Judicial Officers

From Nancy Row's 1863 affidavit

Transcription of Nancy Row's affidavit

Transcription of Nancy Row's affidavit

Transcription of Nancy Row's affidavit

     The sudden disappearance of most of her slaves was a devastating economic blow to my great great grandmother. The value of the slaves comprised over half of the net worth of her late husband's estate. In October 1861 acting Secretary of State for the Confederacy, William Browne, issued a "Notice to Judicial Officers." In this document he provided guidelines to be followed by officers of the court in taking affidavits from slave owners who had lost their property by action of the enemy, meaning the Union army. These former owners hoped to thereby lay the groundwork to someday get compensation for their loss.
     By the autumn of 1862 Nancy's son in law, Zachary H. Rawlings, had mustered out of Company A, Thirtieth Virginia Infantry due to illness or wounds. He assisted Nancy in the preparation of an affidavit which detailed her economic loss. Acting as her attorney, Zachary filed this affidavit with the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg on January 22, 1863. The list of runaways in this document submitted to the court contains the name of fifteen individuals, whereas the notice written in the hand of Nancy Row showed twenty. This leads me to believe that five of those slaves returned to Greenfield. Whether they did so voluntarily or not I cannot say with certainty. One of those who returned was William Upsher, whose name appears in family letters later in the war. The valuations of the slaves in the affidavit reflect the inflation of Confederate currency. Former overseers James H. Brock and John W. Hopkins attested to Nancy's legal ownership of the slaves mentioned and the validity of the values assigned to them. For Nancy Row and the thousands of other Southerners who filed similar petitions this was an exercise in futility. No compensation would be forthcoming. Nancy's affidavit ends abruptly, which tells me that at least one page is missing from the archive.

Greenfield slaves hired in 1863

     After the loss of most of Nancy Row's slaves, agricultural work at Greenfield came to a virtual halt. The handful that remained with her would be used for other duties or would be hired out to others. In the passage from one of Greenfield's ledgers shown above, we see the entry: "Limus commenced working at Kube's [Bernhard Kube was a neighbor of the Rows] Dec 17 1863 finished Dec 23 63." Just beneath that is the entry: "Nancy Row Dr Jas. Rawlings [father of Zachary H. Rawlings] for 1 hand at work 6 days." And beneath that is an entry not about the slaves but interesting to me for another reason. "Col. E. Row [younger brother of Absalom and former sheriff of Orange County] Dec 22 to 1 hind quarter beef bought weight (80 lb) at 50 cts $40. Rec'd payment Nancy Row. By son." This last entry is significant because in December 1863 Nancy's son George Row was listed as absent without leave from the 6th Cavalry, for which he would be court martialed  and reduced in rank. He had come home to help his mother and sister.

Detail of 1863 map of Spotsylvania

     On May 2, 1863 twenty six thousand Confederate soldiers commanded by Stonewall Jackson made their way through Greenfield plantation in their famous flank march that culminated in the destruction of the right wing of the Union army during the battle of Chancellorsville. These soldiers in gray came through the family farm on what is now Jackson Trail West. In the 1863 map shown above, Greenfield can be seen in the lower center of the image and is indicated as "Mrs. Rowe." While the outcome of the battle was favorable to the southern cause, having the war come literally to their doorstep was an unnerving experience for the Rows. In early 1864 their unease only increased as the Union army massed just north of the Rapidan River for another thrust into Spotsylvania County. Zachary Rawlings' younger brother Benjamin, captain of Company D of the Thirtieth Virginia Infantry, had been captured during the Mine Run campaign in November 1863. He would spend almost a year in a series of Federal prisons before being exchanged and rejoining his regiment. While a prisoner at Point Lookout, Maryland Benjamin wrote a letter to his mother dated March 1, 1864. In it he somberly warned her: "You should be careful not to allow yourselves to become in contact with the Yankee army on its next advance. Save what you can. Fall back with the negroes" [Byrd Tribble, Benjamin Cason Rawlings: First Virginian for the South, p.90. Butternut and Blue, 1995].
     Whether or not the Rows and Rawlings required this extra bit of encouragement to leave Spotsylvania is not known. We do know, however, that before the battle of the Wilderness commenced in May 1864 Greenfield was abandoned. Nancy, her unmarried daughter Nannie, Bettie and Zachary Rawlings and their daughter Estelle and Zachary's parents James and Anna Rawlings packed up what belongings they could into carts and fled to the crossroads village of Hadensville in Goochland County. Here they would spend much of their time in comparative safety for the duration of the war. 

George Row to Nannie January 1865

     On January 29, 1865 my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, wrote a letter to his sister Nannie in Hadensville. He describes the pitiable condition of the men and horses of his regiment after Rosser's raid on Beverly, West Virginia. George had just rejoined his company after staying several days in Spotsylvania. While there he hired out Limus to a Mr. Childs, who apparently had rented Greenfield in the absence of the Rows.

Martha Williams to Nancy and Nannie Row 1865

     In the last year of the Civil War a routine emerged whereby Nancy Row and her extended family were able to sustain themselves. Utilizing the few slaves remaining to them, the Rows were able to move goods among three locations as they were needed--Greenfield, Hadensville and Richmond, home of her daughter and son in law Martha and James T. Williams. James was a partner in the auction house and wholesale grocery concern of Tardy & Williams located at 13th and Cary Streets. Items he obtained through the blockade that were sold through his business--cotton, wool, saltpeter and Jamaica ginger, for example--as well as Richmond newspapers would be sent to Hadensville or Greenfield. Nancy Row would dye the wool and make it into uniform trousers for her son George. Whatever foodstuffs from Greenfield could be shared with relatives were put on carts and driven by a slave to one of the other locations. In a letter dated March 6, 1865 Martha Williams wrote to her mother and sister: "I hired William out at 30 dollars in April and 40 dollars a month til about the middle or first of October when all the men were sent to the trenches. After that we had him here a month making shoes and at the same hire..."

Nannie Row to her mother March 1865

     Shortly after Martha wrote her letter, Nannie wrote to her mother from Greenfield: "William arrived here yesterday morning to breakfast very unexpectedly to us. I read the letter he brought, also the almanac and some cakes and candy Sister sent, the cakes very much broken in William's carpet bag so you will have but poor eating. You will see by Sister's letter that it will not do to send William back to Richmond--although he has a note from the man who hired him last year wishing to hire him again, he will go in the reserve force and William will be left idle to get into all sorts of mischief and land in the fortifications." At the end of the letter Nannie writes that she has a possible solution to keep William employed. "Dr. James said there is a man in his neighborhood who might hire William, but he did not say what his name was as the Dr. offered to serve us in any way. I think you had better write him a note and sent William over there, he lives in the bend of the river near Loch Lomond post office." This letter was taken to Nancy Row by William in one of his last duties as an enslaved man. In less than a month the war, and the institution of slavery, would be history.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Slavery and Absalom Row

Absalom Row

     Like his father, Thomas Row of Orange County, my great great grandfather Absalom was an active, community-minded man of many dimensions. While still living on his father's farm as a young man Absalom already enjoyed a reputation as a farmer, road builder and gold miner. After he bought Greenfield plantation, the farm of his late father in law Richard Estes, Absalom lost little time establishing his presence in the public life of Spotsylvania County. From the 1830s until his death in 1855 Absalom served at various times as justice of the peace, school commissioner and overseer of the poor. The archives contain many documents bearing his signature as he performed his official duties.

Greenfield Plantation

     Of course, Absalom Row had many other responsibilities as well. He owned a profitable 889 acre farm, which included a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop, shoe shop and a weaving house. He was an active gold miner, both in his own right and as a contractor for the White Hall mining enterprise. Gold found in Panther Run at Greenfield was fashioned into wedding rings for the first wedding of his son George.
     The records show also that Absalom Row was a devoted and caring husband and father. He hired at least one tutor for his daughters in the early 1840s and his will made provision for the further education of his daughter Bettie and son George. He had sufficient confidence in his wife Nancy to name her as the executrix of his will.
     And he owned slaves.
     Absalom Row grew up on Row Farm in Orange County, Virginia. He was born into a household staffed by black slaves. The presence of these people, and their status as property, would have been among the earliest memories of Absalom. There is no written record of Absalom's thoughts on slavery, but I cannot help but believe that he thought the institution was part of the natural order of things, one of the difficult realities attendant to managing a large farm in the first half of the nineteenth century.

1820 Federal census for Orange County

     The 1820 census shows that twenty four year old Absalom Row owned thirty five slaves in Orange County. At this time he most likely lived in the house built in 1810 on a tract of the Row Farm across the road from his father's house. The same census shows that Thomas Row himself owned twenty slaves that year. Since the census credits Absalom with owning slaves in his own right, it is not unreasonable to think that they were used for Absalom's own enterprises, including gold mining. The Rows were involved in the gold mining operations on the nearby Grasty property.
     The year 1820 was also significant to Absalom in a highly personal way. An older brother, Carlton, lived with his wife Lucy on a plantation in (I believe) King George County. They had married in 1818 and their daughter Rachel was born the next year. The undocumented story that has been handed down to the present day says that Carlton whipped one of his slaves, or perhaps had the overseer do it for him. The slave thus abused conspired with the kitchen help to exact his revenge. On March 6, 1820 poison (some say ground glass) was put into the food of Carlton and Lucy Row, killing them. The infant Rachel was spared. She was brought to her grandfather Thomas' house in Orange and would in large part be raised there.
     From this distance it is nearly impossible to speculate on the effect this event had on Absalom and the rest of the family, apart from the shock and grief it must have caused. Did it harden his heart toward all slaves? Did he sleep with one eye open for the rest of his life? Did he institute harsh measures among his own slaves to mitigate the possibility of an uprising? There is nothing in the record known to us that speaks to any of this. What is known, however, is that Absalom never manumitted his slaves and gave no hint that he considered them as anything but his rightful property.

Virginia Herald 10 June 1829

     On the 26th of May 1829 Chandler escaped from the Row Farm in Orange. He left behind his wife and was thought to be "lurking about Fredericksburg." In this notice published in the Virginia Herald Absalom speculates that Chandler may try to make his way to Ohio, and he requests that this piece be reprinted in Winchester in case Chandler sought freedom by traveling through the Shenandoah Valley. It is unknown whether slave catchers apprehended him, but I have always hoped that Chandler made good his escape.

1830 bill of sale to Absalom Row

     By 1830 Absalom and Nancy Row and their daughter Martha were living in Spotsylvania County. The census for that year shows that they owned four slaves in their own right. I am not sure of this, but it seems to me likely that the Rows were living with Nancy's father Richard Estes at Greenfield. In any event, Absalom was living in Spotsylvania when he bought Lizzy for two hundred dollars on January 12, 1830. The seller was a Richard Adams of Henrico County. Whether this was done as a private transaction or was part of a public auction I cannot say. Lizzy would have been among the four slaves shown belonging to Absalom in the census of that year.

Slave patrol in action

     Slave patrols were legally sanctioned groups of white men, drawn from the ranks of the local militia, whose job it was to monitor the movements and activities of slaves. They "apprehended runaways, monitored the rigid pass requirements for blacks traversing the countryside, broke up large gatherings and assemblies of blacks, visited and searched slave quarters randomly, inflicted impromptu punishments and as occasion arose suppressed insurrections" [Sally E. Haddon, Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, 2001]. One of Absalom Row's official duties was to appoint men to serve in these patrols and approve their pay. Two of these documents are shown below. The one dated 1855 includes the name of James Brock, who was overseer at Greenfield 1849-1862.

1845 slave patrol

1855 slave patrol

     Absalom Row made his will on January 15, 1847. In it he names his wife Nancy as executrix. The first two pages of his will are shown below. In item four he empowers Nancy to give to any of his children who marry any property she chooses so long as a proper valuation is made: "...according to this rule (viz) a negro man five hundred dollars, woman four hundred dollars and children in proportion to be valued by any of my old friends in the neighborhood."
     Item five also deals specifically with the slaves: "Should any of my negroes become unruly it is my wish that my executrix hereinafter named may use her discretion and either sell or hire them out as she thinks will most advance the interest of the children."

Will of Absalom Row, page 1

Will of Absalom Row, page 2

Inventory and appraisement, page 1

Inventory and appraisement, page 2

     After Absalom's death an inventory and appraisement was made of his estate by his friends and neighbors Richard Pulliam, William Fife, William Stephens, Joseph Trigg and Leroy Dobyns. This comprehensive listing of all his earthly possessions, both real and personal, included livestock, farm equipment, household furnishings, two bee hives, a galvanic battery, 889 acres of land and cash and bonds. And twenty five slaves. In aggregate these slaves were appraised at $14,375 and accounted for 56% of the personal wealth of Absalom Row. Even if he had ever considered freeing his slaves (and there is no evidence that he ever contemplated doing so) such an act would have gone a long way toward impoverishing his family. For that to happen would take an act of war.

Slaves of Absalom Row

Monday, September 5, 2011

Greenfield and the Peculiar Institution

Greenfield Plantation

     For one hundred ten years Greenfield plantation was the home of the Estes and Row families in Spotsylvania. Richard Estes bought Greenfield from Edward Herndon in 1795. Richard's daughter Nancy Estes married a son of Thomas Row of Orange County, Absalom, in 1825. By then the Esteses and Rows had been slave owners for generations. By the mid nineteenth century slavery as a social institution was so deeply woven into the warp and woof of southern life that its abolition was unthinkable. The financial well being of thousands of white owners was directly tied to their inventories of these enslaved blacks and the business of buying and selling them.
     So did this mean that all my ancestors were evil brutes unworthy of our study? Or were they born into a system not of their creation and had no reason to doubt the existence of slavery as an economic necessity? And if those four million illiterate black slaves were suddenly freed, what then? Where would they go, what would they do? I am in no way qualified to offer an opinion on the mindset of my ancestors regarding this issue. All I can do is present the evidence contained within the family's archives and let history be the judge. For the next several posts in this space I will be doing just that.
     Naturally, I would prefer to think that my forebears were not gratuitously cruel taskmasters who enjoyed inflicting an added layer of misery on their servants. But for one example, which I will discuss below, there is nothing in the record to suggest that they were like that. Likewise, there is also nothing to show that they at any time doubted the validity of their property rights regarding their slaves. In this they had the full backing of the Congress and the Supreme Court. That said, there is no getting around the fact that human slavery was a hard business and it required a hard hand to administer it and to make it economically viable. For the owners, there was the added dimension of their physical safety to be considered. 
     Five years before the savagery of the Nat Turner rebellion shocked slave owners in Virginia and beyond, the Row family experienced firsthand how quickly the tables could be turned. Carlton Row, a son of Thomas Row, married Lucy Hardia in 1818. They had a plantation in King George and their daughter Rachel was born there the following year. For some transgression or other Carlton had one of his slaves whipped (or possibly he applied the lash himself). Revenge would not be long in coming. On March 6, 1820 Carlton and Lucy died after eating dinner. The deed was accomplished by the simple expedient of adding poison (some say ground glass) to their food. What became of the slaves involved is unknown, but we can guess. Little Rachel was spared. She went to live with her grandfather Thomas Row in Orange and spent the remainder of her childhood there and with her uncle Absalom at Greenfield.
     What was life like for the slaves at Greenfield during the lifetime of Richard Estes? Was he an unfeeling beast without a shred of compassion for his servants? Was he a simple country farmer that did his best to mitigate the effects of the harsh reality he and the slaves were born into?
     One perspective can be found in the book about the history of the Rows written by my cousin Marie Clark in 1985. This point of view was commonly held in years past and I can remember without difficulty being taught at home and school that the slaves were happy with their lot.

Excerpt from Marie Clark's book

Whether or not this was true is impossible to say. What I do know is that when the slaves of Greenfield had the opportunity to escape their bondage, they did so without hesitation.
     The documents below help to illustrate one of the most dreadful aspects of the lives of the slaves. I refer, of course, to the break up of families occasioned by slave auctions. This is a chapter in Greenfield's history that I wish had not been written. But we, the descendants of these slave owners, now long dead, must not avert our gaze.

From Spotsylvania census 1830

From Spotsylvania census 1830

     The Federal census taken in 1830 shows that Greenfield was then populated by twenty nine souls. Twenty five of these were black slaves. Then there was 72 year old Richard Estes. There were also a man, woman and child of whose identities I cannot be certain but suspect were the family of the overseer. That same year it is apparent that Richard decided that twenty five slaves were now too many, for he posted in the Virginia Herald this notice:

Virginia Herald 6 December 1830

     The weather must have proven favorable, for Richard Estes sold about eleven human beings that day. How well he made out on his stock sale is not known. My guess of eleven slaves sold from Greenfield that day is based on the inventory and appraisement of Richard Estes' estate made after his death in August 1832. Two pages from his estate papers are shown here. Page 3 lists the fourteen blacks that remained at Greenfield after the sale two years prior.

Inventory of Richard Estes' estate, page 1

Inventory of Richard Estes' estate, page 3

     These people had names. Let us remember them here. Cupid, Bristoe, Sanco, Charles, Sam, Frederick, James, Walker, Polly and two children, Siller, Tom and Jane. Their availability was made known in another notice published in the Virginia Herald, which advertised a sale scheduled for November 2, 1832. Richard Estes' son in law, Absalom Row (my great great grandfather) had purchased Greenfield at the estate sale held on September 26. The fate of these fourteen people is not clear from Richard Estes' estate papers. Perhaps they all remained at Greenfield. Perhaps they were sold piecemeal at the auction.

Virginia Herald 26 September 1832

     These fourteen were but a handful of the countless enslaved blacks who worked for the Row and Estes families from the late 1600s until the end of the Civil War. These men and women (and, yes, children) toiled ceaselessly from sunrise to sunset, six days a week. They worked the fields, drove the teams, ginned the cotton, repaired the fences. They milked the cows, butchered the hogs, groomed the horses. They chopped the wood, kept the fires going, cooked the meals, wove the blankets and clothing. The horizons of their remembered pasts and imagined futures could not have been more than just an endless number of todays. They worked day after day, year after year. Like a changeless tide, generations of these people rose and ebbed with the passing of time.

And from the shadows, their eyes implore us.

Slave cemetery at Greenfield. Photo by John Cummings

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thomas Row

Detail of Orange County, Virginia c. 1863

     In 1621 the Elizabeth slipped her moorings and turned west to the New World, leaving England behind. Among its passengers on this voyage was a "person of quality," thirty two year old Nicholas Rowe. Nicholas came from the village of Lamerton in Devon. On April 1, 1620 Thomas Astley paid for his passage to the still new colony of Virginia. Nicholas was accompanied by his wife, Ann Lacy, when they arrived in America.
     A census taken February 14, 1623 showed that Nicholas and Ann lived at Buckroe, near modern Hampton, Virginia. This land was part of the vast holdings of the Virginia Company, which had organized the Jamestown expedition in 1607. In 1625 the Rowes had established a household with John Haney and his wife as well as two indentured servants. Rowe and Haney owned a palisaded dwelling and three storehouses and were well provisioned with food and weapons.
     The next four generations of Rowes were born in Abingdon Parish in Gloucester County. During his lifetime William Rowe (1722-1755), the great great grandson of Nicholas, moved to Saint Stephen's Parish in King and Queen County. William and his wife Mildred Carlton brought with them from Gloucester their five children. The youngest of these was Thomas, born March 7, 1754.
     Thomas married Rachel Keeling (1754-about 1829) in 1774. The first of their thirteen children, William, was born the following year. Whatever plans Thomas and Rachel Row may have had at this point were put on hold as Virginia joined the rebellion against British rule.

Muster roll from the 5th Virginia Regiment dated 1 September 1777

     On February 23, 1776 Thomas Row enlisted in Captain Thomas Gaskins' Company of the Fifth Virginia Regiment of Foot. Spelling conventions of the eighteenth century were a relaxed affair. Thomas spelled his name Row or Rowe, although he came to prefer the version without the 'e'. To complicate matters further, the company scribe spelled Thomas' last name 'Wroe' on the company muster rolls. During the two years he served in the Fifth Regiment, Private Row drew a pay of 6 2/3 dollars per month. Thomas was apparently granted leave during the Christmas holidays of 1776, as his son Edmund was born nine months later in October 1777. Thomas did not re-enlist when his time was up and he was mustered out of the army on March 5, 1778.
     In 1779 Thomas began buying land in Orange County and moved his family there that same year. Over the next fifty years Thomas bought more than 400 acres on both sides of Mine Run and on both sides of modern Route 20, the Constitution Highway. In the Civil War era map at the top of this page the Rowe property is clearly shown at the right center of the image, indicating where three Rowe descendants were living at the time. Thomas' farm and grist mill were located, I believe, on the north side of the road. The road sign below is located on the south side of Route 20.

Row's Mill Road at Route 20

Mine Run, possible site of Thomas Row's mill

     During the sixty one years he lived in Orange Thomas Row was a man of many dimensions and was well respected by the community. He was, of course, a farmer, grist mill operator and slave owner. At various times over the years Thomas served as High Sheriff, justice of the peace, magistrate and school commissioner. He was serving as High Sheriff when he died at the age of eighty six. Thomas' two youngest sons, Elhanon and Absalom, emulated his example of public service.
     Rachel Row died sometime before early 1829. By then seventy five year old Thomas was preparing to marry a second time. The object of his affection was the widow Sarah Shadrick (also spelled Shadrach, Shadrack), twenty years his junior. She was a daughter of Reverend Nathaniel Sanders, Baptist minister of the old St. Thomas Parish. On January 29, 1829 Thomas and Sarah signed a prenuptial agreement. Since each of them brought considerable wealth to their marriage they wisely decided that they would leave their respective estates to their blood relatives. Sarah and Thomas were married on March 3, 1829.
     Ten years later Thomas wrote his will on December 14, 1839:

Will of Thomas Row

Will of Thomas Row

Will of Thomas Row

     Thomas Row died on March 23, 1840. Sarah left the Row farm and moved in with her daughter Frances and son in law John Tinder.
     On February 3, 1853 Congress enacted legislation allowing all widows of Revolutionary War veterans, regardless of the date of marriage, to apply to the Bureau of Pensions for widow's benefits. Sarah Row, by now seventy eight years old, hired the Washington law firm of Lloyd & Co. to assist her in preparing her application, dated May 21, 1853.
Page one of Sarah Row's application

     As seen from this first page of the application they prepared for Sarah Row, Lloyd & Co. did not perform well for their client. All the pages that followed were as illegible as this one. Sarah's claim was further hindered by the fact that no record could be found proving that Thomas Row(e) had served in the Continental Army. There was no way any of the parties involved could have known that seventy five years earlier the company scribe had spelled Thomas' last name 'Wroe.'

Reply of Bureau of Pensions 7 October 1853

     In its reply to Lloyd & Co., the Bureau wrote: "Upon diligent search the name of Thomas Rowe does not appear on any of the pension rolls of Virginia on file in this office." They then proceeded to rebuke the quality of the lawyer's handiwork: "Were there such a pensioner so found, however, the papers filed are not in a condition that would justify the allowance of the present claim. They are defective in form and substance and illegible from the frequent erasures and interlineations..." Sarah Row's claim was "suspended."