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Sunday, December 23, 2012

"It sure looks like starvation"

Nan Row

     Kate Kale was born in Fredericksburg in April 1830. She was the seventh of eight children born to Anthony Kale, a Swiss-born candy maker and grocer, and Catherine Estes, a daughter of my third great grandfather Richard Estes of Greenfield in Spotsylvania (for the truly curious, my post on the Kale family can be read here). Just prior to the Civil War Kate was living in Fredericksburg with her sister Mary. Kate never married. In her later years she lived in Stafford with her sister Mary's family. Like all the Kales, Kate was well to do. She inherited her father's properties on Princess Anne and Caroline Streets in town. After her death in 1904 these properties were sold at public auction, including 706 Caroline Street, today home of the Fredericksburg Visitor Center. (All images in my blogs are clickable for larger viewing).

Southwestern Spotsylvania in 1863
     During the summer of 1864 Kate was staying at Walnut Grove, the stately home of her uncle Jonathan "Nathan" Johnson. Southwestern Spotsylvania had thus far escaped most of the war's violence and destruction, being somewhat removed from the battlefields of Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. This interlude of relative tranquility ended when elements of Sheridan's cavalry invaded Spotsylvania from the south, briefly making camp at Walnut Grove. Afterwards Kate wrote a letter to her cousin Nan Row-my great grand aunt-describing in vivid detail what she had experienced during the brief occupation of her uncle's home. At that time Nan Row and other family members were living as refugees in Hadensville in Goochland County.

Roger Mansfield to Mabel Wakeman, August 1961

     Kate's letter to Nan remained in the possession of my family for ninety seven years. During the 1950s and 1960s Spotsylvania historian Roger Mansfield and my great aunt Mabel Row Wakeman exchanged many letters regarding their shared ancestry and his interest in Greenfield, the home of the Estes and Row families from 1795-1905. In 1961 Mabel gave to Roger the original of Kate's letter to Nan. Roger acknowledged this gift and thanked Mabel for the letter in his note to her. The original letter, or a photocopy of it, supposedly exists in the archive Roger Mansfield donated to the Virginia Historical Society, but I was unable to find it when I visited there several years ago. Fortunately the current owners of Walnut Grove have a copy of Roger's transcription, which they generously shared with me. Today I am presenting the text of Kate Kale's letter in its entirety, followed by my notes.

Sarah Estes Johnson (Courtesy of Kerry Sears)

                                                                                                               Walnut Grove
                                                                                                                July 13th, 1864

Dear Nan, 

      Supposing that you would like to hear how we fared at the hands of the hirelings of the best government in the world, I will try to give some of the particulars though it now seems more like the impressions of a bad dream than a reality.
     On the morning of the 10th, we heard that Mr. Boggs' [1] man came up to Mr. Sorrells with the news that the Yankees were at Waller's Tavern on their way up. So Uncle Nathan [2] rode down to hear the truth of it, and he soon came back and sent off the horses by John [3] and Jack [3], and the mules by Paul [3] and secured a few valuables about the house, but did not feel that they were coming. In a few minutes and in dashes too--they wanted meal--we had very little. They took that, inquired about corn and bacon but did not take any--seemed to be in great haste--said that the column was going up by Twyman's [4]. I thought then that they were pickets and had stole in to get something to eat as they did before and no more would come--vain delusion. In the least while the meat house was cleaned out--the first party took all but three pieces, the next ones took that--the corn was taken in a twinkling of an eye.
     The next news was John. Jack and the horses were all gone. Up to that time the cellar only had been searched, but in a short time a number of men came and told Uncle Nathan that one of his boys told them that there was corn and meat upstairs in the house. Before that, while they were in the cellar, I believed that they would go up stairs before they were done with it, so I hid nine pieces of bacon under three beds and as good luck would have it, they did not turn those three beds up, but they did the two over the parlor. Well, upstairs they went, and down came the corn and bacon. They found about a hundred lbs. of sugar in the closet and that saved the bacon, I reckon. They took all the sugar. Uncle Nathan was with them, and I was with another set over the sitting room. They wanted clothing, they said. I told them I had nothing but my own. I opened one drawer and they were satisfied--did not put their hands in. Two slipped in our room and broke open my trunk and Miss Jones's chest. I saw him just as he had opened my trunk and told him there was nothing in there that belonged to him, to come out, and he dropped the top and came out. In a little while I saw another one there. I ordered him out in the same way, and he walked out. Did not know until afterwards that they had gone in Miss Jones's chest. She had $7 in gold, her best pin and her bonds laying on the top ready to take out whenever the Yankees came, and she forgot it entirely. They got it slick enough. I did not dream of her having anything valuable in there. A Yankee wanted to break open her trunk in the room where I was, and I told him that I knew there was nothing in there but her clothes, and he left it. 
     Sunday, after they were here Friday, we heard that the infantry were coming, so we took nearly all the bacon that was saved in the house and flour and corn, and sat it out, and nearly everything was found by them--not the infantry, but the same party that went up Friday. You can imagine my feelings better than I can describe them when I saw a body of men ride in and take up camp. They had the house guarded, but we did not know it until later in the day. If we had, it would have saved a great deal of uneasiness, but they went into every hole and corner, and found everything that was above the ground. Uncle Nathan put a great many things at the old barn, in a mighty good place, as he thought. Amongst them was a book with eight hundred or a thousand dollars in it, and they got that. The State money that he had to pay off his wards was hid out, and he heard them say that they were going to see what was there. He told them they could go and see for themselves, and he walked off feeling miserable enough, and did not know until Tuesday morning that it was all safe. He says that you must write to George [5] to come and get it just as soon as possible. He spent one miserable day and night about it. He also says that you all must come over to see us. I did want to go over to see you this summer, but the jig is up now. 
     Uncle Nathan has bought one horse for himself and one for Aunt S [6]. The Yankees took two from her, and some milk and butter--only a few went there. They took some corn from Tod and a mule from John and some clothing. That Perry, a deserter, I reckon you have heard of him, last week he stole some of Aunt S's wheat out of the field. Buck and one of the Pendleton boys were tracking it and came right upon them in the woods beating it on a sheet--two men and a woman--they ran. Buck stayed and Pendleton went out and sent the Negroes with the cart and took the wheat home. The Saturday afterwards they set her fence afire. That is they do not know who did it but they could not help thinking that it was them, and burnt 71 panels. Uncle Nathan and I were down there Sunday. I feel very sorry for her. One of her sheep was stolen not long since and two from John Johnson [7] and some of Tod's wheat has been taken. Those two men went to Aunt S's and passed themselves as Yankees, and searched her house all over looking for brandy, one stayed out to watch while the other one was searching. He took a love ring and a little breast pin out of Nannie's [8] trunk. Dina was in there with her, he shut the door and told her if she did no tell him where the brandy was he would kill her. Aunt S got an axe that was in the house and told him to open the door or she would split it down and he opened it. Buck was off with the horses and the Yankees had broken the guns before, but no Yankees were out that night. What a pity it was that he had not been shot. What a life to live. The Conscript officers are after them but I am afraid that they will not get them. They took John Dobyns [9] last Sunday. The Yankees took every thing Mr. Dobyns [10] had to eat, killed his cattle and sheep. I heard that the girls drove 10 of the sheep to the house and saved them. They took both of his carriages and one Negro man went with them. They took everything from Mr. Kube [11] that he had to eat and his clothes and some of hers, so I hear. I could not hear the particulars from Mrs. Todd [12] but expect that they took what she had. Neither could I hear the particulars from Greenfield, but expect--all fared alike. I did not  hear of any of Mr. Kube's Negroes going off. Oh, I forgot to tell that Walker [3] went off bag and baggage after the Yankees had stolen the hat off his head the first day. He had been in the cabin at least two months blind and seemed to be distressed that he could not be in the cornfield and talked to his master about it and Uncle Nathan told him that if he did go blind entirely that he would take care of him as long as he had anything about him to do it. I never thought of his going. In fact when the Yankees came I never thought of the Negroes once not even of Jack until he was gone, only I said to Uncle Nathan he could not have sent a worse hand with the horses. I was sorry than John went but I don't care a thing for Jack. 
     When they came back Jack took his wife off in Ben Graves's [13] buggy. I heard--indeed saw-- her with a Yankee in the buggy and Jack riding a horse. An officer was on Uncle Nathan's gray horse. The Yankees did not get the mules until Tuesday morning. Paul was with the Chewnings and some others and one Yankee frightened all off. He only took the mules. The others went back and got the horses where they left them. They killed 25 of Uncle Nathan's sheep but did not take any of his cattle. Thirteen of Miss Polly T's Negroes went off and every one of Mr. Dickenson's started. Three men and two little children that had no mother came back. He had a great deal of corn and bacon and lost all--he was so selfish with it that people do not feel as sorry for him as they would have done if he had been willing to share with others that had none before. 
     I received a letter from John [14] written the 25 of May and sent by one of his old company he was well. He and R. [15] are both in the same co[mpany]. John is in the commissary department. He says that the State is full of refugees and everything high. Sugar is not to be had at any price. I haven't heard from Mary [16] or Julia [17] for a long time. Jane [18] got better and has relapsed. She is well now and working out. Says she can't stand the fire and can't draw the water. She has been out two or three weeks. I would think she could stand the fire as well as the sun, especially as we have so little to cook, but she ain't going to trust herself anywhere. I believe if the Yanks come again, that there won't any be left, and it seems to be the impression of everybody. A Yankee struck my Jane and she struck him back with some onions that she had. He said he did it because she would not open the cellar door--cussed her and told her she was the very Devil. They did not curse me nor say anything to make me mad though I spoke to them briefly and indignantly but I certainly dread their coming again. They did great worse some places than they did here. I saw one that pretended to sympathize that they had taken everything we had to eat, but the sweetest morsel was still left and they could never take, and that was faith in our cause and General Lee. I did not lose anything here but my knife, scissors, needles and comb and towel. I bought a box of tobacco $9--they got that at Joe Johnson's [19].
     You must write soon. I hope you are getting along very well. Everything is burnt up, and if it does not rain in a few days there will not be any corn made, and the horses and cows will starve as well as the people. Jane lost her baby about two weeks ago. It seemed to decline after she got sick and seemed to have the croup when she died. She sends love to Kitty and Dorky and the children and love to Chris. All are well as usual. 
     We saved 2 1/2 [bushels] of corn and flour and bacon. Uncle Nathan will make only 80 bu. of wheat--is getting ready to thresh it out now. Very few in the neighborhood has any wheat. It sure looks like starvation but I hope the Lord will provide. Have you heard from cousin Rachel [20]? I wrote to her for the receipt. She sent it and said that the Yankees had not injured her so far, but I don't reckon she can say that now, but I hope she may have escaped. How is Martha [21] getting along. I reckon it is very agreeable in R[ichmond] this summer. All join me in love, hope Aunt Nancy [22] has her health. Tell her she and you must pick up and come over to see us. It is well for her so far that she is is over there. I hope the Yankees may not get there. With love to all,
                                                                                                Your Cousin, 

I hope you may be able to read this scrawl.
Mr. Pool lost every Negro and everything else he had.

[1] Lewis Boggs (1811-1880), neighbor of Jonathan Johnson who lived near Waller's Tavern.

[2] Jonathan Johnson (1803-1873), owner of Walnut Grove.

[3] Slave of Jonathan Johnson.

[4] General store and post office near Walnut Grove.

[5] George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883), nephew of Jonathan Johnson and my great grandfather. Johnson acted as George's guardian, representing his interest in the estate of Richard Estes of Missouri, who left $566 to George.

[6] Sarah Estes Johnson (1804-1869), widow of Jonathan's brother Marshall Johnson.

[7] Probably John Castle Johnson (1828-1886), a son of Jonathan's brother Aquilla Johnson.

[8] Sarah Ann "Nannie" Johnson (1844-1907), a daughter of Sarah and Marshall Johnson. Sarah married Robert Henry Jerrell in 1865. They were the grandparents of Roger Mansfield.

[9] John H. Dobyns (1840-1905), a nephew of Leroy W. Dobyns. Deserted from the 55th Virginia Infantry in 1863. Seized by conscription officers and imprisoned at Castle Thunder in Richmond. Pardoned by Jefferson Davis in 1864 when he joined Winder's Legion. Married Jane Kent, an aunt of my grandmother, in 1890.  Jane had her own heart stopping encounter with marauding Yankees, which can be read here.

[10] Leroy W. Dobyns (1811-1871), owner of Oakley plantation. His daughter Maria also wrote a letter to Nan Row, describing the depredations of Union soldiers at Oakley during the battle of the Wilderness, which can be read here.

[11] Bernhard Kube , a German immigrant who was a friend and neighbor of the Rows. He traveled extensively around the country as a gold miner before the war. Brought home a parrot from one of these trips and gave it as a gift to Nan Row.

[12] Caroline Matilda Todd (1804-1885), widow of Charles M. Todd (1797-c.1850), who owned Todd's Tavern.

[13] Benjamin F. Graves, a neighbor of Jonathan Johnson.

[14] John Peter Kale (1824-1886), brother of Kate who moved to Texas in the 1840s and was an early settler in the town of Livingston. John served in the 5th Texas Infantry, Hood's Division, before being wounded at the battle of Second Manassas.

[15] Richard Estes Kale (1821-1872), brother of Kate who moved to Denton, Texas before the war. Richard served for a time in the 15th Texas Cavalry.

[16] Mary Kale Harding (1826-1898), sister of Kate. Married Enoch Harding of Stafford in 1861 and lived near Tackett's Mill.

[17] Julia Kale Alexander  (1833-1887), sister of Kate. Married in 1852 to Robert Brooke Alexander, who published the Democratic Recorder in Fredericksburg.

[18] A slave of Kate Kale.

[19] Joseph Watkins Johnson (1836-1887), a son of Sarah and Marshall Johnson. Inherited Walnut Grove after the death of his uncle Jonathan Johnson.

[20] Rachel Row Farish (1819-1892), a cousin of Kate Kale and widow of Charles Tod Farish of Caroline County. Rachel's parents, Carleton and Lucy Row, were murdered by their slaves in 1820. She was then raised by her grandfather Thomas Row in Orange County.

[21] Martha Row Williams (1828-1885), a sister of Nan Row. Martha was married to commission merchant James T. Williams, a partner in Tardy & Williams in Richmond.

[22] Nancy Estes Row (1798-1873), Nan Row's mother, and my great great grandmother.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Walnut Grove

Walnut Grove

     Built in the early 1840s, Walnut Grove remains-like Oakley-one of the few antebellum plantation houses still standing in Spotsylvania. Located on Foremost Run in the southwestern corner of the county, Walnut Grove is an excellent example of the craftsmanship of master builder William A. Jennings. Much of the information included in today's post comes from the current owners of Walnut Grove and their write-up for the National Register of Historic Homes. In the detail of J.F. Gilmer's 1863 map shown below, Walnut Grove is located at the lower left of the image where "N. Johnson" is indicated. All images in my blog are clickable for larger viewing.

Southwestern Spotsylvania, 1863

     Jonathan Johnson (called "Nathan" by his friends and relations) was a son in law of Richard Estes, my third great grandfather. Nathan married Frances Estes about 1820. Coincidentally, his brother Marshall Johnson married Frances' sister Sarah Estes. While Sarah and Marshall successfully raised six children, Nathan and Frances remained childless.
     Nathan Johnson was a man of refined tastes who enjoyed the good life and was able to amass a small fortune during his lifetime. He was well known for raising some of the finest livestock in the region. Nathan was also active in local and state Democratic politics. In 1840 he was appointed commissioner of the Andrew's Tavern voting district. On election days Democrats would assemble at Nathan's house and then march to the polls with fife and drum playing and flags and streamers flying. Nathan Johnson was also appointed a delegate to the gubernatorial convention in Petersburg in 1858.
     For decades Nathan performed many useful legal services for my ancestors. My great great grandfather Absalom Row, owner of two Virginia law books and justice of the peace in Spotsylvania for twenty years, neglected to have his name witnessed on his will. Nathan and Sanford Chancellor testified in court as to the authenticity of that signature after Absalom's death. Nathan Johnson acted as legal guardian for Absalom's son, George W.E. Row, representing his interests in the legacy left to him by Nathan's brother in law Richard Estes, who died in Missouri. And Nathan spent the last ten years of his life toiling away as administrator of the complicated estate of his sister in law Mary Estes Carter, who died at Greenfield in 1863. The image below from the inventory and appraisement of Mary Carter's estate comes from the archives of the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center.

From the estate papers of Mary Estes Carter

     A slave owner and lifelong Democrat, Nathan Johnson was an unambiguous supporter of succession and the southern cause. Most of his nephews saw action in the Confederate army. Like his neighbors Nathan did what he could to help the war effort, selling hay and grain to the quartermaster officers. He also provided the services of his slave, named Major, "as laborer on the public defenses at and near Richmond" as seen on this receipt for $32 from Captain J. B. Stanard, chief engineer for building those fortifications.

Captain Stanard receipt to Jonathan Johnson, 1863

     During the fighting that occurred at nearby Trevilian Station in 1864, elements of Sheridan's cavalry camped at Walnut Grove. As was their standard practice Union soldiers stole food hidden under the beds and confiscated valuables from the house as well as Nathan's prized livestock. These enterprising soldiers in blue also found a book in the barn in which Nathan had hidden $800-1,000.
     A niece of Nathan and Frances, Kate Kale ( about whose family I have previously written), was staying with the Johnsons during this episode. She described this incident in a letter to her first cousin-and my great great aunt-Nan Row. Kate wrote that a Union soldier struck a servant named Jane for refusing to open a cellar door. Jane hit the soldier back with some onions that happened to be handy. Despite all this unpleasantness Walnut Grove survived the war pretty much intact.

From the inventory of Jonathan Johnson's estate

     Unlike many of his neighbors, Nathan Johnson was able to remain a wealthy man until his death in 1873. The inventory and appraisement of his estate shows that he had over $30,000 in cash and coin in the house. He left his $200 gold watch to Kate Kale. The image above is courtesy of the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center.

     During the 1950s and 1960s Spotsylvania historian Roger Mansfield exchanged many letters with my great aunt, Mabel Row Wakeman. They addressed each other as "Cousin" since they had discovered that Roger's great grandmother-Sarah Estes Johnson-was the sister of Mabel's grandmother Nancy Estes Row. Roger took an interest in my family's history and wrote a monograph on Greenfield in 1960. That same year Roger also wrote a piece about what life would have been like at "Walnut Hill" during Christmas time in 1860. So, in the spirit of the holidays I present Roger's semi-fictional account of the Johnsons of Walnut Grove, given to Mabel 52 years ago.



Friday, November 16, 2012

One Daughter, Two Names, One Grave

From the Row family Bible

     This was a mystery that took me two years to unravel.
     When I first saw them, these entries from the old Row family Bible, seen above, certainly seemed straightforward enough. There on the left is my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, marrying his first wife Annie Tutt Daniel of Culpeper at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in October 1867. And there on the right are recorded the births of their two children.
     Absalom Row (1868-1931), called Abbie by his friends and relatives and known as Uncle Ab to my aunts and uncle in the 1920s, was born at Forest Grove (his grandmother's house) in Culpeper. Abbie Row led a fascinating life as a young man and was the last in our family to own old Greenfield when it was sold in 1905. His life was well documented, there are pictures of him, his signature appears on official documents. In short, he was as real as you or I.
     For the longest time, things were not so clear regarding George and Annie Row's daughter Virginia Isabella, born March 4, 1871. Unlike her brother, that is all the family ever knew about her and she seem fated to remain a riddle for all time. Her name is never again mentioned in the family's vast archive that I have been able to uncover thus far. Except for this entry in the Bible, it was as if she never existed.

Forest Grove, the Daniel home in Culpeper

     Annie Tutt Daniel was born at Forest Grove in 1848. Her father, Samuel Alpheus Daniel, was killed during the Seven Days battle in 1862 while serving in Purcell's Battery. Annie's mother was born Sarah Jane Robinson in Orange County in 1829, the daughter of Thomas Robinson, who owned Robinson's Tavern. Sarah's compelling life story can be read here and here. After marrying George Row Annie came to Greenfield to live with him, his mother Nancy Estes Row and unwed sister Nan.
     Eight months after the birth of her daughter Virginia Isabella, Annie Row died of diphtheria at Greenfield. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery there. The aftermath of Annie's death witnessed an extended period of grief and disruption for the Rows of Greenfield. Just days after she died an estate sale was conducted and a great many of the family's possessions were sold off. Nancy Estes Row and her daughter Nan moved to Lynchburg, where they lived for a year or so with George's sister and brother in law, Martha and James Williams. Nan Row took charge of little Abbie and raised him for a time as if he were her own child. For Abbie, she remained a surrogate mother for the rest of her life. George Row began to divide his time between Spotsylvania and Rockbridge, where his other sister Bettie lived with her family. It was during this period that George met Mary Elizabeth Houston, who would become his second wife in 1875.
     But what of Virginia Isabella? She apparently vanished into thin air.
     Until I found this.
     My older cousins told me that Abbie Row's granddaughter, Marie Clark, had written a genealogical history of the Rows of Virginia. It was a self-published monograph and finding it took time and effort. Two years ago I tracked down a copy at the Alexandria Library's history collection and scanned the pages most relevant to my efforts. Marie had spent twenty years researching and writing this book and it is a monumental achievement for someone who was, like me, neither a professional writer nor historian.
     From that book I learned many things, including this enigmatic reference to George and Annie's daughter (all the images in my blogs are clickable for larger viewing):

From Marie Clark's history of the Row family

     Right off the bat I was baffled by this new name. Where did that come from? And I was equally puzzled by Marie's insinuation that George Row was somehow confused about the name of his own daughter.
     And what about the supposed burial of this child at Forest Grove? I could not verify that, either. Marie visited Forest Grove in the 1960s or 1970s, according to her account. In the 1930s the WPA had surveyed a number of cemeteries in Culpeper, including that of the Daniel family at Forest Grove. Several names are listed in their report but--of course--not that of Annie D. Row.
     So, I had a great aunt supposedly born with one name in Spotsylvania and dying with a second name and buried in an undocumented grave in Culpeper. Could Marie Clark have been confused? Was I missing something? Without any further evidence I was forced to set this aside and keep my radar on for further developments.
     About a year later the mystery began to be revealed. began publishing a helpful little thing called "Virginia Deaths and Burials Index, 1853-1917." One day, on a whim, I searched for little Annie D. Row in the index.
     And there she was.
     Annie D. Row, daughter of George and Annie Row, born in Spotsylvania 1871. Died in Culpeper 1872.
     Now I had something. With this information I contacted the current owner of Forest Grove, who is a direct descendant of the Daniel family. I asked him whether this headstone did indeed exist and if so, could he send me a photograph.

Annie D. Row, Forest Grove cemetery

     But what about the name? How did this poor child, who lived just sixteen months, enter this life as Virginia Isabella Row and depart it as Annie Daniel Row?
     This is what I believed happened. We already know that my great grandfather turned his son Abbie over to his sister Nan to raise after his wife died. At the same time Virginia Isabella was taken to Culpeper to live with her grandmother, Sarah Robinson Daniel. Sarah took it upon herself to change the child's name to honor the memory of her daughter Annie.
     Anyway, this is the best I can do for now. These ancestors are no longer in a position to offer us anything more on the subject.
     And may their souls rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The McCoull House

Fred Payne at the McCoull house, early 1900s

     One of the little known treasures in Spotsylvania is the enormous photo archive belonging to my cousin and fellow researcher Donald Colvin and his mother. Many of these pictures can be found online on Donald's website, which I dip into frequently to add to my knowledge of Spotsylvania's history. This week I stumbled upon this previously unseen (unseen by me, that is) photograph of the long vanished house that once was owned by Neil McCoull and was a historic landmark at Bloody Angle on the Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield. A thoughtful and well written history of the post-Civil War fate of  the McCoull house was written last year by John Hennessy, chief historian of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, and can be found here. With the exception of the last two images of today's post, all the photos shown here are from the Colvin Collection.

Thomas Pearson Payne, about 1900

     I was acquainted with some of the details regarding Donald's great grandfather, Thomas Pearson Payne (1852-1934), who owned a farm on Catharpin Road and was active in local Democratic politics and served for years as a Commissioner of Revenue in Spotsylvania.

Thomas P. Payne, second from left in front row

     One of my favorite photographs is the one of him and his brother James taken at Spotsylvania Courthouse, shown below. The Payne brothers used to stage mock boxing exhibitions between court sessions for the entertainment of the crowds who came there for court business.

James and Thomas P. Payne (right)

     Anyway, that much I already knew. What I did not know until yesterday is that Thomas Payne and his family lived for years at the McCoull house. All of the Payne children were born there 1873-1885, including  his oldest son Benjamin Franklin Payne, who married my grandmother's sister Lottie Kent.

Benjamin Franklin Payne

     The photo of the house seen at the beginning of today's blog shows Thomas Payne's son Fred, who with his twin brother Freemond was born at the McCoull place in 1875. Fred and Freemond Payne lived into their nineties and those of us of a certain age, including me, remember them sitting on the porch of their house on Catharpin Road. The picture below shows what Fred looked like about the same time as the picture of him at the house.

Frederick Payne

     In 1866 a brigade of volunteers came to Spotsylvania to disinter the Union dead at Bloody Angle and other Spotsylvania battlefields and remove their remains to the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg. On one of the headboards used to mark the graves, one of those workers wrote the words of the poem, "Bivouac of the Dead," and nailed it to a tree on the McCoull property. On August 25 of that year my great grandfather, George W.E. Row, stood at that tree and took out his little memorandum book (captured by him from a Federal cavalryman during the war) and wrote these words in it:

Bloody Angle, 1866

Memo book of George W.E. Row

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Political Satire, circa 1872

     Ever since I came across this page several years ago from the ledgers of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, I have not been quite sure what to make of it. It is written in the vernacular of a country hick, complete with intentional misspellings (he did not actually write or speak this way. He was, in fact quite articulate). It is the kind of humorous bit you sometimes would see in the pages of the Native Virginian in Orange, but whether George really intended to send it to "Mr. Editor" I cannot say. From this distance I do not know what point he was making, but I do know that there was a Charles Herndon who represented the Spotsylvania area in the House of Delegates in the 1870s.
     So, on the eve of the elections I offer this little bit of satirical whimsy from the pencil of George W.E. Row, followed by my transcription.

To Mr. Editor, by George W.E. Row

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mary Houston

Mary Houston, 1885

 She was a beautiful child.
     Reading and writing about my long departed relatives is often like returning to a story you have read before but you keep going back to it with the illogical hope that perhaps this time the ending might turn out differently. I have wanted that for Mary. Devoted, vivacious, lovely Mary. You deserved to have been spared.
     Mary Alexander Houston was born on December 16, 1882 in Rockbridge County at Red House, the stately home of her mother's people, the Alexanders. Mary was the youngest of four daughters born to Finley and Grace Houston. The year before Mary was born her fifteen month old sister Grace Agnes had died. Finley and his family were living at Red House then.
     In 1885 Finley was named quartermaster at VMI and the Houstons moved to the house provided to them on campus. Mary and her sisters were well educated during these years. They first were taught at a school run by Jenny Letcher, daughter of the former governor of Virginia. Then for a time they attended the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington, where their aunt Lizzie (my great grandmother) went to school in the 1860s. The story goes that Finley became dissatisfied with the principal at Ann Smith and withdrew the girls. They finished up at Lexington High School (Mary's sister Bruce went on to graduate from Longwood College in Farmville).
      Finley and Grace never had any sons, so the Houston girls benefited from their father's supplements to their education. Finley taught the girls how to shoot, fish, ride horses and so on. Mary also became an avid photographer and I am told by her granddaughter that she has glass plate negatives made by Mary. She and her sisters were beautiful girls from a family of some social standing in Lexington, but this did not prevent them from indulging in tomboyish mischief. On one occasion, while visiting at Red House, a plot was hatched to have a little fun that crept beyond the bounds of ladylike decorum. Bruce, Annette and Mary climbed the tree next to the house and crawled through a second story window to the room where their grandmother's trunk was stored. They dressed up in the clothes they found in it, including Mrs. Alexander's wedding dress, and shinnied back down the tree. When discovered by their grandmother, the Houston sisters were astride the fence in her lovely clothes, pretending they were riding horses.

Mary paddling on the North River

Mary, left, with sister Annette

     In 1899 the Houstons moved to "Clifton," the fine old home across the North River from Lexington. The following year Finley resigned as quartermaster at VMI and became president of Gazette Publishing, which put out the Lexington Gazette. One upside of their father's new career was that the social doings of the Houston girls frequently appeared in the society pages of the newspaper.

Mary, sitting at right, with cadets (VMI Archives)

Mary and Annette on the internet, 1899 style

Mary's letter to aunt Lizzie Row, 1902

       In the summer of 1902 Mary wrote an epic fifteen page letter to her aunt Lizzie Row in Spotsylvania. She described in almost cinematic terms the recent wedding of her sister Bruce at Clifton. She also mentioned her visit to Spotsylvania and fretted about Lizzie's health and then made a sassy crack about Dr. W.A. Harris: "You don't know how sorry I am to know you are not well again--I think I'll have to go back out there and punch that doctor's head--he's too good looking anyway and a black eye would be just the thing for the old guy." Mary then goes on to ask about Lizzie's stepson Abbie Row and his family, who were living next to Lizzie at Greenfield, and also about my grandfather Horace and his sister Mabel. All of this is done in a style that crackles with the energy of her personality. When finished she added this note to the head of the letter: "Whew! I pity you the job of reading all this--wouldn't read it myself for five dollars and fifty cents."

Mary Houston, seated at left

Mary Houston, far left

     In September 1905 Mary's other sister Annette married Benjamin Harlow at Clifton. The family assembled on the lawn for the picture below, which Annette sent to my great grandmother. Mary is standing at center behind her parents. To the left are her sister Bruce with husband William Davis. Annette and Ben Harlow are at right.

The Houstons at Clifton, 1905

     Two years later, Mary's mother died. Mary was still unmarried at age twenty five and continued to live with her father at Clifton. She was popular, beautiful and the belle of many social events but seemed in no great hurry to wed. She was devoted to her father and helped him manage Clifton. There was one fellow who was special, however. Americus Frederic White, six years older than Mary, was working his way through Washington and Lee College. He and Mary saw each other frequently. One winter day, when the North River had frozen over, Mary and Fred went skating. Mary took a tumble and Fred, who was close behind her, sliced off a large swath of her skirt with his skates. Unwilling to stand up and compromise her dignity, Mary commanded Fred to march up the hill to the house and retrieve the sewing basket so that she could make the necessary repairs.
     Once Fred completed his studies in Lexington, he was ready to begin his career. For the time being he was forced to do so without Mary, who still was not ready to marry. Fred gave her a bluebird pin and asked her to send it to him when she had changed her mind. Several years later thirty one year old Mary sent the pin to Fred. They were married at Clifton on April 2, 1914. Mary's bridesmaid was Mattie Harman, whose father was the State Treasurer of Virginia.

Wedding invitation of Mary and Fred

     Fred and Mary moved to Donora, Pennsylvania where Fred worked in the steel business. Just as she had done at Clifton, Mary assumed responsibility for running the household. In early 1916 Mary became pregnant with their first child. In the last known photograph of Mary White, she is seen holding Hunter, the son of her cousin Dr. Oscar Hunter McClung, who was married to Mattie Harman's sister Eugenia.

Mary White and Hunter McClung

     Mary went into labor on November 30, 1916. It was a difficult delivery. "They used instruments for a short while," as Fred White delicately put it in a letter to Finley. A ten pound girl was born on December 1. Their daughter, whom Fred named Mary Houston White, would live for almost ninety five years. Mary died a week later on December 8, 1916.

Headstone of Mary Houston White

     Mary's body was brought back to Lexington and she was buried in Stonewall Jackson Cemetery. Her father wrote a letter to his sister Lizzie in Spotsylvania two months later: "...I have been so crushed over Mary's sudden and to me entirely unexpected death that I have not been able to talk about it...The funeral was one of the largest I ever saw. Mary had so many friends in all parts of the county and the flowers nearly filled our parlor."

     In 1921 Fred White married Mattie Harman. They had two children of their own. To little Mary Houston White they were her true brother and sister and she never referred to them as step brother or step sister. By chance Mary's path and mine crossed last year. That chapter of the story can be read here.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Last Days of George W.E. Row

George Washington Estes Row

April 1883...
     The last eight years had been good ones for George Row. With the ardor of a younger man he had successfully courted Lizzie Houston of Rockbridge County and had married her in December 1875 (George was eleven years older than his bride). He brought her back to Greenfield, the old Row plantation in Spotsylvania, and there they lived with George's unmarried sister Nan for the next four years. George's and Lizzie's first two children were born at Greenfield: Houston in 1877 and Mabel in 1879. In 1880 George built a house for his growing family at Sunshine, the section of Greenfield deeded to him by his mother in 1869. The first child born there was Robert Alexander Row in 1881. (Little Robert died that same year. Lizzie Row cut a lock of his blond hair and sewed it to a piece of paper and put it in her trunk. It is still there.) The youngest child, Horace--my grandfather--was born in July 1882.
     During these years he lived with Lizzie, George also prospered in his business affairs. George was successfully farming both Greenfield and Sunshine. He built a saw mill and shook factory on Joseph Talley's farm near Finchville. His customers included both versions of the railroad that extended from Fredericksburg to Orange; the many merchants in Fredericksburg with whom he did business; and a good number of friends and neighbors in Spotsylvania and Orange. The ledger books of his businesses include the names of many local citizens who were noteworthy in those days. In these enterprises George employed dozens of workers, most of them freedmen.
     George Row was a minor participant in local Democratic party politics. He had worked with X.X. Chartters in establishing the Wilderness Grange. He was a member of the Masonic lodge in Fredericksburg.
     But it had not always been as good as this. There were dark times, as well, as there are for us all. His father died when George was twelve. His education was cut short at age seventeen when he enlisted in the Confederate service, spending four years in the saddle first with the Ninth Cavalry and then the Sixth Cavalry. While he survived the war unscarred and uncaptured, he had witnessed death and devastation on a scale difficult for us to imagine today. His emotional and mental resilience was sorely tested a second time during the period from November 1871 to January 1873 when his first wife Annie, his daughter and his mother died.
     But by now, in early April 1883, George had been able to set aside the melancholy that followed him for years and he was hitting his stride as an entrepreneur and as a husband and father. You could not fault him if he were to look into the far blue distance and see more good fortune awaiting him in the years to come.
     But in that first week of April something was going wrong. Terribly wrong. George had fallen ill and instead of improving his condition rapidly declined. The doctors said it was typhoid pneumonia. George took to his bed and remained there for the short time remaining to him.

Sunshine, 1957

     This was the house that George W.E. Row built in 1880. Come, look:
     This house, built on the farm he named Sunshine, stood for over one hundred years. He had added front and back sections to an existing log structure, the door to which is seen on the right of the house. The front door faced north, and upon entering you came into the parlor with a fireplace on the east wall. I remember a painting on the north wall depicting a doctor attending a sick child. There was a framed piece that read "The Lord will provide." On the right, as you passed through the parlor, was the beaded board wall that enclosed the steep, narrow steps that led to the garret where the children slept. Just before you reached the log section of the house was the bedroom in which George Row now lay dying. You see the bedroom window on the right side of the house. In this same room my mother would be born forty five years later. The rear section of the house included the kitchen and another attic space.
     Perhaps because of his experiences during the Civil War, or maybe it was just his nature, George always had a certain ambivalence about religion and he never joined a church. This would be a source of worry to his sisters. But for some reason during the last months of his life he decided to teach a Bible study class for the men's Sunday school at Shady Grove Methodist Church. In appreciation the men of the church gave him a mustache cup for Christmas in 1882.

George Row's notes for Bible study class

Mustache cup given to George Row

     Two doctors attended George during his sickness. They did what they could for him, which was not much, and they did their best to calm Lizzie's fears. Doctors Addison Lewis Durrett and Thomas W. Finney both served in the 9th Cavalry with my great grandfather. In 1881 Dr. Finney had been unable to save Robert Row. In 1872 Dr. Finney, together with Dr. John D. Pulliam, also unsuccessfully treated George's mother Nancy during her final crisis. (Dr. Pulliam was a son of Richard Pulliam, who lived next to Greenfield. The 1860 census shows that Dr. Thomas W. Finney was living in the Pulliam household. John Pulliam was a medical student that year).

Receipt given by Thomas Finney to Lizzie Row

     A year after her husband's death, Lizzie Row wrote a letter--intended to be read by her children when they were older--in which she describes this time:

     During his sickness before he was unconscious we were alone. I asked if he still loved me and he said "Yes" and put his arms around my neck and said "I love you the house full, the barn full and all out of doors." This is what he used to teach you all to tell him. Your father was not a church member but I think a Christian. His motto was "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God." He was not sick quite two weeks, was not conscious when he died, but breathed quietly. Mabel was at Greenfield, Horace asleep and Houston by me on the bedside. I hope you will all meet him "on that beautiful shore..."

     George Row, age thirty nine, died in the early hours of April 18, 1883. Great grandmother Lizzie took her scissors in hand and cut three locks of hair "from his dear forehead" and sewed them to sheets of his business stationery.

     Lizzie engaged the services of Frederickburg undertaker William Nossett, who was in business with his son George. My great grandfather's burial case and box cost fourteen dollars and seventy five cents.

The Free Lance 25 January 1889

     Two dollars was paid to have the grave dug at the family burying ground at Greenfield. Lizzie Row wore this mourning cloak to the funeral.

Mourning cloak of Lizzie Row

     Shown below are three notices of George Row's death published in the Fredericksburg newspapers. The first two are pasted in the Row family Bible.

Obituaries of George Row

Obituary of George Row

     ...Mabel your father loved you dearly, and I thought your little heart would break when we came back from the burial. You went through the house calling "Father" and asked "Why didn't God let Father stay until tomorrow when I come. I wanted to see him so bad." Dear children you are all bright and happy now. You don't know your loss while I am so sad and lonely. Dear "little Hossie" [Horace] as Father used to call you can't remember sitting on my lap and holding Father's hand while he was sick in bed.

George T. Downing's receipt to Lizzie Row

     For the next several years Lizzie struggled to raise her children, manage Sunshine and settle the accounts of her late husband's estate. Six years after his death she was at last able to hire Fredericksburg stone cutter and marble salesman George Titus Downing to craft a headstone for George. (Photo by Margie McCowan)