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Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Chancellors, Part 1


     For much of the nineteenth century my Row ancestors enjoyed many connections with the Chancellors of Spotsylvania. These were ties of friendship, public service, commerce and war. The Chancellors' place in history is forever fixed because of the unfortunate location of George Chancellor's house on the Orange Turnpike in May 1863. But it is the back story of these people's lives that adds to our appreciation of what is an already remarkable narrative.

Forest Hall, courtesy of the National Park Service

Location of Forest Hall (sold to N.R. Fitzhugh 1860)

     Major Sanford Chancellor was born in Orange County on January 8, 1791 to John and Elizabeth Edwards Chancellor. He was the younger brother of George Chancellor (1785-1836), who married the widow Ann Lyon Pound Ann's half-brother, Baltimore merchant William Lorman, built Chancellorsville as a wedding present for them. Sanford's wife Frances ("Fannie") Longwill Pound, was a daughter of Ann Lyon Pound's first marriage. In the photograph above, we see several children in the front yard. Standing in the doorway are, very likely, Sanford and Fannie Chancellor (many thanks to Park historians Noel Harrison and Don Pfanz for kindly providing me a scan of this rare photograph).
     Forest Hall was a plantation of 650 acres on the Rappahannock River near United States Ford. To the best of my knowledge Sanford built the house in about 1840. He is known to history as Major Sanford Chancellor because during the War of 1812 he served on the staff of General William Madison, brother of President James Madison. Sanford was a friend and colleague of my great great grandfather, Absalom Row.
     Sanford and Fannie had, I believe, eleven children born between 1823 and 1847. Two sons died in 1838. Two daughters, Penelope and Frances, died of typhoid in 1864 within days of each other while staying with their uncle Dr. James E. Chancellor in Charlottesville. In addition to the large Chancellor family there also lived at Forest Hall black slaves, nineteen of them (mostly children) according to the 1850 slave census.
     Sanford Chancellor had responsibilities and ambitions beyond those of husband, father and farmer. He twice served as High Sheriff of Spotsylvania County. In 1836 he was postmaster at Chancellorsville. Like Absalom Row, Sanford served as justice of the peace. He was also one of the county school commissioners, as shown on the lists below (originals at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center).

School commissioner, 1848

School commissioners, undated and 1850

     In the 1800s, long before there was anything resembling the Virginia Department of Transportation, the individual counties were responsible for the building and maintenance of roads and bridges within their boundaries. Able bodied men in the various magisterial districts were put on schedules to perform the work. For this they received a small daily compensation--or a commensurate fine if they failed to show up (my great grandfather George W.E. Row was once such a miscreant). One of Absalom Row's duties was to approve payment for this work. In the archives at CRHC are many such vouchers signed by Absalom Row, including this one dated July 3, 1843. Absalom approved payment of $2.50 to Sanford Chancellor for two days' service "as surveyor of the road from the United States mills to Elley's Road."
Voucher for road work, July 1843

     Without question the most interesting item I have found at CRHC is the record of an inquest held in Spotsylvania on February 5, 1854. On that day a jury, which included Sanford's nephew Reverend Melzi Chancellor, was empaneled to investigate the murder of Jacob, a slave belonging to Sanford Chancellor. On February 4 Jacob had been stabbed to death by Beverley, a slave belonging to William T. J. Richards. My great great grandfather Absalom Row, acting as coroner, conducted the inquest. Last June I wrote about this episode in detail, and you can read that here. Shown below is the first page of the official record followed by my transcription of Sanford Chancellor's testimony. 

From the inquest regarding Jacob's murder

Testimony given by Sanford Chancellor, February 1854

     Absalom Row wrote his will in January 1847. It was a good will, specific in its intentions, unambiguous, dated and signed. Unfortunately Absalom neglected to have his will witnessed. In April 1856, four months after his death, a proceeding took place in court to ascertain whether it was indeed the handwriting of my great great grandfather. Absalom's brother in law, Jonathan Johnson of Walnut Grove plantation, and Sanford Chancellor "were called and sworn in open court and severally deposed that they are well acquainted with the handwriting of the testator...and verily believe [it was] wholly written by the said Absalom Row deceased..."

From the will of Absalom Row

     Sanford Chancellor died of "pulmonary disease" on February 25, 1860. He lies buried in the Chancellor family cemetery.

Headstone of Sanford Chancellor

     After Sanford's death Forest Hall was sold and his widow Fannie and seven of their children moved to Chancellorsville. They were living there in May 1863 when the house was taken over by General Hooker for his headquarters. The Chancellors' youngest daughter, Susan Margaret, kept a journal of the time leading up to and including the battle of Chancellorsville. It is a most remarkable account  of those days, made all the more so by the fact that Sue Chancellor was just 16 years old. Some of her story can be read here.
     Chancellorsville was partially destroyed by fire during the battle and Fannie Chancellor never lived there afterwards. She moved to Oak Grove, where she lived until her death in 1892. In September 1878 she was a customer of the saw mill of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row. In one of his account books is this entry for the purchase of 1000 feet of second class fencing.

From a ledger of G.W.E. Row

Melzi Sanford Chancellor

     Melzi S. Chancellor was born in Spotsylvania at Fairview on June 29, 1815, the oldest son of George and Ann Lyon Pound Chancellor. It is said that his mother decided on this decidedly distinctive first name while reading a book during her pregnancy when she was struck by the name of one of the characters. Like most well-to-do boys of the time Melzi was educated in private schools. He professed his religion in 1834 while working in Baltimore as a clerk for his uncle, Alexander Lorman (46 years later Lorman left Melzi a handsome inheritance). Melzi was ordained as a minister the following year. During his long career as a Baptist minister he served as pastor at these churches in the Goshen Association: Wilderness, Piney Branch, Mine Road, Salem, Goshen, Craig's, Eley's Ford and New Hope. Craig's burned during the Civil War and was rebuilt with the aid of Reverend Chancellor.

Fredericksburg Ledger, 24 August 1866

     In addition to his ministry, Melzi also seemed to have modest political aspirations. His name appears as justice of the peace and he was also a Commissioner of Revenue for St. George's Parish.

Fredericksburg News, 12 March 1852

     Melzi married Lucy Fox Frazer in Baltimore on November 23, 1837. They had eleven children, all but one of whom would live to adulthood.

Marriage register (Chancellor is at bottom)

     By the time of the Civil War the Reverend Chancellor and his family, together with seven slaves, were living in a house built by James Dowdall in 1745 and had formerly been used as a tavern and post office. Located near Wilderness Church, this place would become the focus of one of the most dramatic events of the Civil War.

Dowdall's Tavern

Map detail of battle of Chancellorsville

     Melzi Chancellor's house was within the Union lines and was utilized as headquarters for General O.O. Howard. On May 2, 1863 Confederate forces led by Stonewall Jackson worked their way to the western flank of the Union army. Their circuitous route took them through Greenfield, the Row plantation, via a road now called Jackson Trail West. When the Rebel troops crashed into the utterly surprised Yankees this part of the Union army fled east in panic. A mob of them rushed to Melzi's house and "appealed to him for a place to hide. He directed a number of them to a cellar, over which was a trap door. When they were all in he shut the door down, and the Confederate troops came up in a short time and captured thirty of them." According to his obituary, Reverend Melzi Chancellor was arrested during the war and spent six months in Fort Delaware as a citizen hostage.
     In 1878 Melzi, like his aunt Fannie Chancellor, was a customer of my great grandfather's saw mill business, buying two lots of oak shingles.

Business envelope of George W. E. Row

Row ledger 1878

Row ledger 1878

     On December 5 of that same year Reverend Chancellor officiated at the wedding of my great grandparents at the home of William Stapleton Hicks.

Kent-Conley wedding, 5 December 1878

     In 1884 Melzi's wife Lucy died. Two years later he married Bettie Caldwell of Washington, D.C.

Marriage license of Melzi and Bettie

     In October 1889 Melzi's daughter Lucie, wife of John J. Stephens, died. My great aunt Mabel Row, then ten years old attended the funeral with her mother. In a letter written seventy years later to Spotsylvania historian Roger Mansfield, Mabel still vividly recalled him as "a tall man with white side whiskers."
     Melzi Chancellor died on February 20, 1895. He is buried in the Chancellor family cemetery.

Free Lance, 22 February 1895

Free Lance, 22 February 1895

Free Lance, 22 February 1895

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Willis & Crismond

Willis & Crismond, 1927

     The last ten years in the life of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, were to be his most productive and gave a hint of future successes that might have been his had he not died unexpectedly at the age of thirty nine. He managed his own farm, Sunshine, as well as the old family homestead Greenfield for his sister Nannie. He also ran a thriving saw mill business with dozens of customers in Spotsylvania, Orange and Fredericksburg.

The Free Lance, 20 December 1887

     In the course of all these activities George W.E. Row had occasion to do business with many of the merchants and tradesmen of old Fredericksburg. The names of these enterprises and the remarkable men who ran them are now part of the half-remembered history of my home town. Myer & Brulle...J.B. Ficklin...Magrath & Chesley...Benjamin Goldsmith...George E. Chancellor and so many others.
     Among the longest lived of these companies and arguably the best known because of the stature of the men who owned it was Willis & Crismond. Established in the early 1870s at 424 Commerce (now William) Street, Willis & Crismond were grocers and commission merchants who sold seed, grain and fertilizers. Like many farmers in the region, George W.E. Row depended heavily on them both for their merchandise and for the credit they could extend.

     My Row ancestors had a personal and professional relationship with the Willis family dating back to the Civil War and continuing for 100 years. This connection began with Marion Gordon Willis, who served in Company I, Sixth Virginia Cavalry with my great grandfather.

Marion Gordon Willis (Central Rappahannock Heritage Center)

     M.G. Willis was born in the Indiantown area of Orange County on April 7, 1846. His father was Reverend John Churchill Willis, pastor of Flat Run Baptist Church from 1858 until his death in 1894. Marion's mother was Mary Catesby Woodford of Caroline County. Mary was a descendant of English naturalist Mark Catesby. She was also the great granddaughter of William Woodford.

General William Woodford (1734-1780)

     William Woodford was the owner of Windsor plantation in Caroline County (now part of Fort A.P. Hill, I believe). During the French and Indian War Woodford served with distinction as an ensign in George Washington's First Virginia Regiment. He is best known to history, however, as Brigadier General William Woodford of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. On December 9, 1775 he defeated forces under the command of Virginia Governor Lord Dunsmore at the battle of Great Bridge. This signal victory led to Lord Dunsmore's departure and permanently ended British rule in Virginia.
     General Woodford was later wounded at the battle of Brandywine. He recovered. He was captured during the unsuccessful defense of Charleston, South Carolina and was sent to New York as a prisoner of war. He died there aboard a British prison ship on November 13, 1780 and is buried at Trinity Church.
     William Woodford's son,  John Thornton Woodford (uncle of Mary Catesby Woodford), took his turn fighting the British during the War of 1812. This 100 year tradition of military service was part of Marion Willis' DNA when the Civil War started in 1861. At the beginning of the conflict Marion served as a scout for the Confederate army during its maneuvers near the Rapidan River. He joined the Sixth Virginia Cavalry in 1864. As he prepared to leave for battle his mother sewed onto his fatigue shirt carnelian buttons capped with gold. These very same buttons had been worn on the shirts of William and John Woodford when they fought the British.
     In September 1864 M.G. Willis was wounded but recovered and rejoined his regiment. On January 24, 1865 he was admitted to the Confederate hospital in Charlottesville suffering from frostbite, likely the result of the Beverly raid in West Virginia. He was released from the hospital a month later.
     After the war Marion returned to Orange and lived with his parents. On May 17, 1866 he married his cousin Lucy Taylor Gordon. They moved to Fredericksburg in 1873 and soon thereafter he went into business with Horace F. Crismond. In addition to the long success of his business on Commerce Street, M.G. Willis also played an important role in the civic and economic life of Fredericksburg. He was elected to the city council in 1885 and served many terms there. In 1897 he was president of the Rappahannock, Fredericksburg and Piedmont Telephone Company (Crismond was vice president). Willis also became president of the Farmers and Merchants State Bank (where my mother worked in the early 1960s).
     On June 15, 1900 Marion G. Willis was appointed mayor of Fredericksburg to complete the term of Absalom P. Rowe, who died in office. (Twenty nine years later history would repeat itself when Marion's nephew Jere Willis was appointed mayor of Fredericksburg to complete the term of the late J. Garnett King.) Willis was elected mayor in his own right on July 11, 1902 and served until June 30, 1904.
     After the death of his partner H.F. Crismond in 1903 Marion was joined in the business by his son Marion Willis, Jr. until the younger Willis' death in 1920 at age 33. Marion's wife Lucy died in 1906.
     Marion Gordon Willis died just shy of his 84th birthday on February 10, 1930. The funeral was held at Fredericksburg Baptist Church, where he had been senior deacon. A stained glass window dedicated to his family's memory is installed there. Marion Willis is buried in the Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Fredericksburg Baptist Church

Fredericksburg Cemetery

     Marion's younger brother, Benjamin Powell Willis, established a successful law practice in Fredericksburg. His law partner was his son Jere Willis. The Willis law firm became the attorneys and investment advisors for my great grandmother Lizzie Houston Row and my grandfather Horace Row after Granville Swift left Fredericksburg. The Willises provided a number of services for the Rows over the years. Most notably, perhaps, they were made trustees of the old Greenfield property by then owner J.S. Barnes in November 1925 in order to secure a $1000 note held by Horace Row. Greenfield was sold at auction to William Barnes in 1928.

Jere Willis to Horace Row 12 March 1927

     Benjamin P. Willis was an honorary pallbearer at my grandfather's funeral in 1939.

     Horace Frazer Crismond was born in Spotsylvania on June 15, 1849. He was the younger brother of Joseph Patrick Henry Crismond, Spotsylvania clerk of court. Their parents were John and Jane McDaniel Crismond. The 1870 census shows that 21 year old Horace was working as a store bookkeeper and living in the household of Fredericksburg grocer and grain dealer William E. Bradley, who later became business manager of The Free Lance.
Horace Frazer Crismond
     Like his partner Marion G. Willis, Horace Crismond had political ambition and was an active member in the Fredericksburg Baptist Church. Crismond served in the House of Delegates 1885-1887. He also represented Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania in the Virginia constitutional convention of 1901. One of the aims of this undertaking was to disenfranchise black voters without technically violating the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In an article about him during that time Horace appeared to adopt a more moderate tone than some of his rabid Democratic brethren on the subject of "negro suffrage."

Horace F. Crismond 1887

     Also like Marion Willis, Horace Crismond was long dedicated to the Baptist Church of Fredericksburg. One of his duties was to take the Sunday offering home with him after church and deposit it on Monday. One Sunday in the 1880s he managed to misplace the church's money. After a frustrating few days of fruitless searching Crismond consulted with other church officials and together they guessed what the take would have been that day. Crismond wrote a personal check to the church's account and the matter was settled. Forty years later that money was discovered in a desk once used by Willis & Crismond. Horace had evidently stopped by his office on his way home and had forgotten that he had put it in a desk drawer. Since he had already covered the loss this money was given to his descendants.
     Horace Crismond died January 17, 1903. His obituary appeared in The Daily Star on January 19th and is presented below in its entirety:

     The death of Horace Crismond is thought to be at least partly responsible for the bizarre turn taken in the life of his brother JPH Crismond. Years later Horace's son dedicated a stained glass window in his parents' memory at Fredericksburg Baptist Church. Horace Crismond is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg Baptist Church

Confederate Cemetery, Fredericksburg

     Such then was the measure of these men with whom George W.E. Row transacted much business during the last ten years of his life.

Invoice to George W.E. Row, October 1882

Check to Willis & Crismond, May 1882

     In 1882 my great grandfather borrowed $95.40 from Willis & Crismond in order to buy fertilizer for his wheat crop, which he put up as collateral for the loan.

George W.E. Row note for $95.40

     Post cards were often used for business correspondence in those days. Among the many in my great grandfather's business papers is this one dated January 7, 1882. Willis & Crismond acknowledge the receipt of $25, "Thanking you for your kind expression of good will and extending same cordially to you."

     After George Row's death in 1883 his sister Nannie assumed the full burden for farming Greenfield. In October 1884 she borrowed $28 to purchase Peruvian guano, pledging her wheat crop as security.

Nannie Row's note for $28