Search This Blog

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Granville Swift

Granville and Lillian Swift with daughter Florence, c.1920

     Granville Richard Swift was an attorney, politician and businessman in Fredericksburg, Virginia in the early 1900s. He had a number of connections to my Row ancestors, which remind us that there was a time when the Rows' relationships extended from one end of Virginia to the other and included a number of accomplished and well known individuals.
     Granville Swift was born on Christmas day 1870, the son of John and Mildred Wright Swift of Spotsylvania. John and his brother Richard G. Swift served in Company E of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry with my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row. After the Civil War Richard Swift, Granville's uncle, established a confectionery and grocery in Fredericksburg. He later took in a business partner, Edward Dorsey Cole, and the business expanded to include the sale of lumber, building supplies and wagons. George W.E. Row was both a customer of and a supplier to Swift & Cole. He bought groceries there and sold produce to them from Greenfield and Sunshine farms in Spotsylvania. An invoice to George Row from Swift and Cole is shown below. Granville's father John Swift, a farmer and merchandiser in his own right, was a customer of George Row's saw mill business.

Invoice to George W.E. Row, May 1882

     Granville graduated with an A.B. degree from Fredericksburg College in 1899. It seems that he was also teaching typing and stenography there at the same time. Soon thereafter he moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked briefly as private secretary to Charles W. Needham, president of Columbian University (which became George Washington University in 1905). Granville resigned this position in 1900 to be come assistant secretary to Senator Thomas S. Martin of Virginia, for whom he worked until 1904. Granville graduated from Columbian University in 1902 with the degree of Bachelor of Laws and he passed the Virginia bar examination in 1903.

House of Delegates, 1906

     In November 1905 Granville defeated Republican candidate Thomas Fell Morrison for the seat in the House of Delegates representing Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. During his brief stay in the legislature Granville Swift served on a committee investigating conditions at VMI in Lexington. Members of the third class there had signed a petition protesting the quality of the food  and the primitive living arrangements. The committee found fault with the school for the conditions there but agreed with the dismissal of the protesting students for their breach of discipline.
     In February 1907 Granville resigned from the House of Delegates in order to become Commonwealth's Attorney for Fredericksburg. He was appointed to that position by Judge John T. Goolrick, who had just vacated that office to become judge of the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg.
     On May 26, 1908 Granville married Lillian Rawlings of Rockbridge County. She was eleven years younger than Granville. Lillian was the daughter of Benjamin Cason Rawlings, a most remarkable individual and the catalyst for the courtship of my great grandparents, George W.E. Row and Lizzie Houston. Lillian's grandfather was James E.A. Gibbs, inventor of the Gibbs-Wilcox sewing machine and first cousin to Lizzie Houston's mother. Granville and Lillian were married at her father's home in Rockbridge, called "Las Vegas," by Reverend A.H. Hamilton of Mount Carmel Church in Augusta County.

Benjamin Cason Rawlings

James E.A. Gibbs

     Five months after the wedding Ben Rawlings died in his pew while attending services at Mount Carmel. Lillian's mother, Florence Gibbs Rawlings, moved to Fredericksburg to live with the Swifts. She would remain with them until her death in 1939.

Florence Rawlings and Florence Swift, 1920s

     Granville and Lillian Swift built a fine Queen Anne style house at 1401 Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg. It is still there. Their daughter Florence was born in 1917.
     After his stint as Commonwealth's Attorney Granville opened a law practice in town. It would not be long, however, before his health began to have an impact on his career and his life.

The Free Lance, 4 January 1910

     I am not sure how long Granville stayed in Florida, but his condition appears to have been quite serious. He did not improve in Lake City and moved to St. Petersburg to recuperate. From there he wrote a letter to Dr. J.N. Barney of Fredericksburg, which was published in The Free Lance on February 12, 1910. In this letter Granville goes into some detail about his condition which seem to be malarial in nature but could be something more serious.
     In any case, Granville's health improved to the point where it was possible for him to return to Fredericksburg and resume his law practice and other ventures. He apparently was in the real estate business with his uncle's old business partner, Edward Dorsey Cole. Granville also served on the board of the Mutual Building and Loan Association and acted as attorney for the company. Granville also ran a mortgage brokerage from his law practice, finding investors to back loans to various individuals in the area.

The Free Lance, 23 August 1910

     Granville Swift was elected to the House of Delegates a second time in 1915. As far as I know, this time he served out his full term.

House of Delegates, 1916

     By 1916 Granville Swift was attorney and investment adviser for my great grandmother Lizzie Houston Row and her son Horace (my grandfather). Granville must have been a good steward of their hard earned money because they entrusted hundreds of dollars to him for ten years. Shown below are some examples of Granville's correspondence with the Rows.

Granville Swift to Horace Row, 31 October 1916

Granville Swift to Lizzie Row, 5 May 1923

Granville Swift to Lizzie Row, 1 May 1926

     On April 9, 1926 The Free Lance published a biographical article about Granville in which it was reported that he and his family were leaving Fredericksburg to permanently settle in Orlando, Florida due to ongoing problems with his health. He continued to practice law there for a number of years. Granville Swift died in Orange County, Florida on May 4, 1949.


  1. Love seeing the pictures of my grandmother as a girl. I remembered seeing those throughout the house in Gainesville, FL. My grandmother was Florence Gibbs Swift Durrance.

  2. Thank you very much for reading. The original photos of the Swifts are not in my collection, but I came across them during my online research. I would certainly enjoy hearing more from you. My email is

  3. Really enjoyed reading this. I've seen several of these pictures but it was helpful to see a time line of "Pa's" life. I was 6 years old when he died and I remember that well. I had spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents and his death made an impact. Mother tells the story of handing Pa a leash to take me for a walk (common at that time) and he said he was walking with his granddaughter not a dog!

    1. Thank you very much, Scottie. I would love to hear more from you. I hope you will write me at

  4. Googled Granville Swift as a school project I'm working on is about a property he once owned. This page gave me great insight! He must have been the landlord, as it seems he lived on Washington Ave.

  5. Glad you enjoyed reading this, Kara. Hope you get an A.