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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Rows of Caroline County-Part 2

Will of Keeling Row. Courtesy of CRHC

     In 1869 new neighbors--and Northerners at that--bought a ninety three acre farm near William and Rachel Farish. Michael Jones Smith, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and his wife, the former Caroline Gifford, were among the many Yankees who came south after the Civil War seeking new opportunities among the economic ruins of the old Confederacy. Michael was known as "Mitchell" to his neighbors in Caroline County because that is what his wife called him. She thought "Michael" sounded "too Irishy."
     Keeling Row died on July 25, 1869. He was eighty four years old. In his will he named his son James as his executor. James was also appointed trustee of the tract of land "purchased by me [Keeling] of W.H. Farish, on which the same Farish resides, for the sole benefit of my daughter Rachel K. Farish during her life." Keeling's property was divided among his three other children. As far as I can tell, James got about 200 acres, Mary received 319 acres and Robert Beverly got 400 acres.
     On December 8, 1868 James Row married Jennie Bunbury Sanford and moved to Orange County. James and Jennie raised two boys, Carlton and Sanford Row, and apparently enjoyed prosperous lives on their farm.
Mary Row to Nan Row, September 1870
     The 1870 census shows that Mary and Robert Beverly Row lived at home with their mother Fannie and two black servants, thirty five year old Elsie Manuel and her ten year old son Nathaniel. In a letter to her cousin (and my great great aunt) Nan Row dated September 23, 1870 Mary wrote: "I hope your cook has not left, or if she has, that you have been able to get another. Wish you could get such a one as we have. She has been here nearly five years & will stay again & she is very obliging and good. Indeed I have many trials to contend with, but we are blessed in having good servants around."
     Mary went on to offer her unsubtle opinion of the Northerners who had settled in Caroline: "We have plenty Yankee neighbors, cousin Nan. I don't like them at all. Cannot get over my prejudice against the whole nation. Then too they are so coarse and unrefined. And those who come here are the riff-raff."
Mary Row to Nan Row, February 1873

Mary Row to Nan Row, February 1873

     A second letter written by Mary to Nan Row, dated February 28, 1873, survives. Mary conveys her sympathy to Nan on the death of her mother (my great great grandmother) Nancy Estes Row. Apparently Mary and her niece Catherine Row Farish had recently encountered difficulties in pursuing their teaching aspirations and she avails herself of the opportunity to again fulminate against the Northerners in her midst: "The public school near here was offered to her & me & the trustees intended locating it between here and Round Oak [Baptist Church] so she would live with us and teach alternately, but the intolerant Yankees who have been meddling with other people's affairs since the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock, and in this instance being the principal patrons of the school, wished to have the school at the church & they are now squabbling about it. Glad of it. They are, or seem to be pious people & a good many have joined Round Oak; but their go-a-head-a-tive-ness is too much developed for the prejudiced Virginians of my stripe."
     Caroline Gifford Smith, who insisted on calling her husband "Mitchell," died of dropsy on December 4, 1882. She was forty five years old. She and Michael had married in her hometown of Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1859. By that time Michael Smith was already an experienced seaman. Caroline and Michael had been childless.
     Michael J. Smith joined the United States Navy on December 28, 1863. He served as acting ensign aboard the U.S. steamship Bermuda. This iron hulled ship began its existence in England, where it was built in 1861. Flying the British flag, Bermuda was used to smuggle war supplies to the South and to bring cotton back to Great Britain. In 1862 on her second voyage across the Atlantic she was seized by the Union screw ship Mercedita and her contraband cargo--consisting of cannons, ammunition and gunpowder--was captured as well. She was commissioned a U.S. warship the following year.
     After his two year stint in the Navy Michael reunited with his wife and as we have already learned they made their way south and established themselves in Caroline County by 1869. If the attitude of their new neighbors was anything like that revealed in the letters of Mary Row, then their welcome must have been a frosty one indeed.
     But times change, and people do, too.
     Mary Row was still a spinster when her mother died in 1883. Her unmarried brother Robert had probably done what he could to sustain the viability of his farm and that of his sister, but it is likely that by then inevitable decay had already taken hold. By 1884 Mary was nearly forty two years old and her prospects were not brilliant. On January 22, 1884, in a ceremony officiated by Reverend A.B. Dunaway at Round Oak Baptist Church, Mary Row became the wife of Michael Smith, one of the Yankees she once scorned.

Marriage license of Michael Smith and Mary Row

     At age forty three Mary gave birth to their daughter on July 3, 1885. The fact that Mary had become the bride of a Northern interloper was no doubt a surprise to many who knew her. The name given to their newborn daughter was perhaps even more so. The couple named her Carrie Gifford Smith, the name of Michael's deceased wife.
     But this period of presumed domestic happiness for the Smiths would be short lived. Michael died of erysipelas--likely arising from an infected tooth-- on November 8, 1887. He was attended by Dr. R.G. Holloway, who had also treated his first wife and delivered his daughter Carrie.
     Three years later Mary Row Smith applied for a widow's pension due to her under the provisions of the Act of June 27, 1890. As Michael's widow she was entitled to ten dollars per month and Carrie would receive two dollars per month until she turned sixteen in 1901. These payments commenced November 8, 1890, exactly three years after Michael's death.
     This should have been the end of this bureaucratic episode in Mary's life. It was only the beginning.     As you might expect, one of the difficulties that arose had to do with the real name of the former acting ensign of Bermuda. Because his first wife always called him "Mitchell," no one in Caroline--including Mary--ever knew him by any other name. Mary was now required to prove that Michael J. Smith and Mitchell J. Smith were one and the same person. Mary mailed to the Pension Bureau his discharge papers, his Masonic membership and even their marriage license. Testimony was taken from her neighbors in Caroline and Michael's family and acquaintances in New England.

From the files of the Pension Bureau

From the files of the Pension Bureau

     Over the years Mary was inundated with requests for documents, verifications of wealth and income, details of her late husband's life in Maine, and on and on. The partial index of this blizzard of paperwork shown above only hints at the effort required of Mary to keep her ten dollar per month pension as well as the two dollars per month for Carrie. Her file in the National Archives consists of 163 pages of affidavits, depositions, powers of attorney and information from the Caroline County clerk of court attesting to her marriage and land ownership. She even brought her family Bible with her to one meeting to validate some point.
     One salient fact that emerges from all this turmoil is the low point to which Mary Row Smith, once the daughter of one of the most well to do men in the county, had fallen. Mary was destitute. While Mary may have been "land rich" in terms of the sheer acreage she owned, most of it had fallen into disuse and was no longer arable. She did not have a way of deriving a living income from her land. She still owned the 319 acres inherited from Keeling and another 237 1/2 acres from her brother Robert when he died in 1898 (he also left 100 acres to then thirteen year old Carrie). And she also retained a widow's right to her late husband's 93 acre farm.
     Sadly, the old Row plantation, once a prosperous and bustling enterprise supported by the labor of dozens of enslaved blacks, had fallen on hard times. The land was now of poor quality and overgrown by pines and scrub oaks. Mary received a few barrels of corn each year from the sharecroppers who farmed the land near her house. The once rich bottom land now regularly flooded and she could not afford to ditch the creek. She received the equivalent of $100 per year from "colored tenants." Michael's old farm was rented for $25 per year. Mary had some furniture, her brother Robert's old horse, a cow and a few pigs. And that was all.
     Well, perhaps not all.
     Keeling Row's daughter still had her integrity. An investigator for the Pension Bureau who met her in 1905 "found the claimant to be a perfect lady and am satisfied that she is the person she represents herself to be."
     At long last, the United States government decided to allow Mary to keep her pension.
     Mary's daughter Carrie married Charles W. Cassidy, a nephew of Michael J. Smith, on February 7, 1906. They had two daughters together. Charles died in 1914 and Carrie later married William Vernon Bradshaw (I went to school with their descendants). Carrie outlived William by thirty years and died in Fredericksburg in 1975.
     Mary Elizabeth Row Smith died on June 6, 1913 at the age of seventy one.

Carrie's letter to Pension Bureau, 1913

Carrie's letter to Pension Bureau, 1913


1 comment:

  1. I would like to post a note as Carrie Smith Cassidy was my grandmother. She and Charles William Cassidy had two daughters and two sons: Geraldine, Mary, Charles (my dad) and Carlton. This information is provided by Barbara Cassidy Davis, Birmingham, Alabama