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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"This heart is still true to thee"

George Washington Estes Row

Lizzie Houston

     From the beginning they were a most improbable couple.
     By mid 1874 Lizzie Houston was twenty years old and one of the most actively courted young women in Rockbridge County. Lizzie enjoyed the many advantages that came her way as the daughter of George Washington Houston and the former Annette Willson. Like the other girls of her social class Lizzie had been educated at the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington. Her life included a pleasant routine of extended stays with family members who lived nearby as well as chaperoned visits with the eligible young men of the area. My great grandmother was a pretty girl and she caught the eye of local swains such as Arthur Ott, R.C. McKinney, Will Moore and students from Washington and Lee like Will Austin. These young men, and others, competed for Lizzie's affection. They expressed their amorous feelings indirectly in letters filled with poetic whimsy and religious references. Lizzie could have had her pick of any of them but she was by no means anxious to the tie the knot just yet. Life for now was too much fun. Still, she had feelings for her suitors and would look back fondly on these times. She kept their photographs and letters for the rest of her long life.
     At this time there arrived on the scene another suitor, my great grandfather George Washington Estes Row. In 1874 George was, at age thirty one, eleven years older than Lizzie Houston. His life and experiences had been quite different from those of his younger rivals. During the late war he had served in the Confederate cavalry. He had already achieved some success in Spotsylvania as a farmer and saw mill owner. And he also suffered from bouts of melancholia that plagued him periodically.
     By 1874 George Row had a great deal to be melancholy about.
     In November 1871 George's first wife, twenty three year old Annie, died of diphtheria at Greenfield, the family farm in Spotsylvania. George's sister Nan stepped in to take care of raising his three year old son Abbie. His infant daughter Virginia Isabella went to Culpeper to live with Annie's mother Sarah Jane Daniel. Sarah renamed the child Annie to honor the memory of her late daughter. Little Annie died in July 1872. Six months later George's mother Nancy Estes Row died at Greenfield.
     The accumulation of these sorrows bore heavily on George. A restless, roving disposition manifested itself and he began to divide his time between Greenfield and Rockbridge County, now the home of his sister Bettie and brother in law Zachary Herndon Rawlings. After having worked as a contractor on the Norfolk & Western Railroad for several years Zachary had bought a grist mill and nineteen acres in northern Rockbridge County (the Osceola Mill remained active until 1969). Zachary built a fine house across the road from the mill and he and Bettie settled there with their three daughters.

The Rawlings house

     George Row was not an enthusiastic farmer and like many men during this era he sought opportunities in the railroad business. In Spotsylvania George's saw mill provided ties and fencing stock to the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad and its later incarnation, the Piedmont, Fredericksburg & Potomac. George was also interested in the trains themselves and hatched some ideas while living with Bettie and Zachary. In late 1874 he submitted a patent application for an improved car coupling and was granted a U.S. patent in January 1875. Considering that George Row's formal education ended at age seventeen when he enlisted in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, this was no small accomplishment.

Patent granted to George W.E. Row

     George's interest in the railroad business was reinforced by Zachary's younger brother Ben Rawlings who had recently returned to Virginia after gold mining in California for several years. Ben came to Rockbridge and also got a job on the Norfolk & Western. In addition, Ben and George Row partnered in some short-lived business enterprise styled as "Rawlings & Row."
     But it was Ben's love affair with Florence Gibbs that was to have the most far reaching impact on George Row's life.
     Florence's family lived in Rockbridge very near the Rawlings' place. Her father, James E.A. Gibbs, was himself a successful inventor and did well with the manufacturing of the Wilcox & Gibbs sewing machine. In the course of meeting Florence's extended family Ben became acquainted with Lizzie's mother, a first cousin of James Gibbs. It would not be long before Ben made known to George Row that the Houstons had a pretty daughter worthy of his attention.
     George was instantly smitten and fell hopelessly in love with the much younger Lizzie. He pursued her with a passionate single mindedness that that left little doubt of his serious intentions. Lizzie, on the other hand, still enjoyed being the center of attention of the young men who were already wooing her. She did not quite know what to make of this serious older man. Of one thing she was certain--she was not willing to make a commitment just yet.
     Inevitably, then, it would not be all smooth sailing in the early months of George's courtship of Lizzie. In the first surviving letter sent by George to Lizzie, dated October 2, 1874, it is clear that the couple have already hit a rocky patch. George wrote this letter from Greenfield, which he calls "Haunted House." The pain of the passing of his wife, daughter and mother still clung to him and Lizzie had added to his despair by seeking to break off their relationship.

George to Lizzie, 2 October 1874

     "Can I not persuade you, yes beseech you, to reconsider this matter? Take more time and give it maturer reflection. I received this fatal fiat that has shaded my heart in gloom. I have but the hope, the fond, fond hope (how I cling to it) that I may yet be favored with your love and you may again smile on me...But Listen! though you may cease to look upon me as a suitor, though when we meet you may constrain me to appear as a stranger, though you may veil yourself from me as the Glorious sun when he wraps the golden tinted clouds around his brow--though we may never meet--this heart is still true to thee."

George to Lizzie, 15 October 1874

     A second letter, also written from "Haunted House," and dated October 15, 1874, consists of a poem "To Lizzie" and includes a geranium leaf and a swatch of striped gray fabric.

                    It is but this and only this--
                    that you did ask of me,
                    then take it, keep it for the sake
                    of him who gave it thee.

                    And may you remember
                    the gone by happy hours
                    For the substance, like the shadow,
                    Is simply, truly yours.

     With these blandishments George at last caused Lizzie to relent, if only slightly and with with reluctance. A letter written by my great grandfather from Fredericksburg on January 5, 1875 tells us of the conditional nature of their relationship and George's determination to ignore the obstacle Lizzie put in his path.
     "According to our arrangement we were not have any communication for six months but as I am now situated it is all important that I should know my fate earlier...I have a farm of one hundred and fifty acres [which he named "Sunshine"] that I propose to build and improve should I lead a settled life... I hope you may see the propriety of this course and approve of it for it is your welfare that I have at heart...My feelings toward you have not changed and are more ardent than ever. Please let me hear from you as soon as possible and I pray you answer me affirmatively...with my best love I am ever yours and truly, Geo. W.E. Row."
     Written two days later, Lizzie's reply--somewhat stiff and still showing signs of her ambivalence--at least gives George reason for hope. "Dear Friend, I am sorry it has not suited your business arrangements to give me the time I desired to reflect more seriously upon a matter of such importance, however, your reasons for not doing so are satisfactory and I am prepared to say your affections are reciprocated. If convenient please write me before visiting Happy Hollow [Rockbridge] as I have promised to make numerous visits and prefer being near the convent [an ironic reference to her family's home, Mount Pleasant] when 'F.C.' ['Father Confessor,' a nickname she gave to George] comes. Yours truly, Lizzie."
     A week later, on January 15, 1875 a rapturous George Row wrote from Greenfield: "Your dear letter is just to hand bringing the glad tidings that there is one in this world who loves me and is willing to share my fate with me for good or bad. Tell me Lizzie when shall I come and when you will make my heart gladdest by taking me for your protector for life. Write without reserve and tell me how to proceed in relation to asking your parents--All this I leave to your engineering--I would suggest we be as quiet as possible and surprise everybody--I have told you before that I am poor and will have to work for my living but as long as I can lift a hand you shall never be in need of the comforts of life and a warm heart will ever yield to you its choicest affections. This is all I can offer you and if you return this I will be rich indeed...And now hoping you may ever have heaven's choicest blessings--with my best love and a dozen kisses I am as ever yours affectionately, George."
     Lizzie's answer dated January 20, while still reserved in tone, shows some sign of her thawing: "Dear Friend, Your welcome letter was so much like yourself I almost imagined you were here and especially the kisses...From little remarks now and then I find Pa is a great admirer of yours, and Ma would do anything for the happiness of her unworthy daughter, so altogether I think it will be an easy matter to get their consent."
     On February 1 George finally comments on Lizzie's ongoing coquettish ways and her standoffish style in her letters to him: "I received a letter from Miss Pat speaking of what a Belle you were at the party in Fairfield. Also of your student beaux, etc. Now don't think I am jealous for I am not--I would not be so if you were to tell me yourself--I have been looking at your photograph and reading your letters for the hundredth time. But Lizzie don't you think 'Your Friend' rather cold and distant at the beginning and end of these letters. Don't take this as censure for I do not mean it as such but I am so warm hearted myself that I think everybody should be so...I will if nothing unforeseen happens be over about the 22d of this month and then we can have a long, long talk--and won't you kiss me then Lizzie! Answer me from the bottom of that precious heart."
     George made the trip to Rockbridge and I presume they had their long talk together. Despite that, Lizzie is still reluctant to make the kind of mature commitment that George expects and cannot quite let go the suitors who still visit her. This causes George some discomfiture, as he wrote on March 20, 1875: "Hope you spent a pleasant time with Mr. [Will] Moore. By the by I am rather jealous of him as it seemed you were very willing for me to leave after he came and your objections to wearing my ring in his presence also seemed as if there was an unnecessary bashfulness. Now don't think I do this to chide you but I think of these things while absent from your and it bothers very much. But I know I am wrong in doubting you so you must attribute it to my love for you..."
     After that episode no further mention is made in these letters regarding any second thoughts Lizzie may have had about George. Still, that persistent melancholy could be resurrected in George by other circumstances. On May 10 he wrote: "Often O how often do I wish I had you with me darling but the world is very dark before me now. Times are harder than I ever knew them and money is scarcer. But we are told that they who hold faithful to the end shall be saved. This is my only hope as I plod on in darkness."

George Row to George Houston 23 September 1875

     Despite his occasional despondency George survived the travails of that turbulent summer and by September he and Lizzie were prepared to announce their intentions to her parents. On September 23 in a letter enclosed with one sent to Lizzie he wrote to his prospective in laws: "With the approval of your daughter I thus address you, asking her hand. And in doing so I would state that I have not wealth to offer but promise to you should you favor our union that I shall always endeavor to be to her a kind and affectionate husband. Hoping you will take this matter into consideration and approve the step we wish to take I am Respectfully yours, Geo. W.E. Row."

George Washington Houston

George Houston to George Row 1 October 1875

     George Houston's reply of October 1 is dignified in tone but the words were all that George could hope for: "Your note to Mrs. Houston and myself in which you ask for the hand of our daughter has been rec'd. And while granting your request--with a due appreciation of the compliment and the responsibility connected therewith-- I must be permitted to say that I had rather the acquaintance had been of longer standing. Nevertheless, I am free to say that I esteemed you from my first acquaintance and was favorably impressed with your character and manners. And I am happy to say that I can heartily commend our daughter to you for her upright character and strict integrity  and may the blessing of God be with you all the days of your lives!"
     The date for the wedding was set for December 14, 1875.

New Providence Presbyterian Church

     The Houstons attended New Providence Presbyterian Church where Lizzie's father was a deacon and elder. The pastor who who would officiate at the ceremony was Reverend Ebenezer Dickey Junkin. His family was originally from Pennsylvania and they came to Rockbridge when Ebenezer's father assumed the presidency of Washington College in Lexington. Ebenezer's sister Elinor married Stonewall Jackson in the 1850s and died during the stillbirth of their first child. Once Virginia voted for secession Ebenezer's father quit his position at Washington College and returned to Pennsylvania. Reverend Junkin remained loyal to his adopted state, however, and served as a chaplain in the Confederate army.

Reverend E.D. Junkin

     Early on the morning of December 13 George left his horse and buggy at the livery in Fredericksburg and took the train to Staunton. From there the Houstons conveyed him to Lexington where he obtained the marriage license. The following day George  and Lizzie exchanged vows at New Providence and then stepped into the carriage that would take them back to the Staunton depot. George's sister Bettie later remarked that Lizzie was "a brave girl to marry George and start off among strangers." This would be Lizzie's first trip to Spotsylvania. The train from Staunton arrived in Fredericksburg late that day and once they retrieved George's horse and buggy from the livery they set off on the ten mile drive west on the Orange Turnpike toward Greenfield. It was bitter cold and the new couple were grateful that George's sister had the fire going when they arrived.

From the Row Bible

     George and Lizzie lived at Greenfield with Nan until 1880 when they, together with their first two children, moved into the house George built next door at Sunshine. Lizzie lived there until her death in 1928.

Arthur Ott

     Shortly before marrying George, Lizzie had written a letter to her former suitor, Arthur Ott, who had by that time moved from Rockbridge to California. In answer Arthur wrote on December 29, 1875: "My Dear Friend, Your postal of late came to hand and you may imagine my surprise at the information it contained. 'Going to commence life anew.' Going to be married, I take it. Well, I wish you a long life and as much happiness as usually falls to us poor mortals together with a goodly share of the responsibilities of  life and may your shadow never grow less."
     Lizzie could not bring herself to write the word "married" and she did not mention George's name.