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Sunday, September 16, 2012

John Edgar Willson

John Edgar Willson

     J. Edgar Willson, one of my great-grandmother's uncles, was born in Rockbridge County at the Willson farm "Mount Pleasant" on April 30, 1833. He was the oldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth Poague Willson. In 1858 Edgar married Elvira Brooks and about that time bought a farm near Mount Pleasant where their seven children were born 1859-1872.

Edgar Willson home, Rockbridge County

     Edgar Willson is believed to have served in the Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry with his brothers Matthew, Thomas and William. He evidently "lost the use of his arms" temporarily and was mustered out. On October 23, 1864 he enlisted in Company I of the Fourth Virginia Infantry in Lexington.
     Private Willson was badly wounded on April 2, 1865 when Union forces breached the Confederate defenses at Petersburg. He was taken to Chimborazo Hospital and was captured there the next day. Two weeks later he was sent to Jackson Hospital in Richmond and by the end of the month he was under the jurisdiction of the provost marshal. Edgar still appears on a roll of prisoners of war at Jackson Hospital on May 28, 1865.
     But he eventually recovered and came back home to Rockbridge. He worked as a farmer for the rest of his life and four of his seven children were born after his return from the war.

Edgar and Elvira Willson and family, 1870s

     The year after the Civil War ended saw the beginning of a long train of sadness and misery for most of the Willson children. In 1866 his first born, Elizabeth, died at age seven. Eighteen year old Mary died of tuberculosis on Christmas Day 1879. His daughter Elvira passed away in 1894 at twenty years of age. After Edgar's death two of his three surviving daughters were declared insane and were committed to what was then called the Western State Lunatic Asylum in Staunton. Harriet was sent there in 1888 at the age of twenty two. She died while still an inmate there some time after 1910. Her younger sister Lucy was institutionalized on January 1, 1898 and died in November of the same year.

Lucy Willson

     Fortunately, the stories of his other two children have much happier endings. Ann married Finley Willson McClure and they inherited her father's farm which was still in their family fifty years later. All four of the McClure children lived long and apparently normal lives.
     Edgar's only son, James William Willson, graduated from VMI and became superintendent of the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, where he served until his death in 1922.

James William Willson

James William Willson

     J.E. Willson's first wife, Elvira, died in 1877. Two years later he married Martha Brooks Dold, a widow from Augusta County. Her first husband was killed while fighting at Bethesda Church near Richmond, just ninety days after their wedding in February 1864.
     John Edgar Willson died on April 22, 1887, leaving behind an estate heavily burdened by debt. He is buried at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Rockbridge.

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