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Friday, November 16, 2012

One Daughter, Two Names, One Grave

From the Row family Bible

     This was a mystery that took me two years to unravel.
     When I first saw them, these entries from the old Row family Bible, seen above, certainly seemed straightforward enough. There on the left is my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, marrying his first wife Annie Tutt Daniel of Culpeper at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in October 1867. And there on the right are recorded the births of their two children.
     Absalom Row (1868-1931), called Abbie by his friends and relatives and known as Uncle Ab to my aunts and uncle in the 1920s, was born at Forest Grove (his grandmother's house) in Culpeper. Abbie Row led a fascinating life as a young man and was the last in our family to own old Greenfield when it was sold in 1905. His life was well documented, there are pictures of him, his signature appears on official documents. In short, he was as real as you or I.
     For the longest time, things were not so clear regarding George and Annie Row's daughter Virginia Isabella, born March 4, 1871. Unlike her brother, that is all the family ever knew about her and she seem fated to remain a riddle for all time. Her name is never again mentioned in the family's vast archive that I have been able to uncover thus far. Except for this entry in the Bible, it was as if she never existed.

Forest Grove, the Daniel home in Culpeper

     Annie Tutt Daniel was born at Forest Grove in 1848. Her father, Samuel Alpheus Daniel, was killed during the Seven Days battle in 1862 while serving in Purcell's Battery. Annie's mother was born Sarah Jane Robinson in Orange County in 1829, the daughter of Thomas Robinson, who owned Robinson's Tavern. Sarah's compelling life story can be read here and here. After marrying George Row Annie came to Greenfield to live with him, his mother Nancy Estes Row and unwed sister Nan.
     Eight months after the birth of her daughter Virginia Isabella, Annie Row died of diphtheria at Greenfield. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery there. The aftermath of Annie's death witnessed an extended period of grief and disruption for the Rows of Greenfield. Just days after she died an estate sale was conducted and a great many of the family's possessions were sold off. Nancy Estes Row and her daughter Nan moved to Lynchburg, where they lived for a year or so with George's sister and brother in law, Martha and James Williams. Nan Row took charge of little Abbie and raised him for a time as if he were her own child. For Abbie, she remained a surrogate mother for the rest of her life. George Row began to divide his time between Spotsylvania and Rockbridge, where his other sister Bettie lived with her family. It was during this period that George met Mary Elizabeth Houston, who would become his second wife in 1875.
     But what of Virginia Isabella? She apparently vanished into thin air.
     Until I found this.
     My older cousins told me that Abbie Row's granddaughter, Marie Clark, had written a genealogical history of the Rows of Virginia. It was a self-published monograph and finding it took time and effort. Two years ago I tracked down a copy at the Alexandria Library's history collection and scanned the pages most relevant to my efforts. Marie had spent twenty years researching and writing this book and it is a monumental achievement for someone who was, like me, neither a professional writer nor historian.
     From that book I learned many things, including this enigmatic reference to George and Annie's daughter (all the images in my blogs are clickable for larger viewing):

From Marie Clark's history of the Row family

     Right off the bat I was baffled by this new name. Where did that come from? And I was equally puzzled by Marie's insinuation that George Row was somehow confused about the name of his own daughter.
     And what about the supposed burial of this child at Forest Grove? I could not verify that, either. Marie visited Forest Grove in the 1960s or 1970s, according to her account. In the 1930s the WPA had surveyed a number of cemeteries in Culpeper, including that of the Daniel family at Forest Grove. Several names are listed in their report but--of course--not that of Annie D. Row.
     So, I had a great aunt supposedly born with one name in Spotsylvania and dying with a second name and buried in an undocumented grave in Culpeper. Could Marie Clark have been confused? Was I missing something? Without any further evidence I was forced to set this aside and keep my radar on for further developments.
     About a year later the mystery began to be revealed. began publishing a helpful little thing called "Virginia Deaths and Burials Index, 1853-1917." One day, on a whim, I searched for little Annie D. Row in the index.
     And there she was.
     Annie D. Row, daughter of George and Annie Row, born in Spotsylvania 1871. Died in Culpeper 1872.
     Now I had something. With this information I contacted the current owner of Forest Grove, who is a direct descendant of the Daniel family. I asked him whether this headstone did indeed exist and if so, could he send me a photograph.

Annie D. Row, Forest Grove cemetery

     But what about the name? How did this poor child, who lived just sixteen months, enter this life as Virginia Isabella Row and depart it as Annie Daniel Row?
     This is what I believed happened. We already know that my great grandfather turned his son Abbie over to his sister Nan to raise after his wife died. At the same time Virginia Isabella was taken to Culpeper to live with her grandmother, Sarah Robinson Daniel. Sarah took it upon herself to change the child's name to honor the memory of her daughter Annie.
     Anyway, this is the best I can do for now. These ancestors are no longer in a position to offer us anything more on the subject.
     And may their souls rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The McCoull House

Fred Payne at the McCoull house, early 1900s

     One of the little known treasures in Spotsylvania is the enormous photo archive belonging to my cousin and fellow researcher Donald Colvin and his mother. Many of these pictures can be found online on Donald's website, which I dip into frequently to add to my knowledge of Spotsylvania's history. This week I stumbled upon this previously unseen (unseen by me, that is) photograph of the long vanished house that once was owned by Neil McCoull and was a historic landmark at Bloody Angle on the Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield. A thoughtful and well written history of the post-Civil War fate of  the McCoull house was written last year by John Hennessy, chief historian of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, and can be found here. With the exception of the last two images of today's post, all the photos shown here are from the Colvin Collection.

Thomas Pearson Payne, about 1900

     I was acquainted with some of the details regarding Donald's great grandfather, Thomas Pearson Payne (1852-1934), who owned a farm on Catharpin Road and was active in local Democratic politics and served for years as a Commissioner of Revenue in Spotsylvania.

Thomas P. Payne, second from left in front row

     One of my favorite photographs is the one of him and his brother James taken at Spotsylvania Courthouse, shown below. The Payne brothers used to stage mock boxing exhibitions between court sessions for the entertainment of the crowds who came there for court business.

James and Thomas P. Payne (right)

     Anyway, that much I already knew. What I did not know until yesterday is that Thomas Payne and his family lived for years at the McCoull house. All of the Payne children were born there 1873-1885, including  his oldest son Benjamin Franklin Payne, who married my grandmother's sister Lottie Kent.

Benjamin Franklin Payne

     The photo of the house seen at the beginning of today's blog shows Thomas Payne's son Fred, who with his twin brother Freemond was born at the McCoull place in 1875. Fred and Freemond Payne lived into their nineties and those of us of a certain age, including me, remember them sitting on the porch of their house on Catharpin Road. The picture below shows what Fred looked like about the same time as the picture of him at the house.

Frederick Payne

     In 1866 a brigade of volunteers came to Spotsylvania to disinter the Union dead at Bloody Angle and other Spotsylvania battlefields and remove their remains to the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg. On one of the headboards used to mark the graves, one of those workers wrote the words of the poem, "Bivouac of the Dead," and nailed it to a tree on the McCoull property. On August 25 of that year my great grandfather, George W.E. Row, stood at that tree and took out his little memorandum book (captured by him from a Federal cavalryman during the war) and wrote these words in it:

Bloody Angle, 1866

Memo book of George W.E. Row

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Political Satire, circa 1872

     Ever since I came across this page several years ago from the ledgers of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, I have not been quite sure what to make of it. It is written in the vernacular of a country hick, complete with intentional misspellings (he did not actually write or speak this way. He was, in fact quite articulate). It is the kind of humorous bit you sometimes would see in the pages of the Native Virginian in Orange, but whether George really intended to send it to "Mr. Editor" I cannot say. From this distance I do not know what point he was making, but I do know that there was a Charles Herndon who represented the Spotsylvania area in the House of Delegates in the 1870s.
     So, on the eve of the elections I offer this little bit of satirical whimsy from the pencil of George W.E. Row, followed by my transcription.

To Mr. Editor, by George W.E. Row

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mary Houston

Mary Houston, 1885

 She was a beautiful child.
     Reading and writing about my long departed relatives is often like returning to a story you have read before but you keep going back to it with the illogical hope that perhaps this time the ending might turn out differently. I have wanted that for Mary. Devoted, vivacious, lovely Mary. You deserved to have been spared.
     Mary Alexander Houston was born on December 16, 1882 in Rockbridge County at Red House, the stately home of her mother's people, the Alexanders. Mary was the youngest of four daughters born to Finley and Grace Houston. The year before Mary was born her fifteen month old sister Grace Agnes had died. Finley and his family were living at Red House then.
     In 1885 Finley was named quartermaster at VMI and the Houstons moved to the house provided to them on campus. Mary and her sisters were well educated during these years. They first were taught at a school run by Jenny Letcher, daughter of the former governor of Virginia. Then for a time they attended the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington, where their aunt Lizzie (my great grandmother) went to school in the 1860s. The story goes that Finley became dissatisfied with the principal at Ann Smith and withdrew the girls. They finished up at Lexington High School (Mary's sister Bruce went on to graduate from Longwood College in Farmville).
      Finley and Grace never had any sons, so the Houston girls benefited from their father's supplements to their education. Finley taught the girls how to shoot, fish, ride horses and so on. Mary also became an avid photographer and I am told by her granddaughter that she has glass plate negatives made by Mary. She and her sisters were beautiful girls from a family of some social standing in Lexington, but this did not prevent them from indulging in tomboyish mischief. On one occasion, while visiting at Red House, a plot was hatched to have a little fun that crept beyond the bounds of ladylike decorum. Bruce, Annette and Mary climbed the tree next to the house and crawled through a second story window to the room where their grandmother's trunk was stored. They dressed up in the clothes they found in it, including Mrs. Alexander's wedding dress, and shinnied back down the tree. When discovered by their grandmother, the Houston sisters were astride the fence in her lovely clothes, pretending they were riding horses.

Mary paddling on the North River

Mary, left, with sister Annette

     In 1899 the Houstons moved to "Clifton," the fine old home across the North River from Lexington. The following year Finley resigned as quartermaster at VMI and became president of Gazette Publishing, which put out the Lexington Gazette. One upside of their father's new career was that the social doings of the Houston girls frequently appeared in the society pages of the newspaper.

Mary, sitting at right, with cadets (VMI Archives)

Mary and Annette on the internet, 1899 style

Mary's letter to aunt Lizzie Row, 1902

       In the summer of 1902 Mary wrote an epic fifteen page letter to her aunt Lizzie Row in Spotsylvania. She described in almost cinematic terms the recent wedding of her sister Bruce at Clifton. She also mentioned her visit to Spotsylvania and fretted about Lizzie's health and then made a sassy crack about Dr. W.A. Harris: "You don't know how sorry I am to know you are not well again--I think I'll have to go back out there and punch that doctor's head--he's too good looking anyway and a black eye would be just the thing for the old guy." Mary then goes on to ask about Lizzie's stepson Abbie Row and his family, who were living next to Lizzie at Greenfield, and also about my grandfather Horace and his sister Mabel. All of this is done in a style that crackles with the energy of her personality. When finished she added this note to the head of the letter: "Whew! I pity you the job of reading all this--wouldn't read it myself for five dollars and fifty cents."

Mary Houston, seated at left

Mary Houston, far left

     In September 1905 Mary's other sister Annette married Benjamin Harlow at Clifton. The family assembled on the lawn for the picture below, which Annette sent to my great grandmother. Mary is standing at center behind her parents. To the left are her sister Bruce with husband William Davis. Annette and Ben Harlow are at right.

The Houstons at Clifton, 1905

     Two years later, Mary's mother died. Mary was still unmarried at age twenty five and continued to live with her father at Clifton. She was popular, beautiful and the belle of many social events but seemed in no great hurry to wed. She was devoted to her father and helped him manage Clifton. There was one fellow who was special, however. Americus Frederic White, six years older than Mary, was working his way through Washington and Lee College. He and Mary saw each other frequently. One winter day, when the North River had frozen over, Mary and Fred went skating. Mary took a tumble and Fred, who was close behind her, sliced off a large swath of her skirt with his skates. Unwilling to stand up and compromise her dignity, Mary commanded Fred to march up the hill to the house and retrieve the sewing basket so that she could make the necessary repairs.
     Once Fred completed his studies in Lexington, he was ready to begin his career. For the time being he was forced to do so without Mary, who still was not ready to marry. Fred gave her a bluebird pin and asked her to send it to him when she had changed her mind. Several years later thirty one year old Mary sent the pin to Fred. They were married at Clifton on April 2, 1914. Mary's bridesmaid was Mattie Harman, whose father was the State Treasurer of Virginia.

Wedding invitation of Mary and Fred

     Fred and Mary moved to Donora, Pennsylvania where Fred worked in the steel business. Just as she had done at Clifton, Mary assumed responsibility for running the household. In early 1916 Mary became pregnant with their first child. In the last known photograph of Mary White, she is seen holding Hunter, the son of her cousin Dr. Oscar Hunter McClung, who was married to Mattie Harman's sister Eugenia.

Mary White and Hunter McClung

     Mary went into labor on November 30, 1916. It was a difficult delivery. "They used instruments for a short while," as Fred White delicately put it in a letter to Finley. A ten pound girl was born on December 1. Their daughter, whom Fred named Mary Houston White, would live for almost ninety five years. Mary died a week later on December 8, 1916.

Headstone of Mary Houston White

     Mary's body was brought back to Lexington and she was buried in Stonewall Jackson Cemetery. Her father wrote a letter to his sister Lizzie in Spotsylvania two months later: "...I have been so crushed over Mary's sudden and to me entirely unexpected death that I have not been able to talk about it...The funeral was one of the largest I ever saw. Mary had so many friends in all parts of the county and the flowers nearly filled our parlor."

     In 1921 Fred White married Mattie Harman. They had two children of their own. To little Mary Houston White they were her true brother and sister and she never referred to them as step brother or step sister. By chance Mary's path and mine crossed last year. That chapter of the story can be read here.