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Friday, March 29, 2013

"A Splendid Woman"

Estelle Rawlings Tribble

     Estelle Carlton Rawlings was born in Spotsylvania on October 16, 1862 to Zachary Herndon Rawlings and Bettie Row Rawlings. Her father had been wounded at Antietam and was still recuperating when his oldest daughter arrived. The first three years of Estelle's life were caught up in the chaos and tumult of the Civil War. Battles were being fought within hearing distance, slaves were escaping to freedom and the ways of the old South were disappearing before people's very eyes. [Here I wish to express my appreciation to Byrd Tribble, who kindly shared with me many of the images in today's post. Please note that each image can be clicked on for larger viewing.]
     In the spring of 1864, together with Zachary's parents and Bettie's mother and sister, Estelle's parents decided to escape from Spotsylvania for the relative safety of Goochland County before the Union army's expected advance across the Rapidan. This extended family and a small retinue of still loyal slaves loaded wagons with what belongings they could take and trundled to the little crossroads village of Hadensville on the Three Chopt Road. Here they would live as refugees for much of the remainder of the war.
     The Rawlings family returned to Spotsylvania by mid-1865 and began life anew. Estelle's sister Annie Belle was born in 1865, her brother Charles in 1867 (he died just two years later) and her younger sister Mattie arrived in 1869. Zachary bought a farm off Gordon Road near the county poor house, but his abilities and ambitions soon outgrew the life of a farmer. By 1871 Zachary had signed on as a contractor on the Norfolk & Western Railroad. For the next few years the Rawlings' family life was particularly unsettled as they followed the progress of the rail line.

The Rawlings house in Rockbridge

     In the early 1870s Zachary Rawlings bought a grist mill and nineteen acres in Vesuvius in northern Rockbridge County. He built a small store next to the mill and a fine house across the road. Here Estelle and her sisters would grow up and be married. Not long after the Rawlings settled in they received frequent visits from Estelle's uncle George Washington Estes Row (my great grandfather), who had recently lost most of his family due to illness. While living in this house Uncle George worked out a design for an improved railroad car coupling, for which he received a U.S. patent in 1874. The following year thirteen year old Estelle and her family attended his wedding at New Providence Presbyterian Church when he united with Lizzie Houston.
     The Rawlings themselves remained devoted Baptists and would become members of Greenville Baptist Church in Augusta County. When the time came for Estelle to continue her education, the decision was made to send her to the Albemarle Female Institute in Charlottesville, a Baptist affiliated school for girls where her great uncle Richard Herndon Rawlings served for many years as teacher and president. (The photo below shows a young Estelle holding what appears to be her diploma.)

Estelle Rawlings as a student
     Richard Herndon Rawlings (1829-1905) was a younger brother of Zachary's father, James Boswell Rawlings. He was born in Orange County and was a son of Richard Rawlings, a wealthy farmer who before the Civil War the owner of several valuable properties in Orange, including the town's hotel. As early as 1850 R.H. Rawlings had taken his first step in a life long commitment to education; that year's census shows him employed as a teacher in Orange. But there was much more to Rawlings' story than just teaching.
     Rawlings graduated with a law degree from Columbian College in Washington, D.C. in 1854 and soon thereafter migrated to Texas, where he published the Texas Sun 1855-1856 and also practiced law. He then returned to Virginia and in 1857 married Sallie Dickinson of Louisa County. By 1860 he and Sallie were living in Grove Hill, Alabama, where he had a law practice with Sallie's brother, William Powell Dickinson.
     After the outbreak of the Civil War, Rawlings again returned to Virginia and in 1863 enlisted in Company I of the Sixth Virginia Cavalry (the same regiment in which also served George W.E. Row). On May 31, 1864 his horse was shot from under him at Cold Harbor. Rawlings injured his back in the fall and was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital the following day. After recovering he rejoined his regiment only to have a second horse killed in action on September 7 at Opequon Creek. In April 1865 R.H. Rawlings, together with his nephew Ben Rawlings and George W.E. Row, escaped the encirclement at Appomattox. These three, with Estelle's father Zachary, surrendered to the provost marshal in Richmond on May 2, 1865.
Revolver and holster of Private R.H. Rawlings

     After the war Rawlings returned to his previous avocation as educator, serving for three years as the president of the Judson Female Institute in Marion, Alabama, where his brother in law W.P. Dickinson served on the board of trustees. Richard and Sallie Rawlings and her brother continued to share a household when they settled in Charlottesville in the 1870s. For the next twenty years Rawlings and Dickinson would teach at the Albemarle Female Institute, each also taking a turn as president of the school.
The Rawlings Institute (Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society)

     In 1889 Rawlings bought "Carlton," the sprawling estate adjacent to Monticello that was once the home of District Judge Alexander Rives. The grand old house burned in 1897, the same year that Rawlings bought a controlling interest in the Albemarle Female Institute for $22,000 and then donated the school to the Baptist General Association of Virginia. For this generous act the school was renamed the Rawlings Institute in his honor.

Henry Wise Tribble, 1880s

Wedding announcement of Estelle and Henry

Newspaper notice of Rawlings-Tribble wedding

     The year 1888 would prove to be of lasting significance for Estelle and her family. Estelle's mother died in March and was buried at Greenville Baptist Church. On December 12 Estelle married Baptist minister Henry Wise Tribble in a ceremony at her family's home in Rockbridge.
     Henry Tribble was born in Caroline County on February 8, 1860. He graduated from Richmond College (now the University of Richmond) in 1884 and in 1888 received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon after their wedding Estelle and Henry left for Jackson, Tennessee where Henry served as a minister until 1895. The first three of their nine children--Stella, Lewis and Bess--were born in Tennessee.

The Tribble family in Jackson, Tennessee

     In 1895 the growing Tribble family came to Charlottesville, where Henry became pastor of the Charlottesville Baptist Church. Reverend Tribble was active in the civic life of the city (he served on the town council) and became well known throughout the state for his excellent sermons. He often conducted services at the chapel at the University of Virginia. Henry led the organization of High Street Baptist Church and served as its minister 1901-1909.

The Tribbles and Mattie Rawlings Rucker in Charlottesville

     In addition to all of this activity--not to mention heading a household that would include five daughters and four sons--Dr. Henry Wise Tribble assumed yet another role in 1898. That year he was persuaded by the Baptist Association to assume the presidency of the Rawlings Institute. It was a position he was to hold for the next eleven years. Estelle was principal of the "Home Department," which appeared to consist of administering some of the front office duties.
     The Rawlings Institute (as did the Albemarle Female Institute) advertised heavily in a number of Virginia newspapers over the years. The most informative of these appeared as part of a supplement to the July 13, 1906 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch:

Richmond Times Dispatch 13 July 1906

     Despite her manifold duties as mother and school administrator, Estelle never failed to extend kindness to those in need, including my great grandmother in June 1899. On the stationery of the Rawlings Institute Estelle wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to Lizzie Houston Row (the envelope and first page of the letter are shown below): My heart goes out to you in this great affliction. The Lord knows what is for our good but we can't see it now...I have thought of you today so often and wished I could be with you. If I can be of service please call on me for I'll take it as a great pleasure to do anything for you.

Estelle's letter to Lizzie Row

Page from Estelle's letter to Lizzie Row

     The success Henry and Estelle achieved at the Rawlings Institute attracted the attention of the Baptist Association in Florida, which in 1909 asked Henry to become president of Columbia College in Lake City. Henry resigned from his positions in Charlottesville in early 1909 and traveled to Florida to begin his new duties and make arrangements for his large family, which now numbered only eight children, as Gladys had died of scarlet fever in 1904. The year after the Tribbles departed for Florida the Virginia Baptist Association sold the Rawlings Institute to the Episcopal diocese, which renamed the school St. Anne's. This venerable institution survives today as St. Anne's Belfield.

The Fredericksburg Free Lance 9 January 1909
     The Tribble family and three servants traveled to Lake City, Florida by train in July 1909 (the servants were required to ride separately in the "Jim Crow" car). Estelle packed a large basket of food to sustain everyone during the long trip from Charlottesville. The arrival of the Tribbles caused quite a sensation in sleepy Lake City and a crowd of well wishers followed their horse drawn conveyance to their new home on the campus.
Estelle tatting lace

Henry Wise Tribble

     The 1910 census shows that in addition to Estelle and Henry and their children, the Tribble household in Lake City included four servants--a maid, a laborer, an errand boy and 60 year old Betty Harris, the family cook.

"Aunt" Betty Harris

     Henry's work at the college consisted largely of shoring up the school's finances and increasing student enrollment. He also preached at remote settlements in Florida. One of these places was Rodman where H.S. Cummings, a trustee of the school, owned a saw mill. The little church at Rodman was accessible only by a rail spur and on the evening of February 4, 1912 Reverend Tribble was riding to his destination in a truck modified to run on rails. Unknown to the driver and Henry a logging train with no lights on the rear had stopped on the track ahead. A log extending from the rear of the flat car came through the truck, crushing Henry's leg. Henry was taken to Mr. Cummings' house and his family and a doctor were summoned. Two days later fifty two year old Henry Wise Tribble died with his family by his beside.

Estelle Rawlings Tribble

     Estelle was now left with the children depending on her, and her only asset was a $17,000 life insurance policy. She took a faculty job at Columbia College and remained at the house on campus for the time being. The year 1912 ended with another painful blow when her youngest daughter Muriel died of diphtheria on December 1.
     The following year Estelle moved to a house on Marion Avenue in Lake City and took in boarders to help make ends meet. She made the commitment to see to it that her surviving children would receive college educations and do so without incurring debt. With the help of her oldest son Lewis, this ambitious goal was achieved over the period of several years.

Sons of Estelle Tribble

 Shown left to right in the photo above are:
Charles Emerson Tribble, graduate of Stetson University and Yale Medical School. Noted physician and mayor of Deland, Florida
Harold Wayland Tribble, president of Wake Forest University 1950s-1960s who successfully oversaw the school's move from Wake Forest to Winston-Salem
Henry Rawlings Tribble, graduate of the University of Florida. Farmer and teacher
Lewis Herndon Tribble, dean of the law school at Stetson University

     By the time Estelle's father lay dying, she herself was already suffering from the heart condition that would take her life ten years later. When Zachary Herndon Rawlings died in Rockbridge on October 12, 1916 Estelle was too ill to make the trip and sent her oldest daughter Stella in her stead. As the years went by Estelle continued to weaken until she needed almost constant care.

Estelle's letter to Lizzie Row, 28 April 1924

     In April 1924 Estelle and my great grandmother exchanged letters. Lizzie Row warmly remembered visiting the Tribbles in Charlottesville and how nice "Mr. T" had been to her. In her reply, Estelle also looked back on the past with fondness:

     My mother said you were brave to marry Uncle George and start off among strangers and I know for myself now that you were and cheerful and kind and loving. As I sit here and let my mind take me back over the years I can see you taking leave of the folks and stepping into the carriage to go with your bridegroom. Later I knew you at home. I held your babies and saw your love lit eye and bright smile and I say it is not all of life to live nor all of life to die. You have a great joy awaiting you. My mother loved you and she knew a true woman when she saw one. God our Father will bring us together in the great Hereafter and we will enjoy the pleasures we have been denied of here.

      On the last page of this letter my great grandmother added this postscript in 1925: "Mr. Row's niece. A splendid woman."
     Estelle Rawlings Tribble died in Deland, Florida on January 30, 1926. She is buried next to Henry in the Oak Lawn Cemetery in Lake City.

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