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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Brief Story of Ellen

822 Federal Street, Lynchburg, Virginia. About 1880

     In the course of combing through my family's papers over the years, I have learned a great deal about them. A much harder task has been to uncover what happened to the slaves once they left my ancestor's households in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties. Some of these people were sold, some were given away as presents and a good many escaped to freedom in the summer of 1862. Today I can say that I have successfully discovered the fate of one of these persons, Ellen Upshur.
[Please click on each image of this blog for larger viewing.]

  Ellen, John and Patsy, 1857

     In 1857 my great great grandmother, Nancy Estes Row, gave three enslaved children--John, Ellen and Patsy--to her daughter and son in law, Martha Jane Williams and James Tompkins Williams. At that time James and Martha were living in Richmond, where James was a successful partner in the merchandising firm of Tardy & Williams. It is impossible to say whether John and Patsy were also of the Upshur family. The fact that John was given with Ellen leads me to believe that he could well have been her brother.

List of runaway slaves, Greenfield plantation, 1862

     Five years after Ellen went to live with the Williamses in Richmond, most of the remaining slaves of Greenfield, my family's ancestral farm in Spotsylvania, escaped to freedom. Nancy Estes Row listed them on this sheet of blue paper and helpfully included their last names and ages. The Upshurs listed here are William, Agnace, Betsy, Robert, Matilda, Peter and Silas Right. Ellen was most likely the daughter of either Agnace or Matilda.
     After the Civil War, the Williamses left Richmond and moved to Lynchburg, which had been the home of James's family since 1814. Martha and James settled at 822 Federal Street, a splendid property that occupies an entire city block. In the photo shown at the beginning of today's post, the building adjacent to the main house was the servants' quarters and kitchen. This became the home of Ellen Upshur.

Kitchen in the servants' house, 822 Federal Street

     Ellen had learned to cook at Greenfield, where meals were prepared in an open fireplace in the kitchen house. For many years Ellen cooked for the Williams family, in both Richmond and Lynchburg, using that time honored technique. While living at 822 Federal Street, James T. Williams ordered a modern cook stove for $14 and had it shipped by rail to Lynchburg. He thought Ellen would be delighted by the arrival of this bit of technology, but the opposite proved to be true. She continued to cook in the fireplace and only after some time could she be induced to use the new stove.
     The 1870 census shows Ellen Upshur, the family cook, living in the household of James and Martha Williams. Ellen Maria Upshur and Edward Garland were married in Lynchburg on 28 Janurary 1875. In 1880 the census shows that forty year old Ellen U. Garland, the family cook, is living in the servants' house with her fifty six year old husband, Edward Garland, whose occupation is listed as tobacco factory hand. I last find Edward Garland in the public record working as a waiter at Randolph- Macon Women's College in 1897.
     Ellen is mentioned in a letter written by Martha Row Williams in August 1883. Martha had traveled to Spotsylvania to transact business with her sister in law, Lizzie Houston Row, who lived on land that once was part of Greenfield, where Martha had been born. Ellen accompanied Martha to the old plantation where she had also been born. Martha wrote: "Ellen enjoyed her visit very much."
     Born into slavery, separated from her family as a young girl and enslaved until 1865, Ellen Upshur chose to remain for many years as a free person with the family whom she had served since childhood. This certainly happened more often than I am aware, but it is the first time I have encountered this circumstance in the long chronicle of my ancestors.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dr. Row in the Limelight

Dr. Elhanon Winchester Row

     Today I write my eighty-eighth post, which if nothing else proves that anyone with an internet connection and access to a trunk full of old papers can become a history blogger.
     A couple of years ago I wrote a piece about Elhanon Row, who has always been a favorite ancestor of mine: he was the first of my people to graduate from college, the first to graduate from medical school, the first to be elected to state office and the first to be president of the Medical Society of Virginia.
     So when the Orange County Historical Society approached me late last year to write something for their venerable newsletter, the Record, Dr. Row was a logical choice for subject matter. The Record enjoys a well deserved reputation for featuring high quality historical writing by gifted people. While I had every confidence that Elhanon deserved to be read by the Society's membership, I was also honest enough to know that my writing ability was not in the same league with their regular contributors. Orange County author and historian Frank Walker volunteered to spot weld some of the weaker portions of my narrative, and I am proud to say that this effort appears in the current number (Vol. 44, No. 1) of the Record, shown below. For those of you who read this to the end, the date that Dr. Row departed this life should read 23 May 1900. (Images can be clicked on for larger viewing.)
     To my readers who have a strong interest in local history in general and Orange County history in particular, I highly recommend the back issues of the Record, available on the website of the Orange County Historical Society.

Orange County Historical Society Record