Search This Blog

Monday, July 29, 2013

Considering Mr. Row

George Washington Estes Row

     Today I write my 100th essay for Spotsylvania Memory.

     It is fitting, therefore, that I choose as my subject the life of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883). My readers have long known that he has been the focus of much of my research. There are a few good reasons why this is true. First, he is the most richly documented of my ancestors. Because of the wealth of documentation I have uncovered about him, I know more about GWE (as I fondly--and respectfully--refer to him) than I do about my own parents. Second, the story of his life as revealed in these records makes him a figure of legitimate historical interest. The era in which he lived, and his actions and decisions taken during those years, show him to be a man emblematic of his time and place. His life was lived against the backdrop of the American South during the mid nineteenth century. The great issues of slavery, secession, civil war and reconstruction were all writ large in his life, and he embraced the challenges of each with vigor, intelligence and tenacity.
     This photograph of GWE was taken about 1870 by Fredericksburg photographer Frederick Theodore Miller (please click on his image for an enlarged view). This is only the second picture of him I have found so far. If we accept 1870 as the likely date of his portrait, then there are a few things we can say about GWE as he sits with cigar in hand in Miller's studio. He is twenty seven years old and for three years has been married to his first wife, Annie Daniel of Culpeper. On this day Annie--now pregnant with their daughter Virginia Isabella--is likely at home at Greenfield, the Row family farm in western Spotsylvania, taking care of their two year old son Absalom Alpheus Row. Also at Greenfield are Annie's mother- and sister in law, Nancy Estes Row and Nan Row.
     GWE does not own Greenfield, and never will. He will manage the family farm for his mother and sister for the rest of his life. Two years before this photo was taken, GWE's mother deeded to him 166 1/2 acres of Greenfield land that lay just south of the old home place and extended along Jackson Trail West to Brock Road. Ten years after Mr. Miller took this picture, GWE would build on this land, which he called "Sunshine," the home in which his family would live for the next 100 years.
     As a boy growing up at Greenfield, GWE lived in a world of wealth, privilege and opportunity. Living at Greenfield with the Rows were were two dozen slaves and overseer James Brock. This allowed the Row plantation to operate as an independent principality, complete with a weaving house, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, shoe shop, barns, stables and other dependencies as well as almost 900 acres of land. GWE's sisters received their education from private tutors. After the death of his father he was sent to board at the Locust Grove Academy near Charlottesville.
     With Virginia's secession from the Union in April 1861, GWE Row left school and returned to Spotsylvania to defend a way of life already vanishing, although no one in the South believed it at the time. In one of the last grand gestures made at antebellum Greenfield, GWE's widowed mother sent her son off to war with a slave of his own age. Together they rode to the encampment of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry astride the two best horses from the farm.
     GWE Row's experience during the Civil War was blessed by good fortune. He was never wounded, never captured and never hospitalized for sickness. He transferred to the Sixth Virginia Cavalry in 1862 and served as a courier for General Jeb Stuart and other Confederate notables. Having risen to the lofty rank of sergeant in the aftermath of the Gettysburg campaign, he was reduced to private in March 1864 for going absent without leave to help his mother during the hard winter of 1863-64. Three months after his court martial his gray mare was shot from under him in fighting near Petersburg. In April 1865 he was among the fire eating die-hards who cut their way out of the encirclement at Appomattox. He remained at large in his Confederate uniform until surrendering to the Federal provost marshal in Richmond on May 2, 1865.
      By the time of his 1870 portrait, GWE had already dipped his toe into the railroad business. Specifically, he began a saw mill operation that manufactured ties, fencing stock and other material for the Fredericksburg and Gordonsville Railroad. Over the next thirteen years he would employ dozens of freedmen in this enterprise.
     GWE Row's relationships with the blacks who shared his world, and his opinions about them, remain open to interpretation. He left behind no letters or diaries which reveal anything of his attitudes on the subject. There are no accounts of his abusing blacks or otherwise indulging in the kind of violent reaction to emancipation that swept the South after the Civil War.
     Nor is there any evidence that he or his family at any time doubted the legitimacy of the slave system. They certainly gave their all to preserve it. That said, once the war was lost and emacipation became the law of the land, the Rows made the best of the new social order.
     Yes, GWE Row was active in the local politics of Virginia's Conservative Party, which would indicate a hard attitude to the status of newly enfranchised black citizens. GWE's family had owned indentured servants or African slaves since 1624, so it may be safe to assume that a certain point of view was not eradicated by the outcome of the war.
     And yet there is this: His business ledgers show a meticulous accounting for the compensation of the freedmen who worked at his saw mill. For each of these men is an entry for their pay, which included cash, foodstuffs, whiskey and tobacco. George W.E. Row paid their bail when they fell afoul of the law. He paid for the coffins of their relatives. And he is mentioned in the will of his most valued employee.
     In addition to this written record is the oral tradition of Greenfield, as told by GWE's daughter Mabel Row Wakeman. Despite the fact that Greenfield's slaves made good their escape in 1862, a few remained in the neighborhood. When one would die, the body would be laid out in Greenfield's parlor as would be any family member before burial.
     A certain ambiguity also characterized GWE's religious beliefs. His parents were devout Baptists. His sisters were also deeply religious, and they fretted endlessly about the negative impact army life was having on his soul during the Civil War. He never joined any church. In a meditation on her husband written a year after his death, my great grandmother wrote that she believed he was a Christian. Shortly before he died of typhoid pneumonia in the spring of 1883, GWE taught a Bible class for the men's Sunday school at Shady Grove Church. in appreciation, the class presented him with a moustache cup, which survives.
     His motto was : Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.

That is good enough for me.

     When I began researching my family's history five years ago, I knew very little beyond the names of my grandparents. As I immersed myself into their history, I was struck by the prodigious amount of detail found in these documents and soon apprehended their historical significance. My family's history is no more important than anyone else's. What makes their situation unique is the sheer volume of material pertaining to them that exists in private collections and public archives.
     In the intervening years I have accumulated a digital library of over 11,000 images relating to the world of my ancestors. This includes photographs, letters, manuscripts, ledgers, maps, military records, business papers, court documents and so on. The stories of the hundreds of people I have written about on Spotsylvania Memory represent a close reading of those 11,000 pages.
     Along the way, I have been helped by many.
     To those of you who opened your homes to me to share your photos, your artifacts, your stories and your perspectives, I say thank you. Each of you generous souls has added a stitch to the fabric of Virginia's history. I will be forever grateful to you all.
     Two years ago I was encouraged by many to share online what I had learned. At that time I had never written for a public audience and I indulged in some serious hand wringing before launching Spotsylvania Memory. While I am not now and will never be  a professional writer or historian, your encouragement was crucial in the birth of this blog. Thank you, each and every one.
     In the course of writing Spotsylvania Memory, I have had the honor and privilege of sharing my pictures and the fruits of my research with authors who have included that material in their books. I have answered inquiries by historians, writers, academics and regular folk like myself. I have made digital contributions of thousands of images to libraries, museums and archival repositories around the country.
     Over the years many have expressed concern on how much "work" all of this must have entailed. I can honestly say that not for a moment have I ever considered any of this work. This has been an undertaking that has provided me with a high level of fulfillment, pride and personal meaning.
     It may be some time before I post in this space again. In the meantime, Spotsylvania Memory will continue to maintain its presence online, and I will remain alert to items of historical interest which cross my desk that may be of interest to you.

And so, until then, I bid to all my faithful readers a fond farewell.



Saturday, July 27, 2013

Louisa and Joshua

Marie Louisa Kale Taylor

     Recently an album containing rare photographs was discovered in the Fredericksburg area. Because I had written about a number of the people whose portraits are contained in the album, the owner was able to contact Spotsylvania Memory and inform me of their existence. He generously shared those images with me and gave me permission to feature them on my blog.
     Maria Louisa Kale was the oldest daughter of Anthony Kale--a Swiss born candy maker and grocer--and Catherine Estes, a sister of my great great grandmother, born at Greenfield plantation in Spotsylvania. Louisa Kale was born about 1818 at 706 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg, where the Kale store was located (the family occupied the upper floors). For those who may be interested in my detailed overview of the Kales of Fredericksburg, click here.
     Louisa's father also owned the building next door, 708 Caroline Street. Here, rooms were let to boarders, one of whom was Benjamin Long, who came to Fredericksburg from Mississippi. He and Louisa fell in love and were married on January 29, 1834. I know very little about Benjamin Long except for the fact that his marital bliss was short lived. He died on August 16, 1834.
     I assume that Louisa Kale Long returned to her parent's home to live in the years following Benjamin's death. By the late 1840s it would appear that she got a second chance at happiness She married Joshua T. Taylor in Fredericksburg on February 26, 1850.

Joshua T. Taylor

     About Joshua's early life I know very little. He was born in 1820, possibly in Spotsylvania. By the 1840s he was working as a clerk and printer for the Department of the Interior. The 1850 census, taken on July 30, shows Joshua--employed as a printer-- and Louisa living in Washington, D.C. in the house of John Robinson, also a printer. In addition to Mrs. Robinson there were three other people living in the house, one of whom was also a printer.

Harriet Mills Hough

     Peyton Hough was born in Loudon County in 1797. He married Harriet Mills in 1825 in Alexandria and sometime thereafter they settled in Fredericksburg. There Peyton Hough served as "Nuisance Inspector" for a spell and in 1848 he was elected to city council. Most noteworthy for that time was the fact that he emancipated a slave named Lewis Thornton in 1843.

Fredericksburg News, 30 December 1852

     Harriet Hough ran a boarding house in Fredericksburg in the 1850s. By 1863 the Houghs had moved to Washington, D.C., where Harriet continued her career as a renter of rooms. This she did until her death on February 27, 1866.

Mary E. Hough

     After Harriet's death, Peyton Hough's daughters Mary and Etta took on the responsibility of running the boarding house, which also served as their home. The 1870 census shows the Hough sisters as managers of the boarding house, while their father's occupation is listed as "Gentleman." With them were living 14 boarders, including Joshua and Louisa Taylor.

Joseph C. Moore

     The city directory for Washington shows that Louisa and Joshua Taylor lived at several locations during the 1860s. He is usually listed as "clerk" except for the years 1865-66, when he has a second listing as "tobacconist." My guess is that with the end of the Civil War Joshua seized the opportunity to make some money moonlighting as a trader in southern tobacco, now available in quantity once again. During these years he was presented with a photograph by one of his co-workers, Joseph C. Moore. According to the owner of his picture, written on the back is: "To my friend Joshua T. Taylor from his respectful sub[ordinate?] Jos. C. Moore. Washington D.C. June 14, 1865."

Louisa Taylor

     Maria Louisa Kale Long Taylor died in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 1872. Her body was brought back to Fredericksburg for the funeral, which took place in St. George's Episcopal Church. She is buried in the Masonic Cemetery.

Headstone of Louisa Kale Taylor

     In the years following Louisa's death Joshua T. Taylor continued to work as a printer in the Washington. He lived at a number of boarding houses over the years. He also served as the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia. He died in Stafford County on October 8, 1886.

[Please note that all images in my blogs can be clicked on for larger viewing]

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Death has broken life's silver chain"

Julia Kale Alexander

     This is the second in a series I am writing about people whose portraits appear in an album that recently surfaced in the Fredericksburg area.
     Julia Anton Kale was born at 706 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg on July 27, 1833. My detailed overview about her family's history can be read here. Today it will suffice to say that she was the youngest child of Anthony Kale, a Swiss born candy maker and merchant, and Catherine Estes, a sister of my great great grandmother, who was born at Greenfield in Spotsylvania.
     The Kale family prospered and Anthony Kale built both 706 and 708 Caroline Street. Both buildings survive today as, respectively, the Fredericksburg Visitors Center and Beck's Antiques. The Kale store was at 706 and the family lived on the floors above. Julia's three surviving brothers moved west and she and two of her sisters, Mary and Marie Louisa, married well and remained in the Fredericksburg area. A fourth sister, Kate, never married. The story of Kate's dramatic confrontation with Union soldiers at her uncle's farm in Spotsylvania in 1864 can be read here.
     On September 29, 1852 Julia Kale and Fredericksburg printer Robert Brooke Alexander traveled to Weldon, North Carolina, where they were married. Robert was active in the civic life of Fredericksburg, joining the Sons of Temperance in 1849 and becoming a member of the Masonic Lodge No. 4. During the 1850s Robert Alexander was the publisher of The Democratic Recorder, a newspaper he sold to George Henry Clay Rowe in 1860 (after the Civil War The Recorder was known as The Fredericksburg Ledger). During the Civil War Robert Alexander printed provisional stamps for the Confederate government, and his work is prized by modern philatelists.

Lutie Alexander

Lutie Alexander

     Julia's and Robert's daughter Lucy, called "Lutie" by the family, was born in 1858. From these photographs it is not difficult to see that she was a darling child and was adored by her parents. And so it must have been a crushing blow when she died on November 7, 1861. The Alexanders published this heart-rending tribute to their daughter and buried her in the Masonic Cemetery in Fredericksburg.

     Dearest Lutie thou art gone.
     Death has broken life's silver chain; 
     But to heaven thy spirit's flown, 
     Where we hope to meet again.

Headstone of Lucy B. "Lutie" Alexander

     Sometime during the 1860s Robert and Julia Alexander moved from town to the Aquia district in Stafford, not far from the home of Mary Harding, Julia's sister. They lived on this farm for the rest of their lives. Robert Brooke Alexander died on August 31, 1878. He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery.

Headstone of Robert Brooke Alexander

     Julia and her sisters were well to do, and my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row, obtained loans from Julia and Kate to sustain his cash-hungry saw mill enterprise. Shown below is a check written by him to his cousin Julia in 1881.

George W.E. Row to Julia Alexander, 1881

     Julia Kale Alexander died in Stafford on July 7, 1887. She is laid to rest in the Masonic Cemetery with Robert and Lutie.

The Free Lance, 15 July 1887

Headstone of Julia Kale Alexander

[Please note that all images in my blogs can be clicked on for larger viewing]

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Five Sisters

Isabella Stringfellow

     Recently the existence of an album of rare photographs was brought to my attention by an alert reader of Spotsylvania Memory. This album had been acquired by its present owner at an estate sale in the Fredericksburg area, and he has generously shared those portraits with me. A number of the pictures are of people known to me or related to me, and I have written about many of them before in this space. Today's post is the first in a series I am writing about these photographs and the stories that lay behind the faces. Before I was introduced to the album, the subjects of today's writing were unknown to me.
     The Stringfellow sisters were born in Falmouth in Stafford County circa 1816-1831. Their names were Lucy Bell, Louisa, Rebecca, Susan and Isabella. Their parents were William Stringfellow and Delia Latham, who who were married in 1812. William Stringfellow died in 1831. By 1844 these young women were on their own and fending for themselves.
     They fended for themselves, and they prospered.
     The Stringfellow sisters bought a house where they lived and ran a thriving millinery business. The earliest known advertisement for their business appeared in The Democratic Recorder in 1844. The business itself, and the building that housed it, was owned by Lucy Bell and Susan Stringfellow. This was located "on the east side of Caroline Street between William and George Streets," according to their policy with the Mutual Assurance Society.
     These women were expert hat makers. Isabella's handiwork was remarked upon in the Fredericksburg newspapers of the day, which noted that her hats won prizes at both the Fredericksburg fair and the State Fair in Richmond. The Stringfellows were regular advertisers in the Fredericksburg News, two examples of which are shown here:

Fredericksburg News, 19 Oct 1849

Fredericksburg News, 11 October 1852

     Louisa Stringfellow married James Thomas Todd in Stafford in 1854. He had been working as a clerk in Fredericksburg and was the oldest son of Charles Todd and Caroline Matilda Richards, the original owners of Todd's Tavern in Spotsylvania. Sometime before 1860, Louisa and J.T. Todd moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he had gotten a job as treasurer of the Montgomery and West Point Railroad.

Louisa Stringfellow Todd

     Louisa's sisters never married.
     During the 1860s Lucy Bell, Susan, Rebecca and Isabella also moved to Montgomery. There they again established themselves as successful milliners. At first they lived together in a house of their own. By 1880 they were living with Louisa and J.T. Todd and their two surviving sons, three Stringfellow nephews and a servant and a cook. This house, which must have been quite large, was located at 121 Madison Street. Just three blocks away lived Reverend Horace Stringfellow, who was originally from Virginia. Whether this was a complete coincidence or he was related to the Stringfellow sisters, I cannot say.
     Louisa Todd died in 1882 and J.T. Todd departed this life in 1885. The four remaining sisters continued to live at the house on Madison Street, at least for a time, and they plied their trade as milliners into old age. Lucy Bell and Susan died in 1894, and Isabella followed them in 1905. Rebecca was the last to go in 1911. All of them, including the Todds, are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.

[Please note that all images in my blogs can be clicked on for larger viewing]

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Schools of Spotsylvania

School at Glenburnie,  the farm of John Henry Biscoe, 1897

     One hundred years ago, long before the consolidation of the county's school district, Spotsylvania's landscape was dotted with one and two room schools that served the students who lived within walking distance. The teachers were mostly young single women from the community, some of whom had actually attended college, like my great aunt Mabel Row Wakeman. Modern students, and their parents, would be appalled at the primitive nature of these schools. These were most often one room affairs, heated by a wood stove in winter and cooled by the simple expedient of opening the windows in summer. A nearby privy was the only accommodation for the students' comfort. There were no gyms, no cafeterias, no band rooms, no computers, no electricity, no running water. And yet, surprisingly,  a number of students taught in these schools went on to attend college, raise families, survive the Great Depression and win two world wars.

Pineapple School, 1903
     Thanks to the Colvin Collection, an amazing archive exists that preserves the images of these old schools, now long gone.  What makes this archive of really historical importance, however, is the fact that Fredericksburg historian Robert Hodge was able to identify many of the students and teachers in these photographs and attach numbered captions indicating who they were. About two dozen of these images exist and today I am presenting a few of them for my readers. If a sufficient interest is shown in these important photographs, I will include more in future posts.
     So join me, won't you, as we travel down these dusty country lanes to the school houses of our grandparents and great grandparents. Shoes are not required. [Please note that all images in my blogs can be clicked on for larger viewing]

Public School No. 1, 1897-98

Goshen School, 1913

Goshen School, 1909

Goshen School, 1911

Goshen School, 1919

Goshen School, 1895-96

School No. 2, about 1908

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Murder in Old Lexington

William George White

     Just recently I learned for the first time about the story of Tom Blackburn, a VMI cadet who was slain in downtown Lexington in 1854. Given the prominence of the persons involved in this tale and the wealth of detail surrounding this event, I do not know how this has escaped my attention before. Fortunately, that was remedied this past week by well known author and journalist Dan Morrow, whose book will be published by The History Press later this year. I urge all my readers to keep their radar on for its release. Dan has serialized much of the story in his newspaper, The Middleburg Eccentric. Here are the links to the story as it appeared in that paper: This is history writing at its best; vivid in detail, superbly researched and includes rarely seen photographs. I have read Dan Morrow's serial twice already. It is that good. [All images in my blogs can be clicked on for larger viewing.]
     The cast of characters in this story includes Lexington merchant William George White, who was married to Ann Eliza Houston, an aunt of my great grandmother Lizzie Row. The Whites were the parents of six children. Letters written to Lizzie Row by two of their daughters--Clara and Maggie-- survive. Their oldest son, William, left Washington College to join the Rockbridge Light Artillery in 1864 and survived the war.

Ann Eliza Houston White

     So what is the connection of William  George White to the fate of Tom Blackburn? I do not believe I am giving away too much to mention here that the unfortunate cadet died on the door leading to the cellar of White's business. The photograph below, taken during the funeral of Robert E. Lee in 1870, clearly shows White's place of business. Across the street stands Lexington Presbyterian Church. William George White was one of the pallbearers that day. Many thanks to Dan Morrow for sharing this photo with me.