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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.

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  1. The Stafford County marriage record of Louisa Stringfellow and J. Thomas Todd shows William and Delia Stringfellow as her parents. William Stringfellow and Delia Latham were married December 11, 1812. William Stringfellow died in Falmouth on December 14, 1831.

  2. Thanks for your help. Much obliged.