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Saturday, September 28, 2013

"My dear daughter"

Lizzie Houston

     One of the advantages of being a daughter of George Washington Houston was that your father could afford to send you to board at the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington. This exclusive high school with an enrollment of sixty six young ladies offered classes in such subjects as History, Rhetoric, Moral Science, Evidences of Christianity and Italian. [Please note that all images in my post may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]

Front page from Ann Smith catalog

     Lizzie Houston was fourteen years old when in the autumn of 1868 she packed her things and  was driven from Mount Pleasant, her family's home in Rockbridge County, to the Academy. I suspect that her feelings were mixed about this new adventure as she contemplated being separated from her home for days at a time. On the back of the last page of the school's catalog she wrote, somewhat dramatically: 1868. Pleasant days are gone, never to return.

William Spottswood White

     During Lizzie's time at Ann Smith, the principal there was William Spottswood White, who for eighteen years had been the minister at Lexington Presbyterian Church. White had been a spiritual mentor to Stonewall Jackson, who was a deacon at the church. With Reverend White's blessing, Jackson organized a Sunday school for blacks which met on Sunday afternoons.
     Reverend White resigned as pastor of his church in 1866, citing as his reasons ill health and the fact that he was losing his voice. He gradually recovered and, at age sixty eight, he was now obliged to begin a second career in order to fend off encroaching poverty. He and his wife took over the management of Ann Smith, and the school prospered during their three year stewardship.

The Edge Hill Sunbeam

     Lizzie received a very good education at Ann Smith. She apparently felt comfortable to tackle extracurricular projects, such as being the "editoress" of the Edge Hill Sunbeam, whatever that was. But by the winter of 1869 she had sufficient time away from home to reflect on matters of sin and religion, which would have come naturally to a girl raised as a strict Presbyterian by a very devout father.

George Washington Houston

     George Washington Houston (1820-1882) was a graduate of Washington College, a farmer, an entrepreneur, a former slave owner and justice of the peace during the Civil War. He was also a deacon and elder at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Rockbridge, where he received his early education from Reverend James Morrison.
     The pastor at New Providence 1860-1880 was Ebenezer Dickey Junkin. His father had been president of Washington College prior to the Civil War and his sister had been the first wife of Stonewall Jackson. In 1875 he would officiate at the wedding of Lizzie Houston to George Washington Estes Row.

First page of George Houston's letter to Lizzie

     In February 1869 George Houston received a letter from his daughter. Lizzie's letter does not survive, but its subject is easily guessed in his reply: It filled my heart with joyous gratitude to learn as I did from your letter that you were concerned on the subject of Religion. It is the most important subject that can occupy your thoughts, and it interferes with none of the duties that are incumbent upon us.
     Reverend Junkin added his own letter to Lizzie, also dated February 8, in which he expresses his joy at her taking seriously the nature of sin and religion in one's life, and that it was never too early to take to heart those Christian precepts that would protect her soul.
     As for George Houston, it is clear that religion played a central role in his family's life and education. The piety conveyed in his letter was sincere. The Houstons were the genuine article when it came to their faith. Lizzie remained a devoted churchgoer and reader of Bible studies until her death in 1928.
    George Houston concluded his letter to her with this:
     I will try to get up to see you this week. I would however advise you to let your Uncle White [1] and Dr. White [2] know that this subject is interesting to you and especially Cousin Maggie [3]. She is a sweet loving Christian & will sympathize with you & pray for you. God bless you & deliver you and keep you my dear daughter.
                                                                              Affectionately yours etc
                                                                                                Geo. W. Houston

[1]  William George White (1811-1888), Lexington merchant who was married to George Houston's sister Ann Eliza. He was an active member of Lexington Presbyterian Church and served with Robert E. Lee on the board of the Rockbridge Bible Society. White was a pallbearer at Lee's funeral.

William George White

[2] Reverend William Spottswood White (no relation to William George White).

[3] Margaret White (1844-1929), oldest daughter of William George and Ann Eliza White. She was a faithful correspondent for decades and a number of her letters to Lizzie survive.

Maggie White

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Journal of Absalom Row

The slaves of Absalom Row, spring 1825

     During a research trip to Spotsylvania earlier this month, a family artifact that had been hidden away for decades was rediscovered. It is a leather bound journal, measuring 4x6 inches that is in museum condition, considering its age and the circumstances in which it was used almost 200 years ago. [Please note that each image in my blog can be clicked on for larger viewing]

Absalom Row's journal

     This is the record kept by Absalom Row (1796-1855) of Orange County during a journey he made in 1825. I am his great great grandson. This journey made by Absalom was a business trip undertaken with a serious purpose in mind. It covered several hundred miles of arduous travel on often primitive roads from Orange County, Virginia to Huntsville, Alabama. He and his fellow travelers slept in the open each night during the month it took to reach their destination.
     The entries in this book are matter-of-fact and, it might be accurately said, all business. There is nothing here of self reflection, or musings on the purpose of this enterprise (which was starkly financial). There are no descriptions of the people involved or their thoughts or reactions to what was happening.
     And yet, despite the unselfconscious veil drawn over the human feelings that are never mentioned, this little book is one of the saddest documents in my family's archive.

Absalom Row

     Absalom Row grew up in a slave-owning household and, in fact, his family had enjoyed the services of either indentured servants or black slaves for the 200 years leading up to his journey. By his early twenties Absalom was already a slave owner. The 1820 census indicates that he owned thirty five, all of them male. The fact that there were so many (he was still unmarried and his father Thomas owned a fewer number) and that there were no females among them leads me to speculate on the reason. Census data from 1830, 1840 and 1850 - in addition to his personal records that have survived - show that he never again owned so many as he did in the early 1820s. That fact, coupled with the expressed purpose of his trip in 1825, makes me consider that his involvement in the business of slave trading may have been more extensive than I ever thought possible.
     While this aspect of my family's history is a difficult one to write about, I have in previous posts confronted this topic and presented the facts as I found them in the original records. For those of you who may not have already read those articles pertaining to Absalom, they are Slavery and Absalom Row and A Case of Murder in Old Spotsylvania. As a rule I tend to let the historical record speak for itself without a lot of editorializing, so let us stipulate here that the institution of slavery was a bad thing for the enslaved, a corrupting influence on their masters and an enormous impediment in the moral development of our nation. Therefore we must not seek to mitigate the consequences of its existence, or to dismiss the complexities and nuances of this and all man-made institutions.
     In the spring of 1825 Absalom received money from his brother Keeling Row and his father as investors in this financial venture. In preparing for this trip Absalom incurred some costs, among which were $25 for a wagon called a "carryall," 25 cents for a watering bucket and $5 paid for four blankets. The last were intended for the four slaves who accompanied him from Orange: 18 year old Ralleigh (also spelled "Rolley" or "Rolleigh"), 22 year old Willis, 14 year old Fanny and 12 year old Richard ("Dick"). For 6½ cents he bought a jews harp for Richard.

The start of the trip

Orange County 5th April 1825. Set out on a journey to Huntsville, Allabama. Camped at Church Run to wait for Mr. Goodloe who was to accompany me on my journey to Huntsville. 
Wednesday 6 was fair and pleasant. Rode to see Mr. Richard Taliaferro. Mr. Goodloe arrived at 10 o'clk. We set out, fed at Hawkinses and camped at William F. Gordon's in Albemarle. There Jack left me.

     Jack was a friend of Absalom's who had rented two of his slaves, Matthew and Anthony, mentioned in the list at the beginning of this post. William Fitzhugh Gordon was an attorney who once practiced law in Orange and represented Albemarle in the House of Delegates 1818-1829 and the U.S. Congress 1830-1835.

Saturday morning 9 was fair. Started at sunrise, crossed mountain and forded the south branch of the Shenandoah three miles from the top of a settlement town called Wainesborough. Took the left hand just above town, past through a very pretty neighborhood, fed at Moore's and waited on the return of Mr. Goodloe, who went to see some negroes that was to sell. Moved forward 1 mile in the evening to a good camp. Mr. Goodloe did not arrive.
Sunday morning 10th was also fair. Mr. Goodloe also returned, had bought two boys. Got under weigh at Greenville 15 miles from Waynesboro and camped over the Rockbridge line. 

     The two boys bought by Mr. Goodloe are never mentioned again. They appear, indirectly, at the end of the journal in an accounting of the slaves who were sold. We never learn their names.
     This band of eight travelers continued their way south up the Shenandoah Valley on what is now Route 11.

Monday 11 was fair. Started by sunrise, past the village of Fairfield 12 miles from Greenville and fed at a blacksmith shop 2½ miles from Lexington, where we had some repairs done to our carryall. Camped just across the north branch of the James River at Lexington 23 miles from Greenville. 

     As they were trundling through Fairfield, Absalom would have seen to the north the Willson farm called "Mount Pleasant." Here in 1854 Mary Elizabeth Houston was born. Twenty one years later she married Absalom's son George Washington Estes Row at nearby New Providence Presbyterian Church.
     They continued south. Goodloe's horse took sick on April 15 and died the following day in Newbern. They had a little more horse trouble three days later, just before crossing into Tennessee from Virginia.

Tuesday 19 was rainy in the morning and we started off at 7 o'clock a.m. Crossed the Holston River at the 7 mile ford five ms from our camp. At 9 a.m. (we crossed the same river 4 or 5 times before getting to the 7 mile ford) fed at a branch just beyond the big spring 44 ms from the [Wythe County] Courthouse from Abbingdon. Camped at Carpenter's 3½ ms from Abbingdon. Here our horses got away.
Wednesday 20. It was fair. Got off at 7 a.m. Past Abbingdon at half past 8. Took the left about one mile west of town. Fed at a run near Reston's Store 10 ms past Abbingdon and camped at a small run in Tennessee two ms from Washington line in Sullivan Co.

     From here Absalom and his party made their way toward Knoxville. In Knoxville Absalom bought shoes for Ralleigh for $1.50 and for Fanny he paid $1.00 for shoes and $1.25 for a dress. Fanny was sold for $400 to John Harrison of Roane County.

Saturday 30th was fair & pleasant. We got off at 1½ past six. Past Sparta at 12 & fed at Simpson's mills 4 ms from Sparta in White County. We had very bad roads from the foot of Clinch Mountain to Sparta and poor land. We had to give 75 cts for corn, $1 for whiskey & 37½ cts per dozen bundles for fodder. Crossed the Caney Fork and camped at a large spring 1½ miles from the ferry in Warren County. We traveled 22 miles this day.

     They continued south from Sparta and crossed into Alabama four days later.

Friday 6 was fair. Started and crossed the mountain fork of Flint in the morning. Was detained at the three forks till the evening 7 ms from camp. Crossed and camped at spring 5 ms from Huntsville and 12  from the mountain fork where we camped the night before.
Saturday 7 was fair. Started by eight. Fed and got breakfast at a pond near Stokes's where after breakfast we took up our board 1 mile from Huntsville, which place we visited in the evening.
Sunday 8 was fair. Spent the day in writing to our friends in Virginia.

     In Alabama Absalom Row sold Ralleigh to Col. Jesse W. Garth for $575. Robert Lanford bought Willis and Richard. It is not clear whether the two boys purchased near Waynesboro were sold in Tennessee or Alabama.

Costs and sale prices of the four slaves

     This page shows us that a hefty profit was realized for each slave. Willis & Richard cost $545 and sold for $850. Fanny cost $250 and sold for $400. Ralleigh cost $355 and sold for $575. Another page I believe shows that the two boys sold for $625 and $575.
     Absalom also kept track of his incidental expenses for his "Huntsville account" - clothing, shoes, postage, snacks, cakes, soda water, washing and so on. Each slave was given a little money when sold: $1.00 to Willis, 25 cents to Dick, 50 cents to Ralleigh and 25 cents to Fanny.

Incidental expenses

     I need hardly add here that slavery was a hard business and it was transacted by hard men who sold the people in their possession with an astounding lack of compassion. That my great great grandfather, a man of his time and place, participated in the slave trade is a difficult thing to deal with.
     But today, let us remember the names of those slaves we have learned here. They and millions like them deserved a fate better than this and had to wait so long for their deliverance.

     And out of the shadows their eyes implore us.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"To The Troopers of Spotsylvania"

George Washington Estes Row (right)

     During his service in the Confederate cavalry, George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883) served as a courier for at least three different generals. In 1862 he was detailed as a courier to both General Jeb Stuart and to General William E. "Grumble" Jones. In 1864 he acted as a courier for General Lunsford Lomax, and it is apparent that it was during that period that he submitted his poem for publication. The spirit and subject of the poem make it likely that it was written much earlier in the war.  [Please note that all images in my blog can be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Private Row was a real fire-eater in terms of his devotion to the Confederate cause. Upon Virginia's secession from the Union in April 1861, he returned home to Spotsylvania from the school he had been attending, the Locust Grove Academy in Albemarle County. He immediately enlisted in Company E of the Ninth Cavalry and rode with them for a year, then he transferred to Company I of the Sixth Cavalry. He fought with the Sixth for the remainder of the war, and even afterwards. He joined others who broke out of the encirclement at Appomattox and remained at large for three weeks before surrendering to the provost marshal in Richmond on May 2, 1865.
     Whether this poem was ever published in any newspaper I cannot say. However, he gave it his best shot and his effort gained the endorsements of Captain Samuel J.C. Moore, an adjutant to General Jubal Early, General Lunsford Lomax and the adjutants of General Fitzhugh Lee.


Troopers poem

Troopers poem (back)

Mr. Editor,

     You will find inclosed in this half sheet the poor production of a youth, who attempted to write poetry and failed. If you think it worthy of noticing in your paper you will please insert it.

To The Troopers of Spotsylvania

The cloud of war is hanging, 
O'er our blessed land, 
Then do not let us linger, 
Or our sabers idly hang.

For our gallant steeds neighing, 
And we hear the trumpets blast, 
Hasten troopers to your quarters, 
Let us be not among the last.

Shall we brave sons of old Virginia, 
Slumber late this cloudy morn, 
While the sons of South Carolina, 
Are awake and out and gone.

But let us troopers on to glory,
And let us show that we are brave,
nor let us rest 'til every tyrant,
Has sought & found an early grave.

And when this civil war is over,
The survivors will be free,
For you know that we prefer
Death to slavery.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Images once lost, now found-Part 2

Nannie Row
     Nannie Row (1831-1889), known to many as "Aunt Nan," was the only sister of my great grandfather who never married. Like her mother, Nannie lived her entire life at Greenfield, my family's ancestral farm in western Spotsylvania. She was devoted to her brother and his firstborn son Absalom "Abbie" Row, whom she informally adopted after the death of his mother. Nannie's story is an interesting tale in itself, and can be read at Nannie Row, Part 1 and Nannie Row, Part 2. Nannie was also the recipient of two historic letters that described the depredations of Union soldiers in Spotsylvania during the Overland Campaign: The Letter from Maria Dobyns and "Hirelings of the best government in the world".  [Please note that all images in my blog can be clicked on larger viewing.]

Lizzie Houston Row with son Horace
     This photograph of my grandfather Horace Row with his mother was taken in Lexington, Virginia in 1883, soon after the death of George Washington Estes Row. Although my great grandmother was well educated and was a descendant of General Sam Houston, she was certainly not a dainty hothouse flower, but a hardworking farm woman. Just take a look at how large and strong her hands are.
     The next five photographs below were shared with me just last week by fellow researcher Deb Callahan, who found them in an album at the home of a relative in New York, of all places:

Annie Daniel Row

     Annie Tutt Daniel (1848-1871) of Culpeper was the first wife of George Washington Estes Row. George and Annie were married at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Culpeper in 1867 and she bore him two children, Abbie and Virginia Isabella. Annie's father was Samuel Alpheus Daniel, owner of Forest Grove in Culpeper, who joined Purcell's Battery in 1862 and was killed shortly thereafter during the Seven Days Battle. Annie's mother was then compelled to care for her four children, relying on her own grit and determination in Union-occupied Culpeper. The story of the Daniel family is one of my favorites and is told in two parts: Sarah Jane Daniel, Part 1 and Sarah Jane Daniel, Part 2. Annie died of diphtheria at Greenfield in November 1871. She is buried in an unmarked grave in my family's cemetery there.

George Washington Estes Row

     This rare photograph of my great grandfather was taken some time before 1871, most likely in Fredericksburg. Immediately after Annie's death that year George, his sister Nannie and their mother sold off many personal items at an estate sale at Greenfield. Nannie and her mother spent much of the following year living in Lynchburg with Martha Row Williams, and George divided his time between Spotsylvania and Rockbridge Counties. For a time the maintenance of Greenfield was left in the hands of a caretaker.

Nannie Row

     Nannie Row's look changed very little in the various photos of her. She looked very much like the other women in my family I knew as a boy.

Mary Kale Harding

Enoch Harding

     Mary Kale (1828-1898) was a daughter of Swiss-born candy maker Anthony Kale and his wife Catherine Estes, who was a sister of my great great grandmother, Nancy Estes Row. Mary married Stafford farmer Enoch Harding in 1861 and had two sons with him, Milton and Cleveland. Their photographs were part of an album shared with me earlier this year:

Cleveland Harding

Milton Harding


Friday, September 13, 2013

Images once lost, now found

Absalom Row

     During the past week a number of photographs--some of which have not been seen by any living person until now--have been discovered by Spotsylvania Memory. In an earlier post I had promised to share with you, my faithful readers, anything of interest that might come my way. In today's post, and others to follow, I am able to deliver on that pledge in spades. [Please note that you can click on any image for an enlarged view]
     Shown above is my great great grandfather, Absalom Row (1796-1855). Like his father Thomas Row of Orange County, Absalom was committed to public service and served for many years in Spotsylvania as justice of the peace, school commissioner and overseer of the poor. He also owned Greenfield, the family plantation, and was the owner of about two dozen slaves most of his adult life. A journal written by him in 1825 has also just been discovered, and will be the subject of a future post in this space. I have written about Absalom three times before, and I invite you to read those posts if you have not done so already: Absalom Row, Slavery and Absalom Row and A Murder in Old Spotsylvania.

George W.E. Row (right) and Joseph W. Johnson

      Absalom Row's only son--and my great grandfather--was George Washington Estes Row. George enlisted in the 9th Virginia Cavalry in April 1861 at age 17 and transferred to the Sixth Virginia Cavalry the following year. Regular readers of Spotsylvania Memory know that he is a primary focus of my research and he has had a number of posts devoted to his life's story. For those of you who may be interested in his early life and his experiences during the Civil War, here are links to those posts:
George Washington Estes Row, Part 1 and George Washington Estes Row, Part 2. In the photograph presented here, George is sitting with his first cousin Joseph Watkins Johnson, who served with the 1st Virginia Sharpshooters (also called the 30th Virginia Sharpshooters).

Paper holding lock of George W.E. Row's hair

Lock of George W. E. Row's hair

     Among the artifacts that I discovered last week was this lock of my great grandfather's hair, taken when he was 17 years old. While I cannot say for certain that this is true, I surmise that his mother cut this when he was preparing to ride off to war in order that she might have something of him in the event that he never returned home.

Nancy Estes Row and George W. E. Row
     This photo of George Row was likely taken about 1848-49, based on his apparent age. His mother would be about 50 years old here. Nancy Estes Row lived her entire life at Greenfield plantation and was a strong-willed, intelligent woman who ruled her domain with vigor and purpose. Her life story has been presented twice before on Spotsylvania Memory, and is worth a couple of clicks for those of you who may have not read them before: Nancy Estes Row and Slavery, War and Nancy Row

More rare photographs will appear in my next post...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Faces at Middletown

National Park Service display at Middletown, Virginia

     Not long ago the National Park Service's Cedar Creek and Belle Grove site put out the word that their new museum was looking for photographs of soldiers and civilians who lived or fought in the Shenandoah Valley, particularly those associated with the battles fought in the lower valley.
     It just so happened that I have several ancestors from the Valley who fought for the Confederacy, and I submitted to the Park Service a number of photographs and short biographies which in themselves could have constituted their own display at the new museum. Two of them were chosen for this wall of faces, and I was very proud to be there this week so I could photograph them. [Please note that all images in my blog can be clicked on for larger viewing.]
     My great grandmother Lizzie Houston Row had six uncles who fought for the South, five of whom served in the 14th Virginia Cavalry. The two shown on this wall were captured in two different fights just six weeks apart in the fall of 1864.

William Norval Willson

     William N. Willson (called "Uncle Will" by the family) of Rockbridge County enlisted in Company H of the 14th Cavalry on September 10, 1862. He was captured during the fight at Fisher's Hill in September 1864 and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Fort Delaware.

Matthew Doak Willson

     Matthew Willson was one of the five Willson brothers who fought for the Confederacy, all but one of whom rode with the 14th Cavalry. During the war Uncle Matt suffered much, being captured for the first time in 1862 and imprisoned in Alton, Illinois. After being exchanged he rejoined his regiment to have another go at the Yankees. In November 1864 Matthew Willson was captured a second time during a sharp little fight near Cedarville. On that day he was also shot in the arm and received a saber gash to his head. He was imprisoned at Point Lookout until his release in June 1865. For a more in depth look at Matthew Willson's life as a soldier, you can click here.