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Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Mabel Row, about 1899

     "A tiny principality, far away from everywhere, but sufficient unto itself."
     This was how Greenfield was remembered by Mabel Row Wakeman (1879-1974) when she shared her recollections of our ancestral home with Spotsylvania historian Roger Mansfield sixty years ago. For 110 years it was home to four generations of the Estes and Row families. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     In 1795 the property that is known to history as Greenfield was owned by Edward Herndon, Jr. and his wife Elizabeth. On February 7 of that year the Herndons sold Greenfield to Richard Estes (1758-1832), my third great grandfather, for 200 pounds. At that time Greenfield consisted of 337 acres and included "all houses, buildings, fences, woods, ways, waters, watercourses, profits and commodities."

From the Herndon-Estes deed 1795

     Richard Estes and his wife Catherine Carlton (1759-1822) raised a family of ten children, the youngest five of whom were born at Greenfield, including my great great grandmother Nancy Estes (1798-1873).
     In July 1820 Richard Estes wrote his will, naming as executors his four sons: Ambrose, Richard, Berkley and George Washington. In the years that followed all four moved west. George Washington Estes went to Owen County, Kentucky and his brothers settled in Boone County, Missouri.
     Richard's daughter Nancy married her second cousin, Absalom Row (1796-1855) of Orange County in December 1825. By 1830 Absalom and Nancy and their two oldest daughters were living in Spotsylvania. With the departure of the Estes brothers, Absalom's place in the family assumed increased significance.
     In June 1832 Absalom Row penned a letter to his nephew Thomas Berry of Illinois, discussing his own health and that of his father in law: This leaves me in tolerable health. I have been able to do my business since about Christmas. I began to get the better of my disease about the time that James [Thomas's brother] was last to see me and you must tell him that my leg, that had no calf to it when he saw it, is now nearly as large as it ever was; Nancy and the children are at her father's house and have been for a week. The old man is almost off with the dropsy. Five weeks later Richard Estes was dead at the age of 74.

From the inventory & appraisal of Richard Estes's estate

     Greenfield, as noted in the inventory and appraisement of the estate of Richard Estes, consisted of three tracts of land: 350 acres, 313 acres (which had been purchased from Sarah Alexander) and 85 acres. Absalom Row bought the two larger parcels at public auction on September 26, 1832. On November 23 Richard and George Washington Estes signed a deed conveying Greenfield to their brother in law.

From the Estes-Row deed 1832

     During the 23 years that he owned it, Greenfield continued to flourish with Absalom Row as its master. He continued to buy land, including 75 acres bought from neighbor Bernhard Kube in 1844. By 1850 Greenfield was home to 30 persons: Absalom and his wife Nancy, their four children, Nancy's sister Mary Estes Carter, overseer James H. Brock and 22 slaves. In addition, relatives would come and visit for weeks at a time, as was the custom at the time.

Absalom Row

     Absalom Row died in 1855 at the age of 59. Eight years earlier he had written his will, in which he provided for the education of his daughter Bettie and his son George. The bulk of his estate he "loaned" to "my beloved wife Nancy long as she lives...and after her death I wish an equal division to be made among my children." He also named Nancy as his executrix. The inventory and appraisal of his estate made in May 1856 listed the names of 25 slaves and showed that Greenfield had grown to its maximum size of 889 acres.

From the inventory and appraisal of Absalom Row's estate

     Nancy Estes Row proved herself to be a competent and conscientious custodian of her husband's estate, which included the home in which she was born.

Nancy Estes Row

     On the eve of the Civil War life at Greenfield continued much as it had for the preceding decades. Except for the absence of Absalom and his daughter Martha, who was now married and living in Richmond, the same number of persons lived at Greenfield in the summer of 1860 as had 10 years previously.

Western Spotsylvania in 1863

     This detail of J.F. Gilmer's map shows the location of Greenfield (indicated as "Mrs. Rowe") and its closest neighbors. Beginning clockwise just north of Greenfield they were:

- William A. Stephens, whose grandson would one day own Greenfield
- Joseph Trigg, whose granddaughter Josephine married Day Stephens, a grandson of W.A. Stephens and also future owner of Greenfield.
- Johnson Fitzhugh, who moved to Spotsylvania from King George in the mid 1850s.
- Charles Bradshaw, who was postmaster at Todd's Tavern.
- Bernhard Kube, a German immigrant who traveled extensively working in the gold mining business. He brought Nannie Row a parrot from one of these trips. He sold his property to another German immigrant, Fredericksburg tanner John Hurkamp, for whom the park is named.
- Leroy Dobyns, who owned Oakley and whose daughter Maria wrote a well known letter describing the dramatic events there during the battle of the Wilderness.
- Richard Pulliam, whose son Dr. John Duerson Pulliam fought with the 9th Virginia Cavalry.

So what did Greenfield look like?

Drawing by George W.E. Row

     Unfortunately, no photographs of the old place are known to exist. We do know that the property extended along modern Jackson Trail West from Brock Road to Orange Plank Road. The sketch above, drawn by 16 year old George Washington Estes Row in his "Mitchell's School Geography" book shows a house which could have been his family's home. After reading the description below, you can decide for yourself.


     We can thank my great aunt Mabel Row Wakeman for leaving us detailed descriptions of what Greenfield looked like. She was the informant who provided WPA researcher Mildred Barnum with the basis of her report on Greenfield in January 1937. In addition, Mabel also shared a great deal of information with Roger Mansfield in her correspondence with him during the 1950s and 1960s. Her efforts enabled Roger to sketch the view of Greenfield seen above and also to write a short history of the place (virtually all my cousins have a copy of this).
     The house was of frame construction, a two story affair with a basement and a shed room on the west end. The house, which faced north, was said to be inconveniently laid out, a fact which did not seem to bother its owners until after Emancipation.
     The road into Greenfield arrived at the well yard, where a beautiful flower garden had been planted. Three large blocks of locust wood served as carriage steps. On the east side stood a log weaving house with two porches. The kitchen had a dirt floor and had two stories - the cook lived upstairs. There was an ice house on Panther Run, which had been dammed to create an artificial pond. South of the main house were the shops and the slave quarters. The cabins where the slaves lived were screened from view by a stand of trees. All of the provisions and the outbuildings were kept under lock and key. A former slave remembered how Nancy Estes Row used to bustle about the plantation with her keys jingling.

Nannie Row

     After the death of Nancy Estes Row in January 1873, the real estate of Greenfield was divided among her three daughters (her son, George W.E. Row, had already been given 166 acres in 1869). Nannie Row, who never married, received the Greenfield home site and 244 acres.
     With the help of her brother George, who also farmed his own place adjacent to Greenfield (Sunshine farm), Nannie was able to profitably manage Greenfield during her lifetime. Produce and livestock were sold at wholesale to merchants in Fredericksburg. The completion of the Potomac, Fredericksburg and Piedmont Railroad made this a much more convenient enterprise.
     In her will Nannie Row left Greenfield to her nephew Absalom "Abbie" Row. When she died in June 1889, 20 year old Abbie was living far from Spotsylvania, working as a stoker on a merchant ship. Two years later he was in the dairy business with a Mr. Charles in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1893 he married Annie Rosser and settled in West Virginia, where his first two children were born. By now Abbie was working as a conductor on the Southern Railroad. Soon after the birth of his son Thomas in January 1898, Abbie decided to move home to Greenfield.
     And what had been the fate of Greenfield since the death of his Aunt Nan nine years earlier? Someone must have acting as caretaker of the place, but I do not know who. Abbie's brothers, Houston and Horace, were too young. In any event, Abbie Row and his family settled at Greenfield in 1898. Abbie kept his job as a conductor, and worked on the farm on his days off. His dream was to buy new tools and equipment and modernize Greenfield.
     In January 1899 Abbie's sister in law Clementina Rosser Carter was visiting with the Rows. She died on the 11th, and so earned the unhappy distinction of being the last person to die at Greenfield. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery there.
     On a happier note, Abbie's third child, Maxine, arrived in 1902, and so earned the distinction of being the last person born at Greenfield. Many years later Maxine's daughter Marie Clark wrote a monumental genealogical history of the Rows of Virginia. Her work is something I refer to often.
     Try as he might, Abbie was unable to realize his ambition to modernize Greenfield. By the early 1900s his indebtedness had reached a point where he was forced to concede defeat. In 1905 he sold Greenfield to friend and neighbor Scott Todd Stephens for $500 and assumption of the property's debt. Scott Stephens is seen below sitting with his wife Lillie Jennings. Friends Julia Mann and George King stand behind them.

Scott T. Stephens, seated at right

     And so Greenfield passed out of my family's possession forever. During the 8 years he owned Greenfield, Scott Stephens demolished the house and its dependencies. Only the basement of the house and the outlines of the buildings remained, still visible decades later.
     Scott Stephens died of tuberculosis in 1913 and the following year Greenfield passed to his son Robert Benjamin Stephens, shown below sitting with Fred Parker.

Robert B. Stephens (right)

     In 1918 Robert Stephens sold Greenfield to his uncle and aunt, George Day Stephens and Josephine Trigg, seen here with their daughter Sue.

Josephine, Sue and Day Stephens

     Day Stephens sold Greenfield in 1923 to J. S. Barnes and after his death in 1928 it passed to his brother William. Ironically, the property had gone into foreclosure due to $1000 owed to Horace Row.

Barnes debt to Horace Row

     From William Barnes Greenfield passed to Melzi Wolfrey.
     In 1932 Noah and Minnie Houck left Depression-stricken Wilkes County, North Carolina and came to Spotsylvania in search of new opportunities. Noah bought Greenfield, and the Houcks would own the place for the next 38 years.
     Rolf, a son of Noah, married Margaret Row of Sunshine farm in 1934. His brother Onard bought Greenfield in 1949 and he and his wife built a small house there, which still stands on the back side of the Oakley property. Onard farmed Greenville until 1970.
     Onard Houck sold Greenville to Charles Miller, who in turn sold it to the American Central Corporation in 1972. The cemeteries of the family and the slaves were spared, but in a pattern that would become all to familiar in Spotsylvania in the coming years, earth moving equipment was brought in and a great upheaval ensued with the intention of subdividing the property into campsites and for recreational purposes. As was Greenfield's fate for most of the 20th century, this ambition, too, fell by the wayside.
     Ultimately this mess was sorted out and the result was Fawn Lake, a development consisting of high end homes, a golf course and a man made lake. The Fawn Lake community built a fence around my family's cemetery. The slave cemetery remains neglected, the stones that once marked the graves strewn about.
      This is all that is left of the old homestead. (Photo by Mary Edith Arnold).


1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting to read. It's sad that the little family cemetery is all that is left of the original property.