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Friday, January 10, 2014

"You don't have to pack cotton in your bosom"

Emma Farish

     In February 1876, about six weeks after his marriage to Lizzie Houston in Rockbridge County, George Washington Estes Row wrote a letter to his fifteen year old cousin Emma Farish. His letter displays a personal warmth and a wry sense of humor that is both endearing and modern in tone. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]

George W.E. Row, 1875

     Emma Farish was born in Caroline County in August 1860 to Charles Tod Farish and his third wife, Rachel Keeling Row. A first cousin of George Row, Rachel was born in 1819, the daughter of Carlton and Lucy Row, who were murdered by their slaves in 1820. Rachel was then raised both by her grandfather Thomas Row in Orange County and by her uncle Absalom Row at Greenfield. In 1859 she became the third wife of Charles Farish, whose farm lay in northwest Caroline near Moss Neck Manor and not far from another uncle of Rachel's, Keeling Row. It so happens that Keeling also had a daughter named Rachel Keeling Row, who married a brother of Charles Farish, a fact which has proved to be a bit daunting for unwary genealogists. Charles died in 1863, leaving Rachel and Emma to rely on their own resources after his estate was settled.
     Rachel Row Farish was well loved by her friends and relatives, as is apparent from the many mentions of her name in family letters and papers. She was admired for her abilities as a quilt maker and weaver, a craft she could practice at the log weaving house at Greenfield. At least one example of her handicraft survives. In later life Rachel worked as a house mother at the Bowling Green Female Seminary, where Emma graduated with honors, receiving the gold medal for French.

Letter of George Row to Emma Farish, February 1876

                                                                Greenfield, Feb 1st 1876

Dear Em

     Your two letters were rec'd, one from Ill. and the other some time before Xmas and I have not delayed writing because I did not want to hear from you but simply I am too lazy to write when I have time and I don't like to write much, you know. Well, to commence. Abbie [1] is shaking the table now and looking over my elbow. Cousin Nan is teaching school at Cousin John's [2]. Abbie has been going to her but has been home ever since Xmas. Will return soon since he won't learn at home. I was married just before Xmas (I have forgotten what day but it don't make any difference I am married [3]) to Miss Lizzie Houston of Rockbridge Co. She lived six miles above your Uncle Zack's [4]. She is tall has dark hair and black eyes and wears pinback dresses -- (I suppose you and your Ma have lots of  pinbacks) about 21 years old and a splendid woman. Abbie loves her dearly. You must come up and look for a better description. Well Billy Kent [5]  is still single and so is Billy Trigg [6] and if you have finished your education and still desirous of forming a matrimonial alliance I think you cause their "hearts to palpitate, give up the ghost" etc.
     How comes on Cousin R [7]?. I suppose she is the spriest widow in town and cutting you out of the beaux. Well you must give back to her as she is the oldest and may not have as many chances as you. I heard Nellie Farish was to be married to a young Woolfolk. Hear it come off? No marriages in this county now. Mr. Lucius Estes [8] has bought Marvin's place and moved to it. They moved since Xmas. Tom Dick Pulliam was murdered up in Texas by Tom Sutherland a week or two ago. They were on a drunk. Sutherland has not been caught -- and if you see him catch him as the Governor has offered one hundred dollars reward. Give me half, won't you?
     Abbie says give my love to Em and Rach & tell them I have a calf. Quite a freak of nature for a boy to have a calf. Don't you think so? Em I suppose you are a grown lady ere this and don't have to pack cotton in your bosom and wearing dresses buttoned in front and pinback behind with a pile of rags on top and striped stockings and all sich. If this should shock your duplicity you must overlook as I think I am writing to a child yet. Give our kindest and best love to dear Cousin R and believe me as ever your
                                                       Cousin George

N.B. All the neighbors are well.

Wedding announcement of Emma Farish

     Emma married a cousin, Keeling Herndon Sisson, in 1889. They settled in Richmond, where Keeling was employed by the merchandising firm of T.B. Murphy & Company. Their son, also named Keeling, was born in July 1891. Rachel's husband died just three months later, apparently from the complications of diabetes.

Keeling Herndon Sisson

     Emma lived in Richmond with her son, and later with him and his family, for the rest of her life. Emma died in 1940 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

[Photos of Rachel and Keeling appear courtesy of Wesley Higgins]

[1] Abbie Row was George Row's son with his first wife, Annie Daniel (1848-1871). Abbie's youngest son served as official White House photographer for 25 years.

[2] John Sanders Row of Orange County.

[3] Of course, George is being coyly ironic here. His epic courtship of Mary Elizabeth Houston was the focus of his life for more than a year.

[4] Zachary Herndon Rawlings was married to George's sister Bettie.

[5] Two years after this letter was written, 26 year old William Franklin Kent married Lottie Conley. A daughter of theirs, Fannie, married George Row's youngest son Horace. Horace and Fannie's youngest daughter was my mother.

[6] John William Trigg, whose family's farm Poplar Neck lay next to Greenfield, married Alice Hart in 1885.

[7] Emma's mother, Rachel Row Farish.

[8] Lucius Estes farmed at Greenfield off and on for years. He was a devoted friend of the Rows. He, his wife and his adopted son Patrick were living in one of the log buildings at Greenfield when the just married George and Lizzie Row returned late from Rockbridge on December 14, 1875. Lizzie remembered that Patrick and Abbie were engaged in a whittling match at the main house at Greenfield, and George's sister Nan was sweeping the shavings from the hearth into the fire.

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