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Friday, August 22, 2014

The Haunted Mind of Sam Ford

Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     By the time he was ten years old, he was no longer living with with his parents and brothers. Instead, it appears that he had been sent to live with his grandparents. Under most circumstances, this would not mean much. But in Sam's case it was an ominous portent of trouble to come. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Samuel Murray Ford, the youngest son of Adolphus Ford and Lizzie Young, was born in Spotsylvania on 22 February 1890. Sam and his three older brothers - Anthews, Charles and John - came from good stock. Their families had been part of the county's small community of free blacks before the Civil War. Lizzie Young's brothers, Humphrey and Atwell, served the Confederate cause. For those of you who may not have already read my earlier post about Spotsylvania's free blacks and would like to do so, click here.
     Whether by death or by separation, Lizzie and Adolphus were no longer married in 1898. That year Lizzie married Othey Woodward and she remained with him for the rest of her life. In 1900 she, Othey and the three oldest sons were living together in one household. Sam Ford was living with his grandparents, Humphrey and Mary Young.
     The Youngs lived on the farm that Humphrey grew up on. Located on Catharpin Road just southeast of modern Ni River Middle School, their property can be seen in the map above. At the upper center of the image the farm is designated as "Young FN" (Free Negro).
     During the Civil War Humphrey Young worked as a teamster for the Confederate army. An 1862 receipt for this effort is shown below. Humphrey's mark was witnessed by Brigadier General John G. Walker. Note the "FN" next to Humphrey's name at the top of the page:

Receipt to Humphrey Young

     During the war Humphrey served as the body servant to Captain William Augustine Smith, adjutant to General Walker. After the war Humphrey and Mary raised a large family at the farm on Catharpin Road. In his later years Humphrey Young established a reputation as a groom in Fredericksburg:

Daily Star 26 October 1906

     So, given the fact that Sam Ford's family was among the best in the county, how do we explain how he turned out as an adult? We will return to that in a moment. But first we must get Sam married.
     On 5 December 1911 Sam took as his bride nineteen year old Sarah Comfort. Like Sam, Sarah descended from free blacks. Her father Richard Poindexter "Deck" Comfort (1862-1931) worked for my great grandfather's saw mill business. In January 1928 Deck Comfort dug the grave of my great grandmother, Lizzie Houston Row.

Horace Row's receipt to Deck Comfort

     Before we return to the bizarre world of Sam Ford, we will have to meet one more person, Virginia White. During the 1920s Virginia taught in a "colored" school in Stafford, where she boarded with Thomas and Mary Porter, who owned a general store there. By 1930 Virginia was teaching in Spotsylvania and boarding with Sam and Sarah at the Young-Ford farm.
     Whether Sam and Virginia knew each other before that time I cannot say. As to the sleeping arrangements at the old farm house, we can only speculate.
     But from that time forward the life of Sarah Ford became a living nightmare. What you are about to read may shock some of you. They are the recollections of my eighty seven year old cousin Kathleen, who still lives a mile from the old Ford place.
     Sarah was required to do the plowing in the field in front of the house. Some believed that at times Sam made her take the place of the mule. Sam would sit on the porch, taking his ease, while she worked. During the heat of the day, when his throat would get a little dry, Sam would call down to Sarah to go the well and fetch him some water. Then she would resume her plowing.
     When Spotsylvania was still an agrarian county, farmers - black and white - would help each other when needed. Sam would often volunteer when heavy work needed to be done at a neighbor's. He would bring Sarah with him. Sarah would do the work while Sam stood over her, urging her along. When she was finished, Sam held out his hand for the money she earned.
     Kathleen remembers Sarah Ford taking in laundry for her family when her mother was sick. When the clothes were ready Sam Ford was on hand to collect his pay.
     Sam Ford called Virginia White "his Queen." Kathleen remembers that Sam had taken the top off his touring car. Virginia sat up front with him; Sarah was obliged to stand up in the back. While Sam drove, he held a whip as if driving a team of horses. For his own amusement he performed sudden starts and stops, flinging Sarah about. He would laugh "uproariously."
     Over time, Sam Ford's drinking also became the talk of the neighborhood. However, when he killed a woman in 1959 alcohol apparently played no part, as he received an extraordinarily light sentence:

Free Lance Star 6 April 1960

     Pauline Thompson and her husband at that time owned what had been known for years as Parker's Store on Brock Road. Pauline had been appointed postmistress there in 1956 after Graf and Lucy Parker retired.
     Fifty years ago we used to pass by Sam Ford's place on our way to my grandmother's house. By then he had moved out of the farm house and was living in a shack on Catharpin Road. My parents told my sister and me he was a drunk and that we should be afraid of him.

     Thirty years ago, in an attempt to escape the urban sprawl marching west down Route 3, my father bought some acreage just off Catharpin Road. This had been part of the Young-Ford farm and my father built a house on the site of Humphrey Young's old farm house. Today it is the home of my sister.
     Years ago Sam Ford's granddaughter came to visit my sister and see her family's old home place. During the course of their visit she told Anne that Sam Ford had moved out of the old farm house to the shack on Catharpin for a very good reason. He was being haunted by the spirit of Sarah Comfort Ford.


     A little way into the woods near my sister's house is the trash dump of Sam Ford. Over time Anne has excavated a portion of it. The primary relics recovered there include vintage whiskey bottles and the rusted remains of a rifle. Poking through this detritus is the steering wheel of a car. At the bottom of the pit lies the old touring car of Sam Ford.


1 comment:

  1. Link to Piney Baptist Church Cemetery at
    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&GScid=2320364&GRid=41204923&CRid=2320364&

    Note must register online to place memorials online

    ReplyDelete