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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jehu Williams

Jehu Williams

     In about 1720 young David Shion Williams, born in Wales in 1699, boarded one of the many sailing ships plying the Atlantic in those years and sailed west to the New World. He would establish himself in New Castle County, Delaware where he raised his family and lived out his years until his death in 1786. One of David's sons, Jesse, was born there in 1750. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     By the 1770s Jesse Williams was living in Baltimore, Maryland, where he married Rachel Gott on November 24, 1774. Less than two years later Jesse would be mustered into service to fight soldiers from his father's native country sent to suppress the rebellion that spread throughout all thirteen colonies. During the American Revolution Jesse Williams would serve in several regiments, as he would be called on to re-enlist after his original term of service expired.
     In 1780 Jesse and Rachel Williams and the first two of their eight children moved to Culpeper County, Virginia. The following year Jesse was again called upon to serve the cause of the Revolution and he enlisted one more time.
     The Williams family remained in Culpeper until about 1791; at least four of Jesse's and Rachel's children were born there, One of these, Jehu Williams, arrived on October 11, 1788.
     From Culpeper the Williams family moved to Orange County and from there to Stafford. It was while living in the latter place, in 1799,  that eleven year old Jehu met the family of six year old John Victor (1793-1845). It was this auspicious meeting that transformed the lives of both boys.
     Young John Victor was the son of John Victor, Sr. and Sarah Tankersley, who married in Caroline County sometime between 1777 and 1780. Like Jesse Williams, the senior John Victor also served during the Revolution, first as a lieutenant with Baylor's Regiment of Horse and afterwards as an adjutant. It was in this latter capacity that John Victor, Sr. recruited and trained new soldiers in Fredericksburg.
     In 1789 John and Sarah Victor moved from Port Royal to Fredericksburg. Here the former cavalryman gave expression to an entirely different set of talents. Victor, by now an accomplished musician, gave lessons in harpsichord, pianoforte, spinet and guitar. He was also a tuner and repairer of these instruments. He was particularly popular for the concerts he performed in Fredericksburg in the early 1800s. John Victor, Sr. died in 1817.
     Jehu Williams and John Victor developed talents of their own, and by 1813 had established themselves in business in Lynchburg. It would be here that Williams & Victor would over the following thirty years achieve a reputation as two of Virginia's most gifted jewelers, silversmiths and clock makers.  An advertisement for their business, seen below, was published in "Image of an Age," The Lynchburg Fine Arts Center, 1963.

     Just four months after the appearance of this notice in the Lynchburg newspaper, Jehu Williams married Hettie Row of Orange County on Christmas Day, 1814. Hettie was the youngest daughter of Thomas Row, my third great grandfather. Although her name is spelled variously as either Hetty or Hettie, her parents opted for the second spelling, which appears in the record of her birth in her mother's (Rachel Keeling Row) Book of Common Prayer, shown below. (Incidentally, Jehu's younger brother David married married Hettie's older sister Elizabeth in Orange County in 1817).

Birth record of Hettie Row

     By this time Jesse Williams and the rest of his family had moved from the Fredericksburg area to Kentucky, ultimately settling in Rockcastle County, which had been founded in 1810. Here the old Revolutionary War veteran would spend the rest of his life. On September 29, 1835, at the age of 84, Jesse Williams died after being kicked by a horse he had been trying to shoe. (Many thanks to Dee Blakeley for this detail of his death. Dee is a direct descendant of Jesse Williams and hosts her own family history blog, which is quite good.)
     Jehu's first two children, twins Mary Ann and Sarah Jane, were born on March 3, 1816. Mary Ann lived but three months. Sarah Jane and the other ten children of Jehu Williams would all live to adulthood.
     Over the next seven years Hettie gave birth to three more daughters, the last arriving on February 7, 1823. Hettie died just three weeks later on March 3, the birth date of her twins. Her last daughter, whose photo is seen here, was named Hettie Row Williams in her honor.

Hettie Row Williams (1823-1905)

     Young Hettie's mother, whom she would never know, is buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg (photo by Darrell Landrum):

Hettie Row Williams

     After a decent interval of six months, Jehu Williams married Susannah Sanford Tompkins on September 11, 1823. Susannah was the daughter of Reverend James Tompkins, Lynchburg's first Presbyterian minister, and Mary Hurt. Jehu and Susannah were married by Reverend John Early, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Susannah bore Jehu five more daughters and, at last, two sons. The oldest of these was James Tompkins Williams (1829-1900), named for his grandfather.

James Tompkins Williams

     In 1850 James T. Williams married Martha Jane Row of Spotsylvania, who was a niece of his father's first wife Hettie. While Martha was no blood relation of James, I always thought it curious that, given his matinee idol good looks and mercantile success, he did not cast a wider net in his quest for a wife.

     Jehu Williams and John Victor were both artisans of the first rank and generous contributors of their talents to the Lynchburg community. Williams & Victor silver tableware was much in demand during the first half of the nineteenth century and is still highly collectible today. One of their clocks stands in the reconstructed Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg. The mechanisms for their case clocks were imported from England; Jehu and John built the cases. Below are photographs of their handiwork taken by me at the Lynchburg Museum in 2010. The clock has since been relocated to nearby Point of Honor in Lynchburg. The clock I photographed contains the highly accurate Regulator clockworks. This particular clock is believed to have been the shop clock of Williams & Victor and would have been used to set all the other clocks.

Williams & Victor clock, Lynchburg

Williams & Victor silver, Lynchburg Museum

     During his tenure as the mayor of Lynchburg in the 1820s, John Victor engaged the services of Albert Stein, who had built America's first gravity-fed municipal water system in Philadelphia, to design a similar system for Lynchburg. Although the townspeople were shocked by the $50,000 price tag, the system worked as promised when it was completed in 1829.
     During his forty six years in Lynchburg, Jehu Williams also contributed a great deal to the civic life there. He was an ardent Methodist and a member of Court Street Methodist Church. He was president of Lynchburg Savings and helped organize the Lynchburg Hose Company ("Lynchburg and it People," William Asbury Christian, 1900). Jehu was a supporter of the Lynchburg Music Society. And both he and John Victor were members of the Lynchburg Colonization Society in the 1830s. This organization, which had branches throughout the South, proposed sending freed slaves to Liberia as a humane alternative to the unlikelihood of them ever being successfully integrated into white society. This plan, futile though it proved to be, was looked on approvingly by many in the years before the Civil War, including Abraham Lincoln.
     Inevitably, the colonization plan proved futile for Jehu Williams personally. In 1850 he owned six slaves, presumably most of whom were servants at his fine brick house at 616 Church Street. The Williams family were accustomed to having household servants and employed them through the generations. After the Civil War Jehu's son James normally had at least four at his home at 822 Federal Street, including Ellen Upshur, an eleven year old girl whom James purchased from his mother in law Nancy Estes Row in 1857 and who remained with the Williams family for many years after Emancipation.
     Jehu Williams continued to ply his trade after the death of his friend and business partner John Victor in 1845. He would one day change the name of his business (located at 8th and Main Streets) to J. Williams & Son when his youngest son, Jehu, Jr. (1834-1906) became old enough to assume some responsibility. With the exception of the time he spent in the Confederate army during the Civil War, the never married younger Jehu Williams worked all his life as a merchant in various enterprises in Lynchburg, and lived for a time at his father's old house on Church Street.

Jehu Williams, Jr. 

     Jehu Williams's second wife Susannah died at the age of forty one on October 7, 1843 "after an illness of only a few hours." Though he would father no more children, the ever vigorous Jehu -at age 59 - married his third wife, Elizabeth J. Robinson, on August 2, 1847.
     Vigorous he may have been, but Jehu Williams was not immortal. His obituary, kept in his family Bible, tells us that: "For a large portion of his life he was permitted to enjoy almost uninterrupted health, but for the last two or three years his naturally strong constitution had been gradually yielding to the hand of disease and for the last six months he had been the subject of the most intense suffering, which he bore with calmest Christian fortitude and resignation.
     "The most untiring and devoted attention of his children and the skill of his attentive physicians could not for a moment arrest the progress of his disease, which continued to invade his system until Thursday evening the 31st day of March [1859] at a quarter past eleven o'clock, death came and terminated his earthly suffering."
     Jehu Williams lies in Spring Hill Cemetery near Hettie. (Photo by Darrell Landrum)

Jehu Williams


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Taking of Jacob Lyman Greene

Jacob Lyman Greene

     Two years ago I wrote a detailed analysis of the letter written by Maria Dobyns of Oakley plantation in Spotsylvania. Written on June 17, 1864 to my great grand aunt Nannie Row, Maria's letter describes the fighting, suffering and chaos that occurred at Oakley during the battle of the Wilderness. She also mentioned the fact that Nannie's brother, George Washington Estes Row of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, had given her the pocket watch and pen knife of Custer's adjutant.
George Washington Estes Row, right

    Jacob Lyman Greene, who was also a personal friend of Custer,  was captured at Trevilian Station in Louisa County on June 11, 1864. He was stripped of all his personal belongings, including his flute and spurs (as well as the items taken by Private Row).  Greene was taken to Libby Prison first, and from there spent time as a guest of the Confederacy at several prisons until he was paroled in December 1864.
     After the Civil War Greene served with Custer in Texas. In 1878 he became president of the Connecticut Mutual Insurance Company.
     An excellent biography of Jacob Lyman Greene by Charles Raymond Howard can be read at Uncle Jacob's Civil War.