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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Past Meets Present in West Chester


     Three years ago I wrote an article describing the dramatic events that occurred at Oakley, the farm of Leroy Wonderful Dobyns, during the battle of the Wilderness. Based on a letter written by Leroy's daughter, Maria, to my great grand aunt, Nannie Row, this remains one of my more popular pieces, as Maria describes in cinematic detail the level of suffering and violence experienced by one family on the the periphery of the major fighting that took place in Spotsylvania in May 1864.
      One of the actors in that drama was Major William B. Darlington of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was shot off his horse near the Dobyns' house. Major Darlington was taken to the nearby home of William Shelton Buchanan, where his leg was amputated by Dr. Taylor,  the surgeon of General Wade Hampton. He survived his ordeal, and after the war  was appointed postmaster of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
     Recently it was brought to my attention that Malcom Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District, wrote an article on the history of the West Chester post office, in which he cited Spotsylvania Memory's article. His piece can be read here.
     It is always satisfying when events from the past can be utilized to amplify our understanding of the present.

Monday, March 16, 2015

John P. Kale

John P. Kale, about 1846 (Polk County Memorial Museum)

     The story of John Kale has its beginnings in the Alps of Switzerland, where John's father, Anthony Kale, was born about 1790 in Chur, the capital of the canton Graubunden. A candy maker by trade, Anthony made his way from landlocked Switzerland to a port city in western Europe. Once there, he boarded a sailing ship and crossed the Atlantic. Whether he came alone or with relatives, at what city in America did he arrive, and exactly what year he undertook that perilous journey are questions that have remained unanswered.
     However, by some time after 1810 Anthony Kale was living in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His name first appears in the written record on April 10, 1816, when his marriage to Catherine Estes was announced in The Virginia Herald. Catherine Estes was one of ten children born to Richard and Catherine Carlton Estes of Greenfield, a plantation in western Spotsylvania County.
     Anthony Kale owned property at 706-708 Caroline Street; those buildings survive today as the Fredericksburg Visitor Center and Beck's Antiques. At No. 706 Kale ran a confectionery and grocery, and his family lived on the floors over his store. The seven children of Catherine and Anthony were born there. The youngest of their three sons, John, arrived in 1824. (More can be read about the Kales here).

706-708 Caroline Street

     Little is known of John's early life, other than he apparently received a good education, given the early success he enjoyed in the newly minted Republic of Texas. In 1846, the 22-year-old John left Fredericksburg and went west.

Letter of John Kale, February 1847

     On February 19, 1847, John wrote a letter from Liberty, Texas to his uncle Absalom Row of Spotsylvania. He began by mentioning how much sickness there was out there, from which he was not immune: "I have not been well two weeks at a time since July last." John was teaching school then, but in the sparsely settled section northeast of modern Houston, there was not much money to be made in that profession. John made some observations on recent elections in Virginia and then indulged in a wistful look back at the life he had left behind in Virginia: "You cannot imagine what it is to me to hear from you all every one and all things about home are ten times dearer to me than they ever were before. Your fine healthy faces would be a show in this part of the world, and little George I no doubt remembers how the squirrel's tail was played about his nose." The little George he referred to was my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row.

George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883)

     By 1850, John Kale was living in the tiny town of Livingston, Polk County, where he was clerk of court. He was one of the earliest American settlers in that area and over the years enjoyed success as clerk, town merchant and farmer.
     John married Mary Winifred Hicks in Polk County on August 10, 1852. Their marriage was short-lived and tragic. Their first child, a daughter, died at birth in 1853. Their son suffered the same fate in 1854. Mary Kale died two weeks after the death of her son on September 6. All three are buried near her parents in the Abell Cemetery in Liberty, Texas.
     By 1860, with an aggregate wealth of $56,000, John Kale was one of the wealthiest men in Polk County. But that statistic does not tell the whole story. After the death of his wife and children, John was in a mental state where he could not be left alone. He moved to Denton, Texas to stay for a time with his brother, Richard. For the 1860 census taken in Polk County, his occupation is given as "undefinable," because he was living in Denton at the time.
     John enlisted as a private in Company K of the 5th Texas Infantry on August 24, 1861. Now 37 years old, he was considered an old man by some of his fellow recruits. The 5th Infantry was part of the famed Texas Brigade, commanded by General John Bell Hood. Within two months of his enlistment, the  5th Texas was transported to Virginia, where it encamped on Neabsco Creek near Dumfries. Here, the older and more experienced John worked as a nurse in the General Hospital.
     John fought with his regiment during the Seven Days Battles near Richmond in 1862. The Texas Brigade, along with Longstreet's Corps, then marched west toward Culpeper in order to link up with Stonewall Jackson's troops and confront the army of General John Pope.
     On August 26, 1862, John Kale was put on picket duty, along with future Texas judge John W. Stevens and Nathan Oates. This episode was recounted in a book written by Judge Stevens 40 years later: Reminiscences of the Civil War, Hillsboro Mirror Print: Hillsboro, Texas, 1902, 51-52:

     "Kale was about 45 years old [actually, he was just 38] and a little hard of hearing, we three were carried down by an officer and posted in thirty or forty steps of the enemy's line, in high corn. The mud was awful, the air was quite cool after nightfall...Our orders were if the enemy attempted to advance, to wait until they were in twenty feet, then fire into them and fall back, we were not to speak above a whisper. We were so close to the enemy that we could hear their feet pop in the mud as they moved around in line. We could hear, all night, the low rumbling sound of their voices in suppressed tones as they conversed.
     "Kale, poor fellow, could not hear as well as myself and Nath, which was a great discomfort to him, and us as well. The slight breeze that came through the corn, sawing the blades against one another, made a noise very much like a man slipping up on us. Kale, every few minutes would insist that the rascals--as he called them--were coming and at times we could hardly restrain him from raising his gun to fire."

     Four days later, John Kale was shot during the battle of Second Manassas. He was taken to the Receiving and Wayside Hospital (General Hospital No. 9) in Richmond, where he remained for two months. He was then transferred to Hospital No. 21. From there he was transferred to "private quarters October 29, 1862, having furnished a substitute."
     Not much else is known of John Kale's activities during the Civil War. In a letter written by his sister Kate in July 1864, we learn that John and his brother Richard (who had begun the war as a trooper with the 15th Texas Cavalry) were "now in the same company. John is in the commissary department. He says the State [Texas] is full of refugees and everything is high. Sugar is not to be had at any price."
     The war now over, John returned to Polk County. Although his wealth was now less than half of what it had been before the war, he was still better off than most of his neighbors. He opened a dry goods store in Livingston. On March 21, 1867 he married a 30 year old widowed school teacher, Isabelle Wallace Sharp.
     Isabelle, or "Belle" as everyone knew her, had been the second wife of John F. Sharp, who had died during the war. Belle was raising John Sharp's son by his first marriage, John, Jr. Belle came from a distinguished Delaware family. Her grandfather, Caesar Augustus Rodney, had served in the House of Representatives and had been Attorney General of the United States.
     John and Belle had four children together. The first, Iola Rodney, died in 1871 at age three. Annie Rose was born about 1869, Louise "Lutie" was born in 1870 and Katherine "Kate" Carlton (named for her grandmother) in 1872. On May 15, 1873, Belle Kale died while giving birth to her fifth child, who also died.

Anna Rose Wallace Vaughan (courtesy of Felicia Gourdin)

     After Belle died, John Kale made the decision to send his three surviving daughters to live with Belle's sister, Anna Rose Wallace Vaughan, in Yalobusha, Mississippi. Anna Vaughan, a widow with four daughters of her own, taught school there.  In the photograph below, Anna is seen with her daughters and the younger Kale girls who are identified by the numbers: 1-Lutie, 2-Kate, 3-Annie Rose.

Courtesy of Polk County Memorial Museum

     In 1880, John Kale was living alone and farming. For a man who had been twice married and the father of eight children, it must have been lonely. He was still close to his adopted son, John F. Sharp, Jr., who acted as guardian for the daughters of John Kale after his death on February 14, 1886 at the age of 62.

     As John Kales' daughters became old enough, they were enrolled in the Ward Seminary for Young Ladies (modern Ward-Belmont College) in Nashville, Tennessee. There, on Christmas Eve 1887, Annie Rose Kale was killed in a dormitory fire.

Kate Kale (Courtesy of Polk County Memorial Museum)

     Kate Kale married Kentucky banking executive James Florian Cox in 1892. They never had children. In 1910 James left Kate for the much younger Virginia Lee Harris of New Orleans.

The Daily Star 28 February 1894

     Lutie Kale married lumber wholesaler Edward Lewis Edwards in 1894. Their wedding announcement made the social page of the Fredericksburg papers. She and Edward settled in Dayton, Ohio and had one daughter. After her divorce, Kate moved to Dayton to be near her sister. Lutie died in 1922, Kate in 1926. They are buried at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton.