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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Queenie

April 1963

     By the end of 1959 the decision had been made to come home to Virginia. In early 1957 we had packed up the car and, with my grandmother in tow, drove across the continent to our new home in Los Angeles. My father had taken a job as a machinist at the Marquardt plant, where they used to make ramjet engines. Although the money was good and my parents had many friends, my father - an ever restless and dissatisfied soul - began to fret about my sister and I growing up in an urban world. With no points of reference to our Virginia roots, save for our beloved cousins who lived two blocks away, my father thought it best that we come back. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Our plans to retrace our steps to Virginia assumed a new urgency in early 1960. Grandmother Sullivan had taken ill and her prospects were not good. The house in California had not yet sold, but my father wanted to see his mother one more time and to help his father deal with her imminent departure from this life. And so, leaving my mother behind in February that year to see to the sale of our house and to organize the transportation of us and our worldly goods, he drove home to Stafford at breakneck speed, hoping he would get there before his mother died. He did not. He later realized that she died while he was being issued a speeding ticket in Georgia.
     Meanwhile, in all the hurly-burly of selling the house in California and packing our things, our little dog (whose name I no longer remember) was given to some nice people, since it was not possible to bring him with us when we made the trip in April. Many years later my mother told me how guilty she and the old man felt about doing that. Truth be told, I do not recall being irreparably harmed by his loss. But it did explain what happened soon after we were all reunited at the old Sullivan place.
     One day, near my birthday in April 1960, my father came home and said he had something for me. He opened the door of the car and out jumped a tawny pup licking, barking and twirling about in frenzied excitement. I did not realize it fully then, but have since come to realize that as one of the best days I have ever lived. 
     My Grandfather Sullivan's house was located on Route 3 across the road from the two room Little Falls School, where my father attended as a boy and where I would go until the autumn of 1960. The house sat on a little knoll  facing the school and a retaining wall ran down the driveway and partly across the front yard. Each afternoon Queenie - we named her that the day she came to us - sat on the little rise near the retaining wall and waited for me to cross the road and come home from school. Our routine was the same each afternoon. I would place my books on the retaining wall and grab Queenie in my arms, and together we would tumble down the little hill. On our way down she would tear at my shirt with her paws (My poor mother. We had no money for new clothes.) and bite my hands in mock anger. I still have the scars. Then she would bound up the hill and wait for me so that we could do it again.
     By the fall of 1960 we moved to a house in Spotsylvania located  at the end of Bernstein Drive near Five Mile Fork (Dr. Bernstein lived on that road then and treated our bumps and bruises). While we rented that house, my father and my uncle Rolf built the house we lived in until 1970. During this time Queenie became pregnant and my sister and I excitedly awaited the arrival of her puppies. When that time drew nigh, Queenie disappeared. I was concerned about this, as you can imagine, and asked my father what had happened, He explained to me that mama dogs would go hide some place safe to have their pups.
     And so it was. A few days after she disappeared I could hear some grunting and crying under the tool shed near the house. Queenie had burrowed under the shed. The hole was just large enough for me to wriggle through and once I got under there I handed out, one by one, eight puppies.
     Three of these would not make it and we gave away another four. A sturdy male, King, stayed with us when we moved to our new house on Old Plank Road in September 1961. And what a handful King turned out to be during his short time with us.
     Our clothes line stood between the rear of our house and the barn. One wintry Sunday morning before church my mother had washed some laundry and hung it out to dry in the frigid air under an overcast and leaden sky. We left for church (Tabernacle Methodist, just a half mile west of our house) at ten and were home within minutes after the benediction and doxology at noon. By then it had begun to snow. The scene which met our disbelieving eyes as we pulled up the driveway elicited from my mother oaths and imprecations not heretofore heard by my sister or me. King and Queenie had snatched the laundry from the line and were gaily capering about in the snowy mud, the once clean clothes trailing behind them in their clenched teeth.
     Bear in mind that before King came along, Queenie had been the ideal dog, even in my parents' eyes. But his rambunctiousness rubbed off on her and she followed his lead in mayhem and misdeeds.
     Then there was this. King and Queenie began to harass Andrew Seay's cattle, which pastured in Mrs. Zechiel's field across the road from us (today this field is occupied by the Royal Oaks subdivision adjacent to Zoan Church). I remember seeing our dogs chase those beeves and nip at their hindquarters. After one such incident Queenie came home rather bruised and lame. We surmised that she had been stepped on or kicked by one of her victims. This was during cold weather, and for some time Queenie stayed on "her spot" by the kitchen door, where the pipes carrying hot water to the registers passed through the concrete floor. In due course she recovered and was her old self again. Below, Queenie and a friend are resting on her spot.


     Not long after that King disappeared. His absence was of greater concern to my sister and me than to our parents. One day, as our school bus passed the house that once stood near the future entrance of Royal Oaks, we saw King chained to a stake in the yard. Our pleas to our parents for action were met with a benign indifference and soon thereafter the people who had occupied the house moved away, taking King with them.

April 1963

     Whatever grief Anne and I felt was shallow and short lived. We still had Queenie. In terms of understanding human speech, Queenie had quite a vocabulary. My mother used to cook breakfast for Anne and me while we were still sleeping. When it was time for us to get up she would say to Queenie "Go get the children." She would trot upstairs and go to each of our bedsides and lick our faces until we got up. If, on the other hand, it was necessary for only one of us to get up, Mom would say to Queenie "Go get Pat" and she would trot upstairs to my room and lick me awake. She would leave Anne alone.


     As most young girls would do, my sister would dress up Queenie in baby clothes, including a little infant cap. These indignities Queenie would forebear with canine stoicism. Whatever Anne would do was fine with her.
     Each afternoon Queenie would be waiting on the hillside as our bus came down Old Plank Road. For a time we believed that she did this because she could hear the bus coming. But I learned that her abilities were more subtle than we suspected.
     When I was in the fifth grade I was visited with a case of measles. My grandmother stayed with me while I recuperated; at this time Anne was still going to school as usual. Queenie spent the days with me as I languished on the couch with my fever, my red spots and a taste of pennies in my mouth. Each afternoon, several minutes before the usual arrival time of the bus, Queenie became restless and walked to the kitchen door and whined until I let her out. She would then make her way to the hillside and patiently wait for the bus. She, and I suppose all dogs, have within them a highly accurate sense of time that keeps in synch with the rhythm of the day's events. For the rest of her life she was always waiting for us on that hill when we came home from school.



     Queenie experienced the gamut of the same emotions that we felt, including embarrassment. She was not allowed on the upholstery and during the day she cheerfully abided by this rule of the house. However, each morning after my father turned off the alarm and walked down to the kitchen, there would be a warm depression on the couch covered in the tawny hairs of a dog whose name will not be mentioned here. Queenie would then stretch and yawn as if she was just woken up. If there were Oscars awarded to dogs...One morning my father woke up before the alarm sounded and stealthily crept down the stairs. There, still sleeping on the couch was a certain tawny haired dog. Queenie awoke with a start and slinked off the couch to her spot. She would not look at my father. Two hours later, when Anne and I got up, she still felt the shame of being caught and averted her eyes when we looked at her. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for her.
     That night she was back on the couch.
   





     Queenie was our furry sister. She did everything with Anne and me. She would go sledding with us. She would watch us play softball. Queenie would "defend" me when I would wrestle with my cousins or the neighbor boys. Unfortunately for them Queenie always took my side in these scuffles. Queenie used to place her chin on our laps and patiently wait for us to finish our cereal in the morning so that she could have the sugary milk in the bottom of the bowl.

Joel, Queenie and myself

     The abandoned tracks of the old PF&P railroad ran through the woods alongside our property. There used to be a clearing in the woods near the tracks where Queenie and I would go on sunny afternoons and sit at the base of an oak tree there. Sometimes we would just quietly sit there for a time, listening to the birds and cicadas. Sometimes I would talk to her about my teenaged troubles and I could tell by the caring look of her brown eyes that she understood.
   


     In the summer of 1970, shortly before I left for college, a day came when Queenie acted sore and bruised and would not move. It was like the time years before when she had gotten too close to the cattle she and King used to chase. But this time it was different. She would not eat or drink, even though we brought her dishes to where she lay. We kept waiting for her to get better.

     I am an old man now. Queenie was the only dog I ever had; she spoiled me for any other dog I could have had. Forty four years after my father buried her in the woods behind our house, Queenie sometimes visits me at night when I am dreaming.

     She is still sitting on the hillside, waiting for me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

William Lee Kent

William Lee Kent

     When William Lee "Willie" Kent was born, his father was far away, fighting with the Confederate army. His experiences, even though often marked by tragedy, are emblematic of what life was once like in old Spotsylvania. His granddaughter Kathleen, who knew him during the last twenty two years  of his life and even lived with him for a time as a young girl, carefully wrote down the stories he used to tell her and has spent much of her adult life researching the lives of the families that were once prominent in western Spotsylvania. Because of the time she spent with her grandfather, Kathleen is a living link to one hundred fifty two years of history. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]

Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     William, born on 10 August 1862, was the son of John Wesley Kent and Martha Catherine Hicks. John was born in Fluvanna County on 1 February 1840 and accompanied his family when they moved to Spotsylvania in 1852. His parents, Warner and Susan Kent, rented a 300 acre farm which they named The Oaks, located adjacent to Hazel Hill. In the map detail above, the Kent place is seen in the center of the image, just south of Todd's post office. This property, which was purchased outright by Warner Kent in 1861, was located between modern Mill Pond and Catharpin Roads.
     Before the Civil War, John Wesley Kent helped his father farm The Oaks and taught at the neighborhood school at Hazel Hill. He was also a member of the Fredericksburg militia.

Martha Catherine Hicks

     On Valentine's Day 1861 John W. Kent married Martha Catherine Hicks, whose family's farm can be seen on the map just southwest of the Kents. Just over a year later their lives would be changed forever.
     On 13 March 1862 John, together with his brother Samuel Rice Kent (also born in Fluvanna, in 1841), enlisted in John F. Alexander's Company of Virginia Artillery. Just three months later the remnants of this battery were incorporated into Company M of the 55th Virginia Infantry. John Kent served with this regiment for the remainder of the war. For his brother Samuel, it would be a different story.
     Just seven weeks after enlisting in Alexander's Artillery, Samuel Kent was taken to the hospital, suffering first with measles and then with pneumonia. Word of his dire predicament was taken to his father, who hitched up a team to his wagon and drove to the hospital. Warner brought him home to be cared for for by himself and Susan. Their efforts were unavailing, however, and Samuel Kent died on 5 May 1862.
     During the last months of her pregnancy, Martha Kent had returned to the Hicks farm in anticipation of the birth of her first child. She and William stayed there for his first year, but ultimately moved back to The Oaks. Meanwhile, for the next three years John W. Kent and the 55th Virginia fought in many engagements, including the Seven Days' Battle, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign and the trenches of Petersburg.
     During the battle of the Wilderness, The Oaks was ransacked at least twice by Union soldiers. Warner was arrested by Federal troops and hauled off the the Old Capitol Prison as "a suspicious character." The tribulations of the Kent family during the Civil War are well documented and I describe their experience in great detail here.
     Just prior to the final vandalizing of the Kent farm, Warner's family was escorted to the farm of John G. Hurkamp for their own safety by a squadron commanded by a Union lieutenant. The children were placed on the horses of Federal troopers for the ride. Two year old William Kent rode with the lieutenant.
     John Wesley Kent was captured at Harper's farm during the battle of Sayler's Creek on 6 April 1865. From there he was taken to City Point and thence to the Union prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. Here he remained incarcerated until 8 June 1865 when he and other prisoners on the sick list took the oath of allegiance and were paroled. John returned home to Spotsylvania, "broken in body and spirit."
     John would father two more children with Martha. Ella Jackson Kent was born in 1866. Her sister Effie Ann was born in August 1867, but John Wesley Kent would not live to see her. Despite the best care possible from Dr. Thomas W. Finney, John departed this life on 5 January 1867.
     After his death Martha took William and Ella back to the Hicks farm and awaited the birth of Effie.
     On a hot July day in 1869, two year old Effie watched as twelve year old Columbus Kent, William's uncle, worked in the truck garden by the creek. Instead of walking back to the house to drink from the well, the thirsty children drank from the creek. Columbus and Effie Kent died of cholera within days of each other.
     The 1870 census shows that William continued to live with his grandparents at The Oaks; Martha and Ella were living with the Hicks family. Susan Kent gave her grandson his introduction to education before he attended an organized school. By the time he was seven, William could read from the Bible, do simple arithmetic and write legibly. Susan taught him the rudiments of American history. The senior Kents - being devout Baptists and members of Wilderness Baptist Church - included moral and religious instruction as part of William's upbringing. Warner taught him practical lessons, including how to make a living out of farming.
     In the 1870s there were no public schools in Spotsylvania as we know them today. School would be held at someone's house, and neighbors would pool their resources to hire a school master. At the age of seven William Lee Kent began his formal schooling at Hazel Hill, where his teachers were Nannie Harris and Bunny Buchanan. His third year was spent at the one room school at Finchville, where he was taught by Miss Ella Rico. Melvin Duval oversaw Williams fourth year of learning at "Poole's Gate,", the school at the home of neighbor Alfred Poole. His fifth and final year of formal education was provided by Samuel Estes at Meadow Hill.
  

Sarah Catherine Kent

     His schooling now finished, William worked on his grandfather's farm as well as other endeavors, such as laboring at the sawmill of George Washington Estes Row. William made a little extra money by hauling railroad ties to the Potomac, Fredericksburg and Piedmont Railroad. His route routinely took him past the farm of Edward Perry. There he would often see Perry's tall, slender daughter Sarah in the yard or the garden. Over time he worked up the courage to speak to her and introduce himself. On 10 July 1882 they took the train from Fredericksburg to Washington, D.C. where they were married. At the conclusion of the ceremony they took the train back to Fredericksburg, where they retrieved their horse and buggy from the livery and rode back to The Oaks.

Kent home, 1940s

     Warner Kent divided The Oaks between his only surviving son, William "Billy" Kent and his grandson William. Billy Kent built a new house on his section of the farm where he raised his family (which included my grandmother). William and Sarah lived in the main house, where they raised nine children. Warner and Susan Kent moved to the guest quarters over the carriage house.

Shady Grove, 1934

     William was baptized at Shady Grove Methodist Church in 1883 and remained a devoted member for the rest of his life. Sarah attended services with him there, but never gave up her membership at Salem Baptist Church. In 1941 Shady Grove published a brief history of the church. In the introduction, they gave much credit to William for sharing his extensive knowledge of its past.

From the history of Shady Grove

     William's mother Martha married a second time in 1876, to a Spotsylvania farmer coincidentally named John Wesley Wright and raised four children with him. Ella Kent, William's only surviving sister, died on 15 July 1887:

Free Lance 19 July 1887

     William's grandmother Susan died in 1892; Warner continued to live in the place over the carriage house. In early November 1906, 95 year old Warner Kent was one day attempting to put wood into his fireplace. He lost his balance and fell into the fire. Warner cried out for help and William rushed into the room, finding his grandfather backing away from the fireplace with his nightshirt on fire. Willie used his bare hands to put the fire out, badly burning himself in the process. William would recover from his injuries, but Warner would not. He died on 9 November 1906.
     In addition to raising nine children and helping on the farm, Sarah Kent also ran a small general store at The Oaks. It was known to the locals as "Miss Sarah's Store." She kept on hand items that people would normally have to drive to Fredericksburg for: dry goods, sewing notions coffee, tea, sugar, writing paper, ink, pencils etc.
     In 1905 Sarah was diagnosed with skin cancer, which began as a mole on the left side of her face. She took a two year course of treatment at Kellam Hospital in Richmond. When it became apparent that nothing else could be done for her, she was given a bottle of morphine pills and sent home. The cancer continued its progression, until the bone was exposed from her hairline to her mouth. Whenever the pain became unbearable, she would go into the parlor, close the door behind her and scream. Sarah Kent died on 30 March 1912 and was buried at Shady Grove.
    
William Kent and grandchildren

     As William grew into old age, he was well loved by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. In the photograph above, his granddaughter Kathleen has her feet on his shoulders.
Below, William is seated between Kathleen and her brother Edward:

William Lee Kent

     William kept his luxuriant moustache his entire life and still cut a dapper figure well into his eighties:

William Lee Kent

     During the 1940s William's birthdays would be marked by large gatherings of relatives at his house, like this one from 1941:


     Near the end of his life William visited Sarah's grave at Shady Grove:

    
     William Lee Kent died on 12 March 1949. He is buried next to Sarah.



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 with living 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.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Middleton Chambers

Middleton Chambers

     Born into the most inauspicious of circumstances, his life thereafter was one of great promise. His talent led him to the sunny uplands of the realization of his artistic ambitions. He came so close.
     This is the story of my cousin, Middleton Chambers. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Middleton was born 30 April 1888 in Lynchburg, Virginia. His mother was Mary Josephine "Jo" Williams, the oldest surviving daughter of James Tompkins Williams and Martha Row Williams. His father was William Archer Chambers, a well known Lynchburg tobacconist and merchandise broker. William was also an 1881 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
     But Middleton's birth was a complicated one, and things did not go well for Jo Chambers, who died on 30 May 1888. Her father wrote of this tragic turn of events just two weeks later, on 16 June, in a letter to his one time sister in law (James T. Williams's first wife Martha had died in 1885), Nan Row of Spotsylvania:

In regard to the death of Jo...it was a great shock to us. Altho she had been in a dangerous condition we were hopeful of her recovery until the day on which she died. Her child was very large and its birth was the cause of her death. She had the best of Doctors and Mary (my wife) nursed her just like her own mother would have done if she had been alive...Next to the death of your sister her death was the hardest blow I ever had and at first I felt like I could not stand it. She had been so much to me and was one of the sweetest best women that ever lived...

     Three years after Jo's death William Archer Chambers married Rosa Hughes and in 1893 they had their own son, William Jr.
     The following year, in July 1894, James T. Williams and his wife, the former Mary Hanvey Martin, petitioned the court in order to adopt six year old Middleton. W.A. Chambers readily agreed to the adoption. What the circumstances may have been that would have led to this change of custody, I do not know. But it was certainly a lucky break for Middleton; his grandfather was one of the richest and most influential men in Lynchburg. Every opportunity that wealth could provide was now available for Middleton. It would prove to be money well spent.
     By the time James T. Williams died in 1900, Middleton Chambers was living in Burlington, New Jersey in the home of his teacher, William F. Overman, principal of Moorestown Academy.  After returning to Virginia, Middleton enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute, from which he graduated in 1908. His portrait at the top of today's post, and this humorous profile typical of the cadets are from the 1908 edition of VMI's The Bomb:






     While a student in Lexington, Middleton was already showing what he could do as an artist, and in the years that followed he successfully hitched his ability to his ambition. This entry from the St. Louis Art Catalog of 1915 reveals the extensive education he received in the years leading up to World War I:





     From 1911 to 1914 Middleton lived, studied and painted in Europe. At one point he met artist Waldo David Frank and they bicycled from Paris to the Bavarian Alps. In his book,  Memoirs of Waldo Frank, University of Massachusetts Press (1973), the author described Middleton as having "a dry wit and a high sense of the ridiculous...whose sole passion was painting." In one amusing episode, Waldo and Middleton stayed in a village in Bavaria, where they taught the locals how to dance the Charleston. For this good deed they were arrested by the constable for teaching "lewd and obscene dances." Their confinement was very brief, due in no small part to their popularity among the villagers.
     When war broke out in August 1914, Middleton made his way to Le Havre by November and returned to the United States. Due to the unexpectedly rapid escalation of the conflict, Middleton was obliged to leave all his artwork in Europe.
     For the next few years Middleton lived in New York and continued to work as a painter. When America entered the war in 1917, Middleton enlisted in the army and trained as a pilot, although for reasons not stated he never flew in combat (Ancestry):





     At the end of the war, Middleton laid plans to return to Europe. On 24 February 1919 he applied for a new passport. His stated intention was to resume his studies and retrieve his paintings. This brooding portrait is from his passport application (Ancestry):





     He never made the voyage back to Europe.
     By now the influenza epidemic was sweeping through New York. And Middleton was swept up with it. On 8 March 1919, just two weeks after applying for his passport, Middleton Chambers died of pneumonia.
     His body was brought home to Lynchburg, and Middleton was buried in Presbyterian Cemetery near his mother.


    

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Benjamin Bowering Rediscovered

Benjamin Bowering letter to Lizzie Houston Row, 10 June 1884


     The roster of names of Fredericksburg's leading citizens, who strode across history's stage during the last half of the nineteenth century, is long and distinguished. Sadly, their stories are often only half-remembered, the patina of their accomplishments obscured by the fine dust of time. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Today I hope to remedy that obscurity for one such man, Benjamin Bowering.
     For reasons which will become evident at the end of today's post, I have for the last week or so been combing through the historical record to learn all I can about this able man who helped transform Fredericksburg and whose handiwork was utilized throughout the region.
     Benjamin's story, and that of his accomplished son Andrew, is one of compelling interest and the many contributions he made to his adopted country and city are worth remembering.
     Benjamin Bowering was born in Trowbridge, England in November 1819. Named for his father, a carpenter born in 1795, young Benjamin accompanied his family on their voyage to America and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. In that city the junior Bowering met Lucinda Voorhees (born in August 1822), whom he married in September 1841.
     About Benjamin's life in New Jersey I know very little, save for the fact that his only child, Andrew Benjamin Bowering, was born there on 6 August 1842.
     In 1849 Bowering and his family moved to Fredericksburg, where for the next fifty four years he would make the highest use of the talents he brought with him.
     Located at the intersection of Princess Anne and Charlotte Streets, Hope Foundry was owned in the late 1840s by a partnership of three men: John H. Roberts, John Francis Scott and John H. Herndon. In 1849 they made the smartest business decision of their lives when they hired Benjamin Bowering as the foundry's manager.
     By May 1851 Mr. Roberts sold his interest to the remaining two partners, who published this advertisement in the 2 May 1851 edition of the Fredericksburg News:



     


     The partnership of Scott & Herndon operated Hope Foundry until 1857, when John F. Scott bought out Mr. Herndon's interest. Scott would operate the business as its sole proprietor until the end of the Civil War. Wisely, he retained the services of his master machinist and superintendent, Benjamin Bowering.
     The advertisement shown below, published on the eve of Virginia's secession and the onset of war, announced - with misplaced optimism - the variety of machines manufactured at the foundry which were available for purchase by the public. Soon enough, however, the foundry's sole customer would be the Confederate army.

Fredericksburg News 29 January 1861

     As early as June 1861 John F. Scott was manufacturing and repairing artillery equipment for the Confederate army, and this would account for most of his business for the next three and a half years. In the National Archives can be found dozens of invoices for Scott's work. A few examples are shown here:




     Scott's efforts on behalf of the rebellion were interrupted twice during the war. In August 1862 he was among about nineteen male citizens of Fredericksburg who were arrested by Federal troops occupying the town at the time and were taken to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. They were seized as hostages to guarantee the safety of several Unionists who had been arrested by the Confederates and imprisoned in Richmond. After an exchange of letters and the plaintive pleas of those incarcerated in Washington, a solution was found and John F. Scott and the others were released.
     Scott was arrested a second time when Federal forces occupied Fredericksburg on 2 May 1863. The record shows that the reason given for his arrest was due to the fact that he was "disloyal." He was released on 20 May 1863.
     Understandably, Scott made himself scarce in May 1864 when the Union army again took control of the town during the battle of the Wilderness. This time he avoided capture.
     Since he did not own the foundry at the time, Benjamin Bowering's name does not appear on any of these Confederate invoices, but he doubtless continued to manage production for Scott during the war. Evidence of this is found in the record of his parole, given at Salisbury, North Carolina after the surrender of General Joseph Johnston on 26 April 1865. He is shown as enlisted in the Virginia Reserves and "detailed at the artillery shops." There was a munitions foundry located at Salisbury, so I assume Benjamin was working there during the latter part of the war.

Parole of Benjamin Bowering

     Meanwhile, Benjamin Bowering's son Andrew was having his own unique experience during the Civil War. Prior to Virginia's secession, Andrew was a music teacher in Fredericksburg. When hostilities began, Andrew was mustered into the 30th Virginia Infantry, where he led the regimental band. At the funeral of Stonewall Jackson in Richmond in May 1863 Andrew conducted the band in playing music he composed for the occasion, as well as Handel's Dead March from "Saul."
     Andrew Bowering served in the 30th Virginia until Lee's surrender at Appomattox. At that place Andrew blew the final recall of the Army of Northern Virginia. He placed his trumpet on the limb of a tree and walked home to Fredericksburg.
     When he arrived there he discovered that his father was in Salisbury. And so he made his way to North Carolina. The Bowerings returned home soon thereafter.
     After the war Andrew continued to teach music and conducted open air concerts in Fredericksburg. He served as president of the city school board and for almost fifty years was commissioner of revenue. He died in 1923.
     Reunited once again, John F. Scott and Benjamin Bowering laid plans to reopen Hope Foundry as a commercial enterprise open to the public. This time Benjamin would at long last be a partner in the business.

Fredericksburg Ledger 1  December 1865

     And they remained partners until 6 February 1871, when John Francis Scott died. The index to the historic court records of Fredericksburg indicate that Scott's estate was settled in 1876, and that is when it appears Benjamin acquired sole ownership of Hope Foundry.
     For the remainder of his active life, Benjamin was connected to Hope Foundry and its successors. Among the many projects for which he deserves to be remembered:

- the manufacture of the court house vault door
- the design of the gates of the Confederate cemetery
- the manufacture and installation of the vane atop the Baptist Church
- the manufacture and installation of the bell of the Presbyterian Church

Fredericksburg Ledger 13 September 1870

- the manufacture of all the equipment used in the Germania Mills
- the manufacture of the machinery used in the Washington Woolen Mills, of which he was a director
- the manufacture of the machinery for the City Electric Light Works.
- the manufacture of the steam heating system for the Hotel Dannehl

     Benjamin was also active in the civic life of Fredericksburg and served for years on the city council.

     Benjamin sold Hope Foundry to Charles Tyler of Baltimore in January 1891. The foundry was then renamed the Progress Engine and Machine Works. Benjamin stayed on for a year as manager.
     Progress was later named Southern Foundry and at the age of seventy eight Benjamin went back to work for them for a time in 1897.
     Benjamin Bowering died at the home of his son on 13 July 1903. He is buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery.


     Over the years I have taken a personal interest in Bowering because my great grandfather had bought from him the steam saw mill and boiler that he used in his lumber business in Spotsylvania. After his untimely death in 1883, his widow wound down his business as the adminstratrix of his estate. In the letter written by Bowering to my great grandmother in May 1884, which appears at the top of today's post, he pledges to help her find a buyer for the mill machinery. The invoice below is among the business papers of Lizzie Houston Row:

Bowering invoice to Lizzie Row 10 June 1884


So what has prompted my renewed interest in Benjamin lately?

     Recently an artifact of Benjamin Bowering - a virtual time capsule - was discovered in a tributary of Chopawamsic Creek on the Marine base at Quantico. This was brought to my attention by the base's forester, Ron Moyer, who came across previous mentions of Bowering on Spotsylvania Memory while conducting research. Quantico intends to restore this equipment and display it on the base. The link to Quantico's press release:

http://www.quantico.marines.mil/News/NewsArticleDisplay/tabid/10834/Article/166771/1800s-steam-engine-has-tie-to-fredericksburg.aspx

     Mr. Moyer asked for my assistance in gathering as much information as possible regarding Bowering's work, a task I undertook with great pleasure. Ron Moyer shared with me several photographs of Benjamin Bowering's handiwork and with his permission they appear  here today:


















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