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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ralph Happel's Eulogy to Phenie Tapp

     Since my recent post on the life and times of Phenie Tapp, I have received a number of inquiries about the substance of National Park Historian Ralph Happel's interview with Phenie about the battle of the Wilderness. If that interview were still extant, I would have happily included it in my article about Phenie. Unfortunately, according to Eric Mink, historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, neither the text of that interview nor Happel's notes survive. [Please click on images in my blog for enlarged viewing]
     What we do have, however, is the eulogy to Phenie that Ralph Happel wrote for the Free Lance Star when Phenie died in 1944. Since Phenie Tapp was only four years old at the time of the battle on her family's farm, I think that this excellently written piece by Mr. Happel serves as a more than adequate substitute:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sprig Dempsey and the Battle of Catherine Furnace

Catherine Furnace (National Park Service)

     A couple of years ago I wrote one of my most popular pieces, which described the fighting that took place at Catherine Furnace on 2 May 1863. New information has come to light this week which allows me today to solve one outstanding mystery and to add to what is already known about the foundry and the people associated with it.
     My earlier post described the crucial role of master blacksmith Absalom Herndon Chewning in the foundry's operation, as well as a highly entertaining account of the battle that occurred there during Stonewall Jackson's flank march. For those of you who have not already read it, now would be a good time to click here and enjoy this little known piece of Spotsylvania history. You won't be disappointed, I promise.
     The identity of Sprig Dempsey has remained a mystery until now. Thanks to the investigative talents of two of Spotsylvania's premier genealogists, Wil Bowler and Tom Myers, I can now share with you his name and his story.

1921 pension application of James Thomas Dempsey

     James Thomas Dempsey was born in the Mine Run section of eastern Orange County in June 1845, the son of John L. Dempsey and Susan Nash. In 1875 he married Ann Elizabeth Brown of Culpeper County, where he thereafter lived until his death in 1931.
     Late in life James "Sprig" Dempsey submitted two applications in order to obtain pension benefits as a disabled Confederate veteran. By this time he was suffering from rheumatism and heart disease and was no longer able to work. The first of these applications, dated 21 May 1917, was rejected due to a "misunderstanding of my service; papers being not clear." The second one, dated 23 December 1921 and shown above, provides us with much of what we now know. Dempsey did not enlist in one of the local regiments. Instead, he was detached from service in Richmond to work at Catherine Furnace. This makes me think that perhaps he was conscripted by Confederate authorities in June 1862 (not 1863, as he incorrectly remembers on his application). In any case, he notes that he "served faithfully."
     On his pension application Dempsey listed two comrades who served with him during the war. One, of course, was Absalom Herndon Chewning, with whom we are already familiar. The other was another teenaged boy impressed into laboring at Catherine Furnace, John Lewis Morris.
     John Morris was born in the Indiantown area of Orange County in 1848. He was inducted into the Confederate service in Spotsylvania on 1 September 1864 and worked at Catherine Furnace until December of that year, when he "left to join the regular Confederate army." Whether he was successful in doing so in unclear, as his name does not appear in any regimental roster that I can find. After his death in 1934 his widow filed for pension benefits as well. She cited his service in Company I of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, but I find no record of him there.
     The fact that Sprig Dempsey and John Morris worked together at the Furnace in the autumn of 1864 lets us know that at some point after his capture during the battle of Chancellorsville he had been exchanged. In 1865 Dempsey was "discharged at the close of the war after Lee's surrender and paroled from Fredericksburg."
Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     Both Dempsey and Morris mentioned the fact that their commanding officer was Charles Beverly Wellford (1829-1885).
     John Spottswood Wellford, C.B. Wellford's uncle, was responsible for establishing Catherine Furnace. Apparently named for his mother, the former Catherine Yates, the foundry was an integral part of the Fredericksburg Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1836. The company relied heavily on military contracts, thereby missing a good chance at long term profitability in the pig iron business while prices were high. By the time of J.S. Wellford's death in 1846, the furnace became inactive and ownership passed to his brother Charles Carter Wellford, father of C.B. Wellford.

Charles Carter Wellford (National Park Service)

     In addition to their house in Fredericksburg, the family of C.C. Wellford owned a home in Spotsylvania on modern Jackson Trail East. The nearby furnace which he owned can be seen in the center of the map detail above, just north of the unfinished Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad.
     The coming of the Civil War brought new opportunities to both father and son. Charles Beverly Wellford enlisted as a private in Captain Pollock's Company Virginia Light Artillery. Meanwhile, in 1862 his father signed a contract with the Confederate government to produce 2,000 tons of pig iron at the newly reopened furnace. The determination was made that Private Wellford's talents were better utilized in his father's iron enterprise than with the army. Accordingly, on 4 April 1862 George Minor, Chief of Ordnance and Hydrography, petitioned Secretary of War George W. Randolph to release C.B. Wellford from active service in order to assume new responsibilities at Catherine Furnace (as a civilian Minor was a professional musician and he resumed his avocation after the war).

Petition of George Minor to G.W. Randolph, April 1862

     During the battle of Chancellorsville, at the time that Sprig Dempsey and Absalom Chewning were seeking to escape from Union forces probing the rear of the Confederate column, Charles B. Wellford acted as a guide for General Jackson, taking him through the country lanes leading to Brock Road.
     In 1864 Catherine Furnace was destroyed by Union cavalry commanded by General George Custer. It was rebuilt, however, and continued to produce iron for the Confederacy until 1865.

     A bizarre footnote to the Wellfords' wartime experience occurred during the Federal occupation of Fredericksburg in the weeks following Lee's surrender. From the 7 June 1865 edition of the Fredericksburg Ledger:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

William Lee Andrews

William Lee Andrews

     William Lee Andrews was born in Caroline County on 18 January 1827. Before the Civil War he was a member of the local militia, the Sparta Grays, when this reversed image photograph of him was taken. During the war, William served in the 30th Virginia Infantry and the 9th Virginia Cavalry.  His daughter, Myrtle Clyde Andrews, married Irvin Malcom "Mack" Chewning of Mount View in Spotsylvania. W.L. Andrews died in Caroline County on 3 August 1895.
     One of the best images of a Confederate soldier I have seen.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Return of Lizzie's Stone

Lizzie Houston Row, 1875

     This is the story of how a wanton act of destruction has been redeemed by the kindness of strangers. Motivated only by a sense of decency and a desire to do the right thing, they have done my family a great service. Today's post is dedicated to them.

     Long time readers of Spotsylvania Memory are already familiar with my great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Houston Row, whose eventful life's story has been the subject of many posts here. Born in Rockbridge County in 1854, Lizzie was a member of the storied Houston family, which included her grandfather's cousin, General Samuel Houston. She enjoyed a storybook upbringing in a loving and strictly Presbyterian household at her family's farm, Mount Pleasant. She was educated at the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington and by the time she was twenty one was being courted by a number of young suitors. She was also ardently pursued by George Washington Estes Row of Spotsylvania, who met her while he was in Rockbridge on business. Although eleven years her senior, and a widower with a young son, George won out over his younger rivals and married her in December 1875. He brought her home to Spotsylvania, where he built a house for them at Sunshine, his farm adjacent to Greenfield, his family's ancestral home. Lizzie lived there until her death in January 1928. She was buried in the cemetery at Greenfield.
     During the 1800s Greenfield was a sprawling plantation in western Spotsylvania. A portion of it, including the house and dependencies, was sold out of the family in 1905. Today the old burying ground is surrounded by Fawn Lake subdivision beside a man made lake. There are actually two Greenfield cemeteries - that of my ancestors and the other set aside for their slaves - at the foot of the dam which created the lake. For those of you who may be interested in reading a brief history of Greenfield and how this section of it became an upscale subdivision, click here. This photograph of the cemetery was taken in 2007 from atop the dam by fellow researcher Mary Edith Arnold:

Greenfield cemetery

     For almost seventy years after it was sold, this cemetery and the surrounding acreage remained undisturbed by encroaching civilization and was still undeveloped farm land until it was sold to a development company more than forty years ago. The explosion of growth in Spotsylvania County since that time has put pressure on the two cemeteries. Changes in air quality have obliterated the inscription on the headstone of George Washington Estes Row, and the field stones that once marked the burial sites of the slaves are strewn about. However, years ago Fawn Lake installed a handsome picket fence around my family's graveyard and the grass is kept mowed.

Lizzie Houston's headstone

     Unfortunately, unlike the other stones there, that of great grandmother Lizzie's was not set in the ground. Instead, it sat in the opening of its stone base. This arrangement made it more vulnerable to problems as its connection to the base became undone. Still, as late as fifteen years ago the headstone  was still in one piece. However, by 2007 it had broken in two. In January 2009 it looked like this:

     In April 2011 a group of Lizzie's descendants, including myself and accompanied by Spotsylvania historian John Cummings, returned to the cemetery with two goals in mind. We came prepared to straighten the three oldest stones there, those of Richard Estes and his wife and daughter, which had been leaning for decades. We also intended to attempt a repair to Lizzie's headstone and join the two fragments together.
     We were instead shocked by what we found. The top portion of the stone was gone. The bottom piece had been smashed to bits. Sadly, all we could do that day was load the shattered remains of Lizzie's stone into the truck, and also the foot stone of Catherine Estes, which seemed to me damaged by tree roots:

Photo by John Cummings

     Our intention has been to replace the stone some day.
     This state of affairs remained unchanged until I received an email earlier this week from Fawn Lake resident Sandy Fitzpatrick, who took it upon herself to track down my email address. In her long and generous letter, Sandy described how she and her fourteen year old son Liam had solved the riddle of the missing portion of Lizzie's vandalized headstone. With her kind permission I quote from Sandy's letter:

     My son and I were down at the dam yesterday - the water level is very low due to an incident last week when the valve on the dam would not shut and as a consequence the lake level is extremely low. I do not believe that the water had anything at all to do with the headstone being moved, but it may be why people, especially teenagers and strangers to our community, might have been in the area and may have been drawn to the cemetery. [Sandy and I have since decided that the stone was likely thrown down the dam embankment at the same time when the bottom half of the stone was destroyed.] My son found the top of the stone on the water-side of the dam. It looked as if it had been dropped there as it is cracked in half horizontally over Mrs. Houston's name. Additionally, it was not buried in the muck of the area where the water had receded, rather sitting directly on top without any water debris or stains anywhere that would indicate it had been in the water itself. We came home immediately and notified our security and they assured me that they were already on the way to retrieve the stone...The officer on duty at the time was Tabitha, who was very concerned about retrieving the headstone as soon as possible. 
     Indeed, with the intercession of Helen Bradley, manager of resident services for Fawn Lake, the fragments of Lizzie Houston Row's headstone were soon returned to her grave:

     We are fortunate that the stone was spotted by alert and caring persons like Sandy and Liam Fitzpatrick. Because of their energetic and selfless response, this part of our family's long history in Spotsylvania has been saved. With gratitude and appreciation I tip my hat to my new friends, the Fitzpatricks.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The World According to Phenie Tapp

Photo enhancement courtesy of Tom Myers

     For students of the battle of the Wilderness, the words "the Widow Tapp farm" evoke images of the near capture of Robert E. Lee followed by his stirring effort to personally lead the newly arrived Texas Brigade against Hancock's advancing troops. For all that has been written about that pivotal moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, much less is known about Mrs. Tapp and the personal stories of her extended family. As we shall see, were it not for the unlucky circumstance of having this battle fought near her cabin, no one would have ever heard of her. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Of course, she did not enter this world known as the Widow Tapp. She began her life in Orange County as Catherine Elizabeth Dempsey about 1803, a daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth Dempsey. In December 1833 she married Vincent Tapp of Culpeper County and by 1840 they had settled in Spotsylvania, where they raised their three daughters and two sons.
     The Tapps were not wealthy people; far from it. They eked out a hardscrabble existence from land rented from Horace Lacy, owner of nearby "Ellwood." They owned no slaves. Before he died in about 1857, Vincent Tapp's name appeared on the list of Spotsylvania's insolvents.

The Tapp house (National Park Service)

     This watercolor of the Tapp cabin was painted by artist and Union army veteran George Leo Frankenstein in 1865. It is the only known image of the Tapp home. The cabin measured about 20'x30' and housed as many as seven people at a time. The 1860 census tells us that this humble structure was home to Catherine Tapp, daughters Sarah Elizabeth, Margaret, Harriet and her husband Andrew Jackson Lewis, and son James. The other son, William Benjamin Tapp, was evidently living in Culpeper County at the time.
     Not shown on that census was one other person living in Catherine Tapp's cramped cabin - a baby girl. We will return to this child shortly.

Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     Across Orange Plank Road from the Tapp place was the farm of Thomas and Eliza Pulliam. In the map detail above, their property is indicated as "Mrs. Pulliam" in the lower left of the image just southeast of the uncompleted Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad. To the west of Eliza Pulliam's house was "Mount View," the home of William V. Chewning, whose son Absalom operated the Catherine Furnace for the Confederacy. To the southwest was the farm of Eliza's brother Richard H. Pulliam. Unlike the Tapps, who were tenant farmers,  Thomas and Eliza Pulliam were freeholders and slave owners. Living with them were their two sons, Thomas Richard (known locally as "Tom Dick") and John James. By 1860 Eliza Pulliam shared two things in common with her neighbor Catherine Tapp. First, they were both widows. Like Vincent Tapp, Thomas Pulliam (who may have been a cousin of Eliza) died during the 1850s.
     The other thing that these two widows shared was the fact that they were both grandmothers of the baby girl born in the Tapp house in February 1860.
     By 1859 Thomas Richard Pulliam was having an affair with Catherine Tapp's oldest daughter, twenty five year old Sarah Elizabeth. The child born of this relationship, Eliza Frances, is known to history as Phenie Tapp.
     Thomas R. Pulliam appears to have been at the least reluctant, and even unwilling, to acknowledge his paternity of Phenie or any obligation to marry Sarah Elizabeth. As one might expect, Sarah was herself unwilling to accept this unsatisfactory status quo and she sought relief in court. The result was that Thomas Richard Pulliam was compelled to sign this bastardy bond in June 1860, in which he finally acknowledged his paternity of Phenie and pledged to provide support until she reached age 14:

Bastardy bond of Thomas R. Pulliam (CRHC)

     Know all men by these presents that we Thos. R. Pulliam & [blank] are held & firmly bound unto the overseer of the Poor for the county of Spotsylvania in the Just and full sum of one hundred fifty dollars to which payment well & truly to be made to the said overseer of the poor for said county, we bind ourselves our heirs Exors. & honor jointly & severally by these presents. Sealed hereto our seals [29th?] day of June 1860 and adjudge that Thos. R. Pulliam who was thereof accused & was the father of a Bastard child of Sarah E. Tapp an unmarried white woman of the said county, did order him the said Thos. R. Pulliam to enter into bond with good security conditioned for the maintenance of the said bastard child for the term of fourteen years. Now if the said Thos. R. Pulliam shall on each and every year on the first day of May on each & every such year for the term of fourteen years beginning this day to be paid to the overseer of the Poor of said county the sum of ten dollars per annum as aforesaid for the support & maintenance of the said bastard child; then this obligation to be void otherwise to remain in full force and virtue.
                                                                                          Thos R. Pulliam (Seal)
                                                                                          Thomas C. Pulliam (Seal)
                                                                                          R.W. Carter (Seal)
1868. April 6. Cr. the above bond by seventy dollars paid this day by T.R. Pulliam which has been paid over to S.E. Tapp.
                                         R.C. Dabney

     This situation had scarcely simmered down when the sons of both Catherine Tapp and Eliza Pulliam took up arms for the Confederacy. Thomas and John Pulliam enlisted in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, the same regiment of my great grandfather. William Benjamin Tapp joined Stuart's Light Horse Artillery, while his brother James signed up with the 7th Virginia Infantry in the fall of 1862. James fell ill almost immediately and remained on the sick list for the entire time he was a soldier until he died in the summer of 1863.
     One would think that Tom Dick Pulliam would have his hands full fighting the Union army and avoiding responsibility for his daughter. One would be wrong. During the war he found the time and energy to bed the wife of Oscar Mastin, the former Sarah Faulconer. Oscar and Sarah had married in 1859 and had a daughter together, Laura Lee. In due course Sarah's dalliance with Tom Pulliam became known to Oscar Mastin, who sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Sarah married Tom in June 1869; by then their oldest son was a year old. A second son, George, was born in 1872. Third was Judson Hammond Pulliam, born in February 1876. Sarah's youngest son, William Jefferson Pulliam, was born three years after her husband's death.
     By May 1864 the peccadilloes of Tom Dick Pulliam did not loom large in the life of Catherine Tapp. The Union Army, twice the size of Lee's still divided forces, came pouring into Orange and Spotsylvania on May 4. By May 6 General Lee had set up his headquarters at the Tapp farm, trying to buy time until Longstreet's Corps could join him and stave off impending disaster. General Hancock's troops appeared at the far end of the Tapp property, with little to stop them from advancing and capturing Lee save for the artillery of William T. Poague. Some of A.P. Hill's men evacuated the Tapp family and shepherded them across the road to the house of Eliza Pulliam. In an interview she gave to National Park Service historian Ralph Happel in 1937, Phenie Tapp recalled how "the bullets struck the dirt around them, kicking up dust like the first drops of a coming storm."
     At last the Texas Brigade, the vanguard of Longstreets's long anticipated arrival, came just in time to save the day. What followed next was one of the most dramatic moments of the Civil War.
     Despite the ferocity of the gunfire and cannonading of that day, Catherine Tapp's home and family survived. Her surviving son William came home safely after the war and returned to Culpeper, where he lived until his death in 1876. Thomas and John Pulliam also came home in one piece. John married Melissa Chewning and established his own farm. Tom and Sarah lived with Eliza.
     Whether Tom Pulliam continued his profligate ways is not known, but I am willing to hazard a guess that he was not a reformed man. In any case, his life came to an abrupt and violent end on 14 January 1876. As reported in The Fredericksburg News:

     Tom Dick Pulliam was lying asleep on a sofa in his house near "Faulkners" when Tom Sutherlin struck him in the head with a piece of spoke timber, which killed him instantly. Cause, an old grudge. Sutherlin escaped. The citizens offer a one hundred dollar reward for him.

     Two weeks later, on 1 February 1876, George Washington Estes Row mentioned Pulliam's demise in a letter written to his fifteen year old cousin, Emma Farish: Tom Dick Pulliam was murdered 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?
     These were the circumstances in which Phenie Tapp was born and spent her formative years. It is little wonder, then, that the remaining sixty eight years of her life assumed the character that they did.
      After her grandmother Catherine died in May 1879, Phenie continued to live with her maiden aunt Margaret at the Tapp place. In fact, Phenie would live there for all her long life.
      In June 1881 Phenie gave birth to a daughter, Madosha. Father unknown.
     On 19 January 1896 Phenie traveled to Washington, D.C. with John C. Stanford, with whom she exchanged wedding vows. Their marital bliss seems to have been of short duration. During a trip to Orange they encountered one of her old flames, Isaac Jones, and all hell broke loose. From the Fredericksburg Daily Star 26 March 1896. Written in the incomparable style of Charles Henry Robey:

A Row in Orange
Two Men Seriously Injured

     Isaac Jones, of Spotsylvania, and John C. Stanford, of Fauquier, had an altercation, resulting in a desperate fight, at the house of Mr. Oscar Almond, near Locust Grove, in Orange County, Sunday afternoon about 4:30 o'clock, in which Jones received a pistol ball in his left arm and Stanford's head and face were badly hacked and cut with a grubbing hoe. 

Both men are married men. Jones' family living near the Wilderness Store and Stanford's at Elk Run in Fauquier. 

The row was on account of one Phonie Tapp, living near Parker's, in Spotsylvania, a rustic nymph du pave, whose charms seem to have enthralled both of them. She and Jones, it seems, have been friends for the past four or five years, all others being ousted in his favor, until Stanford, an itinerant sewing machine repairer, put in an appearance last fall. 

He must have made a complete conquest of the woman, for she shortly abandoned Jones to follow her new lover. 

Jones' rage at being left in the lurch is to have been terrible. He swore vengeance on both of them, and promised to carry it out, should they come in his way. 

Stanford and the woman went to Washington, where they claimed to have been married, and came to Orange Sunday to attend some business matters that S. had left unsettled. The woman stopped at Mr. Almond's, while the man went to the home of Constable J. L Morris. 

While he was absent, Jones put in his appearance, and when Sanford returned to Almond's they met and the row occurred. Jones says that after some words Stanford started to draw his pistol on him, and that he used the hoe in self defense. 

Stanford's story is that as he approached the house of Almond, Jones came out, and picking up the hoe, cursed and assaulted him. The woman who got the men apart confirms what Stanford says. 

Constable Morris who left home on his way to Orange Courthouse at the same time Sanford started for Almond's heard the pistol shots and screams of women. 

He started in the direction of the sound, and met Stanford in an exhausted condition, and smeared with blood. 

He told Constable what had occurred, and asked to be taken to some place where his wounds could be attended to. 

Mr. Morris did this and then went to the scene of the affray. 

He found Jones and the woman there. Jones gave him his version of the affair as related above, and said that the intended to follow and kill Stanford. The woman said that but for her he would have overtaken his victim before the Constable met him, and would have surely killed him. 

Mr. Morris said he considered Jones's wound very slight, but he thought Stanford was in a bad way. The ball struck Jones' left hand, just breaking the skin and entering the fleshy part of the arm near the elbow. The wounded man wanted the constable to cut the ball out, in order to save him a doctor's bill. 

Jones returned home Sunday night to have his wounds attended to, and Stanford and his alleged wife came to Spotsylvania to the home of the woman's mother Monday morning. 

Constable Morris reported the matter to the Orange authorities Monday and the proper steps were taken to have the parties brought to justice. 

The people in the vicinity are very indignant at the occurrence and there seems to be a strong sentiment in favor of dealing severely with the law breakers. 

     The phrase "nymph du pave" was unfamiliar to me, so I looked it up. Of the various definitions offered, my favorite is "a woman of extinguished morality." It should be noted here that at the time of this altercation, Isaac Jones was sixty years old.
     It is also worth noting that during this entire episode John Coffey Stanford was still legally married to Isabella, his wife of thirty three years whom he abandoned in Fauquier County in the early 1890s. A month after Stanford's showdown with Jones, John and Isabella mutually sued each for divorce on the basis of desertion. A divorce decree was in due course granted to Isabella Stanford. 
     A year after that violent competition for the affection of Phenie Tapp, a child, Mary Catherine, joined the Tapp household. On the 1900 census she is designated as Phenie's adopted daughter, leading some to speculate that  she was actually the daughter of Madosha. In any case, the identity of the father is unknown.
     Phenie's escapades next made the news in this brief piece in the 12 July 1902 edition of the Free Lance:

     The article does not spell out what offense Phenie and Jack had committed, but circumstantial evidence leads me to conclude that Andrew Jackson Banks, who was black, enjoyed a relationship with Phenie beyond that of his employment as her "hired hand," as he is noted in subsequent censuses. Phenie and Jack lived together for the next forty years.
     By 1910 Madosha had evidently married a James Oaks, whose occupation is variously given as "woodchopper" or "tie getter," which I presume meant someone who hauled railroad ties. After 1910 Madosha and James vanish from the written record, as far as I can see.
     Mary Catherine Tapp married Frederick Thomas Hicks on 4 January 1917. They lived with Phenie for a time before moving to Richmond, where they raised six children. Mary Catherine died in 1935; Fred outlived her by nineteen years. They are buried in the Hicks cemetery in Spotsylvania:

     Phenie Tapp was an undisguised foe of Prohibition and she and Jack Banks supplemented their income by distilling and selling moonshine. This brought unwelcome attention from Revenue agents from time to time, but I find no record that they did any serious jail time for their efforts.
     During the 1930s historian Douglas Southall Freeman unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Tapp farm in order to preserve it, "but found Phenie eccentric, the title clouded and funds hard to raise." [The Wilderness Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher. University of North Carolina Press, 1997, p. 194]
     By the end of her life Phenie was living in the third house that had been built on the property, the original log cabin in which she had been born having long since decayed to ruin.
     Eighty four year old Eliza Frances Tapp died on 31 May 1944 at the home of Calvin Macrae Jones, the son of her one time beau and a handy man with a grubbing hoe, Isaac Jones. From The Free Lance Star 2 June 1944:

Mrs. Phenie Tapp Dies at Wilderness

Mrs. Phenie Frances Tapp, 84, of the Parker neighborhood in Spotsylvania, died at the home of Calvin Jones at Wilderness.

Long a picturesque character Mrs. Tapp had an intimate knowledge of the famous battle of the Wilderness, fought over the section where she lived in 1864. She was four years old at the time of the great battle and was a granddaughter to the famous Widow Tapp, on whose farm General Lee had his headquarters and who is often referred to in account of the fighting.

Funeral services for Mrs. Tapp will be conducted be conducted at the grave at Oak Hill Cemetery at 3 o'clock Saturday. 

     A stone for both Phenie and Madosha stands at Oak Hill:

The Free Lance Star 10 January 1950

     Six years after Phenie's death, the Tapp farm was offered for sale by her second cousin Elsie Davenport. At some point a portion of the property was acquired by Dr. Allan Mowry Giddings on behalf of the Civil War Round Table of Battle Creek, Michigan. This parcel he donated to the National Park Service in 1963. An additional fifty three acres was bought by the Park Service 1968-1972.

     I wish to acknowledge the following persons whose help made possible today's post: Diane Ballman of the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center; historian Eric Mink of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park; and my friends and fellow researchers Wil Bowler and Tom Myers. Many thanks to each of you. Any errors in this piece are mine alone.

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.