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Friday, November 17, 2017

"Your kindness shall ever be remembered"

James Tompkins Williams (Ellen Apperson Brown)

Martha Row Williams (Ellen Apperson Brown)

     This is the story of a chance encounter between two men during the Civil War, an encounter that would leave a lasting impression on both men.
     Born in Lynchburg, James Tompkins Williams (1829-1900) was a son of Jehu Williams, one of Virginia's preeminent silversmiths and clock makers. By 1850, 21-year-old James was working as a merchant for Lynchburg tobacconist, James Leftwich Claytor, in whose household he was living at the time. That same year, James married Spotsylvania native Martha Jane Row, a sister of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row.
     Once married, James and Martha settled in Richmond, where James was a partner with Samuel C. Tardy in the firm that became known as Tardy & Williams, auctioneers and commission merchants, located at 13th and Cary Streets. Their advertisements frequently appeared in the Richmond newspapers, including this one in The Richmond Enquirer dated October 7, 1863:

Tardy & Williams advertisement

     During the Civil War, Tardy & Williams were able to stay in business, thanks in part to the success of blockade runners. They were a reliable supplier of goods to the Confederacy, and a substantial number of their invoices survive in the National Archives, including this one to the Institute Hospital in Richmond:

Tardy & Williams invoice, 1863

     Tardy & Williams also enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for assisting individual soldiers whenever possible. I came across one instance of this generosity while writing Corporal William White and the Wrong Man. Here is an excerpt from White's own account of his relationship with Tardy & Williams:

Corporal White and Tardy & Williams

     James T. Williams would also befriend another Confederate soldier, whose letter is the topic of today's post.
     Thomas N. Powell was born in Louisiana in 1840. On July 22, 1861, he enlisted as a lieutenant in the 10th Louisiana Infantry, which served much of the war fighting with the Army of Northern Virginia. Powell quickly rose in the ranks (partly due to the death and injury of several of his superiors); he was elected captain in January 1862, and was promoted to major in May 1863, when he assumed command of the 10th.
     Major Powell's service was not without its moments of peril. He was wounded at the Battle of Second Manassas on August 29th, 1862. He was wounded a second time on May 14th, 1864 when he was shot in the right hand while fighting in Spotsylvania. He received a 30-day furlough to recuperate in one of the hospitals in Lynchburg, and then returned to his regiment. Powell was captured at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, but within several weeks was able to escape and he once again returned to the 10th. By early 1865, the 10th was serving in the trenches defending Petersburg.
     In early 1864, Major Powell met James T. Williams, and enjoyed the hospitality of his household. Powell recounted this experience in an appreciative letter he wrote to James in early spring of that year:

Letter of Major Thomas N. Powell (Ellen Apperson Brown)

Hd Qrs 10th La Regt
Mar 21st, 1864
Mr. Jas. T. Williams
Dear Sir
     I received your kind letter of the 15th inst. a few days ago while on picket. Though I have just returned to camp and am much fatigued I must not miss another mail.
     I am Mr. Williams deeply indebted and highly appreciate the friendly sentiment you manifest in the closing lines of your letter, insisting that when I "turn up" in Richmond I must regard your residence as my home. Rest assured that your kindness shall ever be remembered even longer as I have in no way merited it. I regret exceedingly that I will not have an opportunity of enjoying your truly Virginian hospitality so graciously tendered. Your house, though deprived of a great attraction by the departure of young ladies, is not without many others and I must say it was rather inappropriate in you to say that you had lost your chief attraction.
     In order not to impose more than circumstances might compel me in your kindness, I requested another friend of mine to make the purchase of a saddle for me from the Dept enclosing an order on you for $125. I have not yet heard from him. Should he not draw the money, as per my order, prior to the 28th inst. please find the [illegible] in 4 per cent bond.
     Present my compliments to your lady and the young ladies when you write. I am most respectively
Thomas N. Powell

Major Thomas N. Powell was killed in the entrenchments in front of Petersburg on March 28, 1865.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"I write a few lines tonight to let you hear from us"

Nan Row (Ellen Apperson Brown)

First and last pages of Nan Row's letter (Ellen Apperson Brown)

     Recently I had the privilege of meeting with author and historian, Ellen Apperson Brown. She shared with me a number of rare photographs of people related to my family, as well as some very interesting papers.
     Among these papers was a letter written from Greenfield farm in Spotsylvania by my great-grandfather's sister, Nan Row, dated January 28, 1866. It is addressed to her older sister, Martha Row Williams, who at the time was living in Richmond with her husband, James Tompkins Williams, and their children. Until the end of the Civil War, James had been a partner in the firm of Tardy & Williams, commission merchants. In 1867, James and Martha would move to Lynchburg, James' home town.

Martha Row Williams (Ellen Apperson Brown)

James Tompkins Williams (Ellen Apperson Brown)

     Much of this letter is devoted to news regarding people who were part of the Row orbit. Nan writes of the events of their lives, both hopeful and tragic, just months after the end of the Civil War. So join me, won't you, as we catch up on the local news from 151 years ago.

Nancy Estes Row, Nan's mother (Ellen Apperson Brown)

Greenfield Jan. 28th--66
Dear Sister
     Your last letter has been received, and as there will probably be a chance to town this week I write a few lines tonight to let you hear from us. This leaves us all well, & hope it finds you all the same, I hope you have gotten through with the diseases now, as mumps is harder to catch than any other. I wish I could be with you for the next six weeks, but I would not like to leave Mother so long at this season except in an emergency. I wish you could be with us while you are sick but I suppose that cannot be: could you not get Annie Seay [1] to come down she is such a good house keeper, & then it would suit her, & Tip [2] so well to be together. As you would like to look into Mother's supplies I will give you a rough inventory of them, fifteen hogs, & one beef, plenty of corn, one peck of flour, some irish potatoes, peas & beans a few cabbage, 20 gallons sorghum, 7 lbs coffee, half bushel rye, 5 lbs sugar, two of rice, two of cheese, milk & butter for family use, some dried fruit so though you can see we cannot have biscuits & pies we are not starving by any means; we have six lbs of butter that we have made since we have been over here for sale & two doz eggs that we will sell to help pay taxes, if we were only out of debt I would feel right rich, but am always thinking about what we owe, if Uncle Nathan would get the thousand dollars from Mo. that is waiting for us there in Wm Beazley's hands for us all, it would put us above the world [3], & I hope we get it soon, I do not see where there would be any difficulty in sending through the Banks as they are all alike; we have had two letters from Mo [4], all alive & well out there, Uncle B's [[5] boys were not in the army, but they treated him badly on account of his secession sympathy, his youngest daughter Mollie is married to Mr Parks, a merchant in Columbia, money is plentiful & things prospering out there. Uncle George [6] is still alive, & living in Cincinnati. Cousin William Kale's [7] wife is dead, had typhoid fever & Cousin W was taken away at the time, & they think that killed her; his youngest child is named Jeff Davis [8], he lost a great deal, but has something laid by for a rainy day, he must be better off than any of the rest of us. All of Aunt Sarah's [9] negroes have left, & Rich [10] was cooking last week & waiting on her; they have not been able to get a woman yet to do their house work: Ed [11] has rented Cousin Rachel's [12] land & I reckon will live in the house with them, Buck is at Uncle Nathan's; Uncle N had a notice served on him two weeks ago by a raiding party, he let them know he would invite his own guests, so none came but Mr. Moore & his wife, & they spent the night, he had made some preparation thinking some would come, it is said he will give a large party soon, I don't know as I have not seen any of them, or had a letter from Kate, Jane died of consumption two weeks ago, I do not know what will become of her children, they were expecting John to come after Jane, & his children, but there were several he would not take of hers. Julia Chartters [13] had her house burnt down before Christmas with everything she had but two beds, did not have a suit of clothes, all of her provisions were in the house, it is thought to have caught from a stove pipe, she is living in the kitchen & the neighbors were to have gone last week to put another room to it for her, we have sent her two pieces of meat & a bag of clothes for herself, & children, I do feel so sorry for her, her boys had worked so hard & made 50 barrels of corn, & she had several hogs, & bid fair to live more comfortably than she had done for years, I reckon everybody around here will help her some. Xanthus Chartters [14] was married in Dec, to a Miss Montague of Essex, he has rented a farm down there, his Father & Mother are living at Sam King's place, she has been quite sick. Mrs. Walker and Mrs. George King [15] are dead & that is the reason of Mrs. Warren & Mollie being in mourning, it is said that William Warren had Yankees boarding in his house ever since the surrender, & Mollie walks out with Yankee beaux but Nannie won't do it. Maria Dobyns [16] will soon be married to Mr. Roane, a young Baptist preacher, he has been called to Mt. Hermon, & probably New Hope. The marrying fever is raging in Uncle Elhanon's [17] neighborhood, Mr. Chancellor [18] married three couples last week, it is very fatal among the Tinders & their kinfolks. Do you ever hear from Elhanon? We have not seen or heard particularly from any of them since they moved home. Wm Stephens [19] has gone to Texas to get a legacy left to his Father by his brother who died out there, will be gone several months. Sallie Stephens & John Scott are both dead, & Mrs S is in great distress, old Mrs. S is also dead, & the old man & Bettie live over there with her.
Let us hear from you every chance & get Cousin S to write when you can't. All send love. Your sister, Nan


[1] Annie Price Seay (1845-1919) was a daughter of Lynchburg pharmacist John Henry Seay and Martha Row Williams' sister-in-law, Elvira Williams. Annie married Tipton Davis Jennings, Jr. in 1868. In the Seay family photo below, Annie Seay is likely the woman seated second from left.

Seay family of Lynchburg (Ellen Apperson Brown)

[2] Lynchburg native Tipton Davis Jennings, Jr., (1841-1915) fought with the 11th Virginia Infantry during the Civil War, and was a business partner with James T. Williams both in Richmond and in Lynchburg. He later served 17 years in the House of Delegates.

Tipton Davis Jennings, Jr., 1901 (Library of Virginia)

[3] Jonathan "Nathan" Johnson (1803-1873), wealthy Spotsylvania farmer who was married to Sarah Estes, a sister of Nancy Estes Row. Nathan assisted Nancy and her son, George Washington Estes Row, in getting the legacies willed to them by Nancy's brother, Richard, who had died in Missouri in 1856. That money was being held in trust by William Beazley, with whom Richard shared a farm.
I have written about Nathan Johnson twice: Walnut Grove and "It sure looks like starvation".

[4] During the 1820s, three of Nancy Estes Row's brothers moved to Boone County, Missouri: Ambrose, Richard and Berkley Estes. Among their other activities, they contributed land and money to establish the University of Missouri in Columbia.

[5] Berkley Estes (1797-1869), about whom I have written at: Berkley Estes.

[6] George Washington Estes (1801-after 1880), younger brother of Nancy Estes Row who lived most of his adult life in Kentucky. Nancy's only son was named for him.

[7] William E. Kale was a son of Nancy Estes Row's sister, Catherine, and Fredericksburg merchant Anthony Kale. William and his wife, Susan Ware, moved to Kentucky, where she died in 1864. The Kales were very interesting people; here is my article about them--The Kales of Fredericksburg.

[8] Jeff Davis Kale (1863-1886) was one of seven children born to William and Susan Kale in Kentucky. All but two died during the 1870s and 1880s.

Jefferson Davis Kale (Polk County Museum)

[9] Sarah Estes Johnson (1804-1869), younger sister of Nancy Estes Row. Sarah was married to Nathan Johnson's brother, Marshall Johnson.

Sarah Estes Johnson (Kerry Sears)

[10] Marshall and Sarah Johnson's son, Richard Jonathan Johnson (1844-1908) served in the Confederate artillery during the Civil War. He and his family moved to Boone County, Missouri by 1884.

Richard Jonathan Johnson (Kerry Sears)

[11] Edgar Marshall Johnson (1839-1909), brother of Richard Jonathan Johnson.

[12] Rachel Keeling Row Farish (1819-1892) was the daughter of Nannie Row's uncle, Carlton Row. Rachel was orphaned  when her parents were murdered by their slaves in 1820. Rachel was the widow of Caroline County farmer, Charles Tod Farish.

[13] Julia Decastro Chancellor (1825-1904) was a daughter of Sanford Chancellor and Francis Longwill Pound. She was the widow of Thomas Chartters, who died in 1862 while serving with the 7th Virginia Cavalry.

Julia Chartters (Ancestry)

[14] The elaborately named Xanthus Xuthus Chartters was a son of James Pettigrew Chartters (brother of Thomas Chartters) and Susan Philips Chancellor. X X Chartters served in the 30th Virginia Infantry during the Civil War. He was an early supporter of the Grange, a farmer advocacy organization, and became a part of its national leadership. X X inherited his father's farm, "Clifton," on Old Plank Road. That farm was later owned by the Thorburn family. X X Chartters married Evelyn Wortley Montague on December 14, 1865.

[15] Susan Warren King, wife of George Phillips King, Sr., died on July 23, 1865. Her father was William Warren, and I presume Mollie and Nannie Warren were her sisters.

[16] Maria Lindsey Dobyns (1840-1914) was a friend and neighbor of Nannie Row. She lived at her family's farm, Oakley, adjacent to Greenfield. In June 1864, Maria wrote what is now a famous letter to Nan Row describing attack by United States forces on Oakley during the Battle of the Wilderness. This was a topic of one of my posts: The Letter from Maria Dobyns.

Maria Lindsey Dobyns (Wesley Pippenger)

[17] Elhanon Row (1798-1874) was a brother of Nan's father, Absalom Row. Elhanon was an Orange County farmer, school commissioner and colonel of the local militia. He was also the first elected sheriff of Orange County. During the Civil War, Elhanon and his family moved to Louisa County to escape the threat of cavalry raids at their home on modern Route 20 at Mine Run.

[18] Melzi Sanford Chancellor (1815-1895) was a Baptist minister who served a number of churches in Spotsylvania and Orange Counties. In the photograph below, Reverend Chancellor is seated at left with his family in April 1865. My mini-biography of him may be read at: Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor.

Melzi Sanford Chancellor and family

[19] William A. Stephens (1821-1886) of Rosemont farm was a neighbor and friend of the Row family. His wife, Mary Dogget Stephens, died on September 7, 1865. His daughter, Sarah Walton Stephens, died of typhoid pneumonia on October 27 while visiting relatives in Greene County.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The CCC Comes to Spotsylvania

Camp MP-3, Chancellorsville (National Park Service)

     When Franklin Roosevelt became President in March 1933, the United States was in a bad way. The Great Depression was by then in its fourth year--hundreds of banks had failed, farms across the country had been foreclosed, unemployment remained at staggering levels and millions of Americans were receiving some sort of public assistance. The new administration felt a great sense of urgency to implement a series of programs to provide work and help alleviate the suffering and despair of the people.
     One such program, the Civilian Conservation Corps, was considered by many to be the most successful of these government initiatives. During its nine-year life, 1933-1942, the CCC provided employment to 3,000,000 Americans (including 200,000 black Americans who served in segregated companies commanded by whites). During the CCC years, "enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed trails, roads, bridges, lodges and related facilities in more than 800 national parks and also upgraded state parks, updated forest fighting methods and built a network of service buildings and roadways in remote areas" (Wikipedia).
     The emergency Conservation Work Act was submitted to Congress by the new administration on March 21, 1933 and was enacted into law by voice vote on March 31. In conformance with the new law, President Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps on April 5 by Executive Order 6101.
     The CCC was managed by four cabinet-level departments: Labor, which recruited the enrollees; War, which operated the camps; and Agriculture and Interior, which organized and supervised the work projects. CCC enrollees were young men, age 18-25 (later expanded to include 17-28 year olds), who were unemployed, unmarried and whose families were frequently on relief. Enrollees signed up for six month enlistments. They worked six days a week and were paid $30 dollars per month, $22-$25 of which was sent to their families. These young men were organized into companies of up to 200 individuals, and one company would be assigned to each camp. Depending on the length of an ongoing project, several companies could be rotated into the camp until the work was done.
     A military commander from the Army Reserves supervised the activities of the enrollees in the camps. The park superintendents coordinated all the work projects, and the camp superintendents organized the daily work regimen. The enrollees received educational and religious instruction, and each camp maintained a small library.
     Three CCC camps were set up in Spotsylvania at the newly established national military parks: MP-1 at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield; MP-3 at Chancellorsville (which also serviced Fredericksburg); and MP-4 at the Wilderness. "They cleared the vistas, built the trails, built the bridges, landscaped the road sides, applied seed and sod to eroded earthworks and trenches, built picnic areas and reconstructed a missing section of the famous stone wall at Fredericksburg" (Eric Mink, Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville).
     The local CCC camps published monthly newsletters for the benefit of the enrollees. These were "Out of the Wilderness," "The Battlefield News" and "The Blowout." The surviving editions of these news letters can be found online at Virginia Chronicle. For a flavor of what these publications were like, here are a few pages from the June 1939 edition of "The Battlefield News:"

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

     Eric Mink, historian with the National Park Service, shared with me several documents relating to the local CCC. This is a schedule of classes held at the Chancellorsville camp:

Camp MP-3, June 7, 1939 (National Park Service)
     These three documents list the salaried employees of the local CCC camps and their pay rates (once the CCC completed its work at Chancellorsville, its designation changed from MP-3 to NP-11):

Camp MP-1, August 23, 1934 (National Park Service)

Camp MP-3, November 20, 1936 (National Park Service)

Camp NP-11, May 6, 1941 (National Park Service)

     I have been able to put together a little information about several of the men listed in these papers. Here is some background on these salaried employees of the CCC:

William Key Howard (Ancestry)
     William Key Howard (1904-1981) was the camp superintendent, and later park superintendent, at Chancellorsville. William was a descendant of Francis Scott Key, and a brother-in-law of Spotsylvania clerk of court, Cary Crismond. His grandfather (1829-1899), for whom he was named, was born in Baltimore and served in the 1st Maryland Infantry (Confederate) until it was disbanded. He then joined the 4th Virginia Cavalry. He was captured in 1864 and spent the rest of the war in federal prison. After the Civil War, the elder William Key Howard bought Kenmore, and his family lived there for many years. The grandmother of the park superintendent was Clara Haxall Randolph (1831-1913). During the Civil War, she served as a Confederate spy who smuggled arms, letters and medicines from Maryland into Virginia. She was also captured in 1864 and spent the rest of the war in federal custody.
     Superintendent Howard's uncle, William Key Howard, Jr., spent a year repairing the artistic plaster ceiling at Kenmore damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg. A video about his work at Kenmore is well worth your time and can be viewed at Saving Kenmore's Ceilings.

Alphonzo Apperson (Vickie Neely)

     Alphonzo Apperson (1875-1960) of Orange County served as a foreman both at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House camps (the foremen managed work crews of 40-50 men). He was a nephew of Dr. John Samuel Apperson, about whom I recently wrote.

John Henry Apperson with his father, Eli (Vickie Neely)

     Alphonzo's brother, John Henry Apperson (1885-1964), was a blacksmith by trade. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, John and his brother, Bernard, undertook many blacksmithing jobs in the region utilizing their portable smithy, shown here:

John Apperson and his portable blacksmith shop (Vickie Neely)

     John was selected for the salaried job as blacksmith upon the CCC's arrival in Spotsylvania. He first worked at the camp at Spotsylvania Court House, and later at Chancellorsville. Among his duties were maintaining the tools used by the enrollees and fabricating hardware for the signs in the new military parks. He also held classes in blacksmithing.

John Henry Apperson at his forge (Vickie Neely)

     John routinely brought CCC enrollees to his home near Parker in western Spotsylvania County so that they could enjoy a home-cooked meal. Among these young men befriended by John was Charles Dixon Pierro (1908-1982), a self-described commercial artist. Originally from Ohio, Charles came to Fredericksburg as a young man and remained in the area for the rest of his life. At some point during his friendship with John Henry Apperson, Charles helped himself to one of the signs in the camp and painted on it the scene above showing John at work in his shop. Charles Dixon Pierro evidently led a colorful life. On his World War II draft registration card, he listed his distinguishing marks as "Left arm tattooed--Bullet hole through chest."

Florence Apperson and George Elliott May (Vickie Neely)

     Another CCC visitor to the Apperson home was George Elliott May (1909-1980), a welder and mechanic from Norfolk. George was the salaried mechanic for the camps. George and John Henry Apperson's daughter, Florence, took a liking to each other and got married. The photograph below, showing George May's work space, appears in John Cummings' book, Images of America: Spotsylvania County. The caption reads: "This photograph shows the interior of the vehicle maintenance garage. Senior project superintendent William K. Howard reported, 'Mechanic May is kept continuously busy on repairs of trucks of the three camps, being assisted by Mechanic Beasley from Camp MP-4.'"

Vehicle maintenance garage, 1935 (National Park Service)

     There were two other salaried foremen from Spotsylvania that I would like to mention here. George Day Stephens, Sr., was a grandson of Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor. Frederick Lee Parker (1895-1980) was a son of Frank and Wilhelmina Parker, who owned the general store (and one-time stop on the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont Railroad) on Brock Road where Wilhelmina served as postmistress 1895-1940.

Jodie, Sue and Day Stephens (Donald Colvin)

Fred Parker (Donald Colvin)

Camp P-69 (National Park Service)

     A fourth camp, P-69--known as Camp MacArthur--was set up on property rented from the Payne family. On the map above, Camp Malcom MacArthur can be seen at the bottom of the image on Catharpin Road near its intersection with Stewart Road. Frank Payne's store can be seen at right, at Catharpin and Piney Branch roads. Unlike the other CCC camps in Spotsylvania, Camp MacArthur was not involved in the work at the nearby military parks. As stated in John Cummings's book, "The P-69 camp concentrated its energies on the surrounding rural needs such as fire lanes and trails...The Commonwealth of Virginia administered P-69."

Frank Payne (Donald Colvin)

Freemond Payne (Donald Colvin)

Amanda Kennedy Payne and Lottie Kent Payne (Donald Colvin)

     Thomas Pearson Payne (1852-1934) once owned much of the land on Catharpin Road between Piney Branch and Stewart roads. By the time the CCC established Camp MacArthur, Thomas' sons Freemond and Frank were living on the north side of Catharpin near Stewart. Both Freemond and Frank farmed their property, and Frank also operated a saw mill business.

Camp MacArthur (Donald Colvin)


     In the photograph above, Camp MacArthur stands along the north side of Catharpin Road. In the right foreground is the drive that led to Frank and Lottie Payne's property. Just beyond the tents, out of view of the camera, is the home where Freemond and Amanda Payne lived with their children.

House of Freemond and Amanda Payne (Donald Colvin)

     Also not seen in the camp picture above, just before the drive leading to Frank and Lottie's house, was what would become Sonny Davis' Garage, which began as the motor pool for the camp. A mess hall, built to serve the enrollees, can be seen in the two pictures below. The bicyclists in the second photo are Freemond and Amanda's son, Carey, and CCC worker, Charlie Rogers.

Camp MacArthur mess hall under construction (Donald Colvin)

Carey Payne and Charlie Rogers at mess hall (Donald Colvin)

     Below are images of an unidentified officer beside a truck, and a group of CCC workers in front of one of the tents.

(Donald Colvin)

(Donald Colvin)

     According to Eric's Mink article on the CCC at Chancellorsville, Camp P-69 was staffed in June 1934 by Company 1363, which had spent the previous month at MP-3. This company was comprised of 207 veterans of the First World War. Company 1363 apparently spent a short time at Camp MacArthur before being rotated back to Chancellorsville. I do not know which companies may have stayed at Camp MacArthur before or after Company 1363.
     After the CCC left, Frank Payne made use of the camp's boiler at his saw mill. The mess hall was used by the Payne brothers to host dances. Lottie and Amanda used to prepare food that was sold at these get-togethers. A third Payne brother, Ashby, played fiddle and called tunes at these dances.

Ashby Payne

     I am told that the posts along Catharpin Road where the tents had been pitched remained in place for decades after the CCC era, and that as late as the 1950s locals would use them to hitch their horses. In the years after the camp picture was taken, three houses were built where the tents once stood, namely, those of Joe and Margaret Harding, Elton and Lucille Jones, and Embrey and Isadora Payne.

My thanks to Vickie Neely, Donald Colvin, Eric Mink and John Cummings for their assistance.


- John Cummings, Images of America: Spotsylvania County. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston: SC, 2011.

-Eric Mink:
     Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville
     A Camp in the Wilderness: Civilian Conservation Corps Camp MP-4

- National Park Service: The National Park Service Camps

- Wikipedia: Civilian Conservation Corps



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Adventists Come to Screamersville

Arrival of Adventists at Screamersville, early 1900s (Vickie Neely)

     This is the final installment of a three-part series that details the singular and epic experience of the Armstrongs and Colemans, two northern families who came to Spotsylvania in the 1850s. For those of you who have not yet read the first two articles, they can be found at "They would have him dead or alive" and "Since the war, I have been fighting them politically".

Mahlon Armstrong (Vickie Neely)

     When the three Armstrong families came to Spotsylvania in the late 1850s from New Castle County, Delaware, they joined the first Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg. Their names appear in the Manual for the Members of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1860. Shown on the list below, they were: Mahlon Armstrong and his sister, Martha; Mahlon's brother, William, and his wife Sarah; Mahlon's cousin, Archibald, and his wife, Sarah. Mahlon's father was not a church goer and his name does not appear on the church's rolls.

From the membership rolls of Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church

     It is not known whether Mahlon resumed his attendance at the Prebyterian Church, or any church for that matter, after his return to Spotsylvania after the Civil War. While living in Washington, DC in the early 1870s, Mahlon noted in letters to his wife, Romelia, that he attended services in at least three different churches--Methodist-Episcopalian, Quaker and Catholic. From that fact it appears that Mahlon was not committed to any one denomination at this point in his life, and he may have tried several different churches seeking one that would be a good fit for him. For Mahlon, that search would end in October 1889.
     As I understand it, Adventism in America evolved from a movement called Millerism, founded by William Miller, a New York farmer, lay preacher and Bible student. One of the tenets of the Millerites held that the earth would be destroyed by fire during Jesus' second coming. Miller spent years carefully calculating the end of the world by consulting the Bible and other sources. He revealed to his followers that the apocalypse would occur in 1844. When the world did not end on the first date he predicted, he forecast the end for several other dates that year. When the world failed to vaporize on any of those dates ("The Great Disappointment"), a schism occurred among his adherents. His movement divided into several new Adventist groups, including the Life and Advent Union, started by John T. Walsh. The Virginia Life and Advent Christian Union (which will hereafter be abbreviated as VLACU) was the umbrella organization for this branch of Adventists in the Commonwealth. It was this organization that brought Adventism to Spotsylvania.
     The Life and Advent Christian Church, located at 1206 West Cary Street in Richmond, was organized in 1887. Soon thereafter, mission work was undertaken in Spotsylvania. The first camp meeting in Spotsylvania, led by Elder R. C. Brown, was held October 5-22, 1889 on property near the Screamersville depot where the  Virginia Mission Tent had been erected. Several dozen Virginia Adventists assembled there to await the second coming and the end of the world. Among them was Mahlon Armstrong. Once again, the world failed to vaporize, and the out-of-town Adventists boarded the train and returned to their homes.

Richmond Daily Times, October 24, 1889

     Despite this inauspicious beginning, Mahlon became a true believer in the Adventist creed. He helped build the Berea Adventist Church near Screamersville in 1891. Over the years, he held positions of authority in VLACU, including secretary and treasurer. He was also instrumental in organizing a number of camp meetings in Spotsylvania, the last one being in 1911.

Map detail of Spotsylvania (Vickie Neely)

     The camp meetings were held on property owned by the Adventists located between modern Chancellor Road (Route 674) and Lewis Thorburn Road (Route 743). Out-of-town attendees would arrive at the Screamersville depot (which was also a post office and general store) via the Potomac, Fredericksburg and Piedmont Railroad. In the map detail shown above, Screamersville was located where the Virginia Central Railway (successor to the P F & P Railroad) crossed Route 674. For those of you who may be interested in my brief history of the railroad that once connected Fredericksburg with the town of Orange, it can be read at Death on the Virginia Central.

The Daily Star, February 5, 1903

     The Berea Adventist Church burned in 1899 and was rebuilt the following year. The last regular camp meeting there was held in 1911, although the Life and Advent Christian Church of Richmond, which owned the property, continued to have occasional events there until the 1930s. By 1945, the church building had fallen prey to neglect and decay and burned some time after that.

Mary Armstrong Mitchell (Vickie Neely)

     Mahlon and Romelia's daughter Mary, their only child, married Joseph Clarence Mitchell on January 15, 1899. During the first six years of their marriage, they had four children together: David Lynn, Louis Clarence, Elsa Gertrude and William Eugene. The Mitchells became Adventists and attended the camp meetings in the early 1900s. Shown in the 1905 photograph below at rear are Romelia Armstrong and Mary Mitchell holding Elsa. Seated is Romelia's mother, Esther Coleman, and next to her are Mary's two oldest sons, David and Louis.

Four generations at the Berea Adventist Church, 1905 (Vickie Neely)

     Vickie Neely's collection of photographs includes a number of pictures of the Berea Adventist Church, a few of which are presented here:

Berea Adventist Church

Romelia Armstrong at Berea Adventist Church

Adventists in front of one of the tents

Adventists in front of Berea Adventist Church

A gathering during one of the camp meetings

Children posing for a photo at one of the camp meetings

      The candid photo taken of the youngsters on the grounds of Berea Adventist Church include three children of Joseph Clarence and Mary Mitchell: Elsa, seated second from left; Louis, the tall lad in the back; and Willie, seated second from right. Elsa later remarked that that her association with some of the children she met at these meetings turned into life long friendships.
      In 1907, the attendees of the camp meeting posed for the group portrait shown below. It is my understanding that the research for the caption was done by the late Dr. Robert A Hodge. The members of the Armstrong and Mitchell families are identified:

Attendees at the Screamersville camp, 1907

     Also worth noting in this photograph are:

- Johsua Scott Mewshaw (23), who was chairman of the committee of finance for the VLACU. Johsua was active in the civic life of Washington, DC and for 18 years worked as station master at the old Pennsylvania train station. He was married to Juanita (9), and they were the parents of Rosa Musetta (8).

- James Howle (not in the picture) was the pastor of the Life and Advent Christian Church in Richmond. He was a tinner by trade and a long time employee of the city gas works. James was the father of Mary Duval Howle, (3), Alice May Howle Wingfield (18), Jessie Howle (32) and Bessie Evelyn Howle (35).

- Bennett Lee Fraysier (21) was president of the VLACU. His paying job was that of buyer and manager of the shoe department at the J. B. Mosby Company in Richmond ("The Finest Store in the South"). His mother (5) stands behind him and his future wife, Lula Baughn (6) stands next to her.

- Bennoni Milstead (24) was a government laborer and one-time chairman of the committee of finance for the VLACU.

     In addition to his work as an Adventist, Mahlon Armstrong continued to farm at Beechwood, his home on Gordon Road. In addition, he trained as a surveyor and was hired to survey the property of the late Richard Comfort in 1905 so that the land could be divided among his heirs (Virginia Chancery Causes).

Bramble Hill Post Office (Ancestry)

     Mahlon also ran a general store on a section of his property called Bramble Hill. In July 1911, he was named post master of the post office established there. This remained active until May 1913, when the post office at Bramble Hill was discontinued and its functions were transferred to the nearby Homedale office. Two months later, Homedale was also closed and its postal duties were consolidated at Screamersville.
     Mahlon's mother-in-law, Esther Coleman, died at his home in 1906. His daughter, Mary Mitchell, died of tuberculosis in 1910. Both are buried in the cemetery at Berea Adventist Church.

1918 Richmond city directory (Ancestry)

     Mahlon's long and eventful life took one more unexpected turn when by 1917, at the age of 80, he and Romelia left Spotsylvania and moved to 105 Lady Street in Richmond, where they operated a grocery. This would be the last hurrah of Mahlon Armstrong. In early 1918, he developed a carbuncle on his neck. Septicemia set in, and he died on February 6. His body was brought back to Spotsylvania and he was buried at Berea Adventist Church.

Mahlon and Romelia Armstrong (Dan Janzegers)

     After Mahlon's death, Romelia went to Baltimore and spent some time with her brother, Royal Bunker Coleman, who worked as a driver for the city trolley system.

Royal Bunker Coleman and Romelia Armstrong (Vickie Neely)

     Romelia returned to Spotsylvania and lived out her years in a small house on the Beechwood property. As her health declinced, she was cared for by her niece, Grace Coleman Alsop Harris. Grace, a practical nurse, moved in with Romelia and stayed with her until her death on December 1, 1932. She is buried next to Mahlon in the cemetery at Berea Adventist Church.