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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The World According to Phenie Tapp

Phenie Tapp with Ralph Happel, 1937 (National Park Service)

     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 Spotsylavania'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.


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