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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nannie Row, Part 1

Nannie Row

     Named for her mother, Nancy Estes Row was born in Spotsylvania in 1831. She was known as Nan or Nannie to her friends and relatives. She herself often spelled her name Nanny; her brother seemed to prefer Nannie. Like her sisters Martha and Bettie, Nannie was schooled by tutors. The one that has become known to us, Adeline McDonald, taught the Row girls (as well as the children living at nearby plantations) in the early 1840s. A letter written from Vermont by Adeline to Nannie's father Absalom, dated November 1844, survives. Absalom's will, which he wrote in January 1847, made provisions for the education of his two youngest children, Bettie and George. He wished Bettie to be "sent to a good school until she is seventeen years of age." Likewise, George was to receive a proper education from age seven to eighteen. It is curious that Nannie, who was just one year older than Bettie, is not mentioned in this regard. Did she not show an interest in her studies? Did her father believe that she lacked the potential that would justify a further investment in her education? We will never know the answer. However, in the coming years she would prove herself to be a woman of steadfast character, loving and loyal to her family, and a main reason why Greenfield would survive and endure after the Civil War.
     Nannie never married. No reason for this is ever hinted at in the letters and papers we have found so far. My opinion is that Nannie was so devoted first to her mother, then to her brother George and his son Abbie, that she never made room in her life for romance. Both her surviving sisters did marry; Martha in 1850 and Bettie in 1860. Bettie and her husband Zachary Rawlings were married at Greenfield and likely lived there with Nannie  and Nancy Row. In the years prior to the Civil War, we know virtually no details of Nannie's life. Because of the letters that survived during the war years we have our first real glimpse of Nannie Row.
     During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Stonewall Jackson's army passed through Greenfield as it made its way north in its spectacularly successful attempt to outflank the Union army. This singular event, more than any other, literally brought the war to the doorstep of Greenfield. There can be little doubt that the Rows were shaken by this experience and would not have been anxious for another one like it. In early 1864, when it became evident that the Union army would again cross the Rapidan and invade Spotsylvania, the Rows made an important decision. They loaded up what possessions they could into wagons and, together with Bettie and Zachary and their daughter Estelle and Zachary's parents, traveled south to the crossroads village of Hadensville in Goochland County, There they would stay as refugees for much of the time until the end of the war.
     This would prove to be a wise decision. The battle of the Wilderness would be fought over a wide swath of northwestern Spotsylvania, including Greenfield. This excerpt from "Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion" describes the action at the deserted Row plantation: "May 6th. Reveille early in the A.M. Heard heavy firing on our left, indicating that a great struggle commenced between Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. We were ordered up the front. Filing left we took the Cartharpin Road. Crossed the river Po. Filed to the left through the farm of Leroy Dobyns, then file to the right again crossing the Po and through to Mrs. Rowe's farm. Here we met with many of our wounded cavalry fighting against great odds as yesterday. Our battery was soon in position and commenced firing on the enemy, their artillery returning fire. We were too much annoyed by sharpshooters. Heavy firing on both sides kept up till near night. We, however, did not renew the fight. The enemy making no advance we parked for the night on the farm of Mrs. Rowe." A sergeant in the Union army killed in this fight was buried at Greenfield. His remains were later removed to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

                                                    Maria Dobyns letter to Nannie Row

     By far the most vivid account of the fighting near Greenfield is found in a six page letter written on June 17, 1864 to Nannie by Maria Dobyns, who lived at Oakley plantation which was next door to Greenfield.  Maria emphasized to Nannie how fortunate they were to have fled Spotsylvania for Hadensville: " should feel that it was the interposition of Providence which caused you to leave when you did, for had you remained here no doubt you would be as most of us are now." Maria goes on to describe the fighting and dying that occurred in the very front yard of Oakley, and the suffering of the wounded men brought into the house to be operated on. When the fighting subsided Union stragglers pillaged Oakley: "They came, searched the meat house, took all we had including the flour...They broke open the house and searched it from top to bottom at least fifty times, broke open every door but the parlor, took every grain of corn and left us without one dust of flour. Nearly all of our meat , every fowl we had, both carriages, all the horses, played destruction generally."

                                                  Martha Row Williams to Nancy and
                                                  Nannie Row, March 6, 1865

      On March 6, 1865 Martha Williams wrote a letter from Richmond to her mother and sister. In it we learn more of what life was like for the Row family immediately before the war. In order to raise cash, Martha had hired out William, one of the Row's slaves. Martha also mentions what is owed her in an accounting of what she has been able to provide from her husband's wholesale store. Newspapers, cotton, wool, locks and so on are among the items she is able to share with the family. Nannie Row made reference to this letter in one of her own written to her mother at Hadensville. It is addressed to "Mrs. Nancy Row. Forlorn Hope, Goochland."

                                                    Nannie Row to her mother, March 1865

     Nannie and the younger Rawlings by this time felt safe to spend time in Spotsylvania, where this letter was written. We learn that the slave William was being provided with passes so that he could transport goods as needed between Richmond, Hadensville and Greenfield. Nannie describes picking cotton at Greenfield and that the gin was making such a noise she did not know where she would sleep at night. Nancy Row was apparently helping in making George's uniform by this time, as Nannie wrote: "I have put the cloth for George's pant in the bag I send, you must have it dyed as soon as you can as George will need them."
     Within weeks of this letter, the war in Virginia would be over. George Row received his parole in Richmond in May and he signed his oath of allegiance that same month at Wallers Tavern in Spotsylvania. The plantation had suffered from neglect but had been spared the devastation visited upon others. Soon Nancy, Nannie and George returned to Greenfield to start anew.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sarah Row

     Were it not for this needlepoint, lovingly made by her mother as a memorial, we would not know today that Sarah ever lived. The second of Absalom and Nancy's five children, Sarah was named for one of her mother's older sisters. In the many papers we have discovered so far, her name is  mentioned only once, in a letter written by Mabel Row Wakeman. Sarah is almost without a doubt buried in one of the unmarked graves of Greenfield, laid to rest near her parents. Many thanks to cousin Linda for preserving this piece of our history. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

James T. Williams

     Jehu Williams (1788-1859) of Lynchburg married Absalom Row's sister Hetty on Christmas Day 1814. They soon moved to Lynchburg, where Jehu became a partner with artisan John Victor; the silverware and clocks made by Williams and Victor remain collectible to this day. Hetty died in March 1823, within a month of the birth of her fourth child, Hettie. Jehu married Susannah Tompkins on September 11 of that same year and they would have six children together. The second of these was James Tompkins Williams, born in Lynchburg on April 29, 1829. 
     James married Absalom Row's daughter Martha Jane on December 17, 1850 and they settled in Richmond. James worked as a commission merchant first in the firm of Bryant and Tardy with his brother in law  Wilson P. Bryant and fellow Lynchburger Samuel C. Tardy. Later the business became known as Tinsley, Tardy and Williams and finally as Tardy and Williams, auction house and wholesale merchants. The business was located near Shockoe Slip at the corner of 13th and Cary Streets. Before the Civil War they were joined by two more young men from Lynchburg, Tipton D. Jennings and Richard H.T. Adams. Jennings fought in the Eleventh Virginia Infantry and in later life served in the House of Delegates. Dick Adams was a signal officer during the war and served on the staff of General A.P. Hill. 
     Tardy and Williams prospered in the years before the war and continued to do so after the onset of hostilities. As the war progressed they became a popular outlet for goods brought in through the Union blockade as well as their stock in trade as a wholesale auction house selling foodstuffs. Tardy and Williams also did a brisk business selling goods and services to the Confederate army and navy. An example of the dozens of their invoices found in the archives is shown here:

     In April 1863 a mob of desperate women, joined by large numbers of opportunistic men, went on a rampage through Richmond in what would become known as the Bread Riot. Store fronts throughout the business district were smashed by the mob who then set about looting their contents. The employees of Tardy and Williams managed to bar the doors and windows before the rioters reached their building. From a safe vantage inside, James witnessed Governor Letcher on horseback as he confronted the mob. He told them that if they did not disperse within five minutes he would direct the soldiers present to fire upon them. He then ostentatiously took out his watch and calmly looked at its face. The crowd dispersed. 
     By this time in his life the once handsome James had become quite obese. In her letter to her brother George in June 1863 Martha wrote: "Mr W has bought him a beautiful iron gray mare which draws the buggy and is a great comfort and pleasure to him...JT  rides to and from the store this hot weather which is a great help to him he is so fat." So fat, in fact, that James enlisted the aid of Dr. Beverly Randolph Wellford, who wrote a letter to the Confederate authorities on his behalf in January 1864: "...I am convinced he is unable to bear the efforts and fatigues of military life. He is unnaturally fat and breaks down on any extraordinary exertion..." Dr. Wellford went on to helpfully suggest that James would be best suited for a position in the Confederate Treasury or Commissary department. James was deferred from active duty and instead served in the Second Class Militia. 
     In 1864 James did indeed apply for a clerkship in the Treasury Department; his letter to Secretary Memminger survives. In this effort he was helped by a letter of recommendation written by Lancaster and Son, Stockbrockers. In that last year of the war James was elected alderman from the Monroe district of Richmond and served as a justice of the peace. 
     During the conflagration that consumed much of Richmond's business district on April 2, 1865 the building that housed Tardy and Williams was destroyed. They would locate their enterprise to a new address, but within two years James and his family moved back to Lynchburg. Meanwhile, James applied to Andrew Johnson for a Presidential pardon, something he would certainly need to be successful during Reconstruction:

By 1873 James and Martha had nine children together. Of these, four would not survive childhood. The five who did were his son Jehu and daughters Mary Josephine, Martha Jane, Amanda and Sallie Duncan. James continued in the wholesale grocery business and prospered handsomely. In 1874 he bought this house, shown below as it looks today, at 822 Federal Street. The house, the gardens, the servants' house and the carriage house occupied an entire city block. By the 1880's James had a telegraph installed so that he could transact business while at home. Buttons that rang a bell to summon servants were installed in some of the rooms. In 1882 James and Martha went on an extended vacation, visiting Washington, D.C. Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Life for the Williams family was good, indeed, during these years.

                                            822 Federal Street

    During the 1870's the James and Martha were parties to a lawsuit in Fredericksburg that sought to resolve some outstanding issues regarding the estate of Absalom Row. In future posts I will go into some detail about that episode. A key outcome from that case was that James and Martha received 146 1/2 acres of Greenfield land. They held onto this property until the death of Martha's brother George in 1883. In an act of remarkable generosity, the Williamses gave to George's widow Lizzie a deed to that land, naming her as trustee for George's four surviving children.
     By that time there was some hint that Martha, who had grown quite large herself, was suffering from heart problems. On the morning of February 13, 1885 she was stricken while at home with a serious attack. The family doctor was summoned, but she died before he arrived. James was devastated. In a letter he wrote to Nannie Row on March 26 he revealed the depth of his torment: "The grief and pain I feel has not diminished as time progresses. I feel her loss more now than I did when she was taken...I wanted her back so bad that I would have been  willing to have sacrificed every thing children and all to have her still with me until my time comes now..."

                                                           James T. Williams to Nannie
                                                           Row March 26, 1885

     James remarried a widow named Mary Martin on July 20, 1887. James' daughter Josephine, who had married William Chambers in 1886, died during the birth of their son Middleton on March 30, 1888. Again, James wrote to Nannie in June of that year and described what he was going through: "In regard to the death of was a great shock to us...Her child was very large and its birth was the cause of her death...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..." James and Mary Williams adopted Middleton several years later. 

                                                    James T. Williams to Nannie Row
                                                    June 16, 1888

     On April 25, 1900 while walking home from his sister's house, James was seized by chest pains. Realizing he could not make it to his house, he stopped at a neighbor's and was taken to an upstairs bedroom, where he died. James is buried next to Martha in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Lynchburg. 

                                                       Obituary of James T. Williams


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Martha Row Williams

Martha Row Williams (Courtesy of Ellen Apperson Brown)

     Martha Jane Row, the oldest of Absalom and Nancy Row's five children, was born on June 9, 1828. Few details are known about her childhood, but at Greenfield Martha grew up in a household characterized by a certain level of wealth and privilege. There were house servants to see to the family's needs. The girls' closets and trunks were full of fine clothes and linens. Tutors for Martha and her sisters were hired by her father, who took seriously the education of his children. One of these tutors, Adeline McDonald, taught the Row sisters, as well as the children of other nearby plantation owners in Spotsylvania, in the early 1840's. Adeline loved Absalom's girls and was also concerned about their spiritual development. In a letter she sent to Absalom in November 1844 from Vermont, Adeline wrote: "I want to say something to your daughters, particularly to much happiness they can secure to themselves by consecrating themselves to their heavenly father while still young."
     Martha married Lynchburg merchant James T. Williams on December 17, 1850. Martha and James then moved to Richmond, where James was a partner with Samuel C. Tardy in the auction house and wholesale merchandising firm of Tardy and Williams. The Williamses would live in Richmond until 1867, and most of their nine children would be born there.
      With the outbreak of the Civil War a great deal would change for James and Martha. James was able to wrangle a deferment that kept him out of active military service, but he was still required to serve in the Second Class Militia. Richmond quickly became a very crowded and increasingly lawless place. Wounded Confederates, captured Federals, office seekers, and petty criminals of every stripe poured into the city. Despite the deteriorating conditions there, life was much better and less stressful for the Williams family in Richmond than it was for Martha's widowed mother and sisters in Spotsylvania.
     In a letter to her brother George in June 1863, Martha urged him to avoid the unseemly behavior she has observed among the soldiers in Richmond and to take "your Father as an example of all that was good, noble, gentle, loving, kind and above all a Christian." Showing concern for George's safety, Martha suggested that George seek a position in the Signal Corps. Richard Adams, a friend of the Williamses from Lynchburg who was associated with Tardy and Williams before the war, was a signal officer and a member of the staff of General A.P. Hill.

                                                          Martha's letter to George 1863

     In early 1864 Martha's mother and her sister Nannie, together with her other sister Bettie Rawlings and her family, fled Spotsylvania to live in the comparative safety of the village of Hadensville in Goochland County. After the immediate danger of the fighting in Spotsylvania had passed, Nannie would often return to Greenfield to attend to matters there. By the end of the war one of the Rows' remaining slaves would be given a pass so that he could move foodstuffs, clothing and other articles as needed among the houses in Richmond, Hadensville and Spotsylvania. 
     In a letter she wrote from besieged Richmond in March 1865,  Martha told her Mother and Nannie: "How I wish I wish I could come see you when the spring opens. It seems to me that I want to see you all worse now that I can't come than I could when the way was open." Less than a month later the Confederate army evacuated Richmond, setting ablaze warehouses full of goods they did not wish to fall into the hands of the Federals. Many of the buildings in the business district were destroyed by fire, including that of Tardy and Williams. 
     Two years later the Williams family would return to Lynchburg, where James would establish his own wholesale grocery enterprise which ultimately became known as James T. William, Son and Company. In this undertaking he prospered handsomely and by 1874 he and Martha were able to buy this house at 822 Federal Street. The house and the grounds comprised a city block and included a servant's house, carriage house and terraced gardens. James would have a telegraph line run to his house so that he could transact business while at home. This photograph, taken in the early 1880's, shows a woman sitting on the front porch, said to be Martha.
                                            822 Federal Street, Lynchburg, early 1880's

     Some time between 1867 and 1872 the photograph at the top of the page was taken in Lynchburg. Martha is sitting to the right of her mother. Standing behind them are her sisters Bettie Row Rawlings and Nannie Row. Following the death of her daughter in law and granddaughter, Nancy Row spent much of 1872 in Lynchburg with Martha and her family.
     In 1883 Martha's brother George died in Spotsylvania, leaving behind his widow Lizzie and four children. In August that year Martha traveled to Spotsylvania and deeded to Lizzie 146 1/2 acres of land that was once part of Greenfield and represented her part of the Row legacy.  She named Lizzie as trustee on behalf of George's children. This generous act would increase Sunshine to the size that it is today. 
     On the morning of February 13, 1885 Martha had a heart attack while at home. The family doctor was summoned at once but she died before he arrived. Her passing was noted in several obituaries. This excerpt from one of them provides the best insight into what kind of woman Martha Row Williams was: "During the dark and trying days of the war she was untiring in her efforts on behalf of our sick and wounded soldiers, ministering to their necessities by every means within her power, both in the hospitals and on the field, often depriving herself that she might help and relieve them. Many are still living who can bear testimony to her unwavering kindness to them during those days of sorrow and suffering." Martha is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Lynchburg.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nancy Estes Row

     Nancy Estes Row (1798-1873), my great great grandmother, was born at Greenfield Plantation to Richard Estes and Catherine Carlton. The Estes family were remembered as stern, dignified people and this photograph of Nancy makes me think that was certainly the case. Mabel Wakeman said she was told that when Nancy lived at Greenfield the larders and outbuildings where provisions were stored were kept under lock and key. Nancy had a businesslike demeanor as she bustled about with her keys during the course of her daily errands. Nancy married Absalom Row of Orange County on November 2, 1825. Seven years later Absalom bought her girlhood home from the estate of Richard Estes, and Greenfield would remain in the Row family until 1905. Absalom and Nancy had five children together: Martha (1828-1885), Sarah (1829-1840), Nannie (1831-1889), Bettie (1832-1888) and George Washington Estes (1843-1883). After Absalom's death in 1855 Nancy, as executrix of his will, became the mistress of Greenfield. Martha married James T. Williams of Lynchburg in 1850 and Bettie married Zachary Rawlings of Spotsylvania in 1860. Nannie never married. George was sent to The Locust Grove Academy in Albemarle County for his education. He returned home about the time Virginia seceded and joined the Confederate cavalry at age 17 in April 1861. It is said that Nancy sent her son off to war with a slave to accompany him and the two best horses on the plantation. In March of the following year the long time overseer of Greenfield, James Brock, retired and was replaced by John Hopkins. Between June and August 1862 Nancy's slaves fled and made their way to freedom within the Union lines. With the help of Zachary Rawlings Nancy filed an affidavit with the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg in January 1863 in hopes of some day getting compensation for her lost property. In the meantime she supported the Confederate cause by purchasing Confederate bonds and selling hay to the quartermaster corps.
     On May 2, 1863 Stonewall Jackson and approximately 26,000 Confederate soldiers swung off Brock Road and made their way up the narrow road that ran through Greenfield. For hours these men marched north, crossing Panther Run and finally re-emerging onto Brock Road in their successful attempt to outflank the Union army commanded by General Hooker. The artillery and musket fire at the ensuing battle at Chancellorsville could be easily heard at Greenfield until well after night fall.
      The Rows and the Rawlings did not wish to be near the danger and violence of another battle, and so early in 1864 they loaded up their wagons and trundled down to the crossroads village of Hadensville in Goochland County. There they would live as refugees for much of the time until the end of the war. Maria Dobyns of Oakley plantation wrote a letter in June 1864 to Nancy's daughter Nannie. She described in vivid detail the fighting that occurred on her farm and told Nannie that the Rows were fortunate to have escaped before Grant's army crossed the Rapidan.
      Once the war was over Nancy, Nannie and George returned to Greenfield, which had escaped the devastation visited on other properties in Spotsylvania. The Rows would hire many freedmen to work for them, entering into labor agreements with some of them in the early years after the Civil War.
     George married Annie Daniel of Culpeper in 1867 and brought her back to live at Greenfield. Their first child, Absalom Alpheus (known as Abbie), was born in December 1868 and their daughter Virginia Isabella came in March 1871.  The February after Abbie was born Nancy gave 166 1/2 acres, valued at $490, to George. The Rows had previously referred to this part of Greenfield as the lower plantation. George called this place "Sunshine" and it has been known by that name ever since.

     The year 1871 marked the beginning of a period of tragedy and upheaval for the Rows. George's wife Annie, just 23 years old, died of diphtheria on November 4, 1871. Four days later an estate sale was conducted at Greenfield, at which many of the household possessions were sold. Virginia Isabella died shortly thereafter and was buried in an unmarked grave at Greenfield next to that of her mother. For several years afterward George would divide his time between Spotsylvania and Rockbridge, where his sister Bettie and brother in law Zachary Rawlings lived. Abbie was left in the care of George's sister Nannie during those times. Nancy Row spent much of 1872 in Lynchburg, where she lived with Martha's family. A mister Childress worked as caretaker of Greenfield in the Rows' absence. In failing health, 74 year old Nancy would return to Greenfield late that year. She died at home on January 5, 1873. Her coffin was built by friend and neighbor Robert S. Knighton. Nancy was laid to rest, next to  her husband,  in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery at Greenfield.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Absalom Row

Absalom Row

Absalom Row (1796-1855), my great great grandfather, was born in Orange County to Thomas and Rachel Row. Absalom was the twelfth of their thirteen children. Thomas Row had moved to Orange after his service in the Revolutionary War and established his farm at Mine Run on what is now Route 20. Absalom met Nancy Estes of Greenfield Plantation in Spotsylvania and married her on November 2, 1825. Together Absalom and Nancy reared a family of five children--Martha, Sarah (who died young), Nannie, Bettie and George. After the death of Nancy's father Richard Estes in 1832, Absalom bought Greenfield.  The farm would remain in the Row family until 1905. Absalom was an active man of many accomplishments. He was a farmer, a gold miner, justice of the peace, school commissioner, and overseer of the poor. Upon his death in 1855 Absalom owned 25 slaves and his land holdings totaled 889 acres. He named Nancy as the executrix of his estate.