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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dr. James Edgar Chancellor

James Edgar Chancellor (UVA Library Special Collections)

     He was the youngest child born to George and Ann Chancellor of Chancellorsville, arriving on January 26, 1826. He received every benefit a loving and well-to-do family could provide, and he made the most of those advantages.
     James attended the "classical academy" in Fredericksburg and studied medicine under Dr. George French Carmichael [1]. He then enrolled at the University of Virginia and took classes in medicine, anatomy and surgery, and chemistry and earned his degree in 1847. He then spent a year in Philadelphia, where he attended the Jefferson Medical College. He received his medical degree in 1848 and returned to Spotsylvania, where he began a successful private practice.
     Until about 1853, James lived with his half-sister, Mary Pound, and her husband, Jacob E. Appler, on their farm near Chancellorsville. In 1853, James was appointed to a one-year term as postmaster at Chancellorsville, a sinecure held by a number of his relatives over the years. That same year, on November 18, James married his sweetheart, Dorothea "Dorry" Josephine Anderson.
     Born on February 3, 1828, Dorry was the daughter of Thomas W. Anderson and Jane Porter Alsop. In 1834, Jane's father, Samuel Alsop, Jr., gave to Thomas and Jane a house and large farm in Spotsylvania called "Coventry" [2].

James E. Chancellor house (Library of Congress)

     James and Dorry Chancellor made their home at the house shown above. It was located across the road from Spotsylvania Court House [3]. The wall in the foreground enclosed the lawn of the court house at that time. The triangular wooden frame in front of the barn at left was a well built in the road. An earlier granary and stable belonging to Dr. Chancellor burned in 1857.
     Six children were born to James and Dorry: Eustathius (1854), Euodia Livingston (1855), Alexander Clarendon (1857), Thomas Sebastian (1858), Samuel Cleveland (1859) and Josephine "Josie" Anderson (1862). Euodia died in 1857. James and Dorry published the poem below dedicated to her memory. This clipping is part of the George Harrison Sanford King collection at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center in Fredericksburg. Euodia lies buried in the gated portion of the Berea Christian Church cemetery belonging to J. E. Chancellor (his name is on the gate) at Spotsylvania Court House. Berea Church was built in 1856 under the supervision of Dorry's grandfather, Samuel Alsop, Jr.

     Soon after the Civil War began, Dr. Chancellor made his services available to the Confederacy. On September 4, 1861, James was commissioned assistant surgeon for the General Hospital at Charlottesville. The following year he was named chief surgeon of the hospital complex in Charlottesville, and remained at that post for almost the entire war.
     Since there was no such thing as a "general hospital" in Charlottesville in 1861, the wounded and sick Confederate soldiers who were brought here via the Virginia Central Railroad were quartered in the town's stores, hotels, private homes, the town hall and court house and even the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. During the Civil War, more than 22,000 men were treated at this place. Over 1,100 died there and are buried in umarked graves near the University.
     On February 23, 1862, James and Dorry Chancellor celebrated the birth of their second daughter, "Josie." Their happiness would be short lived, however. Dorry became sick just five months later and she died of "typhoid fever with pulmonary congestion." Her body was transported back to Spotsylvania, and she was buried next to Euodia at Berea Christian Church.

Richmond Times Dispatch, August 21, 1862

     After Dorry's death, James' two youngest children, Sam and Josie, were brought to the widowed Jane Alsop Anderson to care for. While it is not known how long Sam lived with his grandmother, it appears that Josie lived with her for most of her life.
     In addition to his responsibilities for thousands of patients and caretakers, James also did what he could for his extended family. After the destruction of Chancellorsville in May 1863, James made arrangements for his aunt Fannie Chancellor and her children to come to Charlottesville. He obtained for Fannie a position as matron at Midway and Delevan hospitals. Fannie, with the help of her daughters Frances and Penelope, brought fresh eggs and vegetables to the patients and provided whatever other small comforts they could. Unfortunately, James' skills as a doctor could not save Fannie's daughters once they contracted typhoid fever in August 1864. They died within days of each other.
     The year 1864 also saw Dr. Chancellor detailed on temporary duty when he was ordered to report to the Reserve Medical Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. These surgeons assisted in the care of thousands of Confederate soldiers wounded during the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. He returned to Charlottesville after the completion of this tour of duty.
     In early March 1865, Union cavalry commanded by General Philip Sheridan occupied Charlottesville for three days. Although there was a moderate amount of looting and burning, the town and outlying farms were spared the wholesale destruction these same troopers meted out in the Shenandoah Valley.
     A month later, after the capture of Richmond by Federal forces, Dr. Chancellor loaded medical supplies into an ambulance with the intention of making his way to General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina. However, when news of General Lee's surrender at Appomattox reached him, James returned to Charlottesville and acknowledged that the struggle for southern independence had come to an end.

Dr. James Edgar Chancellor (UVA Library Special Collections)

     James did not return to Spotsylvania after the war. Instead, he elected to remain in Charlottesville. In October 1865 he was named demonstrator of anatomy by the medical school at the University of Virginia. He also met someone who would become part of his life for the next 30 years.

Birdwood (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

     Gabriella Garth was born about 1828 at "Birdwood" in Albemarle County, the impressive home of her wealthy and socially prominent parents, William Durrett Garth and Elizabeth Woods Martin. The beautiful young Gabriella enjoyed all the benefits of a storybook upbringing, including an education received at Mrs. Mead's School in Charlottesville. In the map detail below, I believe Birdwood is indicated as "Garth" in the left center of the image, just south of the road and east of "Randolph."

Map detail of Albemarle County, 1860s (National Archives)

     In November 1851, Gabriella married Dr. James Kirk of Hilton Head, South Carolina, in a ceremony held at Birdwood. The bride and groom then returned to Rose Hill, the Kirk home in Bluffton. A portrait of Gabriella hangs in the house today, and can be viewed by clicking on this link. Dr. Kirk and Gabriella had three children together. Dr. Kirk and their oldest child died in 1858. She remained at Rose Hill with her surviving children, Woods and Lilla, until 1861. With the threat of a Union invasion of Hilton Head now imminent, Gabriella took her children and a small contingent of slaves to the train depot in nearby Hardeeville. From there they headed west to Alabama, presumably to refugee with her uncle, Jesse Garth.
     While living in Alabama, she met Dr. John Summerfield Mayes. They were married in Lawrence County in March 1862. Dr. Mayes and their son died there in 1865. Gabriella then took Woods, Lilla and her youngest child, Martha Mayes, home to Birdwood and soon thereafter met Dr. Chancellor. They were married in her parents' home on November 14, 1867. Reverend J. S. Lindsay, chaplain at the University, officiated.

School of Medicine, 1867. Chancellor seated at far right (UVA Library Special Collections)

     James and Gabriella Chancellor lived at University Place in a large house. Over the years, in order to help make ends meet, Gabriella took in boarders, mostly young male students at the University. In 1880 there were 34 people boarding in the Chancellor household.
     Dr. Chancellor also sought ways to supplement his meager income. The most successful of his ventures was to become resident physician at various mineral springs which featured hotels and other amenities to attract those who sought to "take the waters." Testimonials by James appeared in newspapers over the years, attesting to the efficacy of the waters at such places as Jordan Alum Springs and Rockbridge Alum Springs in Rockbridge County, Virginia and at the Salt, Sulphur and Iodine Springs in Monroe County, West Virginia.
     Beginning in 1872, this would be virtually his sole source of income. That year he suffered a nasty wound while dissecting a cadaver. His health became so compromised that he was obliged to resign his position at the University of Virginia.

Faculty in 1868. Chancellor at lower left (UVA Library Special Collections)

UVA faculty. Chancellor in front, 2nd from left (UVA Library Special Collections)

     Despite this serious setback, James E. Chancellor's reputation and stature as a physician continued to grow. He published a number of professional papers that were presented at various conferences. He became a member of the Medical Society of Virginia in 1871, serving as its vice president in 1874 and 1880 and as president in 1883. He also was appointed to the Virginia State Board of Medical Examiners. Chancellor was made a permanent member of the American Medical Association in 1875 and the American Public Health Association in 1878.
     In 1885 he was elected and served one term as professor to the chair of diseases of women and children at the University of Florida in Tallahassee. He also filled the chair of anatomy during his stay there.
     That same year, on May 6, James's youngest child, Josie, died at "Coventry," her grandmother's house in Spotsylvania. She is buried with her mother and sister at the Berea Christian Church cemetery. Her obituary is part of the George Harrison Sanford King collection at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center:

     On Monday, December 9, 1895, The Alexandria Gazette reported that "The dwelling house of Dr. J. E. Chancellor was destroyed by fire at the University of Virginia at 7 o'clock Saturday evening. Loss about $2,000."
     James and Gabriella moved to 110 13th Street in Charlottesville. Dr. Chancellor died there one year later, on September 11, 1896. He is buried at the University of Virginia Cemetery and Columbarium.

James E. Chancellor standing with his brothers (Ancestry)

     After his death, Gabriella was joined in her house by her divorced daughter, Martha Mayes Shuey and her two children. Ten years after the burning of the house she shared with James, this house also burned:

Richmond Times Dispatch, November 23, 1905

     Gabriella Garth Kirk Mayes Chancellor died in Louisa County, where she had gone to spend the summer, on August 10, 1909. She is buried at Maplewood Cemetery in Charlottesville.


All four of James Edgar Chancellor's sons lived well into the 20th century and prospered.

Dr. Eustathius Chancellor (Nationial Institutes of Health)

     Eustathius Chancellor earned his medical degree at the University of Maryland in 1877. He moved to St. Louis, where he completed his classical education by earning a Master of Arts degree at St. Louis University, while establishing a successful private practice. The governor of Missouri appointed him as Medical Director of the Missouri State National Guard. He never married. Eustathius died in 1931.

Alexander Clarendon Chancellor

     A. C. Alexander married and raised a family in Columbus, Georgia, where he owned a successful store specializing in men's high-end clothing and accessories. He was named president of the Georgia Retailers Association in 1909. A photograph of his palatial home appears in Kenneth H. Thomas' book, Columbus, Georgia in Vintage Postcards. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC: 1901. He died in 1933.

Home of Alexander Clarendon Chancellor

     Thomas Sebastian Chancellor and his wife lived in Alabama and Florida, where he worked in retail and as a commercial traveler.

Samuel Cleveland Chancellor

     Sam Chancellor graduated from the Pharmaceutical College in Baltimore, Maryland with the intention of becoming a medical doctor, but impaired eyesight obliged him to pursue a career as a pharmacist instead. He spent years honing his skills at drug stores in Baltimore, Richmond and Charlottesville. In 1890 he bought out the drug store of R. C. A. Seiburg in Charlottesville and established his long standing pharmacy there.

Charlottesville directory, 1902 (Ancestry)

Chancellor's Drug Store (UVA Library Special Collections)

Chancellor's Drug Store (UVA Library Special Collections)

     In 1905 Sam married Clarissa Lynn Rodes, who died after a failed appendectomy a year later. Sam Chancellor died in 1922.


[1] Dr. Carmichael (1806-1882) served as surgeon in charge of the General Hospital in Danville during the Civil War.

[2] Samuel Alsop, Jr. built houses for two of Dorry's sisters as wedding gifts. "Kenmore Woods" was given to Ann Eliza Alsop and her husband, John M. Anderson.  "Oakley" was built for Clementine Alsop and her husband, Thomas Coleman Chandler. I wrote this article about Oakley several years ago.

[3] In future years, this house would be occupied by Spotsylvania County Sheriff Thomas Addison Harris and Commonwealth's Attorney Samuel Peter Powell.


Makers of America: Biographies of Leading Men of Thought and Action, volume 1. B. F. Johnson, Washington, D. C.: 1901.

Virginia: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, volume 2. Lewis Publishing Company, New York: 1904.

Kelly, Howard A. and Burrage, Walter L. American Medical Biographies. The Norman, Remington Company, Baltimore, MD: 1920.

Henry, William Wirt and Spofford, Ainsworth R. Eminent and Representative Men of Virginia and the District of Columbia of the Nineteenth Century. Brant and Fuller, Madison, WI: 1893.

The George Harrison Sanford King archive at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center:

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