About Prince Edward County’s 250 Years of History
by William E. Thompson
(The Rev. Dr. William Thompson is
a resident of Farmville and is the retired Chaplain of Hampden-Sydney College
and former Pastor of College Church; he chairs the history committee of
Prince Edward County’s 250th Anniversary Commission, and will be writing
a weekly column for The Farmville Hearld during this anniversary
|Who was Prince Edward, Our Namesake||Courthouse or Court House -- Prince Edward Court House|
|Fate of Prince Edward Court House -- a.k.a. Worsham||Two Invasions of Prince Edward Court House|
|From "Sails to Rails" to "Rails to Trails" -- The Fate of Commerical Transportation in Prince Edward County||The Influence of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Moving of the Courthouse Village|
|Prince Edward Court House -- the Village||Our County's Historians -- Charles E. Burrell and Herbert Bradshaw|
|East and West Ruffner Hall -- Who Was the Namesake William H. Ruffner||Native-born Prince Edward County Men Become U.S. Senators?|
|The effects of the Conferderate and Union invasions of Prince Edward County||Barbara Johns -- daring to challenge decades of unspoken “rules of order”|
|Vernon Johns -- Civil Rights Leader, Prince Edward Native||Governor Philip Watkins McKinney -- Prince Edward citizen|
|Union Theological Seminary -- Prince Edward County Years, part one||Union Theological Seminary -- The Rest of the Story|
|Hampden-Sydney Boys Who Gave It All for the Cause||George Washington really slept in Prince Edward Court House villlage|
|The Mettauers' Medical School -- Between Prince Edward Court House and Kingsville||George Walton, signer of the Declaration of Independence|
|Hampden-Sydney Boys in the Civil War||"Separate but Equal" public education -- the "wart" on Prince Edward County History|
|The Rev. Dr. Richard McIlwaine -- member of Viginia's Fourth Constituional Convention, 1901-1902||Poplar Hill --Victoiran-Era Home of the tobacconist family, the Dunningtons|
|The Long Hot Summers of Prince Edward History||The Reconstruction Era in Prince Edward County|
|The Appomattox River - Staunton River Canal link||Prince Edward County seal -- wheat sheaf vs tobacco hand|
|William Henry Harrison, Walter Reed, Robert Russa Moton – educated in Prince Edward County||Longwood House – home of the Johnstons, Venables, Wrights, and several Longwood University presidents|
|Gubernatorial candidate Fitzhugh Lee visits Worsham, 1885||What’s in some of our county place-names?|
|Mail delivery in last century in Prince Edward County||Dr. R. R. Moton’s challenge to complete “unfinished business”|
|Afterthoughts on Prince ED–Words|
Who was Prince Edward, Our Namesake?
that a logical starting point would be to ask, “Who was this fellow, Prince
Edward, that we were named after anyway...and why?”
There had been several Prince Edwards who became kings of England way back yonder in the 1200-1500's. The most important one of those for our own heritage was probably Edward the 6th (1537-53), who is his sickly and short-lived existence at least saw to it that the Anglican Prayer Book was firmly fixed and that Church of England’s official creed of 42 Articles (later revised to 39) set forth the normative Protestant beliefs of England’s state church. That particular Edward thus set in stone the official religious beliefs and practices of the predominant group of colonial settlers who came to the east coast of North American in the 17th and 18th centuries.
There wasn’t another English King Edward until Eddie the 7th, who was Queen Victoria’s long-waiting-offstage son, who finally ruled for just a little while (1901-1910), giving modern news commentators an example of Prince Charles’s situation today, with his aging body waiting while his mother keeps ruling on and on. We mainly know that Edward for his fat picture on a box of stubby, fat cigars. Then there was the royal lover-boy Edward the 8th, whose plans to rul in the 1930's ran afoul because of his lusty conduct with Baltimore’s commoner (very much so) Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson.
“Our” Prince Edward lived for only 28 years (1739-67). He was fated to be the second-born sibling of his older brother, George – he who would eventually become the infamous King George III, form whom the 13 North American English colonies rebelled in the mid-1700's. Gorgie and Eddie were less than a year apart in age, and they were essentially brought up together. There is some evidence, in fact, that the second-born Prince Edward may have been his parents’ favorite over his older brother, George. Edward’s kingly brother ruled Great Britain for 60 long years, from 1760-1820...and lost much of his Atlantic empire in the process.
Meanwhile “our” Prince Edward grew up fond of dancing and courtly liaisons. His somewhat libertine nature was not well-received, especially after he publicly proclaimed his great love for his tutor, a man named Bute, of whom he said, “I should with an eye of pleasure look on retiring with him to some uninhabited cavern.” Mr. Bute then allegedly said that the prince would feel different once he was married. This debauched Prince Edward died in Monaco form some unknown excesses that he had encoutered during a continental tour in the summer of 1767. Horace Walpole, an apt commentator on various Britons of that era, tersely wrote of “our” Princ Edward, “Thus ended his silly, good-humored, troublesome career in a piteous manner.”
It kinda makes you wonder why on earth our own colonial forebears of 250 years ago would even want to name this new county for such a fellow as that! They did this, however, in 1754, when the prince was only 15 years old, and his older brother, George was 16, and back then we were loyal British subjects, in the main. This was the time of the French and Indian War; our own George Washington was plotting with the British General Braddock, against the French on the frontier. My best guess is that the first citizens of our new county were covering all their bases, and seeking to brown up the British bluebloods, bynaming this new colonial county for one of their lords-awaiting. By the time the American Revolution had broken out in force two decades later, Prince Edward was long dead and forgotten. Maybe it’s just as well...except in this case our county’s citizens really have overcome our questionable namesake.
(The Farmville Hearld, Wednesday, January 7, 2004)
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Courthouse or Court House -- Prince Edward Court House
For newcomers to Virginia, a courthouse can be a confusing term.
It takes people a while to understand that if it’s written as one word,
in lower case letters, it’s a building, e.g., our downtown Farmville courthouse,
but if it’s capitalized and written as two words, it’s a town, e.g., Charlotte
Court House and Cumberland Court House. Sometimes the village is
even abbreviated as CH. If one drives north out of Farmville on state
Route 45, there’s a sign indicating that it is 18 miles to “Cumberland
CH.” A quick-reading novice might mistake that as an indication of
how far it is to Cumberland (Presbyterian) Church, since “CH” on some signs
stands for “church.” And to absorb our Virginia quirkiness even more,
sometimes the Court House town – by its judicial functions – has obliterated
a perfectly good name of an already-existing village. For example,
Buckingham Court House “took over” Maysville, and in fact two churches
in the old Court House town still call themselves “Maysville” churches.
One of Robert E. Lee’s maps that he was using during his Retreat Week of
1865, indicated both a “Maysville” (a.k.a. Buckingham Court House) north
of his route, while not too far away to the southeast, there was also a
“Marysville” (a.k.a. Charlotte Court House).
Prince Edward courthouse functions started out in 1754 near the center of our new county, but there was no Court House town to welcome them. There was, however, a crossroads tavern located on the main road, near the center of the newly-laid-out county, so the lawyers and the judge presumably felt that this was as good a place as any to begin their business. They even appropriated the taverner’s kitchen (a separate building back then, of course) as their functioning jail ... which possibly meant that jail-fare might not have been too bad back in the 1750's. But of course any county worth its salt eventually needs a “courthouse” and a Court House, so the entrepreneurial tavern owner, Charles Anderson, bargained with the county officials to sell them some of his 3,000 acres of property. Now the new county would not only have a new “courthouse,” but also all those other things that made up a real “Court House” – not only the judicial building, but also some public stocks where minor offenders might have their ankles confined, and a pillory for confining the head and wrists of more serious offenders (both of those were intended for embarrassment and public scorn), but space was also needed for whipping post, and for a gallows, for a debtor’s prison, and for a sure-enough barred jail, plus an official Clerk’s Office, and some lawyer’s offices that were typically laid out in a row around the perimeter of the courthouse and its “green.” This space functioned as a social gathering place for women and children, and as a bargaining place for men.
Gradually Prince Edward Court House took a very credible shape, thanks to the tavern -owner Anderson’s wheeling and dealing, in which endeavors he was assisted by a cohort named George Walker.
The result of all this, of course, was the original Prince Edward Court House, with a couple of different courthouses. The village served our country very well from 1754 until the Federal occupation army, the carpetbaggers and the scalawags, and a few Farmville businessmen (who were not in those other categories) convinced the county voters otherwise in 1871.
(The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, January 14, 2004)
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Fate of Prince Edward Court House -- a.k.a. Worsham
The “old” Prince
Edward Court House village was our county seat for 117 years, from its
founding in 1754 until its removal to Farmville in 1871; our “new” Prince
Edward Court House was never called that because the name “Farmville” was
already too well established as a tobacco processing and sales center,
and as a transportation center on the Appomattox River and the South Side
Rail Road. But if one takes as a working principle that the county
seat should be near as possible to the center of the county, one can easily
see that Farmville has been an inconvenient choice for these past 130 years!
Meanwhile, the “old” Court House village was re-named, as a public testimony to the integrity for the longtime Clerk of the Court, Branch J. Worsham. This fine gentleman, unfortunately, had been forcibly removed from his office by the carpetbagger controllers of the Prince Edward’s destiny in the post-Civil War years, and he is buried at a site whose only “court” these days are Farmville homes. Nor did his namesake village fare much better. At the time of the 1871 removal of its judicial functions into Farmville, what we now know as “Worsham, Virginia” had several private schools, numerous stately homes, a blacksmith shop, a tannery, several hotels and taverns, Dr. Mettauer’s medical school of considerable reputation, and the academic “suburb” of Hampden-Sydney – all these in addition to the half-dozen buildings and courthouse green that defined its primary reason for existence. Its daily population was periodically swelled by the nearby college students walking over there from Hampden-Sydney “to see what was going on,” and to pick up their mail and, of course, lots of rural people came to town on “court days,” or when the county militia occasionally went through their maneuvers, which were sufficiently comedic to be certain of an enjoyable crowd of on-lookers.
One of the characters in the Bible is named “Ichabod,” a Hebrew phrase-term that meant “Alas! The glory has departed!” – which is the feeling one largely gets when passing through Worsham today. The few people who live there, or who work there at the single service station/convenience store, are all fine people, and the three highway historic signs testify to an impressive history, but generally speaking what once was Prince Edward Court House is now no more, save for the remaining debtor’s prison of colonial times, and the Clerk Office, which a valiant group recently labored to preserve and to have available for public meetings. Nearby, the 20th century Worsham School building looks the worse for wear every passing month.
If someone drives east from the service station, that person will pass the left cutoff road toward the Pickett’s lithia spring, which was also an 18th and 19th century magnet for residents and travelers alike. And if you keep on down “the main road” (route 665), you are traveling along the roadbed of something that back in the Court House days was called “Gallows Road” because that’s where folks gathered to see the ultimate form of justice administered that had been earlier decided “back up the road” in the Court House’s courthouse.
For certain, that’s one form of the village’s departed glory that we can be glad we no longer view as “entertainment.”
(The Farmville Herald, Friday, January 23, 2004)
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Two Invasions of Prince Edward Court House
Prince Edward Court House village may be dead and gone, but it still holds
a distinctive place in our national history, in that it is one of the few
county seats in our land that has twice been invaded and occupied by a
“foreign” military force!
On Saturday, July 14, 1781, when the Court House as a community was already 27 years old, it was invaded by the British Redcoats ... only on this occasion it was actually the British Greencoats, because Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s treacherous and lecherous cavalrymen traditionally wore green. Tarleton was reputed to be one of the truly “bad” characters in the British army (he was “the bad guy” in a recent Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot,” which dealt will alleged perfidies that Tarleton laid onto the South Carolina back-country people), although a recent biographer of “Bad Ban” insists that much of his reputation was built on gossip and myth, and not facts. Be that as it may, on July 14, 1781, Colonel Tarleton and his legion swooped down onto Prince Edward Court House (they actually interrupted a hanging that was in progress on Gallows Road, to the east of the Court House), in search of a collection of food and ammunition that was rumored to be there or nearby. Some of this had been removed earlier, farther into the Virginia wilderness, and what was left of the military larder was cleverly hidden by Mrs. Nathaniel Venable at her Slate Hill plantation. What she did was to have her sons and her slaves hide the stores inside several tobacco hogsheads that were lying about. Tarleton and his gang trashed up several plantation homes nearby and certainly they hassled Mrs. Venable, but for some reason they did not break into the looming hogsheads. (I’ve read this story in several forms, but I never have been able to figure out why unruly soldiers would not have broken into a cache of good Virginia tobacco.) The frustrated British cavalry then turned southeasterly and spent the night at Moore’s Ordinary (a.k.a. Meherrin), before returning to the main body of General Cornwallis’s army.
The other time Prince Edward Court House was invaded was when the southern pincer of the United States Army of the Potomac invaded and occupied the judicial village on Friday, April 6, 1865, in its avowed intent of destroying the Confederate States of America ... which it would largely do in about 48 more hours, at Appomattox Court House in the next county to the west. This time the mounted “enemy” wore blue coats. The first of the invaders numbered about 2,500, and were under the command of General Ranald Mackenzie; they swooped into the Court House along the exact route that Cornwallis had come 84 years earlier, having departed from Burke’s Tavern about dawn and using Leigh’s Mountain as their guidepost to approach. This group engaged in a somewhat unexpected skirmish of about a half-hour’s duration (I’m writing a little booklet about the “Battle of Worsham”), before taking possession fo the village. Thankfully, like the earlier British invaders, however, they did not destroy the precious legal records at the courthouse. After those invaders had departed to spend the night along the Buffalo and Spring creeks, a second group of calvary (numbering about 6,000) came into the Court House, led by Generals Sherman, Custer and Merritt. These also departed, but not before the officers had begged supper from the James Potts Smiths and had briefly taken Branch Worsham as prisoner because he refused to tell them the direction that some Confederates had gone, either on retreat or in desertion. Finally, at dusk, General Charles Griffin’s 12,000 Union infantry and their wagons lumbered into Prince Edward Court House to make a huge encampment that stretched from Dr. Mettauer’s medical school to the Court House proper, and then to the west all the way back to the Hampden-Sydney campus. They began departing before dawn the next morning.
All-in-all, that was about 20,000 Yankees who invaded and occupied the old Court House, and so far as we know, there was no pilfering and trashing, thus providing that although they may have been Yankees, they weren’t damned Yankees.!
(The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, January 28, 2004)
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From "Sails to Rails" to "Rails to Trails" -- The Fate of Commerical Transportation in Prince Edward County
It was the coming
of the South Side Rail Road in 1854, of course, that became the major world-changing
event in the history and development of Prince Edward County ... which
is certainly ironic now that exactly 150 years forward from that event,
this rail service is apparently now going to be removed from us.
Without the coming fo the railroad, Farmville might still be just “another
wide place in the road,” and instead what we know as “Worsham” might be
a thriving county seat metropolis, with Hampden-Sydney College at the center
of the town!
During the county’s 250th Anniversary Commissions’s conversations last fall, I said something flip about Farmville citizens “having bribed” the railroad to come through its little riverside settlement instead of allowing it to be built along its originally the county sear communities of Southside Virginia. Local historian Bob Flippen challenged my ill-advised statement, in that he believed the Farmville counter-offer represented an economic opportunity of considerable risk and sacrificial giving as forward-thinking citizens of Farmville dared to put forth gifts of $100,000 toward the purchase of railroad stock, in order to guarantee a riverside route for their own best interests.
The rerouting of the projected South Side Rail Road of course resulted in the construction of the magnificent High Bridge, which is now the major focus of a possible “Rails to Trails” recreational project. As county historian Herbert Bradshaw and High Bridge historian Jo Smith have both observed, the rerouted railroad spelled the doom of Appomattox River shipping interests and river ports like nearby Jamestown (I guess we could call that 19th century transition, one of “Sails to Rails”).
Various citizens groups from both Cumberland County and Prince Edward County are now in a swivet over losing our rail service, with the attendant question of what will this mean for the future of High Bridge and, quite understandably, the adjacent property owners near the bridge have lots of questions on their minds. And, of course, the increasing number of Civil War “fans” and reenactors and scholars and students are all concerned about the continuing history of one of the major structures associated with the closing days of “The War.”
It’s too bad that back in the mid-1850's, nobody was worried about what the new route of the railroad was going to do to riverfront citizens of Planterstown and Jamestown or, for that matter, what it might eventually portend for the dozens of people who lived and worked at the historic judicial center of the county, Prince Edward Court House (a.k.a. “Worsham”) who might be eventually “done in” by the arrival of that same railroad. Also, I expect that the grading for the new railroad, as well as the making of the thousands of bricks and the cutting of those huge stone blocks for the piers of High Bridge, were all assigned (without pay, of course) to African-American slaves from the area.
As they say, “Money talks,” and Farmville’s opportunistic promise of $100,000 in the early 1850's ultimately silenced, or ignored, the well being of a lot of good people in this area, just as the removing of “our” rail service may be doing today.
(The Farmville Herald, Friday, February 6, 2004)
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The Influence of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Moving of the Courthouse Village
make at least one other observation about how the 1854 routing of the South
Side Railroad through Farmville ultimately changed the location of our
county seat from “old” Prince Edward County Court House (a.k.a. “Worsham”)
to Farmville. Yes, the new railroad meant an economic boom to the
tobacco shipping concerns of Farmville villagers, and even when a strong
economy is based upon one particular subject, like tobacco, it has a way
of creating other supporting businesses as well as entirely different businesses
as well. And nine miles to the south, the only thing that Prince Edward
Court House had “going for it” was the judicial business within the courthouse,
and some feeding and housing opportunities on the special “court days.”
Another often-overlooked reality that helped to build up the Farmville economy is the period during the War Between the States, is that a Confederate military hospital was constructed alongside the railroad and, of course, as the war progressed, more and more little wooden barracks hospital wards had to be constructed for the increasing number of incoming patients and “government wartime contracts” have always been a boon to local communities. Also, the recuperation period for these wounded men meant that many of their kin traveled to Farmville on those same railroad tracks. Furthermore, those kinfolk needed to have room and board while they were visiting and this meant more money for t he local Farmville folks ... even if that Confederate money was increasingly worthless.
Another railroad -produced boon occurred in Farmville after the war in that for about ten years this area was actually under military occupation by the U.S. Army. That’s a period that lots of Virginians would just as soon forget, although military occupation is typically the inevitable result of one side’s triumph over the other. The presence of soldiers was also deemed necessary in order to assure that there would be a peaceable transition for African-Americans from slavery to freedom, as a result of the U.S. military triumph and the Constitutional guarantees of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
Certainly a lot of die-hard Confederate sympathizers resented the presence of these Reconstructionist enforcers ... but that didn’t mean that they weren’t anxious also to make some money off of the people. These U.S. soldiers needed support services from the local townsfolk and sometimes they had family members who came on that same railroad for extended visits with their husbands ... and they had money to spend as well. The occupational soldiers probably should have been physically located at the official courthouse village because, after all, Prince Edward Court House was the governmental center of the place these soldiers were occupying ... but, once more, “money talks,” and Farmville as a railroad depot town was where the money was. Hence, the economic effect of the occupational army and its opportunistic companions, who are known to history as “carpetbaggers” (the imports) and “scalawags” (the local turn-coats), ALL spent money in Farmville and maintained an influence there, and, in the process, they eventually, contributed to deposing Branch Worsham from his longtime, distinguished career as Clerk of the Court in the courthouse village that would eventually hear his name. These same cohorts made Farmville citizens prosperous and powerful enough to flex their voting muscles in 1871, to wrest the courthouse away from the Court House, where it had been for 117 years, ever since its founding in 1754 ... and the railroad that our county is now about to lose in the 21st century was enabling factor behind it all!
(The Farmville Herald, Friday, February 20, 2004)
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Prince Edward Court House -- the Village
One of the
objectives that some of us on our county’s 250th Anniversary Commission
had was to tell something of the story of our long ago county seat village
that is now just “a wide place in the road” that is simply known as “Worsham.”
Many newcomers to our area do not realize was once a place of considerable
interest and activity and influence when it was flourishing for 117 years
as our county’s governmental center.
Confederate historian Chris Calkins has noted that in 1865 the old Court House village still had the air of being an old-fashioned aristocratic community – complete with several private schools, numerous stately houses, a blacksmith shop, a tannery, several hotels and taverns, a nearby medical school of considerable reputation (Dr. Mettauer’s teaching center that was academically governed by Randolph-Macon College in Boydton), a wooden debtor’s prison dating from the colonial era (still standing), a handsome two-story stone jail that was less than ten years old (this was torn down within the memory of lots of present-day folks), several lawyers’ offices, a Clerk of Court’s office (still standing), and the old courthouse itself with an open green space that such buildings typically had around them. The whole scene was framed with great oak and elm trees that arched over top of the old north-side roadway, which itself was (and still is, as U.S. Route 15) one of the oldest highways in the country.
The village had once been a military objective of the British cavalry during the Revolutionary War, when it had been a storehouse of ammunition and food for the American Continental army. A nearby resident, Mrs. Nathaniel Venable, had dared to stand up to British Colonel Tarleton on that occasion, offering her own life rather than divulging information about personnel and larder (fortunately Tarleton didn’t take it). Years later, when the Union army also made Prince Edward Court House its military objective, the aged Branch Worsham had dared to stand up to General Sheridan, similarly refusing to give out any information about the retreating Confederate army. He was hassled and taken prisoner, but eventually released several miles away.
The Court House green had echoed to the political rhetoric of luminaries like Patrick Henry and John Randolph; many old time localities have made spurious claims for George Washington’s having slept in their locality ... but he actually did do that once upon a time at Prince Edward Court House, and so had a one-time U.S. Vice President, Aaron Burr; when he slept there he was under arrest, having been charged with treason, and he was en route to his trial in Richmond.
For years the old Prince Edward Court House was an attractive curiosity and acquisition site for nearby Hampden-Sydney College students ... who ambled over there for their mail, and for occasional courtroom entertainment, and for backyard moonshine, and for activities of various sorts. But all this changed in 1871, with the county’s vote to move its courthouse functions into Farmville.
The 18th century English poet, Oliver Goldsmith wrote a famous poem that was entitled “The Deserted Village.” It is an evocative, nostalgic picture of a place he calls “Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain...” As such things go, Goldsmith’s creation is probably an exaggerated portrayal of scenes that may never have been quite as grand as he depicts them. But I still like it, and often when I pass along the Worsham way, I think of Goldsmith’s words:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,Amen!
Where wealth accumulates and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.
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Our County's Historians -- Charles E. Burrell and Herbert Bradshaw
All of us make
history, as I hope these columns throughout this anniversary year will
make evident...but it is given to only a few people to write that history
in an educational, entertaining, and even inspiring, way. Aside from
an admirable succession of noteworthy Clerks of Court, who have recorded
the official judicial history of our county affairs (the legal affairs,
that is – not the personal ones!), Prince Edward County has had two very
special writers who have recorded its overall history over these past 250
The first of these was the Rev. Charles E. Burrell, pastor of the Farmville Baptist Church (1919-1929). His History of Prince Edward County was published in 1922, just three years into his decade-long local pastorate. Pastor Burrell puts to rest the old adage that any local history must be written by a native who is “one of us.” This Prince Edward historian was born in London in 1870 and was educated in Canada. He was ordained in his first Canadian church when he was only 16 years of age. He came to pastor the Farmville church just after the conclusion of World War I. The fact that in only three years he was able to amass sufficient material to write the first history of our county leads some folks – especially the preachers among us – to ask, “How on earth did this man have time to tend to his pastoral and preaching responsibilities, and also to research and write his history?” While there are certainly some limitations in the scope of what he wrote (e.g., it is somewhat informal and anecdotal; it largely ignores the African-American dimensions in the county’s history; and one can truthfully say that he was probably overly impressed with our Confederate heritage), still his history that was written over 80 years ago was definitely ground-breaking.
Our county’s other great history-writer was Herbert C. Bradshaw, about whom we can say, he was “born and bred in the briar patch” of Prince Edward County. Many of us know his story because you have lived at least parts of it with him. He was a native of Rice, educated in our county schools, and was graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1930, summa cum laude as the valedictorian of his class. He served for a time as the principal of the Darlington Heights School. He had also earned a Master’s degree in Latin from University of Virginia, and he was granted an honorary degree from Hampden-Sydney in 1967. If Mr. Bradshaw had a writing weakness, it was that he seemingly wrote everything without ever making a judgment to filter out a single word! His research methods were helped by the fact that he was virtually kin to, or had married into, every family in the county, or at least was connected to virtually every Caucasian family, and certainly many will testify that he was also a friend to almost every African-American family in the county. For a quarter of a century, Mr. Bradshaw was a member of the staff of the Durham (N.C.) Morning Herald, and his final position there before his 1974 retirement was as the head of its editorial page. Meanwhile, he “never got above his raising” – he wrote the Sesquicentennial History of Farmville (1948), and the Bicentennial History of Prince Edward (1954), and one volume of a projected three volume History of Hampden-Sydney College (published in 1978, covering the college’s history only through 1856). Just a few months after the publication of this last work, Herbert Bradshaw was assassinated by a still-unknown serial killer, begin struck down while he was washing the dishes at his Durham home. There was some speculation at the time that his killing possibly represented some disgruntled person’s response to his editorial policies, but that assumption was largely laid to rest, in that he was the fourth victim in a series of what were random drive-by shootings in Durham that autumn. He is buried in the Mt. Pisgah church cemetery in Rice, as is Mrs. Bradshaw (who was a Cunningham from our county, who died just several years ago). His Durham obituary stated: “He was, fundamentally, a Southerner and a gentleman of the old school who was courteous to all, but he never shunned new ideas and innovations.”
It is Mr. Bradshaw’s 1954 county history that has been recently reissued, thanks to our Board of Supervisors, and to the graciousness of the Bradshaw children. This book (934 pages) is available from our county administrator’s office for the unbelievable price of only $15, since the Bradshaw children asked that no one make any profit from their father’s 1954 labor of love. True, lots of people in this county have made a lot of history here since 1954 – not all of it sunny side up – and we probably need a supplementary history that covers our county’s eventful last 50 years. But the truth is that for Mr. Bradshaw’s coverage this bargain book will always represent the very last work. It can also double as a good doorstop.
(The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, March 3, 2004)
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East and West Ruffner Hall -- Who Was the Namesake William H. Ruffner
March is the birthday
month of Longwood University, whose beginnings are traced to the March
5, 1839, chartering of the “Farmville Female Seminary” by a group of local
supporters. Through various name changes and governing changes we
now have Longwood University, a co-educational institution with more than
4,000 students. In that connection, it is such a thrill to behold
now the wondrous restoration that is in progress for the university’s Ruffner
Hall, with its magnificent Jeffersonian dome once again showing that characteristic
shape that has so long “anchored” that familiar part of our county landscape
along the lower part of Farmville’s High Street. When so many people
were wandering around in dismay after Ruffner’s devastating fire in April
of 2001, who would have dreamed that less than three years that grand old
dome would once again be the recognizable centerpiece atop a new East and
West Ruffner, with its signature Rotunda at the center of the two wings?
The reconstruction of the “new Ruffner” as such a splendid replica of the “old Ruffner” begs the question, “Who was this man, Ruffner, whose namesake symbol is once more going to be the front-and-center- heartbeat of Prince Edward County?”
William Henry Ruffner was born on February 11, 1824, in the Valley of Virginia where his father was then serving as the president of Washington College in Lexington, (of course that’s the predecessor institution of Washington and Lee University). In addition to being an educator, the father was also a Presbyterian minister. William H. Ruffner was educated at his father’s college, graduating there in 1845, after which he attended both Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (then located at Hampden-Sydney) and Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Upon his ordination to the ministry, he served as Chaplain of the University of Virginia (it is a mistaken notion to think that Thomas Jefferson did not want any religious influence at the University which he founded in Charlottesville; Jefferson simply did not want a mandated sectarian influence; in fact, for many years the chaplaincy of the University regularly rotated among several Protestant denomination, typically for a couple of years at a time; Presbyterian Chaplain William H. Ruffner took a turn at the spiritual post from 1850-1851; he then accepted a call to become th pastor of the Seventh Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but he shortly came back to Virginia to serve a rural church just east of Lexington from 1854-1868.
When the Commonwealth of Virginia finally established a public school system – after months of rancorous debate – the Rev. Mr. Ruffner became Virginia’s first Superintendent of Public Instruction, serving in that capacity for a dozen years, from 1870-1882. At this same period Prince Edward Country’s first (volunteer) Superintendent of Public Schools was the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mosby Smith, whose paying job was serving as the Hebrew and Greek professor at te Presbyterian seminary at Hampden-Sydney. When Prince Edward County initially established its public school system, there were 22 schools – 11 for white students and 11 for black students. Most of there one-and-two room schools operated for only 4-5 months...after the fall harvest season and before the spring planting time. As fledgling public schools continued to develop across the state, there was an increasing clamor for some kind of systematic and standardized educational preparation for the public school teacher. Forward-thinking Farmville citizens agitated to have the first such state-sponsored teacher-training school located in Prince Edward County and, in 1884, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law establishing what was designated as “A Normal School” at Farmville (“normal” meant “normalizing” some kind of basic educational standards and expectations; such “normal schools” did not at this time offer college degrees, and most students stayed for only a semester or two, but still it represented progress). This new school was designated for the “education of white female teacher” for the steadily increasing number of (white) public schools across the state (obviously those two adjectives, “white” and “female” indicated that the educators and the politicians and the public at large still had a log way to grow). The law was passed only on the condition that Farmville would convey to the state the property that was then know as the “Farmville Female College.” The subsequent transition to this new kind of school in our county turned out to be a local bonanza as well, since the Farmville Female College was then in problematic financial circumstances.
Dr. Smith, our county school superintendent, was a long-time personal friend of Dr. Ruffner, and Dr. Smith persuaded his friend to leave his successful administrative position with the state, to come to Farmville as the Normal Schools first president, a position he would fill from 1884-1887. In “retirement” Dr. Ruffner then returned to the Lexington area, where he became a famous geologist and a pioneer in scientific, farming methods. He also found time to write the first history of Washington and Lee University! William H. Ruffner died in 1908, at the age of 84.
That’s the interesting full-dimensional person we Prince Edward citizens should remember as we rejoice in the rising “his” new building from the ashes of the old one. Ruffner was truly a giant among us, as is the fine institution to which he gave a renewed life in 1884, even as the building that bears his name gets a new life in 2004.
P.S. Ironically, yet another one-time State Superintendent of Public Instruction – Dr. J. D. Eggleston – would come as the president of Hampden-Sydney, our county’s other college, in 1919!
(The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, March 10, 2004)
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Native-born Prince Edward County Men Become U.S. Senators?
you name a United States Senator who was born in Prince Edward County?
There have, of course, been a fair number of Prince Edward natives who have been elected to the Confederate senate. But how about the United States Senate? Hampden-Sydney College boasts of having had several U.S. Senators from among its alumni, most recently the former (1983-1988) U.S. Senator, Paul Trible, Jr. (HS ‘68), who is now the President of Christopher Newport University here in Virginia.
But what about a Prince Edward born U.S. Senator? Give up? There have been tow of them...so far.
Abraham Bedford Venable was the native son of a notable Prince Edward family. And, while a citizen of this county, he was elected to four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1791-1799) and, after a brief “retirement,” he was elected in the late fall of 1803 to a standard six-year term in the U.S. Senate. He died, however, in June of 1804, just six months into his term. Prior to his national service, he had been a lawyer at the county’s old Court House village (now “Worsham”), and he also served as a trustee for Hampden-Sydney College.
Three-quarters of a century later, this county had another native-born U.S. Senator, although this one was not elected from Virginia. This second Senator was Blanche Kelso Bruce, an African-American, who was born in Prince Edward County, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1875 as a Republican candidate for the State of Mississippi. The Honorable Mr. Bruce served for just one six-year term (1875-18881).
Although we know very little about this political leader, Prince Edward historian H. C. Bradshaw indicated that according to the oral tradition in these parts – as reported to him by Dr. J. C. Eggleston of Hampden-Sydney – Mr. Bruce had been born (1841) of slave parents who were then living on the Linden plantation that was just over a mile south of the old Prince Edward Court House, just across the old highway (present-day US 15) from Slate Hill plantation.
Presumably Blanche Bruce lived either there or nearby in servitude, until the end of the War Between the States with its accompanying emancipation through the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Again – according to Bradshaw – the son of the white family who had owned the Bruces had taught young Blanche to read. Bruce would have been 24 years old when he was granted his freedom, whereupon he followed New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley’s old dictum for success: “Go West, young man, go West!” A fair number of newly emancipated young men followed that tried-and-true advice in the immediate post-war period. Bruce’s “West,” however, was not across the Mississippi to the Great Plains, but rather to the “Southwest” – still east of the Mississippi. Why he went in that direction, we don’t know. What we do know is that amidst the social upheavals of this “Reconstruction Era,” it was an opportunistic time for truly bright young black men to achieve an upward mobility that had never been possible heretofore.
In the case of both Venable in 1803 and Bruce in 1875, U.S. Senators were not yet elected by popular vote. This would not happen generally in all of the states until the 1913 passage of the 17th Amendment. Prior to that time, Senatorial elections were the result of “a good ole boys” caucus in various state capitals. Evidently what had happened for both Abraham B. Venable and Blanche K. Bruce was that in their respective governmental circles of Richmond and Jackson, these men had impressed their respective colleagues and had ingratiated themselves sufficiently in their company, that “their kind” essentially engineered their Senatorial elections. This process does not mean they weren’t worthy men; it’s simply the way things were done.
Come to think of it, “back room politics’ among ‘the good ole boys’” is still the way a lot of things get done...and it’s not necessarily just on the national scene.
(The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, March 17, 2004)
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The effects of the Conferderate and Union invasions of Prince Edward County
The greatest series
of economic disasters that ever occurred within Prince Edward County happened
during the first full week of April in 1865, for that was when two separate
waves of humanity and their destructive carnage swept over the county from
east to west. This of course was the time of Lee’s Retreat, or Grant’s
Advance, (depending on one’s perspective), when both the Union and the
Confederate armies from the mid-Atlantic portion of that four-year war,
struggled and stumbled and destroyed their way through our county.
And by the time the blessed “silence at Appomattox” finally occurred on
Palm Sunday afternoon, April 9, virtually all the roads and bridges within
the county, and much of people’s private property lay in ruins...ruins
so terrible that it would take three-quarters of a century for the agricultural
area to get back to some kind of modest equilibrium.
In another sense, though, there was very positive economic result of that otherwise destructive week: African-American slavery that had existed within Virginia, as well as within many other states for over two and a half centuries, was demolished militarily with the Confederate surrender and legally with the passing of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; henceforth, formerly enslaved black persons were no longer counted as “property” in some cases, and as 3/5 of a person (Constitution, Article I, Section 2). As we all know, however, fully defining and accepting those African-American citizens emotionally, educationally, and economically is a work that is still in progress, from the standpoint of many persons and institutions.
But the reality of Prince Edward County history is that when Lee’s army and Grant’s army came through our area, this county’s immediate future was decimated. When those home-county Caucasian soldiers came back from Appomattox, and from Durham, North Carolina (many with mangled arms and legs) and faced these fields and villages alongside their newly-emancipated African-American neighbors, there was no effective money, nor borrowing power; there was no working postal system; the rail system had been disrupted with the destruction of several spans of nearby High Bridge; the roadways had been chewed up by men and horses and wagons and cannon; the majority of the livestock had been either killed or stolen; many hen-houses and smoke-houses had been raided by the soldiers of both armies; and some barns and private homes and even churches had been ransacked and partially destroyed.
The eastern portion of the county had been thoroughly raked over in several battles that took place along Sailor’s Creek on Thursday, April 6. That night, as the barely-intact Confederate army struggled to get across the Appomattox River and other streambeds named “Sandy” and “Bush” and “Briery” and “Buffalo,” and through Farmville itself, and the high commanded of the Army of the Potomac was planning its Friday, April 7, maneuvers. In the classic tactics of an army moving toward its next objective, Generals Grant and Meade and Sheridan decided to divide their invasion forces into a single thrust, and two accompanying pincer movements. The main force would be jammed forward as quickly as possible into Farmville itself, for the commanders knew that Lee was desperately hoping to fee his famished soldiers from several boxcars of food that awaited them there alongside the Appomattox River. Another wing – largely infantry and artillery – would cross to the north bank of the Appomattox River, just east of town an sweep up toward the long low line of Cumberland County hills several miles north of Farmville, and then perhaps pinch back across the river just west of town. Meanwhile yet another portion of the Union army – mainly cavalry – would ride swiftly that Friday toward Prince Edward County Court House, to block Lee’s possible escape route southward toward the Richmond and Danville Railroad at Keysville. These riders would be joined by another cavalry command coming from the Burkeville railroad junction, cross-country by Leigh’s Mountain, also bound for the Court House village. Many of those cavalrymen of the south pincer movements had successfully blocked Lee at Jetersville several days earlier.
As it turned out, the southern movement of Sheridan’s and Mackenzie’s troops (and following infantry forces of the Union V Corps) were not necessary. They made for some interesting tidbits of history at the Court House village and at nearby Hampden-Sydney, but the main events would occur in the town of Farmville and along the high ground around the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The Union thrust directly into Farmville that Friday morning, April 7, did indeed cut short the feeding of the Confederate soldiers, but General Lee effectively “slipped out of the noose” by getting most of his men and wagons across the river into Cumberland County. He did it though by burning his bridges behind him this time the passenger bridge and the rail bridge there at the river. Earlier that night that portion of his army which had crossed the High Bridge rail corridor had fired several of its sections. There would eventually be battles along the Plank Road and around the Cumberland Church, but the dwindling soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia would manage to exit Prince Edward and Cumberland counties by the way of Curdsville and New Store roads...but eventually every roadway of every kind dead-ended at Appomattox on the second Sunday in April.
There was a big mess left behind in Prince Edward County. Thankfully the Court House village and Hampden-Sydney College and Union Theological Seminary and the Farmville Seminary for women were not destroyed, as other courthouse towns and colleges had been, and thankfully the majority of the buildings in Farmville had been left intact and residents were unharmed, although many people evacuated the immediate area. Thankfully those rail-side hospital buildings and their vulnerable patients had also been spared. Furthermore, although some white people had feared a destructive response of the newly-emancipated blacks, there is no recorded evidence of such activity anywhere in the county. The oft-reviled Yankee soldiers also behaved themselves, in many cases, posting guards over private properties within our county. Still, that war – its causes and its aftermaths – were the costliest historical realities ever to hit this county and in some ways we are still paying for those things.
(The Farmville Herald, Friday, April 9, 2004)
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Barbara Johns -- daring to challenge decades of unspoken “rules of order”
This week marks the 53rd anniversary of an
historic Prince Edward County event – the beginning of the student strike
at R. R. Moton High School. This startling event – or series of events
– would immediately challenge the continuing existence of “old Prince Edward
County,” and it would ultimately be a part of changing the educational
landscape of the entire United States, and with those changes, our entire
This year’s Washington Post Magazine copy of April 4, suggested that the actions of 16-year old Barbara Rose Johns in Farmville on the unforgettable date of April 23, 1951, possibly qualifies her to be honored as one of the bravest teenagers ever in the history of our nation. After all, on that day she was thrusting herself visually and verbally in front of “a situation that had either the overt or tacit support of every white leader in the county.” One might even go so far as to suggest that the Post’s last word in that sentence could even be spelled “country.”
Maybe Barbara and the handful of student co-conspirators who joined her that morning on the Moton High School auditorium stage, only had a short-range goal of better educational facilities in mind, and not the burgeoning case that would eventually be joined with several others in producing the May 17, 1954, unanimous Supreme Court decision striking down the longtime “separate-but-equal” Jim Crow laws. Nonetheless, those actions of public protest from teenagers – a public walk-out complete with placards and slogans – were unprecedented actions for the “safe” years of post-war America. Now, over a half century later, we are all accustomed – perhaps even too much so – to protest marches, strikes, slogans, but for goodness sakes! this was back in “the silent ‘50's” when virtually all young people – black and white – did pretty much what our parents told us to do and not to do (except maybe when we went to those drive-in movies). And here was a 16-year old (and a girl at that!!) who was behaving in a decidedly unexpected way! What on earth would her parents, or the parents of those other teenagers, think? What could those “rocking-the-boat” youngsters possibly expect to happen when a report about their conduct went home ahead of them? What thoughts were going through the minds of those in the student body there that morning when Barbara banged her shoe on the lectern and yelled, “I want you all out of here now!” The present-day word of some people there then is that her persona was so electrifying then and there, that they were actually scared not to follow her bidding! Their parents might quaver and quibble, but they would not!
One might even recall of that scene, the scriptural suggestion that in the coming age of the kingdom of God. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” And April 23, 1951, was truly a defining Kingdom Moment for our county and for our nation’s collective conscience, when a little child stepped forth.
Her critics, both then and now, would insist that Barbara Johns was being used as a tool of “outside agitators” – people like the Rev. L. Francis Griffin of Farmville’s First Baptist Church, or Barbara’s own uncle, the Rev. Vernon Johns of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (himself a largely unacknowledged Prince Edward County native), or the NAACP. But objective investigations and personal testimonies agree that Barbara Johns’ actions in our county on that day were essentially her own doing, with the strong support of a half-dozen other students initially, and then virtually the entire Moton student body of about 450 teenagers. It is no accident that a marker on the ground of the old school now reads “Dedicated to the Children of 1951 Student Walk-Out at R. R. Moton High School,” and there is an accompanying picture of a massed group of the student body itself. That marker was placed on the property on the 50th anniversary of that date, on April 23, 2001.
Her mother, who was working that day in the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington, did not know what Barbara was planning until after the seminal even had occurred; neither was her father, who was working back at this Darlington Heights store that morning, aware of the plans of his “uppity” daughter, whom he assumed was being her usual, pliant self at school that day. Unbeknownst to any other member of the family – including Barbara’s own siblings – she and a few other friends had been planning “to do a new (and unheard of) thing” that day. Some folks today, including people within the family itself, talk about a peculiar “streak” that those Johns family members seemed to have in common. They termed it, “the Johns temper,” in the words of the Post, “an eruption of passion, heeding nothing and no one, scary even.” Still further, the newspaper said, “The Johnses could be hard-nosed, not always in the right direction. They were stubborn, strong-minded, strong-will people. Sometimes it didn’t set right with people outside the family, but that’s just the way they were.”
A single person against The Establishment: it’s the stuff of great history – David against Goliath, Horatio at the bridge, Martin Luther hammering up his 95 arguing points in defiance of a 1500-year old Church, the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, and a 16-year old Prince Edward County girl daring to challenge decades of unspoken “rules of order” and the acknowledged way that blacks should “quietly fit in.”
This was years before the better-known civil rights protests began across the South. No one – at least of all Barbara Johns – could have imagined that History would eventually declare that her actions would be on the “right side.” It’s a truism that once a bandwagon starts rolling and acquires support, lots of people will jump on (and some will falsely claim that they were there all along, even when they were not there at those generative moments). Over a half-century later lots of Caucasians and African-Americans alike claim that Barbara Johns’s actions were truly ground-breaking and historic. But back then, on April 23, 1951, nobody was gifted with such foresight, and nobody knew how many supporters of her actions would eventually join her and her on stage compatriots ... including those nine white judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. Barbara Rose Johns deserves to be acclaimed as one to the most singular personalities ever to live in Prince Edward County. We are all indebted to her legacy.
(The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, April 21, 2004)
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Vernon Johns -- Civil Rights Leader, Prince Edward Native
Edward native once had a movie made about his interesting life?
Give up? It was the Rev. Vernon Johns, a Darlington Heights native. Back in the early 1990's there was a made-for-TV movie simply entitled The Vernon Johns Story, and it starred in the title role, James Earl Jones – the star of many better-known movies, and the one whose deep, resonant voice so many of us have heard in that unmistakable identification notice: This is CNN!”
Quite honestly the televison bio- movie did not make much of a splash that year ... although the person/parson being depicted there absolutely made many splashes, while rocking and upsetting so many boats during his relatively brief lifetime of 73 years. Both the Longwood University Library and the Hampden-Sydney Library have VHS tapes of that movie, and all of us could learn some more dimensions to our own county’s history by reviewing that movie. I showed it to a Hampden-Sydney freshmen class that I was teaching several years ago and, true to my expectations, several of the classes members reacted by confessing that they “couldn’t believe things like that really happened back then.” “Back then” was only in the 1940's and early 1950's!
In this anniversary season of so many hallmark events from the beginnings of the mid-twentieth century civil rights story in our county and in our nation, the life of this Prince Edward native bears a second look. You can still find older citizens of our community who remember him when he was growing up and initially farming in the Darlington Heights area, and they certainly have “their take” on this controversial personality; you can still find people in our area who even insist that back in 1951 he was the absentee manipulator of his teenage niece, Barbara Johns, the Moton School strike leader. Or, you can drive to the intersection of our County Routes 666 (Douglas Church Road) and 665 (Darlington Heights Road), and pull over and read the black-and-silver historical marker that describes some of the basic facts of his life.
But you really ought to see the movie to get a feel for the times and the man. Most of that movie depicts only one part of his life – the four years when he was the blunt-spoken pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. That’s the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. succeeded Vernon Johns as pastor in 1952; and that’s the congregation whose building was blown up on a Sunday morning in the early 1960's, killing several of the Sunday school children in attendance there that day. That church, its pastors, and its members are truly major building blocks of social change motivated by the Christian gospel.
Vernon Johns himself is a testimony to the value of education. Back in the spring of 1892, when he was born there in our own county’s Darlington Heights, most people assumed that being a Negro male, he would eventually be one more day-laborer in the red-clay fields of our county. But the Johns family always had a way of defying community expectations and instilling larger visions in the hearts and souls of their children. Vernon Johns did indeed work in the fields of our county as a youngster, but he eventually went to Oberlin College in Ohio, an institution long identified with progressive ideas (it was the first coeducational college in our country, for instance – a really “dangerous new thing” for the early nineteenth century).
Vernon Johns became an impassioned preacher (in the movie, James Earl Jones is especially believable in that role). He was, in fact, the first African-American minister to have a sermon included in an annual publication entitiled Best Sermons of the Year, and his was included there in 1926, when he was the pastor of the Court Street Baptist Church of Lynchburg. Johns served there from 1920 to 1926, and again from 1941 to 1943. While he was living and working in Lynchburg, Vernon Johns also served (1929-1934) as President of the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, one of the historic southern preparatory centers for black church pastors.
The Rev. Johns preached his expected sermons on Sunday but he also preached his unexpected ones during the week. The movie vividly records a true incident that occurred when he sat down at a segregated diner to dringk a cup of coffee. As the black preacher finished each cup, the glowering counterman deliberately broke that cup rather than washing it and using again for other customers. So the contest of wills went, cup-after-smashed-cup, until the counterman finally had to take into consideration his mounting costs. The proprietor gave in, but just barely before the preacher’s own capacity to contain had been reached.
Our county has numerous honored references to a Johns family of one branch or another. We have the Johns Memorial Episcopal Church (organized 1879, present building consecrated 1882), named for a famous nineteenth century Virginia bishop of the church. On the campus of Hampden-Sydney we have Johns Auditorium, built in 1951 and named for the longtime (1938-1958) chairman fo the college’s board of trustees, Dr. Frank S. Johns, a Richmond physician. “Johns” is a distinguished family name all over Southside Virginia, but surnames are not race-specific, and we should never forget this African-American preacher who was also named Johns, a civil rights pioneer before that kind of person became a twentieth century folk hero. He was one of our own ... even though he had to go elsewhere before he was widely acclaimed, reminding us of Christ’s observation that “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country ...” Often i is the fate of pioneers to push themselves outside thieri restrictive borders, all for the good of those who come after them. I challenge you to walk on up the field-trail from his highway marker, and turn left to his gravesite, where there’s a bench for personal reflection. The poet Thomas Gray wrote of some such people and their gravesites: “full many a flower is oborn to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness of the desert air.” May that not be so for this man! We are all the richer for the contributions of this Prince Edward native, who most definitely did not “blush unseen” nor waste his life’s work “on the desert air.”
The Farmville Herald, Friday, April 30, 2004
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Governor Philip Watkins McKinney -- Prince Edward citizen
was the birthday anniversary of one of Farmville and Prince Edward County’s
most notable nineteenth century citizens ... even though he was a birth
native of our next-door neighbor, Buckingham County. When Philip
Watkins McKinney first saw the light of day on May 1, 1832, in his parents’
farmhouse at New Store, his relatives perhaps thought he might eventually
become a good additional farm hand, but they probably never dreamed that
this good old country boy would grow up to become Governor of Virginia.
He entered Hampden-Sydney College at the age of 17 and was graduated the in the class of 1851, where he had already established himself as an earnest student, an attractive and sociable young man, and a splendid public speaker. He had, in fact, received a gold medal from the college’s Philanthropic Literary Society, in recognition of his declamation skills (he would later be a college trustee from 1885-1899). Immediately after his graduation he studied law a Judge Brockenborough’s well-known private school that in Lexington, and he was admitted to the bar in 1858. In that same year he was elected as Buckingham County’s representative to the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly. McKinney subsequently served as a captain in a Confederate cavalry unit until his severe wounding in the 1863 battle of Brandy Station, near Culpeper. After a lengthy recovery he served in minor guard duties for the remainder of the war.
Philip McKinney came to Farmville in the summer of 1865 to resume his law career, albeit in a new setting. Prior to the war he had been a Whig in his politics, but in the general upheaval of postwar politics, he became a firm Democrat and for the remaining 35 years o his life, Mr. McKinney would be one of this county’s most outstanding citizens ever. He served several different terms as the county’s Commonwealth Attorney, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1872, twice was a Presidential elector, and was a delegate of the national Democratic Conventions of both 1884 and 1888. Having run unsuccessfully for Attorney General of Virginia in 1881, he was nevertheless nominated as the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1889. In that election he was pitted against William Mahone, the state’s best-known Republican and one of its principal “heroes” of the last portion of the War Between the States. Despite predictions of an underdog candidacy, Philip McKinney won by almost 45,000 votes. His 1890-1894 term was especially noted for the Commonwealth’s strong economic recovery. In his Farmville history, Herbert Bradshaw observed of McKinney’s gubernatorial term; “His administration was efficient and popular” (p.115)
When McKinney’s term was over, the Farmville Guard was in Richmond for the inaugural parade of his successor and the group stayed overnight to accompany the ex-Governor on his train ride home to Farmville, where an elaborate public reception had been planned or the town-and-county’s “favorite son.” A huge crowd was on hand as McKinney and uniformed Guard detrained (at the former depot that was then located just west of where the rail-trails now cross Main Street). All of the town’s businesses were closed for the occasion; classes had been canceled for the young women of the Normal School; the Farmville Silver Band was playing “Home Sweet Home.” A quickly-forming parade surrounded McKinney’s buggy, and the celebrants bore him along to the town’s Opera House (just south of the courthouse lawn), where a selected group of the county’s black and white citizens greeted him. Confederate veteran, Major A. A. Venable, Jr. then read a public resolution that had been adopted in appreciation for this “adopted” Prince Edward son, and Mayor W. H. H. Thackston gave a brief address, welcoming him home.
The ex-Governor returned to his longtime private residence on the northeast corner of Beech and Garden streets (it’s still one on the community’s most prominent homes), and he resumed a quiet law practice of public service that was not nearly as stormy as many of his professional cases of the 1870's and 1880's had been, when he first became prominent throughout Southside Virginia as Prince Edward County’s Prosecuting Attorney. He continued to attend the Presbyterian Church just down the hill from his house, he made frequent trips to Hampden-Sydney, and he often held Confederate reunion meetings in his home. He died in 1899 at the age of 67 and was buried in Westview Cemetery. He was married twice, first to Nannie Christian of New Kent County, and later (1884) to Annie Lyle, who continued to live in Farmville until her death in 1936.
The 1890's were not noted as a particular “grand” era in the overall history of Virginia and certainly Prince Edward County and its surrounding jurisdictions were still having many postwar economic struggles and both races were still adjusting to their new social realities. That does not mean, however, that there was not good and descent people, who were brightening the corner where they were ... and Philip McKinney was certainly one of them! He deserves to be remembered during this birthday month.
The Farmville Herald, Friday, May 7, 2004
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Union Theological Seminary -- Prince Edward County Years, part one
and ten years ago, in early May of 1894, one of Prince Edward County’s
major disruptions began to occur when Dr. Walter W. Moore, chairman fo
the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (then located adjacent
to the campus of Hampden-Sydney College), proposed to the seminary’s board
of trustees that this growing group consider the possibility of moving
the seminary to some urban location in either Virginia or North Carolina,
because the theological graduate school probably did not have much of a
future if it continued to be located in Southside Virginia.
Mind you, the seminary had flourished rather well in this “isolated” place ver since 1822, when it was separated from Hampden-Sydney College itself. Actually, the academic training of Presbyterian ministers had been under way at the college almost from its very inception, back in 1775, and under the direction of the college’s fourth president (1807-1820), Moses Hoge, probably entirely too much of its baccalaureate curriculum was directed toward pre-ministerial classes, and certainly too m much of Dr. Hoge’s time and energies were spent in that direction. Upon Hoge’s unexpected death in 1820, the next president, John Cushing, was selected, and the fact that he was a layman, not a preacher and an Episcopalian, not a Presbyterian, threw the expectations of clergy-preparations into turmoil. It was not until two years later that a Bedford native (and a former Hampden-Sydney tutor), John Holt rice, was called from a Richmond pastorate to assume the direction of an entirely new post-graduate seminary that would be located on land adjacent to the college. And for the next 72 years that seminary had seemed to move along very respectfully with an ever-increasing national acclaim. It was first called “The Virginia Presbyterian Theological Seminary,” but in 1826 Dr. Rice succeeded in getting the Presbyterians in the neighboring state of North Carolina to assume the joint sponsorship of the school, at which point the name changed to “Union Theological Seminary in Virginia,” with the “union” being a reference to the co-state, or synod, sponsorship. Dr. Rice himself was remarkable in his fund-raising activities and a fine cluster of brick buildings eventually graced the tree-lined road that came to be called “Via Sacra” (“the Holy Way”). This three-year post-graduate school typically had about 30 people in its student body each year, about half of whom were graduates of Hampden-Sydney, another fourth from the University of Virginia and Washington College (later Washington & Lee), and a final fourth from North Carolina colleges, with a smattering from other states.
Transportation to either the college or the seminary had always been a problem, but this was alleviated some with the opening of the South Side Rail Road (with its Farmville depot) in 1854, but still one had to get to the seminary from Farmville and that could be as long as a two-hour buggy ride. And the increasing number of North Carolina matriculates following the Civil War had considerable train changes before they could even get as close as Farmville. But there were other factors as well. The southside Virginia economy and infrastructure was decimated by the war, and it took many years to get back to a basic form fo economic equilibrium. Thanks to textile and furniture manufacturing, North Carolina was recovering faster than Virginia and numerous North Carolina pre-ministerial students were beginning to feel that going to school in rural Virginia was a step backward for them, despite the seminary’s fine accommodations and faculty and the village’s genteel atmosphere.
Another factor was the influence of the educational philosophy of John Dewey which believed that there needed to be a very practical component in one’s professional education, and not simply the theoretical, no matter how well thought-out the theoretical (and in this case, the biblical) precepts might be. Law schools and medical schools and other seminaries were now emphasizing training centers such as prisons, jails, orphanages, “old folks homes,” and even something called “factory evangelism” where laborers’ half-hour lunch breaks were regarded as fair time for them to be exposed to fledgling preachers. Plainly speaking, the one-room churches of Prince Edward, Charlotte, Buckingham, and Cumberland counties (the normal “horseback riding range” for a seminary student on Sundays) did not offer much in the way of “practical” educational opportunities.
Those were the main reasons that Dr. Walter W. Moore had in mind when he brought up the possibility of a move to some urban center. They were very legitimate reasons...although, of course, there were other reasons as well. And, as is so often the case, those other reasons may have been the real reasons, after all was said and done. Hampden-Sydney College and its faculty and The Farmville Herald immediately became the spokesmen for the opposition. It would be four more years until the seminary actually did mover to the Ginter Park area, then just outside of Richmond.
Some of this was not a very pretty story...but real history is like that, you know. In the end it’s probably best that everybody knows “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And we shall consider in another column what the truths and falsehoods of the 1894-1898 struggle really were.
The Farmville Herald, Friday, May 14, 2004
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Union Theological Seminary -- The Rest of the Story
This week’s column
is “the rest of the story” that I began last week, relative to Prince Edward
County’s two-year battle (1894-1898) to keep the Presbyterian’s three-year
post-graduate seminary at Hampden-Sydney (where it had been since 1822).
In May of 1894, the seminary’s leading faculty member, Walter Moore, proposed
to the seminary trustees that the entire church would be much better served
by moving the school from its “backwater” location here in southside Virginia
to some urban center of transportation and commerce were there would be
more opportunities for practical experiences in filed education.
The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 had recently trumpeted the virtues and
glory of The City – any city – as if such were like unto “the new Jerusalem,
coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her
husband....” Dr. Moore’s argument was that the one-room crossroads
churches of ours and the surrounding counties simply did not offer adequate
training opportunities and mission challenges to “modern-day” seminarians.
There was an immediate hue and cry from seasoned Presbyterian ministers in North Carolina and Virginia because, of course, they felt that they had been more than adequately trained at the Hampden-Sydney seminary (in fact many of them also had personal ties to this county because their seminary evenings had not been spent entirely on urgent scriptural matters, but rather on ardent relational matters of courtship, engagement, and marriage with the available Prince Edward belles). Dr. Moore had spent nearly all of his spare time over the last several years trying to raise money for the seminary and he reported that he kept hearing the recurring complaint “from our main supporters” that Union Theological Seminary had no future in this out-of-the-way place. Furthermore, he insisted that prospective students frequently complained about their difficulty in getting to the seminary by train.
Dr. Moore’s arguments definitely had considerable merit and they were carried forward by his charming, charismatic presence. He was learned and well-spoken, in his young 30's, 6 feet 3 inches tall, and – in the news report of that day – he was frequently likened to “a Greek god” (which should have been a bit much for the Commandment-believing Presbyterians). He was sought after far and wide as a visiting preacher, and Princeton, McCormick (in Chicago), and Louisville Presbyterian seminaries were all clamoring for his permanent presences on their respective faculties.
The Farmville newspaper’s initial editorial response to Moore’s proposal was to sniff a bit haughtily: “Oh, no, brother! It were as possible to remove Willis Mountain from Buckingham as Union Seminary from old Prince Edward” (one wonders what that writer’s celestial perspective might be now of that dwindling mountain?). The next week, the Herald’s editor had broadened his imagery: “...What? Move the Seminary? One might as well speak of moving the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Atlantic Ocean!” By the early summer of 1894, our local paper was suggesting that “sissy” city-trained ministers would never choose to serve country churches, and that the gas lights of the city were “bad” for the eyes and not as good as kerosene lamps for studying, and that the availability of frequent baths by means of a city’s plumbing system “was not really all that healthy for young men.” A stalwart county leader, Colonel Henry Stokes of Green Bay, took the more practical angle of creating angle of creating a petition to put the issue of public bonds on the November ballot, with view to using those bonds to build a railroad between Farmville and Keysville (something that had often been suggested previously), or at least to extend a trolley car line to Hampden-Sydney. That proposal needed a 3/5 majority, and although it passed comfortably (718-545) on November 17, it fell short of the necessary margin of victory. Meanwhile, some meddling soul from Louisville, KY, wrote to the Herald in early August that he had it on good authority, that if the seminary left there were Presbyterians who intended to sell the property “to the State for the purpose of a lunatic asylum for the Negroes.” This was an absolutely unkind, totally unnecessary, racist rumor, but in the final analysis racism was most definitely a contributing issue to the eventual move. The seminary trustee minutes of he previous two decades reveal an increasing concern about he presence of the black Mercy Seat community immediately contiguous to the seminary property – a late nineteenth century of NIMBY” (“Not in My Back Yard”). Meanwhile the Hampden-Sydney President Richard McIlwaine was fighting a losing public relations battle since all of the argument by his friend Walter Moore for moving could also be seen as arguments against the college’s staying in such an “isolated backwoods” area.
Real estate cronyism was also a factor. The new chairman of the seminary’s board of trustees was George W. Watts of Durham, NC. He was an evangelical, mission-minded, Christian layman who was the business manager of the Duke Brothers Tobacco Company. Dr. Moore also had his hand in Mr. Watts’ pocket as well as his hind in the pocket of the Baltimore philanthropist, W. W. Spence (Hampden-Sydney’s current historian, John L. Brinkley has delightful – but sardonically – observed that Dr. Moore “knew how to smell money,” which Dr. McIlwaine did not.) Mr. Watts was secretary-treasurer of the American Tobacco Company “conglomerate” and Major Lewis Ginter from Richmond was then the president of the same. Major Ginter also had a planned suburban village on his real estate drawing boards, but he was having a hard time selling lots there, even though he had installed gas, electricity, telephone, and street car connections to nearby Richmond. And George W. Watts, the chairman of the seminary’s trustees, was Lewis Ginter’s silent business partner in this planned real estate development.
Major Ginter made a free real estate offer of 11 acres to help anchor the (alleged) moral climate of his new village; Mr. Watts mad a $50,000 contribution, and Mr. Spence, a $25,000 contribution, provided that the seminary move only to Richmond. Thus the seminary was “delivered” from its nearby Prince Edward neighbors, and in the construction period of 189701898 the first two buildings at the new Ginter Park location were named Watts Hall and Spence Hall.
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, May 26, 2004
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Hampden-Sydney Boys Who Gave It All for the Cause
are this week, exactly half-way between the traditional annual and recurring
Memorial Day that honors our military veterans – and the 60th anniversary
of D-Day (June 6, 1944), the Day That Saved Modern Civilization.
It’s a good time for us to pause in our present-day history and to give
thanks for all those people from the past, whose personal sacrifice of
even life itself, has made it possible for us to even have a history to
honor...and personal histories yet to make.
I was visiting my farmer-grandparents that June week of 1944, anticipating helping my grandfather and my uncle with the oats harvesting and then later the wheat harvesting, which typically brought so many neighboring friends by to help...and so very much food piled up for us all to eat. My relatives awakened this nine year-old boy early that June morning, to come downstairs and to listen to the radio reports from the commentators back on ships, behind the breakers along the Normandy coastline. We listened with pride and hope and fear to the great words and rhythmic cadences of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. My grandparents were also listening with their hearts, because they felt sure that my dad’s younger brother was aborad one of those landing crafts. My grandfather took me by the shoulders and told me that he wanted me to remember this day as long as I lived because it was probably going to be “one of the most important days in all human history.” Nobody came by the farm that day to help in the oat fields because everyone wanted to stay by the radio to listen, to feel, to pray, and to sense themselves as close as possible to their loved ones who were continuing to make their way toward the beaches by sea and air. I walked out under the family grape arbor and tried to write a poem about the intensity and importance of that day, D-Day, the Day. My “poem” began: “When our boys landed on the invasion beaches, The way they have to go – very far it reaches / But they won’t stop until everything is over, And Adolph Hitler is buried ‘neath clover.” It all made me feel that I was also doing my part, back home on a North Carolina farm.
Veterans Day...Memorial Day...the Dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall...the 60th anniversary of D-Day – within the march of these holidays (holy days, really), there are also the shuffling steps and the thinning ranks of that Greatest Generation who made all our subsequent generations possible.
It’s an appropriate time for us local citizens to walk up to the monument on the left side of the county courthouse lawn, and to think – and to thank – our way through those 50 names inscribed there, in memory of those Prince Edward County “who made the supreme sacrifice in World War II, 1941-1945.”
But the reality of course is that our present history and freedom were equally bequeathed to us by the sacrificial deaths of other great generations as well. If you want to go to an especially meaningful local military memorial, you might drive out to the campus of Hampden-Sydney College, and park there on the corner by College Presbyterian Church and walk across the road to the Memorial Gate. It was originally built and marked to honor the 14 college alumni who died in World War I, “the war to end all wars”...which, regrettably, turned out not to be the case at all. Most of those 14 wee not actual battlefield deaths, but rather soldiers who died in military uniform during the great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 (but they were still military heroes, nonetheless). The last name on the World War I plaque is that of Lee Campbell Tait. He was from Cotton Hill, West Virginia, and in the Hampden-Sydney Class of 1915. At the time he entered military service he had completed one-year at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond. Mr. Tait was mortally wounded approximately 15 minutes before the Armistice went into effect at 11 o’clock on November 11, 1918, and he died the next day...the first day of peace for everyone else. How does one even attempt to express appreciation to the memory of someone who was the last person to die in a war that ultimately saved your own way of life?
The Hampden-Sydney Memorial Gate was broadened in concept about a dozen years ago. Now it contains the names of two alumni from the American Revolution, 83 from the Civil War (with several more to be added through further research), from the Spanish American War, the 14 from World War I, 44 from World War II, two from the Korean War, and two from the Vietnam War. Every single one of those names on that honored wall gave his life in exchange for someone else’s freedom.
History is not a dead thing; it is often a sacrificial force that gives you and me our lives, our loves, and our hopes. Yes, to be sure, history also has its embarrassing moments, and certainly it has plenty of mistakes, even here in our own county. But those name on those plaques that I have mentioned are not among them.
The Farmville Herald, Friday, June 4, 2004
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George Washington Really Slept in Prince Edward Court House Villlage
When World War
II was over and we were finally finished with gasoline rationing and lower
speed limits, my parents and I were ready to hit the highways on some long
tourist trips...which for my dad and me meant our going to big league baseball
games in Washington (Senators), Philadelphia (Athletics and Phillies),
New York (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers). This was my first “road trip
adventure” since I had achieved some modicum of elementary school lessons
in American history. Our East Coast route to those baseball cities
was the only logical one available to us at the time – U. S. Route 1.
As we traveled from North Carolina northward through Virginia and D. C.
and Maryland and Delaware (and of course back then that highway took us
straight through down town of every community), my parents had me keep
a sharp look-out for the many “touristy/historical” signs that were out
in front of various downtown buildings, proudly proclaiming “George Washington
slept here.” We wondered, of course, how factual such a claim might
really be, and how much these signs might just be evidence of a community’s
Well, for certain George Washington really did spend the night once upon a time in Prince Edward County. It was June 7, 1791, and he spent it somewhere in Worsham, Virginia, then known as Prince Edward Court House. Unfortunately we don’t know whether he slept in a room of one of the several taverns then located in the village, or whether he stayed in one of the two dozen private homes there in its “downtown,” or whether he possibly slept at one of the outlying plantation homes. At any rate, every possible candidate for that housing honor is now gone...because, for sure, he didn’t sleep in either the Clerk’s Office or the old Debtor’s Prison, which are the two remaining buildings that are still there at their old sites in more or less their same forms. Nor do we know exactly how many companions might have been in the Presidential entourage. This was long before there had to be close by Secret Service shield-men, but surely there were some family members with him, or some political friends, or even some former military friends from Virginia as the President passed through the Old Dominion.
Washington was mid-way through his first term in office when he embarked on this “Southern Tour,” but unlike later Presidents who consciously pursued a “Southern Strategy” with a view to their political future, Washington was simply wanting to pay paternalistic tribute to many southerners who had helped him win the Revolution and then launch this new government which had redefined that uncertain period when the aborning nation had been governed under the ambiguities of the Articles of Confederation. Washington had presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and although he had not been a principal framer of, and arguer for, the Federal Constitution during its year-long ratification process, he was certainly its beneficiary by his election to the initial presidential office. In many ways, Washington’s “Southern Tour” of the summer of 1791 was a delayed way for the public to thank him for being “the Father of his country,” for his many costly labors against so many great odds. In that regard we might even liken the response to his 1794 tour to the cross-country adoration we have recently observed in response to the funeral ceremonies for President Reagan.
It would be interesting to speculate whether or not Patrick henry – our area’s most famous-ever political figure – might have conversed with the President that evening in long ago Worsham/ Prince Edward Court House. They were not of the same political party; Henry had, in fact, consistently argued against adopting the Constitution and the anti-Federalist had done so in that very community; nevertheless when the Constitution was a done-deal, and Patrick Henry was a presidential elector, he had cast this vote for Washington.
All of which just goes to show that you can strongly disagree with an president and his particular policies, but you can still honor the office itself and appreciate the character and leadership of the particular person. At least that’s what some Prince Edwardians were doing in Worsham in June of 1791...and that’s what some present -day patriotic citizens were also doing in June of 2004.
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, June 23, 2004
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The Mettauers' Medical School -- Between Prince Edward Court House and Kingsville
a couple of days (or nights) a week med-evac helicopters come and go from
Southside Community Hospital landing pad behind our house, and we often
try to determine whether they are heading toward the medical school hospital
either in Charlottesville or in Richmond. That brings to mind that
in the mid-nineteenth century we had a medical school located right here
in Prince Edward County...and we also had another medical school that was
governed from here in the county.
A hundred and fifty-or-so years ago medical school education was in its infancy and the standard “course” of a medical education might not be more than a year or two, and that was typically one of observation and apprenticeship. Some basic surgeries and even some immunizations were practiced and taught, even though an understanding of germ theory (Louis Pasteur, 1864 in England) and antiseptic surgical procedures (Joseph Lister, 1865, England) still awaited their hypotheses and provings. These alter affirmations would eventually propel medical training in their more sophisticated, “modern” ways.
In 1837 Drs. John Peter Mettauer and Francis Joseph Mettauer opened a medical training school between Prince Edward Court House and Kingsville. According to Mr. Bradshaw’s history of our county, “Instruction was given by lectures, demonstrations, daily examinations, and dissections.” An agreement existed between these doctors and those at the Washington University in Baltimore that these professors’ certification that a student had satisfactorily completed one year at the Prince Edward Medical Institute would automatically admit such students to a second year at the Baltimore medical school. Eventually our local medical school – probably for reasons of gaining legal certification and chartering – came under the governance of Randolph-Macon College (then located in Boydton, Virginia). That shift occurred in 1847. The medical training at this school achieved a laudable reputation, especially in the filed of obstetrics and gynecology, and it existed thereafter as the Randolph-Macon Medical Department for almost two decades. However, it was pretty much “done in” by the realities of the War Between the States. On Friday, April 7, 1865, General Romeyn Ayers’ 2nd division of the V Infantry Corps of the U.S. Army made its evening camp all around the Mettauer/Randolph-Macon medical school and the army’s reports indicate that the old school – like the Confederacy itself – was now in extremis.
In recent years the late Dr. Ray A. Moore, Jr., of our community, bought the old property, largely for sentiment’s sake since so many of the Moore family had been medical doctors, and because this property was only two miles from Ray’s home. There is a Virginia Historical Marker sign there, on the right side of U.S. Route 15, a quarter mile south of the signal light at the turnoff for Hampden-Sydney. The old school’s legal association with Randolph-Macon College at Boydton certainly begs the question, Why did it not establish itself through the charter of Hampden-Sydney College instead, especially since one of the Mettauers – Francis Joseph – was also a faculty member of that nearby college?
That’s because at the time (1847) Randolph-Macon “adopted” the Mettauers’ medical school that was in our county, Hampden-Sydney already had its own medical school, or at least its own Medical Department, which was located in a former hotel in downtown Richmond. Ths arrangement continued from 1837 to 1854, during which time all of the medical diplomas in Richmond were marked with the seal of Prince Edward County’s Hampden-Sydney College. The college catalogues of that same period have two printed sections: “The Literary Department” (i.e., the instructions here at the college that we know) and “The Medical Department” there in Richmond. In fact our county’s medical school there in Richmond prospered so much that the Hampden-Sydney trustees added a second building in 1853. This is the so-called “Egyptian Building” that is one of Richmond’s architectural treasures; it is located at the heart of the present-day MCV&VCU School of Medicine. The administrative relationship eventually ended in a rancorous internal squabble (thankfully concluded by the Virginia General Assembly’s legislative actions of June 13, 1854, that put the medical school under formal state sponsorship). The imbroglio about who would be in charge of medial school faculty appointments (H-S trustees or the medical school faculty itself) brought neither institution any particular acclaim. College historian John L. Brinkley adroitly and appropriately entitles that chapter in his history, “Neither Profit Nor Honor.” Subsequently, however, MCV presented a plaque to the college (it is located on an inside wall of Graham Hall), where the daughter institution “salutes the mother institution with filial affection, appreciation and respect.” That’s certainly more than the departing theological seminary ever did...although that Richmond religious institution at least helped the college and its museum to finance the 1991 historical sign about the seminary’s longtime (1822-1898) presence in the village.
I always feel sad and concerned when those helicopters take off from our local hospital because I realize that he necessity of their transport means that some patient is in especially serious circumstances. But in my lighter-minded moments I think it’s more than ironic that some of those being transported are Hampden-Sydney students who are going 65 miles away to what is–in essence – “their” institution, and all because they have typically received some injuries at, or near, “their” institution as well.
Sometimes history has a strange way of circling back upon itself...which is one of the reasons why it can be so fascinating.
The Farmville Herald, Friday, June 25, 2004
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George Walton, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
upcoming Fourth of July weekend upon us, it’s appropriate that we pay our
respects to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence who may
have been born in Prince Edward County (although the Cumberland County
folks stoutly dispute that assumption), but for certain George Walton lived
for a short while in Prince Edward County. His signature is in the
first grouping of three there at the left lower side of the Declaration;
those three constitute the Georgia delegation in the famous Second Continental
Congress...and not a single one of them was a native of the Georgia colony.
The National Park Service official biography of the signers indicates (p. 141) that George Walton was “born sometime in the 1740's near Farmville, Virginia,” which is appropriately vague as to his birth’s time and place. Mr. Bradshaw in his history of our county straddles the fence (p. 631): “George Walton was born either in Prince Edward or Cumberland County.” A part of the problem is that concerning George Walton’s early childhood, we only know for certain that he was orphaned as a youngster and that his uncle then took the lad into his home. That uncle most definitely lived in the southern part of Prince Edward County, where he was quite active in the Briery presbyterian Church. In fact the uncle, who was also named George Walton, applied to the Prince Edward Court in September of 1759, that the non-conforming (i.e., non-Episcopalian – and hence perhaps not entirely loyal English subjects) Scotch-Irish people in his neighborhood who were “performing divine service at the head of Bryery River in the Presbyterian way” be licensed to exist with legal protections. Since the younger George Walton had no living parents and no property, hence no future security, his uncle apprenticed him to a carpenter in the neighborhood, but the boy seems to have also pursued some formal schooling – probably with his uncle’s financial support.
By 1769 (still before the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence), this Southside Virginian – then in his 20's – migrated to Savannah, Georgia, where he read law under a local attorney and he was eventually admitted to the colonial bar of Georgia in 1774. In that capacity George Walton became a well-known “fire-eater” in the Low Country area around Savannah. The Georgia colony at this time, however, was at best only lukewarm toward the idea of independence from Great Britain, and the provincial congress there was of a split mind about sending delegates to the First Continental Congress the convened in Philadelphia, but by the time of the Second Continental Congress’s convening there was an outright civil war within the thirteen colonies. And, by now, the majority of Georgians were in favor of the way that this Second Continental Congress was probably going to proceed. Walton was elected as a Georgia delegate and he served in that capacity throughout the Revolution that concluded in Yorktown in 1781, although the Treaty of Paris was not signed until two more years in an act that officially confirmed the colonists’ Declaration and their military victory.
Once during the course of the Revolutionary War(in 1778-79) George Walton took leave of his congressional role in order to rush by stagecoach to the defense of his adopted colony. As a colonel in the Georgia militia, he was wounded and captured during the siege of Savannah in the late 1778. He was imprisoned for over nine months, until he was exchanged for a British naval captain in September of 1779. He then returned to his seat in the Second Continental Congress, now more zealous than ever to vote sufficient military funds for George Washington’s army, and especially for General Greene’s Continental forces in the southern colonies, where eventually the war would be decided.
“Our” native-born Southsider continued in impressive roles of public service after the Revolution, always on behalf of his adopted Georgia. He served in several capacities in the Georgia court system and was elected the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 (but for some reason he did not serve in it). Later Walton served as Governor of Georgia (1789-1790), and still later he filled out an unexpected term as a U.S. Senator from Georgia (1795-96). His final year as a Senator witnessed the presidential election of John Adams, one of George Walton’s fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Walton was also an advocate for higher education, and he served as a founding trustee of the school that eventually became the University of Georgia, in Athens. During this term as Governor, the capital of the young state was located in Augusta, so Walton and his wife and two sons moved across the state from Savannah on the eastern seacoast to the Savannah river city of augusta on the western border of Georgia. He eventually owned two houses there in Augusta, “College Hill” and “Meadow Garden.” The latter house is maintained today by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a memorial to this Signer, George Walton died in Augusta in 1804 when he was in his 60's and he is buried there under a public monument to all three of Georgia’s signers.
His was the classic “rags to riches” American success story, or more accurately his self-made life was that of a journey from humble beginnings of little promise to an accomplished life of a self-educated man, a revolutionary patriot, an imprisoned soldier, an ardent educator, and, finally, a southern statesman. Not bad for a fellow who started out here on the banks of the Appomattox River! Think about our one-time “neighbor” George Walton and his daring signature there on the Declaration of Independence as you eat your hot dogs and drink your beer and set off your firecrackers this coming Sunday...after you’ve gone to church, of course!
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, June 30, 2004
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Hampden-Sydney Boys in the Civil War
and fifty-three years ago this week, on what was then Sunday, July 7, 1861,
the first college-boy military company on either side – North or South
– in the American Civil War, came under fire. It was at a river crossing
about half-way between Buckhannon and Beverly, (now West) Virginia.
The place was called Middle Fork Bridge, and the wooden structure itself
was a classic covered bridge. It had been built by Lemuel Chenoweth
(an ancestor of present-day Prince Edward County citizen, George Wilson).
The advancing soldiers in blue were from Ohio and Indiana, and the defending
soldiers in gray were “The Hampden-Sydney Boys,” who were officially designated
as Company G of the 20th Virginia Infantry Regiment. These were 101
young men from Hampden-Sydney College and Union Theological Seminary with
a smattering of farm boys from families living near the college and seminary.
In all probability, their flag-bearer and company cook was Davy Ross, an
African-American employee (or perhaps a slave?) of the college. At
least earlier that spring he had volunteered to accompany “the Boys” in
these dual capacities. The group was captained by the 44-year old
president of Hampden-Sydney, the Rev. J. M. P. Atkinson. He was most
definitely not a military man. He had only been at the college for
several years, having come there from a pastorate in Georgetown, D.C.
Earlier he had been the founding pastor of the First Presbyterian Church
of Houston, Texas. Atkinson was a native Virginian though, and on
that Sunday afternoon he had led a scouting party out from Camp Garnett
at the foot of Rich Mountain until the group clashed at the river with
a similar Federal scouting party that was feeling its way toward them.
No one was seriously injured in the brief little melee, although one of
the college boys had a finger shot off. Predictably, his fellow student-soldiers
razzed him about his finding too small a tree from which to fire at the
enemy! “War” was still an adventure and these were indeed “boys”
playing at it.
Three days later, however, on Wednesday afternoon, July 10, the stakes were ominously higher as General George McClellan’s huge Union Army command of about 7,000 soldiers inched forward to the banks of Roaring Creek and stared across to the other side where colonel John Pegram (of a fine old Richmond family) and his 1300 raw rookie soldiers were manning some imposing ramparts they had thrown out across a narrow defile in the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. That evening, General McClellan’s bedding-down soldiers began singing hymns, and the Rev. Atkinson’s men joined them from across the creek. Captain Atkinson and his Hampden-Sydney boys into the vulnerable skirmish posts and rifle pits out ahead of the camp barricade. Everyone recognized that on the morrow there would be a major fixed battle at that sport and this little Prince Edward company was expected to absorb McClellan’s initial attack. However, the naive Colonel Pegram, was seriously underestimating the size of his opposing forces, and he was actually considering having the Hampden-Sydney Boys lead off with an offensive – whatever – there were more than hymns being lifted up that night; it was prayer meeting time for Captain Atkinson and his “Boys.”
Later that evening, though, alternative plans were developing in the Union camp. McClellan’s subordinate commander, General William Rosecrans, had found an 18-year old mountain boy, David hart, who was a Union sympathizer, and Hart had volunteered to lead a major part of McClellan’s army over a flanking mountain path that climbed around the Confederate forces, on a circuit that would come out at his parents’ farms atop Rich Mountain, absolutely in the rear of Colonel Pegram’s command at Camp Garnett. David Hart, incidentally, was a direct descendant of “Honest John Hart,” a New Jersey signer of the Declaration of Independence and, believe or not, he and his parents were also direct ancestors of present-day Prince Edwardians, George (and Martha) Wilson and their children and grandchildren (the family genes of our genial gentleman had a way of getting around in those mountains).
Throughout the rainy morning of Thursday, July 11, 1861, while the Hampden-Sydney Boys awaited either an order to advance, or watched for movements toward them from across the creek, General Rosecrans and his drenched command followed David Hart and eventually encircled the Confederate forces, although Pegram had put a small group of several hundred men with one cannon at the top of the mountain, “just in case.” And it was there at the Hart farm that the battle of Rich Mountain occurred; it was an overwhelming Union victory. Meanwhile, general McClellan and his huge force was supposed to attack the Hampden-Sydney Boys and the others there at the foot of the mountain as soon as he heard Rosecrans’ firing from the mountaintop just two miles away, but for some reason he never made that attack. In fact, even after McClellan knew that the mountaintop had been secured, and that the Confederates immediately in front of him had been cut off, he still did not advance to receive their certain surrender. Instead, it was left to General Rosecrans to come down the mountain and receive that the next morning. He found many of the Hampden-Sydney Boys bedded down in camp, sick with the measles. Meanwhile most of those who had been positioned on the front lines had managed to escape after midnight, in another direction, but two days later these famished folks sent a courier into Beverly volunteering to surrender and begging for some food and dry clothing.
Thus ended the saga of the Hampden-Sydney Boys. They had joyfully entrained on May 28, bound for a Richmond camp, from which they had been ordered to northwestern Virginia on June 11. They had taken a train from Richmond to Staunton and then had marched for over a week, for a 100 miles, over seven ranges of the Allegheny Mountains...all for a few rifle shots on Sunday, July 7, and an anxious day of waiting on Thursday, July 11, soon recognizing that they were surrounded. Then followed their desperate flight over a pathless mountain terrain for two day with no food. They had meekly surrendered without even the hint of a struggle. This was not how they had imagined “war” would be. Still, in the parlance of that era, they “had seen the elephant” and they had not flinched, and they returned here with “honor.” Allegedly.
The Farmville Herald, July 2, 2004
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"Separate but Equal" public education -- the "wart" on Prince Edward County History
of good history is that it forces all of us to look at the whole story,
and not just at those things that apply to us, or appeal to us. I
often think about the remark of that dour Englishman, Oliver Cormwell,
the (mercifully brief) ruler and Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, who
is alleged to have directed his portrait-painter to duplicate Cromwell’s
true appearance “warts and all.”
Prince Edward County’s 250 years of history has many warts...and considerably worse than that of course.
It’s been interesting to me that in these recent springtime months when we have “celebrated” again the student-led strike at the old R.R. Moton High School in April of 1951, the Caucasians among us have had to re-examine how “their kin” – and in many cases, “their kin” – were reacting back then. Their kind/kin were wanting to label it as “misbehavior” and certainly they didn’t want to give it any recognition of publicity, because if you didn’t officially mention it, maybe it would go away, or maybe it wasn’t really happening (in my ministry, I used to observe how a family never started coming to grips with grief, until the obituary got out into the public domain of the newspaper or radio; otherwise, maybe they could keep it all unto themselves, and pretend that it wasn’t really happening, but once it got out into the media, it was out of their private control, and they had to deal with it...like it, or not). Well, maybe we’ve all grown up a little since 1951, and now many of us can look at the total story for what it was...and in some cases, still is.
The same with the nations recent 50th anniversary celebration of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, to which landmark case Prince Edward County was a partner, and in which all of our society has been partnered ever since...whether everyone has necessarily wanted to look at the process, or the result, or the future for that matter. It’s been an embarrassment for some of us to look at The Herald’s 50-year front page feature week-by-week about what was happening in this community and commonwealth’s reactions to the Brown decision in the spring and summer of 1954, juxtaposed with the community and Commonwealth’s 2004 front page stories of today. Our county’s Caucasian power structure was posturing and postponing all over the place back in 1954 and, by today’s (perhaps more mature?) standards, those reminders feel so embarrassing to whites, while at the same time they feel so justifiably anger-producing to blacks. Most of the county’s Caucasians back then didn’t want to admit that the ‘separate-but-equal” realities that the Court was addressing had anything legitimate to do with either “justice” or “justifiable anger.” For them it was simply a “warty” challenge that shouldn’t be there on the face of things.
Then later in May we had the 40th anniversary fo the Supreme Court decision that followed Brown a full decade later and most directly spotlighted Prince Edward County. This was the May 25, 1964, Supreme Court decision known as Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward, a decision that essentially put to an end the last vestiges of Virginia’s Massive Resistance to the Brown decision a decade earlier (interestingly, the Griffin case had been argued before the Court by the Solicitor General of our nation, Archibald Cox, who is also remembered as the principled first victim of Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973; Mr. Cox died earlier this summer). The majority opinion of the Court in Griffin (also interestingly!) was written by Associate Justice Hugo Black of Alabama, a one-time KuKluxKlans-man, whose choice is was to tell Prince Edward County that the time for all “deliberate speed” had now run out and that the public schools must now be reopened for everyone. There really are some strange ironies in the twists and turns of history, and in the interesting people who come back again on front pages...sometimes in different forms!
This past week we’ve had another historic celebration – the 40th anniversary of the great Civil Rights Act of 1964...which in many ways completed what should have been accomplished by the 13th and 14th Constitutional Amendments of 1865 and 1868 and their century-long results. And next year we will celebrate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, whose work should have been completed in the ratification of the 15th Constitutional Amendment of 1870.
History forces us all to look at the gaps where a series of things didn’t necessarily work out in the way people had envisioned. Prince Edward County (and many other places, to be sure!) has had some “warts” and some “gaps” which certainly translated into injustices, into angers, into embarrassments, and into “sides-taking.” But, instead of always hearkening back to commemorate “those times,” we also really do need to celebrate “these times.” We are fortunate to live under a form of government that is open-ended and which allows old histories to be re-examined, and adjusted when and where necessary...even locally. It is also fortunate that our society (and hour human nature itself!) can be “grown larger” in later generations.
In order to do that, all of us have to be willing to examine everyone’s histories, without preconceived and simplistic judgments. Caucasians have to look at the Civil Rights Movement, even right here in our own county, and African-Americans have to look at the Civil War, even right here in out own county. Because these are shared histories that belong to all of us and they have shaped all of us and continues to do so...and it behooves all of us to build upon these past histories for our better histories to come. YES, “stony the road we trod , bitter the chastening rod...” We have all truly come over “a way that with tears has been watered; we have come, treading our path through the feet of the slaughtered.” But an ongoing history has to be made right here in Prince Edward County...and celebrated! So I say, “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us [and] sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us!” But is can’t be done unless we all study – and feel – everyone’s own history for what it truly is...and that also includes the unjust and often unwise ways that some of us have intruded into those other histories. That also includes the unthinking ways that some of us have tried to ignore those other histories.
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, July 14, 2004
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The Rev. Dr. Richard McIlwaine -- member of Viginia's Fourth Constituional Convention, 1901-1902
area of Virginia we have tended to think that the most troublesome actions
affecting modern-day race relations were the educational policies associated
with the governmental edits of Senator Byrd’s political network – actions
and reactions that are most commonly known as Virginia’s “Massive Resistance”
of the late 1950's and early 1960's. That, however, overlooks a much earlier
series of maneuvers by Caucasian politicians, which focuses not on education
but on our citizens’ basic freedom of the ballot itself.
I am speaking about Virginia’s fourth Constitutional Convention that met from June of 1901 until June of 1902. This group was essentially called together in order to re-write the Underwood Constitution of 1869, which was a Reconstruction-era state constitution that sought to guarantee to make it possible for Virginia’s citizens of every race to claim their right that had been (allegedly) granted to them by the passage of the 1th and 15th Amendments to the Federal Constitution (as we know, all through our history there had been continuous struggles both in legislative chambers and on the battlefield in issues of “national right” vs. “states rights” – and there still are of course, e.g., the issue of gay marriages to be guaranteed in certain states but maybe to be determined by a national Constitutional Amendment). Virginia’s Underwood Constitution had made it possible for black Virginia men to be elected to some – not many, but some – state and national positions. But by the end of the 19th century many Caucasian Virginia politicians felt sufficiently strong “to un-do” what Carter Glass, editor of a Lynchburg newspaper, called “33 years of Virginia’s sullied honor.” Ostensibly, some of those calling for a new state constitution said that its purpose was “to remove the power of railroads in politics,” most everyone knew what the real reason was, and indeed Bradshaw’s history of our county states that the passage of the new constitution’s voting restrictions, “...Reconstruction came to an end in Virginia.”
There was one representative from each county to this constitutional convention that met in Richmond, Prince Edward’s man was the Rev. Dr. Richard McIlwaine – certainly by every measure possible, one of our most learned and respected citizens. He was a native of Petersburg, with a Bachelor’s degree from Hampden-Sydney College (1853), a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia (1855), an 1857 divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary (then located in this county), and an honorary degree from Davidson College in North Carolina. He had also done post-graduate work at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. McIlwaine was a Confederate veteran, and a former church pastor in Amelia and Farmville and Lynchburg, and he had been president of Hampden-Sydney College since 1883. At the time of his election to the constitutional convention he was 77 years old. Hampden-Sydney was so honored by Dr. McIlwaine’s election that the college trustees and faculty gave him a year’s leave of absence, with senior professor James R. Thornton serving as acting president.
Although Dr. McIlwaine certainly knew the real reasons behind the calling of this state-wide assembly, he was apparently beholden to no special interest group, although he – as well as everyone else in the assembly – was a white man and a staunch Democrat, and by his age and acculturation he was clearly a product of “the old order,” i.e., the slave-holding South. He later wrote, however, that he thought that “depraved and vicious whites” were more of a “menace to society” than were “the ignorant and corrupt Negroes.” He probably meant that to sound even-handed, but of course it feels like a racist statement by today’s standards and sensitivities. Dr. McIlwaine also was on record for wanting “to deliver the State from the burden of illiteracy and poverty and crime.” It is possible that this also was an implied racist statement, although he did not define any group as being this “burden” he had in mind. On the other hand, to his everlasting credit, Dr. McIlwaine served on the Convention’s subcommittee on educational reform (it should be remembered that public education throughout the state had also been a goal of Reconstruction policies) and amidst all attempts to un-do the two separate-but-equal (?) public school systems then in existence throughout the Commonwealth, Dr. McIlwaine held the line that a free system of education had to be offered to children of both races.
The newspapers of that day repeatedly referred to Dr. McIlwaine and Mr. Glass as being “the only non-lawyers to assume leading roles in the year-long debates.” Still the end result of that constitutional convention is most embarrassing to the modern-day student. For one thing, the new constitution was voted into law by its own members; it was not submitted to a popular plebiscite. This constitution clearly instituted racist-inspired restrictions at the ballot box: (1) a literacy test was imposed, with the judgment of acceptable literacy being left up to each local white administrator at the polls; (2) an understanding of both the Virginia and the Federal Constitution was hereafter made a voting requirement, again with the particular questions about such being left up to the local white administrator (who in many cases probably could not have satisfactorily answered the questions he had been told to present); (3) a poll tax was imposed, which had to be at least one dollar, but which could be set locally at any level up to $150 (Virginia’s poll tax requirement was not removed until the 1960's).
Once the new constitution went into effect in 1904, every person initially coming to the balloting place had to fill out a written application there on the spot, in order to vote...and guess which persons were given ready assistance in filling out the form, and which ones were not? Oh yes, there was one other interesting provision in that new state constitution of 1904; there was a “grandfather clause” that automatically gave the vote to “all Confederate veterans or sons of Confederate veterans.”
Predictably the black voter participation throughout Virginia fell by 90% during the next decade...and it would be nearly 60 years before these legal restrictions were un-done. No, Prince Edward County did not create this deplorable situation, but it certainly contributed to such through its representative – decent and broadly educated and Christian though he was.
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, July 21, 2004
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Poplar Hill --Victoiran-Era Home of the Tobacconist Family the Dunningtons
It is ironic
and poetically just that the latest (and presumably the absolutely final)
“starting date” for the Poplar Hill Development is in August this year,
because August 1st in 1922 was the death of Walter Grey Dunnington, whose
ownership name on that property is still the identifiable one for many
people in this area...even though the property has passed through several
owners in the 82 years since Walt Dunnington’s death.
Many newcomers to our county are not even aware of the existence of this grand old plantation house, which is barely – and quickly (and dangerously!) – visible to vehicular traffic proceeding southward along Route 15. It’s off to the left before one gets to those new storage sheds that are along the Farmville Lake Road. Many folks still call it “the old Dunnington place,” although more recent residents of our county may refer to it as “the Bolt place.” A certain generation still calls it “the old stump farm,” which was its name about a half century ago, after there had been a major cutting of its old growth timber, with dozens of massive stumps being left to rot out there on the rolling hillsides.
My former neighbor, Mrs. Virginia Dowler Dickoff, has pleasant memories fo growing up on the old Dunnington place, when her father had come to Prince Edward County from Canada, to help tend and develop the field crops; presumably her brother Tommy, who still lives near there, has memories of the same. My late church member, Roy Fore, also had delightful memories of his father’s association as a Dunnington employee who tended the large gardens on t he farm; Roy also attributed his own love (and great skills!) for growing vegetable to what he had observed and absorbed from his father’s labors there in the Dunningtons’ family gardens.
The Dunnington Tobacco Company was organized in Farmville in 1870 by Walt Dunnington’s father, James W. Dunnington. This business concentrated at first just on dark-fired tobacco, but it gradually expanded to bright lead as well, as this latter variety of tobacco “took off” with the enormous expansion of the Virginia and North Carolina cigarette manufacturing business at the end of the 19th century. Walt Dunnington joined his father’s business in 1872 and eventually established an international reputation for this family firm, connecting this Prince Edward business with tobacconists in Italy and Austria and, especially, in Norway. According to Herbert Bradshaw’s history of our county, there was one famous day in 1902 when a train of thirty cars loaded with tobacco left from Farmville, all consigned to Norway, via the shipping docks at the end of the Norfolk and Western Railway tracks in Newport News. W. G. Dunnington was also involved in Farmville’s First National Bank and was a co-owner with Walter H. Robertson in the manufacturing of fertilizer under the firm name of the Virginia State Fertilizer Company. Beginning in 1897, he also served our county’s wider community for many years as a member of the Hampden-Sydney College Board of Trustees.
Walter and India Knight Dunnington moved into their Poplar Hill plantation home in 1897. For decades prior to his, there had already been an 18th century house there that was known as “the Wood Plantation home;” in fact, the Dunningtons built their enormous Victorian house around the central core of the Woods’ family house. One of the prior residents of that original house was the Prince Edward native Susan Wood, who as a young woman had met her eventual fiancée, Moses Drury Hoge, while the latter was attending Hampden-Sydney and Union Theological Seminary; Mrs. Susan Wood Hoge eventually became one of the major female religious figures of Civil War Richmond and for the remainder of the 19th century.
Much of Prince Edward County’s (white) business and social life during the late 19th and early 20th century centered around this Dunnington home (now the Poplar Hill Land Development property) a truly grand old manor – equal to the most sumptuous fare one might have imagined in Virginia’s antebellum ear...only now it happened with electricity and running water! Our present-day investors and developers of this property envision something on the same scale. It reminds me of the radio announcer’s voice at the beginning of each episode of the old “Lone Ranger” broadcasts, when he excitedly set the stage: “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesterday! From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse, Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
We shall see. At their best this new development of this great old property will become a major positive force for all.
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, August 4, 2004
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The Long Hot Summers of Prince Edward History
Some years ago
there was a movie entitled The Long Hot Summer, starring a young
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. As I recall, it was loosely built
upon a story by William Faulkner. I like that phrase, “the long hot
summer.” Prince Edward County has had several very “hot” ones that
must have seemed extra “long” as well.
One of our early ones was the summer of 1781, when the Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton swooped down upon Prince Edward Court House (now Worsham, of course) with over a hundred of his ill-famed British cavalrymen. A recent historian has commented on the temperament of this particular period of the colonies’ Revolutionary War this way: “in 1780-1781, the gentlemen’s war was over in America.” And absolutely nobody had become more “un-gentlemenly” in that long war than Banastre Tarleton, who gloried in his renown for leaving fiery destruction and rapacious behavior in his wake. Yet, our 27-year old frontier court house community of a half-dozen buildings and some scattered farm residences and some official record ledgers – and even the lives of some ardent patriots – all surprisingly escaped Tarleton’s direct vengeance, suffering only some threats and minor hassles on that Saturday, July 14, 1781. It was all the more surprising that the fiery colonel would have left completely untouched, a nearby college named for two anti-royalist British patriots!
A half-century later there was much fear and foreboding in our county (among both races) at the end of “the long hot summer” of 1831, when reports and rumors and predictions (typically exaggerated) began to surge westward from Southampton County, in the wake of the Nat Turner Insurrection, which began on Sunday, August 21, and continued in a reign of terror for both races until Sunday, October 30. But the immediacy of that blood-tide ebbed, without spilling its direst terrors to our own county.
The next summertime occasion when our county’s well-being was seriously threatened occurred 33 years later, in late June of “the long hot summer” of 1864, when the U.S. Army commander, General Grant, unleashed the Wilson-Kautz Cavalry Raid of some 3,300 armed men (with additional artillery support) toward Prince Edward, with one focus on the South Side Rail Road that entered our county at High Bridge, and another directed toward the Richmond and Danville Road that skirted the south end of the county at Meherrin. On Thursday, June 23, Kautz’s raiders destroyed many miles of tracks and numerous buildings around the Burkeville junction of those two railroads. Meanwhile a home guard force of old men and boys were called out in this emergency to contest a predicted assault against High Bridge, but then Kautz’s command surprised them by dashing on down the Richmond and Danville tracks, to link up with Wilson’s forces at the Staunton River Bridge near Roanoke Station. En route on Friday, June 24, 1864, they destroyed a number of building at the Meherrin and Keysville stations, pushing onward for their unsuccessful attack against the Staunton River Bridge on Saturday, June 25...in what has to rank as one of the “miracles” (at least in a Confederate viewpoint) of that war. By late Saturday the frustrated Federals were bing so closely contested that they could not exercise any options about swinging northward either toward Prince Edward Court House or High Bridge. Once more our county’s judicial center had escaped a summertime threat, and our citizens’ lives continued along more or less normally.
We should remember, however, that “the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor the destruction that wasteth at noonday” (Psalm 91:6) is not limited to wars and rumors of war. The forces that can effectively destroy a community are not always those that wear uniforms...although they do typically carry their flags and propound their patriotic rhetoric.
How about the torrid temperatures and temperaments of this county’s “long hot summer” of 1959 – the somber summer of virtually everyone’s discontent? One group of our citizens was feverishly scurrying around during that summer to provide an alternative private Caucasian school system that would subvert the Federal directive to integrate all public education throughout the nation. These people were determined that black and white school-age children should continue to be educated separately, as had been the case ever since Virginia’s public school system had been created in the 1870's. It should also be noted that certain Caucasian leaders were begin advised – and in some cases directed – by strong political forces and leadership from beyond the bounds of this county. At the same time many black families, who were dismayed by the June 2nd decision of the Board of Supervisors not to appropriate further money for public education that next fall, also had to scurry around feverishly to move themselves – or at least their children – to other localities – typically to the homes of grandparents and aunts and uncles. Depending on the geography of their relocation, some of those uprooted black students would eventually attend integrated schools, but the majority of them would attend all-black schools...bu the point is that those would still be public schools, not he private ones being envisioned for Prince Edward.
Yet another local educational alterative was also being suggested for Negro students by certain Prince Edward citizens who portrayed themselves as being sympathetic and helpful to the educationally-threatened Negro students. This group floated the idea of creating a local separate private school for Negroes, using private school tuition grants that the Virginia General Assembly had recently created. Would a sufficient number of non-white students and their families be interested? They would not! A key factor here was that those suggesting this proposed charter school for blacks were themselves white, and they had not involved the mainline local leadership in creating this proposal. It was also clear the off-stage NAACP leadership was opposed to this plan as being incompatible with its goals. Just as many Caucasians were being directed and influenced by the “outsider” Byrd political machinery and goals, so were African-Americans being directed by non-Prince Edward “outsiders.”
There were indeed some local Caucasian advocates for public school education for all of the Prince Edward County school children, who did not have a mixed agenda – men like Gordon Moss and Calvin Bass – but most of their voices were scattered and muted. Meanwhile all during that long hot summer of 1959 there was destructiveness to the communal fabric of the entire county despite everyone’s impassioned rhetoric to the contrary. First it had been the British, and then the slaves, and the Yankees...but in the long hot summer of 1959 we ourselves – virtually all of us, in one form or another – were the ones who were most actively threatening us...mainly by talking about one another instead of talking with one another. Our lives today still show some of those unsightly and uncomfortable scars of our history, but happily this summer has not been as hot and threatening as those other ones!
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, August 11, 2004
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The Reconstruction Era in Prince Edward County
of the most disruptive periods for everyone in Prince Edward County’s long
history was the time immediately after the War Between the States.
The title of this period is “The Reconstruction,” and many of us tend to
want to skip over an examination of this era because it was a period when
we were under mandatory Federal control. We had nothing like self-determined
elections; our economy was in shambles; our infrastructure was virtually
non-existent; the old Confederacy was an occupied country, which is always
the plight of those who lose a war, and there were certainly some pressure
for “insurgents” to take matters into their own hands, even though they
had already been defeated on their battle fronts. Two and a half
centuries of our “official” understanding of how race relations “should”
exist had been radically changed. And in the immediate post-war summer
of 1865, nobody seemed to know how long the unsettled circumstances would
continue. The assassination of President Lincoln at the end of the
war had left governmental policies clouded in Washington, while internal
administrative and congressional forces tugged at one another for control
of the defeated South, and it was clear that some politicians were determined
to keep on fighting against the old Confederate enemy – this time not with
bullets and cannon balls, but with their peacetime politics.
It was also clear that the United States had no way of immediately addressing the day-to-day conditions of the African-Americans who were living in this conquered territory. O.K., so the slaves had been rhetorically freed by the late President’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, but those were simply wartime words. It would take peacetime laws to make that happen, and then (as now!) passing laws took a lot of time. The Constitution’s 13th Amendment to make the slave-freeing official had been proposed in the winter of 1865, while the war was still going on; it would not be ratified by a sufficient number of the victorious states until December of 1865, seven months after the Confederate surrender. But who would enforce this new law, even when it became official...and how? The second level of legislative enactment – the 14th Amendment, which made those ex-slaves into declared U.S. citizens, would not even be proposed until June of 1866 (over a year after the war was over), and this still far-reaching amendment would not be ratified until July of 1868...again by a ballot just within the victorious states. A final enabling act of social and political change would be the 15th Amendment that would empower the ex-slaves with the open and free right to vote. That Amendment would not be proposed until February of 1869, and it would not be ratified until a sufficient number of states had approved, and that would take until March of 1870.
That meant five full years of legislative process for changes that everybody knew was coming...but again simply to know it does not mean that something is accepted; therefore, how are the two races supposed to act toward one another, and with another in the meantime? That of course was part of the reason for the Federal military occupation of the our area...but even those people did not have a clearly spelled out “manual of procedures and objective.” Instead, they had uniforms and guns...and entirely too much swagger and attitude to be acceptable to former Confederates.
The last pre-war (1860) census had revealed Prince Edward County’s population to the 62% black slaves (11,844 people) and 3.9% free blacks, (465 people) and 34.1% Caucasians (4,038 people). Presumably, the free blacks had had pre-war livelihoods, and these might continue now, but praytell, how were the newly-freed blacks now to make a living...and on what land? For that matter, how were most of the white farmers now going to make a living (without those slaves)?
The most immediate problem, however, was not a vocational one, but a matter of food. As victorious armies will often do, the Union forces that had swept through this county in early April of 1865, had raided hen houses, smoke houses, pasture lands and stables (although some families had managed to hide some of their livestock “off the beaten track” way back in some isolated woodlands, as soon as they had heard the sounds of the battles in Amelia County and had begun to observes the gray tides of retreating soldiers swarming along the Prince Edward roadways). In the wake of these events, people of both races now typically had to line up and beg for food, back at the Federal military headquarters in Burkeville. For many people this meant a foot-trek all the way to that railroad depot, and this was understandably a demeaning journey.
As soon as feasible the Federal army took over several of the wards of the Confederate hospital in Farmville and used these as a new distribution point for food, along with some clothing and even some tools. That same site would eventually become our county’s Freedmen’s Bureau, where U.S. officials tried to help the ex-slaves with material goods and with other forms of assistance...while the white families and individuals were simply left to help one another as best they could. The crucial issue of a place for the ex-slaves to live and work was typically handled informally by their continuing to live on in their old quarters, and now to be paid by their ex-masters. But then there was the overwhelming problem of a worthless currency in this county and state. In truth, both races were co-dependent; they had to survive as best they could by working the fields together and eating in common the produce thereof. This enormous crisis of sustenance was helped by the fact that the growing season and harvest-time of 1865 turned out to be one of the most abundant within anyone’s memory...or did just any productive substance seem good to everyone that year?
It was a miracle that the two colleges in the county valiantly and optimistically managed to get their respective student bodies and faculties together for the next fall. The student bodies were noticeably reduced, although the Presbyterian post-graduate seminary student body at Hampden-Sydney was much larger than expected – the result of some “foxhole conversions” and prisoner-of-war dedications. Tuition payments for these institutions were sometimes made that year by “in-kind” payments of food, and even furniture.
Another depressing reality was that some vandals and scoundrels and even “gangs” seeped their slimy way into some of the Southside Virginia counties during that spring and summer. The white citizenry was largely impotent in dealing with them, while the Federal military occupiers were so overwhelmed with their own small numbers and our civilian needs, that they seldom mounted serious search parties to ferret out these opportunistic crooks. Small wonder, then, that some of our county’s Caucasians wanted to migrate somewhere else...out West, or even to Central and South America, or that the ex-slaves among us had little sense of direction for focus. Nobody of any race or any “side” in the late war was really prepared for the post-war realities of late 1865, or the next half-decade. This Reconstruction Era was a far more pervasive “Depression” for Prince Edward County than would be the one that would occur 70 years later in the 1930's.
The Farmville Herald, Friday, September 3, 2004
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The Appomattox River - Staunton River Canal link
Before the interstate
highways were initiated by the Eisenhower administration almost a half-century
ago, there were occasional “super highways” with dual lanes and divided
grass strips; before these were typically some four-lane (non-divided)
“by-passes” around medium-size towns; before that there were two-lane “paved
roads” of asphalt or cement (these only came along, however, in the early
1900's). Before these highways there were the railroads that moved
freight and passengers, and before the railroads there was river boat traffic
– but that mainly went “down” a river, except for the steamboats plowing
against the currents of the really large rivers.
Between the times of the rivers and the railroads, however, there were the canals. And canal dreamers and planners even once fixed their eyes upon a grandiose – and expensive – canal system right here in Prince Edward County!
The railroads began development in parts of our county as early as the 1830's (the South Side Rail Road became operable through Prince Edward in 1854), but even in the earliest years of our nations independent existence, George Washington was pushing the notion of an extensive network of river-and-canal operations. In 1784 he proposed to the Virginia General Assembly that a canal be constructed “from Tidewater up the James as far as practicable,” in order to bring the mountain and valley produce and ore to the Atlantic seaboard for shipment to other parts of our country and to other parts of the world. Thus, the James River and Kanawha Canal Company was formed, and construction began in 1786. Washington himself was given 100 shares of stock in the company, which he had not really needed, so he announced that he would give it to “the cause of education.” The Hampden-Sydney College Board immediately applied for that gift...but the Father of our Country gave it, instead, to the struggling Liberty Hall Academy in the Valley of Virginia...which institution thereupon gratefully changed its name to “Washington College”...to wait another 85 years to tack on there the name of “Lee” as well. One can only speculate what might have happened if Washington’s largess had come to the struggling college named “Hampden-Sydney.”
Meanwhile, the James River and Kanawha Canal that was supposed to go to the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers was barely going anywhere. By 1840, it had covered 156 miles, from Richmond to Lynchburg, and its construction finally limped through the Blue Ridge Mountains into Buchanan in 1851...well after railroads were crisscrossing the Commonwealth. Elsewhere in the nation, however, the famed Erie Canal and Lackawanna Canal and the Delaware Canal and a half-dozen others were earning enormous profits for their investors. Even in Tidewater Virginia, a canal through the Great Dismal Swamp had profitably connected commercial interests in northeastern North Carolina with Norfolk.
At the height of the young nation’s “canal fevers,” a group met in Charlottesville on July 14-17, 1828, to consider commercial improvements within Virginia. The group included ex-Presidents James Madison and James Monroe, Supreme Chief Justice John Marshall, and Prince Edward County’s Richard N. Venable. Delegate William H. McFarland, of Petersburg and a Hampden-Sydney alumnus (1819), proposed that either a canal or a turnpike be constructed between the upper waters of the Appomattox and the Staunton/Roanoke Rivers. He saw this commercial connection as being absolutely vital to the economic development of Southside Virginia. His motion, however, was defeated, primarily because so much money and time and labor had already been expended on the much-tardy James River and Kanawha Canal enterprise.
Some Prince Edward and Charlotte County investors continued to look at the maps of our region, however, and to discuss among themselves how tantalizingly “close” the Appomattox River seemed to be to the Staunton, with streams from both counties feeding into those rivers. Back then, for much of the year, the Appomattox River was navigable by bateau as far inland as Farmville and there were no appreciable hillsides/mountains to be negotiated between those two rivers, so no costly and complicated lock system would have to be constructed to take care of contour differentials. The only thing that would really have to be done would be to dredge out some creeks and small rivers, like the Buffalo and the Cub, and maybe dig a canal ditch or two, here and there....
Nothing of this sort ever materialized of course. Canals were a way of the past. Dr. William Porterfield, of the Hampden-Sydney faculty, recently addressed that institution’s summer alumni college, pointing out that on July 4, 1828, President John Quincy Adams had two invitations to participate in significant commercial ceremonies of inaugural; he could either turn the first shovel of dirt in Baltimore for the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, or he could turn the first shovel of dirt in Georgetown for the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Adams chose the latter, perhaps for convenience sake since that site was only a mile from the White House. “Bad choice!” Professor Porterfield wryly remarked. If a mid-nineteenth century canal-and-creek linkage through Prince Edward County were not an economically feasible project, perhaps the dreamers should at least have fixed their thoughts on a good macadam roadway. In that same period of the 1830's, Virginia’s great Valley Turnpike (Route 11) was laid out and macadamized with a thick base of broken stones, and that trade-way opened up tremendous commercial enrichments for the numerous families and towns in that region. Meanwhile, the bateaux of timber and tobacco that were floated and poled down river from Farmville and Jamestown could take up to several weeks to make their deliveries to the Petersburg docks, and when the railroad came to our county those same deliveries could be made in several hours. It didn’t take an inspired prophet to realized that canals were truly the stuff of backwater dreams.
The Farmville Herald, Friday September 17, 2004
Prince Edward County seal -- wheat sheaf vs tobacco hand
Strange to say,
Prince Edward County never had an official seal until plans were under
way for this 250th anniversary year. This is a round notarial signet
that will henceforth be embossed on, or printed on, all official county
documents and stationery. It is a “shorthand” symbol of our entire
history, with a representation of the original Prince Edward Augustus himself,
along with the old Clerk of Court’s office at the first courthouse village
(now known as “Worsham”), the Watkins Bell Tower at Hampden-Sydney College,
the signature Rotunda of Longwood University’s Ruffner Hall, and the Cupola
atop the present County Courthouse in downtown Farmville. Then there
is one more feature – in fact, the most prominent item on the new seal.
It is a somewhat stylized sheaf of wheat stalks. This agricultural
symbol at the heart of our county seal was most appropriately “borrowed”
from a similar representation that has long been on the historic seal of
neighboring Amelia County; it is a way of reminding us that we were formed
directly from that older county in 1754.
Some people have strenuously objected to that wheat sheaf, claiming of course that a far more appropriate symbol at the heart of our county seal might have been a hand of tobacco leaves, since that has been a major “cash crop” for so much of our county’s long and rich history. They make a good case, especially if you just focus on the history of the last two or three generations. We know that if King Cotton once characterized the Deep South, then certainly King Tobacco ruled for years in the Tidewater regions of Virginia and in the Coastal Plains of North Carolina, beginning in the earliest colonial period. But tobacco did not come to be the major crop in our area until about 150 years ago. The grain crops of wheat, oats, barley, corn have been much more important to our area over a much longer period of time than has tobacco.
On the eve of the War Between the States there were dozens of little cottage industries having to do with tobacco – in Richmond, Lynchburg, Danville, for instance, and these were primarily focused on pipe tobacco (with pipes themselves being made in great quantities in nearby Pamplin), and chewing tobacco, and snuff, and cigar-rolling. The great popularity of growing and processing flue-cured bright leaf tobacco in the central counties of Southside Virginia and the North Carolina Piedmont, for eventual use in cigarettes did not occur until after the American Civil War.
There are various stories about how this regional product became well-known, and many of them have been chronicled by Dr. Joseph C. Robert, a historian who wrote History of Tobacco in America, back in 1949, just prior to his becoming the President of Coker College in South Carolina, and then the President of Hampden-Sydney College (1955-1960). Dr. Robert died just this past year. Some people tell about how the Union soldiers, who were waiting around in central North Carolina in 1865 for generals Johnston and Sherman to work out their surrender terms, raided some of the tobacco storehouses of a farmer named Washington Duke who lived near Durham Station, and when they took these “spoils of war” back home with them, they and their neighborhood friends love the aroma and taste of Duke’s tobacco so much that they wrote back to obtain some more...presumably paying for it this time. Others have observed that at least some of the popularity for “our kind” of tobacco can possibly be traced to the enormous traffic jam of Union soldiers whose converging routs came together at Prospect, Virginia, on Saturday morning, April 8, 1865. While the cavalry displayed the fact that they were indeed crooks by breaking into the Prospect Depot that was filled to its rafters with cured tobacco and hundreds of them “appropriated” some of our finest leaves and also took those home with them. Just like the men who acted similarly in North Carolina a couple of weeks later, they wrote back after the war, wanting more of the same.
The main tobacco emphasis in the United States in the years immediately after the Civil War was just on plugs of chewing tobacco. For years cigarette smoking was considered to be a passing fad and a bit of an effete one at that. Many Americans had never even seen, or heard of, cigarettes until New World observers of the Crimean War (1854-18560 saw these “newfangled things” being smoked by Russian soldiers. Some cigarettes were produced in scattered factories of the southern states in the ensuing years, but their production was quite labor-intensive; cigarettes were all hand-rolled, and it was thought that the small fingers of children and women were more adapted for such work, and that kind of labor force was never going to be a strong factor in our U.S. economy. Moreover, in a generally prejudicial way, the presence of “cigarette girls” outside the tradition domain of home was considered “racy,” as illustrated by the lustiness of George Bizet’s central character in the 1875 French opera, Carmen. This famous, hot-bloodied heroine was – by official occupation, at least – a roller of cigarettes in a factory in downtown Seville, Spain. Cigarette-production and smoking and marketing took on a new character entirely, however, in the 1880's, when a Lynchburg teenager named John Bonsack developed the prototype of a cigarette-rolling machine (the little village of Bonsack, Virginia, alongside U.S. 460, between Bedford and Roanoke, commemorates his family name and eventual fortune). R. J. Reynolds in Winston, North Carolina, did not immediately embrace the notion that a machine was better than the hand-labor of women and children, but all three of Washington Duke’s sons – Brodie, Ben, and Buck (James Buchanan) gave their unqualified support for what were soon simply called “the Bonsacks,” and the Duke Brothers’ cigarette production took off so sharply by the mid-1800's that by the end of the decade all of the South’s cigarette production was machine-made. A giant cigarette marketing campaign was led by a master-promoter, Lewis Ginter of Richmond, and all of this meant that thereafter for the next hundred years, flue-cured bright leaf tobacco would literally be a “hot” commodity...and central Virginia and North Carolina farmers had found their Grand Tobacco Era.
Nevertheless, all along, grain growing and milling had been the major agricultural concern of Prince Edward County. We may not live by bread alone, but it’s certainly more basic to life than tobacco; yes, the wheat sheaf belongs on our seal!
The Farmville Herald, Friday, September 24, 2004
William Henry Harrison, Walter Reed, Robert Russa Moton – educated in Prince Edward County
When so much has been written
about the period when Prince Edward County chose not to educate a significant
number of its young citizens, perhaps we should at least acknowledge a
few of the most significant personalities who were educated within our
county, albeit not with public funds but through private educational ventures.
Let’s cite three examples of folks whom our county claims through here
for a brief part of their interesting lives.
Foremost among these would be William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, who would be famously and popularly acclaimed as “Old Tippecanoe,” a testimony to his eventual military efforts against the native Americans in the old Northwest Territory. His father had signed the Declaration of Independence as a Virginia representative to the Second Continental Congress and his son was born in the family’s noteworthy “Berkeley” plantation home in Charles City County. For reasons that have never been exactly clear, his family sent the teenage Harrison to Hampden-Sydney College for his basic baccalaureate education, which was heavily focused in the classics of Greece and Rome, Harrison was a member of the college class of 1891; he may have stayed there for at least three years, but he did not graduate; some say that he withdrew because his family objected to a religious revival that was then going on at the college, but other point out that apparently his father thought that his son perhaps should move elsewhere and concentrate on medical studies. One thing is certain, however, and that is that thereafter in this colorful man’s life he often spoke approvingly of his studies about the classical soldiers and statesman of the ancient world...which then emulated in his own life. One of Virginia’s Historical Markers is located on Hampden-Sydney’s campus and indicated that Harrison briefly studied there.
Another person who was not born in our county, but who received a significant part of his education here was Dr. Walter Reed, the famed conqueror of the dreaded “Yellow Jack,” or yellow fever. Young Reed was born in 1851, near White march in Gloucester County, to a Methodist minister and his wife. Walter Reed was six years old when his father was assigned to the Prince Edward Circuit of the Methodist Church. The Reeds lived on High Street. Young Walter began his formal education at the Southside Institute, which was then a well-known private school that was located on Farmville’s South Main Street in the vicinity of its Fourth Street intersection. Mrs. Booker was his teacher there prior to his minister-father’s transfer to another Methodist circuit, just on the eve of the Civil War. Eventually, Walter studied at the University of Virginia and at the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. He then entered the U.S. Army and became a major in its medical corps. In 1900, he chaired a special military commission to study infectious disease in Cuba, in response to the devastating number of yellow fever cases among our soldiers who had been located there during the Spanish-American War. Prior to that, however, there has also been major summertime yellow fever epidemics at various times among the civilian populations of Philadelphia, New Orleans, Galveston, and other port cities. Dr. Reed discovered that this disease was carried by infected female Stegomyia mosquitoes and he participated in developing an inoculation against this heretofore “killer disease.” His own untimely death came in Washington, D.C., in 1902, when he was just 51 years of age. The magnificent medical contributions of this one-time Prince Edward County schoolboy are honored, of course, in the naming of the great Walter Reed Army Hospital in northwest Washington, D.C. There’s a Virginia Historical Marker on U.S. 17 highway at White Marsh, indicating Reed’s birthplace nearby.
On that same highway, just a short distance away from the Reed marker, there is also one that notes the Holly Knoll death-site of Robert Russa Moton, African-American educator and co-founder of the famed Urban League. As many of us know, young Moton was born in nearby Amelia County two years after the close of the Civil War, and although his parents were now freed slaves and were therefore not necessarily under the old legal and social strictures against having Caucasians openly teaching African-Americans, still this was not yet a generally acceptable practice. Moton’s parents eventually came to live and work on the farm of Samuel Vaughan and Lucy Lockett Vaughan, which was along the border of Amelia and Prince Edward counties. In secret Mrs. Vaughan began to teach the inquisitive young Robert to make his letters and words and sentences and to decipher his numbers, and one day she was discovered at this task by her husband. In an age when the man’s word was the governing word, she was uncertain of her husband’s response, but he eventually replied, “God bless you, Lucy Lockett!” Subsequently the Locketts’ youngest daughter also assisted in his instruction. Thankfully, a sharecropper’s life was not to be Moton’s fate. From that humble beginning on the Vaughan farm of our county, Robert went on to enroll at Hampton Institute, where he graduated with honors, and served on its administration staff for the next 25 years, until he was elected as president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. During the era of segregated public schools, Prince Edward County built a black high school in Farmville in 1939, and named it for this “almost-native-born” son. The initial construction of this high school was accomplished with major supplemental help from the Public Works Administration and with a loan from the State Literary Fund. This was not only an era when Caucasian decision-makers were reluctant to fully fund the educational needs of non-white students, but the 1930's were also the Depression era when both public and private monies were sparse. The size of the school was inadequate even from the time of its opening. In our present-day zeal to emphasize that school building’s place in our local and national history let’s not forget also to emphasize its namesake’s place in history. The high-achieving Robert R. Moton wrote his own autobiography, Finding a Way Out, prior to his death in 1940, and as Lucy Lockett Vaughan’s great-grandson, Lt. General Samuel Vaughan Wilson, a noted resident of present-day Prince Edward County, has written: “His autobiography on his personal struggle to overcome racial prejudice in education became an inspiration to all thoughtful Americans.”
Not a single one of these three was born here, but we should celebrate that some of our local citizens did something right (!) by helping to start them on their way
The Farmville Herald, Friday, October 8, 2004
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Longwood House – home of the Johnstons, Venables, Wrights, and several Longwood University presidents
One of the
grand old houses of Prince Edward County is the Longwood House, which has
been the home of the presidents of Longwood College/University for the
past several decades. It has a long and interesting history – much
of it related to other properties and people of Prince Edward County.
The original plantation and house were associated with the Johnston family – Peter, Sr. and Peter, Jr. That house is not the present one. Peter Johnston, Sr. was a prosperous Scottish immigrant, albeit an Anglican and not a native-born Presbyterian. He owned other property in the area and in 1775, he gave a hundred acres “at the head of Hudson’s Branch” for the establishment of Hampden-Sydney College. This little creek is in the area just below the present-day football filed, in the general area of the Kirby Field house. Contrary to the traditional reputation of Scottish thriftiness, or even stinginess, his was an outright free gift. He might not have been so generous if he had known that the young college that would be raised up on his gift-land would be such a hotbed of revolutionary spirit against the British Crown, because Mr. Johnston of Longwood Plantation was an avowed Tory who gave open support to the Redcoat cause. His rebellious son, Peter, Jr., ran off from home and Hampden-Sydney to join “Light Horse Harry” Lee in his calvary operations against the British in the southern colonies.
After the war, Peter, Jr. returned to this county to take up farming and a wife, and, from their union, two noted sons were born there at the Longwood House: Charles Clement Johnston, who would serve from Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives (unfortunately while he was in Congress, he accidentally drowned at the docks in Alexandria), and Joseph Eggleston Johnston, who was educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before becoming a famous military figure in both the Mexican War and the War Between the States. In the latter, he commanded first the eastern Confederate forces prior to his serious wounding (near the present-day Richmond airport) and then later he commanded the principal western Confederate army twice, before surrendering that army to Sherman just outside of Durham, North Carolina, several weeks after Lee had surrendered to Grant and Meade at Appomattox. General Johnston later served from a Virginia congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives and, still later, he was President Grover Cleveland’s Commissioner of Railroads. In one of the grand, ironic stories of that late war, he also served as the pallbearer at General Sherman’s funeral, just a few weeks before his own death.
The Johnston family sold Longwood to Nathaniel E. Venable (he’s Nathaniel Venable, II, not he earlier Nathaniel Venable, who had lived at Slate Hill plantation an in whose office Hampden-Sydney was founded in the winter of 1775). The second Nathaniel Venable was also a prosperous farmer and it was he who built the present Longwood House. One of his sons was Charles Scott Venable, who would attend Hampden-Sydney (beginning at the age of 12 in 1839, mind you, and graduating with top honors in 1842!). He remained at Hampden-Sydney for another year of self-directed studies in science while also taking some classes at the Presbyterian seminary in the same village (there’s now an endowed Venable Professorship in Chemistry at Hampden-Sydney, honoring his memory). He later taught math at the college for several years before studying abroad in Germany. When Charles Venable returned to the United States, he taught astronomy and math for several years at the University of Georgia and then at the University of South Carolina. Beginning in 1861 he became a part of various commands of the Confederate Army, before he was eventually summoned as the principal staff member to General Robert E. Lee. After the war Charles Venable became a faculty member at the University of Virginia, teaching chemistry there for 35 years prior to his death in 1900. During that same period, he also founded the well-known Miller School nearby as a preparatory school for boys.
Charles Venable had a professor-son, Francis Preston Venable, who was also born in “our” Longwood House. That son studied at the University of Virginia and also in Germany, before he became a much-beloved professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And, still later, he served as president of the University of North Carolina (1900-1914).
The Venables sold Longwood House to Wright Barber, who was a part of an interesting group of English immigrants who settled in Prince Edward County in the late 1800's (the now-removed St. Anne’s Episcopal Church served as a worship site on the Five Forks Road for many of these people who lived in the Spring Creek area).
Thanks to the persistent efforts and enthusiasm of Mr. J. L. Jarman, wife of the longtime (1902-1946) State Teachers College president, the Farmville college bought the property for the Wright heirs in 1924, to be used initially as a college club house and recreation center. By then, this landmark house and property was such a beloved and handsome feature of the county’s rich history that the college itself took this as its new name in 1949.
So...when you pass along that way, either on Johnston Street or on Milnwood Road, or when you play golf on its expansive hills and valleys, think about some of these names and their histories. This fall’s event of naming several new buildings at Longwood University for some of the more recent inhabitants of that lovely home also serves to remind all of us that history is still being made at Longwood House today!
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, November 3, 2004
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Gubernatorial candidate Fitzhugh Lee visits Worsham, 1885
year calls to mind one of the most famous campaign visits that was ever
made to this county, back in the fall of 1885, when Republican John S.
Wise and Democrat Fitzhugh Lee were candidates for Governor of the Commonwealth
of Virginia. General Lee was a favorite of many people around the
county because he as an ex-Confederate Major General of calvary forces,
but his period in Prince Edward County was still in the aftermath of the
Reconstruction, when so many laws, customs, and assumptions had been either
challenged or overturned. Lee would will the gubernatorial election
handily, but Wise would carry Prince Edward County by a margin of 1,614
On Friday, October 23, 1885, candidate Lee made an official campaign stop and speech at a barbecue in Prince Edward County...but his visit was focused at the old county seat village of Worsham, rather than at the new county seat of Farmville, because even though by then the county seat had been in Farmville for over a dozen years, old line Democrats were still smarting at having had it “stolen out from under them” by the Deconstructionists of the early 1870's. So Lee’s political handlers arranged for this stop to be in Worsham, to call “the good old days” to the electorate’s mind. Fitz Lee, indeed, had a distinguished and impeccable genetic heritage which hearkened bac to such an era. He was the great-grandson of George Mason of Gunston Hall (a colonial leader who had authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, an who had opposed the adoption of the U.S. Constitution primarily because, in its original form, it had lacked an inclusion of a similar statement of individual rights); he was the grandson of “Light Horse Harry” Lee, who had consistently bested the British in the southern colonies’ fight for independence; and, of more immediate import to the old Confederate electorate, he was the nephew of Robert E. Lee, and he had commanded the Confederate cavalry in its grand time under J. E. B. Stuart and Wade Hampton, a mere twenty years earlier.
Fitz Lee was met at the train depot in Farmville that October morning, and then he and his supporters rode horseback to Worsham. A student writer for the Hampden Sidney Magazine, was obviously carried away as he described th scene he had recently witnessed just down the road from the college: “General Lee’s reception at Worsham...was indeed a brilliant affair, and exceeded the most sanguine expectations of his friends. Rarely has such an occasion been experienced in our county, and we err not greatly, if we assert that at no time since the turmoil of war subsided, has Prince Edward ever turned out in such force. We must allow to surrounding counties, however, that they contributed quite extensively to the making up of the assemblage. Gen. Lee was met at Farmville, and escorted to Worsham, by a mounted procession of 1,396 men, and as the old commander arrived at their head, riding beneath the Stars and Stripes, the times of re-union seemed indeed to hover over us, and we more than ever before realized the fact the animosities of sectional strife had been buried deep and forever...” There was much emotional speechifying, as well as the meeting of old comrades of past days, and there was, of course, the traditional southern barbecue that has long been associated with such political events.
It was too bad that the county’s “Grand Old Man,” Branch Jones Worsham, did not live to see and to enjoy this grand headline day for his village – and to be acclaimed by an appreciative audience of his Democrat cohorts. For years, Branch Worsham had been “Mr. Prince Edward County,” while he was serving as the county’s distinguished Clerk of Court for 57 years (1802-1869), before he was quite ungraciously dismissed by the Deconstructionists and their military advisors...who then added insult to injury by removing the county seat of government itself.
Our own recent transition in the Clerk of Court’s office calls to mind how very fortunate Prince Edward County has been in having such a grand succession of splendid Clerks and how doubly fortunate we are in never having had our county records destroyed by invading armies (although they twice had the chance, in July of 1781 and in April of 1865), or ruined by fire and flood (as has happened in several other Virginia counties). Furthermore, we’ve never had the first breath of scandal associated with our fine Clerks of Court.
Reading any of those decades of county records that were written in ink, in Mr. Worsham’s fine, flowing scrip, is such an easy and pleasurable act! When you visit the present Clerk of Court’s office, your attention is called to his portrait, which is the first one on the left wall, just behind the counter. He was the son of Captain William Worsham, a Prince Edward hero of the American Revolution who had been captured by the British cavalry raider, Banastre Tarleton, in July of 1781. Years later, Branch himself became a folk hero locally by refusing to give Union General Phil Sheridan any information about the routes that the Army of Northern Virginia had taken through this area. In response to Mr. Worsham’s integrity, Sheridan had briefly arrested this defiant Clerk of Court and had taken him along when they departed the old courthouse village about dusk on Friday, April 7, 1865. By then, having hassled this 75-year-old man sufficiently for his own satisfaction, General Sheridan released Mr. Worsham along the banks of Buffalo Creek several miles away, whereupon the old Clerk of Court walked back home to the welcoming cheers of his family and neighbors.
Groups and individuals can still arrange to use the old Clerk of Court’s office there in present-day Worsham. And, if and when they do, they should feel a sense of grand history and great people associated with that place. The Hampden-Sydney/Sidney writer was wrong in his hyperbolic acclaim that here had never been such a day as the one in October of 1885, when portly old Fitz Lee came campaigning for governor to that site. There have been many such days, and several such people...at least for the appreciative people whom Holy Writ describes as “those with eyes to see and ears to hear.”
The Farmville Herald, Friday, November 19, 2004
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What’s in some of our county place-names?
once famously asked, “What’s in a name?” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene
2). We might likewise ask, What’s in some of our county place-names?
Why did some crossroads communities get the names they have, and why did
some of them once have another name prior to the present one, and why did
There is debate about the naming of the county’s principal community. Do we have “Farmville” because Rutledge’s Landing on the Appomattox River was located on some of the rich “farmlands” of the old Randolph plantation? Or, is it “Farmville” because even when it was incorporated in 1798 it was already apparent that this would be the ville (the French word for “town”) for the entire agricultural region?
We know that when the Reconstructionists government displaced the longtime Clerk of Court, Branch Worsham, for its own toady and also deigned to move the county seat of government from Prince Edward Court House to Farmville, the governing authorities tossed a bone to the jilted people at the old courthouse village by suggesting that the abandoned site be named “Worsham” for the gentleman who had served the county for so long. One wonders why these literal “movers and shakers” did not then take away the name of “Farmville” and replace it with the continuing name for those judicial and administrative functions: “Prince Edward Court House.” After all, in the neighboring counties of Buckingham, Charlotte, and Appomattox, longtime place names were undone when those respective counties settled on such places as being appropriately for their judicial business and then named them “Buckingham Court House” and “Charlotte Court House” and “Appomattox Court House.” Maybe Farmville should have been “Prince Edward Court House II?”
Where id the place name “Rice” come from? The location of the South Side Rail Road tracks and a depot on that high ground in the northeastern part of the county certainly brought that place into relative prominence and made a nearby river-front village named “Jamestown” obsolete. Perhaps that’s just as well, since Prince Edwardians and others have always had to explain that “our” Jamestown is different from the 1607 Jamestown of Captain John Smith. Still now in Presbyterian circles that same confusion has to be explained about the Jamestown Presbyterian Church that is located near Rice. For that matter, how did “Jamestown” get its name? Some insist that it was because a Mr. James Towne operated a ferry at that point on the river, and that it became informally known as “James Towne’s Ferry.” Others, however, say that this is a linguistic “joke,” and the Mr. Towne’s first name really was John.
Moore’s Ordinary used to be a well-known stage coach stopover in the southeastern part of our county, but after the Richmond and Danville Railroad came through there, the old name evidently was judged to be too “ordinary” and the new name of “Meherrin” appears. Some folks say that this is related to the Meherrin River that flows through a part of Southside Virginia, but take a look at the map – only a very remote tributary of the Meherrin River is anywhere near that part of our county!
Where and why did “Green Bay” gets its name? The Green Bay that everybody knows is hundreds of miles away, in Wisconsin, and its “mayors” have included Bart Starr and Bret Favre, two good ole Southern boys, albeit its one time “emperor” was Vince Lombardi, a Yankee through-and-through. I’ll wager that none of the above fellows have ever been in good old Green Bay, Prince Edward County, Virginia!
Hampden-Sydney used to get its mail at the first Prince Edward Court House, and the collegians continued to do so when it became “Worsham.” College yearbook articles are filled with joking articles about the daily walking trek to “Woo-shum.” Now, of course, Hampden-Sydney has its own zip code status symbol: 23943. But how many people can tell you anything about those 17th century British anti-royalists, John Hampden, a Parliamentarian who was mortally wounded on Chalgrove Field near Oxford on June of 1643, or Algenon Sydney, a political theorist whose rhetoric was dear to Thomas Jefferson a century and a quarter later. Still, it seems a bit quaint and far-fetched to some of wonder around “our” present-day Hampden-Sydney and to try to relate that place to 17th century patriots and places in faraway England.
Speaking of England, “Darlington Heights” seems to have been given its name by a group of 19th century English immigrants who settled in those highlands of western Prince Edward County after the American Civil War. Before that, the general area was referred to as “Spring Creek.” For the most part, the 19th century English settlers eventually dispersed, leaving behind them only a roadside marker to their St. Anne’s Episcopal Church that used to stand alongside the Five Forks Road (the church itself was relocated later to Appomattox). Also, why the nearby “Abilene,” which sound like Texas. There was a place by this name in long ago classical antiquity...but that’s also a long way from Prince Edward County! And, did you know that “Madisonville” (just across the county line), used to be called “Chickentown” because of all the illegal cockfights that used to held there?
“Tuggle” came into existence when the South Side Rail Road came through in 1854. You had to have a water tank alongside the railroad, about every 20 miles for those tiny little steam engines that rapidly depleted their energy-dispersing water. There was a tank at Rice and then there was also the “Tuggle Tank Stop,” that was named for a nearby family, whose property lay alongside the tracks.
“Prospect” is another real enigma. One might guess that there had been some mining operations in the area, or that entrepreneurial dreamers had plans for some major economic development there and gave the place such a name as “a draw” for settlement. The name was firmly fixed when the U.S. Army came there on April 8, 1865, as an acerbic cavalryman wrote home, “...we found neither station nor prospect!” Not even Prospect historian and story-teller Robert Taylor has a satisfactory explanation for the name. Do any of you have any clues?
The Farmville Herald, Friday, December 10, 2004
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Mail delivery in last century in Prince Edward County
development of electronic mail, package delivery companies, and the commercial
services of the Internet itself, perhaps the U.S. Postal Service does not
carry as large a volume of December mail as it once did...although I’m
sure you would get a quick argument on that from many of the postal employees
who seem as burdened as ever with their bulging tote-bags. But certainly,
people do not send as many Christmas cards during December as they once
did. I can remember when my parents sent a Christmas card to every
household in my father’s church, and they worried about how much money
that cost them. Back then, in the 1940's, in-town correspondence
carried a brown two-cent stamp, and cards to their out-of-town friends
took a dark blue three-cent stamp. My job was to lick all those stamps...something
else that has now gone out of style. In the North Carolina town where
we then were living, we had both a morning and an afternoon delivery to
our homes. The real adventure of the arrival of the mail, however,
was at m y paternal grandparents’ house out in the country, because they
lived on a rural route, at the end of a dirt driveway that was a hundred
yards long. Both of my grandparents were busy for most of the day
– he in the fields and in the barn, and she in the kitchen at the back
of the house. They did not exactly hang around watching for the rural
mail carrier’s car. So if they had not seen him actually stop, the
big mystery was whether or not they had any mail...and of course that thrifty
and busy couple did not want to waste any time on a walk of five minutes
down the driveway out to the highway and back on what might have been a
futile trek. So my grandfather had an old-fashioned expanding one-lens
telescope that he kept in the front hallway, so someone could pick it up,
walk out onto the front porch, draw out the length of the telescope, put
it up to one eye, and train it on the far mailbox...to see if perhaps the
red flag was up that would make it worthwhile to trudge the way the their
rural mail box.
Here in Prince Edward County, the mail deliveries were originally made to crossroads post offices, some of which existed just in a corner window of some other business establishment. Mail was brought to each little post office by a carrier who had come from the nearest railroad station where the mail had been dropped off (more on that in moment). Clarence Bradshaw’s 1954 history of Prince Edward County indicates that at the opening of the 20th century, there were county post offices at places called Beck (Moran), Nile, Overly, Travis, Leigh Mountain, Rice, Green Bay, Meherrin, Sanco, Felden (at times this one went by two alternate names: Cypress and Redd’s Shop), Millbank, Worsham, Farmville, Tuggle (alternate named Acteon), Gardenia, Five Forks, Adelle, Tredways, Venna, Putney’s, Prospect, Darlington Heights. How many of those places can you identify now, over a century later? The earlier railroad mail exchanges at depots were a marvel in themselves. Nearly every passenger train typically had its separate mail car, and mail was delivered for that mail car by a postal clerk who tossed leather bag onto the station platform from an opening in the side of the mail car itself, and some of you probably remember that that same car was equipped with a metal arm that was let down as the train was approaching the station, and the postal pick-up was literally a “snatch-up,” as that extension arm automatically snagged the local leather bag filled with mail that had been literally “posted,” or hung, on a stationary metal pole that had a suspended sling that held the mailbag. The mail car arm engaged this bag as the train passed by. I used to stand at train stations and watch in amazement at this marvelous, rudimentary – but unfailing – technology. I had an uncle who worked those depot exchanges from such a mail car and he sorted the contents into mail car pigeon-holes between stations. His work was so important, in fact, that it provides him with an automatic military draft deferment during World War II. President Roosevelt personally decreed that mail deliveries were so important to the war effort and to both civilian and military morale that already-employed postal clerks did not have to go to war.
Bradshaw’s history indicates that the second phase of such postal deliveries – all those little neighborhood post offices – was brief. On December 1, 1904 – exactly a hundred years ago this month – rural postal delivery was introduced throughout our county. Such an innovation necessitated “a run” on purchasing those now familiar rural postal boxes and, of course, numerous farm boys had to cut cedar posts for those boxes and to dig holes for the posts. Except for walking routes within Farmville, postal clerks delivered their rural routes on horseback, from Rice, Farmville, Prospect on the one railroad through our count, and from Meherrin and Keysville on the other railroad. (Yes, Keysville is technically in Charlotte County, but many of its deliveries were in the southern part of Prince Edward County, just as some of the western part of our county now has its mail service from the Pamplin post office in Appomattox County). There was no separate post office for the college girls at the Normal School on High Street; there was one drop-off at Ruffner, and then there was a quite proper “mail-call” outside the dining room, just before meal time.
A postscript to the developing mail service throughout the county, however, was when Hampden-Sydney got its own post office, separate from the one at Worsham (earlier, Prince Edward Court House). Until that time, a daily break in the college boys’s schedules had been their mile-and-a-half trek to the old nearby village to see if they had received any mail that day. Many times that was indeed a futile trip, although sometimes trekking friends would make inquiries for the more studious fellows back in their candle-lit rooms. The coming of a college post office to a spot just several hundred feet away from a dormitory obviously began the spoiling and weakening of those collegians.
Meanwhile, during this very busy month of mail deliveries, thank those clerks in your own post offices, and those people on their now-motorized routes. Just over a hundred years ago it involved a lot more labor and laborers and time to get those Christmas cars.
Of course it was a lot cheaper back then too!
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, December 22, 2004
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Dr. R. R. Moton’s challenge to complete “unfinished business”
Memorial is probably Washington D.C.’s most revered monument, and ti is
remembered by many as a focal point of lots of public demonstrations –
none more famous than the August 1963 “March on Washington,” with Martin
Luther King’s uplifting “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Memorial.
This replica of a Greek temple is found on the back of every copper penny and on the back of every $5 bill. Lincoln’s familiar face of course is on the obverse side of both. The Memorial has 36 columns, representing the 36 states of the union that existed at the time of Lincoln’s untimely post-war murder. The seated figure of the 16th President is definitely one of our nation’s most recognizable icons. The sculptor, Daniel Chester French, spent 13 years carving this massive marble figure.
Site preparation had been underway for years, since the location was originally a swamp. In fact, the capital city’s nearby neighborhood that is called “Foggy Bottom” owes its name to the miasmic mists that used to rise from that adjacent swamp. Many thousands of man-hours were spent just in creating an artificial foundation for this Memorial. It was finally dedicated on Memorial Day of 1922.
So...why on earth should someone be writing about the Lincoln Memorial in a column on the history of Prince Edward County? Because “one of our own” was one of the two featured speakers at the dedication ceremony: Robert Russa Moton. To be truthful, of course, Moton was not a native-born Prince Edwardian, as he had just lived within our bounds while he was a youngster, when his parents were working for the Vaughans of the Rice/Jamestown community. He was born in Amelia County on August 26, 1867. He attended Sunday school classes at he Jamestown Presbyterian Church in our county and, with encouragement and assistance from some of those church members, Moton went to college at Virginia’s Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), and served as an administrator there fro 1890 to 1915, at which time he succeeded Booker T. Washington as president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was while he was there that he was invited to be one of the featured speakers at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. President Warren Harding had a minor role at the celebratory event. The main speakers were Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft (himself a former U.S. President) and President R. R. Moton.
All was not absolutely rosy that day, however, for this was still the Jim Crow era of restrictive racial customs in everyday practice. While distinguished guests, Robert Todd Lincoln (the former President’s son), and President Harding and Chief Justice Taft were all seated in splendid honor on the podium, Dr. Moton was ushered away from that platform to an all-Negro section across the road from the rest of the audience. It was an ugly reflection of the temper of the times, an indication of the long and unreconstructed road yet ahead toward a still unrealized Emaciation that Lincoln had declared and fought for over a half-century earlier. American blacks were understandably indignant at Dr. Moton’s side-tracked seating. He achieved some decree of symbolic honor, however, by taking his reverent time in crossing the street when his time on the program was at hand. Clad in striped trousers and a cutaway morning coat, Dr. Moton stepped up to the platform before a national audience...and his very presence perhaps “spoke” as great a volume and as thrilling a cadence – and as symbolic significance on the nation’s conscience – as Marion Anderson’s contralto voice would contribute before 75,000 people at that same place at her famous concert on Easter Sunday afternoon 17 years later.
Mrs. Lucy Lockett Vaughan’s former student, now 55 years old, had indeed come a long way from the fields and cabins of Prince Edward County by that 1922 occasion in Washington, but it was clearly apparent from his speech that our nation itself still had a long way to go. Among the words that Robert Russa Moton said at the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication were these: “Lincoln died not for the Negro alone, but to vindicate the honor of a nation pledged to the sacred cause of human freedom. Upon the field of Gettysburg he dedicated the nation to the great unfinished work of making sure that ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people, should not perish from the earth.’ And this means all the people. So long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law, that task is still unfinished.... With malice toward none, with charity for all we dedicate ourselves and our posterity, with you and yours, to finish the work which he so nobly began, to make America the symbol for equal justice and equal opportunity for all.”
Parts of Dr. Moton’s dedicatory speech were recently recited at a special presentation (In Our Own Backyard) of Prince Edward history that was given by students and faculty of the Fuqua School’s theater and art department. The occasion was in the Hull building on the Longwood University campus just after the December 5 Christmas parade. This was community service project by two Fuqua School teachers, Dora Bounds and Jeremy Bryant, highlighted by numerous tableaux featuring 16 students, supplemented by filmed oral history interviews that were moderated by Richard Swayne: other film sequences, edited by Spanish teacher Shane Newcombe, formed the backdrop for the tableaux of student actors. Mrs. Bounds also coordinated this assembling and presenting as her semester project for a 45-hour course on Prince Edward County history that she and others have been taking this fall at the Southside Virginia Community College.
Certainly Dr. Moton’s Lincoln Memorial dedication speech should be remembered – and more importantly, embodied – by all of us as we continue to work for the whole of our community, and as we mark the fact that our county’s first R. R. Moton High School building is now a museum and study center, anchoring a new regional tourist attraction that is known as the Civil Rights Trail in Education. Let’s also hope that our present-day county citizens will continue to respond to Dr. Moton’s stirring challenge about “unfinished business” that was spoken there at the Lincoln Memorial over 80 years ago.
The Farmville Herald, Friday, December 31, 2004
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Afterthoughts on Prince ED–Words
be my final column in a year-long effort to highlight various aspects of
Prince Edward County’s two and a half centuries of history. The Prince
Edward County Court convened for the first time on January 8, 1754, and
we formally began our 250th birthday celebration at the courthouse a year
ago, on January 8, 2004. Your columnist has been a member of the
county’s 250th Anniversary Commission that was chaired by Supervisor Lacy
Ward. We began our work about a year and a half ago, and officially
closed it with the burial of a time capsule on the courthouse lawn on the
afternoon of December 5, 2004.
I promised the Commission the I would write a weekly column about various aspects of our county’s history, and I want to thank publisher Steve Wall, editor Ken Woodley, and newspaper writer Rob Chapman (who was the Herald’s official representative on the Commission) for their assistance and encouragement. Various ones of you have helpfully corrected some of my mistakes, and others of you have “filled out” for me additional interesting information about some of my column topics. Lots of you have reported that you have been saving those columns for others in your family who formerly lived here. The newspaper’s management team recently indicated at a seasonal meeting that it planned to draw all these columns together in a book that will eventually be available to the public sometime in this new year. I’ve also taught a 45-hour course on our county history during this past fall for the Southside Virginia Community College. Since I’m not a county native, I’ve had to work at this whole endeavor, and I have learned a lot.
Some people understandably recoil from – and even avoid – parts of our county’s rich and varied history. Others undoubtedly celebrate too much some one aspect, or time period, of our history. One of the intentional things I have tried to do in these weekly columns has been “to jump all around” in that history, just to be certain that I didn’t “slow down the story” too much at any one period.
History is never simply dates and facts alone. It is also memory, and for all of us, memory is always selective, sometimes for known reasons and at other times because we are indeed finite and can’t remember “everything.” Sometimes that is admittedly intentional, but most of the time it is not; for, as I say, the human mind has only so many gray matter cells (my wife constantly says that I fill up my allotted amount with content that does not make any difference, and which few people would ever want to know), and we cannot possibly remember everything...although some would venture to suggest that Herbert Clarence Bradshaw almost did. His extremely detailed county history is a genuine treasure, not so much as a story as it is as a reference work, to be consulted just here and there. His footnotes and index are extremely valuable. History is also personal, reflecting our individual, or group, interests. What is boring to one person will invariably be interesting to someone else. And history is also interpretive, like newspaper editorials. And the reader, or the student absorbing that history, may sometimes want to filter out that interpretation. But the interpretation also belongs in the past and the present history...and it will also belong in the future history. Interpretation has to do with the meaning of the history for our own growth. That’s where history becomes more than simple dates; it becomes destiny itself destiny for us to latch onto, and to learn from, and to build upon.
If we were naming our county now, we would probably never call it “Prince Edward.” We perhaps named ourselves that back in 1754, wanting to curry the king’s favor. Back then the heir apparent of Great Britain’s throne was a man who in six more years (1750) would begin a 50-year reign as King George III, a reign whose length would be exceeded only by his great-granddaughter Victoria’s 64-year rule (Victoria’s great-granddaughter Elizabeth II has now ruled for 52 years...and counting). Colonial Virginians perhaps felt sorry for “poor little Prince Edward,” George’s younger brother, who didn’t have a reigning future, so our founders “immortalized” him with our new county’s name when the king’s younger brother was just 14 years old. Frankly, as matters developed, Edward didn’t deserve our honor and we didn’t deserve his name. He turned out to be a wastrel of considerable immorality and idleness, who died young from his many excesses. Furthermore, by the time of the American Revolution two decades after our county’s founding, in writing the great Declaration of Independence, our fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson would call Prince Edward’s “older brother George, no less than” and absolute Despot” and “an absolute Tyrant,” and “a Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant,” and one who most decidedly “is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
But we, who bear the name and heritage of those essentially “good-for-nothing” Hanoverian prince, are neither controlled nor damned by that name. There are certainly some things in every family’s heritage, and in every community’s heritage, that we might wish had not turned out in the manner that they did, just like Prince Edward himself was hardly exemplary in all his doings.
But we don’t have to be chained by an single part of our 250-year history and certainly, we are not dependent on it. The best history of Prince Edward County has yet to be written. As the poet Robert Browning famously said, “Come, grow old with me, the best is yet to be,” Speaking now as a preacher, I would counsel, “YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT!”
The Farmville Herald, Wednesday, January 12, 2005
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Prince Edward County, Virginia, 250th Anniversary Celebration
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