A Christmas Eve Escape

The holiday season is a time of togetherness and community. In the Heritage Area, for centuries the Christian holiday of Christmas has been celebrated with good cheer, good food, and traveling to see relatives. During the antebellum years these holiday traditions transcended economic class and social station. While white enslaving families hung stockings and boiled puddings, the households’ slaves were often allowed several days to visit friends and families on nearby farms. This period of limited scrutiny temporarily lifted the burden of slavery. Families sang and played music, laughed, ate, and made merry, sometimes for days at a time. With so much traveling and hubbub it may not be a surprise that enterprising freedom seekers might try to slip away during the Christmas season. On Christmas Eve 1855, six young Virginians did just that.

Barnaby Grigsby, his wife Mary Elizabeth, his sister-in-law Emily Foster, and Emily’s fiancé Frank Wanzer may have planned their escape for months. Two other men who accompanied them may have been part of the planning phase as well. One can imagine that coordinating the getaway took careful and quiet forethought, as the group were enslaved on at least 4 different properties between Aldie, Middleburg, and The Plains, straddling the county border of Loudoun and Fauquier. It seems the six freedom seekers already had a route in mind when, on December 24th, they absconded with one of Edwin Conrad Broun’s mercantile wagons and four horses and made for Edward’s Ferry. The Potomac River was the first obstacle, and their first real risk for discovery. But the group had come up with a simple ruse. Frank Wanzer, described as a mulatto man with pale hair, played the part of a white man transporting a group of enslaved workers across the countryside. Casual observers must have taken the scene at face value, especially since so many (white and black) people were bustling from here to there for Christmas. Another mark in their favor was that the ferryman, a free black man, was a suspected agent along the Underground Railroad.

By Christmas Eve night, the group had successfully crossed into Maryland and struck out North, following the B&O railroad. Their goal was to reach Canada by way of Columbia, PA, but there were still many miles to go and the route became much more treacherous. In the early hours of Christmas morning, Townsend McVeigh and William Rogers (who enslaved the sisters Mary Elizabeth and Emily, and Barnaby Grigsby, respectively) discovered that at least part of the group had gone missing, and quickly published a runaway slave ad.

Later Christmas Day in the vicinity of Hood’s Mill, Maryland, four of the freedom seekers were accosted in the road by six armed white men, who demanded to know their business. Frank Wanzer tried to deescalate the situation using his role as a white man, but to no effect. To the Marylanders’ surprise, the freedom seekers revealed weapons of their own, brandishing pistols and long knives. Even Emily and Mary Elizabeth were armed! One of the white men cocked his gun at the passengers of the wagon. Emily Foster, unafraid, shouted “Shoot!” at him, daring the group to fire on them. It was clear that this band of slaves was willing to fight and die in their bid for freedom. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, the six men let them pass. However, two other men from the freedom seekers’ party were too far behind to have heard the ruckus. One was shot and killed, the other captured and presumably sent back to slavery in Virginia.

A drawing of the encounter at Hood’s Mill, later published in William Still’s book

From here Barnaby, Mary Elizabeth, Emily, and Frank continued their flight north, this time without the wagon. They rode hard through the rest of Christmas Day. At night they slept outside. Though the men laid on top of the ladies’ feet, Emily and Mary Elizabeth reportedly suffered frostbite. The next day, December 26th they reached the first milestone of their goal: Columbia and Underground Railroad agent William Whipper. Whipper, a free black businessman, owned industrial railcars that doubled as secret passenger cars for freedom seekers. On New Year’s Day the group were sent via railroad to Philadelphia and UGRR agent William Still. Still took the time to interview the group before sending them to Syracuse, and by the end of January 1856 they were all employed and living free in Toronto. Still’s interview and Wanzer family history ensured that their amazing story is preserved for future generations. Notably, Still also asked each of the four what made them want to escape in the first place.

Frank Wanzer described how his mother and two of her children were sold South a few years ago, probably never to return. His enslaver, Luther Sullivan, was a mean man and apparently owed a lot of money to some creditors. It is implied that Frank was concerned about being sold out of state himself if the creditors came calling. By the outbreak of the Civil War Luther Sullivan was living in Washington D.C., having lost most of his land and enslaved workers. For his own part, Frank returned to Loudoun County in August of 1856 to free his sister, her husband, and a friend.

Emily Foster and her sister Mary Elizabeth Grigsby stated that Townsend McVeigh himself was not a cruel man, but that his wife Mary Thrift McVeigh made him mean. The young women also accused him of being a drunk. According to Mary Elizabeth and Emily, enslaved people on the McVeigh farm were not permitted to raise chickens (usually slaves were allowed to supplement the meager food supply by raising crops and fowl), and were not given enough clothing.

Barnaby Grigsby did not have a long list of grievances against his former master, William Rogers. His response was a more philosophical one. Grigsby stated that what he really wanted was “to live by the sweat of his own brow”, to which interviewer William Still added, “all men ought to live so.” William Still’s Still’s Underground Rail Road Records was first published in 1872.

“For love, money, or marbles”, the Great Hound Match of 1905

It started with a feud in the paper and two Masters of Foxhounds from Massachusetts. Harry Worcester Smith, MFH Grafton Hunt, wrote in Rider and Driver that the American foxhound should be a recognized breed, separate from British bred foxhounds. Meanwhile Alexander Henry Higginson, MFH Middlesex Hunt, insisted that there was no such thing as an “American” breed, and that if there were, British foxhounds were still superior. A challenge was proposed. Smith was to gather hounds, Higginson would do the same and the packs would duke it out “for love, money, or marbles”, according to Higginson. The goal was simple: the pack that best caught foxes would be the winner. These Massachusetts Masters of Foxhounds decided that Middleburg, Virginia, would be the battleground on which the Great Hound Match would take place, and November 1 would be the first day of reckoning.

The Middleburg and Upperville areas were used to being contested territory. During the Civil War, the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area was a borderland where armies skirmished and partisan rangers prowled. Most residents had at least one family member who had drawn arms in support of the Confederacy barely a generation ago. But newly arrived Northerners found they had a stake in history of the area too. On July 17, 1863 during the Battle of Aldie, Major Henry Lee Higginson, 1st Massachusetts cavalry, was knocked from the saddle, slashed with a saber, and shot twice. The elder Higginson survived the ordeal to become a successful broker, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and sometime advisor to President Woodrow Wilson. Forty-two years after Higginson’s wounding at Aldie, his son Alexander Henry Higginson returned for a friendly competition in what used to be dangerous rebel territory.

It was no surprise that the Loudoun Valley was chosen as the site for the Great Hound Match. Foxhunting had taken place in the area for nearly 150 years, and it was home to the United States’ oldest hunt club, the Piedmont Fox Hounds, founded in 1840 by Col. Richard Henry Dulany. In fact, the first day’s hunt began at the Colonel’s home, Welbourne, and was dedicated to the 85-year-old hunt progenitor. Dulany’s nephew, Henry Rozier Dulany, Jr., hosted Harry Worcester Smith and the Grafton hounds at Oakley near Upperville. Throughout the Great Hound Match, the field was dotted with equestrians from home and abroad, indeed, participants from 26 hunts joined in on the fun, including one hunt each from Canada, England, and Ireland. Northern Virginia’s rolling hills and rural pastures were (and still are) strikingly similar to traditional hunt country in Leicestershire, England, but the bucolic setting belies surprisingly deep creeks and steep cliffs. It is exactly the right setting for a grand drama on horseback, and that’s just what unfolded in November of 1905 as riders, whippers-in, hounds, reporters, grooms, and over 100 horses descended on the little train station in The Plains.

This undated photo of Welbourne was sent to Harry Worcester Smith, courtesy of NSLM

Far from the glitzy hotels and sparkling nightlife of New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C., visiting equestrians hacked back and forth to Hound Match meets on dirt roads often mired in mud and farm traffic. Higginson’s British hounds from the Middlesex Hunt proved to be most popular during the Match, often drawing a field of 50 or more. Onlookers praised the foreign-born hounds’ cohesiveness, and while the hounds traveled fast, nearly everyone could keep up. Higginson was wont to meet in Middleburg and cast his hounds north of town towards the Fred Farm or at Lemmon’s Bottom just across the Goose Creek Bridge. In comparison, Harry Worcester Smith’s Grafton hounds often met at Oakley but would then gallop across the territory, from Upperville to Unison to Oatlands and back in one morning. On November 9th they met at Zulla and were headed to The Plains when the Grafton hounds ran head-first into the Orange County Hounds, who were out that morning with MFH John Townsend. The OCH was founded in Goshen NY in 1900 and only started hunting in Virginia in 1903. It was only a matter of time before all the Northerners started bumping into each other! Throughout the Match, the Grafton hounds went fast. A field that might start with 20-30 riders sometimes ended with barely a third of that number, and twice the hounds were separated from Smith and had to be rounded up hours later. Among the stalwart hunters who managed to keep up with the hounds were a handful of young riders, and usually a Mrs. Tom Peirce from Boston who rode aside. Flocks of locals followed the match on horseback, hilltopping at key vantage points to see the hunt field surge past in pursuit of the wily Reynard. While hunting near the Fletcher farm, Smith called out to a rider who was trampling through a farmer’s field of winter wheat. Smith demanded that the “son-of-a-bitch” stop destroying the delicate crop, to which the rider responded it was his wheat and he’d ride over it if he pleased.

Piedmont Foxhounds in Upperville, 1921. Note that even the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike (Rt 50 today) is unpaved

The Piedmont landscape took a toll on even the most experienced riders. Frederick Okie of Piedmont Stock Farm nearly drowned in Pantherskin creek when he and his horse stumbled into a deep pool while chasing after the Middlesex hounds. That same day Harry Worcester Smith managed to break his foot and had to be cut out of his riding boot by Upperville physician Charles Rinker. Julian Ingersoll Chamberlain, who served in the New York cavalry during the Spanish American War, was not the only rider to go head over bridle while jumping over stone and barbed wire fencing. And the risks were not only physical. Higginson and a large number of his followers were arrested by Fauquier resident Amos Payne for trespassing in a wheat field. Payne insisted that all he wanted was a promise that the trespass wouldn’t be repeated, but the magistrate got involved and the situation was only cleared up with the intervention of Richard Henry Dulany, who didn’t want to jeopardize the area’s reputation to visitors.

Active Virginia hunts c. 1938. Photo courtesy of NSLM

The Great Hound Match lasted from November 1-14, with either the Middlesex or Grafton hounds running every single day except Sundays. Despite many chased foxes, no wild foxes were killed during the Match, leading some to speculate that it would result in a draw. However, in the end it was decided that Smith’s American hounds had performed better overall. Higginson accepted defeat with grace, and even his most ardent supporters admitted that they were impressed by the performance of the longer-legged contestants. Though the match was over, both Higginson and Smith had long careers in foxhunting ahead of them. The camaraderie inspired by the Match led to the formation of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of North America in 1907 with – who else?- Harry Worcester Smith as its first President. Alexander Henry Higginson was next to serve at the helm. Today MFHA headquarters are in Middleburg, Virginia. While hunt territory across the United States has been disappearing since the 1950’s due to suburban sprawl and new pastimes, open landscape and preservation have kept the sport alive in Virginia. The Old Dominion is still host to 24 active hunts, seven of which are in the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area.

Special thanks to Erica Libhart, Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum, for access to the Harry Worcester Smith archive. For a thorough retelling of the Great Hound Match of 1905, check out Martha Wolfe’s book on the subject. For more about Harry Worcester Smith and his prodigious archives, make a research appointment with the National Sporting Library & Museum.

Crednal, “a small brick house with a yard”

Completed by 1820, the DeButts’ 5 bay brick mansion became the home of Virginia statesman John Armistead Carter and his son, cavalry commander Richard Welby Carter. The legacy of this estate was made during the antebellum years and the Civil War, but it endures in communities across the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area, including the historically black villages of St. Louis and Willisville.

The property now called Crednal, and long associated with the Carter family, has its beginnings in the 18th century as a tenant farm owned by Benjamin Tasker Dulany, Jr. Like many tracts in southwestern Loudoun, it was leased to a farmer who improved the plot using forced labor. By 1785 about a dozen enslaved workers were at the property, owned and overseen by a white man living in a small, one and a half story stone residence. A generation later, Richard Welby DeButts and his wife Louisa Dulany expanded the residence to the brick edifice we see today. A sizable and well-furnished home on some 1,000 acres, a wealthy Tidewater visitor rather dismissively described it as ‘a small brick home with a yard’ when he came to the area in 1866.

Crednal as it appears today, with later additions flanking the c. 1820 home

Richard Welby died a few years into his marriage to Louisa Dulany, who then lived in the home with her second husband, Edward Hall, and their children from both marriages. Richardetta DeButts, daughter of Louisa and Richard, married Virginia statesman and Fauquier resident John Armistead Carter in 1834. They probably moved into the home around 1845, and the estate was likely named ‘Crednal’ during this time. The name is an homage to the Carter roots in Credenhill, Herefordshire, England. John Armistead Carter is perhaps best known as one of Loudoun’s two delegates to the 1861 Virginia Secession Convention in Richmond, alongside Convention President and Leesburg resident, John Janney. Carter was steadfast in his refusal to vote for secession. A lawyer and former member of the state legislature, Carter believed that states did not have the authority to secede from the union. Still, as a Virginia native and an enslaver, Carter supported the Confederate cause during the Civil War.

An 1881 commemorative medal and miniature watercolor of Richard Welby Carter. Possibly a gift from his wife Sophie for the 1881 reunion in Luray, Virginia

Carter’s VMI graduate son, Richard Welby Carter, organized a cavalry company in Spring 1861, which became Company H of the 1st VA Cavalry. The young Carter was already an accomplished horseman, having won a number of the prizes at his cousin R H Dulany’s inaugural Union Colt & Horse Show in 1853 (later renamed the Upperville Colt & Horse Show.) Carter served throughout the war, having a horse shot out from under him, being imprisoned multiple times, and rising to the rank of Colonel. Crednal itself saw action during the war, notably during 1862’s Battle of Unison, and 1863’s Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. The Civil War’s most lasting scars are evidenced by what we don’t see at Crednal. In December 1864 General Wesley Merritt’s infamous Burning Raid claimed mills, barns, stables, corn cribs, and fields across Loudoun Valley. Determined to smoke out Mosby’s Rangers and destroy the livelihood and morale of the residents, the raid is most likely responsible for the destruction of the antebellum outbuildings.

One remaining feature is the Carter family cemetery, which includes the graves of John Armistead Carter, Richardetta DeButts Carter, and several others. The enslaved cemetery lies about 50 yards away.

There are, however, other important hallmarks of Crednal’s past and its dissolution as a plantation following the Civil War. In 1860, John Armistead Carter is listed as owning 26 enslaved people at Crednal, most of whom were probably field hands. Together with the enslaved populations of nearby Welbourne and Catesby, about 100 people lived in bondage in the immediate area. These families were as intertwined as the Dulanys, Carters, and DeButts were. They knew the landscape, they survived the clash of warring nations, and on the other side of war they began to build anew.

Willisville residents Adolphus Hampton (1860-1912) and his wife Mary Florence Jackson Hampton (1869-1929)

The Jackson and Evans families bought small acreage to the west of Crednal alongside Henson and Lucinda Willis, ‘near Clifton.’ The community, which named itself Willisville, asked John Armistead Carter for support to build the 1868 schoolhouse. George Evans was the village’s first pastor. His wife Julia was likely born at Crednal and was buried there as well. While she was born into slavery, she was buried a free woman. Hers is the only carved headstone in the enslaved cemetery. To the east of Crednal, St. Louis boasted 14 families, many formerly living in slave quarters on nearby plantations. Though modest, these villages show the prosperity and opportunity of postwar life. Both Willisville and St. Louis are active communities to this day and are well worth a visit.

“Found under the standard of their country”, The Parker Family and the Retreat

Visitors to today’s Cool Spring Battlefield may be familiar with the sight of the Retreat, a turn of the 19th century home on the eastern bank of the Shenandoah. Few are familiar with its earliest owners, the Parker family of Essex and Westmoreland Counties. But the Parkers have a legacy that reaches far beyond the Heritage Area.

View of the 1799 Retreat, or Soldier’s Retreat

The Retreat was built in 1799 by Thomas Parker, the grandson of Dr. Alexander Parker who was a physician and sheriff of Essex County in the mid 18th century. Thomas and three of his brothers served as officers in the Revolutionary War. Richard, Alexander, and Thomas, served in the infantry while their brother William Harwar Parker served as a lieutenant and captain in the Virginia State Navy. Col. Richard Parker would be shot through the head during the Siege of Charleston, but the rest of the Parker sons survived the war.

Thomas volunteered to serve his country three more times in his life. In 1794 when George Washington called for militia support to quash the Whiskey Rebellion, Thomas was aide de camp for Major General Daniel Morgan. Around this time Parker purchased some 1,100 acres of farmland along the Shenandoah from John Wormsley of Cool Spring Farm. It’s during this period that Parker built the Retreat, though he didn’t have long to enjoy it before war brewed again. In the 1799 quasi-war with France, General Alexander Hamilton tasked Thomas Parker, now a colonel, to lead the 8th US Infantry and to supply three regiments with winter quarters at Harpers Ferry. There were too few uniforms, not enough money to pay the paymasters, and not enough wood in Harpers Ferry to build the huts as George Washington advised. Fortunately for Col. Parker, the matter was resolved by convention the following spring. He served again as a Colonel in the War of 1812, leading troops of the 12th US Infantry in the Canadian campaign that culminated at Lundy’s Lane. Parker thought himself overlooked for a promotion in 1813 and wrote indignantly to James Madison about the matter. For his many years of service Thomas Parker was retroactively promoted to Brigadier General, effective March 12, 1813.

Having Fought & Bled in the Service of my Country from the year Seventy Six to the End of our Revolutionary war, with the approbation of my Superiors; Having Subsequently aided (as an Aid de Camp to majr Genl Morgan,) in Suppressing a dangerous Insurrection in ninety four, Having also been Honoured with the Command of a Regiment in the year ninety nine & Eighteen hundred when our Country was threatned with a french war, & Lastly having been actively Employed for more than Twelve months without one days Respite; Either in the field or in Recruiting my Regiment; I Cannot but feel myself Injured by Having Junior officers placed over my head . . .

Col. Thomas Parker to James Madison, April 23, 1813

After Thomas Parker passed away, his property conveyed first to his widow, then to their nephew, Richard Elliott Parker. Born in 1783, Richard was the son of William Harwar Parker, an officer in the Virginia State Navy during the Revolutionary War. Richard studied law under his grandfather and had already served as a state legislator when the War of 1812 broke out. Richard served as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia, guarding the coast from British attack. While serving an important role, Richard longed for the glory and action of battlefields in the north and west.

. . I recollect during the American Revolution every relation I had on Earth old enough to draw a sword, and not too old to wield it, were found under the standard of their country, when I know that at this moment, almost every one are by land or water maintaining their violated rights and avenging our insulted honor I should be an alien to their blood and unworthy the proud name ‘Virginia’ if I did not aspire to the same distinction.

Richard Parker to Virginia Governor James Barbour, July 6, 1813
Judge Richard Elliott Parker

After the war Richard returned to life as a lawyer, relocating to the Retreat. In 1836 he became the first man from the newly-formed Clarke County to serve as a Senator, but left the post after a few months to accept a seat on the Virginia Supreme Court. He died a few years later in 1840, and the Retreat passed to his son, also named Richard E. Parker.

The younger Richard Parker was born in 1810 and went into the family business, practicing law in Berryville. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1848, and in 1851 became judge of the 13th district circuit court in Virginia, a post he held for nearly twenty years. It is in this capacity that Judge Parker became part of one of the most dramatic court cases of the 19th century: the trial of John Brown. Even though John Brown’s failed raid took place on Federal land, Virginia’s governor Wise ordered that Brown be tried in the Virginia court system, in nearby Charles Town (now West Virginia.) The trial only lasted three days. On October 31, 1859 the jury declared John Brown guilty and on November 2 Judge Parker sentenced him to death.

Judge Richard Parker

While Richard Parker himself remained a civilian during the Civil War that broke out, three of his cousins enlisted. Foxhall A. Parker served in the US Navy, eventually becoming a commodore and then Commandant of the Naval Academy at Annapolis. His writings became textbooks at the academy for generations. Dangerfield Parker was an officer with the US Infantry who became brevet major after being wounded at Gettysburg in 1863. William Harwar Parker resigned his post in the US Navy in 1861 to join the Confederacy. He became the lieutenant and superintendent of the Patrick Henry, a floating naval academy. The three warring Parker brothers are a fascinating reminder of the Civil War being fought ‘brother against brother’.

Sweet Home Atoka

If you find yourself driving between Winchester, Leesburg, and Warrenton, odds are at some point you’ll drive through Atoka, historically known as Rector’s Crossroads. A key intersection since the early 19th century, it’s also the home of MHAA headquarters. You will find a handful of historic buildings here, as well as a Civil War Trails sign to tell you more about the conflict here. When you stop by for a visit, here’s what you’ll see in our tiny hamlet.

Atoka owes much, if not all, of its history to the highway it once straddled. For over 200 years Ashby’s Gap Turnpike/State Rt. 50 ran right through town. This tiny village saw stage coaches, slave coffles, adventurers, rebels, yankees, and automobiles travel between Alexandria, Winchester, and Marshall, before being bypassed by the US highway system in 1957. A generation later the Atoka Preservation Society was formed to save the crossroads from development and to preserve its historic buildings. In 2014 the Society gifted the Rector House and Angus Brown House to the Heritage Area, along with the responsibilities of maintaining the homes and interpreting Atoka’s history.

Rector’s Lane follows the grade of the original Turnpike, and was bypassed in 1957

The Caleb Rector House was built in 1801, with several additions made over the centuries. A traditional Quaker stone house, the original property included several outbuildings and a stone springhouse. The springhouse still stands across the road from the main home, and was used by Rectors, enslaved workers, Civil War soldiers, and travelers over the years. The home is named for Caleb Rector, who lived in the home with his wife Mary Ann by 1861. In the years before the Civil War at least eight enslaved people lived at the property. Caleb and Mary Ann’s son, Caleb Jr., joined the local Confederate cavalry after war broke out. Caleb Jr. was captured at Yellow Tavern s in 1864 and died in Point Lookout POW Camp in Maryland. The Rector House’s biggest claim to fame came on June 10, 1863 when John Singleton Mosby formalized his partisan group as the 43rd Virginia Cavalry inside the Rectors’ parlor. With orders to run a special unit using selected Confederate cavalrymen housed in willing local “safe houses,”  Mosby’s men regularly gathered at the crossroads for raids on Union troops and supplies. This is also where JEB Stuart received orders before Gettysburg, inspiring his infamous ride. The home remained in Rector family possession until the 1980’s. Many still remember sitting on the porch, watching passers by, and drinking cool sodas from the Rectors’ store across the street. Now the Rector House is home to MHAA offices and is open to visitors (please call to make an appointment!) Recently, a fascinating artifact was discovered in the attic here- a pillow constructed from the WWI uniform of resident and veteran Maurice Bryant Rector.

The Rector House, c. 1801
The springhouse

The Blacksmith lies to the right of the store, on the north side of the street. This unassuming white clapboard structure was built in 1927 as a gas station. Before the Civil War stood the gas station’s predecessor, a blacksmith shop.  Reputedly run by a fellow named Davis, civilian travelers and soldiers alike would have used the services of the blacksmith at this crucial crossroads. The smith’s location next to a spring made it a perfect “pit stop”. It was one of the reasons Mosby often selected Rector’s Crossroads for a rendezvous. Behind the store, the blacksmith’s simple four-room house still stands on private property.

The Store and restaurant that stands on the north side of Rector’s lane was built in 1892, but records show a store and post office having stood on this site as early as 1838. Visitors and residents could purchase stage coach tickets for turnpike trips between Alexandria and Winchester from the postmaster, Elijah Anderson. In 1892, the US Postmaster General declared that post office names should match their railway stops, and that both should match their town names. Nearby Rectortown already had a railway stop, so to prevent further confusion “Rector’s Crossroads” changed its name to Atoka. Though the post office came and went, the new name stuck. The store is now home to Pizzatoka, a local landmark in itself.

Pizzatoka, in the 1892 store

The Angus Brown House, next to the store, is not named for a former occupant. Though the log home was built circa 1830, it received its moniker thanks to the 1863 battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. In the field opposite the house on June 21, 1863, Angus Brown’s 1st South Carolina Cavalry made a stand, having fallen back from the ridge on the east side of the village. Brown was buying time for General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry and horse artillery to get across the four-arch stone turnpike bridge over Goose Creek just to the northwest. The stand succeeded in buying time, but at the cost of Angus Brown’s life. The house served as office space for local non-profits for some time before becoming a private home again.

An inside view of the Brown House, showing some original timbers on the walls and ceiling

Kaos, aka The Deane House was built by storekeeper Asa Rector in 1893. This commodious Victorian home is the newest home in the Atoka Historic District. Some of the outbuildings behind the Deane house are most likely original to the Rector House’s property, and would have included things like a smoke house and enslaved quarters.

When is the last time you stopped by Atoka? Call ahead to schedule a tour of the Rector House, or come any time to see the tiny settlement we call home.

Aldie’s Eleanor Truax Harris: “One of Virginia’s Best Citizens”

Eleanor Truax was born in 1869 to US Army Captain Sewall Truax, a Civil War Union veteran, and Sarah Chandler Truax, both born Canadians, but raised as New Englanders. After the Civil War, Major and Mrs. Truax were stationed at Fort Lapwai in the Idaho Territory with the US Army, preventing prospective miners from invading the Nez Perce Reservation during the 1860s gold rush. Major Truax ran a general store on the Reservation prior to the family’s departure for his next post, facilitating the building of a road through the Lolo Pass, a former Nez Perce trail crossed by Lewis and Clark in 1805. Eleanor Truax grew up in the wild northwest, among the rough and tumble manifest destiny of frontier culture, neighboring with Native Americans, prospectors, career soldiers, and rugged terrain.

Fort Lapwai c. 1917

Eleanor Truax became a teacher in Spokane, Washington, where she married and was widowed very suddenly at a young age. Mining stock from her late husband gave Eleanor financial security, which allowed her to grieve in Europe, studying foreign languages, music, and culture until the onset of the Spanish-American War brought the family back to Walla Walla, Washington. There she met Captain Floyd Harris who was training troops preparing to depart for the Philippines, before embarking himself to join General Arthur MacArthur as an aide-de-camp. They started writing each other and later married in Hong Kong in 1900.

In the early years of their marriage the Harrises raised their children in Manila, England’s Lake District, and Vienna, where Col. Harris served at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph. Mrs. Harris joined the Royal Horticultural Society of London and fell in love with England’s narcissus, or daffodil, relating to the Lake Poets, especially Wordsworth who canonized the flower with his 1815 “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth (1815)

In 1907, the Harrises returned to America in search of an inspiring weekend retreat, which they found in Aldie at Stoke. Mrs. Harris immediately upon seeing Stoke, stated “This is home.”

Stoke as it appears today

It became more than just a weekend home. She went straight to work transforming the grounds into terraced gardens with hedges of boxwood and rows of daffodils, breathing European flair into this historic Virginia farm, formerly owned by the Berkeley family of longstanding Virginia pedigree.  Eleanor worked with Beaux Arts architect Nathan Wyeth to renovate and expand the 1840 Greek Revival home into a Renaissance Revival estate.  Nathan Wyeth later would design a bevy of the Embassy buildings and official residences in Washington, D.C., in addition to the D.C. Armory, and the West Wing of the White House. They together accomplished a simpatico blending of the two eras of Stoke into such a stunning masterpiece which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.  In addition to its architectural design, the register accepted the nomination because of the legacy of Eleanor Truax Harris and her contributions to horticulture.

Eleanor Harris created the Berkeley Nurseries at Stoke, which became the Narcissus Test Gardens for the Garden Club of Virginia. She nurtured and hybridized daffodils and as the Garden Club of Virginia’s publication Garden Gossip stated, she introduced daffodils to the general Virginia gardener who may previously have given them little notice. Mrs. Harris predicted Holland bulbs would be embargoed by the United States in 1925 due to Dutch Elm Disease, and she arranged large shipments of bulbs to beautify the village of Aldie and its surrounding homes with daffodils. Mrs. Harris founded the Aldie Horticultural Society in 1923 with her group of fellow gardeners who also planted the imported bulbs, giving them the nickname of the “Aldie Bulb Growers.” This later enabled Aldie families struggling financially during the 1930s to make money selling cut flowers that were taken by train from The Plains, Virginia to New York City. Women seldom could assist in providing income in upper-class homes, due to social mores and tradition, but in this instance, Mrs. Harris provided an outlet for women to engage in industry without undue judgment.  Her boxwood cuttings also made their impact on the surrounding countryside. The Garden Club of Virginia noted in 1937 that: “The renaissance in box was largely due to Mrs. Harris. She loved this beautiful evergreen and grew acres of different varieties with extraordinary success.”

Stoke gardens today

At her passing in 1937, editor Douglas Southall Freeman wrote of Mrs. Harris in the Richmond News Leader

“The gracious obituary of Mrs. Eleanor Truax Harris we had the pleasure of printing Saturday did not overstate the services of one of Virginia’s best citizens…. Her home, Stoke, at Aldie, not only is one of the most beautiful places in Virginia but also was the seat of a hospitality and a kindly culture that enriched thousands.”

Richmond News Leader, April 9, 1937

Eleanor Truax Harris was the spouse of a well-regarded statesman with an accomplished career, but she established her own fame and legacy.  A generous, community-minded woman, Mrs. Harris brought a quintessentially American strength and toughness mixed with a sophisticated European sensibility to Aldie. She was the perfect match to Col. Harris, and was equally comfortable in the high courts of Europe and the hills of Virginia.  Her flair, vision for improvement and beautification all speak to Mrs. Harris’ artistic character; the daffodil imprimatur she left blooming in her beloved village speaks to her continuing presence and legacy.

Rusticating and Vegetating: Wallis Simpson in the Heritage Area

Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in 1896 in a hotel cottage in rural Pennsylvania. Despite her humble birth and her father’s death a few months later, Bessie Wallis nevertheless enjoyed a childhood of relative ease in her wealthy uncle’s home in Baltimore. As a young girl he financed her education at the prestigious Oldfields school, where she befriended members of the Kirk and Du Pont families. During her time at Oldfields Bessie Wallis became enamored with her young basketball coach, Charlotte Noland. A native of the Middleburg area, both Charlotte and her sister Rosalie taught at the school. Wallis remembered ‘Miss Charlotte’ as “A marvelous horsewoman, and dashing in every setting.”1

Bessie Wallis Warfield and her mother, Alice Montague Warfield

From about 1910-1913 Wallis (she dropped ‘Bessie’ by the time she was a teenager) spent part of every summer at Miss Charlotte’s summer camp for girls, hosted at the Noland family home of Burrland. The girls rode, played tennis, and took carriage rides across the countryside – often to visit the Tabbs at Glen Ora. Miss Charlotte’s handsome cousin Lloyd Tabb was often tasked with driving the girls from one place to another, a situation which delighted the young pupils. Fifteen years later her school and camp connections would help Wallis through her first divorce from Win Spencer.

Burrland, built for Cuthbert Powell Noland and Rosalie Haxall Noland. Charlotte Haxall Noland hosted girls like Wallis for annual summer camps before she founded Foxcroft School in 1914.

It was during her “divorce years”, 1925-1927, that Wallis spent the most time in the Virginia piedmont. By 1925 she had been married for nine years and had traveled across America and Europe, and spent time in China. Dissatisfied with her alcoholic and absent husband Win Spencer, the couple agreed to divorce. Virginia required $300 and a period of separation to file. Wallis decided that self-imposed exile to Fauquier’s countryside would be an appropriate price to pay to regain her independence. She did not necessarily relish the prospect. “For a woman seeking a divorce,” she later wrote, “the price also included the prospect of being voluntarily buried alive for two years.”2 She chose to be ‘buried alive’ in room 212 of the Warren Green Hotel, a spot popular with travelling salesmen. The decor was passe, and she shared a hall bath with the other residents, but it wasn’t all bad. It was a period of decided calm in Wallis’ life, and she later reflected that for the most part “I mostly rusticated and when I wasn’t rusticating I vegetated with equal satisfaction.”3 She followed local hunts and the Virginia Gold Cup, often with Hugh Armistead Spilman.

The hotel as it appears today

Spilman, also a resident at the Warren Green, was apparently very taken with Wallis. A mutual friend insisted that Spilman kept a large photo of Wallis hung on his wall, and that he would kiss it whenever he passed by. Another long-held Fauquier legend is that Wallis would hang a scarf from her balcony as a clandestine invitation for Spilman to visit her room4. Alas, he didn’t have the ambition or lifestyle Wallis was looking for in a second husband. Newly divorced, and recently shut out of her uncle’s will, Wallis was pragmatic about her prospects. She poked fun at the hapless Spilman, suggesting he never read anything other than the Daily Racing Forum, and when he asked her to marry him her response was, “I’m poor, you’re poor. We both need money.”

Once her divorce from Win Spencer was finalized in 1927 she moved on to New York City and married a wealthy businessman, Ernest Simpson. It was through Ernest that she was introduced to English society and, eventually Edward, Prince of Wales. She enjoyed being his favorite, and their relationship played an obvious part in the dissolution of her marriage to Simpson, but still she urged Edward (or David, as she called him) not to revoke his claim to the throne for her sake. As history tells us, he did so anyways.

Wallis Simpson’s presentation at court, 1931

Because of the couples’ Nazi sympathies, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were sent westward to the Bahamas during World War II. The Duke’s governorship of the Bahamas was akin to an exile, and they only ventured from the islands a couple of times during the war. In 1941 they visited Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and made time for one more visit to friends in the Fauquier area. Their whirlwind tour included visits with well-to-do friends at Oakwood, Prospect Hill, Wakefield, and Foxcroft School. They also visited Clovelly, which was being used as a safehouse for British refugee children at the time5. Wallis, always ambitious and rarely sentimental, did not comment on the great changes in her life over the last thirty-odd years that took her away from and back to the piedmont. Though nearly 100 years has passed since Wallis’ ‘divorce years’ at the Warren Green Hotel, plenty of others have since discovered that the Heritage Area is still a great place for ‘rusticating and vegetating.’

  1. Sebba, Anne. (2012) That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor: Macmillan, 13
  2. Morton, Andrew. (2018) Wallis in Love: The Untold True Passion of the Duchess of Windsor. New York, New York: Grand Central Publishing
  3. Morton
  4. Toler, John, “Wallis Warfield in Warrenton, and Beyond” News and Notes from the Fauquier Historical Society, Vol. 2. No. 2., 1
  5. Toler, 6

Before Garden Week: Early Garden Clubs in the Heritage Area

Springtime in Virginia means many things: peepers, daffodils, country drives, spring races, and of course, Historic Garden Week. While garden tours are postponed this year, spring is the perfect time to take a look at two of the Mosby Heritage Area’s earliest garden clubs. For many years before the first Historic Garden week, these organizations served their communities and advocated for education, preservation, and the beauty of our landscape.

Garden as though you will live forever.

Thomas Moore

Virginia’s first garden club took root in Warrenton in 1911, founded by Mary Goodman Appleton and Elizabeth Sharpless Keith. Appleton was inspired by friends and relatives who had founded the Garden Club of Philadelphia only a few years before. A society of ladies, the Warrenton Garden Club began as a way to swap plants, study gardening books, and beautify the roadways of the mud-choked Piedmont. In 1913 the Warrenton Garden Club earned the distinction of being the only Virginia club present at the founding of the Garden Club of America.

5 Warrenton homes open for Historic Garden Week
The Appleton garden at Marshfield

In turn, the Warrenton Garden Club propagated the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club. Mrs. Hetty Cary Fairfax resigned from the Warrenton group to found a new one, organized at the Middleburg’s Confederate Hall in 1915. The first established committee was tasked with roadside maintenance and beautification. As in Warrenton, the roadways throughout the area were often mired in mud or deeply rutted by carriage wheels. Only a few automobiles dotted the landscape, and new road building projects often left shoulders bare and ugly. Even worse, billboards were starting to appear, marring Virginia’s natural verdure. Virginia garden clubs would rally to oppose them for generations to come.

The garden of Hetty Cary Harrison, founding member of the Fauquier Loudoun Garden Club, at Belvoir in The Plains. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1928

Those early couple of years were exciting and pleasant for the Warrenton, and Fauquier and Loudoun clubs. Each held a flower show, one at Oatlands Hall, another at the Warrenton Horse Show clubhouse. But soon they, and millions of other Americans, were called to a higher responsibility. During World War One, both clubs raised funds for the Red Cross. Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club founding member Charlotte Haxall Noland became a Colonel in the Land Army and recruited hundreds of area women to pick fruit, harvest crops, and perform numerous other tasks in support of American troops.

Miss Charlotte harvesting one of the many Victory Gardens planted by the Women's Land Army in 1918.
“Miss Charlotte” working with the Women’s Land Army. Photo property of Foxcroft School

On May 13, 1920 burgeoning independent clubs were gathered together as the Garden Club of Virginia in Richmond. Warrenton founders Mary Appleton and Mrs. E. Nelson Fell were present (The only VA group represented at the founding of GCA and GCV), along with representatives from the James River, Augusta, Norfolk, Dolly Madison, Danville, and Albemarle Garden Clubs. Hetty Cary Harrison and Marguerite Davis of the Fauquier Loudoun Garden Club were counted as founding members of the Garden Club of Virginia though they were unable to attend the May 13 meeting. The newly formed Garden Club of Virginia banded together to support the preservation of colonial gardens at Monticello and Kenmore Plantation. English boxwood plantings and colonial style gardens were wildly popular during this period, encouraging new scholarship on the history of colonial homes and their properties.

Marguerite Davis, First Lady of Virginia, at the gate of the boxwood garden at Morven Park. Photo property of Morven Park.

Much more should and will be said of the Garden Club of Virginia’s support of preservation and stewardship in the Old Dominion. For generations these tenacious ladies have accomplished much for our state and the Heritage Area. Whether in private homes, historic properties, or open spaces, their contributions encourage a love of the landscape we all share.

The viewshed from Virginia’s rural roads was a priority for the Warrenton and Fauquier Loudoun Garden Clubs.

“I Am Now No Longer Your Commander”, The Disbandment of the 43rd VA

Reminiscing about his time with Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, John Munson recalled that after March 1863’s successful kidnapping of Gen. Edwin Stoughton, “To get his men out of the trouble into which it had been so easy to get, was now Mosby’s care, for he always looked after that part of his exploits.” In two years of operation, including 1 year, 9 months, and eleven days as the official commander of the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, John Singleton Mosby got his men into and out of plenty of trouble. On April 21, 1865 he performed his last duty to lead the men in his command from harm, which was to disband the unit and give Mosby’s Rangers a free choice to surrender to the United States.

The decision to disband did not come lightly. On the same day that General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, a newly-formed company of Rangers was on its first raid against Union supply lines. Mosby himself first learned of the surrender through a copy of the Baltimore American, and his first correspondent about surrender was from United States Major General Winfield Hancock, stationed in Winchester. On April 11th he relayed a message from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that cavalrymen of the 43rd were to be offered the same generous terms of surrender as the men in the Army of Northern Virginia, with one caveat: “The guerrilla chief Mosby will not be paroled.”

John Singleton Mosby, photographed shortly after his promotion to Colonel, 1865

John Mosby stalled for time, agreeing to an armistice but no surrender until he had clearer instructions from General Lee, via scout Channing Smith. Lee’s weary advice to Smith and the 43rd was to “go home . . and help build up the shattered fortunes of our old state.” A dutiful (if irregular) soldier, Mosby prepared to do just that when he rode into Millwood on April 20th. Tensions were high in Clarke’s Hotel, where nearly forty men, both Union and Confederate, crammed into the parlor. Before Mosby could make a decision to sign the terms, a young and uninvited ranger burst into the room, declaring that the Yankees had a thousand cavalrymen stashed in the woods ready to capture them. Mosby stood, ready for any action but with his characteristic steely nerve, and led his men out of the Hotel and eastward back over the Blue Ridge. The phantom Yankees never appeared.

Clarke’s Hotel, Millwood, VA

The Colonel knew his time was up. He had been given a chance to surrender his command and the offer wasn’t likely to come again unless forced on the end of a bayonet. Thinking again of the men in his command and not his own status as an outlaw, he penned a final farewell to those who had fought with him in numerous hair raising adventures. About 200 riders of the 43rd Virginia gathered just outside of Salem Virginia on April 21, 1865. Mosby did not recite his farewell aloud, instead company officers read the letter to the men assembled. Many, including the Colonel, wept openly at his words:

Soldiers! I have summoned you together for the last time. The vision we have cherished of a free and independent country, has vanished, and that country, is now in the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies. I am now no longer your commander. After association of more than two eventful years, I part from you with a just pride, in the fame of your achievements, and grateful recollections of your generous kindness to myself. And now at this moment of bidding you a final adieu accept the assurance of my unchanging confidence and regard. Farewell.

Jno. S. Mosby, Colonel
Glen Welby, the Confederate safehouse where Mosby penned his farewell message to the 43rd battalion.

While most of his Rangers surrendered and paroled, Mosby first intended to join General Johnston before learning of his surrender to Sherman. After that point he lived with relatives, living under the radar of the $5,000 bounty on his head. On June 13, with assurances from his brother William, he tried to surrender in Lynchburg, Virginia, but was denied parole there. Finally, with the help of a personal plea from his wife Pauline Mosby, the Colonel was granted parole from Ulysses S. Grant. The Gray Ghost never regretted his actions in the Civil War, nor did he regret the tortuous decision to disband the 43rd VA. He went on to serve his state and country as a consul in Hong Kong, an agent in the General Land Office, and as an assistant attorney in the Department of Justice.

Want to learn more about John Mosby at the end of the Civil War? Want to see the sites for yourself? Enjoy this Driving Tour, or visit the Mosby Heritage Area Association website for more!

Reading Questions: In your own words, please answer the following questions.

  1. Why did John Mosby stall for more time when General Hancock asked for his surrender?
  2. In what ways did John Mosby demonstrate leadership? Give at least two examples.
  3. Who is a leader that you respect? What makes him or her a good leader?

John Lederer’s Zynodoa

In 1607 the Virginia Company claimed a vast new British colony in the New World; Virginia. Shortly afterwards an official writ declared that Virginia included land between the 34th and 39th parallels, from sea to sea. While the territory was undeniably huge, it was impossible to tell just how huge it was because no one could find a passage to the western sea. European powers were eager to find such a passage, as they believed that India and China lay a short distance from the California coast. However, British colonists had their hands full in the first few decades building forts, raising crops of tobacco, and alternately making war and peace with nearby indigenous groups. Moreover, few possessed the bravery and know-how to traverse the wide Piedmont and ascend the mountain range beyond.

This 1670 map by Augustin Herrman shows English settlement only extended as far westward as the fall line of most major rivers.

As time went on, Governor William Berkeley became increasingly interested in what lay beyond the tidewater. He unsuccessfully petitioned Parliament for 200 armed men to be sent westward in pursuit of California and the Indian Ocean, and in 1669 settled on employing a much smaller band of explorers. At their head was 25 year old John Lederer, a German physician. In contrast to his English counterparts, Lederer kept a careful account of the ventures undertaken in March 1669, and May and August 1670. He wrote in Latin about the geography, fauna, and indigenous populations of central and south-western Virginia, heading from the fall lines of the York and James rivers into the colony of (North) Carolina. His aim was to discover a place the Indians called Sara, where the mountains were low and easy to cross. Lederer’s first travels each lasted for weeks, and included hair-raising incidents like witnessing the murder of two native ambassadors to the Akenatzy (or Occaneechi) king, and bartering his gun and ammunition for his life from the Tuscarora. Still, Lederer wrote that by and large, American Indians lived in peaceful and prosperous settlements, and that many of their elders spoke with intelligence and wisdom likened to contemporary European politicians. But by summer 1670 the political tide had turned against the young German, so his foray from the Rappahannock river to the Appalachians would be his last.

Map of John Lederer’s adventures. His journey to the lower Shenandoah Valley in August 1670 is shown at the far right.

This time the route veered North rather than South. There was rumored to be a gap in the mountains in Northern Virginia known only as Zynodoa. Lederer set out in late August with Colonel John Catlett and a handful of both European and American Indian guides. Catlett was a natural choice, being the sheriff of Rappahannock County (now Essex County) and the owner of 200 acres near the fall line of the Rappahannock River. They set out from Catlett’s neighbor Robert Taliaferro’s property near present-day Fredericksburg and followed the Rappahannock’s northwesterly direction for two days. Those familiar with Northern Virginia’s hills, fields, and streams will recognize Lederer’s description:

“These Savanae are low grounds at the foot of the Apalataeans. . . [and] their verdure is wonderful pleasant to the eye, especially of such as having travelled through the shade of the vast forest, come out of a melancholy darkness of a sudden, into a clear and open skie. To heighten the beauty of these parts, the first springs of most of those great rivers which run into the Atlantick ocean, or Cheseapeack Bay, do here break out, and in various branches interlace the flowry meads, whose luxurious herbage invites numerous herds of red deer. . . to feed.”

John Lederer, 1670
Detail of Lederer’s map to show his journey East to West along the Rappahannock. Robert Taliaferro’s property near present-day Fredericksburg is at the far right.

On the twenty-sixth of August the party came to the foot of the Blue Ridge. Finding no way up for the horses, Lederer, Catlett, and a few other individuals scaled the mountain and named it for the king. This point is believed to be at Linden, Virginia, where a marker declares the 1669 discovery of the Shenandoah Valley by a European explorer. Lederer wrote that the air was thick and cold on the mountain, and it took most of the day to reach the summit. Here, they were hoping to see what had eluded Europeans for so long: a glimpse of an easy pass through the mountains, and maybe even a glimmer of a sea beyond.

Looking across the Blue Ridge, Photo by Mike Chirieleison

They were not so lucky, but doubtless the view they saw was a beautiful one. On reaching the summit of their little mountain, Lederer and Catlett saw . . . more mountains. Many more mountains, much taller than the one they now occupied, arranged in a ridge some 50 leagues away, by Colonel Catlett’s estimation. There was no sign of Zynodoa, a gateway through the mountain range. Deflated, the party returned to the Tidewater. Here we may well have lost Lederer’s account of his travels, as Governor Berkeley was no longer interested in making them public. In fact, Lederer himself had to move to Maryland as he had few friends among Virginia society. It’s here that his record was translated and published in 1772 by Maryland Governor William Talbot, who no doubt still hoped to discover Zynodoa and the riches of the West. Within a century Zynodoa and the valley would be called by their modern name, Shenandoah.