Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fletcher Claytor (1859-1949): Born Enslaved, Died Free

Fletcher Claytor was born enslaved in 1859[1]. When the 1870 census was enumerated Fletcher lived in the household of Gloster and Irena Claytor. In the same household were three daughters born after the Civil War and assumed to be the daughters of Gloster and Irena. Also in the household were three  teen-aged boys -- George, Jack, and Fletcher. Perhaps Irena is their mother; we just don't know for sure who their parents were. This Claytor household lived in the Locust Grove district of Floyd County, Virginia. We know from cohabitation registers held by the Library of Virginia, several people formerly enslaved by Harvey Claytor,[2] a large landowner in Franklin County, Virginia, settled in Floyd County.

Fletcher Claytor (1859-1949); courtesy of Daryl Watkins
via Jane Lawry

By 1880 Fletcher Claytor left home as he was not enumerated with Gloster and Irena but I have been unable to find him in that decennial census. Fletcher married Serena A. Reynolds, daughter of Harvey A. and Nancy (Guerrant) Reynolds, on 26 August 1888 in Floyd County. When the 1900 census was enumerated Fletcher owned a farm free and clear with no mortgage, and he and Serena had five children.

In September 1908 Serena became a patient at the Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia. The institution was originally known as the Central Lunatic Asylum and was the first such institution established in the country for "colored persons of unsound mind." Patients of the hospital were admitted for being demented, tubercular, epileptic, criminal, suicidal or suffering from psychosis. Until 1915 some of the supposed causes of psychosis included abortion, masturbation, or typhoid fever. Before the Civil War the enslaved who deserted, were emancipated, or married without permission could be diagnosed as psychotic and committed!

Central State Hospital building for chronically ill females; courtesy of

Fletcher remained on his farm in Floyd County with three of his five children. Ulysses (born about 1894) and Junie V., (born about 1897) were not listed on the 1910 census or on any later record so it is assumed they died some time between 1900 and 1910. Fletcher's wife, Serena, died on 24 October 1918 at the Central State Hospital of acute dysentery.

By 1930 all of the children had left home. Fletcher continued to live on his farm. A married couple also lived on the farm and helped with farm labor and housekeeping. In 1940 a different married couple helped out with the farm and Fletcher had boarders.

Some time after 1940, Fletcher Claytor moved to Garten, West Virginia, where his daughter, Sadie May (Claytor) Ritchie lived with her husband and children.

On 7 January 1948 Fletcher wrote his last will and testament:

I, Fletcher Claytor, residing in Garten in the county of Fayette and State of West Virginia being in sound mind and disposing memory do make and ordain and declare this to be my last will and testament, by revoking all former wills and codicils by me made.

In the Fayette Co. National Bank is $3,000.00. I bequeath to the heirs of my oldest son, Leonard ($1,000.00) one thousand dollars.

To my son, O. M. Claytor, I bequeath ($1,000.00) one thousand dollars and to my daughter, Sadie Ritchie, I bequeath ($1,000.00) one thousand dollars.

I loaned to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Garten ($1,500.00) one thousand and five hundred dollars, which will be due in Nov. 1948 with 6% interest making a total of $1,590.00, one thousand five hundred and ninety dollars. This is to be divided equally among the heirs named above $530.00 each.

Lastly, I evoke[?] constitute and appoint my son, O. (Orestes) M. Claytor to be the executor of this my last will and testament.

In witness whereof I have hereunto subscribed this the 7th day of January in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and forty-eight.

Fletcher Claytor (signed)

The Children

HIRAM LEONARD CLAYTOR was born about 1891 in Virginia, likely Floyd County. He married Isabelle M. Chambliss on 20 January 1924 in Princeton, West Virginia. Hiram, who went by Leonard, was struck by an automobile on 21 August 1933 in Princeton and died the next day from a fractured skull. He and Isabelle had two sons: Hiram Leonard, Jr., and Clarence. Isabelle married Arthur Joseph Forney, a widower, on 17 October 1936 in Tazewell County, Virginia.

ORESTES MEREDITH CLAYTOR was born on 21 June 1892 in Floyd County. He served with the U.S. Army during World War I as a private in Company I, 802nd Pioneer Infantry. Pioneer infantry regiments were trained in infantry tactics but also combat engineering. Twenty of the 37 Pioneer infantry regiments in World War I were filled by African-Americans.

802nd Pioneer Infantry breaks stone to build roads so that guns can be brought
up to be placed in position. Chappy Meuse, France. Oct. 12, 1918; courtesy of
the U.S. Army

Orestes sailed from Brest, France, on the SS Nansemond on 28 June 1919 and was honorably discharged the following month. Some time before the 1930 census was enumerated he married, but his wife's name is not known at this time. On 1 September 1954 in Charleston, West Virginia, he married Lera Alice (Kidd) Berger; both were divorced. Orestes died in on 12 November 1975 in Charleston. He was interred in Spring Hill Cemetery in that same city. No children were mentioned in his obituary.

ULYSSES S. CLAYTOR was born about 1894 in Virginia, likely Floyd County. He died some time between 1900 and 1910.

SADIE MAY CLAYTOR was born on 8 November 1905 in Floyd County. She married Samuel James Ritchie on 17 August 1913 in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Samuel died on 25 June 1965 in Raleigh County and Sadie died on 21 July 1976. They had ten children: Goldie May, Lurinda, Dorothy Evelyn, Henry Orestes, James Leroy, Joseph Edward, William Orswell, Thomas Demaurice, Samuel Vatelle, and Harold Lonelle.

JUNIE V. CLAYTOR was born about 1897 in Virginia, likely Floyd County. She died some time between 1900 and 1910.

NOTE: A Letcher Claytor born about 1860 lived in the household of David and Letitia Claytor in Franklin County, Virginia, in 1870 and 1880 but I have discounted him as being this Fletcher Claytor as other records consistently indicated Fletcher was born in Floyd County. At least that is my current working theory.

[1] Based on his age at death which was 89 years, 8 months, 15 days.

[2] Some think Fletcher Claytor was the son of Harvey Claytor and the family cook, Letitia, who was also enslaved. However, in 1870, he did not live in the same household as Letitia but rather in the household of Gloster and Irena Claytor. I have several DNA matches with descendants of Harvey Claytor and Letitia, but do not with descendants of Gloster or Irena Claytor. Harvey Claytor's mother was the daughter of my five times great grandfather Robert Mitchell (c1714-1799).

In Celebration of Black History Month (or More DNA Discoveries)

Monday, February 25, 2019

McMullin Family: Where Did They Go? The Illinois Contingent

Mary (McMullin) Beard, one of my three times great grandmothers had been a brick wall for Dad and me for many years. We knew little beyond her name from a Bedford County, Virginia, marriage record and that she died some time before 1850 when her widowed husband remarried. Thanks to a few DNA matches with people who had the McMullin/McMullen surname in their trees and communications with one of those matches, I found two Chancery Court cases at the Library of Virginia, which unlocked Mary Mullin's family.[1]

Map of Botetourt County; courtesy of Etsy

My four times great grandfather, Matthew McMullen, Sr., moved his family to Botetourt County from Warrington, Pennsylvania (York County) sometime in 1790 or early 1791. One of his daughters, Elizabeth, married Joseph Withrow soon after arriving in Virginia. Joseph Withrow was born in 1772 in Pennsylvania. As a young boy, he moved with his family to Botetourt County, Virginia, likely traveling on the Great Wagon Road. The county was formed from the southern portion of Augusta County in 1770 and is situated where the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountain ranges run close together, separated by the James River.

Joseph and Elizabeth (McMullin) Withrow's first child was born in 1791. They had seven more children before moving to Washington County, Kentucky, near  Muldraugh Hill in 1811. Today Muldraugh Hill is a central Kentucky landmark, an escarpment which separates the Bluegrass region from the Mississippi plateau. In Kentucky, Joseph and Elizabeth had two more children. Elizabeth (McMullin) Withrow died after the 1820 census was taken.

List of 1822 marriages; courtesy

On 5 June 1822, Joseph married again to Susan Landis. Joseph and Susan had a child in Kentucky before removing north to Sangamon County, Illinois. They settled in Woodside township in 1825 and had another child. Joseph deposited a certificate at the Springfield Land Office on 1 May 1826, proving he had fully paid for 163 acres of public land offered for sale by the federal government.

Back in Bedford County, Joseph Withrow's former brother-in-law, James Harvey Beard, who had married Elizabeth McMullin's sister, Mary, filed a cause in the county Chancery Court in his position as administrator of Daniel McMullin's estate. Daniel was a brother of Elizabeth and Mary. The case was quite complicated but did detail the McMullin family relationships.

Snippet of Bedford County Chancery Court cause 1832-067; courtesy of the
Library of Virginia

The relevant part for tracing the Withrow family was found in the initial filing by James Harvey Beard:

"...Elizabeth Withrow, widow and relic of Joseph Withrow, deceased; Peggy Withrow, William Withrow, _____ Cloyd and Ann his wife, late Ann Withrow; Robert Withrow; _____ Ferrell and Sally his wife, late Sally Withrow; Matthew Withrow; Harvey Withrow; Tabitha Withrow; and Caroline Withrow..."

So in 1831, the McMullin family knew that Joseph and Elizabeth Withrow had left Virginia and headed west. It seems the McMullin family thought Joseph was deceased. "Widow and relic" makes one think Elizabeth was still alive, but if she was, why name her children? They would have only been relevant to the Bedford County case if their mother was deceased as she was one of heirs in the case.

I also surmise Elizabeth and Joseph lost contact with their Virginia McMullin family. As they didn't know that Elizabeth predeceased her husband and the names of all their children or the fact that Joseph Withrow had remarried and moved to Illinois, where he died in 1850.

According to the Chancery Court cases and a book entitled History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois: Centennial Record, Joseph Withrow had the following children:
  1. Margaret "Peggy" Withrow, born in 1791 Virginia, married Daniel Hays on 21 June 1812 in Washington County, Kentucky according to a Kentucky marriage record. 
  2. William Withrow, born 14 October 1793 in Botetourt County; will probated in Sangamon County, Illinois, on 25 January 1894; married 1) Rhoda B Prather, 2) Polly Smith, 3) Celia Turpin, 4) Ana "Ann" Wilson, and 5) Lucinda Combs
  3. Anna/Ann Withrow, born 29 December 1795 in Virginia; died in 1882 in Sangamon County; married Thomas Cloyd
  4. John Withrow, born about 1797; died about 1820
  5. Robert Withrow, born on 27 January 1800 in Botetourt County; died 3 October 1842 in Sangamon County; married Mary T. Peter in Sangamon County
  6. Polly Withrow, born about 1802; died about 1822
  7. Matthew Withrow, born 12 August 1804; died 9 Dec 1891; married Pamelia Knotts
  8. Sally Withrow, born about 1805 in Virginia; died 16 Feb 1885 in Quincy, Minnesota; married 1) Gabriel Ferrell and 2) John Sudduth
  9. James Harvey Withrow, born 15 January in Botetourt County; died 26 September 1883 in Sangamon County; married Mariah Rice Beaucamp
  10. Tabitha Withrow, born about 1812 in Kentucky; died after 1850; married Alvah "Alvey" Graves
  11. George Washington Withrow, born about 1813 in Kentucky; died before 1860; married Sarah Ann Waterman
  12. Caroline Withrow, born about 1813 in Kentucky; died before 1843; married Edward Shan
From History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois: Centennial Record, published in 1876:

WITHROW, JOSEPH was born about 1772 in Pennsylvania. His parents moved when he was a young boy to Botetourt County, Virginia. He was there married to Elizabeth McMullin. They had eight children in Virginia, and in 1811 moved to Washington County, Kentucky, near Muldraugh Hill, where two children were born. Mrs. Elizabeth Withrow died there, and Joseph Withrow married Susannah Landis. They had one child in Kentucky, and moved to Sangamon County, Illinois, where they had one child. Mrs. Susannah Withrow died in 1844, and Joseph, Sr., died in 1850 both in Sangamon County, Illinois.

MARGARET, born in Virginia, was married in Kentucky to Timothy Hays. They moved in 1824 to Vandalia, Illinois, and the next year to Sangamon County, where they both died, leaving several children.

WILLIAM, born 14 October 1793, in Botetourt County, Virginia, was married in 1818, in Washington County, Kentucky, to Rhoda B. Prather. They had twelve children, and moved with Thomas Cloyd to Fayette County, Illinois, thence to Sangamon County, in 1825, and settled in Curran Township, where two children were born...Mrs. Rhoda Withrow died in 1827 and William Withrow married Polly Smith. They had two children...Mrs. Polly Withrow died and William Withrow married Celia Turpin. They had eight children, and Mrs. Celia Withrow died, and William Withrow married [Mrs.] Anna Barbre. They had had two children, and Mrs. Ann Withrow died...William Withrow resides two and a half miles southwest of Mechanicsburg, Sangamon County, Illinois.

The Find A Grave memorial for Ann (Binion) Wilson Barbre Withrow includes a biography that contains this interesting insight into William Withrow's character:

Anna Barbre's husband, "Eli died 29 November 1839 in Waverly, Morgan County, Illinois, before their youngest son, Robert, was born. His obituary mentions that he 'leaves a widow and nine young children[2] in destitute circumstances.' His second son, William, apparently helped support the younger siblings and Anna after that time.

Anna married a third time on 7 May 1846 in Sangamon County, Illinois. This husband was William Withrow, whose son, Robert Harvey Withrow, would later marry her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth. Anna
was William's fourth wife, and she had two more children with him. William Withrow was reportedly 'so mean' to Anna's young sons, James and John Barbre that Anna 'gave them all the money she had -- 50 cents -- and sent them across the fields to live with their half-brother William.' The two boys appear in the 1850 census living with William Barbre and his wife, Lucy, in Sangamon County."

ANNA, born 29 December 1795 in Virginia, married Thomas Cloyd. Thomas, son of David, was born 14 January 1798 in Botetourt County, Virginia, and went with his parents to Washington County, Kentucky, in 1815. He was married there 27 April 1820 to Ann Withrow. They had three children in Kentucky, and in 1824 moved Fayette County, Illinois, where they had one child, and from there to Sangamon County, arriving October 1825, in what is now Curran Township, north of Lick Creek, where they had two children.

JOHN, died, aged twenty three years.

ROBERT, born 27 January 1800, in Botetourt County, Virginia, was married in Sangamon County, Illinois, 10 September 1826, to Mary T. Peter. They had five living children...Robert Withrow died 3 October 1842, and Mrs. Mary T. Withrow married August 1844 to Samuel Graham, who was born in 1811, in Pennsylvania. Samuel Graham died 1 October 1850, and Mrs. Mary T. Graham was married 23 August 1854, to Joseph McKinley. She resides in Loami, Sangamon County, Illinois.

POLLY, died in Kentucky, aged about twenty years.

MATTHEW, born in Kentucky, married Amelia Knotts. They have one child. Matthew Withrow lives eight miles west of Virden, Macoupin County, Illinois.

SARAH, married Dr. John Sudduth. They have one child, and live in St. Charles, Minnesota.

JAMES H., born in Botetourt County, Virginia, 15 January 1811, was married in Sangamon County, Illinois, to Maria R. Beauchamp. They had eight living children. James H. Withrow lives between Sherman and Barclay, Sangamon County, Illinois -- 1874.

TABITHA, was married in Sangamon County, Illinois, to Alvah Graves. They both died, leaving several children in Macoupin County, Illinois.

CAROLINE, married Edward Shane. They both died, leaving three children.

ELIZABETH H., the oldest by the second marriage, was born in Kentucky and married Joseph Drennan. Joseph Drennan was born in Kentucky and married in Sangamon County to Elizabeth Richardson about 1833. They had two children and he married Elizabeth Withrow. They had ten children. She died, and he married Sarah Purvis. They had six children, and he died in Macoupin County, Illinois.

ALMIRA, born in Sangamon County, Illinois, married Israel Coverdell, and lives in Gerard, Macoupin County, Illinois.

Note: There are some inconsistencies between the Sangamon history book and the available online records.

[1] There is a reference to a third case which was heard by the Chancery Court of Botetourt County, but it has not yet been indexed or digitized.

McMullin Family: Where Did They Go? The Ohio Contingent
Matthew McMullin, Sr. (<1765-c1816): Court Cases Tell the Tale

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lillie Paulina's World Cruise

Lillie Paulina (Beard) Sherrod buried her husband in 1927 and two years later embarked on a 4-month around-the-world cruise aboard the Red Star Line's SS Belgenland.

Postcard of the SS Belgenland; courtesy of Wikipedia

I wanted to know more. Where did the ship stop? What did Lillie see and do?

I learned about how the cruise was marketed from the cruise itinerary folder for an earlier cruise available for sale on

SS Belgenland 1924-25 cruise itinerary folder; courtesy of

Carl Kay[1] sailed on the Belgenland the year after Lillie. His printed itinerary was identical to several others I found for other years. So I assume the itinerary is the same as Lillie's.

Itinerary of the 1930-31 world cruise; courtesy of
Internet Archive.

Thirty stops and over 29,000 miles in a little over five months!

Lillie Paulina Beard was born 22 March 1870 in Bedford County, Virginia, to Charles Edward Beard and Ann Elizabeth Key, my three times great uncle and aunt. She was their youngest known child. She lived with her parents until their deaths in 1900 and 1902. She trained as a nurse and moved to Richmond where she worked as a nurse for a private family. In 1920 she lived in the home of John Mayo Sherrod and worked as a nurse in a domestic practice. Lillie and John married on 22 July 1922; they were both in their 50s. John died in 1927 and was interred in Tarboro, North Carolina, his native state. Lillie died on 22 July 1938 and was interred at Evergreen Burial Park in Roanoke, Virginia.

[1] Carl Kay maintained a diary of his cruise, which is available on Internet Archive.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Strange Valentine's Day Tale

The following article was published in The Franklin Times on 22 January 1904 about the remarriage of Felix Von Briesen and Daisy Penland. They were first married in 1893, divorced in 1902 and remarried in 1904. Their love story was also published in several other newspapers around the country.

Won Fortune and Wife Who Had Divorced Him

"The mountain city of Asheville is the beginning and end of a romance in real life which is as full of incident and interest as any theme of a novelist.

A dozen years ago Felix Von Briesen, a talented young German went there to work in carving the stone for the quaint gargoyles and other ornaments of George Vanderbilt's magnificent chateau at Biltmore. He was born in Macon, Ga., but no native German has more sentimentalism, with a leaning toward the tenderest love, and so it happened that when he saw Miss Daisy Penland it was a case of love at first sight.

One of the "quaint gargoyles and other ornaments" on the
exterior of the Biltmore; personal collection

Marriage quickly followed and for five years they lived in Asheville, Von Briesen all that time working at the chateau.

When the latter was completed the sculptor had to go elsewhere for employment, and he went to Arizona and New Mexico, but found no work sufficiently permanent to justify him in sending for his wife. He wrote her from time to time, sending money, but the periods between the letters grew longer and finally the letters ceased entirely.

His wife spent two years without a word from him. Then she secured a divorce on the grounds of desertion. Two children had been the fruit of the union, but one, a boy had died, leaving a little girl with all her mother's beauty. Mrs. Von Briesen became a trained nurse and so supported herself and daughter, seeking no pity and putting aside the memory of her husband, who it was thought by her family and friends had tired of his love and deserted her.

One day last October a letter came from Santa Fe, N. Mex., assuring her that his love had never failed, but that failure to secure profitable employment had disheartened him and he feared to write, but sunshine had come by the death of a relative, who had left him $25,000, and he was prepared to take care of his family.

So startling was this letter that the wife could hardly credit it, but replied and correspondence was resumed. Von Briesen wrote that he would give his wife and child a large portion of his inheritance. The wife wrote him to lose no time in coming to Asheville. He came a few days ago and complete understanding was effected. He gave his wife a certificate for a large sum of money and on Monday of last week they were re-married by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Asheville."

Biographical Sketch of Felix Von Briesen

Felix Von Briesen was the third known son of Oscar and Susannah (Wagner) Von Briesen. He maintained on various documents he was born on 10 June 1870; however, he appeared on the 1870 census as a three-year old boy. So my assumption is he was born on 10 June 1867 in Macon, Georgia. His family had lived in Macon earlier in the decade when his father taught music at Wesleyan Female College, now Wesleyan College. His father was thought to have been of German heritage and immigrated to the United States about 1846 from the area of eastern Europe that was variously under Polish, Prussian, and Russian rule. His mother consistently stated on source documents that she had been born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

In 1870, Felix's family lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where is father taught school -- perhaps at another college -- but by 1880, his family had been torn apart. His father, Oscar, lived in Austin, Texas, making pianos. His mother and brothers, Edward and Robert, lived in Baltimore, boarding with the William F. Schwarze family. Susannah was a dressmaker and Edward worked as a bartender. The whereabouts of Felix's younger brother, William, is unknown to me at this time. Twelve-year-old Felix was an inmate at the Home of the Friendless.

The Home of the Friendless was a private social services organization, which began its work in Baltimore in 1854 when the Home of Friendless Vagrant Girls was chartered. Its purpose was to provide a "refuge and Christian home for homeless, friendless, and worse than friendless vagrant girls with the objective of preparing their residents for service in Christian homes." A boys' home was constructed in 1871.

In 1888 Felix lived in Baltimore and worked as a stonecutter. The next year George Vanderbilt, a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, began constructing a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, known as the Biltmore, in the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville. Felix moved to Asheville and worked on the Biltmore for five years before the mansion was opened to Vanderbilt's friends and family for Christmas in 1895.

Biltmore mansion in Asheville, North Carolina; personal collection

He married Daisy Penland, daughter of Noble and Nancy (Stevens) Penland, in 1893 in Buncombe County and they had two children, Oscar A. and Felicia Nancy, though Oscar died on 24 November 1895 just days after his first birthday.

Soon after their son died, Felix went west to look for work. In 1900 he lived in Holbrook, Arizona, which was then a territory, in a large boarding house along with several other stonecutters and day laborers. I suspect the craftsmen had gathered there to build the now historic Navajo County Courthouse. Holbrook was known as "the town too tough for women and churches." In 1902, Felix was registered to vote in Graham County, Arizona.

Historic Navajo County, Arizona, courthouse; courtesy of Wikipedia

Meanwhile back home his wife filed for and received a divorce in 1902 in Buncombe County. Felix returned to Asheville and the couple remarried on 14 December 1903. A few days after their second marriage, they moved to Washington, DC, where Felix had secured, what the local newspaper described as  "a good position."

While in Washington, Felix pursued a civil suit against Congressional and Mexican Mining Company to recover $10,500. It appears judged ruled against him and his attorney filed a motion for a new trial. What happened to this motion is not clear. Then on 7 August 1906 a creditor of the mining company sued several stockholders, including Felix for not making their installment payments for stock. The outcome of this lawsuit is also unknown.

He and Daisy purchased a 140-acre farm in Clifton Station, Virginia, and took in boarders during the summer months. Felix's mother, Susannah died on the farm on 28 October 1905. Daisy had a son in 1907 while they lived in Virginia. Felix sold the farm in 1910 and by 1912 he and his family had moved to El Paso, Texas.

Felix and Daisy's love story did not last. They divorced in January 1916. Both of them remained in El Paso. Daisy worked as a nurse and Felix worked at various jobs with the Army, a milling company, and a mining concern. In 1921 he went to Sinaloa, Mexico, on a prospecting trip for a mining company.

Felix died of heart problems on 26 July 1928 in El Paso. Daisy never remarried and died on 25 April 1964, also in El Paso.

Their children:
  • Oscar A. Von Briesen, born 11 November 1894 in Buncombe County, North Carolina; died 24 November 1895; interred at the Newton Academy Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Felicia Nancy Von Briesen, born 18 July 1896 in Buncombe County; died 3 March 1984 in El Paso County, Texas; interred at Restlawn Memorial Park in El Paso; married 1) Walter Vernon Haggard (1893-1927) and 2) John Graham Melton (1897-1972).
  • Delphin Von Briesen, born 4 June 1907 in Clifton, Virginia; died 28 January 1970 in El Paso, Texas; interred at Restlawn Memorial Park; married Mary Emma Luckett (1912-1986).
Felix Von Briesen, was the brother-in-law from 1913-1916 of the first wife of my second cousin three times removed, James Taylor. When Rose Etta (Poole) Von Briesen married my cousin, she was a widow. Her first husband was Felix's brother, Robert Von Briesen.

Monday, February 11, 2019

River House: The Lot

"In my mind I'm going to Carolina. Can't you see the sunshine, can't you just feel the moonshine?
Ain't it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind? Yes, I'm going to Carolina in my mind"
--James Taylor

Our future home will be on the lot between the house with the pool on the left
and the brick house on the right; courtesy of NCRMLS

In 1993 Pete and I bought a lot next door to Mom and Dad's house on Dawson's Creek[1] in Pamlico County, North Carolina. Moving close to Mom and Dad would ensure I would stay close to my brothers because we would see them whenever they came "home" to Mom and Dad's. And we could help Mom and Dad as they aged. But life has a funny way of happening while one is making plans.

After much discussion causing a rough patch in our marriage, Pete and I decided not to move to North Carolina in the foreseeable future. We stayed in northern Virginia and moved to a new (to us) house in 2004. When we told Mom and Dad about our change in plan, they were relieved. Their property on Dawson's Creek was becoming too much for them as they both began having health issues. A couple of years later, they sold their house and built a new house in New Bern -- closer to their doctors and less maintenance. It was a bittersweet time for Mom and me. We each had new houses but our dream of being neighbors and spending more time with each other never happened.

Map of the Neuse River with New Bern up the river (left) and Dawson's Creek
identified with the red cross; created using Google Maps and Microsoft PowerPoint

In 2004 my middle brother was transferred to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, DC, for a three-year tour of duty. He and his wife decided not to move as their sons were in high school. So Ted commuted from Isle of Wight County, Virginia, to our house on weekends and stayed with us during the week. He retired to New Bern in 2007.

That got Pete and I talking about retirement again and where we would live. We decided on New Bern as it would mean seeing my family more often, especially when my youngest brother and his wife, who live in northern Alabama, came to visit. It was important to Mom and Dad their children remain close after they died. Mom spoke of it often.

So in 2007 we bought a lot in New Bern. It was 2.4 wooded acres bordering a large parcel of land owned by the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust -- no one could build on it -- but it wasn't on the water. We thought we'd be okay with that, but...

It turned out being 500 feet from the river wasn't what we wanted. We looked at waterfront lots nearly every time we visited. We've driven down more dirt roads around the Neuse River than I can remember and last year, we found what we were looking for.

Another view of our lot; courtesy of NCMLS

The previous owners accepted our offer on my 60th birthday! North Carolina here we come.

[1] The television series Dawson's Creek was named for the same creek in Pamlico County, North Carolina. The series was created by Kevin Williamson, who was born near New Bern, the closest city to Dawson's Creek.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Cowhiding in Wake County

James Taylor, my second cousin three times removed married Rose Etta (Poole) Von Brisen on 28 October 1921.  Rose was a widow with two small children, Dorothy and Oscar. According to several public trees, her first husband, Robert Von Briesen, died in 1916. However, none of those public trees includes a source for that information.

Robert Von Briesen's parents were Oscar Von Brisen and Susannah Wagner. Oscar was born in Prussia (now Germany) or Russia about 1826 and immigrated to the United States about 1846, per his son, Felix's passport application. In 1858 Oscar taught music at Wake Forest College.[1]

Oscar was assaulted on 16 July 1858 and The Weekly Standard, a Raleigh newspaper covered the incident on 21 July 1858:

Inhuman Assault
"On Friday last at Wake Forest, in this county, Talbot Ligon, his brother Elias Ligon, and John C. Jordan, all of this city assaulted, with a cow-hide[2], in a most inhuman manner, Oscar Von Briesen, a Russian and a music teacher, also of this city, under the following circumstances:

It appears that on the previous Tuesday night, at about ten o'clock, Von Briesen accompanied by a German friend named Kreath part of the way to his home in this city. At parting they stopped, for a moment's conversation, in front of the residence of Talbot Ligon, but on the opposite side of the street. Whilst conversing in their ordinary tone of voice, and without the slightest intimation that anything was wrong, Ligon came upon them unobserved, partly undressed and without shoes, and struck them a heavy blow with a stick. The blow was received by both. Von Briesen collared the assailant and Kreath wrung the stick from his grasp. -- Ligon seeing he had attacked white men, apologized and said he thought they were negroes. The first impulse of the assailed was to return the blow; but seeing the assailant was an elderly man, they forebore. It was resolved, however, that he should answer for his unprovoked attack; and he being unknown to them, he was told he had to accompany them to the Mayor's office to be identified. Ligon asked to return to his house to dress; but the assailed, fearing he might resort to other weapons, or evade them, refused to allow him, but had his clothes brought out, and he put them on.

They then took Ligon to the Mayor's office, but being no officer there, they were induced to let let him go, upon the assurance that he was well known and would answer any charge they might prefer against him.

The matter so ended, but was talked of and laughed at the next day, as a capital joke; and Von Briesen and Kreath became satisfied and abandoned further proceedings.

On Thursday evening Von Briesen left for Wake Forest to attend to his pupils. On the same night a party of men, of whom Ligons formed a part, sought Von Briesen at his lodgings, and threatened to cow-hide him. Learning he had gone to Wake Forest, it appears they determined to follow him.

Before Von Briesen left Raleigh, he heard rumors of a meditated attack upon him, and mentioned the circumstances, with what had led up to it, to a friend at Wake Forest, by whom he was not to return for a few days, and the affair would blow over. He was induced, however, by a gentleman from Raleigh to return; and about 11 o'clock on Friday morning he visited the store of Mr. Purifoy to see the person with whom he was to return. He had no sooner entered the store and taken a seat, then Talbot Ligon, Elias Ligon and John C. Jordan, all of whom were personally unknown to him, came upon them from the street, and laid violent hands upon him. He was dragged forward on to the porch and then on to the street, where he was knocked down on his face and held by Elias Ligon and Jordan, whilst Talbot Ligon stripped his coat up. In this position on the ground he was firmly held while Talbot inflicted thirty-nine lashes upon him with a cowhide. The remaining clothes were cut off his back by lash, and his flesh severely lacerated.

When these assailants were satisfied, they demanded of their victim if he had any weapons about him. He answered in the negative. They then searched him and took from his pocket a small penknife. He was then released, and told that if he ever visited Raleigh again he would get as much more; and they told him further that there were two or three hundred men waiting, ready to ride him on a rail and give him a coat of tar and feathers.

This brutal sight, it appears, was witnessed by four other persons, one of whom was John Fort, a nephew we learn of the Ligons, kept the rest off by threats and the cry of a "fair fight." Von Briesen's face was cut with the cowhide and the clothes on the front of his person were completely tattered by his writhings under the lash.

He was ultimately taken to a neighboring house where his wounds were dressed, and where he was supplied with the necessary articles of wearing apparel. Shortly after, with his smarting flesh and his mortified spirit, he disappeared from Wake Forest and has not since been heard of. He has been residing here but a short time, and was esteemed a quiet and inoffensive man.

The cause of this unparalleled outrage appears to be the indignity of the arrest on Tuesday night. -- We need hardly add, that the affair is universally regarded here with the utmost abhorrence and indignation.

On Monday last Talbot Ligon was brought before Mayor Harrison and bound to court for the assault on Kreath.

Talbot Ligon arrested and bound over. -- On Monday night last Constable Lewis arrested Talbot Ligon at his house in this city, on a warrant; issued by W. W. Holden, Justice of the Peace. Mr. Ligon was brought before Justice Holden, the testimony of Mr. Winton, who witnessed the cowhiding, was heard; and Ligon was then held in a bond of one thousand dollars, with security, to appear at the August term of Wake County Court to answer the charge.

Elias Ligon and John C. Jordan have not yet been arrested, but the officers are in pursuit of them."

An article in The Spirit of the Age on 28 July 1858
summarizing the article above; courtesy

John Fort, a nephew of the Ligon brothers, and Mr. Purifoy wrote letters to the editors of various local papers, disputing portions of the accounts that appeared in the press, but not the main elements of the story. Oscar Von Briesen had left Raleigh by October 1858 as uncollected letters addressed to him remained at the post office at the end of the month.

Von Briesen filed a civil suit against the Ligon brothers and settled that suit when they paid him $1,200 in late August. On 23 November, the Semi-Weekly Standard, a Raleigh newspaper, reported that Talbot and Elias Ligon were sentenced to twenty days imprisonment and each ordered to pay $10 in fines. John Fort, indicted for aiding and abetting the Ligons, was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $200.

Life after Cowhiding

Oscar Von Briesen married Susannah Wagner the next year. In 1860 his family lived in Macon, Georgia, where they resided in a boarding house while Oscar continued to work as a music teacher at Wesleyan Female College.[3] Their eldest son was born in Georgia about 1859.

When the 1870 census was enumerated Oscar and his family lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and he worked as a school teacher. He and Susanna now had three sons, Edward, Robert, and Felix, respectively. Likely more travel was involved for the family between 1860 and 1870 as most records indicate Robert was born in New York (or Maryland, the records conflict) and Felix back in Georgia. Susannah had her youngest son, William in 1871.

When the 1880 census was enumerated Oscar and Susannah were no longer living together. Oscar was in Austin, Texas, where he worked as piano maker. Susannah, along with sons, Edward and Robert, lived in Baltimore. She worked as a dressmaker and Edward worked as a bartender while Robert attended school. Felix was a inmate at the Home of the Friendless, an orphanage in Baltimore. Where young William was in 1880 is unknown at this time.

An ad Oscar Von Brisen placed in The Eutaw and Whig Observer on 18 May
1886, a paper published in Eutaw, Alabama; courtesy of

Felix's passport application indicated that Oscar Von Briesen immigrated to the U.S. about 1846 and lived in that country for 56 years, dying about 1902. Susannah (Wagner) Von Briesen died on 28 October 1905 in Clifton, Virginia, on a farm owned by her son Felix. She was interred in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC, near her youngest son William. So he was not lost forever!

[1] Wake Forest University opened in 1834 as Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute on a plantation known was the "Forest of Wake" north of Raleigh in Wake County, North Carolina. The plantation had been purchased by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention. In 1838, the institute was renamed Wake Forest College. The college moved to Winston-Salem in the 1940s and in 1967 change its name to Wake Forest University.

[2] As near as I have been able to determine, a "cowhide" was a term used in the 1800s to describe a bullwhip or riding crop.

[3] Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia, is now Wesleyan College. It opened in 1836 as a Methodist Episcopal college.