Friday, November 21, 2014

Thomas W. Badger and the sinking of the Central America

Excerpt from: Letters Home of Gold Fields and Lost Ships: Correspondence from Thomas W. Badger and Thomas N. Badger to Relatives on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1863 - 1953
by Curtis J. Badger and Lynn M. Badger
Published by: Salt Water Media

When visiting family back home in Virginia, Thomas would take a ship from Oakland to Panama, cross the isthmus by rail, and board another ship for the second leg of his journey. He knew the sea well and preferred traveling by ship to overland travel. He first went to sea at age 15, working as a deck hand on various boats sailing out of east coast ports.  By the time he was in his twenties, he was the captain of his own ship.

SS Central America Frank Leslie's Illustrated
Newspaper - Library of Congress. Public Domain.
Thomas liked to take the Central America from Panama to New York. He had sailed on the Central America three times prior to the fall of 1857, and he was very familiar with the ship. He once described her as "one of the best and staunchest ships afloat." Tom and Jane Falkenburg were married in late 1856, and in September 1857 they planned a honeymoon trip aboard the Central America to introduce her to the folks back home.

The Central America was by all accounts a handsome ship. She was a steam powered, three-masted sidewheeler, built in New York in 1852 and originally christened the George Law. She was now owned by the U.S. Mail Steamship Company, and her master was Capt. William Lewis Herndon, who, like Thomas, went to sea at age 15. Capt. Herndon, now 44, was a Navy veteran who had risen to the rank of commander in 1855. He had taken a leave of absence from the Navy to take the helm of the Central America two years earlier. This would be the ship's 45th voyage from Panama to New York.

Capt. Herndon and his crew had sailed from New York on August 22, 1857, heading for Panama. On the same day in San Francisco, Capt. Tom and Jennie, as he called her, boarded the Sonora and headed south. They would link up with the Central America in early September at Aspinwall, and from there travel north to New York and visit family in Virginia.

The Central America arrived in Aspinwall on September 2, and the crew quickly began restocking the ship with coal, food for the passengers, medicine, rigging, and other supplies. One hundred bags of mail and several tons of gold were transferred from the Sonora. The United States Mint opened in San Francisco in 1854, and there were freshly minted gold coins, heavy gold bars, and money of private coinage. Consignees, including the American Exchange Bank and Wells Fargo and Company, had $1.6 million in gold secured in the Central America's hold. In addition, many passengers carried large sums of their own. Thomas and Jenny carried a valise with $20,000 in gold pieces.

The Central America was loaded, inspected, and ready to set sail. At 4: 15 p.m. on September 3 Capt. Herndon gave the order to cast off. The ship, fully loaded with nearly 600 passengers and crew, was on its way north. The first stop would be Havana, Cuba.

It took exactly four days to reach Havana, and it had been beautiful cruising weather, blue skies with a nice breeze, warm days and cool nights. During the brief layover, some of the men went ashore to stock up on Cuban cigars, which were very popular in America and were being imported by the millions annually. It was hurricane season in the tropics, but all was calm in Havana. The current topic of concern was a yellow fever outbreak, not the weather.

The Central America left for New York shortly after breakfast on Tuesday, September 8, still sailing under clear skies and a brisk breeze. Passengers passed the time by strolling on the promenade deck or reading books, newspapers, and magazines. Card playing was popular among the men.

On Wednesday at 5:30 a.m., Second Officer Frazer noted in the ship's log that Cape Florida passed 75 nautical miles to the west. At noon he noted that there was a fresh breeze and head sea, and that since leaving Havana the Central America had traveled 286 nautical miles.

The weather quickly began to deteriorate on Wednesday afternoon. The barometer dropped, the rain began, and the wind began to blow with the force of a gale. Most of the passengers believed the storm would pass during the night, and they would awake to find clear skies in the morning. On Thursday, it was obvious that the Central America had sailed into a hurricane. Thomas arose at 6 a.m. and by 7:30 he and Jennie were on the deck. Thomas went below and noticed that the ship's engine appeared to labor sailing into the heavy seas, and that the chief engineer seemed concerned. He checked back later in the day and noticed that the engine was running even slower.

On Friday the storm continued unabated, as the Central America followed the track of the hurricane as it made its way northeast up the coast. Thomas noted on Friday morning that the ship was "free from water, with head to the wind, laying very easy, and engine working slowly." At 9 a.m. the chief engineer reported that the leeward bilge was taking on water. Captain Herndon ordered that the pumps be used, but they failed to reduce the water level. The ship's list, and the violence of the sea, made it impossible for the coal passers to use wheelbarrows, so Captain Herndon ordered all available crew to use buckets and baskets to pass coal to the engine room. It was essential to keep steam up and to keep the bow into the sea.

A second leak was discovered around a shaft leading from the engine to the starboard paddle, and at 11 a.m. Captain Herndon met with passengers in the first class cabin area and asked the men to form bucket brigades to pass coal and to bail water from the steerage area. By noon water had covered the Boor in the coal storage bunker and the ship lost power. Seas broke over the decks and flooded the staterooms.

Through the day and into the night men bailed water, but to no avail.  At daybreak the captain ordered the flag hoisted half-mast in a signal of distress. The Central America was in a frequently used shipping lane, and the hope now was to keep the ship afloat until the passengers could be rescued. The men bailed continuously for 22 hours before a sail appeared on the horizon at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The brig Marine of Boston had taken on a load of molasses in Cardena, Cuba and was heading north when she passed to the lee of the stricken Central America. Capt. Herndon hailed the brig and asked the captain, Hiram Burt, to lay by, as the Central America was in "a sinking condition." Capt. Burt replied that he would remain as long as he could.

The Marine, which itself had been battered by the storm, stood by to take on passengers, and women and children would be the first to go. Although the worst of the storm had passed, there still were 30-foot seas, making the task of loading, unloading, and rowing the lifeboats extremely difficult. To further complicate things, the Marine was not capable of maneuvering close to the Central America and was slowly drifting away. Crews of both vessels worked steadily throughout the afternoon, and by evening all of the women and children had been transferred, as well as a few of the men.
As darkness fell, those remaining on the Central America realized that they would not be rescued by the Marine, and most realized that the ship would not make it through the night. The men put on what life preservers and metal life buoys they could find, and doors and other wooden structures were gathered to be used as rafts.

A depiction of the sinking. J. Childs (engraver & publisher)
National Maritime Museum, London. Public Domain.
The Central America went under stern-first, and as she entered into the sea she took along hundreds of men, who were sucked into the void left by the ship. Some re-surfaced, but many did not survive the first ten minutes in the water. Those that did clung to hatch covers, planks, doors, and anything else that would float. Thomas said later that he found a six- foot long plank and clung to that.

Captain Anders Johnsen of the Norwegian bark Ellen was heading to Falmouth, England with a load of logs. At 1 a.m. Sunday he was standing on the quarterdeck with his helmsman, Gustav Jacobsen, when out of the darkness the men heard all around them the agonized cries of human voices. He roused his crew, put up lights, and began pulling survivors aboard. They pulled in the last survivor at 8 a.m. and continued searching until 11 a.m., and then they headed for Norfolk, Va.

Jane had been on the second lifeboat that transferred women and children from the stricken Central America to the brig Marine, and she feared for the life of her husband. According to a story in the New York Herald, the women had gathered in the cabin of the Marine, and around 9 p.m. a man entered and notified them that the Central America had gone down. "The steamer has sunk. I saw it go down, and every soul on her has gone to Davey Jones' locker," he said.

The women comforted each other with the knowledge that the men had life preservers and other items to keep themselves afloat, so they did not give up hope. Still, it would be hours before families would know the fare of their loved ones. Jane was taken to Norfolk with the other women and put up in the National Hotel. Thomas, who had been rescued by the Ellen, was also taken to Norfolk, but he and a group of other men boarded the night steamer Louisiana to Baltimore. Jane got word at the hotel that her husband had been saved, and, very relieved, she left the next morning for a reunion in Baltimore.

More than 400 passengers and crew members died in the sinking of the Central America. Thomas and Jane were one of only four couples to survive the disaster.

Silver speaking trumpet on display in the Ker Place Museum.
Thomas was one of the many heroes of the Central America tragedy. His experience as a sea captain aided greatly in keeping the ship afloat long enough for many passengers to be rescued. In appreciation of his efforts, the Central America New York Fund Committee presented him a large silver speaking trumpet engraved with mementos of the disaster. The inscription reads, "Presented to Captain Thomas W Badger in token of their high appreciation of his conduct on board of the steamer Central America, at the time of the loss of that ill-fated vessel. New York, May 17, 1858." The trumpet today is on exhibit at Ker Place in Onancock, Va., home of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society. A metal life preserver of his is on exhibit at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horse Racing on the Shore: The Keller Fair - Part II

Written by James E. Mears
Submitted to the Shore Line for December 3, 1970
(From the Collection of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society)

George Doughty's Horse from the Keller Fair
(From the ESVHS Collection)
Thursday was always the “big day” at the Old Fair.  Persons who found it inconvenient to attend on other days would go on Thursday, when one would see more old friends.  Any extra features were given on Thursday, and usually the fastest horses raced on that day.

According to this columnist’s recollections, on all of the five days of the fair there were from three to five races, trotters and pacers, usually separate, occasionally both in free-for-all, and for the first money the horse had to take two of the three heats.  When more than one horse took a heat there had to be one or more additional heats to determine the winner.

In those years there was no system of all the racers lining up at the starting point and leaving together.  Horses approached the starting point at a good speed and if the word “GO” came from the judges’ stand proceeded.  In most instances, however, this did not happen quickly and it was not unusual for the horses to be so far apart that the judges sent them back with the hope of a more even get-away.  This was a disadvantage to horses that would tire towards the end of the mile (twice around the half-mile track) as often they had traveled a quarter of a mile, going forward and turning back before the “GO” was given.  I do not remember seeing a race start at the Old Fair in which one or more of the horses wasn’t from 50 to 75 feet behind the other horses that had reached the starting point.  It was not unusual for a horse with the lead to “break into a run”, and before the jockey got the animal back to trotting or racing, the lead had been lost.  Any horse that was too far from the finishing wire when the first horse had passed under it was “distanced” and not permitted to be raced in following heats.

There was no mutual betting or book-making at the Keller Fair though it is said individuals sometimes bet with one another on the outcome of a particular race.

While the race track was not enclosed with a high fence, those in the grandstand, because the elevation of the seats, could see more of the races than those who were elsewhere on the grounds; however, those on the quarter stretch by moving about had a superior view.

All the races were in the afternoon.  Those who went to the grounds early often were able to see the horses being trained on the race course.  Numerous jockeys stabled their horses on the grounds weeks before the fair began.

This writer now remembers but a very few of those who raced at the Keller Fair: Nottingham, James & Floyds of Northampton, and Bulls, Turlington and Parks of Accomack.  There were a number of others.  Most of the horses that were raced were Virginia Eastern Shore owned; however, some who raced at various tracks, following one fair after another, were from other states.  One year there was a stable from Mississippi.  Spring colts were paraded before the grandstand for prizes, usually the first day.

Quite some years after Keller Fair had been such a drawing card fairs were established at Tasley and Pocomoke City, all patterned after Keller, the same types of exhibits, mid-way attractions, horse racing, etc.  Each though “folded up” before Keller.  Realizing how much the Keller Fair meant to thousands of middle-aged and elderly Eastern Shoreman, Officers kept it going long after it was not making money; in fact it has been said that they advanced it money for several years before its “demise.”

For several seasons during its latter years night attractions, including fireworks, were provided, with a second admission fee to day-time attendants who remained or returned.  This, however, did not save it.

After about ten unprofitable years, with the closing of the meet in 1965, the owners of the property
Keller Fair horse races. (From the ESVHS Collection)
decided it could be no longer continued.  It was sold to the late Mr. Carroll Bull, of Onley and Miami, a highly successful produce dealer, and he kept it as a racing stable for his own and other harness horses.

Among those who had been outstanding it is support for years were Messrs, Harry Mears, the secretary, who really was the general manager, J. Milton Mason and Herman Watson , who are said to have provided funds to keep it going in its last years.  Mr. Mears had done such an outstanding job at Keller that the Tasley Fair owners engaged him to manage that fair during its latter years.  This was not a great additional burden, since so many of the same people raced or operated midway attractions at both Keller and Tasley.

As was the case with others, Mr. Watson continued to have a “soft spot” for the Old Fair, and in years after it had closed in his oil business he carried in the local newspapers very large advertisements showing scenes at the Keller Fair in by-gone days.

In the late 1890’s and very early 1900’s the Chesapeake Fair Association operated a fair with races at Cape Charles.  The Central Fair Association, an organization of Negro citizens, in which the Whartons were leaders, for about half a century operate a fair at Tasley.  There were very exciting harness races, often with very speedy horses.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Horse Racing on the Shore: The Keller Fair - Part I

Written by James E. Mears
Submitted to the Shore Line for November 26, 1970
(From the Collection of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society)

The news of the burning of the grandstand of now-gone institution undoubtedly revived pleasant memories of days spent at the Old Fair in thousands of those living on and away from the Eastern Shore.  The ending of no other Eastern Shore institution brought as much regret as did the decision of the operators in 1956 to lower the curtain for the farewell, after an annual "performance" every year in August since 1880 (1877), the oldest continuous agricultural fair in the United States.

When this columnist was a youth it was always spoken of as the Granger Fair.  It was organized in 1880 as an outgrowth of the exhibit of some farm products a few years earlier at Turlington Camp Grounds by the Grangers, a farmers' society, sponsored by Messrs, George Adams, Henry Sattaile, Leonard H. Ames Sr., Judson Kellam, William T. Kilmon, William T. Mason , Wesley Phillipe, Benjamin W. Mears and others, all of whom lived in the southern end of Accomack County.  As some of the Methodists who conducted the camp meeting, ...objected to the parading of colts on the camp grounds, ... the Grangers obtained land not far from the camp grounds, put up Grange Hall and laid out a half-mile race track.  The legal title was the Eastern Shore Agricultural Fair.

My first visit to the fair, as I know recall was in 1896 and I attended every year through 1903, and every year thereafter that I was on the Shore at Fair time.  My recollection of the fair in the late 1890s:  The admission to the Fair grounds was 25 cents per person and if the vehicle was driven the same amount was collected.  Admission to the grandstand (not so large as the one that lately burned) and to the quarter stretch each was a quarter.

Under the grandstand was a concession hall, and among the exhibitions was the Charles M. Steiff piano people of Baltimore; also some farm implements, etc. etc.  In later years automobile dealers exhibited new cars.  On another building there were exhibits of farm products, many kinds of needle work as well as cakes, breads, countless jars of preserves, pickles, canned fruit and other foods. .......

On the midway were numerous "side shows" and other attractions for both adults and those younger, including a "merry go round".  To attract ticket purchasers the concessionaires usually gave a brief "free show" in advance of the performance.  An exhibit of snakes included a boa constrictor.  In the earlier years of the Fair an attraction (daily I now think) was a balloon ascension.  The balloon usually went up until he appeared to the viewers no larger than five-cent-piece, before he cut loose and began the descent.  He never landed on the fair grounds, some times miles away, occasionally in a tree.......

In the earlier years of the 20th century there was a baseball game, played in the quarter stretch, between Eastern Shore teams.  The 20th century was not very old before the Fair provided music by a band from Baltimore.  On a kind of platform extending out from the northeast corner of the grandstand the band played before the races start and between the races.

Horse racing was the major feature of the Keller Fair.  It is believed not an exaggeration to say the
Keller Fair Circa 1920s.  From the Bell Collection of the
 Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society.
"horse racing" was "bred in the bone" on the Eastern Shore in the 19th and first decade or so of the 20th.  This writer remembers that in the 1890s and until there were hard surfaced roads and the automobile was in universal use, any stretch of hard road was a race course for those driving any vehicle from a humble cart to a carriage.  Any attempt of a vehicle approaching .. to pass the latter was an invitation for a contest of speed.  It was the ambition of almost every young man in the foregoing period to own a fast trotter or pacer and the latest in a buggy or harness.  In most instances indulgent parents provided name, often raising colts sired by stallions which had done well on the tracks.

It is assumed that there were running races on beaches at Assateague and the few other islands having wild ponies, but it is believed the few race courses on the Eastern Shore were used almost exclusively for harness racing.  The earliest record of a race track on the Eastern Shore found by this columnist was in 1835, when one was laid out in or very near Pungoteague.  This may have been what in the last two decades of the 19th century was the very popular McConnell track on a large farm between the present roads leading to Belle Haven (on the south side) and Painter-Keller (on the north side) from Pungoteague, between the village and Trader's Branch.  In 1856 a Baltimore newspaper carried an advertisement of steamer services to Pungoteague Creek, and conveyances would take passengers to Belle Haven for the races. (Then the only steamboat wharf on Pungoteague Creek was Dock Point, the present pulp wood loading pier of the Chesapeake Corporation, in Harborton).

Around the turn of the century well known and fast horses (for that period)  owned on the Eastern Shore were Gray Eagle, White Tips, Sport, Goldiur, Little Guy, Durry, a large black stallion , and Lamp Girl, a small bay mare.  In 1902 she was sold to a non-Eastern Shoreman, who successfully raced her in the Grand Circuit, and was the first Eastern Shore bred horse to make a mile under 2 minutes 10 seconds, before she was sold and shipped to Europe for breeding purposes.

Eastern Shore owned horses (some of which were bred and or fold) which raced at the Keller Fair
and in the Grand Circuit in the second quarter of this century included:  Hail Worthy (trotter)2:05 3/4; My Nan (pacer) 2:03 3/4; Sallie D. (pacer) 2:03, the Keller Fair track record: Morgan Hanover (pacer) 2:00; the only Eastern Shore horse ever to make the mile in two minutes, made when three years old.  Jane Azoff (pacer) 1:59 3/4; the only two minute horse ever bred on the Eastern Shore but not Shore owned during her racing career.

An attraction, which cost the Fair management nothing, that was hardly second to the racing as a "drawing card", was the meeting of old friends, really numerous miniature "reunions" of old acquaintance living on and off the Shore.  Many former residents planned their visits "back home" to correspond with the Keller fair dates.

To be Continued....

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Voices from the Past: Sailing on the Annie C

Written by Joe Valentine

What was it like to sail on a Chesapeake Bay log canoe 100 years ago?

Fortunately we can answer that question, thanks to Dr. Harry Holcomb who had a fascination for maritime history. Harry got involved with Frank Young who had purchased the log canoe Annie C. The Annie C had been built in Sanford, Virginia in 1904 by Horace Bundick, who worked as a waterman and a carpenter. Growing up in Sanford, Frank had known about the Annie C since his childhood. He loved her lines.  When he found her abandoned in 1989, Frank bought her for $300. Harry found out about her shortly thereafter, and joined Frank in her restoration. In addition to restoring her, Harry started tracking down people who had sailed on her and recorded interviews with them. Thanks to Harry’s recordings of her history, we can get a feeling of what it was like to sail on the Annie C.

The Annie C is an exceptionally large log canoe. She is built of five logs and is 9 ½ feet wide and 45 feet long form stem to stern, not including the rudder or the bow sprit. Her mast was about 47 feet tall and she carried a mainsail and a jib.

One of the interviews was with Mr. Donald Corbin, the son of the first owner of the Annie C. The vessel was named for Donald Corbin’s grandmother, Annie Hall Corbin. According to Mr. Corbin:

"Annie C made a trip to Baltimore and was to return home to Sanford. There was a steamer in 
Steamer: Three Rivers
Baltimore at the same time called the Three Rivers. My Uncle, Spencer D. Hall was her Captain. A bad storm came up. The storm was so bad that my Uncle, Captain Hall, told my father to leave the boat there and to take the steamer home to Crisfield. My father would not go on the steamer and after the steamer left, he sailed Annie C out of Baltimore in this storm and straight home to the Hummocks. He beat his brother [Brother in law, Captain of the steamer Three Rivers] home from Baltimore. When he got in there was not a sail left on her."

Louise Temple with the Annie C above and behind the stern.
While we do not have a picture of the Annie C under sail, we do have a picture of his sister ship, the Louise Temple, also built by Horace Bundick. The picture to the left is actually of the Louise Temple, but it is believed that the boat above and behind her stern is the Annie C.

The larger canoes, like the Annie C, were used to travel across the bay and collect oysters  around the James and Potomac Rivers. One of the people Dr. Holcomb interviewed was Captain Clifton Stant, the son of Harrison Stant who owned the Annie C with Al Hall in the early 1900’s. At the time, Captain Stant worked as the “culler” for his father.  The crew would travel across the bay in the winter and sleep in the small forward cabin. Captain Clifton Stant tells us what it was like to live aboard, especially in the winter when they would go across the bay for oysters: 

"It was all in one little cabin, we pretty near slept, ate, and everything all in the same spot, it was just tight, you can't imagine how tight it was in that little cabin for four people. On each side they had a little seat maybe about eight inches up off the floor. That is where you pulled your beds out.  You could push them up under the bow and pull them out at night. Sometimes we would sleep forward of the mast, two could sleep up there, tight sleeping. They had a little four burner cook stove, the top of it wasn't more that eighteen inches square. It burned wood and we had to cut pieces about six inches long to fit. You would be surprised what it would do to keep us warm. Of course we would keep putting a little piece of wood in her all night long during cold weather and kept the fire going all night into her."

Captain Clifton Stant of Hallwood sailed aboard the Annie C around 1912 and further describes the Annie C and the Louise Temple:

"The Annie C. and the Louise Temple were built for speed and looks. They were built in a little different shape than the rest of the log canoes. She was almost as sharp on the stern as she was on the bow. Annie C had a couple of pieces of pig iron back in her stern for ballast to keep her bow up a little bit. She could fly if you had the right wind. If you had a good breeze with about one third sail onto her that thing would fly,  she'd go right over until she'd pretty near take water into her. She was a pretty sight when she would come up with water on her wash boards. The Annie C and the Louise Temple used to race under sail. The Annie C was a little faster than the Louise Temple. The Annie C was the same style [as the Louise Temple] but just a little bigger."

Captain Clifton Stant also talked about crossing the Chesapeake Bay in a Northeaster: 

"In 1912 we went to the James River oystering and we had about two hundred and fifty bushels of oysters in her to bring home, to plant; it was in the fall of the year. We got practically all the way back across the Bay coming into Tangier to what we call Tangier Cod Lighthouse when we struck a heavy Northeast storm, I mean it was a storm! I thought it was fun at the time, I was in the cabin with my feet propped up on a little stove we had to keep it from turning over. My father and little Al Hall owned her together. Mr. Hall was at the tiller and my father held a piece of canvas over the two cylinder Bridgeport engine keeping her dry. They had the sail reefed down just as low as she would go, just a little piece to steady her a bit and my uncle, Neil Stant, was bailing water just as hard as he could bail to keep her afloat. They knew that we were on our way home from the James River and I guess practically half of Sanford was down to Messongo Creek waiting to see if we made it, they thought we were lost. They were waiting there when we come in safe."

The engine Captain Stant referred to was a two cylinder, 16 horsepower, Bridgeport make or break engine that was installed around 1910. There was ambivalence about the introduction of the gasoline engine into the log canoe. The old timers preferred to use sail while the younger generation of watermen were enamored with the new engines. Harry interviewed  Leslie Drummond, who worked with his father and grandfather on the log canoe Madcap. His comments quoted here illustrate the tension over the use of engines: 

"She (the Madcap) had a Mianus seven horse power motor. I wanted a larger motor and bought a Buick forty five horse power motor. I put the new motor in her and my Grandfather said 'You have something in her now I don't know anything about.' I said, 'You steer and I'll run the motor.' He said, 'you bought the thing now you pay for it.' So I had to work for the rest of the year to pay for the motor."
The log canoes with their fine tapered ends were not well suited for the use of power. Under power they would tend to "squat" in the stern. Leslie Drummond describes Madcap under way with his Buick forty five horse power motor: 

"I opened her up. The stern was clean down, the rudder right under the water - she was a trottin."  

Annie C in 1978.
The Annie C evolved over time from only sail to power. Ultimately she had similar engines installed around the same time as the Madcap. When the larger engines were installed, the centerboard and bowsprit were removed and eventually “squat boards” or planning boards were installed on the stern to keep the stern from squatting down when under power.

The pictured to the right is the Annie C at the end of her working live in 1978. If you look closely at the stern, you can see the remnants of the squat boards.

The Annie C worked on the water from 1904 till 1978 when she was beached in Saxis by Delany Linton who had hopes of restoring her. Unfortunately he had cancer and was unable to fulfill his dream. Thanks to Frank Young and Dr. Harry Holcomb, the Annie C was saved and resides today at Ker Place in Onancock. She has been restored to her original design as a pure sailing vessel. 
The Annie C today at Ker Place
Sources: Interview tapes and transcripts made by Dr. Harry Holcomb.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

British Invade Chesconessex!

By Terry Malarkey, from London, England and Chesconessex Creek.
Location of Chesconessex
Creek on Google Maps.

When Judy (also a Londoner) and I came to United States in the early 70's, Judy got a job running the Murrysville Community Library in western Pennsylvania. One day some schoolkids came into the library and said they had a project to research and report on the war between Britain and United States in 1812. Judy, a history specialist, said “What war?” And after doing some research with the kids she found that there had indeed been a war between our two countries in 1812. She came home and told me, and I too was surprised.

So imagine the irony of reading an article by Kirk Mariner in the Eastern Shore News, and discovering that the British had invaded Chesconessex Creek, where we now live, in 1814 and that June 25 was the 200th anniversary of that invasion. So with some help from Kirk Mariner, Miles Barnes, and the Web, I tried to put together a little story of what happened.

To set the scene:
  • 200 years ago, in 1814, the War of 1812 was in its 3rd year.
  • Napoleon was on sabbatical (it turned out!) and exiled to an island off of the coast of Italy called Elba.
  • The land we now live on on the Eastern Shore was still owned by the Wise family (until after the Civil War).
  • British attentions now turned to the Western Hemisphere. A distraction was needed to deflect the USA in its invasion of British North America (Canada).
  • 500+ British troops, fresh from the wars of Europe, were encamped on Tangier Island (which you can see from our house) in newly-constructed Fort Albion, surrounded by redoubts, breastworks and armed with cannon. Often, powerful Royal Navy warships were anchored close by.
  • Also present were the British Corps of Colonial Marines, comprised of escaped slaves from Virginia and Maryland, now in red Royal Marines uniform and with $20 bounty each in their pockets. In despatches they were described as “marked by great spirit and vivacity and perfect obedience”.
  • There were various skirmishes, probes by both sides and some personal animosity between rival personalities, Captain Scott of the British army and Captain Joynes of the American militia.
  • The American militia had barracks and artillery on Chesconessex Creek, and were commanded by Captain Joynes.
  • At dawn on June 25, 1814 the British were running out of food. (Fresh Pride had closed!) With the food shortage and the rivalry in mind, the British admiral approved a raid by 500 Royal and Colonial Marines in barges. They were guided by the Colonial Marines who, being escaped slaves, knew the land intimately.
  • The British invaders seized food, cannon, and burned down the barracks. No casualties were reported.
  • Captain Joynes and his militia fled, leaving behind his sword, feathered hat, and uniform. These items were then given to a Colonial Marine sergeant (a former slave) as a prize and to humiliate Joynes.
  • Fort Albion on Tangier was used as a base to blockade the Chesapeake & attack Washington D.C. (where several public buildings, including the Presidential Mansion, were burned down), and Baltimore (giving rise to the National Anthem).
  • Fort Albion was manned by the British until the end of the war by the Treaty of Ghent, in February 1815. It has now been lost to erosion.
  • The escaped slaves & their families went as free citizens to Trinidad, Bermuda, Canada, & etc.
The Internal Enemy by Alan Taylor
Pungoteague to Petersburg, Vol 1 Eastern Shore Militiamen by Alton Brooks Parker Barnes & Lee Howard
Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Jan. 1, 1808 to Dec. 31, 1835 by H. W. Flournoy, VA State Library
'Niles" weekly register, Robt E. Spencer

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Secrets of the Beverly Plantation Arch Revealed

Written by Dr. Arthur Fournier

Figure 1. Beverly near Pocomoke, MD.  Photo located in
National Register of Historic Places Program.
The Beverly plantation on the Pocomoke River was initiated by Littleton Dennis circa 1760 and completed by his widow, Susanna Upshur Dennis around 1770. (1) Framing the stairs leading to the rear entry is a unique wrought iron arch adorned with curious symbols. The description of the arch in the 2012 Garden Tour brochure gives vague reference that the arch may have been forged by Haitian craftsmen. This piqued my interest as I have worked as a medical volunteer in Haiti for 20 years and in the process, become quite familiar with Haitian history, art and culture.

While the identity of the sculptor cannot be identified with certainty as being Haitian, careful study of the arch reveals that the artist that designed and forged it had a thorough knowledge of and reverence for ancient West African cosmology. This cosmology was preserved in Haitian culture through the centuries and is still present to this day in Haiti as part of the world
Figure 2.   Veve of Legba
view and value system known as Vodou. Court records and a family history indicate that the Dennis family conducted considerable commercial intercourse with the West Indies. (2) They may therefore have brought back slaves from the West Indies as skilled artisans to contribute to the construction of the plantation who were well-versed in the mysteries of Vodou. Vodou is a form of African spiritualism that survived among slaves in France's colony, St. Dominique, by syncretecly adopting a veneer of Catholicism. Catholic saints such as the Virgin Mary also represented African Saints – in the case of the Virgin, Erzilie, the goddess of love and family. (3, Figure 4)) The term Vodou is most likely derived as the Kreyol pronunciation of the French "vieux dieux" or old gods. Each of these old or African gods is represented by an abstract symbol called in Kreyol "veve". (See Figure 2, Wikipedia examples of veve) It is these veve that adorn the arch and also continue in Haitian Vodou art to this day (See Figure 1 & 3).
Figure 3. Examples of veve in the Beverly Arch.  Photo
located in National Register of Historic Places Program.
For example, the heart with a cross above it is a symbol of Erzilie-the heart for love and the cross for suffering. The serpentine curves represents Damballah, the snake god, the same symbolism embodied in the caduceus, our symbol for medicine. Large crosses stand for Legba, the guardian of the crossroads which represent the intersection of past and future, life and death. Even the arch itself is a symbol, depicting both a rainbow and the Milky Way. In Vodou cosmology, creation began with the mating of the feminine rainbow with the masculine snake god (the metaphors to human anatomy should require no elaboration).(4) The stars in the Milky Way represent the souls of departed ancestors.

Figure 4.   Cover of Dr. Arthur
Fournier's book.
How did this African cosmology survive in Haiti and not among the enslaved in what is now the United States? Well, it did, to a certain extent, among the French settlements in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. It may also have persisted amongst the slaves of the Beverly plantation, as Maryland was the only Catholic colony among the original 13. As Alex Haley described so poignantly in "Roots", however, most African-Americans in what is now the United States were deprived of their cultural identity through progressive generations of enslavement. In Haiti, however the slaves successfully revolted against their French masters beginning in 1793. By 1804 Napoleon abandoned his attempt to reconquer Haiti, selling Louisiana to the United States to finance that misadventure. In the decades that followed, the United States and European powers isolated and ostracized Haiti, fearing the Haitians would export their revolution. This explains why Vodou exists in such a pure form in Haiti to this day. Which brings us back to the construction of the Beverly plantation and its arch – it had to be done before the Haitian revolution!

1. Beverly, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form 
2. The Dennises of Beverly and Their Kin (private printing, 1992)
3. Vodou Saints: Lessons on Life, Death and Ressurection From Haiti, Arthur M. Fournier,M.D.
4. The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

Friday, June 13, 2014

Celebrating 400 years since the first English settlement on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

Excerpts summarizing The Company’s Garden: Dale’s Gift

"The first settlement on Virginia’s Eastern Shore was started by Sir Thomas Dale in 1614. Shortly after he became governor under the Virginia Company, Dale “bought from the Indians the southern part of the Eastern Shore peninsula…on a body of water given the name Plantation Creek."

“At first there were only seventeen men there…whose labor was to make salt and catch fish in the spring and fall.” The new settlement “shortly developed a plantation or garden…’private gardens’ for each man and …’common gardens’ for hemp, flax, and other seeds."

"Governor Dale developed a portion of land solely for the profit of the Virginia Company, a “Plantation”or “Garden”. He proceeded “with great zeal to the good of the Company (to) sett up the Common Garden to yield them a standing revenue…”

For several years Dale’s Gift seemed to be an epitome of a typical plantation.

Due to mismanagement by Captain Argall , a subsequent governor, by “…Easter 1619 there was not left to the Company, the Garden, or any tenant, servant, rent, tribute corn, cow, or saltwork – only six goats…”.

“One thing only remained to the settlement, and that was the term commonly used by the planters in referring to it, namely: ‘the Plantation’.”

Something of importance, at that time, of the settlement on the Eastern Shore, both in securing for those inhabitants a regular and sufficient supply of fish and salt and in securing for the Company an annual revenue, may be gathered from peer tributes to Sir Thomas Dale’s ability in managing the affairs of the Colony, and also from the fact that the name given to the new settlement was Dale’s Gift, a name indicative of its value to colonists and company.

The Company's Garden: Dale's Gift, by Susie M. Ames, Phd., published for the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Onancock and the Oyster Wars

Written by Joe Valentine

Onancock seems like a peaceful little town, so who would think that an Onancock resident would declare war on Marylanders and sink their boat? Well it happened in 1889 and it didn't even make the front page of the local paper, it was a page two article! Check out the forerunner of the Eastern Shore News, the Peninsula Enterprise issue from November 30, 1889 … . The Peninsula Enterprise reports that on November 27, 1889, Onancock resident Charles R. Lewis hired Capt. William S. Russell to operate his tug boat, the Ida Augusta, and sink any boat that should poach oysters on his grounds off Hog Island in the mouth of the Potomac.

To provide a little background, in the 1850’s, Chesapeake oysters were being shipped to New England where the local watermen had depleted the New England oyster beds by using very efficient dredges. New Englanders soon started sending their boats down to the Chesapeake to harvest more oysters. Competition for the oysters started to become very stiff. Maryland and Virginia started to put constraints on the harvests. In 1868, Maryland founded the Maryland Oyster Navy to enforce their laws and keep outsiders from harvesting Maryland oysters. Virginia was lax in enforcing their laws. After the Civil War, the oyster business became big business. Virginia made its own attempts to fight illegal oystering. In the 1870s, Virginia imposed license fees, seasonal limits, and other measures to prevent over harvesting and preserve the oyster population. The demand for oysters continued to grow, and by the 1880s, the Chesapeake Bay supplied almost half of the world's supply of oysters. Meanwhile, violence broke out between oyster tongers and more efficient oyster dredgers. Finally in 1879, Virginia banned oyster dredging.

The abundance of oysters started to diminish, and in 1899, Virginia allowed watermen to lease private grounds with hopes that they would reseed them with oysters. This caused a lot of controversy as some of the grounds were jointly claimed by Maryland and Virginia. Charles R. Lewis, an oyster dealer from Onancock, had leased just such grounds located off Hog Island near the mouth of the Potomac.

When the governor of Maryland proclaimed that the area around Hog Island to be the common property of both Maryland and Virginia, the Smith Island watermen began to move in around Hog Island. Charles Lewis was determined to protect his leased oyster grounds from the raiders from Smith Island. He hired Captain William Russell, a deputy of the Virginia Oyster Militia, and gave him command of his steam powered tug, Ida Augusta. He told Captain Russell, “If them damned Smith Islanders try to loot my oyster beds, then sink their vessels.”

On November 27, 1889, Captain Russell steamed out of Onancock bound for Hog Island. When he got
Saxis Oystermen circa 1930's from the ESVHS's
Roberston Collection.
there he spied a Smith Island oyster boat, the Lawson, dredging over Mr. Lewis’s grounds. He proceeded to follow Mr. Lewis’s orders and took aim at the Lawson. One of the cullers on the Lawson looked up to see the tug and hollered “By Jesus, she’s fixing to ram us!” The tug hit the Lawson with a glancing blow when Captain Evans of the Lawson yelled “What in the hell are you doing?”

Captain Russell brought the tug around for a second run at the Lawson, this time crashing through the hull. When the Lawson began to sink, the well armed crew on the tug “invited” the Smith Islanders to come aboard.

The tug made its way back to Onancock with the angry crew of the Lawson. Charles Lewis met Captain Russell and the Smith Islanders at the dock in Onancock. He declared that no governor of Maryland could issue a proclamation by which he would be robbed. The Smith Islanders departed the next day stating that they would return to Hog Island, but would be well armed and would shoot anyone trying to take their boat. Later that month, Captain Russell attempted to capture another Maryland boat but was met with a hail of bullets. In the winter of 1989, a dozen men were killed on the Hog Island oyster beds.  The Oyster Wars on the Chesapeake started around 1865 and lasted until the 1950’s.

Peninsula Enterprise, November 30, 1989
The Oyster Wars of the Chesapeake Bay, by John R. Wennersten
Leslie Drummond interview, by Dr. Harry Holcomb

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why you shouldn't cross a man like General John Cropper, Jr.

A copy of a portrait of General
Cropper painted by Charles
Wilson Peale on display at
Ker Place. The original is at
the Smithsonian.
Written by Randy Stuart as part of the On-Line Lesson Plans

One of the Eastern Shore’s prominent early Americans was General John Cropper. He was born on December 23, 1755 at the family plantation, Bowman’s Folly in Joynes Neck, Accomack County, Virginia.  John served in the Revolutionary War as early as 1775, training in Accomack County. At age 20, he married Margaret Pettitt, whom he called Peggy, on August 15, 1776 at Accomack Co. Also in 1776 he was commissioned captain of a Shore company of the 9th Virginia Regiment, which in December left to join General Washington at Morristown. Sadly, both of his parents died that same year.

In 1777 he was commissioned major of the 7th Virginia Regiment and, in September, suffered a bayonet wound in the thigh at the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania. The flag bearer had been shot so John Cropper pulled the ramrod out of a musket and tied a red bandana to it. He then raised and carried it as the regiment’s flag. He led his men back to General Washington. In 1778 General Lafayette appointed him lieutenant colonel in command of the 11th Virginia Regiment and in June he participated in the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. Cropper served with the Virginia troops during the hardships of the winter at Valley Forge. Cropper became devoted to his commander-in-chief, George Washington, and the two men remained friends until Washington’s death in 1799.

In September of 1778, John Cropper requested leave to return home to check on his family and his
Bowman's Folly. Picture credit:
property. This was a common practice of officers and soldiers during the Revolutionary War. He returned to Accomack County to find Eastern Shore families had been under constant attack from British raiding parties who sailed up the creeks, landed, ransacked and robbed homes, and sometimes burned down the houses. In fact, according to his diary entry of February 12, 1779:

A group of British raiders from the Thistle Tender rowed up Folly Creek with muffled oars. They had crept quite close to his house, Bowman’s Folly, and then burst through the doors as he and his family were in their beds. Cropper was taken by the raiders to a room and left there guarded by two men holding loaded muskets. The remainder of the raiding team found the wine cellar began drinking heavily and then ransacked the house. Cropper listened to the ever growing level of noise and deduced his guards might have become distracted. He quietly lifted the door latch, pulled open the door, and jumped past the two startled raiders. He ran two miles in his bedclothes to a neighbor’s house. Armed with three old muskets, they raced back to Bowman’s Folly. When they were in earshot of the loudly drunken raiders, Cropper’s neighbor became afraid and ran away. Cropper, armed with two muskets, sneaked up near the house and shot off both guns. He then yelled at the top of his voice, “Come on, boys, we have got them now.” This trick fooled the raiders and they ran to the boats and rowed away. Cropper went to search for his wife and two year old daughter.

He had been just in time. The raiders had been laying a track of gunpowder from the house to the creek. But where were Peggy and little Sarah? He found them in the privy. He had saved his wife, child and house, but they had been robbed of many possessions and the house had suffered some structural damage including a number of broken windows.

Fearing another raid, Cropper moved his family to another house he owned which was in the town of Accomac. But John Cropper was a determined soldier and was infuriated by this ungentlemanly and unmilitary attack on his home. In two weeks time, he had mustered men and weapons. With the help of “brass four pound guns” placed on Parramore and Cedar Islands, Cropper and his men opened fire on the Thistle Tender and her sister ships. Cropper had the satisfaction of seeing the ship which held the raiders of his family and property sink with all hands on board.

Concerned about his young wife and daughter, his neighbors, and the precarious situation on the Eastern Shore at this stage of the war, Cropper wrote a letter resigning his commission in the Continental Army. The letter was never accepted officially and Cropper served subsequently as Colonel of Virginia Militia in Accomack County until the war ended.

In addition to his military possessions on exhibit at Ker Place, the Cropper Bed and the Cropper Cradle may be found in the master bedroom. We hope you will return to Ker Place and learn more about John Cropper, including his service during the War of 1812.

1. Memoir of General John Cropper of Accomack County, Virginia. Barton Haxall Wise. Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, 1892; 1974.
2. Eastern Shore of Virginia 1608 – 1967. Susie M. Ames, Ph.D. and James Egbert Mears. Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1950. (& additions)
3. 5 November 2013.
4. Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteen Century Mid-Atlantic. Michael Olmert. Cornell University Press, 2009.
5. Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Ralph T. Whitelaw. Peter Smith, Gloucester, Mass., 1951.
6. Tangier in the American Revolution. - Gail Walczyk.​tangier_1.htm 3 February 2014. (Barnes, Alton Brooks Parker, Pungoteague to Petersburg, Vol I, Eastern Shore Militiamen Before the Civil War 1776-1858, (A Lee Howard Book: A Parker Barnes.)
7. 12 February 2014.
8. "Society of the Cincinnati" 27 February 2008. <> 14 February 2014.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The First European Settler on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

Crossword Puzzle from ESVHS's
free on-line lesson plans.
written by Randy Stuart (ESVHS Education Director) as part of the On-line Lesson Plan curriculum

Thomas Savage is considered by many historians to be the earliest permanent settler in any of the thirteen colonies whose descendants are known and record. His family origins and place of birth in England remain a mystery.

Ensign Thomas Savage set sail from England in 1607 aboard the John and Francis. Christopher Newport captained the ship. Thomas, recorded aged 13, may have been a cabin boy on this supply ship headed for the Jamestown Colony.

In A True Relation of such occurrences and accidents of noate (1608), John Smith recounted how an English delegation presented Powhatan with "a Boy of thirteen yeares old, called Thomas Salvage,” as Captain Christopher Newport’s son. Savage remained with Powhatan and his people for three years, learning their language and customs. His talents were put to use most effectively in the successful negotiations to end the First Anglo-Powhatan War.

Thomas later was returned to Jamestown and then sent to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. There he met the leader of the native people, King Debedeavon. His titles included ‘Ye Emperor of Ye Easterne Shore and King of Ye Great Nussawattocks” and “the Laughing King.” These two men worked together to keep the colonists at Jamestown informed concerning events which would lead to the massacre of 1622.

King Debedeavon granted Thomas Savage large tracts of land which today comprise Savage’s Neck in
Word search from ESVHS's
free on-line lesson plans.
Northampton County. In 1624, according to depositions in the General Court Minutes, Savage facilitated the delivery to James City of a significant quantity of corn from the Eastern Shore. Savage continued to manage his lands and act as interpreter throughout his life.

Savage married Hannah (Ann) Elkington circa 1623 and they had one son, John.

His date of death is not of record but occurred sometime between 1631 and 1633. To honor his contributions to America’s history, a memorial tablet was placed in the Jamestown Church on May 31, 1931.

Eastern Shore of Virginia 1608 – 1967. Susie M. Ames, Ph.D. and James Egbert Mears. Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1950. (& additions)
Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony. The First Decade: 1606-1617. Edited by Edward Wright Haile. 1998
The Story of Virginia’s First Century. Mary Newton Stanard. J. B. Lippincott Company, 1928.
The First Seventeen Years: Virginia, 1607-1624. Jamestown Booklet No. 1. Charles E. Hatch, Jr. University of Virginia Press, 1957.
Indians in Seventeenth-Century Virginia. Jamestown Booklet No. 3. Ben C. McCary. University of Virginia Press, 1957.
The Accomac and Accohannock Indians from Early Relations. C. A. Weslager. Hickory House, 2001.
A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America. James Horn. Basic Books, 2005.
Invented Scenes for Narratives/Virginia Historical Society. 9/19/2013.
Plaque Dedication to Thomas Savage. 9/19/2013.
Chesapeake Bay – Colonial Period – The Mariners’ Museum. 9/26/2013

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Feisty Henry A. Wise in Brazil

Portrait of Henry A. Wise. .
By Charles Fenderick, 1840.  Frame-gold leaf
molding. From the ESVHS Collection.
Written by: Dennis Custis

On August 2, 1844, the most celebrated ship in the American Navy, The Constitution arrived in the beautiful harbor of Rio de Janeiro.  Salutes were fired by Brazilian ships in the harbor welcoming the new Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from The United States of America.  This new minister had spent the previous twelve years as a zealous defender of Southern causes in the United States House of Representatives.  Four months shy of his thirty-eighth birthday, this tall, angular man with long flaxen hair looked too combative for the diplomatic service.  He was.

Henry Alexander Wise was the first (and only) Eastern Shoreman to hold such an important diplomatic position. It is unlikely Wise would have been able to stomach three years in Brazil had it not been for the support of his wife and five children.  Sarah Sergeant was Wise's second wife and, fortunately for Wise, an expert linguist.

Most of Wise's correspondence deals with one or the other of these diplomatic situations;  the dispute with Mexico over Texas, the conflict between Argentina and Britain and France in the La Plate River area, the Columbia Affair, and the illegal slave trade.  In the first three situations Wise's diplomacy met with little success.  It was in his dedicated opposition to the slave trade that Wise thought he "devoted his best energies."  Given the fact that Wise had been the unquestioned champion for slavery in Congress, it might seem incongruous that Wise became the most dedicated opponent of the slave trade to Brazil.

For Wise "there is but one true test of anything, and that is, is it right."  Slavery was right, but the slave trade was illegal; therefore, he was obligated to use the power of his office to right the legal and moral wrong of the slave trade.  The slave trade was a staple business of Brazil and Wise raised the ire of the Brazilian government.  "My strenuous opposition to the prostitution of the flag of the United States to the nefarious uses of the slave trade has rendered me naturally unpopular in the country."

It is debatable whether Wise or the Brazilian government first reached the conclusion that it was time for the Shoreman to return to Accomack.  However, it is certain that when Brazil demanded his recall, Wise was determined to stay, The Brazilian government thought Wise possessed a "morose and gloomy temper," and ought to be "taught a lesson."  The "Lesson" Wise wanted the Brazilians to learn could easily be taught by the American Navy and Marines.  His country did not respond but Wise's defiant attitude remained unchanged and he did not regret any of his actions.  When Brazil asked Wise to sign a document which would admit wrongdoing on his part, Wise responded, "I would have my right hand cut off and stuck on a post to point the way to a gibbet before I would permit my thumb and forefinger to touch a pen to sign the paper of such degrading notes!"

Dennis Custis speaking at
To Kill a Mockingbird &
Southern Culture Event
Eventually Brazil stopped demanding Wise's recall which allowed Wise to resign.  On September 1, 1847, The Columbia conveyed a stubborn and prideful Shoreman out of the harbor of Rio de Janeiro.  A month later, Wise reported to Washington and by early November, was back at his home, Onley, on Onancock Creek.  Wise's retirement to country life was brief; he would later serves as Governor of Virginia and Brigadier General of the Confederate Army. Upon his death an admirer wrote that Wise was "a knightly figure of heroic age, single hearted, lofty-minded, honest, generous, brave, a noble product of the loins of The Commonwealth he loved so well."

Excerpt from Historical Society Newsletter: Summer of 1997

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

150 Years Ago Slavery Ended on VA's Eastern Shore

Written by Kirk Mariner

This month contains a date which, while long overlooked, is crucial to our peninsula’s history. For it was on April 11, 1864 — one hundred fifty years ago this month — that slavery came to an end on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

New York Times, October 17, 1863
Provided by Kellee Blake.
It was not the Civil War that ended slavery here. Slavery continued even after the Union Army invaded and occupied the Shore in November 1861. It was not Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves, for his proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, freed only those in areas then in rebellion against the United States, and specifically excluded, by name, Accomack and Northampton counties. Nor did the slaves of the two counties have to wait until December 18, 1865, when the 13th amendment to the Constitution ended slavery throughout the country.

Rather, the demise of slavery on the Eastern Shore came about quietly and undramatically.

Not all of Virginia seceded from the Union in early 1861, not Chincoteague and Tangier on the Eastern Shore, and not a number of counties in the western part of the state where slavery had never taken deep root. Delegates from these western counties met in Wheeling to set up a rival government to the “rebel” one in Richmond, and on June 25, 1861, Lincoln recognized them as the “reorganized and restored government of Virginia.” Thus throughout the rest of the Civil War there were two Virginias: Confederate Virginia, whose capital was Richmond, and “loyal” Virginia, whose capital was Wheeling. Loyal Virginia remained a part of the Union, represented in the U.S. Congress, throughout the war.

There were, in addition, other parts of Virginia that were in Union hands when the war began: Fort Monroe and its surrounding area in Hampton; Alexandria, Arlington, and parts of Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. These also were included in the restored government, and as the war progressed other parts of the seceded state that subsequently came under Union control were added to it.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia officially became a part of the restored government on November 23, 1861, exactly one week after the Union army occupied the peninsula, and for more than a year it sent representatives to the state capital in Wheeling. The western counties, however, were intent on forming their own state, and on June 20, 1863, the state of West Virginia was formed, taking most of the land mass and most of the people of the restored government with it. Virginia was thus reduced to several small, disconnected regions — Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, the Virginia Peninsula, and the Eastern Shore — which then looked to Alexandria as their capital.

When the legislature of the “Alexandria government” convened for the first time in December 1863, Gov. Francis H. Pierpoint identified to the legislators what he saw as the most pressing item of business for his truncated state: The need to bring slavery to an end in Virginia once and for all.

Pictured above are the proposed changes that were to be placed
 in the Virginia State Constitution under the "Slavery" section. 
The report was discussed and voted on on March 10.  Journal 
of the Constitutional Convention which convened at Alexandria
on the 13th day of February 1864 (Alexandria, 1864), pp. 16.
Provided by Kellee Blake.
In urging the end of slavery, the governor offered no religious or humanitarian rationale, but simple practicality, for the reality on the ground was that in virtually every place where the Alexandria government operated the Union army was also present, able and likely to interfere with the day-to-day functioning of slavery. Thus in February 1864 a special convention convened to draw up an amendment to the state constitution that would end slavery. Among its delegates were Arthur Watson and
William H. Dix from Accomack, and William P. Moore from Northampton. Eventually this convention not only amended but also re-wrote the constitution, abolishing slavery in the process.

On April 7, 1864, the convention voted 13 to 4 to adopt the new constitution, Dix voting for it, Watson and Moore against it. The following day it was resolved that instead of having the new constitution approved by the people in a referendum, it would take effect “and be in full force from and after the adjournment of the Convention.” The convention then adjourned four days after making the decision.

On that day — April 11, 1864 — slavery officially came to an end on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

It was sixteen months after the Emancipation Proclamation, a year before the end of the Civil War, twenty months before the 13th Amendment — and two hundred and forty-five years since Africans first set foot on Virginia soil.

For the list of sources please contact

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tangier Islanders Make Medical History

Written by Dr. Arthur Fournier

Tangier Island - Aerial 
Photography By: Neil Kaye
To pass their Boards in medicine, doctors in training must study the rarest and most arcane diseases. When this blogger studied for his boards in 1976, arguably the most esoteric of them all was Tangier Disease – a rare genetic disease technically known as Familial Alpha – Lipoprotein Deficiency. According to the texts, the disease leads to low blood levels of the "good cholesterol", HDL, with cholesterol building up in cells that cause difficulty in the ability of peripheral nerves to function. Naively, I assumed the disease derived its name from the eponymous North African port city. Then, after passing my Boards, I came to the Eastern Shore to work for Eastern Shore Rural Health. It was then I learned the "inside story"of Tangier Disease.

Photo of Teddy Laird
in an article written by
John Pruitt
The year was 1959. It was a time when almost all children had their tonsils taken out, on the unproven theory that their removal would reduce the frequency of strep throats and other upper respiratory infections. The children of Tangier Island were no exception. Dr. Thomas Edmonds Sr., an Ear Nose and Throat specialist from Accomack traveled regularly to Tangier for this purpose. One child, however, Teddy Laird, at that time five years old, had tonsils that proved extraordinary – they were huge and they were bright orange! Intrigued, Dr. Edmonds sent the tonsils to the National Institutes of Health. There they discovered that the tonsils were full of foamy cells containing cholesterol. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health descended upon Tangier Island, convinced that the small number of families who founded the island and intermarried there had created conditions that would result in rare genetic diseases. In actuality, only Teddy and his sister were discovered to have the telltale orange tonsils! In truth, there is little clinical significance to this disease other than the orange tonsils, but the rarity of the condition and the exotic history of Tangier Island captured the imagination of medical researchers and academicians. To date, only approximately 100 patients with Tangier Disease have been identified worldwide. The claim to fame, however, for the first cases reported belongs forever to Teddy and his sister on Tangier Island.

Teddy S. Laird

October 13th, 1955 - April 18th, 2011
Obituary: Dateline – Kinards, SC Teddy S. Laird, age 55 of 33389 Hwy 76 died Monday, April 18, 2011 at home. He was born at Tangier Island, VA and was the son of Peggy Parks Laird of the home and the late Gladden Laird. He was a former employee of Ingles and a member of Joanna Church of God. Surviving is his wife, Amelia Nabors Laird of the home; four stepsons, Reggie Nabors and Kim of Joanna; Johnnie Bunton of Joanna; Eric Bunton and Karen of Conway; Chris Hightower and Nina of Conway and seven grandchildren. He was predeceased by a sister, Elaine Evans. A memorial service will be conducted on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 2:00pm at Joanna Church of God. The family will receive friends Wednesday, April 20, 2011 from 1:00 to 2:00pm at the church. Condolences may be expressed to the family at Gray Funeral Home of Clinton.

Lisa Seachrist Chiu, "When a Gene Makes you Smell Like a Fish"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Battle of the Barges

Written by Bill Helin

Throughout the Revolutionary War British barges plundered and harassed farmers living on the Maryland and Virginia Eastern Shore creeks. By 1782 the state of Maryland had had enough and ordered Commodore Zedechiah Whaley of the Maryland State Navy to clear the Chesapeake Bay of this British threat. Commodore Whaley in command of a flotilla of 4 sail and oar driven barges spotted the enemy in
Revolutionary War Barges
Tangier Sound. Determining that the British force was too strong for his lightly manned barges, Commodore Whaley sailed into Onancock creek on 28 November 1782, and asked Lieutenant Colonel John Cropper (County Lieutenant of Accomack County) to assist him with volunteers to man his barges. Colonel Cropper gathered up 25 local men and boarded Whaley’s flagship PROTECTOR. Officers with Colonel Cropper were Captain Tom Parker, William Gibb, and Major Smith Snead. Underway the following day the American flotilla sighted the British force east of Tangier Island heading north at a fast pace.

After a 24-hour chase the Maryland fleet caught up with the six British barges at the head of Kedges Strait, the water that divides Smith Island and South Marsh Island to the north. Whaley ordered his fleet to attack and in a short while they had closed the enemy to 300 yards. Encountering heavy cannon and musket fire 3 of the 4 Maryland barges turned back leaving PROTECTOR and it’s 65-man crew alone to fight the British.

As the battle pressed on, gunpowder on PROTECTOR exploded killing four men. Others jumped overboard in flames. A musket ball killed commodore Whaley. In hand to hand fighting Colonel Cropper was badly wounded. Overwhelmed by a superior force, PROTECTOR surrendered. Of the 65 men who
Headstone of
Commodore Whaley at
 Scott Hall Cemetery
went into action aboard PROTECTOR, 25 were killed or drowned, 29 were wounded and only 11 escaped. By 3 December Colonel Cropper and the other American prisoners were released and were back in Onancock. The Battle of the Barges was over. Ironically the battle had occurred on the same day that the Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and the United States was signed.

George Corbin of upper Accomack County arranged the funeral of Commodore Whaley. Carried through the streets of Onancock by a procession of Accomack County militiamen, Commodore Whaley was buried on 3 December 1782 in the Corbin family cemetery at Scott Hall with full military honors.

Barton Haxall Wise,  "Memoir of General John Cropper”
Alton Brooks Parker Barnes,  “John Cropper; A Life Fully Lived”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What is a Log Canoe?

Written by Joe Valentine
The Annie C Log Canoe

From colonial times until the early 1900’s, the log canoe was the basic mode of transportation on the Eastern Shore. Its origins go back to the native Indians who would cut down a tree and hollow it using hot coals to burn into the log and then scrape the charred wood out with clam shells and beaver teeth. The colonists had the advantage of iron tools, axes and adzes. Over time they wanted larger and more stable canoes and started using two or more trees spiked together with iron rods.

During the colonial times, roads were few and far between. One of the most efficient modes of transportation was by water, and the log canoe was a sturdy and inexpensive means of providing water transportation. It also provided a means of making a living off the water harvesting seafood. In the book, “Parson of the Islands”, by Adam Wallace, the parson, Joshua Thomas, a preacher in the early 1800’s used his log canoe, The Methodist, to spread religion alone the Eastern Shore. The watermen of the time used their log canoes for oystering, crabbing, and hauling produce. The log canoe was the pickup truck of its time.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society is fortunate to have what is probably the largest log canoe still in existence, the Annie C, built in 1904. At 45 feet long from stem to stern, not including the bow sprit, and with a 9 ½ foot beam, one may wonder why she is called a canoe. The reason for this is that the term canoe refers to a boat that is double ended; it has a sharp bow and a sharp stern. The reason she is a log canoe is that her bottom was carved from logs. Log canoes come in many sizes. Some are made from three logs but they have been made from up to seven logs. The Annie C is made from five logs, but the logs used in the Annie C were larger than most, some being nearly three feet in diameter. The diagram below shows how the Annie C was constructed. The logs formed the bottom of the hull and the sides were built up from regular lumber, pieces called risers or rising wood.

Come to Ker Place in Onancock and see a piece of history, the log canoe Annie C.

M. V. Brewington, “Chesapeake Bay Log Canoes and Bugeyes”
Edward Eggleston, “Stories of American Life and Adventure”
H. S. Holcomb, line drawings of the Annie C.
Adam Wallace, “Parson of the Islands”