Recently, my good friend, fellow blogger and travel partner, Paula, visited Maymont, a Gilded Age estate once owned by wealthy Richmonders James and Sallie Dooley. Maymont is now owned by the City of Richmond and is open for tours.
As many of you know, I’ve been transcribing and researching the letters William Macon Waller wrote home to his family over the fall and winter of 1847 and 1848, while he was walking a coffle of slaves from Amherst County, Va., to Natchez, Miss.
Once in Mississippi, he sold the slaves to settle some debts.
In the letters, Waller writes about lots of things: a family of dwarfs he saw in Southwest Virginia, the fact that sweet potatoes were a big crop in a particular area he was passing through, that he ran into so-and-so and his wife, who is a terrible cook.
Like I said, lots of stuff.
In one of the letters Waller writes home to his wife, Sarah, he mentions someone named Paul Massie. The Massie and Waller families knew each other and lived in the same general area.
Dr. Thomas Massie, Paul’s father, was a prominent physician and slaveholder. At some point, he also married Waller’s sister, Lucy. Here’s what Waller said about Dr. Massie’s son, Paul:
… in another paper [I read about] the mysterious disappearance of Paul Massie. … His fathers [sic] anxiety must be excruciating.
So, of course I wanted to know what happened to Paul Massie. I hit the Internet and it didn’t take long for the story to unfold. On Nov. 30, 1847, under the headline “Missing,” the Richmond Enquirer reported the following:
The New Haven Courier says that Paul Massie, of Virginia, a member of the Freshman Class of Yale College, left that city on Monday, under circumstances that create anxiety; and any information communicated to his brother here, P.C. Massie, or to his father, Dr. Thomas Massie, Tye River Mills, Nelson Co., Va., will be gratefully received by them. He is about five feet eight or nine inches high — stout built — black hair — dark complexion; and had on a brown frock coat, dark green pantaloons, double breasted black vest, and cloth cap.
Upon reading the article, I was even more intrigued. Had Paul been kidnapped? Was he a drunk? Was he crazy? Was he ever heard from again? So I got on FamilySearch, a great (and free) genealogy website, to see what I could find.
In the 1850 U.S. Census, I found out that three years after Paul goes missing, he’s not listed with his family in Nelson County, Va.
I kept poking around on FamilySearch, looking for Paul Massies of the right age, who were born in Virginia, etc., and eventually, I found him. In the 1850 census, he shows up at Mount Hope Hospital — described as “An Asylum for the Insane and Invalids” — in Baltimore:
Paul Massie, 19, student, born in Virginia, insane, entered hospital in 1849.
Sadly, I also found Paul at Mount Hope in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. He died in 1894 — possibly at Mount Hope, because he’d been there so long already — and is buried with his family at Blue Rock, the family home in Nelson County. He was 63 years old.
At the Virginia Historical Society, in its Massie family papers, there are more clues about what led Paul to Mount Hope.
On Nov. 6, 1847, Dr. Massie writes Paul, then at Yale College, a letter. Among other things, he encourages Paul to “study well and take exercise enough to keep your health good and your mind clear” and to try and tolerate the college’s rules, which are “necessary to preserve order among so many different kinds of young men collected from every portion of our wide country.”
In the next letter I read — I admittedly did not read the entire Massie family file — Paul’s brother Patrick, also a student at Yale, writes his dad, saying that Paul has disappeared.
In the letter, dated Nov. 16, 1847, Patrick writes that “Paul has seen proper to leave college, and has not been heard of since yesterday noon.” Later, he explains that Paul has “for some time expressed his dissatisfaction with this kind of life and that he wished some more active kinds.
“He had been melancholy for a few days before his disappearance, and frequently expressed to some of his class mates [sic] his intention of leaving.”
Also, according to this letter, Paul has withdrawn all of his money from his bank account and, as Patrick puts it, “His conversation and conduct for several days past would lead one to conclude that his mind is somewhat affected.”
When Dr. Massie writes back, it’s apparent that Patrick has gone looking for his brother, but is now back at Yale and attending his classes. This pleases his father, who also writes, “It is useless to hunt for Paul as no one can tell what course he took.
“I have [sic] no idea there was any mental derangement in his case. But that the act was deliberate and premeditated, although its excessive folly would lead to the belief that no sane person would do it.”
In the same letter, perhaps more telling, Dr. Massie writes about Paul:
Boys whose heads are cold to natural affections, and who of course have no experience to guide them, are prone to go wildly wrong and the only medicine that can cure them is suffering.
Eventually, Paul is found — where and how I don’t know — and he lands at Mount Hope.
In 1871, more than 20 years after Paul’s disappearance, his brother Patrick gets a letter from the hospital about the bill for Paul’s care. Among other things, the writer, a nun named Sister Catherine, informs Patrick that “I take great pleasure to report that [Paul’s] general health is good.”
More about Mount Hope:
Mount Hope Hospital, also called Mount Hope Retreat, was founded in 1840. When I searched for Mount Hope on Chronicling America, the newspaper archive of the Library of Congress, and also on Newspapers.com, I found interesting stories about other people sent to Mount Hope.
It’s pretty amazing, the gossipy, scandalous things that newspapers used to report.
For example, under the headline, “Insane Through Religion,” an Oct. 25, 1884, story in the Sacramento (Calif.) Daily Record-Union, tells of a 19-year-old Baltimore woman, “Miss Igo,” who was “found in her bedroom Wednesday evening, wholly nude and a raving maniac.”
According to the story, Miss Igo had long wanted to be a nun, but her family disagreed with her plans. So, she “thereupon became somewhat sullen with disappointment. Her troubles weighed on her mind to such an extent that she gradually showed signs of a weakening intellect.
“She went to her bedroom and, taking off her clothes, lay down on the floor and commenced to scream. It has been found necessary to remove her to the insane asylum at Mount Hope. Miss Igo is of attractive appearance and graduated last year at a prominent private school.”
A second article, in the Alexandria (Va.) Gazette, said that Miss Igo was the niece of a Baltimore grocer named Michael Igo.
I’ve done a little online research, in an attempt to determine exactly who Miss Igo was, but I’m not sure if I’ve found the right person. There was a 16-year-old girl, living in the household of grocer Michael Igo and his wife, Mary, in Baltimore in 1880 who might be her.
According to local newspapers, she also graduated from a local Catholic academy, which goes along with the nun story.
I hesitate to assign this bizarre behavior to someone erroneously, though. If nothing else, I’d hate to get nasty emails from her descendants. So, for now, the identity of Miss Igo will remain somewhat shrouded in mystery (unless, of course, you look her up yourself).
In searching Newspapers.com, I found numerous stories, written between the 1880s and early 1900s, about people being sent to Mount Hope Asylum. Like Miss Igo’s case, the stories often included information about the strange behavior that led the person to be committed to the hospital.
Perhaps I will share some of them in a future post.
At about 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 1909, a fire broke out at the Presbyterian Orphanage in Lynchburg, Va., killing five girls, ages about 5 through 10. Stories about the tragedy appeared in newspapers as far away as Texas and Kansas, and perhaps even farther afield.
Under the dramatic headline, “Babes Die in Flames,” the Baltimore Sun reported that the fire erupted in Shelton Cottage, a girls’ dormitory. It was first detected by the orphanage cook, a “Mrs. Priest.”
Mrs. Priest, they say, was awakened “by the roar of the flames.”
In one eternally long sentence, the newspaper goes on to describe the scene:
“When [Mrs. Priest] saw that it was then impossible to get the children out by the stairway, the entire basement and first floor at that time being enveloped, and that it would be but a few minutes before the whole building would fall, she rushed to the third story and brought 15 children down to the second floor, leading them to the veranda roof, where they were taken down a ladder, several of them dropping into the outstretched arms of the older boys of the institution.”
As described in “Feed My Lambs: A History of Presbyterian Homes & Family Services, Inc., 1903-2003,” by Mary Jo Shannon, “Boys in nearby Paxton Cottage rushed to bring a ladder to rescue the frightened children. Some of the smallest girls jumped and were caught by the older boys.
“Tom Bowles, a sixteen-year-old crippled boy who lived on the first floor of Shelton Cottage because he could not manage stairs on his crutches, caught five or six of the girls before he collapsed, exhausted.”
The little girls who died that fall morning were Ruby and Lucile Moorefield, sisters from Lynchburg; Mamie Reynolds of Bath County; Marie Hickman of Campbell County; and Mary Poole of McDowell County, W. Va.
Beneath the exceedingly morbid headline, “Five Children are Cremated in Nursery,” the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal reported that Ruby Moorefield had initially been rescued but, upon learning that her younger sister, Lucile, was still trapped inside ran back into the inferno and “lost her life.”
A funeral for the girls was held two days later at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The Washington Post reported that the church was “crowded” and “the bodies were held in five little white caskets.”
The girls are buried at Presbyterian Cemetery on Grace Street in Lynchburg.
As for the cause of the fire, Charlotte’s Evening Chronicle reported that there “seems to be no doubt but the fire was started in the furnace from which the building was heated.”
The Baltimore Sun said a coroner’s inquest, held the day after the blaze, “threw no light on the cause of the fire, but the verdict included a statement fully exonerating the Home authorities from blame.”
The Bryan, Texas, Eagle, reported that the building “caught fire in a manner that made the rescue impossible.”
Despite that dire description, 24 of the 29 girls were helped to safety, many by the aforementioned Mrs. Priest and possibly Sue Gamewell, another Shelton Cottage matron.
They did this without the benefit of a fire escape and neither escaped unscathed.
According to accounts in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, Gamewell, a widow in her late 40s according to 1910 U.S. Census, “contracted pneumonia while escaping from the fire in her night attire.”
As reported in the Evening Chronicle, Mrs. Priest — who was likely 20- or 21-year-old Ohio native Edna Preas, according to the 1910 census — had numerous injuries, including a dislocated shoulder, sprained back and a scalp wound.
“Mrs. Priest, after seeing the children in the main part of the building out safely, was compelled to jump,” the newspaper said, adding, “She will recover.”
There was even talk of nominating Mrs. Priest for a Carnegie medal for heroism. (Either she wasn’t nominated or didn’t win, as she’s not listed among the honorees for 1909 or 1910.)
Despite that, the Baltimore Sun had this to say about the bravery displayed by the women:
“Dr. R.H. Fleming, the superintendent, was away at the time of the fire, and there were no men about except some distance away in the farmhouses. When they arrived at the burning structure it was too late to save the little tots.
“The women could not have save[d] them, as they barely succeeded in saving 24 of the other girls.”
All I have to say to that is, “Really, guys? The lady saved 15 girls and then jumped out a second-story window, probably in her nightgown. Obviously, your editor was not a woman.”
And special thanks to Wayne Fitzgerald for posting an article about the Presbyterian Home fire last October.
Soon, my friend, Paula, and I will head to Mississippi for a week of searching old courthouse records and archives, and maybe even knocking on some doors. We’ll be looking for evidence of William Macon Waller and the slaves he sold in the towns of Raymond and Natchez in 1848.
If you’re new to the blog, for the past couple of years I’ve been transcribing and researching letters that Amherst County, Va., slaveholder William Macon Waller wrote while taking a group of his slaves from Virginia to Mississippi.
My goal is to write a book telling this story.
Waller and his slaves took the overland route, traveling through Virginia, Tennessee and likely Alabama before entering Mississippi’s eastern state line at Columbus. The slaves, including several children, walked 25 or 30 miles a day for 900 or so miles.
According to the letters, it appears Waller rode along on a horse or mule.
Waller was selling his slaves to pay debts he had at home. On the advice of friends and family, he sold them in the deep South because prices were better in cotton country.
In Raymond, he sold “Sarah and child,” Henry, and three sisters named Lucy, Louisa and Sarah Ann.
In Natchez, he sold Ellin, India, Pleasant and Charlotte — all children — along with Anderson (also called Tups), Susan, “Nelson and wife,” “Piney Woods Dick” and “Runaway Boots.”
There were four or five others, but I don’t know their names. It’s possible, they included individuals named McDonald and Emily, but I’m still working on identifying whether they were along on this journey or not.
I’ve included the slaves’ names because, first of all, they weren’t just “Waller’s slaves.” They were people with lives and families. Some, including the girl India, were forced to leave their families in Virginia.
Also, there might be someone out there who recognizes these names or this story from their own family’s oral or written history. If so, I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to tell you more about what your great-great-great-relative survived and share details about their life that you might not know.
Of course, all of this travel and research will make me and Paula hungry, so we’ll also be eating some good food in Mississippi. Hopefully, we’ll hit at least one spot on Garden & Gun magazine’s “Fried Chicken Bucket List.”
Husband John and I ate at Fat Mama’s a couple of years ago, while traveling home from a wedding in Louisiana. It was definitely worth the detour, as was the town of Natchez, which is an architectural showplace perched above the Mississippi River.
In the spring and fall, Natchez hosts Pilgrimage, when many of its historic houses are open for tours. Paula and I will arrive in town the week after spring Pilgrimage ends, but that’s OK, because we’ll be staying at a historic plantation called Glenfield.
Glenfield, previously called Glencannon, was once owned by William Cannon. According to another letter I’ve transcribed — this one written by a man named James Ware, who helped Waller find buyers for his slaves — Cannon bought the aforementioned Piney Woods Dick and Runaway Boots.
While Cannon didn’t buy the Gothic revival cottage until about three years after Waller came to Natchez, it’s possible that Piney Woods Dick and Runaway Boots lived and worked at Glencannon. So, as you might imagine, we had to stay there.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for photos and (hopefully) a report of amazing historical and culinary discoveries on the road.
I’ve been a little slack about blogging over the past couple of weeks. One reason is I’ve been more interested in planning an upcoming research trip to Mississippi than I have been about writing.
That and I’ve been a bit lazy.
Anyway, I wanted to tell you about a book I read recently, “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” by Daniel James Brown.
Husband John gave me the book as a Christmas gift. Actually, John gives me lots of books, which I really appreciate. This past Christmas, John and his mother gave me several books, and I’ve been working my way through them over the winter and spring.
“The Boys in the Boat,” as the subhead well indicates, tells the story of the eight-man rowing team (the ninth man is the coxswain) that represented the U.S. in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
While the author writes about all of the team’s members, their coaches and the Berlin Olympics in general, he focuses a lot on the life of rower Joe Rantz.
As the passage on the back of the book jacket describes him, Joe was “a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world.”
Joe, like the rest of the boys, was a member of the University of Washington’s rowing team. One might not think about the Pacific Northwest when one thinks about rowing — also called crew — but Washington has been a powerhouse in the sport of rowing for decades.
Like Joe, the other “Boys in the Boat” weren’t the sons of doctors, lawyers and titans of industry, like one might imagine their Ivy League counterparts to be. They were the sons of loggers, laborers and farmers who, like many people during the Great Depression, were struggling to make ends meet.
You can learn more about “The Boys in the Boat” on the PBS website. In 2016, the PBS series “American Experience” ran an episode on the team, and there are videos, photos and articles that tell more of its history and the history of rowing.
In addition to the history of this particular rowing team, by reading this book I also learned a lot about the sport of rowing and the history of the 1936 Olympic Games.
About rowing, among other things, I learned that one, six-minute race uses the same amount of energy a person would expend by playing two, 40-minute basketball games, back to back.
That kind of makes me want to take up rowing for its bang-for-your-buck quality, if nothing else.
About the 1936 Olympics, which occurred during the early years of Adolph Hitler’s reign, I learned about how the campaign against Germany’s Jewish population, which would eventually spread across Europe as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” was officially toned down for the Olympics.
The Berlin Olympics was Hitler’s chance to show off Nazi Germany, after all, and to normalize his regime in front of an international audience. Everything would look nice and pretty, all of the people visiting for the Games would have a good time, and Nazi Germany would look like an OK place to be.
So, I imagine it was extra satisfying for those spectators who didn’t fall for Hitler’s ruse to watch not only the Washington rowers defeat the German rowing team, but also to see Jesse Owens, an African-American sprinter and jumper, win four Olympic gold medals.
Regarding a completely different book — albeit one also set around World War II — I just finished reading, “A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy,” by Thomas Buergenthal.
You can read more about the author and his story here. The book was a quick and interesting read and I recommend it.
On Sunday, April 2, Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery will host its first “Sunday Stroll” of 2017. The hour-long, guided tour, “Lynchburg During the Civil War,” will begin at 2 p.m. The cost is $5.
The tour will focus on what life was like in Lynchburg during the Civil War. It also will highlight local Civil War soldiers — more than 200 of which are buried at Presbyterian Cemetery — along with mourning traditions and more.
Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch.
Notable people buried there include, among others, Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. (Civil War), Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington) and Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist known as “Queena” Stovall).
While not famous, the four Stephens children also are buried at Presbyterian. Their graves are overlooked by an exquisite statue, one of many beautiful monuments at the cemetery. I wrote about them a few months ago.
For full disclosure purposes, I’m a member of the Friends Board at Presbyterian Cemetery.
After I finished writing my last blog post about Miss Lula Gooch’s trunk, in which I mentioned that I hadn’t been able to find evidence of Lula after 1910, I stumbled upon this article from the Dec. 2, 1913, Richmond Times Dispatch:
This isn’t a great copy, so I’ll paraphrase: On Dec. 1, 1913, a man calling himself James Gooch, with an alias of James Rogers, was indicted in Richmond, Va., for killing a woman named Lula Gooch on Nov. 24, 1913.
The article doesn’t say how Lula was murdered or anything about her family, and I couldn’t find any more articles about the case online. In other words, I was having trouble connecting this particular Lula Gooch to the one I wrote about previously, who lived with her family in Richmond in 1900 and worked as a cigar roller.
I’ll admit, when initially researching Lula and her trunk, I found numerous Lula Gooches from all over the U.S. on FamilySearch. But what was the possibility, three years after I can last place Lula in a census, that this murdered Lula Gooch — in Richmond, where she lived, no less — wasn’t her?
Could this be the Miss Lula Gooch who once owned my trunk? Murdered, in Richmond?
So, on the off chance that the case was heinous enough to have made it into the Lynchburg newspaper, I went to Jones Memorial Library, a great (and free) local resource for genealogical and historical research.
There, the mystery unraveled, but not in the way I expected. On page 2, column 1 of the Tuesday, Nov. 25, edition of the Lynchburg News I found this story:
SHOOTS HIS WIFE
RICHMOND NEGRO FIRES BULLET INTO HER HEAD
Richmond, Va. Nov. 24 — (Special.) James Rogers, a negro, this afternoon shot and instantly killed his wife Lula. They had separated, and today the man went to where the woman was employed and when she stepped out into an alley he shot her in the back of the head. The man was captured by mounted officers.
One might be tempted to shout, “Whee hoo!” at this point, but not so fast. While I was glad to find the article in the Lynchburg newspaper, the Lula I was looking for was white.
In 1913 Richmond, it wasn’t likely that James and Lula were an interracial couple, and at that time in history I imagine the newspaper would have reported that fact if they were. During my research, I’ve noticed that newspapers, even into the 1960s, were quick to note if someone was “negro” or “colored.”
Also, even though murdered Lula was called “Lula Gooch” in the first article, she wasn’t actually a Gooch. She was a Rogers, with the maiden name Broadus.
When I found Lula Rogers’ death certificate a few minutes later on Ancestry.com — with the cause of death “homicidal shooting, apparently” — all questions about the identity of murdered Lula were put to rest.
According to the death certificate, Lula Broadus Rogers was “about 24” years old when she died and worked as a cook. She was the daughter of Willie and Elleanora Broadus, and she was born in North Carolina.
The death certificate says she was killed “in an alley near … 16 E. Marshall St.” I found this address on Google Earth. In the photo below, there’s an alley to the right of the building. Perhaps that was where Lula Rogers died.
As for what happened to James Rogers after his indictment, I haven’t been able to find anything (at least not without traveling to Richmond to look at court records, which I’m probably not going to do, to be honest).
He isn’t on this list of executions in the state of Virginia during that time period and I haven’t found him on the 1920 U.S. Census, where he (hopefully) would have shown up as a prison inmate.
I did find a 1916 newspaper article from Paris, Tenn., in which police were seeking a James Rogers who was wanted for murder. This James Rogers also was African American, but there’s nothing else in the article that points at him being the murderer of Lula Rogers.
Actually, while researching this story, I found several different men named James Rogers, white and black, who were accused of murder during the same decade. Interesting, huh?
In the end, though, it was a tale of two Lulas: one a cigar roller, who might have taken her trunk on an exciting trip far away, and the second a cook trying to escape a bad marriage and shot to death in an alleyway.