Thursday, January 7, 2010
Nancy Witcher Langhorne’s father Chriswell Dabney Langhorne lost most everything that he owned during the Civil War. He married Nancy Witcher Keen in Pittsylvania on December 20, 1864, while the War Between the States was still raging. Then in 1873, the year that Nancy was born, he brought his family from Lynchburg to Danville. “Chillie,” as he was known by friends is credited with creating the auctioneer’s Gregorian chant and the “Danville System” of selling open tobacco on the warehouse floor by auction.
The family lived in a house at the corner of Main and Broad Streets in Danville. In all there were eleven children born, “all unwanted,” as Lady Astor liked to say. Nancy liked to make shocking statements, so this was not necessarily her real belief. Concerning her years from 1919-1945 in the House of Commons, some Englishmen said that she had a “cheerful lack or respect for any and all.”
Nancy once had a conversation with Sir Winston Churchill: "If I were married to you, I'd put poison in your coffee." Churchill replied: “If I were married to you, I would drink it."
Nancy and her sister Phyllis, who was eleven months younger, both married “hard drinking millionaires” at a time “when no self respecting Virginia girl would go north” to suffer“ humiliation by the Yankees. After their divorces, Nancy and Phyllis left and had their horses shipped to England.
Nancy’s said that her oldest sister had "married well enough, but to her lively sister her life was sluggish and sleepy." The next oldest married Charles Dana Gibson whom was a young artist making $60,000 a year in New York. He had originated the famous “Gibson Girl” drawings in 1890, five years before he met Irene Langhorne. His widely publicized drawings of beautiful women in stylish clothing set the style of fashion for that time.
After her divorce Nancy was faced with choosing a new husband. “I must do better than Irene,” she said. “I must have money, and lots of it. Money is power. I want to do like Alva Belmont, and make myself felt. And I must have money to do it. And I shall never marry a man unless he has barrels of it.”
Bobby Shaw, his first, had $10,000,000 and Bobbie W. Goelet has his $50,000,000. Or she could become Lady Revelstoke, with a temptation of $50,000,000. Then there was William Waldorf Astor’s son, Waldorf who was worth $200,000,000. So, Nancy picked the richest man in the world for her new husband. Her sister, Phyllis, picked for her next husband Bob Brand an Oxford scholar who was said to be (maybe), the wisest man in the empire.”
Nancy came back to Danville for visits in 1922 and 1945. When she did in 1964, a Confederate flag given her in Danville on her first return trip draped her casket.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Danny Ricketts and Herman Melton at the site of Dix's Ferry March 1993
A Court of Claims was held at Pittsylvania Courthouse on the 18th day of March 1782 for “adjusting claims for property impressed or taken for Publick Service” during the Revolutionary War. Present on that day were James Roberts, John Dix, William Witcher, Reuben Payne, John parks, Jeremiah White, Daniel Hankins Sr., and Samuel Short, Esquire. There were many claims submitted by Capt. John Dix for ferrying hundreds of wagons, horses and cows across Dan River at his ferry. Two more courts of claims were held in October of 1782.
The first entry for John Dix is “For ferriage for 12 Wagons with 4 horses, Continental Troops @ 2/6” for a total of one pound and 10 Shillings.
*Other entries are for supplies: “For 20 bushels of Oats @ 2/, four bushels of corn @ 15/ and passage of 18 horses @9/ for Continental Troops” for a total of three pounds and one shilling. *One entry is “For the ferriage of 77 Continental Troops. One wagon & Team 2/6 and two riding horse” for a total of two pounds seven and a half shillings.
*For one high priced musket “impressed for State Troops” the claim is for seven pounds.
*The same charge of seven pounds for one ferry boat “impressed for Continental Troops and Lost.” This is probably one of the boats taken down Dan River to Irvin’s and Boyd’s Ferries for General Green’s crossing of the Dan while being pursued by Lord Cornwallis.
The many claims by John Dix in 1782 for the previous year, according to my count, were a total of 822 soldiers and officers of the State and Continental troops, 79 wagons, 61 horses, and 21 head of cattle. These troops were a diversion to mislead and delay the British under Lord Cornwallis away from the main army who crossed the Dan River downstream in Halifax County.
The tactic was entirely successful in allowing General Nathaniel Green’s American troops to cross the flooded Dan River before the British could overtake them. When Lord Cornwallis and his men arrived at the Dan River all the boats were on the other side. The retreated to the south.
In March of 1993, we rediscovered the site of Dix's Ferry by researching deeds in the courthouse. George Dix, a lineal descendant of John Dix is left of Herman Melton and I in this photo.
Also with the team that day was Ralph McCormack, whose wife is a Dix descendant and Bernard Baker who published an article entitled "Historians Find Dix Ferry Site" ( Danville Register & Bee Wednesday March 3, 1993). I believe it was Leon Townsend who was along and behind the camera.
Dix's Ferry was located four miles down Dan River from where Danville was established in 1793. In colonial times, before the Revolutionary War,Capt. John Dix owned 165 acres surrounding the original 25-acre of Danville and 903 acres at the ferry.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, John Dix, who operated Dix’s Ferry on Dan River in Pittsylvania County, was appointed captain of militia. His son William Dix became an ensign in February of 1777 and was promoted to captain in October of that year.
A traveler sketched this map of Dix's Ferry on Dan River. The two-story house described in 1771 is shown. A note states that "Dan River Dividing Virginia from North Carolina." The line is very near the ferry crossing.
A soldier, Hugh Barr (O’Barr) stated that on April 10, 1780, he “enlisted in the U.S. Army at the home of John Dix as a drummer at Dix Ferry, four miles below the big falls with Capt. William Dix.” “Not liking his situation as drummer as had been anticipated, he was permitted by Capt. Dix to relinquish his then new situation and to shoulder a musket and take his station in the ranks as a private soldier.” The company marched from Dix’s Ferry, under Capt. William Dix, to Hillsborough, N. C. and then to a place called Cross Creek. At one of these places, he was placed under the command of a Capt. Samuel, Adjutant Washington and Col. William Moore. Barr was at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina where Lord Cornwallis was defeated and at the Battle of Guildford Courthouse on March 15, 1781 and at the surrender at Yorktown.. In his deposition on February 11, 1833, Bar stated that when he enlisted he resided in Caswell County, N.C. with his father Michael O’Barr.
According to his son John M. Dix, Capt. William Dix “collected a company of 80 men and he and the men he had raised met at Whitlock’s Store, the place appointed for the rendezvous of the troops of the county and being already in commission was appointed to the command of a company about the first of November 1780” and in the spring following joined Gen. Green.” This information is unlikely to be accurate. Capt. William Dix married Rebeckah Booker on July 30, 1781. John M. Dix made this deposition in 1854, some 73 years before and this all happened before John M. Dix was born. Whitlock’s Store was probably the store at Barksdale Station down Dan River in Halifax County. It is unlikely that 80 Pittsylvania men would meet there before heading off to North Carolina. John M. Dix received the land which included the grist mill on Hances Creek and the north side ferry landing on Dan River and the landing on the south side by his father’s 1800 will. His father William had been dead for 54 years when he made these statements. He probably confused stories by other Revolutionary veterans.
Another account is more likely to be accurate. Thomas Smith (b 1763), who served under Capt. William Dix, stated that he joined as a volunteer and rendezvoused in February of 1781 at John Pigg’s Mill on Banister River. John Pigg bought land of both sides of Banister River in 1763, before Pittsylvania became a county, and built his mill. Shortly after Pittsylvania became a county in 1767, John Pigg was appointed captain of militia and the monthly musters were held on his land near the mill. John Pigg was reluctant to renounce the King and pronounced a traitor, but later signed the Oath of Allegiance to the Commonwealth of Virginia in their demand for independence from England. One of the major claims against him was the fact that he was a user of the “detestable East India tea.” Colonist were boycotting the tea because of a tax by England placed on its import.
Smith said that the William Dix company marched from Pigg’s Mill under Col. William Campbell, Major Anthony Crockett across the Dan River at Perkins Ferry. This route was down the Berry Hill Road, crossing the Dan River near the North Carolina state line. Col. Peter Perkins, one of the highest military officers of his time, lived at Berry Hill, west of the ferry. His brother Constantine Perkins lived in the old home place on the south side of Dan River near the ferry landing. Another brother Nicholas Perkins owned land surrounding the north side ferry landing.
The company marched to Salem (Winston-Salem) in North Carolina and on to the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin River where they joined with Gen. Nathaniel Green’s army. Then they marched to Guildford Courthouse where they camped a few days before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse which took place on March 15, 1781.
After about an hour and a half, when both side had lost a number of brave men, Capt. William Dix and others retreated to the Speedwell Iron Works on Troublesome Creek, west of the present Reidsville in Rockingham County, North Carolina. Smith became sick and was hospitalized at Hillsborough in Orange County, N. C., where he remained until he was discharged by Capt. Dix in August of 1781.
Capt. William Dix led his company of Pittsylvania County, Virginia soldiers into battle at Guildford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. He was riding his prize English mare. The “nag” was said to have been worth 100 guineas.
A year later, Capt. Dix came to Pittsylvania County Court of Claims and sought 30 pounds for “One bay mare killed in the action at the Guilford action.” As a comparison, during that same period at the state capital of Williamsburg, a journeyman trades person received an average of 30 pounds a year. Imagine paying a years salary for a horse.
Capt. William Dix made other claims in March 1782 for supplies, which were impressed, for Revolutionary War use. His father, Capt. John Dix made claims for ferrying hundreds of troops, wagons, horses and cattle across Dan River during the War.
John Dix came from Essex County to settle on Dan River in 1766, “in the 7th year of King George III,” while this area was still a part of Halifax County and was granted a license to operate his ferry. Dix’s Ferry was four miles down Dan River from where the original town of Danville was chartered by the General Assembly much later in 1793. High above the ferry site, just above Hances Creek, John Dix built his house. The house is no longer there but the rather large graveyard with lots of fieldstone markers west of the old ferry road at the top of the hill.
In 1771, John Dix owned both ferry tract and the 165-acre tract surrounding the 25 acres which became Danville. He called his pre-Danville tract, with an operating water-powered gristmill “Palm Tree Springs.” (see a separate post). He ran an advertisement in the Williamsburg Gazette offering to lease one or both tracts.
In that same advertisement (shown above), his father described their house, William Dix was about sixteen years old at that time. His ferry tract had “a good dwelling house with three rooms and a passage below and two above, a cellar underneath and every convenient outhouse, stables for 24 horses and a garden newly paled-in 160 feet square, a tailor’s and blacksmith shop on premises with a set of blacksmith tools and a good still.”
Apparently, John Dix leashed his “Palm Tree Springs” tract with the mill. He was still living on his ferry tract in 1772 and he applied to build a grist mill on Hances Creek above the ferry. That same year, he applied to operate an ordinary (tavern) at his dwelling house. John Dix was involved in just about everything. At various times, he was captain in the militia, one of “His Majesty’s Justices,” Sheriff, and corner.
During the Revolutionary War, the Dix men owned 1,768 acres of land in Pittsylvania: John Dix 903 acres, William Dix 500 acres, Larkin Dix (oldest son) 165 acres (this is the “Palm Tree Springs” tract), and James Dix 200 acres. I believe that James Dix, who died in 1790 and owned land on Dan River east of the ferry, was a brother of John.
John Dix was born in 1729. Another notice in the “Virginia Gazette and American Advertiser” the exact minute of his death: “John Dix - 28 November 1783 at 20 minutes after 8 o’clock in the A.M. died Capt. John Dix of Pittsylvania in the 55th year of his age, after days of painful illness which he bore with fortitude.”
John Dix wrote his will on October 28, 1783, exactly a month before he died. The will stated: “I give unto my son William Dix all land that I now possess in Pittsylvania County whereon I now live, together with the ferry, not to interrupt one third my beloved wife in any of the above land or premises for and during her natural life. Also I give to William Dix a Negro named Daniel.”
Thursday, October 15, 2009
In 1761, Joshua Worsham began buying land on the north side of Dan River, across from where the Town of Danville was laid out in 1793, In 1769, two years before he died, he built a water-powered grist mill on the bank of the river. When he died in 1771, he dived his 437-acre tract between sons Thomas Worsham, who received the upper half with the grist mill, and William Worsham who received the lower part with the home place and graveyard.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The town of Danville was established by the General Assembly in 1793, but the location was important long before the Revolutionary War. Prior to this date, the area of “The Great Falls of Dan River” was knows as Wynne’s Falls, after an early settler. Col. William Wynne came here in the 1740s and settled on a land grant of 2,000 acres. He and his sons bought more land and at one time there land stretched from the falls where the Main Street Bridge is no located, to the North Carolina state line.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The old house where Samuel Harris lived and preached was drawn of a map when he estate was divided.
Samuel Harris helped establish a church down the creek from his house. I was born on a farm upsteam on this old church on Lawless Branch of Fall Creek.
Samuel Harris was only 23 years old when he began his work with the Church of England. An oath of allegiance was required of colonist in Virginia. Beginning in 1606, King James who some people think wrote the Bible, required an oath of “uttermost faith and allegiance to the King’s majesty” from everyone leaving for America to work in the Virginia Company.
Samuel Harris would have made the required oath to King George II, who was born in 1683 and ruled from 1727 until 1760. The short version was:
" I, Samuel Harris, do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty, King George the Second. So help me God."
The full version was:
" I, Samuel Harris, do truly and sincerely acknowledge and promise, testify and declare, in my conscience, before God and the world, that our Sovereign Lord, King George the Second, is lawful and rightful King of this realm and all other his Majesty's dominions and countries hereunto belonging; and I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I do believe in my conscience that the person pretended to be Prince of Wales during the life of the late King James, and since his decease pretending to be, and taking upon himself the style and title of the King of England, or by the name of James III, or of Scotland by the name of James VIII, or the style and title of King of Great Britain, hath not any right whatsoever to the crown of this realm, or any other dominion hereunto belonging; and I do renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him, and I do swear that I will bear faithful and true allegiance to H. M. King George II, and him will defend to the utmost of my power against all traitorous conspiracies and attempts whatsoever which shall be made against his person, crown or dignity ; and I will do my utmost to endeavor to disclose and make known to his Majesty and his successors all treasonable and traitorous conspiracies which I shall know to be against him, or any of them ; and I do faithfully promise, to the utmost of my power, to support, maintain and defend the successor of the crown against him, the said James, and all other persons whatsoever, which succession, by an act entitled 'An act for the further limitation of the crown and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject,' is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, late Electress and Duchess, dowager of Hanover, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants ; and all other these things I do plainly and severally acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever; and I do make this recognition, acknowledgment, abjuration, renunciation, and promise, heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian, o help me God."
On December 7, 1747, Samuel Harris began is his position with the church, or the government, which were all in one at that time, at a salary of 1,000 pounds of tobacco a year. He was appointed as a “Reader” for the south fork of the Roanoke River. The south fork of the Roanoke River is the Dan River of today. This indicates that he may have been living on Fall Creek at this time.
In October of 1748, Harris was sworn in as Deputy Sheriff for Lunenburg County, which at that time included all of what became Halifax County in 1752 and Pittsylvania in 1767.
On June 14, 1794, Samuel entered for 5,000 acres on Fall Creek. On this, his large “home tract,” which was 6,592 acres at the time of his death, he called home until he died.
In 1750, he again took the oath as reader with his salary increased to 1,200 pounds of tobacco a year.
Samuel Harris was present at the first meeting of the county court for Halifax County on April 8, 1752. Halifax was sectioned off from Lunenburg, but the new county was still very large. The area is now the counties of Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Patrick and the southern part of Franklin. The county levied each white male over 18 and each slave over 16 a tax of 21 pounds each. Not counting women and children, there were only 634 men and slaves in all this vast area. The tax to be collected amounted to 13,314 pounds of tobacco. The money was used to operate the government and courts system.
At this first court meeting, both and the first Clerk of Court George Currie took an oath: “We George Currie and Samuel Harris do subscribe to be conformable to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England as by law established.
That same year, 1752, Samuel Harris became one of the first two representatives for Halifax in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg.
In 1753, “Dissenters” put in a petition for a “Meeting House for Divine Worship” and “Whereupon William Russell agrees to lay off and ascertain three acres for that purpose.” Dissenters were anyone who worshiped outside to the established Church of England. Samuel Harris later became a part of the Baptist and was among the earliest and most influential of those who opposed public funded and controlled religious worship. Dissenters were at times tolerated and at other times severely punished for there choice of religion. Samuel Harris met with violent opposition for his preaching in Culpepper County by a crowd with whips, clubs and other weapons. He left that night and went to Orange County, where he was “dragged by the hair from his out-door pulpit, tried and condemned by an orthodox court.”
Before the Revolutionary War, the Church of England maintained a Glebe. The Glebe was a working farm to produce income for the Parson and the work of the church. Read about Pittsylvania's Glebe at: "The King's Preacher."
In 1753 Samuel Harris was appointed a Justice of the Peace. In July of that year, settlers along the way were ordered to mark a road from William Bean’s house to the courthouse at Peytonsburg. The first Halifax courthouse was on the present line between Halifax and Pittsylvania. Bean lived on what is now the Berry Hill Road near where the Oak Hill Plantation house was built in 1825. In 1768, William Bean sold his land and moved to that part of North Carolina, which became Tennessee. It is said that his was the first white child born in Tennessee.
This road crossed Sandy River at a ford below what is now Moorefield’s Bridge, and continued to cross Sandy Creek at a bridge just below where Beavers’ Mill was built in 1792. The road then crossed Fall Creek just below the house of Samuel Harris. He was ordered to survey the road from Fall Creek to Sweeting Fork following the path of the present Spring Garden Road (SR 640) to the courthouse.
Samuel Harris was also a military officer. He was a colonel in the British army and commanded Fort Mayo during the French and Indian War. Future president George Washington came to inspect the fort in 1756. Back in 1748, Harris entered for a tract of 5,000 acres on the Mayo River. That same year the law was changed to allow a new patentee to apply for land previously claimed but not used. In order to keep title to the land, the owner was required to “keep there for three years three neat cattle or six sheep or goats for every 50 acres. Persons working a stone quarry, coal or other mine for three years would save 100 acres from lapsing. Every three acres cleared, fences and kept for three years for pasture would save 50 acres. Five pounds spent on buildings, planting trees, or other improvements would 50 acres. Sufficient seeding and planting would save the land from forfeiture forever.” This would be an exorbitant amount of work to have preformed 75 miles from home.
Samuel Harris was riding along Hickey’s Road in full military dress in 1758 when he came to a meeting of a Baptist group. The meeting was being held at Capt. John Buckley’s Stony Hill Muster Ground near Allen’s Creek. The old Buckley cemetery near the road leading to Brookneal, just up the hill from Allen’s Creek in Pittsylvania County.
The “Baptist Murphy brothers” were preaching. He was converted that night to serve God. He gave up his sword and military duties and preached the Word of God for the rest of his life.
A petition to protest taxation for the support of the established church was signed in November of 1784 by Harris and 310 other men from Pittsylvania County. The petition was directly involved in convincing Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to fight for a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
It is said that Samuel Harris rode on horseback to New York City and attended the inauguration of Pres. George Washington in April of 1789. Harris was commissioned by the United Baptist Churches Convention meeting in Richmond on August 8, 1789 to compose a letter to Pres. George Washington stating the concern that the new Constitution did not fully guarantee religious liberty. James Madison led the fight by the Federalist to convince Congress to approve the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution which was approved in 1791.
//Copyright 2009 by Robert D. Ricketts. No part of maps or text may be used without written permission//