This was the golden era of Albemarle's ascendency, when despite the comparative newness and simplicity of her development, her great men had made it the noted section of the State. In histories we may find the achievements of these statesmen and patriots, but to obtain glimpses of the ordinary life of the County at this time it is necessary to turn to slighter sources. In the correspondence of Jefferson and his friends there are interesting descriptions of County conditions, and through old farm-books and faded letters we are brought into touch with a social system which was unique while it lasted, and which, for its combination of quiet happiness, intellectual vigor and high standards, has never been surpassed.
Writing during the Revolution, Jefferson tells us that at that time plantations were situated generally over the County at about five miles apart-a calculation which was probably optimistic, since other writers comment on the lonely roads, and Capt. Anburey, one of the British prisoners, speaks of once traveling eighteen miles without passing a dwelling.
Of these establishments, with their numerous slaves, we are told:
"Every family is a manufactory in itself, and is very generally able to make within itself all the stouter and middling stuffs for its own clothing and household use. We consider a sheep for every person in the family as sufficient to clothe it, in addition to the hemp and flax which we raise ourselves. The wealthy are attentive to the raising of vegetables, but very little so to fruits. The poor people attend to neither, living principally on milk and animal diet."
Of these poor people, an English traveler wrote, in 1799,
"The common people in this neighborhood appeared to be of a more frank and open disposition, more inclined to hospitality, and to live more contentedly on what they possessed, than the people in any other part of the United States."
He described with enthusiasm the fine complexions and graceful bearing of some women he met gathering cherries by the roadside, and drew a flattering comparison to the malarial natives of the lower country.
At this period, each country gentleman was the head of a small but highly organized community; planting, building. milling, cooperage, blacksmith work and the practice of elementary medicine being a few of the occupations under his constant supervision. When, in addition, he was politician, soldier or statesman, a vigorous and original intellectual life was the natural result, and the planter who Dressed in home-woven and home-made garments, saw nothing incongruous in correspondence with European scientists or scholars. Letters at this time passed frequently from Albemarle to Scotland or Paris, bearing description of our fauna and flora. or comments of the working of our laws; and replies came, bringing the latest discoveries in science, or ingenious suggestions for the improvement of our agriculture.
It is to one of these correspondences that we owe the chicory which still beautifies our waste lands in summer, it having been extensively sown by Gov. Thomas Mann Randolph of Edgehill, whose Edinburg friend, Sir John Sinclair, sent him the seed. The accompanying letter described a team, which from three miles out of Edinburg hauled three loads a day, and kept in fine order, being fed entirely on chicory cut green! Gov. Randolph also introduced ploughing around a hill to prevent washing.<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
Miss Cornelia Taylor, formerly of Lego."> (As is well known, Mr. Jefferson imported the Scotch broom for the same purpose-the prevention of gullies.)
The business life of the County' was linked with its sources of natural power-the Rivanna and the James. These streams turned numerous and prosperous mills. Jefferson says: "The mills on the James River, above the falls, open to canoe navigation, are very many. Some of them are of great note as manufacturers. The Barracks are surrounded by mills. There are five or six about Charlottesville."<a href="#2" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 2
Partly chiseled mill-stones are numerous through the Sugar Hollow neighborhood. Though there used to be many mills in that vicinity, a belief exists among the natives that in early days "a man named Grinstead" used to cut these stones, haul them by oxen to water, and ship them to "the Old Country."">
The rivers were also one of the chief means of transportation, it being the custom of many to await a "fresh," and then hurry their produce down to the lower country in canoes or batteaux. A letter of the Rev. James Fontaine Maury (1756), rector of Walker's Parish, describes this style of navigation:
"Although one single canoe will carry but a small weight, yet nothing is more common than to see two of these tottering vehicles, when lashed together side by side. carrying down our upland streams eight or nine heavy hogsheads of tobacco at a time, rolled on their gunwales crossways, and secured against moving fore or aft by a small piece of wood drove under the bilge of the extreme hogsheads: art almost incredible weight for such slender embarkations! For this great improvement of inland navigation, we mountaineers are indebted to the late Reverend and ingenious Mr. Rose."
Near the beginning of the century a Rivanna Navigation Company was formed, its object being to keep clear the channel of the river, and to provide batteaux for the carriage of freight. In 1810 George Divers, William D. Meriwether, Nimrod Bramham, John Kelly and Dabney Minor were its directors, and Peter Minor its treasurer.<a href="#3" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 3
Woods' History of Albemarle"> This organization continued until tile advent of the railroad. Substantial sums were spent in locks and dams, and navigation was at one time possible as high as Hydraulic.
The early County roads must have been close to a state of nature, for though there were strict regulations for their care, with supervisors appointed in each community, the road-work seems to have been of a primitive character. On every plantation there were negroes, trained and highly prized as teamsters, whose duty it was to conduct the line of wagons which in the Fall bore the season's crops to the Richmond warehouses. These slaves were often in sole charge of the expedition, and bore full responsibility until the Richmond agent was readied. Tobacco, wheat, wool and yarn, were dispatched and simple luxuries--sugar, coffee, tea--brought back. The bottomless mud made well-trained oxen a necessity in winter, and they were Commonly used at all seasons.
However, rocks and holes, and precipitous hills, had no deterrent influence on the succession of guests which, winter arid summer, flowed in and out of the old homes.<a href="#4" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 4
In 1822, the Minors of Ridgway, having agreed to spend Christmas with their kin at Bracketts, in Louisa County, and the roads being impassable for spring-vehicles, the entire household made the long trip by wagon."> As the early settlers had had large families-from eight to twelve as a rule-and as these had intermarried largely within the County, there had resulted a sort of universal kinship. Double first cousins were frequent, third and fourth cousins were considered sacredly near, and beyond these, adopted relationships were customary and affectionate.
These relatives corresponded, as well as visted, with unflagging zeal, the letters being sent by hand, through servants or obliging neighbors.<a href="#5" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 5
The expense of postage long delayed general use of the mails. In the farm-books (which were also diaries of miscellaneous family matters) entries begin about 1819: "Mailed a letter in the post-office." "Visited Staunton. mailed a letter in the post-office there.""> Court day being a grand clearing-day for such communications. From these letters we learn of the jollifications, which with dancing, singing, practical jests and hearty feasting, made the social diversion of young and old.
Jefferson, in a number of letters of advice to young kinsmen, gives a rather surprising glimpse of the manners of the day. Insolence and rudeness are faults which he seriously warns against. In a letter to his grandson he says:
"I never yet saw an instance of one of two disputants convicting the other by argument. I have seen many of them getting warm, becoming rude, and shooting one another."
Writing from France in 1785,<a href="#6" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 6
Mr. Jefferson's Ministry to France is commemorated locally it the name of an old estate. The Duke of Dorset was British Minister to France during Jefferson's years there. They were on very cordial personal terms, and the Lady Caroline Tufton, niece of the Duke, was an intimate friend of young Martha Jefferson. Upon their return to Virginia, Jefferson's daughter requested him to give her friend's name to one of his farms. Property lying to the east of Monticello was accordingly called Tufton. This was purchased in 1833 by Thomas Macon, and until recent years remained the Macon home."> and contrasting foreign and native habits, he says:
"In science, the mass of these people is two centuries behind ours; their literally, half a dozen years before us. With respect to what are termed polite manners, I would wish my countrymen to adopt just so much of European politeness as to relieve society from disagreeable scenes. Here (Paris), it seems that a man might pass a life without encountering a single rudeness. In the pleasures of the table they are far before its, because they do not terminate the most sociable meals by transforming themselves into brutes."
A bit of the horse-play of the period, with its dramatic result, has been preserved for more than a century in the story of John Yergain, the village miser and recluse. Of this character Miss Cornelia Taylor, formerly of Lego, gives this account:
"The habit at that time (probably 1790) was for all classes of society to hold dances in a public hall, where each class kept to themselves, and frolicked with their own kind. This was done even when my father was at the University. The story told of what led to Johnny Yergen's disappearance from public sight goes thus: He was engaged to a girl with whom lie went to the dance; there was some delay at the door, which some youths took advantage of to pin a handkerchief under his coat, in such a way that it looked as if it were his shirt tail. This made not only the victim of the joke ridiculous, but the girl with whom he was going, and she never spoke to him again."
From this time on, he slimmed mankind. In his store on the east side of tbe Square, (about where Mr. Long now has his office,) he sold whiskey and amassed a small fortune, but no one ever saw his face. The habit was for the purchaser to place his money on a stone and get out of sight; in a few minutes he would find a full bottle and the money gone. After Yergain's death in old age, some thousands of dollars were found tucked away in walls and crannies, in true miser mode. An artist, attracted by the tale, came to the village and painted the interior of tlie shabby room, with the miser counting his hoard, and this picture long hung on the walls at Edgehill.
A glimpse of another phase of County life is obtained in the early struggles of Samuel Miller, the founder of the Miller School. Perhaps the most romantic rise to fortune in the annals of Albemarle is that of this illegitimate mountain boy, who created a great property and left it for the education of the poor children of his native and adopted homes.
The birthplace of Samuel Miller was a cabin on the plantation of Dabitey Carr near Israel's Gap, on the road from Batesville to North Garden. The chimney of this one miserable room, with its dirt floor and glassless window, is still standing.<a href="#7" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 7
For the anecdotes and much of the information about the Millers we are indebted to Mr. Nicholas M. Black of Crozet, grandson of the William Black mentioned above. Data was also kindly furnished by Mr. Lapsley of the Miller School. "> Here Miller's young mother, Jane, or Jennie, Miller, lived with her parents, her two sons (who were full brothers), and her two sisters, one of whom had a son who was half-brother to Jennie's children. There was an association-now not distinctly understood-between Jennie Miller and the Hessian element which, a decade before, had invaded the Ragged Mountains. It is known, however, that the boys' father was an English lawyer, a man of some capacity, who had married into a prosperous family in the neighborhood, While still quite young, Jennie removed with her children and her other sister to a cabin about a mile eastward on the top of Sprouse Mountain, owned by Jefferson Sprouse. Here the two remarkable boys (for the older son, John, was also substantially successful,) spent their early youth.
Pathetic stories are told of the poor mother's ambition for her children. A weaver by trade, she gathered wool from the briars where sheep had grazed, and knit it into fancy suspenders which the boys would take to public gathering-elections, musters, court days and raffle off; this being their first lesson in speculation. With the proceeds she paid for their tuition in the best school in the vicinity, that taught by William Black, son of the pioneer minister and educator. It is calculated that they studied here for three sessions of three or four months each. They also attended a school at Batesville. We are told that oh winter mornings Jennie Miller could be seen whipping the two barefoot boys down off the mountain on their way to school. In spite of their inadequate preparation. both sons, in early manhood, were teachers-one report being that Samuel taught near his home in Albemarle, another holding that both taught in Nelson.
From Nelson the transition to Lynchburg was made. Upon his death in middle life John Miller -who shared his brother's philanthropic plans-left to his younger brother an estate valued at $100,000. In 1859 Samuel Miller made his will, establishing and endowing "a school for poor children, "which became the Miller Manual Labor School of Albemarle. He also increased by $151,500 the munificent gifts with which he had previously endowed the Lynchburg Female Orphan Asylum. Subsequently, he gave $100,000 to the University of Virginia.
Upon the death of Annie Miller, Samuel Miller purchased seventy-five acres of land (on which the Miller School now stands) and built there a home for his mother. He also bought slaves to care for her. Jennie Miller and her sister Mary are buried in the Miller burying ground, while a towering shaft in the grounds of the Lynchburg Asylum marks the resting place of Samuel Miller.
An idea of the ordinary expenses of early days is obtained through a letter of the Duke de Rochefoucatild-Liancourt, a political exile who spent a week at Monticello in 1796. He tells us:
"The price of land here is four to five dollars per acre. Meat-that is, mutton, veal and lamb- fetches fourpence a pound; beef cannot be had but in winter. The wages of white workmen, such as masons, carpenters, cabinet-makers and smiths amount to from one and a half to two dollars a day -there are not four stone masons in the whole county of Albemarle."
He was interested in the farming operations of the community, and noted some of their peculiarities:
"From an opinion entertained by Mr. Jefferson that the heat of the sun destroys, or at least dries up in a great measure, the nutritious juices of the earth, he judges it necessary that it should always be covered. His fields, therefore, never lie fallow. On the same principle. he does not let the cattle feed on the grass nor in closes his fields, which are merely divided by a single row of fruit trees. His system is entirely confined to himself; it is censured by some of his neighbors, who are also employed in improving their culture with ability and skill."
In October, 1817, the Agricultural Society of Albemarle was organized, with a wide membership among the planters of this and neighboring counties. In 1820 the following officers and committees were elected, to serve one year: James Madison, President; T. M. Randolph, 1st Vice-President; J.H. Cocke, 2nd Vice- President; Nimrod Bramham, Treasurer Peter Minor, Secretary; Frank Carr, Assistant Secretary.Committee of Correspondence
Thomas G. Watkins, James Barbour
Thos. M. Randolph, Wm. D. Meriwether
Dabney Minor Thos. Randolph
Hugh Holmes, Esq., Winchester; J. S. Skinner, Esq., Baltimore; Don Joseph Correa de Serra, Minister near the U. S. from Portugal and Brazil; Geo. W. Erving, Esq., late Minister at Madrid; Thos. Moore, Esq., Prin. Engineer to the Board of Pub. Works of Va.
The papers of the Society were published in the Richmond Enquirer and the American Farmer, of Baltimore, and were widely noticed. Premiums valued at $30 to $50 were awarded in plate for wheat and coni, and for improved methods of restoring worn-out land. They were also offered for inventions-a three-horse plough and a new wheat cradle being specified. These competitions were restricted to members, but the State was invited to compete in experiments "tending to demonstrate that oxen, properly shod and harnessed, could travel with a loaded carriage as fast as horses."<a href="#8" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 8
xxx"> Dr. Woods tells us that a premium for the best-tilled farm in the County was won by John Rogers, the second being assigned to John H. Craven.
The Secretary of this Society was an active farmer. The following letter<a href="#9" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 9
American Farmer."> records one of his further activities:
Ridgway, Aug.24, 1823.
I have started a wagon with a load of ploughs to Lynchburg, and as it will pass by Nelson Ct. House on yr court day I have directed it to stop there.-The bearer Mr. Jno. Maddox is the maker of them. and I have sent him along with the wagon, that he may put them properly together.
It is the McCormick plough, which took the premium last fall at the Fredericksburg fair-I am partner with him in the manufacture of them on a large scale at this place.
The price is $13 at the factory, and we are willing to take that in cash at yr Ct. House.-
Yr. Frd. P. Minor.
(For some years the letters of this large connection are sprinkled with references to wagon-loads of plotiglis, which were dispatched into neighboring communities for sale-and apparently with success, though the price was complained of. A tradition has lingered in this family that the plough invented by Jefferson was not a practical success. If this opinion were entirely disinterested we have now no means of judging.)
These were the great building years for Albemarle. While Monticello was rising on its mountain - top, other hills were being crowned with mansions, designed or influenced by the same architectural genius. Among these not previously named were Farmington<a href="#10" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 10
The old part of the present Farmington was built by Francis Jerdone, the Tory, prior to 1780. These walls are a yard thick. Mr. Jefferson furnished the plans for the present front, and 'vork on it was begun in 1803; but Mr. Divers' ill-health required him to leave home, and Jefferson, on a visit during his absence, declared the work unsatisfactory and dismissed the workmen. Mr. Divers died, and the addition remained unfinished until the fifties, when it was completed, with radical interior alterations, by Mr. Bernard Peyton, father of the late Major Green Peyton of the University. Jefferson's original Farmington plans are in the possession of the University. Mr. Divers was prominent in the community, and was active in public matters. His wife vas one of the eight daughters of Dr. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill. They had no children, but as Mrs. Divers had six sisters and three brothers married in the County, Farmington, was for long the seat of constant hospitality. Mr. Divers' heir was his nephew, Isaac White, whom he had never seen. A young man claiming to be this relative came from the lower country tie remained at Farmington an honored guest, for many weeks, was extensively entertained. and upon his departure was given by Mr. Divers a gold watch and a handsome horse. A few days later the true heir arrived, and had some difficulty in proving his Identity."> the home of George Divers; Dunlora, the beautiful home of the Carrs, and still in the possession of relatives of the builder; Bentivar, a second Carr home arid a copy of Dunlora, and Carrsbrook,<a href="#11" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 11
It is said that the Peter Carr who built Carrsbrook said of the name: "I shall never be dissociated from this home, as my name is welded to it." The change of title, however, must defeat this hope."> now called The Brook.
A beautiful Colonial dwelling near Scottsville, in late years destroyed by fire, was Storry Point, the original home of the Moon family. It was noted for its elaborately carved mantels, which reached to the ceiling in library and reception rooms and for its spacious ball-room on the second floor.
Church Hill<a href="#12" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 12
Church Hill is noted as the scene of the famous "Moon Ghost." which. just after the Civil War, terrorized the family of Mr. Schuyler B. Moun in true poltergeist fashion. Lights flashing in darkened rooms, furniture heaped in disorder by invisible hands, stones and shots from no traceable agency, caused an excitement which became nation, wide. Relays of students from the University stood guard for several months, but "the disturbance was never accounted for.""> a small and simple house in the same community, is also of interest. Originally a Church part of the old Refuge tract, it was in early days hill. The property of Dr. Samuel Waddy Tomkins, a prominent physician. Through marriage it passed to the Staples family, and in the family burial ground there lie five generations of this connection. Among them should be mentioned Mr. D. P. Powers, first Superintendent of Public Instruction in Albemarle County. here also rest the parents of Scottsville's best-known and best-loved son Senator Thomas S. Martin.
Many other of our old country places were built, or re-modeled, during this period. A list of them, with their owners, would be a roll-call of sacred memories and honored names.
Authorities Jefferson's on Virginia; Jefferson's Correspondence; Randall's Life of Jefferson; A Huguenot Family; Woods' History of Albemarle; American Farmer.