Pittsylvania County

A Community History



Pittsylvania County is situated in the central part of Southern Virginia on the North Carolina State line and ranks first among Virginia counties in size, having a total area of 1,012 square miles, or 647,680 acres. Its dimension from north to south is forty miles and from east to west twenty-eight miles.

Pittsylvania lies wholly in the Piedmont plateau, having a rolling surface which is broken by several small mountain ridges. White Oak Mountain extends through the central part of the county in a northeastern-southwestern direction, and Smith Mountain in the northwest, Turkey Cock in the west and Bushy Mountain in the north rise many hundred feet above the uplands of the surrounding country. The general elevation of the county is from 400 to 800 feet above the sea level, while the mountains rise to some 2,000 feet.

The county has three well-defined water systems of drainage, the Roanoke River forming the northern boundary, Banister River flowing eastward through the center, and Dan River flowing through the southern part of the county. These streams and their tributaries have rapid currents and afford good water power.

The county has good railroad facilities, the main line of the Southern Railway from Washington to Atlanta passing north and south through the county, while branch lines of this system extend from Danville to Norfolk and Richmond. The Virginian Railroad touches the northeastern corner of the county at Long Island, and the Danville and Western furnishes communication westward.

Danville, which is situated on Dan River in the southern part of the county, is a modern and progressive city of some 20,000 inhabitants. Chatham, the county seat, has a population of 1,171 (census of 1920), and is the site of two church schools, the Chatham Episcopal Institute for girls and the Hargrove Military Academy for boys.

Pittsylvania is distinctly an agricultural district, with a rural population of 56,493 (1920 census), or 55.7 persons to the square mile. It lies in the great tobacco belt famous for the “Virginia leaf,” soft as silk and of a golden tint. While corn, wheat and fruits are raised, tobacco is the cash crop and life in the county is regulated by the demand for it when tobacco is selling high, money is plentiful and life in Pittsylvania is cozy; when tobacco is low in price, money is scarce and life is correspondingly hard.

The acreage devoted to the three principal crops in 1909 was as follows: tobacco, 34,201 acres; corn, 45037, and wheat, 26,586 acres. Danville is the main tobacco market for the farmers of the county, being the leading looseleaf bright tobacco market in the world. Here is handled, annually, around 50,000,000 pounds of tobacco. Adjacent to Danville and situated on Dan River are the large Schoolfield Cotton Mills, where many hundreds of the county people find employment.



When the tocsin of war sounded in 1914 in far off Europe the people of Pittsylvania little thought that the distant conflict would so soon affect their industrial life; but they found that there was an almost immediate increase in the price of all things. Then the call of Europe for war materials drew labor to the great munition and manufacturing plants, leaving a shortage of labor upon the farms. However there had been a growing scarcity of farm help in this county for many years, but prior to 1914 a fair amount could still be procured, wages for a farm hand being about $25.00 per month, with rations.

The year 1914 was a hard year financially in Pittsylvania. The outbreak of the war disturbed trade, causing tobacco to sell very low through the winter of 1914-15, which produced a sharp stringency in money matters. In the succeeding winters tobacco sold on a rising market, and a great era of prosperity for our people set in.


The inhabitants of Pittsylvania are largely pure English in blood, being descendants of the early Virginia colonists who settled along Tidewater, and whose sons and grandsons gradually spread the settlements westward. Prior to the war these Virginians were busily pursuing the even tenor of their lives, developing the resources of their county, sowing and reaping their crops, secure in the confidence that their government could protect them against the might and power of any country. But with the progress of the war, as the strength of the German military machine and the atrocities of German warfare became known, it was realized that our peaceful life in Southern Virginia was menaced by this sinister power across the sea. Pittsylvania had her share of German sympathizers, but in the main our sympathies were with the Allies.


The church, which is our guide and comfort in times of great stress, rendered loyal service through the trying months of the World War. The ministers responded to all appeals made to them, calling upon the people to give of themselves and their substance to the needs of their country and of suffering humanity. A pure unselfish patriotism was the keynote of their sermons throughout the period of the war.

Service flags, carrying a star for each member of the congregation absent in the service, were placed in the churches of the county. The following item is taken from the county paper:

“A special service will be held at the Episcopal Church next Sunday morning at 11 o’clock, at which time a United States flag and a Service Flag will be presented. The flags are the gifts of Mrs. T. J. Coles and Mrs. W. C. N. Merchant.”

The church, being the general place of meeting in rural communities, was used as a medium for giving notices of meetings. The church was also used for patriotic rallies in the interest of the Red Cross and Liberty Loan drives. It was through the church that the Red Cross auxiliaries were formed. After the divine services were over the congregations were asked to remain, and through the efforts of some visiting patriots, the Red Cross organizations were effected. The County paper records:

“At St. Johns Methodist Church an last Sunday the Hon. Harry Wooding, of Danville, addressed a large and enthusiastic meeting in the interest of the Liberty Loan. Mrs. Gill and Mrs. Gwinn gave a very fine rendition of patriotic music, and there were recitations by Mrs. Harry Wooding, Jr. It was a delightful occasion and all present enjoyed it to the fullest extent. $3,100 in bonds were taken, and the week before $1,700 had been raised for the Red Cross.” At another time the paper notes:

“There will be a patriotic rally at Marion Baptist Church Sunday, October the 13th, at eleven o’clock in the interest of the Fourth Liberty Loan. Everybody come and help put this auxiliary “over the top.”

The ministers of the county took an active part in all public meetings such as patriotic rallies, Liberty Loan meetings, Red Cross drives, Farewell meetings,-opening and closing the meetings with prayer, and speaking whenever called upon.

Dr. C. A. Pruden, president of the Chatham Episcopal Institute, was especially active in war work, showing his patriotism in a very evident and pronounced way. On the large farm connected with the school he raised quantities of food stuffs, and followed all Federal food regulations in his school, however difficult. At the unveiling of the bronze tablet placed in the Courthouse in memory of Pittsylvania’s noble dead in the war, on July 4, 1921, Dr. Pruden made a powerful patriotic appeal to the large crowd assembled, warning against failure to uphold the principles for which our noble men had given their lives.

Especial mention must be made of the faithful and active patriotism of the following ministers: the Rev. Ryland Sanford of the county Baptist churches, the Rev. O. S. B. Newton of the Chatham Methodist Church, the Rev. A. L. Kenyon of the Chatham Episcopal Church, Dr. R. G. McLee of the Chatham Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Chiswell Dabney of the county Episcopal Churches, the Rev. F. W. Kerfoot of the Chatham Baptist Church. Mr. Kerfoot met his death in the discharge of duties attendant upon his departure for the battlefront, where he was going as a Y. 1I. C. A. worker. He was bringing his family back to Chatham from a visit to bid his mother goodbye before sailing for France, when his automobile was struck by a passing train and he was instantly killed while wearing his uniform of service.


In the loyal service of the school children of Pittsylvania was reflected the patriotism of their parents. There was an increased production of food stuffs through the active work of the boys’ corn clubs and pig and poultry clubs of the county, while through the canning clubs of the girls much food was conserved. Mr. Perry, the Farm Agent employed by the county, found it necessary to maintain an office in Chatham and Danville, owing to the demand for information relating to the farm and garden. The county paper notes:

“Miss Dickey, who has been in Chatham for some time in the interest of the canning clubs, left Monday to teach at Spiny Gorden School.”

Mrs. Campbell was in charge of the home demonstration work in the county, with Miss Dickey as an assistant. The agents organized the clubs in the schools, visiting them at regular intervals, and also overlooking the work of the children in their homes.

A school of a week’s duration was held in Danville in the summer, at which time the girls received especial instruction ill food conservation.

At a great patriotic rally held at Chatham on the Fourth of July, 1917, the boys’ corn clubs of the county marched in a body. Governor Henry Carter Stuart was the speaker of the day.

It became the custom of the schools to sing patriotic songs every morning at chapel exercises, and each child proudly learned to salute the flag.

At the Chatham Training School, a preparatory school for boys, military training, with an officers’ training course, was installed under the direction of an officer of the U. S. army. So beneficial was the military training found to be that it has been continued til today, and the school is now called Hargrove Military Academy.


The passage of the draft law and the registration which followed were matters of grave concern to the young men of Pittsylvania. Being a rural community, and not given to wide travel, the thought of crossing the seas to fight in a foreign land filled many with trepidation.

In so large and populous a county there were naturally many young men to be registered, and the filling out of the questionnaires became the all important matter of the hour. The lawyers of Chatham gave freely of their services as advisors to the registrants, and some gave practically their entire time for months to filling out the papers.

The draft board for Pittsylvania county, appointed in the summer of 1917, was as follows: Dr. James Semple Haile, chairman; Dr. Coleman D. Bennett, health officer, and Walker W. Hurt, clerk. January the 1st, Mr. Hurt resigned and was succeeded by Mr. Lee Paul who served as clerk to the end of the war.

In July 1918, Dr. Haile, who was postmaster at Chatham, finding the work of the draft board so heavy as to interfere with his duties, was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Davis Alexander Jefferson. In September 1918, Dr. Coleman D. Bennett enlisted in the Navy, and was stationed at the Naval Hospital, Hampton, Va. This place on the draft board was filled from September to November by D. T. Williams. Dr. Oscar L. Ramey succeeded Dr. Bennett as, examining officer of the board.

The gentlemen who composed the draft board conducted the work upon the high plane of “justice to all, favors to none” and the people of the county felt that their trust in them was not misplaced. The work of the board was very efficiently, and yet economically done. The cost to induct a man into the service was $5.75 per man. The total cost of the draft in Pittsylvania was $6,883. There were registered in the draft of June 1917-1918, (men from 21-31 years of age), 4,477 men in Pittsylvania. In the registration of September 1918. (men from 18-45 years of age) there were registered in Pittsylvania 5,488 men, making a total of 9,965 registrants. The following items were copied from the last report made to the Provost-Marshall General, Nov. 29, 1918:

“There were 1,588 men from Pittsylvania county classified in class 1-9. Of these 1,283 were called for service, 1,165 were accepted, 134 men were finally rejected on account of disabilities contracted after getting to camp. Of the 1,165 men accepted, 746 were white, 419 were colored.”

There were some incidents connected with the draft which we like to treasure. One is the story of a great love between two brothers, like the love of David and Jonathan. Their name was Short, but there was nothing short in them save their names, for they were fine upstanding young men. One of the brothers was called in the draft and the other was not. On the day appointed for the drafted one to appear at Chatham he came, accompanied by his father and brother. The father appeared before the board and said: “My boys are twin brothers, and have never been separated in their lives; they work together and play together. Now you are going to send one to the war and leave the other at home and they cannot bear the separation. You will have to let the brother go too.” The boys were eager to go, assuring Dr. Haile that if he would just let both go, they would “get those Germans.” Both were sent, and bore all honorable part in the battles of the American army, and returned home safely from overseas.

Another incident of the draft touches the heart in its pathos. There lived in the heart of the Brushy Mountains a boy- and his aged mother. Their place was isolated, they had no near neighbors, and the boy was the sole support of his old mother. Through some error he was called in the draft. On the day appointed he appeared before the board, bringing his feeble old mother with him, and explained how alone they- were in the world. The board, realizing a mistake had been made, sent the boy home assuring him that he would not be called unless there was a more urgent need. And then in a few weeks there swept over Pittsylvania the terrible plague of influenza, taking its toll of young and old. The boy’s mother died, and as soon as be could get his affairs in order, he again appeared before the board, saying simply, “I am ready to go.”

The drafted men assembled at Chatham to take the train to camp, and the following item from the county paper tells of one of these farewells.

“An enthusiastic meeting was held in the town hall Tuesday night, for the purpose of giving a suitable sendoff to the boys (about 90 m number) who were to leave for camp next day. These young men, who were from all parts of the county, were the guests of the people of Chatham until they departed for Petersburg on Wednesday morning. The boys were escorted into the hall by the home guards, and on the platform were two members of draft board, Doctors Haile and Bennett. The speakers for the evening were the Rev. C. O. Pruden, A. L. King, F. W. Kerfoot, R. G. McLeer, and Mr. J. H. Whitehead, all of whom were introduced by Dr. Haile in his inimitable manner.

“We know of no time when the community has been treated to such a display of local talent, and the interest both on the part of the young men and of the audience was intense throughout the meeting. Dr. Pruden presented soldiers’ kits to the men on behalf of the Red Cross. Chatham wishes them God speed and a safe return.”

Serving with distinction in the regular service of the army and navy were Colonels Edward Anderson and Harry C. Clement, Major William P. Currier and Henry P. Carter, and Lieutenant Clifton Hunt of the U. S. army; Captain V. W. Gilmer and Lieutenant Commander Samuel P. Clement of the U. S. navy.

There were a notable number of volunteers from the county, many joining companies in Danville and adjacent cities, while others went into the marines, hospital service and aviation. Battery “E,” First Virginia Coast Artillery Corps, a volunteer company which mustered at Danville July 25, 1917, included in its roster many young men from Chatham and the county. Some of these young men won high recognition for valiant service.

Hunter Pannill, son of the late David and Mrs. Augusta Hunter Pannill, went overseas with the Canadian forces and was decorated with the Victorian Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George for the valor he displayed at Vimy Ridge when, his superior officers having been disabled, he took command and led the men to victory.

Young Richard Willis, son of the late Dr. Richard and Mrs. L. May Willis, joined the ambulance corps in 1917, and was assigned to duty under the French. He was cited and decorated with the Croix-de-guerre by General Petain for his gallant service in rescuing the wounded from the battlefields under heavy bombardment.

Langhorne Barbour, the son of Mr. Ennis Barbour, was signally honored in being selected by General Pershing for one of “Pershing’s Fifty,” to be sent back to the United States from France in the interest of the war. Young Barbour was brought to General Pershing’s notice through having rescued his commanding officer from a trench which was being raided and bombed by the Germans.

The county paper, the Pittsylvania Tribune-Enterprise, has preserved some interesting bits of war news. We read of the return from overseas of Paul Sanford, son of the Rev. M. F. Sanford of Chatham, who served in the aviation. From his plane he witnessed the surrender of the German fleet in Scappa Flae, which he described as wonderful.

“Between the double lines of English, French and American warships steamed first of all the most powerful dreadnaughts of Germany’s navy, followed by the torpedo boats and destroyers.”

The paper also records the return from overseas of Buck Sours, Clarence Haynes, Charlie Harvey, and Carleton Carter: it states that “Munford Reid has been promoted to sergeant in France,” that “Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Anderson have received a cable announcing the safe arrival of their daughter, Rebecca, Base Hospital 41, over there,” and the sad tidings that a message had been received announcing the “death of Samuel Inman, of Whittles, a volunteer member of the U. S. marines serving in France.”

Fifty of Pittsylvania’s sons gave their lives in the great struggle, and, as a memorial to their sacrifice, the county- has erected upon the walls of the courthouse a tablet upon which their names are inscribed in enduring bronze. The names are:

Julius Batton, Joseph Blair, Wallace Brown, Benyon Bright well, C. David Boswell, Willie A. Cross, Matthew Chattin, Andrew Collins, George Craig, Doctor D. Dodd, …….. Edmonds, Wm. V. Farmer, Raymond Farthing, Clarence Geyer, Willie Gregg, Russell Grant, Dr. Oscar E. Hedrick, Allie Howker. Samuel J. Inman, John Daniel Jefferson, Gaines Large, William Lockett, Willie Lewis, William D. Littles, Rev. Francis ? . Kerfoot, Nelson D. Mitchell, Western Myers, Wm. Henry Merritt, Roy Norcutt, Frank Harmon Oaks, Wm. C. Price, Charles E. Peatross, Homer James Reynolds, Otis C. Richardson, Edward G. Roe, James B. Snyder, Henry G. Sentall, Harry C. Shivars, Flournoy Short, Gurney Smith, James B. Stone, Charles A. Strickland, John E. Terry, Franklin W. Spangler, Henry Shields, Lonnie H. Thompson, Walter B. Wyatt, Dr. Crispen Wright, Willie B. Walker, and Alexander D. Yeatts.



The county seat was the center from which the various drives for war purposes were made, but in each vicinity were found active men and women, whose high sense of patriotism made them leaders. There was frequent speaking at the churches, school houses and stores throughout the county for the Liberty loans, the War Savings Stamps, the Red Cross, Food Conservation, the Y. W. C. A., the Salvation Army, and other patriotic causes.

Mr. Thomas J. Coles, at that time treasurer of Pittsylvania county, served as chairman for the sale of War Savings Stamps. He appointed a local chairman for each of the seven districts of the county as follows:

Staunton River district, N. E. Clements; Pigg River district, J. W. Marks; Tunstall, Judge E. J. Harvey; Collonds, J. J. Patterson; Dan River, T. J. Coles; Chatham, G. E. Thompson, and Banister, J. M. Jones.

Effective work was done by these gentlemen in their districts, and the sale of the stamps was most satisfactory.

Especial mention should be made of the editor of the county newspaper, the Hon. C. R. Warren, whose eloquence resounded throughout the county in behalf of all war measures, and whose editorials and writings breathed an ardent patriotism.

The Hon. N. E. Clement was appointed four-minute man for Pittsylvania and was active in upholding all war policies of the government.

Serving in the halls of Congress at this time as Virginia’s junior senator was the Hon. Claude A. Swanson, the county’s favorite son. He and the State’s Senior Senator, the Hon. Thos. S. Martin, were strong supporters of the President through the heavy months of the war. So arduous were the duties of Senator Martin that he succumbed to the strain and overwork.

In the Fifth Liberty loan the county was allotted $266,800 and the amount sold was $412,990.00. Mr. Gerard Thompson was chairman of this drive, which was ably carried through.


One way in which Pittsylvania could materially help in winning the war was in increased production of food, and to this end her citizens worked with a will.

The council of defense became actively interested in food production and its members, together with a number of other gentlemen, spoke through the summer and fall of 1917 throughout the county, urging the farmers to grow more food stuffs. Week after week this question of winning the war by planting more wheat and corn and raising more hogs and cattle was discussed by the people of Pittsylvania.

To maintain the farms at normal production was difficult, owing to the shortage of labor due to the draft and the lure of high wages. To increase the production of food in Pittsylvania entailed real hardships, and yet it was done. In 1919 the acreage planted in corn was 50,175 acres and in wheat 31,440 acres.

The women of Pittsylvania cheerfully met all calls made upon them by their government, and ran their households largely without sugar and flour, finding in the hour of their country’s need hundreds of little ways in which they could conserve. Syrups were used in the place of sugar, and corn bread in the place of wheat breads.

The summer of 1918 was spent by the women of the county in canning foods, each housewife putting up hundreds of jars of fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Both the State and Federal government supplied bulletins of the latest and best methods of canning, and with these as guides the results were very satisfactory. The two women agents in home demonstration work in the county were helpful, going from house to house giving practical aid.

Little or no social life was indulged in, the one thought in every mind being the winning of the war. The main thing the people of Pittsylvania could do toward this end was to produce and conserve, and upon this they bent their energies. And an all wise Providence blessed us in the year 1918 with full crop of fruits, vegetables and farm products.


The history of the Red Cross work in Pittsylvania county is one which we are proud to relate.

Early in 1917, the William Pitt chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution located at Chatham appointed -Mrs. E. S. Reid, Jr., to solicit members for the National Red Cross Society, and as a result of her efforts forty or more members were enrolled. During the month of May of that year the president of the Women’s Federation of Clubs determined to have a great public meeting in the interest of the Red Cross work. Through the efforts of Mrs. James S. Jones, who was appointed to make the call the meeting was held in the Farmers’ Warehouse June the 10th, at which time a large and deeply interested audience was present. Mr. Thomas J. Coles was chairman, and a temporary organization grew out of this meeting. A few weeks later a permanent chapter of the Red Cross, with a charter was effected at Chatham, with the following officers duly elected: t . H. Whitehead, chairman; Mrs. T. A. Watkins, vice-chairman; Frank Marshall, treasurer, and Mrs. E. S. Reid, Jr ., secretary.

The geographical limits of the chapter were to include five of the seven magisterial districts of the county, Dan River and Tunstall having been assigned to the Danville chapter.

In February 1918, Mrs. E. S. Reid, Jr., resigned as secretary and was succeeded by the Rev. A. L. Henyon.

Mrs. J. F. Hart, with Mrs. T. A. Watkins as assistant, was first elected chairman of the military relief committee. Mrs. Hart later resigned and was succeeded by Mrs. J. Lawson Carter. These three ladies, together with a great number of patriotic women in the town of Chatham and in that part of Pittsylvania county in the jurisdiction of this chapter, were responsible for the work done by this committee.

The work of establishing auxiliaries throughout the county was pressed vigorously with the result that forty-one were organized, with a membership of 2,500, exclusive of the Chatham Episcopal Institute and the Chatham high school, both of which had active auxiliaries.

There were three colored auxiliaries, viz : Chatham, Snow, and Ebenezer, which are to be commended for their good work and faithful service.

When we note the immense amount of sewing done by the Chatham chapter and its auxiliaries, of which some items were Bed shirts, 681 ; helpless shirts, 664 ; pajama suits, 466, and socks knitted, 750 pairs, we realize the devoted service of these patriotic women. Mrs. Watkins and Mrs. Carter were awarded Red Cross medals by the National organization for their splendid work.

In the second Red Cross drive, which was ably led by Mrs. Gerard Thompson, the Chatham chapter and her auxiliaries, gave $13,142.52 being almost three times their allotment.


As soon as the war was won the United War Work campaign was put on, raising funds through the Salvation Army, Y.M.C.A. and other organizations to care for our soldiers overseas. Mr. J. M. Jones was appointed chairman and Mr. D. A. Jefferson, treasurer for the campaign. The $17,000.00 allotted to the county was cheerfully given, the girls of the Chatham Episcopal Institute giving $775 at one time. The Schoolfield Cotton Mills, situated on Dan river in Pittsylvania county, gave to this fund $8,271.00, and the colored people of Chatham gave $76.79.

In addition to the above, the county made a separate drive for the Young Men’s Christian Association and raised for this purpose $5,347.76, and $2,132.28 was contributed to the Armenian and Syrian Relief Fund.


The economic conditions in Pittsylvania county, for the year: succeeding the Armistice remained practically the same as during the war period. The high cost of living continued. There was no lowering in the prices of food, but on the other hand the price of many things was greatly increased and profiteering became the order of the day. Sugar, which had been eleven cents per pound during the war, after the Armistice soared to the price of thirty cents per pound.

The housing question remained a difficult one for a number of years for the reason that all building operations ceased throughout the period of the war, while the making of new families was far above normal, and no provisions could be made to meet the unusual activity of the marriage market.

Tobacco continued to sell on a rising market until prices were reached beyond all precedent, resulting in a period of great prosperity. Money was plentiful, though the purchase value of a dollar was small. The price of lands selling of farm lands followed.

Pittsylvania county helps to illustrate the truth which history teaches, that when a nation passes through a great crisis such as the World War, many years must elapse before living conditions again become normal.