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The Unforgotten Henry King

Henry King (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Henry King was born on a farm in Elliston, Virginia, in 1886. Growing up he attended school in Lafayette, Virginia, where he was passionate about one act plays and recitations. These passions led him to pursue a career in acting and directing that would span six decades and resulted in his making over 100 movies.

A visit by “Doctor” Alward’s traveling medicine show to Lafayette enticed young Henry King to leave his hometown. King worked with several tour companies during his traveling show career and performed nine shows a week in various towns. He received his first small directing role with a stock company in Chicago.

King’s traveling show work took him to Hollywood and in 1913 the 27-year old began acting in silent movies. He appeared in a dozen films such as, “The Devil’s Bait,” “Shadows and Sunshine,” and “Should a Wife Forgive.” He sometimes performed his own stunts without any safety precautions. During his acting career he began writing screenplays. In the 1915 movie “Who Pays,” for example, a violent fight sequence was based on a fight that he had witnessed at the train station in Elliston. King choreographed and directed the scene; it was his first experience in film directing.

King would go on to make many hit movies: “Twelve O’clock High,” “Jesse James,” “Carousel,” “Tender Is the Night,” and more. King directed the 1921 movie “Tol’able David,” which was filmed in Highland County, Virginia. A box office smash, it is considered his masterpiece. In 1930, he was hired by Goldwyn United Artists where he would spend the rest of his career.

King won almost 20 academy awards and a Golden Globe for best director for the film “The Song of Bernadette.”  He worked with stars such as Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, and Tyrone Power during his expansive career.

Henry King passed away at his home in Toluca Lake, California in 1982 at the age of 96. A pioneer in the motion picture industry King is credited with directing more than 160 motion pictures between 1915 and 1961. Yet his work and dedication to the film industry are largely unnoticed today. Henry King deserves to be remembered in his native Montgomery County.

A Story of Emancipation in Christiansburg

Slaveholding was widespread in Montgomery County.  By 1840, enslaved persons made up twenty percent of the population.  In Christiansburg, enslaved persons resided in half of the town’s households. Yet, not everyone was satisfied with the institution of slavery. Among those locally who wanted something different was Dorthea Bratton, the daughter of a prominent Staunton physician and statesman, Col. William Fleming and the widow of Captain James Bratton. Mrs. Bratton became convinced that the plan of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which was founded in 1816 to help freed black people immigrate to Liberia in West Africa, was the best choice for the slaves under her ownership.

In August of 1847, Nicholas Chevalier, the pastor of the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church and principal of both the Montgomery Male and Montgomery Female Academies, wrote a letter to the secretary of the American Colonization Society (ACS) on behalf to Dorothea Bratton, who wanted to free twenty of her enslaved persons and send them to Liberia. Chevalier said that Mrs. Bratton, then 70 years of age, was financially unable to pay their passages and supplies. Concerns about the project from Mrs. Bratton, the potential emigrants, and the opposition from her son-in-law, Dr. Hugh Kent, warranted the assistance of ACS. Reverend Chevalier wrote that this was “exactly one of the cases contemplated by the ACS founders & those who contribute to its funds.”  

Chevalier’s personal feelings about slavery may have been complex. He was born in Connecticut, a non-slave holding state, and professed to the ACS secretary that he was a life member of the society. Yet, census records show that he held three enslaved persons (a young woman and two children) in 1850 and four enslaved persons in 1860 (a young woman and three children).  However, Chevalier’s wife, Bethany Stuart, was a Southerner with strong ties to slave-holding. She was the sister of Confederate General J.E.B Stuart and her father, Archibald Stuart held many slaves on his Patrick County plantation.

After a legal battle, Mrs. Bratton was able to emancipate two families as well as four children without their parents. On December 22, 1847, this party left Christiansburg for Baltimore accompanied by an ACS agent. On February 5, 1848, they sailed for Liberia aboard the Amazon arriving in Monrovia, Liberia on March 14, 1848. Two of the Bratton members died shortly after arriving, probably from malaria. Like so many other black immigrants to Liberia, the party was plagued by sickness and other troubles during the early part of their settlement, but there is some evidence that by September 1848, they were sending more favorable reports of their situation.

Photograph of Dorothea Bratton’s Grave Stone Courtesy of FindAGrave.com

Despite the difficulties both to herself and her first group of emigrants, Dorothea Bratton undertook to send a second group of twelve emigrants to Liberia in July 1848, but in the end only four made the journey. In 1850, the census found Dorothea Bratton with only a ten-year-old free black named James Brown in her household. Mrs. Bratton died August 6, 1852 and is buried in Kyle Cemetery in Christiansburg, Virginia.

An Untold Story of Troubled Times

How do we learn about the past? So often the items that are passed down to us are random and incomplete – chance often has a role to play.  That is what happened in 2014 when Jim Page found a packet of letters concerning the Mary Snider Sullivan family of Christiansburg in his father’s papers. Though the Sullivans had no relationship to the Page family, the letters survived and were donated to the Montgomery Museum. These letters have an important story to tell.

Letter to Lake Sullivan from her mother, Mary Snider Sullivan, 1869.
(Montgomery Museum Collection)

Two of the letters give a window into the Reconstruction era between April 1865 and 1870 when Virginia was readmitted to the Union. The first letter was written by Mary Sullivan on June 9, 1869 to her daughter, Lake, a teacher in Tennessee. Buried in Mrs. Sullivan’s rambling, gossipy letter is an account of an inflammatory re-election speech made by then-Governor Henry H. Wells, a Union general who was appointed as provisional military governor in 1868.

                    . . . Governor [Wells] spoke here about ten days ago you never heard of anything that could equal the advice
                    he gave the negroes. . . He told them to let the plow rot in the furrow . . . the grain rot in the field rather than
                    be kept from the poles [polls] and if needs be whet there [their] daggers and use them . . .

Mrs. Sullivan goes on to say that in the evening, there was nearly a “row” after Rice D. Montague was struck by a black man. In response, “white men and boys flew to his rescue with clubs and anything they could get in their hands and made the negroes fly. . .”

Without the benefit of a second eye-witness account for this event, we must remember that Mrs. Sullivan’s own attitudes may have affected her descriptions. History adds only that Rice D. Montague was highly respected among the local white community and served as Montgomery County Clerk of Court between 1831 and 1858. A former slave owner, he held 28 slaves in 1860.

The story of a community bristling with racial tension is continued in a second letter on July 25, 1869 to Lake from her brother Arthur O. Sullivan, who was a wounded Confederate veteran. Like his mother, he informs his sister of local happenings, but he also discusses the tense racial and political atmosphere reporting that “I have not been able to find a white man that voted for Wells – he will say that he did not.” Governor Wells was soundly defeated by his opponent, Gilbert Walker, in the July 6, 1869 election. Of even greater interest is Arthur Sullivan’s mention that the runner-up in the political race for the Montgomery County representative to the Virginia Legislature was a widely respected Montgomery County African American blacksmith, Minnis Headen. Dr. Dan Thorp found, in the research for his book Facing Freedom, that this letter is the only known evidence that Headen was the first Montgomery County African American to run for office.

How easily these stories could have been lost! The preservation of these letters by the Page family has added to our understanding of the past and serves as a reminder of what you can do by thinking of the museum as a repository for historic things.

Learn more about the history of Montgomery County African Americans in Facing Freedom, now on sale in the museum book shop.

Sources:

Roy Kanode, Christiansburg, Virginia

Dan Thorp, Facing Freedom

Familysearch.org

Earliest Settlers of Montgomery County

Asa Hall came from New York to the Roanoke Valley about 1790. He and his brother acquired land on the North Fork of the Roanoke River. The 1831 declaration he made applying for a pension for services in the Revolutionary War illustrates the hard life he facing after moving to Montgomery County. Though his company participated in taking Burgoyne during the war, he had received nothing from the government and had no income except what he derived from his own labor on a poor bit of land amid the steep mountains. The schedule of his meager personal estate was one mare and colt, three cows and two calves, seven head of sheep, and seven head of hogs. (Kegley’s Virginia Frontier: The Beginning of the Southwest, The Roanoke of Colonial Days, by F.B. Kegley)

The Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center sponsors a local certificate program that identifies and celebrates the names and stories of Montgomery County, Virginia’s earliest settlers like Asa Hall. These ancestors played a part in the history, culture and growth of our county and thus deserve to be recognized with their names and deeds preserved for the knowledge and understanding of their future descendants.

The program has two levels. Anyone who is a direct descendant of an individual who settled in the area now encompassed by Montgomery County before 1811 is eligible to become a member at the “Intrepid Pioneer” level. Anyone who is a direct descendant of an individual who settled in the area now encompassed by Montgomery County between 1811 and January 1, 1850 is eligible to become a member at the “Settler & Community Builder” level. Application packets are available at the Montgomery Museum and online.
This fall, the museum will be holding a ceremony to award certificates to all of those who have submitted successful applications. The applicant’s name and the name of their ancestor will also be mounted on a plaque that will be hung in the research library of the museum.

A copy of each application and the documentation produced to verify the line of descent will be kept at the museum. If an ancestor has already been accepted into the Earliest Settler program, future applicants will only have to prove descent up to the verified information.

Some of the Earliest Settlers approved to date include: Heinrich Rupe, Peter Clines, Emerich Altizer, Henry Linkous, Jacob Shell, David Wade, William Wade, John Phillip Harless II, Henry D. Price, Abraham Honaker and Asa Hall.

Freedmen’s Bureau Census of 1865 and 1867

Did you know that the Freedmen’s Bureau conducted an 1865 census and 1867 census of the people of color in counties in southwest Virginia?  The Genealogy Committee of the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center is hard at work transcribing the 1865 colored census.  Once finished, it will be available at the museum for research or purchase.  The 1867 census will be their next project.

Digitized images of the records are available at FamilySeach.org.  You can use the FamilySearch search engine on that page to locate specific people listed on the census or you can go below the search form to browse through the images in the collection. The 1865 Census of Montgomery County, Virginia can be found on film 004152454, images 228-275.  The 1867 Census is on film 004151181, images 978-1083.

Information that can be found on these census records includes name, color (black, mulatto, quadroon or octaroon), sex, age, status on January 1st 1863 (slave or free), former owner, former place of residence, occupation, and rate of wages paid per month and more.   Some of the slaves are listed with a surname, others only with their first name.    The census is organized by former owners, so you can look at groups of slaves that are living together and may (or may not) be related.

Here is an example of information found on the 1865 census about an individual – Anderson Stiff was a 30 year old black male.  He was a slave on January 1, 1863.  He was owned by Hoyd Smith, who lived in Montgomery County.  In 1865 he was employed by his former owner and was unable to read.  Anderson was paid $25 for six months, plus board and clothes. 

In 1867, Anderson Stiff was 31, black and a farmer.  He was married to Philice, a mulatto, age 22.  Both were slaves in January 1863 and were unable to read and write.  They were employed by George Garnand.  They were “comfortable” rather than in needy circumstances.  They had a legal lease to farm the land.

Using the County Cohabitation Register

(Image Courtesy Cohabitation Registers Digital Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA)

One of the sources that Dr. Daniel Thorp used in writing Facing Freedom was the Montgomery County Register of Cohabitation.  It was compiled by the Freedman’s Bureau in 1866 and includes information on over 300 African American families residing in Montgomery County in 1866.  Enslaved Americans did not have the right to legally marry, so many simply began to live together (cohabitate), or participated in a different type of ceremony.

For each family the Cohabitation Register tells the name and age of the husband and wife, their birthplaces, occupations, last owner and their residence, the names of their children and the date they began cohabiting.  Several examples of families found on the register are listed below.

Lewis Page, age 49, was born in Montgomery County, Virginia.  He was a farmer and was last enslaved under the ownership by William Davis, who lived in Montgomery County.  His wife was Elizabeth Anderson, age 50.  She was born in Bedford County, Virginia and was last owned by James Shields, who lived in Montgomery County.  Lewis and Elizabeth had five children: William J. (9), Sarah J. (21), Emeline (20), Ann (19) and Henrietta (17).  They began cohabiting on July 20, 1841.

Wilson Osborne, age 28, was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  He was a blacksmith and was last enslaved by Edward Crabick, who lived in Montgomery County.  Wilson was married to Mary Jane Watts, age 19.  Mary Jane was born in Rockbridge County.  She was last owned by Thomas D. Wood, who lived in Montgomery County.  Wilson and Mary Jane had no children and had begun cohabiting on November 15, 1865.

Mattison Beverly, age 54, was born in Appomattox County, Virginia.  He was a farmer and was freeborn.  His wife was Elizabeth Beverly, age 38, who was born in Rockingham County.  She was also freeborn.  Mattison and Elizabeth had six children:  Rasmus (24), Silvester (23), William (22), Samuel (19), Luraney (17) and Mary (13).  They began cohabiting on August 6, 1848.

The entire Montgomery County Register of Cohabitation has been transcribed and is available for sale in the Montgomery Museum gift shop.

Don’t miss Dr. Thorp’s talk and reception tomorrow, March 22, at 5:00pm at the museum.

 

Photograph in Montgomery Museum Collection Has Story To Tell

Photograph of group, Christiansburg, 1886. Jane Carter at far right [#6] (photograph was donated to the museum in 2013 by Henry Jablonski as part of the Charles Crush Collection)

In his recently released book, Facing Freedom, Dr. Daniel Thorp uses a variety of sources, including the Montgomery Museum’s collection, to piece together the history of the local African American community. A closer look at one of the resources in the museum’s collection used by Dr. Thorp, shows us the way historic photographs provide detail and richness to past lives when placed in the context of history.

The photograph, taken in 1886, shows 26 adults and 3 children posing on the front porch of the Figgat House at 10 East Main Street in Christiansburg. The people photographed include several prominent white citizens, many of them related to Dr. Joseph Edie [#1].

Dr. Joseph Edie (1727 – 1887) arrived in Christiansburg in 1826 as a teacher and was instrumental in the organization of Christiansburg Presbyterian church the following year. He completed medical school and returned to the town in 1832, purchasing a former tavern at 30 West Main Street for his office and residence.

The owner of the house shown was Mary (Mollie) Edie Figgat (1836 – 1923, [#5]) a daughter of Dr. Edie and the widow of Dr. William Figgat (1835 – 1878). Another of Dr. Edie’s daughters, Jane Edie Wade (1826 – 1912, [#3]) is also pictured with her husband, Captain John Wade (1829 – 1889, [#2]). John Wade served in the Confederate “Stonewall Brigade” and was county clerk from 1881 until 1887. At a time when few women were involved in the public sphere, Jane Edie Wade operated Mrs. J. H. Wade Store from the late 1880s until 1911 in her father’s former home and medical office. She also served as deputy county clerk during her husband’s tenure as clerk.

Pictured in the back row is Ada A. Schaeffer [#7], whose husband Captain Charles S. Schaeffer helped newly freed former slaves to found important African American institutions such as Memorial Baptist Church (now Schaeffer Memorial) and the school that would later grow to become Christiansburg Institute.

Among these people, so often remembered in the written histories of Christiansburg, is another woman, who Dr. Thorp’s work now brings to our attention. The handwritten identifications with the photograph notes “Aunt” Jane Carter standing near the far right edge. Jane Carter (1834 – 1911, [#6]) had been a slave owned by Dr. Edie and continued to work for wages in the Edie home after Emancipation. In 1870, she was living with Dr. Edie’s daughter and son-in-law, the Dr. William Figgat family, and working as their cook. She continued working for the Figgats, and later their daughters, until her death. Jane Carter followed a common pattern of women who became adults under slavery, and continued to live in the home of her white employer. This set her apart from younger African American women who grew to adulthood after 1865 and typically established their own homes.

While former owners and former slaves may have continued to lead their lives in close proximity, Jane Carter’s position at the edge of the photograph exemplifies her social status. She was probably working, tending to the children, when the photograph was taken. Her continued presence with members of the Edie-Figgat family could suggest affection and devotion or simply lack of opportunity and economic choice. We cannot know her mind. Yet, taken at a time when black women were often not included in the historic record, this photograph gives us a window into the life of Jane Carter.

 

Sources:

Facing Freedom by Daniel Thorp
Christiansburg, Virginia by Roy Kanode
Familysearch.org

Talk, Reception, & Book Signing with Facing Freedom Author, Dr. Daniel Thorp

The Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center is proud to announce that Dr. Daniel Thorp, author of Facing Freedom, will be presenting a talk about his book at the museum on March 22, 2018 from 5:00-7:00 pm.  There will be a reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

In the book, Facing Freedom, Dr. Thorp relates the complex experience of the African American Community in Montgomery County, Virginia as it negotiated a radically new world in the four decades following the Civil War.   Drawing on extensive research in private collections (including the Montgomery Museum’s collection) as well as local, state and federal records, Thorp narrates in intimate detail the experiences of black Appalachians as they struggled to establish autonomous families, improve their economic standing, operate black schools within a white-controlled school system, form independent black churches, and exercise expanded – if contested- roles as citizens and members of the body politic.

Black out-migration increased markedly near the close of the nineteenth century, but the generation that transitioned from slavery to freedom in Montgomery County established the community institutions that would survive disenfranchisement and Jim Crow.  Facing Freedom reveals the stories and strategies of those who pioneered these resilient bulwarks against the rising tide of racism.

Dr. Dan Thorp Talk and Reception

Dr. Dan Thorp to Speak About

 African American History in Montgomery County