In 1866, after the Surrender at Appomattox and before the courthouse fire in Buckingham County, Dr. Bryce McClellan Pratt was appointed County Clerk of Buckingham County, Virginia by the occupying military.
Born in Maine, Dr. Pratt was already a long time resident of the county. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) in 1844, settled in Buckingham that same year, and married Emeline Frances Trent on April 13, 1848. Rev. J. H. Fitzgerald officiated at “Clay Bank.”
In about 1872, he and his family left for the west, eventually settling in Bentonville, Arkansas. Like many Buckingham families, his financial troubles deepened following Civil War.
In January 1871, Nicholas Flood Bocock filed suit against Dr. Pratt in the Buckingham County Court. The physician declared bankruptcy and his farm, “Buffalo,” was sold at public auction. The announcement read in Richmond’s The Daily State Journal:
JOINT SALE OF ASSIGNEE
OF VALUABLE REAL ESTATE IN
BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, AT PUBLIC
By virtue of an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, of dated August 27th, 1872, I will sell as assignee of Bryce M. Pratt, bankrupt, on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24th, in front of the United States Court-House, in the city of Richmond, at 3 P.M., that valuable tract of land containing a tract of land containing 786 ACRES, in Buckingham county, Va., with Dwelling-House, School-House, Office, Barns Carriage-House, and Ice-House on same, all in good repair.
This land is adapted to grain, grass, tobacco, &c. This land will be sold in lots or parcels to suit purchasers.
TERMS-One-third cash; balance on a credit of six and twelve months, the purchaser to give notes for the deferred payments, interest added, title retained by the assignee until said notes are paid.
Wm. B. Matthews, Assignee.
Sept. 3d, 1872.
Does a Slate River Ramblings reader know which school house sat on the Pratt property?
Many thanks to Mary Carolyn Mitton for this information about her great-great grandfather, one time Clerk of Buckingham County.
Coming Next: Buckingham Houses: Buffalo
Courtesy Historic Buckingham, Sketch by Margaret Allen Pennington
In 1871, Joseph Fuqua advertised the sale of his estate, Bear Garden, located near New Canton, in the northeastern corner of Buckingham County:
BEAR GARDEN FOR SALE –
The subscriber wishes to sell the estate on which he resides, known by the name of Bear Garden, lying in the lower end of the county of Buckingham, on James River, immediately below the town of new Canton, containing about eight hundred and twenty-five (825) acres, of which there are about one hundred and ninety acres first-rate James River low ground. The high land is good and is in improved condition. There is on this farm a good grist and plaster mill in good order, with cast-iron gearing, on a never failing stream. The neighborhood is as good as any – is convenient to the canal, and is sixty-six miles above Richmond by the canal. It is believed that the straight-shoot railroad from Clifton Forge, on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to Richmond, will pass through this immediate neighborhood.
The subscriber will also sell another tract of land lying north, in six miles of Bear Garden, containing about 385 acres, all in woods. If the sold lands be not sold privately by TUESDAY, the 1st day of August next, they will be offered for sale at public auction on that day, and the town of New Canton. All persons wishing to purchase such property, are invited to view the same and judge for themselves.
For more about life at Bear Garden see: Runaway Slave: Patrick Winfrey
Advertisements for runaway slaves naturally included physical characteristics of the missing person and now antiquated descriptions for skin tone. Patrick Winfrey, the property of Joseph Fuqua, was described “a tolerably bright mulatto” – a fair-skinned African American. In the case of Patrick Winfrey, he may have headed north, towards freedom. Other slaves often escaped, attempting to rejoin family members from which they had been separated. The following advertisement ran in June of 1848. Patrick Winfrey’s fate is unknown.
25 Dollars Reward.
RAN AWAY from the subscriber, living near New Canton, Buckingham County, on 28 December last, a Negro Man named PATRICK, about twenty-three years of age. He sometimes calls himself Patrick Winfrey, and I understand frequently calls himself Winfrey. He is a tolerably bright mulatto, and when he left home had a bushy head of hair. He is about five feet eight or ten inches high. No scar remembered, but my overseer informs me that, when he left, he had a small bump over one of his eyes, but whether it was a stye or other injury he doesn’t know. His Winter coat was of napt-cotton, his pantaloons of homespun, and his hat a white wool hat, but it is believed he has traded off his coat and hat, and wears a frock coat and cap. It is believed he is making his way to Ohio, and may be in company with another. I have heard he has free papers. The above reward will be paid to anyone who will apprehend him and deliver him to me, or confine him in jail so that I can get him.
Bear Garden, Buckingham co.,
Interested in learning more about the use of newspaper advertisements to reclaim runway slaves?
Coming next: For Sale: Bear Garden
During the 18th and 19th centuries, newspapers frequently printed advertisements for runaway slaves. The rewards offered and the descriptions of these desperate men and women increase our understanding of the sufferings of slavery. Through these advertisements, we are often reminded that many slaves used surnames long before Emancipation. In this case, Nelson Hart was the property of Elizabeth Ann Price of New Canton, Buckingham County and his surname, “Hart,” was established before he was purchased by Price. It is also often disclosed that skilled men such as Nelson Hart frequently traveled far from home, resulting in a wide knowledge of Virginia. Nelson Hart’s fate is unknown. The following advertisement ran in the spring of 1847:
RUNAWAY from subscriber some time ago, a negro man named NELSON HART, of dark complexion, about five feet eight inches high – with one Eye out, which [one], not recollected – he is about 35 or 40 years of age – quite intelligent – took with him a suit of black summer clothes and a suit of Kentucky Jeans – one of the Coats has a Velvet Collar. Nelson has been hired for a number of years at the Buckingham Iron Works, both at “Bear Garden” and “Stone Wall” – has attended Furnaces over the Mountains, his acquaintance is very extensive. The above reward will be paid for his delivery, or his security in Jail so that I might get him.
ELIZABETH ANN PRICE,
New Canton, P. O., Buckingham co., Va.
Interested in learning more about the use of newspaper advertisements to reclaim runway slaves?
Visit “The Geography of Slavery in Virginia”
Coming next: Runaway Slave: Patrick Winfrey
The Richmond Whig, Courtesy Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
When the Buckingham Courthouse burned in February of 1869, James Woodfin needed to reestablish his purchase of land from Garland Brown in 1841. The following announcement appeared in The Richmond Whig in the summer of 1869.
The petition of James Woodfin this day filed before me represents that on – day of August, 1841, Garland Brown sold and conveyed, with general warranty, by deed duly executed and delivered to him, the petitioner, a track of land of (255) two hundred and fifty five acres, lying and being in the county of Buckingham, adjoining the lands of the petitioner and others; that shortly thereafter the said deed was recorded according to law in the clerk’s office of the county court of Buckingham county; and said record, together with the original deed, has been destroyed by fire, and prays that a time and date may be appointed for taking proof to re-establish the said record.
Apparently, Garland Brown was no longer a resident of the State of Virginia. The notice in the newspaper requested him to appear before Robert T Hubbard Jr., on 13 July 1869, at his office at Buckingham Court House.
In the same issue of the paper, a second notice appeared concerning James Woodfin’s purchase of 30 acres from John J. Brown in 1853. Mr. John J. Brown, apparently a non-resident of the State of Virginia, was also requested to appear at Hubbard’s office.
How did James Woodfin come to lose his own copies of these deeds is unknown. Did the Browns appear as requested?
To learn much more about the burning of Buckingham Courthouse, please consult “Incalculable Loss: The Burning of Buckingham Courthouse” in “At a Place Called Buckingham.”
The Richmond Whig, Courtesy Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
After the Buckingham County courthouse burned in February of 1869, many citizens in the county rerecorded deeds and wills, protecting what was rightfully theirs. Chancery cases that were in progress were thrown into chaos. Depositions had to be taken to reestablish suits in progress.
In June of 1869, a notice appeared in The Richmond Whig concerning documents concerning the case of Scruggs versus Pankey:
The petition of Jane Scruggs this day filed before me represents that, at the September term, 1868, of the Circuit Court of Buckingham County, she recovered a judgment against James E. Pankey and William T. Pankey for $500, with lawful interest from January 14, 1862. . . . .
Some of the monies due Jane Scruggs had been paid to her; however, there was a “residue” which remained unpaid. All evidence of this judgment was destroyed by fire with the clerk’s office of the county and Jane Scruggs requested that the time and place be made for “taking proof to reestablish the contents of the said records are destroyed.”
Robert T. Hubard, Jr., then a Special Commissioner for Buckingham County, announced the following:
It appearing by affidavit that James E Pankey is a nonresident of the State of Virginia, the said James E Pankey is hereby notified that I have appointed TUESDAY, 13 July, 1869, between the hours of 10 A.M. and 3 P.M., at my office, at Buckingham Courthouse, as the time and place for taking proof to re-establish the said record; and said James Pankey is required to appear at the time and place aforesaid, and do what is necessary to protect his interest in these proceedings.
Did James E Pankey appear before Mr. Hubard? Did Jane Scruggs get the monies owed her?
Surely many cases like these went unresolved due to the burning of the courthouse.
Coming next: Robert T. Hubard, Jr.’s request concerning Woodfin vs. Brown
General George Stoneman, Courtesy Wikipedia
On March 2, 1869, the Editor of Richmond’s Whig printed a lengthy and strongly opinionated letter, signed under the pseudonym Lucius, in which the author bemoaned postwar politics and longed for the “free and unterrified constituency” of old. Lucius expressed his concerns about the power of Northerners, particularly New Yorker Charles E. Zincke who “lit among us in the palmy days of the F. B. [Freedman’s Bureau (?)], but having feasted upon the rotten and reeking carcass of the sweet scented institution until it is now no more, he has turned his foul beak upon the helpless tax-payers of this county.” According to Lucius, Zincke applied to General Stoneman, head of the First Military District (June 2, 1868, to March 31, 1869), for the office of Buckingham County Clerk and aspired to represent Buckingham in the coming Legislature.
Lucius went to praise Brigadier General George Stoneman, while expressing his deep concerns about rising Radicalism:
Your correspondent has had occasion as a private citizen to approve and commend the kind and conciliatory manner in which General Stoneman has tempered military rule to the shorn and oppressed people of a once free and prosperous State, by which conduct he has won the respect of our people generally, but he is not an applicant for office for himself or for anyone else, and asks no favors at the hands of our military rulers.
If the carpet-bagger alluded to dare deny any of the above statements attributed to him, they can be fully proven upon him by several gentlemen who listens to his harangue. Your correspondent feels a deep interest in the welfare of the community in which he lives, and whilst General Stoneman may be able to hold his nose in certain office seeking skunks creep around his office, he certainly hopes that their infliction “en permanence” may be spared us, as some of our own people are already becoming weak kneed and weak-backed, under Radical pressure, and the stomachs of the rest are fast approaching nausea. Give us a little more dirt to eat, but spare us the skunks.
To learn more about Brigadier General George Stoneman and the post-war occupation of Virginia, consult Encyclopedia Virginia: “First Military District”
To read more of Lucius’ lengthy letter to the Editor of the Whig, click here:
Buckingham County’s Deed Room (2010), Photo by Joanne L. Yeck
On March 2, 1869, a letter was sent from Buckingham County to the Editor of Richmond’s Whig. Signed under the pseudonym Lucius, the correspondent from Buckingham County had strong opinions about the burning of the courthouse and the politics of postwar Buckingham:
LETTER FROM BUCKINGHAM.
Burning of the Courthouse – Destruction of the Records – our Carpet Baggers, etc.
[Correspondence of the Whig.]
BUCKINGHAM COURTHOUSE, March 2, 1869.
You have no doubt ere this learned of the recent fire at this place, by which the courthouse building, together with the accumulated records of more than a century, were destroyed in less time than required to pen these lines. The venerable building now rears only its ragged and dismantled walls, a fitting reflex of the ruin and desolation which the baleful spirit of Radicalism has in its wrath showered upon the old Commonwealth. It was the pride of the village in the county, and its walls had oft re-echoed the shrill voice of John Randolph, the classic eloquence of Rives, and resounded with the plaudits of a free and unterrified constituency. Within its sacred precincts and able and independent judiciary have been wont to dispense that equal and exact justice between citizens of every station and degree, which it is to be feared will not flow in unpolluted streams, should our seats of justice be usurped by seedy and rapacious adventurers, as has been done in some other counties.
Reconstruction is needed here, and we shall probably have it soon; but it may be said of the old building as of the old Commonwealth, “We never shall see its likes again.”
The records, too – and those mute yet speaking monuments of the voiceless past, disdaining the polluting touch and scrutiny of carpet-bag vandals – have sought the silent shades of that oblivion which kindly shields from insult the heads that created and the hands that tend them. May winter’s chilly winds and summer’s gusts sing sweet requiems, as they beat and bluster through the old ruins, to the ashes of both creator and creature – the sad relics of a mighty past.
Lucius went on to inform the readers of the Whig that “everyone” believed that the fire which took down Buckingham County’s courthouse was the work of an incendiary. Yet, he wrote, no one person had been identified as the arsonist. He recalled the night of the catastrophe:
Silently and stealthily the act was perpetrated, while the peaceful inhabitants of the village were wrapped in midnight slumbers, and the barking of watch dogs, coupled with the awful roaring and crackling of the flames, gave them the first intimation of the presence of the dread fire fiend in their midst, when suddenly they awoke to find the red glare of the burning building cast all athwart “the night’s plutonian shore” and penetrating the gloom of their silent chambers.
Not a whole book of paper was saved from the clerk’s office, that being located in the main building, which was wrapped in flames before any one reached it. The next morning, as the citizens were gathered around the still smoldering ruins, some fragments of very old deed books were rescued from the fire, and many persons expressed their purpose to preserve them as mementos of the olden time.
Very few of our landholders can now boast of a title
“Picked from the worm holes of long vanished days,
Nor from the dust of old oblivion rak’d,
for we all hold our lands, as it were, in common for the present, at least so far as metes and bounds are concerned.
These were, to be sure, tumultuous times, when a man would rather have his records destroyed than be touched by carpetbaggers!
To be continued. . .
Buckingham County Courthouse, Photo by Joanne Yeck
Many of us interested in the history and genealogy of Buckingham County have struggled with the absence of records due to the burning of Buckingham’s courthouse in early 1869. Fewer of us, however, have thought about the immediate consequences of the “disaster.”
Newspapers reporting state-wide news announced:
The county of Buckingham has no courthouse, no clerk’s office, no records, no judge, nobody to administer the law and no one who is qualified under the reconstruction acts to administer it.
We do know that meetings were held at the nearby Brick Tavern to deal with the calamity. An executive proclamation by the Governor of Virginia declared this a suitable place for holding court in the absence of a courthouse. Gentlemen Justices Robert B. Shaw, Jr., John Spencer, Charles S. Saunders, Henry St. George Harris, and Moses A. Smith presided over that troubled first court after the destruction of the courthouse.
Not being conversant with The Reconstruction Acts (1867-1868), can a Slate River Ramblings reader expand on this disturbing state of affairs in Buckingham County? Was Buckingham County left in a dangerous sort of suspended animation?
For much more about the burning of Buckingham’s courthouse, see: “Incalculable Loss: The Burning of Buckingham Courthouse” in “At a Place Called Buckingham”.
Thomas Jefferson’s younger brother, Randolph Jefferson, served the American Revolution in several ways, including a brief time spent in uniform riding with Nelson’s Corps of Light Dragoons. Robert Bolling’s pension application (#S6689) gave the following account of the brief existence of the Corps. It reads, in part:
“Early in the spring of 1778 I enlisted as a private Soldier to the best of my recollection for a Term of twelve months, in a volunteer Corps of Calvary under the command of General Thomas Nelson as Captain, George Nicholas as first Lieutenant and Hugh Nelson as Second Lieutenant all of the State of Virginia. the said Corps of Cavalry amounting to one hundred men was embodied organized and trained at a small Town in the County of Caroline Va. called Port Royal, this corps was raised by Captain Thomas Nelson of York Town Va in pursuance of the recommendation of Congress of the 2nd March 1778, after remaining at Port Royal about 4 months we about the first of August 1778 marched to Philadelphia where we remained several days, & where on the 8th of August 1778 we were discharged after receiving the thanks of Congress, which was then and there sitting.
C. Leon Harris, who transcribed the application, added:
“Thomas Nelson, Jr. (1739-1789) was briefly a Colonel of the 2nd Virginia Regiment in 1775, signed of the Declaration of Independence, and in Aug 1777 was appointed Brigadier General and commander of state forces. He raised the Corps of Light Dragoons at his own expense and took the command at the rank of Captain. After the corps was disbanded he was active in organizing the Virginia militia. On 12 June 1781 he succeeded Thomas Jefferson as Governor. At the Siege of Yorktown it was said that he directed that his own house be used as a target to aim the cannons.”
Harris’ transcription includes a roster of the men who rode to Baltimore with Thomas Nelson. Among them are Randolph Jefferson and his friend, Green Clay.
Click here for C. Leon Harris’ complete transcription: Nelson’s Corps of Light Dragoons
Eager to learn more about Randolph Jefferson? Consult The Jefferson Brothers.