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September 19, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

 Buckingham Notables: William B. Phillips

In the nineteenth century, lengthy obituaries were rare for Buckingham County residents, though, they occasionally appeared in the Richmond newspapers. This one for William B. Phillips was especially rich in detail. Unfortunately the obituary is difficult to read, the ending is illegible, and I do not have a source for the clipping. If a Slate River Ramblings reader knows more about William B. Phillips please comment.


Departed this life, on 29 April 1861, at his residence in Buckingham co., Va., Brother Wm. B. Phillips, formerly of Charlottesville, Alb. co., to which place his mortal remains were brought for internment by the side of those of his excellent wife, who had only some few years, preceded him to the world of spirits.

Brother Phillips was about seventy-one years of age, and was in the enjoyment of a large portion of health and strength, and bid fair to live to be very old, when he was attacked by typhoid pneumonia, which, in a few days, closed his earthly existence.

Being accustomed to prescribe for himself and slightly unwell, and being unaware of the nature of the disease under which he was laboring, he neglected to call the physician, until it was too late to afford him any relief.

Brother Phillips was one of the most candid, sincere, honest and kindhearted man that I have ever known. It was refreshing to meet occasionally with one so unsophisticated and unselfish, who seems never to have entertained the thought of injuring a human being, but he was always ready to extend a helping hand to those who were needy. Upright in his intentions, and transparent in his character, he seemed to be unable to comprehend the mystery of deceit and dishonesty by which the conduct of too many are influenced and directed; and therefore by reposing too much confidence in man, he suffered pecuniary to some extent, but such was his diligence and energy that he accumulated considerable property, which after spending much on the education of his children, he left to be equitably divided among them.

Brother Phillips, though a sober, moral and useful member of society, did not confess the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism, until after the death of his wife. After his connexion with the church, he was unwavering in his fidelity and liberal and his contributions.

A short time before his death, he declared that he had never doubted his acceptance by the Lord, since he was baptized; and that he had no more fear of dying; then he had of retiring to his bed to sleep. Entreating his children not to [grieve] for him, he peacefully, and without a groan, passed away from earth.

Mark the perfect (or sincere) man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace Psalm xxxviiI: 37th. . . .

R. L. C.

September 16, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Mysteries: Perkins’ Falls

Courtesy James River Association.

Slate River Ramblings reader Randy Crouse has solved the location of Perkins’ Falls, an early recommendation for an inlet from Buckingham County to the James River and Kanawha Canal.

Click on the following links to catch up on the excitement in 1844:

Buckingham County: An Inlet at Perkins’ Falls, Part I

Buckingham County: Rebuttals to an Inlet at Perkins’ Falls, Part I


Randy Crouse determined the following:

Perkins’ Falls (of James River) is located between Scottsville and Warren at these coordinates: 37°45’27.1″N 78°30’47.9″W (37.757538, -78.513296). This is directly opposite from Hatton’s Ferry, on the James River a few miles upstream from Scottsville where Rt. 625 comes to the river. It is 2.25 river miles downstream from Warren.

Participants in the annual James River Batteau Festival know it well and the falls are featured in the event’s brochure.

Author Bruce Ingram wrote this warning in his James River Guide: “Just opposite James River runners is Perkins Falls, a Class I to II rapid. Take the left-of-center passage, and be sure to work the pool below Perkins.”

Follow these links to learn more:

James River Batteau Festival

James River Guide at Google Books

Many thanks, Randy, for chasing down the exact location of Perkins’ (or Perkins) Falls.

September 12, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Notable: Talton B. Woodson


After reading “Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part I,” Slate River Ramblings follower Judy Kiilehua wondered about the spelling of Talton B. Woodson’s name, which is sometimes recorded as Tarlton. His son, John Talton Lewis Woodson, spelled his name without an “r.”  Also, T. B.’s father, Talton Woodson, Jr. (c. 1791 – 1864) likely spelled his name without an “r,” reflecting the local pronunciation of Tarlton.

After supervising the brickmaking and building of Walter L. Fontaine’s Ivy Hill, T. B. Woodson married Buckingham-born Mary Elizabeth Agee. Only months after the birth of their only child, Woodson drown in the James River. According to family tradition, he was collecting sand for brickmaking. This obituary ran in Richmond’s Whig on April 3, 1846:


On the morning of the 25th, Mr. Talton B. Woodson and three negro men, in attempting to cross the James River, at the mouth of Rockfish, in a small batteau, were all drowned. Several persons witnessed the awful event, but none could rescue them. Search was immediately made for the bodies of the deceased, but none could be found, except that of Mr. Woodson, which was discovered, after having been under water about an hour, some distance below where he was last seen.  Every exertion was made to restore life, but without effect. His spirit has fled to the God who gave it.  Mr. W. was a man of the highest sense of honor, and beloved by all who knew him.  He has left an affectionate wife and child, together with many friends and relations to mourn his untimely end.

While Woodson did not live long enough to become a true “Buckingham Notable,” the drama of his sudden death was reprinted in newspapers across the upper south and northeast, appearing in Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. It may have been a slow week for news, though mid-19th century papers were filled with accidents, fires, and drownings. Tragedy sold newspapers, as it still does today.

September 11, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Central Virginia Heritage, Fall 2019

Central Virginia Heritage, Fall 2019

I’m delighted to announce that the Fall 2019 issue of Central Virginia Heritage includes my article: “One Man’s Black Sheep is Another Man’s Local Hero: Discovering Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam.”

How did I end up writing about Chicago?  As many family historians know, sometimes our families migrate beyond the borders of Buckingham County, even Virginia!

When my extended Harris family, including my grandmother Minnie Garland Harris, left Buckingham County, Virginia to settle in a small town in southern Iowa called Leon, my great-grandfather, Clay Harris, married again. His son, Eugene Alexander “Gene” Harris, my grandmother’s half-brother, became the first in my very long line of Harrises to be born outside of Virginia.  As the 20th century unfolded, Gene led an exciting life far from his bucolic Buckingham County roots.

In this issue you’ll also find Karen Lucas Williams’ article: “The Spiller Family of Buckingham County, Virginia; Documents from the Case of James M. Spiller, etc. vs. Reuben Sorrell; Henry Spiller & Wife vs. Mary Calvert, Culpeper County, VA.”

And more . . . Articles about Chestnut Grove Baptist Church, Earlysville, VA; Marriage Announcements in the Daily Progress (Charlottesville, VA), August-December, 1894; Gathering to Share African American History and Genealogy in Central VA; The Tale of a Black Sheep: Stephen Price Maury; Fluvanna Historical Society Preserves Court Records; and Fluvanna County Circuit Court Awarded Grant to Preserve Local Records.

Copies are available at Amazon.


Want to learn even more about Gene Harris’ colorful life

and Chicago’s Rush Street Institution — Club Alabam?

Click here: The Blackest Sheep.

September 9, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part IV


Fontaine-Dabney Account. Courtesy L. D. Phaup.

Click here to catch up: Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part I

Beyond collections held in institutions, Buckingham County treasures can pop up on Ebay. That’s where Slate River Ramblings reader L. D. Phaup found a surviving account between Walter L. Fontaine and a man named Robert Kelso Dabney, who likely operated a business out of New Canton, Buckingham County.

L. D. Phaup believes that Dabney may not have lived in Buckingham County but operated a business there. He shared the following with me:

I believe this business was located in New Canton, Virginia, as a number of the individuals mentioned [in the accounts] are in the 1820 Census and because of the proximity to Virginia Mills located on the Slate River and the processing of freight charges believed to be bateau shipments on the James River. The document includes a listing of purchases made by Fontaine, items being picked up on his behalf, freight charges being processed and charged to his account for the shipment of tobacco packed in hogsheads, and wheat shipped by the bushel. . . .

Familiar Buckingham names, including Bagby and Pleasants are mentioned in the accounts.

Courtesy L. D. Phaup.

L. D. Phaup also prepared this biography of Dabney:

ROBERT KELSO DABNEY (1787-1867) was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1787 to John and Ann Harris Dabney. The location of his birthplace was near Walker’s Church and was referred to as the Heritage. Family records indicate that Robert’s father owned a large tract of land in Prince Edward County and had a large family (12 children). Many of these children reached maturity and moved away to Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina. Some of the children settled in Buckingham, and Prince Edward, Virginia. One son, Cornelius Dabney died in the war of 1812.

Robert started his career as a stock boy in Cumberland Courthouse, Virginia and over a period of time had establishments located in Cumberland Courthouse, New Canton, Richmond and Oxford, North Carolina. Robert K. Dabney was first married to Jamima G. Woodson born 1797 at Rosebank in Cumberland County. She was the daughter of Capt. Charles Woodson. Robert and Jamima had two children Robert K. Dabney, Jr. born September 16, 1816, and Ann Smith Dabney born May 20, 1820, and died in infancy. Robert’s wife Jamima died February 26, 1821, and was survived by her husband and son. When Jamima died the son went to live with his grandparents and he died at the age of 12.

Robert Kelso Dabney remarried a Lucy Ann Pope, the daughter of Capt. William Pope and Ann Woodson Pope of Powhatan County. Robert K. and Ann resided at her homeplace Montpelier Plantation in Powhatan County, Virginia. They had three sons as follows:

William Pope Dabney 1829-1894

Charles W. Dabney 1831-1834

Robert Dabney 1833-1876

In 1858 Robert K. Dabney built another home in Powhatan County on the Montpelier Plantation property (1300 acres) and named this home Elmington. This home is an Italian Style. Records indicate it was not completed before his death. Robert K. Dabney is believed to be buried next to his wife at the family cemetery at Montpelier.

Does a Slate River Ramblings reader know more about Robert K. Dabney’s business dealings in Buckingham County? If so, please comment below.

Special thanks to L. D. Phaup who encouraged me to write about Ivy Hill and Walter L. Fontaine.

September 5, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part III

Trinity Presbyterian Church


Click here to catch up: Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part I

Digging for Buckingham County gold often requires dedicated sleuthing.

The Library of Virginia houses the “Walter Lloyd Fontaine Papers, 1813-1870,” which includes receipts, invoices, letters, promissory notes, etc. The library provides this short biography for Col. Fontaine:

Walter Lloyd Fontaine (1787-1860) was the son of Abraham (1757-1831) and Sarah Ballard Fontaine (1762-1825) of Charles City and Goochland Counties, Virginia. He married first G. Nicholas and second M.F. Nicholas. With his second wife he had a child named Walter Scott Fontaine (b. 1826). Walter Lloyd Fontaine moved often both in Virginia and out-of-state. Records list his occupation as both an attorney and a farmer.

Additionally, Fontaine was a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Buckingham County, served as an elder of the church, and was friendly with my ancestor and fellow Presbyterian, Col. John M. Harris. A letter, written in 1836, from Harris to Fontaine survives, along with copies of a Fontaine family Bible and account books, and is part of the Fontaine collection at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

The University of Virginia safeguards an even larger collection, acquired in 1965. “Fontaine Family Papers 1809-1908” contains 355 items.

These scattered Fontaine family papers are a reminder to search the collections at a variety of institutions when investigating any Buckingham County family.

Coming next: Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part IV

September 2, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part II

“Ivy Hill,” Virginia Historical Inventory. Courtesy Library of Virginia.

Click here to catch up: Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part I

In 1937, Rosa G. Williams wrote about Ivy Hill for the Virginia Historical Survey. Located 1 mile north of Arvonia on Hwy. 15, the house sat 1.5 miles northwest off Rt. 652. Mrs. Williams described the house as follows:

This is a splendid James River farm but the yard of this old house is in a bad condition. Many of the old trees still stand but limbs have fallen from some of them due to the heavy winds and they lie just where they fell. The rose bushes and shrubs have been allowed to ramble with a will, and one can hardly get to the house. The dwelling house is also in a very poor condition although it has every mark of being at one time one of the best type of colonial homes. There are no porches; the entrance is by way of double doors into a very large hallway, which runs through the center of the house. There are seven rooms and a full size basement. On the right of the entrance is a very large living room; there are two upstairs rooms over this large downstairs room. To the left of the hall is a very large bedroom; and to the left of this room is another large room used as a bed-room, and there are rooms over these the same size as the downstairs rooms. The rooms are all plastered, with a narrow baseboard next to the floor. The rooms are very high-pitched. The timbers in this house are all hand sawed, put together with wooden pegs and shop made nails. All corner posts hewn out of huge trees.

Coming next: Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part III

August 29, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part I

 Sketch by Margaret Pennington. Courtesy Historic Buckingham.

Ivy Hill, once the home of Col. Walter Lloyd Fontaine, who was a volunteer in the war of 1812, has special significance for me. My ancestor, Talton B. Woodson, a brick mason, contributed to the construction of the house. Payment receipts for his work survive at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Woodson lived in Albemarle County and agreed to the job on December 23, 1842, writing:

I hereby agree to make, burn, and lay for Walter L. Fontaine in the spring of 1843 the brick he may want about a building he intends to erect, I am to find all & do all I am to receive for the brick when laid nine dollars pr. thousand, I am to furnish good and an abundant quantity of mortar for laying the brick I am to give said Fontaine twenty five cents for the soil for each thousand of said brick, he is to pay me for the work when done one half of the amount, the other half he is to pay me 25th December 1843 witness our hands & seals date above.

T. B. Woodson

W. L. Fontaine

It is currently unknown how Col. Fontaine became aware of Woodson’s reputation as a brick mason. It seems exceptional that Fontaine would hire a man from Albemarle County to work on his house.

Coming next: Buckingham County Houses: Ivy Hill, Part II

August 26, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County: Manteo Post Office, Part II


To catch up on the details of the murder of Curtis Branch click here: Buckingham County Murder: Manteo Killing, Part I


Slate River Ramblings reader Nancy Faxon also shared a notice from The Farmville Herald dated December 8, 1911, which covered the news of Curtis Branch’s murder. Branch was an innocent bystander to a robbery, a Confederate veteran who was acting as night watchman for the store. The article reads as follows:

DEC. 4 — There are no new developments in the horrible murder case at Manteo up to Saturday night no arrests have been made. Sheriff Williams came home after spending several days trying to find some clue to work on, without getting such information as would warrant an arrest.

It is said that there is a suspect, but nothing tangible in the way of evidence.

That the attempt at breaking the safe was the work of one not well used to opening iron Sais was vouched for by the fact that an ax was used. It is a wonder that the murderer did not burn the house and cremate the body of old Mr. Branch. It seems as if the murder was cold-blooded in the extreme when the life of an innocent old man was taken simply because he might have been an eyewitness of the attempted robbery.

The rain prevented the possibility of the blood hounds doing anything. No goods of consequence were taken out of the store and only the money out of the cash drawer was secured.

Mr. G. W. Patteson, Sr., and his son do a large mercantile business at Manteo as well as attend to the duties of postmaster, and until recently Mr. Henry Patteson lived in the house adjacent to the store and no watchman was necessary at night.

The farm adjoining the store is owned by Mr. S. P. Blanton, of Richmond who it is said will do all he can to bring the guilty person or persons to justice.

The case remains unsolved.

Special thanks to Nancy Faxon for adding these new details to the story.

Visit the Scottsville Museum website to see a photo of Curtis Branch: Confederate Veteran Reunion, 1908.

August 22, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County: Manteo Post Office, Part I

Manteo Post Office by Margaret Pennington. Courtesy Historic Buckingham.

Patteson House by Nancy Faxon.

From time to time, a Slate River Ramblings reader contacts me expanding on a previous post. Such was the case when Nancy Faxon followed up concerning the murder of Curtis Branch.

To catch up on the details of the murder of Curtis Branch click here: Buckingham County Murder: Manteo Killing, Part I


The Manteo Post Office, where Curtis Branch was violently murdered in late 1911, was located in a store owned by G. W. Patteson.  The sketch above and description of the property is included in “The Courthouse Burned —,“ Book 1. Nancy elaborated Margaret Pennington’s sketch of the store, illustrating the Patteson house as she remembered it.

The Patteson house sat adjacent the store, which was constructed by Mr. Sam Gibson in 1879–1880. Built of stone and timber, it was first used as a stable. Located on the James River, where a ferry connected Buckingham to Nelson County, the store doubtless saw a lot of traffic. Mr. Gibson died in 1911, and the property was purchased by T. W. and G. W. Patteson. Not long after, it became a crime scene.


Henry Patteson House beside Manteo Store before it was dismantled.

Pictured in BRANCH 1066. Courtesy Nancy Faxon.


Coming next: Buckingham County: Manteo Post Office, Part II