Pamunkey River

Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River in 1864

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Colonial Relic on Ware Creek III: A Summing Up

We come to the present day (or there abouts) in our story of the Old Stone House on Ware Creek with a 1989 article in the Daily Press entitled, "Study Refutes Pirate Myths About Stone House."
Link here.

"It has been the stuff of legends and folklore for generations, but perhaps no more. 
Tales about the former Stone House overlooking Ware Creek took on such importance over the years that one of the county's election districts was named after it. Did Captain John Smith sleep there in 1608? Did Blackbeard the pirate ever store his treasure there? Who really built Stone House? When? Why?"

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Colonial Relic on Ware Creek II

Today we present a (rather laboriously transcribed) follow up to the March 13th posting, an article from the Daily Dispatch on the Old Stone House on Ware Creek This article was written as a response to the previous one and was published one week later. 

NB: Blisland is typically spelled with one 's,' that being the spelling of the original parish in Cornwall.

from Howe's Historical collections of Virginia(1852)


Something More About the Mysterious Old Stone House- The Devil's Wood-Yard-Some Interesting Points About Old Blissland Parish- Ancient Epitaphs.

To The Editor of the Dispatch:
In last Sunday's issue of the Dispatch your Williamsburg correspondent "W." writes of visit recently made by him to the Old Stone House in James City county, and gives an interesting description of this "mysterious relic of colonial days." His picture of the ruin and its wild surroundings has not been overdrawn. This writer has spent many hours on the wild, weird spot- not, however, in searching for Blackbeard's buried treasure, but in endeavoring to recall the traditions connected therewith, and in speculating upon the origin and history of the Old Stone House.

Before the war the "Devil's Wood Yard." surrounding the building, was a primeval forest, so dense and dark in its deep gorges that it was a favorite hiding place for runaway slaves. Local tradition made it the scene of many mysterious occurrences, and deeds of blood are said to have been enacted in its unexplored recesses.

The superstitious avoided the place where it was said the ghosts of Blackbeard's murdered victims walked in the dim daylight and held high carnival when the shadows changed to gloom.
In 1865 the north and east walls of the Stone House were in a state of preservation and the chimney end next to York river showed but little dilapidation. Many names, dates, and initials were carved in the the stones, but most of the dates were comparatively modern. One, however, over the fire-place, thus; "J. Mon--, 1775," left little room for doubt that it was carved by James Monroe, afterwards President of the United States, when he was a student at William and Mary College. The name was probably written out in full, but the stone containing the last three letters had been displaced. 
Your correspondent '"W." revives the tradition that the house was built by the famous, or rather infamous, pirate BlackBeard. This, however, is nothing more than tradition without a particle of historical authority to support it. This theory of construction robs the ruin of much of its credit for antiquity. Blackbeard "ravaged the seas" about the years 1717-18, and the Stone House probably antedates this period by fully one hundred year. 
 In Howe's History of Virginia there is a cut representing the house and it also contains several pages descriptive of the ruin. The author quotes from an article written by C. C. (Charles Campbell, Esq.), in which that writer adduces proof wellnigh conclusive that this "fort " was built by a Captain John Smith, as early as 1608-'9.* If his theory of its origin is correct, then the stone house is the only remaining material monument of the labor and enterprise of the "Father of Virginia." and it is the ruin of the oldest house built by English hands in America. Howe, in 1845, erroneously locates the ruin in New Kent county. As stated by "W.," it is on the lower side of Ware Creek, and consequently In James City county. It was in New Kent until the year 1766, when the eastern boundary of that county was changed from Scimino creek to Ware creek. And just here it will be observed that "W.," gives to this latter creek the spelling adopted in our recent statutes, The proper spelling is not Weir, but Ware. The creek was named for Robert Ware, who patented large tracts of land on both sides of the stream in the early days of the colony, and this spelling is uniformly employed in Henning.

There are many other objects of interest to the Antiquarian in this section of the state. New Kent, although not one of the original shires, was one of the oldest counties in the Old Dominion, It was created in 1654, and extended from Scimino creek, some distance below Williamsburg, to the heads of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers and thence down on the north side to Poropotank creek, embracing within these bounds the land included in in its present limits, the counties of Hanover, King William, King and Queen, and a portion of James City and Caroline, The county was divided into three parishes. Bishop Meade says: "On the north of the York and Pamunkey rivers there was a parish called St. John's, and on the south one called St. peters. About the year 1684 or 1685 a parish east of St. Peter's, on Pamunkey and York rivers, was formed by the name of Blissland, which continued to have a minister until alter the Revolutionary war."

He further says, page 388:
"Of Blissland parish a few words will suffice for the little we have to say of this. No vestry-book remains to tell its history. What has become of its church. I am unable to say. Perhaps I may yet learn."
In the appendix on the last page of Volume two of the second edition of his work he continues:
"Since the first edition of this book I have received a fragment of the vestrybook of this (Blissland) parish * * *. The services of its ministers are supposed to have been divided between Warre church, so called from the swamp of that name about ten miles below New Kent Courthouse, which has entirely disappeared, and Hickory Neck church, in James City county, which is still standing."
It will be perceived that Bishop Meade gives the year 1684 or 1685 as the date of the formation of Blissland parish, and states that it was formed from St. Peter' s parish. Blissland parish certainly existed before the dates here given, as the following extracts will show, and it is probable that St. Peters was formed from it. 
In the 1st volume Calender of Virginia, State Papers, page 11, a copy of the following document may be found : 
"At a Gen'l Court held at James City April 29th, 1679- present, &c., * * *_ the Parish of Blissland petitioning yt, by unanimous consent of ye whole pariah a division by sufficient men by them chosen is made of ye s'd, p-'ish and praying that ye Division be confirmed, and ffowre of ye vestry appearing and affirming that ye Division was made by consent of ye parish, this court therefore confirmed the s'd Division. "
          Vcr. cop. teste: W. P. EDWARDS, e'l'k Gen'l C't."

That Blissland was the mother parish of the county is more than probable, and this view is strengthened by the fact that the first settlements were made in the lower end, or that portion of the county nearest to "James City" (Jamestown) and Williamsburg. While on a recent visit to lower New Kent the writer determined to ascertain, if possible, the exact location of the church alluded to by Bishop Meade, Accompanied by Mr. A. P. Richardson, who is probably better acquainted with the country than any other inhabitants, search was first made for Warren church. Its exact location is known to but few, and it was only after persistent questioning that Old Peter, an octogenarian darky, was "brought to his remembrance," and piloted by him through thick undergrowth, the spot was finally reached.

The site selected for the church is on a commanding eminence about two miles west of Eltham. On the brow of the hill, in a beautiful grove of oaks, were wen unmistakable evidence which marked the spot where, more than two hundred years ago, our forefathers met to worship God. Portions of the foundation walls still remain, and the form and size of the building could easily be traced. The church was built of English bricks, and was 36 by 60 feet, with a transept at the northern end 25 by 20 feet. 
The course of the wall which surrounded the church could also be traced, it enclosed something more than half an acre, which was the burial-ground, and two well-preserved granite slabs marked the spot where two sleepers slept.

There are probably other tomb-stones, but if so they have been covered by the leave and trees and debris of more than a century.

The epitaphs on these stones are as follows:
"Here lies interred the body of Mr. John Long, of Ramsgate, in the county of Kent, in Great Brttain, late commander of the ship John and Mary, who departed this life the 24th of July, 1736 aged twenty five years." 
Above this epitaph is the coat-of-arms, which the Writer will not attempt to describe in technical language, because he does not know how to do so. It represents a helmet with flowing plume resting on a shield, in the centre of which is a lion rampant. No motto or other device than that described can be perceived. The other is as follows: 
"Here lyeth interred the body of Doctor Thomas Arnott, who departed this life the 29th day of .January, 1745, aged thirtyeight years.
Here, as at the Stone House the work of the "vandal hand" may seen. The Old church has been entirely demolished, and all the whole bricks above the surface of the earth, even those supporting the tombstones, have been carted away. These bricks, imported from beyond the seas to serve the pious purpose of erecting a temple for the Lord, have all been "appropriated" to serve the "utilitarian spirit of the age" in paving a barnyard or erecting a kitchen chimney.

The church at Hickory Neck, in James City county, about twelve miles from Williamsburg, is still standing and well preserved. Around this church there are two tombstone of black marble containing the following inscription; 
"Here lies Interred the lindy of Col. John Taliaferro, of Snow Creek, in the county of Spottsylvania, who departed this life the third day of March, A. D. 1744,, in the 57th [or 87th] year of his age. He left issue 2 sons and 3 daughters.
The second reads:
"Here lies the body of Lawrence Taliaferro, son of Col. John Taliaferro, of Snow Hill, in Spottsylvania county, who departed this life the first day of May, 1748, in the 27th year of his age, He married Susan Power, daughter of Maj. Henry Power, of James City county, and left issue by her one daughter.” 
Much more might be written of other places of interest in this section of the state- of Eltham, the seat of the Bassetts, where George Washington and his charming bride were entertained by old time "dinging" on the day succeeding their marriage; of the Brick House opposite West Point, the seat of the Lewises and later of the Robinsons, with its desecrated family vault, and the solitary tombstone in a corn-field of Captain John King, who was buried in 1701: but this communication is already to lengthy, and probably is enough of the past to be of any interest to those of the busy, bustling present.                 
D. C. R.
-Daily Dispatch, 26 August 1883

*The conclusions about John Smith should be treated as skeptically as the claims in the previous article about Black Beard.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Colonial Relic on Ware Creek

Today we begin a couple of long nineteenth century newspapers pieces on the "Old Stone House" that used to sit on the James City side of Ware Creek not far from the York River. These articles are relevant for a New Kent blog not only because the site is directly on the border with New Kent, but because ill 1766 all that part of James City was part of New Kent. So the colonial history of "Stone House" is by and large measure also New Kent history.

A language warning for common nineteenth century racial terms

An Almost-Forgotten Locality- Was it a Haunt of Black Beard the Pirate?- A Treasure-Hunter Interrupted- Legends Speculations. 

[Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch.
                                                                            WILLIAMSBURG, August 17, 1883
Stone House is a magisterial district of James City county, situated in the Upper part, and it is bounded on the north and east by New Kent county and York River. Politically noticed, it is a Mahonite stronghold- so much so that during the spring canvas the cry of Stone House was considered a talisman of success; but its claim to celebrity can scarcely be attributed to that fact. The district received its name from an old stone house within its limits, concerning which little is known and less has been written, and although there is an account of an old house, supposed to be the one in question, in Howe's history, local records fail to furnish any clue whatever on the subject. Some wild and obscure traditions prevail about its construction and original uses, in which the superstitious negroes strongly believe, as will presently be seen. The knowledge of the exact location of his interesting relic is known to comparatively few residents of the county, being continued to the lumber-dealers, the hands in their employ, and hunters whose pursuit of game among the swamps and forest of that lonely section made them accidentally acquainted with it. In Williamsburg eighteen miles distant, many know not even of its existence. To visit this hidden fragment of the early settlement had long been determined on, and the proposal of a brother-enthusiast hastened the writer to gratify his curiosity. So on the morning of the 16th these kindred spirits were seen, fittingly mounted, en route for the land of is unknown- two most zealous searchers among "the misty shades of things that were." 


Along the main road, which is intersected at short distances by the railroad, there are plenty of objects to enliven a journey. Each station forms a nucleus for a store, blacksmith shop, and dwelling, All of the land is under cultivation. New houses peep out from the clearings in every direction, and the saw-mills rasping away down in the woods tell of more to come. But as the route diverges the stirring influence of the railroad gradually disappears. The houses are further apart, and the forest is deeper. Occasionally a single horseman is met, and the measured stroke of the woodman's axe, far down in the pines, alone serves to break the monotony 


Having at length reached Mr. R. P. Wright's, the gentleman who was to conduct us to the old ruin, and to whom the reader is indebted for the information obtained, we proceeded in company. Mr. Wright's home is some miles form the old house, and excepting a negro's hut in the woods is the nearest dwelling. Signs of life became now even less frequent, the long ricks of cord-wood being the only evidence of the vicinity of man. The county road was soon abandoned for a wood road, which, in turn, was left for one still more difficult, being involved among heavy ravines. Finally we tied the horses on the border a large swamp. and continued on foot. The stone-house tract contains 300 acres, and is the property of Mr. A. P. Richardson. Much of the timber has been cut, but there is still a fine body left, in which deer, turkey, and other game abound. The old ruin is situated on a bluff overlooking Weir Creek, about three miles, air-line from York river, and so difficult of access is it that our conductor, although he had been there several times before, at first missed the approach. 


This approach is a narrow ridge between two deep, impassable swamps. At one point it contracts to a width of ten feet. the sides falling away at a steep angle into the morass fifty feet below. The ridge rises at an easy grade until it expands into a small plateau full eighty feet above the waters of the creek at its base. Here, amid the tangled undergrowth, stands what is left of the old stone house, The situation, it will be seen at a glance, is of the strongest kind, and if properly defended, was well nigh impregnable to assault with the weapons of two hundred years ago. 


The walk over had bees enlivened by relating the received traditions connected with the place, which say that it was rendezvous of the pirate Black Beard, where he deposited much of his plunder and concealed his treasure. The negroes firmly believe these traditions, and from time immemorial it has been their habit to go there secretly and dig for the pirate's money which has resulted in the almost total destruction of the old house. Indeed we came near witnessing a money-digger at his work, a veritable realization of Irving's interesting legends of the treasures of Captain Kidd and its seekers along the shores of Manhattan Island. Just before we reached the spot a negro was seen to issue suspiciously from the bushes, and passing us with rapid step disappeared in the direction from which we came. Upon our arrival we found that be had just knocked off work, leaving three big holes in the ground and the freshly scattered stones of the only remaining wall as the existence of the faith that was in him. Could we have come suddenly upon him while digging there is no doubt that there would have been a real enactment of the scenes depicted in the "Money-Diggers," in which the darky, like Wolfert Webber, Dr. Knipperhauen. and the black fisherman,* would have run himself nearly to death, and fresh stories of the terrible Black Beard been added to the already haunted reputation of the place. 


The old house is much smaller than was supposed being only 14 feet wide and 16 feet long, but it bears the stamp of genuineness that cannot be mistaken. Our informant states that upon his first visit the wall just demolished was intact; it was 10 feet from the ground to the eaves and had a sharp gable. The material used is a coarse sandstone so strongly impregnated with iron that it bears that color. The stones are neatly hewn, mortar being used to cement them. 'I'he stone was procured near by, where it may still be seen cropping through the surface of the ground, The walls are two feet thick, with a narrow doorway, facing east, and the chimney stood at the opposite end. There were originally six apertures for firearms, the best preserved of which are just wide enough on the outside to admit the barrel of a blunderbuss, and enlarged within to secure wider range. 


The place was evidently a stronghold of some kind- most probably a refuge during the Indian wars- selected on account of it natural strength. The miry swamps on the inland side, proof even against the active step of an Indian warrior, prevented approach from the interior except by the narrow ridge, which was no doubt commanded other defenses than the house. 


On the other side is the creek, with the bluff rising from it. Besides the diggings of the last prospector the ground is pitted all around, where his numerous predecessors had delved in vain. One particularly large hole at the foot of a tree is the work of an old darky who dreamed that that was the location of the treasure, and he solemnly swears that he had actually struck the gold, when a terrific whirlwind arose, accompanied by such infernal manifestation that he fled for his life. Repeated failures had led to a cessation of the practice, when a solitary dweller in that region reported that a peculiarly-constructed and foreign looking craft had anchored off the creek, sent a boat up, and sailed again immediately on its return. 


This revived the treasure-seeking, which is still kept up. Mr. Wright states that about the time of the Yorktown Centennial a strange man came to his place and slept in an out-house one night. He was miserably clad, and had the appearance of being an ordinary tramp. But the shrew questions which he put about the old stone house and the knowledge of Virginia history displayed by him was utterly at variance with the assumed character. he disappeared as suddenly as he came. Sight of the excavations for his treasures recalls some of the history of the pirate Black Beard.† He was an Englishman by birth whose proper name was John Teach, the name of Black Beard being given from his tremendous beard of that color. His haunts were were the Chesapeake, its tributaries and the Carolina sounds, and a more ferocious scoundrel never robbed a ship or made its crew walk the plank. During Governor Spotswood's administration John Spotswood, the Governor's son, assisted by an English war-vessel, discovered the pirate in Albemarle Sound. A bloody fight ensued, and Black Beard, seeing escape impossible, determined to blow up his vessel, and destroy both friends and enemies, but was killed while making the attempt. While not probable, it is not beyond possibility that the traditions connected with the old stone house may have some foundation. The water in the creek below is still eighteen feet deep, and the present bat at its mouth may have been smaller in earlier days, in which case it would not have been very difficult to warp a narrow pirate vessel to the foot of the bluff where it was as secure from detection as the dead trees in the forest around.To one disposed to linger among the relics of the pioneer settlements, or in any way given to speculating over the unwritten pages of our early history, the old stone house in James City county is particularly interesting, While one is sitting on its loosened foundations the imagination soon beings to assert itself: everything is so melancholy and still, the very solitude seems to be swelled with some fearful secret, and so oppressive is the silence that the shrill chatter of the kingfisher as he plunges into the creek below and makes off with his scaly morsel is absolutely startling


Something extraordinary, either of wild revelry or deadly strife, must have happened there once. Possibly the fierce Black Beard and his lawless crew once used it as lurking-place, and fresh from murder on the high-seas laden with the wealth of some rich galleon, they made merry over their blood-stained spoils and passed the time in maddened debauch. Perhaps the bold pioneers, standing guard around their wives and children, there awaited the midnight attack, and as the waning moon sank behind the pines, the painted warriors, tomahawk in their teeth, came clambering up the steep banks and sent the curdling war-whoop echoing through the darkness; and then, amid the shrieks of women, deafening gun-shots, groans, and all the sounds of desperate resistance, was enacted the horrors of an Indian massacre. Long before the late war, in consequence of its well-preserved condition, it was more frequently visited than now, and many names of those visitors, with dates, are to be seen cut in the stone. The only clearly-defined date was 1849. and the fragments brought away by the writer contained the initials H. H. B. and W. E. B.

 -Daily Dispatch, 19 August 1883

* "Wolfert Webber, Dr. Knipperhauen. and the black fisherman," is a reference to characters from the Washington Irving story, "The Adventures of the Black Fisherman." The "Money Diggers" is an 1832 painting depicting a scene from the story.

† All the following information about Black Beard should be treated with caution.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Women's Day

On this International Women's Day (though it is a Marxist holiday, but enough about that. . .) it seems like a good idea to touch on some of the firsts in women's history that that took place in New Kent.

There is Mrs. Belle B. Turner of Lanexa, the first women in Virginia elected trustee on a county school board in 1920. 

There is Katherine Joyce Spivey, a Providence Forge attorney, who in 1961 was elected New Kent's Commonwealth's Attorney, the first woman in Virginia to hold that post. Hers is a story I haven't got around to telling here yet.

And then there is the odd case of the New Kent woman who was declared head of her household by a Federal Court.