Broken Promises

The lives of our ancestors are often seen as distant and not relevant to our contemporary lives. They are merely names and dates, words on a piece of paper or computer screen. Chancery causes, such as those preserved digitally at the Library of Virginia, can reveal much about long-ago family members: desires, passions, habits, even their health.

Cumberland County taverns were probably buzzing with rumors about the Hendricks and Womacks in 1779. The Hendricks were well known tavern kee

womack descendant chart_web

pers and William Womack was a prosperous Cumberland County farmer. The families were joined on November 20, 1777, when John Hendrick married Judi

th Womack. John was at least 22 years-old, and Judith was about 20 and the youngest daughter of William Womack. The young couple lived with William for a little over a y

ear after their marriage. Their departure resulted in litigation, making their private troubles public gossip.

John and Judith Hendrick filed a chancery cause against William Womack in 1779. The Revolutionary War was being fought across Virginia but John and Judith were litigating broken promises. They alleged that William had promised them, on the condition of marriage, three slaves, Sampson, Fam and Dinah or Rachel. He also promised that upon his death they would receive his land on the south side of Da

venport Road, and more than half of his estate. Their written statement says they married on the basis of this promise and John’s “tender and affectionate love” for Judith, and “lived together in the greatest harmony and most peaceful happiness.” Since their marriage, the couple had asked William “in a dutiful and friendly manner” to comply with his promises. So far, William had only delivered Dinah, and John and Judith were not satisfied.

Friends and neighbors were called to court to testify. Joseph Starkey was deposed on June 26, 1780, but the deposition is too faded to read. The testimony of John Davis, taken in 1780, is also hard to read, but describes an evening in 1777 he spent in the company of John Hendrick and William Womack. The men were drinking, perhaps coffee, laughing and talking.

John Langhorne recalled an evening with William in 1776, “I expect it will not be long before my daughter Judith be married… I have no Objection to John Hendrick. I suppose when I die I may give her near half that I have.”

Richard Allen described an evening in the company of Bernard Gains and William Womack. This was a few days before John and Judith’s wedding. “The said William further declared that he would make them, the said John & Judith, worth eight hundred pounds on the day of their marriage” by giving them three negroes. He also intended to give the young couple his land on the south side of Davenport Road. “The said John was to live with him and take care of him during his Life, this deponent further said the said William appeared to be in liquor & appeared much pleasured with his daughters intended marriage.” Bernard Gains confirmed much of this statement in his testimony.

Finally, John Howell relayed that John Hendrick told him about the gifts promised by William Womack and indicated that he and Judith would be living with William. However, John also said that he did not understand that the Hendricks were bound to live with Womack in consideration of the gifts.

When this suit was brought against him, William Womack was an old man of about seventy years, considered quite elderly in those times. He readily agreed that he had consented to Judith and John’s marriage, but denied there was a marriage contract or that he had promised them slaves or land before his death. “This Respondt. readily admits that he had made his Will & bequeath’d the Negroes aforsaid to his Daughter Judith on his death previous to her marriage, but as a condition to be perform’d on her part, She was to Continue to live with This Respond’t during his life, and to discharge those duties which a Parent hath aright to demand of a Child, and which this Respond’t call’d forcibly for, being not only subjected to the infirmitys incident to old age, in general, but also laboring under the inexpressible misfortune of the loss of his sight.”

William further explains this was made clear to John prior to the marriage. “Your Respondent further answering that although his said Daughter had repeatedly promised him to live with him, & take proper care of him during life,… yet, the said Judith regardless of her said promises, which the common dictates of Humanity should have prompted a strict compliance with, has in violation of filial duty, departed from this Respondents House, in about a year or little more after marriage, altho he the said Respondt gave her no sufficient cause, and left him in the most disconsolate, & Solitary situation.”

As the youngest daughter of the widowed, infirm and blind William Womack, Judith was expected to care for him the rest of his life. In return, she expected slaves, property and more. John Hendrick said the gifts were promised upon marriage. William Womack viewed the gifts as a conditional inheritance.

When the depositions were done, John Hendrick notified the Court that he had reached a private settlement with William Womack without disclosing the agreement details. When William Womack died eleven years later in 1791, he only left to daughter Judith, one slave, Dinah, who was already in her possession. The remainder of his substantial estate was divided between his other six children. It appears the litigation and broken promises created a lasting rift between father and daughter.

William Womack is my 6x great-grandfather. John Hendrick and Judith Womack are my 5x great grandparents. Their daughter, Sally Hendrick, and Isham Ball are my 4x great-grandparents. Following Judith’s death, John Hendrick married Isham Ball’s younger sister Martha Ball. Hendrick and Ball were affluent farmers and innkeepers.

logoWilliam Womack is a DAR patriot for his support of the troops with supplies.

John Hendrick is a DAR patriot for his service as a soldier.

Descendants of these men are eligible for DAR membership.

Quotes and facts in this article are from 1781-001 Cumberland Chancery Causes, John Hendrick and Wife vs William Womack, Library of Virginia.


A New DAR Patriot

logoMy fourth great-grandfather James Ball’s patriotic service to the American Revolution was verified by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) on October 13, 2017. The DAR sets a high bar for confirming new Patriots and I’m delighted that now other female descendants of James Ball can honor and remember his service to the American Revolution with a membership in the DAR.

James Ball was born about 1733, probably in Middlesex County, Virginia, the second child of Valentine Ball and Susannah Lewis. He operated a tavern in Henrico County prior to moving to Chesterfield County about 1767. Donna Rachal Mills writes in Some Southern Balls, “There in Chesterfield he rose in society—serving numerous times as county jailer, road surveyor and keeper, jury member, and public safety commissioner (during the Revolution) as well as operating two large and extremely profitable plantations.”

James earned his Patriot status by serving as Public Service Commissioner during the War, contributing goods to the cause and signing petitions–all treasonous acts for Virginia residents. His son, Valentine, is a DAR patriot for military service and his son, Daniel, received a Revolutionary War pension for his military service. Daughter Nancy received a pension for the military service of her husband, Samuel Miller.

He was the father of nine children: Valentine; William; Nancy; Daniel; Martha; Elizabeth; James; Archer and Isham.

Thank you, James Ball, for your contributions to the American Revolution. It’s an honor to live in this great nation founded through the efforts of extraordinary men and women like you.

A Singapore Ghost

One of the great adventures of my life was living in Singapore in 1979 and 1980. Jesse was working for GATX and we relocated to Singapore when he was offered the opportunity to manage the company office there. I only lived in Singapore for a little over a year, but my experience there as an expatriate changed me forever and provided a treasure of memories.

Singapore skyline in 1979. Photo by Vanessa Crews.

Singapore in 1979 was a beautiful modern Asian city. Skyscrapers towered over the Singapore Strait, pure sparkling drinkable water flowed from the taps and new model cars filled the roads. And yet, there was always something old, something mysterious around the corner. The tropical air carried just a whiff of decay and heaviness blending with the delicious aromas of curries and stir fries.

Emerald Way 1979. Photo by Vanessa Crews

Home for me, Jesse and our infant son, Brian, was 34 K Cairnhill Court. This was a modern multistory building with two rows of townhouses facing a central courtyard and pool. We lived in a spacious flat on the tenth floor. Leaving our property, we strolled down the historic Emerald Way lined with traditional townhomes and small family businesses to the bustling Orchard Road filled with modern department stores and shopping. Lives and cultures, the old and the new, mingled in our little corner of Singapore.

Baby Brian rose early and many mornings I took him out to enjoy the “cooler” air. We sat in the courtyard with the amahs and their little charges, who were enjoying the pool and lawn. Most spoke English and I enjoyed our conversations. I was considering hiring a live-in amah and asked the group for their advice. They immediately wanted to know which flat I lived in. “Oh”, they exclaimed, “No one will work for Missy if you live on the eighth floor.” I explained that this wasn’t a problem for me, as I lived on the tenth floor, and curiously inquired about the eighth floor’s problems, expecting to learn about plumbing problems or broken elevators.

“No one will work on the eighth floor because of the ghost! Only foreign amahs will live in this building!” exclaimed one amah. Others chimed in, “Oh yes, this is true Missy, many have seen this ghost. Just ask Mr. Lim. He will tell you.”

“Really? A ghost? Please, tell me more…,” I replied. The amahs explained that several years before the resident of the eighth floor had killed his wife, put her body in a trunk and kept her there. When the trunk was opened the murdered wife’s spirit escaped, and now she haunts this building.

Like most cultures, ghosts have a strong presence in Chinese folklore. A violent or unhappy death can lead to a lingering, sometimes malignant spirit. The corpse and especially bones remain powerful and it is vital to perform proper burial rituals to avoid a wandering and hungry ghost.

Curiosity piqued, I asked the building manager, Mr. Lim, about the ghost. Well, yes, there had been a corpse on the eighth floor, but I should not be troubled by this. Purification rituals had cleansed the building of ghosts and any day he expected to have the unit rented. “But, Mr. Lim,” I persisted, “tell me about this murder. How did our building acquire a ghost?” Mr. Lim gently shook his head and moved on.

Later, neighbor and new friend, Sue Green, shared that security guards and amahs sometimes reported seeing the ghost of the murdered woman. No local would rent the apartment and expatriates couldn’t get help, so they also refused to live there. The ghost was the only occupant of the eighth floor of Cairnhill Court. Jesse’s GATX colleague and friend, Wong See Ming, related that a British expatriate had murdered his Thai wife and stored her body in his eighth-floor flat.

Recalling our eighth-floor ghost, I recently turned to digital newspaper archives to learn more about this gruesome tale. It is chilling and had I known all of the facts I, too, may have wondered about ghosts in the night.

Michael Charles Cully, a 47-year-old British citizen, his 44-year-old Thai wife, Linda, and their fourteen-year-old son, Charles, arrived in Singapore in January 1974. Michael was a refrigeration expert and managed the Asian operations of an American firm. The couple had been together since at least 1958 when they flew TWA from London to New York. Their US arrivals cards indicate Michael was doing business with Westinghouse.1

In May 1974, the couple had been living in a Hilton Hotel suite in Singapore for four months. Hotel life may have been particularly challenging for Linda. Their son, Charles, described a stormy relationship and said Linda was incensed about Michael’s (professional) relationship with his secretary. She demanded that he fire her.

Reflecting on the eighth-floor tragedy 38 years later, it is apparent that the strains of an expatriate life contributed to the murder. Moving to a new country in the pre-internet society could be stressful and isolating. Singapore provided one employment visa per household, and in 1979, this usually went to the husband. Managing an overseas operation was challenging, engrossing and exciting, providing many opportunities for socialization and engagement. The “at home” spouse was sometimes isolated, adrift in a strange country with no friends or family for support. A fragile or unhappy relationship can easily explode in this environment.

Charles last saw his mother on a May morning about 7 am, when he left for school. Late that afternoon, when Charles returned home, Michael told him he had murdered his mother. Charles loved his father and chose to protect him from a certain execution by hanging. He told no one. Michael and Charles moved to 34 E Cairnhill Court and Linda’s body accompanied them. She was dismembered into 13 pieces and sealed in four plastic packages and placed in a wooden box. The box was concealed in a metal trunk, sealed with fiberglass and tar. Michael and Charles lived with Linda’s body on the eighth floor.

Michael died of a heart condition two years later on April 16, 1976, while on a trip to Australia. Charles, then 16, returned home to Singapore and informed the police about the location of his mother’s body. Much to the chagrin of Cairnhill Court residents, police opened the trunk on April 21, 1976 and revealed its gruesome contents on the eighth floor, releasing spirits and mystery to haunt Cairnhill Court.

Cairnhill Court was demolished about 2010 to make way for new luxurious high-rises. All is new and glistening on Cairnhill Court, but I wonder, does a hungry ghost of a once passionate Thai woman slip among the shadows?


  1. New York State, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1917-1966,

Read articles about the murder at the National Library of Singapore’s newspaper archive website:
The Smell of Death, New Nation, 22 April 1976, Page 1


With Father’s Day fast approaching, George E. Shumaker of Buckingham County, Virginia, stands out among all the fathers in my genealogy files, as the father of 25 children. Yes, you read that correctly, 25 children!

George Shumaker
George E. Shumaker

George is the great-grandfather of my husband, Jesse Crews. He was born in Buckingham County, Virginia on December 14, 1846. He probably never attended school as census records indicate George could not read or write. George was a farmer and did not own his home. Late in his life, George lived at Rolfeton, a beautiful country home seen in the background of the bottom photo. He may have been a caretaker or renting the farm. He died in Buckingham County on December 1, 1935, from a cerebral hemorrhage. His eighty-ninth birthday was only two weeks away.

George married three times. His first marriage was to Laura Newton, daughter of James Newton and Mahala Ann Taylor. They married on January 25, 1867, in Buckingham County. Seventeen children were born to this couple. Only six of these children are known to have lived to adulthood. Laura probably died soon after the last child was born in July 1885. She was only about 38 years-old. The loss of seven little babies, two small children and their mother, all in the years before 1886, must have left a cloudburst of grief raining over the Shumaker home.

Children of George E. Shumaker and Laura Newton:
1. Mary Elizabeth Shumaker (Newton): July 3, 1864 – February 26, 1939, married George W. Davis.
2. Ida Shumaker: December 1867 – Abt. 1911: married Benjamin S. Robertson
3. Unnamed Baby Boy Shumaker: February 1869 – February 1869.
4. Jenny Shumaker: August 25, 1870 – Before 1880.
5. Sarah Jane Shumaker: October 1872 – April 21, 1952, married Joseph Walker Doss.
6. Margaret Frances “Maggie” Shumaker: September 12, 1873 – March 6, 1952, married Samuel J. Wharam.
7. George E. Shumaker, October 1874 – Bef. 1880.
8. Hattie Blanche Shumaker: December 24, 1877 – November 6, 1969, married Peter W. Doss.
9. John W. Shumaker: 1877 – unknown.
10. Emma Shumaker: December 1878 – May 1879.
11. Laura “Dotsie” Shumaker: 1878 – September 17, 1913, married (?) Taylor.
12.  Emma Shumaker: March 10, 1880.
13. Frank Emmett Shumaker: March 10, 1880. He was shot and accidentally killed by a half-brother. The 1880 census taker recorded that Frank was 3/12 months old and born in February. Two other infants, recorded on the same page by the same census taker, were listed as 3/12 months old. One was give a birth month of March and another April. Frank and Emma were apparently twins born in early spring of 1880. Emma did not survive and wasn’t named on the 1880 census.
14. No Name Shumaker: March 1882.
15. No Name Shumaker: June 1883 – August 16, 1883.
16. No Name Shumaker: January 1884 – June 3, 1884.
17. No Name Shumaker: July 10, 1885.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.04.42 PM
Nannie Belle Sprouse

George next married Nannie Belle Sprouse, daughter of Henry Wesley Sprouse and Mary Jane Shephard, on February 11, 1886, in Buckingham County. Nannie Belle and George had seven children, including Jesse’s grandmother, Minnie Shumaker. “According to family legend, Nannie Belle was in bed sick and pregnant. George gave her a dose of turpentine to make her feel better. Not long after, she sat straight up in bed and died.”1 Nannie Belle was about 31 years-old when she died. Today we think of turpentine as paint thinner, but in prior years it had many medical uses. It was used to speed up childbirth and to stop postpartum hemorrhaging. Nannie Belle died between 1898 and 1900 when George appears as a widower in the 1900 census. George and Nannie Belle had seven children, of whom six lived to adulthood.

Children of George E. Shumaker and Nannie Belle Sprouse:
18. John E. Shumaker: September 15, 1886 – before December 1887.
19. John Edward Shumaker: December 17, 1887 – November 16, 1945, married Nina Pearl Via.
20. Charles Harrison Shumaker: July 4, 1889 – November 7, 1971, married Emma Goin.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.15.38 PM
Sisters Minnie and Mary

21. Mary Elizabeth Shumaker: September 19, 1891 – February 7, 1966, married Phillip Taylor.
22. Alice Reems Shumaker: October 15, 1892 – February 27, 1978, married George Taylor.
23. George M. “Reuben” Shumaker: March 17, 1896 – November 23, 1966, married Minnie Ragland.
24. Minnie Virginia Shumaker (Jesse’s grandmother): May 18, 1898 – January 24, 1979, married Joel Peter Crews.

George Shumaker family

George’s final marriage was to Pauline Susan McFadden on October 1, 1903, in Buckingham County. This marriage produced one known child.

25. Beulah Genevieve Shumaker: February 28, 1904 – December 12, 1980, married George Lann.


  1. Clark, Kimberly Shumaker. The Shumaker/Shoemaker families of Buckingham County, Virginia. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 2008. Print. Pages 5-8. I extend my sincere appreciation to Kimberly Shumaker Clark. Ms. Clark gave permission to publish the photos and records of George E. Shoemaker and his progeny. Virginia did not issue birth or death certificates until 1911 and it requires enormous effort to document pre-1911 families- especially one as large as that of George Shumaker. Some births and deaths were recorded at the county courthouse, but the dates can be wrong because the information was often supplied by helpful neighbors and family. Children could be entirely missed by the census taker. Sometimes the census taker spoke with someone who supplied incorrect information. Often individuals used different birthdays and even different names throughout their life. Putting together a record of George Shumaker’s 25 children was a challenging and still evolving task.

Cousin Reunion

When my husband invited me to attend a national home winemaking conference in Ithaca, New York, my initial reaction was negative. I reconsidered when I looked at a map and realized that Ithaca was only an hour from Auburn, New York. Suddenly flying nearly 3,000 miles across the country seemed like a very good idea. I immediately arranged to visit four second cousins I hadn’t seen in over 50 years.

Cousins 1
L-R: Candy Chandler, Gary Morrissett, Nancy Chandler, Vanessa Sykes. June 15, 1961

The Chandler siblings were born and raised in Auburn, but their mother, Anne, and grandmother, Kathleen, were native Virginians. Most summers they loaded the family station wagon and drove to Chesterfield County, Virginia to spend a few weeks among friends and family. They would stay with my grandparents, and my mother’s siblings would gather to visit with their cousin Ann and Aunt Kathleen. Cousins Candy, Nancy and I were roughly the same age and I anticipated their visits with great eagerness. New York cousins were quite exotic to this little Virginia girl! We shared cold watermelon and fresh corn from Papa’s garden, hunted for four leaf clovers, made daisy wreaths and whiled away the hours on a swing underneath the shelter of a towering tree. Our little fingers shelled pans of butterbeans, just picked in the garden. I was rarely allowed to help with the harvest as my mother feared the many snakes who resided among the tomatoes and beans. While the aunts and uncles lingered, chatting in the twilight, we filled mason jars with “lightening bugs”.

More than 50 years later I was delighted to spend an afternoon visiting with my Chandler cousins. We reminisced about muggy Virginia summer days, swapped photos and stories and talked about our shared Virginia heritage. Thank you Lou, Candy, Nancy and Cindy for such a warm and memorable visit.

L-R Standing: Cindy, Nancy, Lou and Vanessa. Seated: Candy. June 2, 2017




Crews Brothers and Sailors

The original newspaper clipping is in the possession of Joanne Crews. The clipping is undated and unsourced.

This is the earliest photo we have of Jesse’s father, George Van Crews, and we treasure it. These three handsome Sailors are the sons of Joseph (Joel) Peter and Minnie Shumaker Crews. The boys had a younger sister, Dorothy, still at home.

All three Crews brothers would serve in combat zones in the Pacific by the end of the war in 1945.

Raymond enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and was on duty in Little Creek, Virginia when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He served on landing ship tank (hospital) USS LST(H)-949 when it was part of the Battle of Okinawa, earning multiple medals and battle stars.

George enlisted in the Navy on September 11, 1942 and served on cruiser, USS Minneapolis, and aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. While on board Minneapolis he earned two medals, the Asiatic Pacific and the Philippine Liberation, as well as seven battle stars.

Joseph was only 16 years old when he enlisted in the Navy. His age and the fact that he already had two brothers on active duty in combat zones complicated enlistment, but young Joseph was determined. He served on destroyer USS Gillespie and attack transport, USS Tazewell. Gillespie patrolled the waters around New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and came under repeated air attacks but avoided damage.  While on Tazewell, Joseph participated in the Battle of Okinawa and earned multiple medals and battle stars.

The safe return of these sailors brought great joy to their family following the war years of fear and anxiety. Like others of the Greatest Generation Raymond, George and Joseph put the adventures and hardships of war behind them. Raymond and George found jobs at nearby Reynolds and Dupont plants and Joseph worked at the McGuire VA Hospital. They married and raised families, always putting duty first. They survived the war, but the brothers still left this world much too soon. Raymond died in 1966 at the age of 47. George passed away in 1987, 63 years old and Joseph died in 1988 at the age of 62.

Here’s to you, Raymond, George and Joseph Crews–three of the 12,209,238 men and women who served in the US Armed Forces during World War II.1


  1. Visit the website of the National World War II Museum to see this and other statistics of World War II.




Henry Wesley Sprouse and His Children

Henry Wesley Sprouse and all his children
Front Row from left: Frank, Mary and Jane. Second row from left: Martha, Peggy (second wife), Edmund, Henry Wesley Sprouse, Fitzhugh and William. Back row from left: Thomas, Pocahontas, Nannie Belle, Charles, James, Elbon Booney, and John Josiah.

This cherished family portrait features Henry Wesley Sprouse, his second wife, Peggy Jane Taylor and Henry’s fourteen children. Henry was born in Virginia in 1826 and probably lived his entire life in Buckingham County,  where he died February 11, 1901. His obituary in the Richmond Dispatch reads:

Mr. H. W. Sprouce, an old and respected citizen, was buried at his home yesterday.

The photo is undated, but was probably taken circa 1891. Henry was about 65 years old. Fitzhugh, the youngest child was born in 1886 and here he appears to be about five years old. Nannie Belle died  in 1898. Thomas and James died in 1899, followed by Mary in 1900, so the gathering of the family for this portrait is especially poignant.

Thank you to the Sprouse cousins who preserved and shared this photo.

Henry Wesley Sprouse is the 2x great-grandfather of Jesse Crews. Henry’s daughter Nannie Bell is Jesse’s great-grandmother.