Grace Church: Built by Jim Crews & Sons

 

Grace Church
Grace Episcopal Church.                                                         Drawing from The Courthouse Burned.

A drawing of Chellowe, a beautiful historic estate, caught my eye in the spring issue of the Historic Buckingham Newsletter. The drawing came from a book I’ve owned for a long time, The Courthouse Burned… by Margaret A. Pennington and Lorna S. Scott. I opened my copy and started thumbing through. My husband’s Crews family was from Buckingham County. They were humble people and in previous passes at the book, I hadn’t associated them with any of the featured stately homes. But there on page 103, I found a piece of Crews history.

 

Through the years I’d heard about a church the Crews family built. “Maybe Grace Church?” some said. I couldn’t find a reference to a Grace Church in Buckingham until today. I couldn’t find the church because it closed in the 1970’s and was torn down.  Authors Pennington and Scott state the church was built in the early 1870’s by Jim Crews and sons. This would be James A. Crews and his sons, George, James and Joel. James was born in Buckingham County ca 1812 and died there after 1880. Census records indicate he was a carpenter. He was from a family of lapsed Quakers, and I doubt if James attended the Episcopal Church he built.

The following text is from The Courthouse Burned… by Pennington and Scott.

In the fall of 1871 Mr. John Horsley gave the land for this church. Logs for the sills and framing were gotten from nearby woods and hewn on the grounds. Jim Crews and his sons did much of the work. J.B. Horsley and H.D. Omohundro hauled the lumber from Payne’s saw mill. The planing was done by hand. Sand for plastering was hauled from an island in the James River. Mr. Bolling Morriman did the plastering which for some reason did not hold; so later the church was ceiled. Doors for the front were brought on a packet boat up the Kanawha Canal and unloaded at lock #32 between Warminster and Manteo on Horsley land and carried by ox team by Douglas Omohundro (grandfather of Mrs. Harry Wyland) who drove the oxen. The Bradys of West Virginia gave a memorial window in memory of Louise Brady Horsley who was Mrs. Wyland’s great grandmother.

In the early 1970’s due to the small number of members, the congregation of this church was moved to Emmanuel Church at Glenmore. The memorial window was moved to Emmanuel also. The old church is gone completely today but those who labored to build it have this promise, “Therefore be ye steadfast… forasmuch as ye know your labor is not in vain…” I Corinthians 15:58

James A. Crews is my husband, Jesse’s, 2x great grandfather and Joel Crews is his great grandfather.

Writing History

Well, its been awhile since I wrote a blog post. A new grandchild was born, then the holidays, a little travel, a dreadful case of the flu-you know how it goes. Genealogy has been ever present on my mind, and my only new year’s resolution for 2017 was to finish the Taylor family history I began in 2008. The book is complete and almost ready to go to the printer. It covers five generations of Taylors who resided in Powhatan through the early 1900’s.

Have you ever picked up a genealogy book? Many are 500 pages of names and weigh about five pounds. Mine’s a slim book of essays about the life and times of six select ancestors. There’s still merit in publishing a book of names, but in this digital age the names and vital statistics of most of my ancestors can easily be found on my tree at Ancestry.com. I want my grandchildren to get to know the person, to walk in their shoes, and understand their lives. Here’s an excerpt about Robert Taylor (1738 – 1826), my fifth great-grandfather.

Wartime

The American Revolution began in 1776, the year Ann Olive Taylor, third child of Robert and Frances was born. The Taylors certainly had little time to think about the powerful events happening around them, and indeed all remained peaceful and quiet on their farm. The British, led by Benedict Arnold,  ransacked Richmond, about thirty miles downriver in 1780, but never came near the Taylor farm where Frances was delivering a fifth child, George.  There is no record of military service for Robert.  He was nearly forty when the war began, and may have been considered too old for the hard life endured by the troops. Robert provided beef and wheat for the troops, an action that made him a traitor to the British, and indicated his support of the revolutionary cause. Robert spent 12 days “collecting beeves” and was reimbursed £208 for this service. Larkin Smith of Cumberland County described this service, “…going over the country in every direction collecting beef for the army. Thinks there was law in those days regarding every man who had beef cattle to give up such a portion of his stock according to numbers to provision the army & it was made his business to drive these cattle & bring them within reach of the camp.”1 Robert must have contributed some of his own cattle to the war effort, because he was reimbursed £1-8-4 for contributing 170 pounds of beef to the war effort. Robert also furnished thirteen bushels of wheat for the troops. Wheat was plentiful in Powhatan, and its residents furnished hundreds of bushels of wheat for the troops.  The wheat was ground into flour by local millers and sent along to the troops. Provisioning the troops did not always go smoothly. Richard Couture writes in Powhatan: A Bicentennial History,of local millers putting  the flour outside, causing it to be ruined, and adding that “Further, 40 or 50 thousand bushels of wheat could be gotten from the county, but there was no transportation.”2 Colonial logistics for moving goods were difficult in the best of times, and clearly chaos during war.

Elizabeth A. Rust relates the following story about the rector of the Peterville Church, attended by Robert Taylor and his family, “ In 1772 Reverend Alexander MacRae was rector. He was a Scotchman and did not enter into the spirit of the times of the American Revolution and was warned to leave. He disregarded the warning so one night a messenger told him that a dying neighbor wanted to see him. He was waylaid and led to a tree where he was whipped. The tree has long been cut down, but was known as the “Parson’s Pine.”3 Robert Taylor’s community clearly supported the American Revolution.

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1 “Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files.” Fold3.com. Larkin B Smith, Pension Number S. 6114, Service Va. Database and Images. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
2 Couture, Richard T. Powhatan: A Bicentennial History. Richmond: Dietz, 1980.
p. 84. Print.
3 Rust, Elizabeth A. “Survey Report Peterville Church.” Virginia W.P.A. Historical Inventory Project. Library of Virginia, 29 July 1937. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Elusive Family Photos

arlinetaylor-1939October 6 marks the 88th birthday of my mother, Arline Mae Taylor Sykes. I pulled out a book I made of our old family photos to reminisce about Mom, and I realize that I only have three photos of my mother as a child. Just like my father, there is not much material to document her childhood. I would only have two photos, but when Marilyn Sanderson Farmer learned of Mom’s death in 2010, she found an old photo of our mothers as girls. They went to the old Broad Rock Elementary School together and and were playmates.

 

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-5-39-03-pmMarilyn’s shared photo is more than a treasured early photo of Mom, it is a lesson for all of us on preserving memories. If you have a box of old family photos now is the time to bring the box down from the attic and spend time with a family elder identifying the photos. Then please share them! Scan them and send them to the cousins. Use Facebook to reach out to friends like Marilyn did. You could have someone else’s elusive family photo. Mom is bottom left in this picture.

The photo below is among my favorite family photos. It’s held by Mom’s youngest sister, Florence Ann. Her daughter, Debbie, put all of the old family pictures in a book years ago and when I began my genealogy quest in 2005, they kindly allowed me to borrow the album and photograph all of the pictures. Mom and Aunt Florence Ann helped me identify everyone and then I posted the photos to my Ancestry.com account.

Aunt Florence Ann is the baby in her grandmother, Martha Blanche Pinchbeck Taylor’s lap. Mom is first on the left in the middle row. This is the only known photo of all the Taylor siblings together as children, along with some cousins too. It was probably taken at the family home in Chesterfield County in July 1938.

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Priceless Moments

I have hundreds of pictures of my children and like most young parents today, they will have thousands of photos of my grandchildren by the time they are teens. Technology has made photography affordable and accessible, documenting the ordinary and priceless moments of our lives. But for my father, those pictured moments were few.

Bobby SykesSeptember 22 is my father’s birthday, and this year (2016) is his 93rd.  He passed away eleven years ago and the photos I have of him are precious to me, especially since I only have two of him as a boy. I’ve checked with all of our family, and it appears there are only these two photos of Robert Kenneth Sykes (Bobby).

Daddy looks about ten in this photo on the left. His eyes were blue like mine and I think I have the same smile.

A delighted five year old Bobby holds the reins of the goat cart below. Daddy told me the photographer roamed Richmond with the goat cart and every kid wanted a photo and ride. Now I have this joyful, priceless 1928 moment in my father’s life – 88 years ago – to share with friends and family around the world.

Bobby Sykes

How Jesse Got His Name

Jesse Van Crews. My husband has a quite a name, doesn’t he? The first name is easy. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Jesse Sands, a beautiful classic name. Jesse’s family never called him “Jesse”. It was always Van or Vannie. When Jesse started school he decided that Vannie was a sissy name and asked the teacher to please call him Jesse. So he has always been Jesse to friends, schoolmates and colleagues, but Vannie to family.

Jesse’s father was George Van Crews and gave Jesse his middle name. I asked Joyce, Jesse’s mother, how George came to be named Van and she explained, “Honey, my mother-in-law, Minnie, said she named him for Van Cliburn.” Years later when I thought about this response it didn’t seem logical. No one in Jesse’s family listened to classical music. His grandparents, Joe (aka Peter) and Minnie Crews, were not sitting around the radio listening to Van Cliburn play Rachmaninoff. Especially since his father George was born in 1923 and Van Cliburn wasn’t born until 1934. So, where did the name Van come from?

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Van Short and Sallie Crews Short                 Photo provided by Ed Quinn

Jesse’s great-aunt Sallie Crews married Van Short in 1916. Aunt Sallie and Uncle Van were kind and generous with Sallie’s ten siblings and their many children. Van had a good job with American Viscose in Roanoke and Sallie was a realtor. When times were hard, Van and Sallie often lent a helping hand. Their daughter, Virginia, was close to her cousins in Richmond and the Richmond family members were always welcome at the Short’s home in Roanoke. It’s almost certain Jesse was named for Aunt Sallie’s beloved husband, Van. I believe Jesse has lived up to his namesake’s reputation for industry, kindness and generosity.

A Very Poor Apology for a Wife

samuel-thomas-millerIn the dispositions and characters of my uncles and aunts there was, I presume, a considerable difference; some were openhearted, affectionate and generous, others were close and selfish. Some were frugal, others were loose-handed. Those most cherished by my mother were Uncles William, Daniel and Archer and Aunt Betsey. For my uncles, James and Valentine, she retained neither respect nor affection. For Uncle Isham she had more regard for his good management than love for his generosity; for in the latter quality he was singularly deficient.  Life of Samuel Thomas Miller, page 17

Most of what I know about my ancestors is derived from dry courthouse records like wills, deeds and chancery causes so I was delighted when I recently came across a beautifully written memoir by Samuel Thomas Miller, son of Ann Ball. Ann was sister to my 4x great grandfather Isham Ball of Powhatan County, Virginia. Much of Miller’s childhood was spent shuttling among his Ball aunts and uncles, and his memoir is surprisingly frank. Miller calls Sally Hendrick Ball, my 4x great-grandmother, a very poor apology for a wife (page 17).

Even if I weren’t related to all the Balls in this book, I would still find it fascinating reading. It provides a first hand glimpse of life in Chesterfield and Powhatan County in the 1800’s. Some things apparently never change; there are abused wives, alcoholics, mischievous children, gamblers and scholars who worked, played and loved very close to where I grew up. There was even a Ball race track at Broad Rock. Written in 1911, the book has no copyright and you may download it here. Happy reading!

William Bernard Taylor’s Accidental 1900 Death

This is the last in my Labor Day series on the occupational deaths of family members.

It was cloudy and cold in Richmond on Monday, February 19, 1900. William Bernard Taylor (my first cousin 3x removed) was still at work at 5 pm. He worked for a wholesale grocery store, Christian & Winfree, at 15 South 14th Street in the Shockoe Slip area of Richmond. His parents, Joseph and Betty Taylor, had moved to Richmond from Powhatan County around 1883, along with most of William’s many siblings. Like many others after the Civil War, they left the land their families had been farming for over 150 years and moved to Richmond hoping for more economic opportunities. And things did seem to be working out for the family. The girls made successful marriages, and their two sons had good steady jobs.

William may have felt lucky to have his job. The president of his firm, H.L. Denoon, was also a Taylor cousin with ties to Powhatan County. William would be 35 years old in March and had never married. He needed his earnings to help support his widowed mother and planned to move in with her shortly.

Around 5 o’clock that February 19, cousin William got into an elevator at work. screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-6-23-31-pmHe rode to the fourth floor where a terrible tragedy ended his life. The cable carrying the elevator snapped and William plunged four floors to his death. You can read the gruesome details in the accompanying articles below. Christian & Winfree were exonerated, but it appears William’s death prompted Richmond to enact elevator safety regulations. The firm paid for William’s burial and he is among my few relatives buried in Richmond’s famed Hollywood Cemetery. Rest in Peace, cousin William.

I learned the story of William’s untimely death (and even the weather that day) using a totally free website sponsored by the Library of Congress, Chronicling America. Millions of pages of local newspapers are digitized and searchable at Chronicling America. Give it a try with your family members and see what you can learn.

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