Historian and Author Tom Perry's thoughts on history and anything that comes to mind.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Erie and Ron


My father has made a mark on his home at the foot of the Blue Ridge in Ararat. Every time I am out at a festival selling books, I have someone who had him in school come up and wish him well or ask about him or tell me some story related to him.
            Christa McAuliffe the teacher who died in the space shuttle accident in 1986 once said “I touch the future. I teach.” I know that my father has done that too. So, the man who tells the pretty girls his name is Erie-sistible deserves a few comments from his only son.
            My father Erie Meredith Perry turned 87 on December 19 and celebrated his 61st wedding anniversary to my mother Betty Jane Hobbs Perry of Augusta, Georgia, on December 21.
            Erie was born in 1931 in Chattanooga, Tennessee the son of Erie Perry from Sherwood, Franklin County, Tennessee, and Idell Bates Perry of Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama. His paternal grandfather, Meredith Perry, lived and worked in Sherwood, Tennessee, along with his “part Cherokee” wife, Alice Catchings, who I knew as “Old Mama.”
            Last year, my father and I both did DNA tests, and after being told his and my entire life that we were part Cherokee, we came back with zero Native-American in our makeup. When I told my father this, he pondered it a minute, looked at me, and said, “Grandma lied!”
Meredith Perry’s ancestors lived in the Franklin County area since the early 1800s. The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, is on what was once Perry land. During the War Between the States, the Perry family had fought in the Seventeenth Tennessee Infantry fighting in the Army of Tennessee until the fall of 1863 and then with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in last two years of the war joining with the Twenty-Third Tennessee and surrendering at Appomattox.
Idell Bates Perry. Grandma or “Ima” as I called her was from Alabama, and she was the second wife of my grandfather. When my father was in high school the family including sister, Shirley Caudle, and younger brother, Joseph Antonio “Buddy” Perry moved with their parents to High Point for textile jobs when my father was in the third grade My grandfather Erie, was a fixer and Idell a knitter. During young Erie’s seventh grade year, the family returned to Tennessee for one year and then back to High Point for the next three. Midway through young Erie’s junior year of high school, the family moved to Mount Airy in 1949.
My father, Erie, excelled in sports during his high school years in the “Granite City” After graduating, he spent one year working at what is now Spencer’s, then accepted a scholarship at Lees McRae College. He played on one championship football team and two championship basketball teams for Western North Carolina Junior College for a $555 scholarship, which required him to work in the lunchroom and sweep the gym floor. He was a student-athlete. He would not have been able to pay for college without a scholarship to play sports.
He graduated from Appalachian State Teacher’s College playing sports on scholarship. The first member of his family to do so. He later received a master’s degree in Administration from Radford University in 1967. He rode to Radford with George Rigney, who taught English at Patrick County High School for many years and recently passed away. Whenever I encountered Mr. Rigney at PCHS, he always told me about going to school with my daddy.
Erie volunteered for the United States Army in September 1956. After basic training, he was transferred to Fort Gordon, just outside Augusta, Georgia. While there, he met Betty Jane Hobbs born on May 4, 1932, in Jefferson County, Georgia. Her parents were Floyd Thomas Hobbs and Elizabeth Prescott. My father said he met my mother at a BBQ stand in Augusta.
The army stationed Erie at Stuttgart, Germany, in February 1957. He won $100 in a football contest in the Stars and Stripes, the U. S. Army newspaper and a round trip ticket home, which he used to marry Betty on December 21, 1957. After my father says he replaced Elvis in Germany in the army, he came to Patrick County in 1959 to teach at Blue Ridge.
            Two other Ararat men, Bill Smith, and George Beasley brought “Georgia Peaches” back to Ararat. Bill and Claudette Smith share the same wedding anniversary with my parents.
Erie and Betty came to Ararat, Patrick County, Virginia, in 1959 when he took a position at Blue Ridge High School as teacher/assistant principal. He coached baseball and basketball. I, their only child, was born nine months after the massive snowstorm in February 1960, on November 4. In 1963, my father accepted the position of Principal at Red Bank Elementary School in Claudville, Virginia. He returned to Blue Ridge Elementary School in 1973 from which he retired in 1988. I had my father as principal for my seventh-grade year only, at which time, I heard the “You must set an example speech.”
My mother, Betty Perry, worked for Doctor Tuledge in Claudville and then worked at Cross Creek Apparel in Mount Airy for over thirty years. Today, she like her mother and sister is going through dementia and my father, who is not built for it, has had to become a caregiver.
My father retired in 1988 after 28 years as a teacher at Blue Ridge High School and then principal at Red Bank and Blue Ridge Elementary Schools. Today, you can see his name on the Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame marker, the Blue Ridge Elementary School marker honoring retired teachers and at the J. E. B. Stuart Birthplace, where he and my mother were the first to be honored for their service in preserving the site.
            Earlier this year I was in Chicago, Illinois, after another successful year at Mayberry in the Midwest in Danville, Indiana. Each year, I take a week to do some sightseeing before I return for the Hillsville Memorial Day Flea Market.
            This year I spent a day in Dixon, Illinois, the home of President Ronald Wilson Reagan, who was born on the same day as Patrick Countian, J. E. B. Stuart. This was my second trip to Reagan home.
            When I visit the home, I always take a moment to stop on the front porch and remember a story that hit close to home for my father. My grandfather, Erie Perry, was an alcoholic and not particularly pleasant when he was imbibing. My father as the oldest child took the full brunt of his father’s behavior.
My father is the classic child of an alcoholic. I have never seen my father take a drink and the joke about him when he played golf at White Pines Country Club in Mount Airy that I called a beer joint with greens was “How can you tell which one Erie is?” He was the sober one.
Like Reagan, Erie is a very private person. Most people like him, but few really know him or see the emotional side of him except for Nancy Reagan and my mother. I have only twice seen my father break down emotionally. Once was when his nephew, Uncle Buddy and Aunt Gwen’s son, Andrew, died as a newborn. The only other time I saw my father cry was when his own father passed away in 1979 about a week after I graduated high school.
When I was growing up, I knew a mellower grandfather. He never owned a vehicle and walked or rode the bus everywhere he went except for the occasional cab ride. Grandpa Erie like to go up to Main Street to the pool hall or the cab station and have a few Pabst Blue Ribbons or Schlitz while smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes. When he would start home a little wobbly from the alcohol, someone would call my grandmother to let her know. If I was present, I was dispatched up Pine Street to intercept my grandfather and get him back to what is today the Graves House, where he would fall into the bed and pass out. Before he fell asleep, he would reach in his pocket and hand me a Kennedy half dollar. When he passed away, I had a box of these.
            Back to Reagan and Erie’s connection. Reagan’s father, Jack, had a drinking problem. One snowy night, young Ron came home to find his father passed out in the snow along the walkway to his porch. The future President picked up his father and helped him into the house and saved his life from hypothermia.
            Several years ago, I found myself at my father’s house one evening watching the American Experience show about President Reagan. They told this story, and I could see my father was moved by what he was watching. I mentioned this to him, and he responded that sure is familiar. I replied that it sure was.
            It was at that moment when I came to realize what every child hopefully discovers about their parents, the moment of epiphany when you understand that your parents went through things that you never imagined and you gain a bit of empathy for them that you might not have had before and especially before you became an adult.
            As I drove out of Dixon this past May on U. S. Highway 52, the same road that takes you north out of Mount Airy, I remembered that my father and Ronald Reagan had a connection that only I ever knew.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Davis Reid Smith 1935-2018


We buried Davis Reid Smith, Jr. today at Oakdale Cemetery today, October 1, 2018, and as we all stood around the Moody’s Funeral Home tent, I remembered stories. If we could have all told stories about this man, we would be there until next week. I have been writing a book about growing up in Ararat that I call 64VW after my first car, a snow white 1964 Volkswagen. There are several Reid stories in that book. Here are a couple involving Reid and his ability to drive.
When it snowed in Ararat, the last place to melt on the road was in front of my parent’s home because trees blocked the sun from the highway. This led to many interesting traffic hazards over the years as the cold spot caused a slick road surprised many people. The 64 VW traveled well in snow, but nothing travels well on ice.
            One day while cleaning the snow off the car that was as white as snow, I heard the Ford pickup truck of Davis Reid Smith, Jr. coming up the road from far at the Holly Tree straight away and into the next straight in front of Junior Epperson. The Scales curve came up next. Reid often turned to go down the road to the Gates homeplace that he owned as his mother was a member of the Gates family, but this day he kept coming. The sound of that Ford truck was unmistakable to the trained hear and by that time I had recognized the sound of it.
            I looked up and realized the road in front of our house was covered in snow and ice. Reid came through the Scales curve as he always did, way too fast. I thought to myself that this is going to be interesting and raised up to watch what happened.
            Reid could drive. He had a very loose way of holding the steering wheel. No doubt he would have been an awesome race car driver. He popped over the hill and hit the slick spot on the road. Luckily, nothing was coming in the other direction as I saw an amazing driving maneuver. Reid came by me completely sideways, staring directly at me as he did so. He threw up his hand as he slid right by our house. He hit the clear road on the other side of the zone, straightened up his truck, and continued up the road.
This was not the first time Reid experienced driving challenges coming out of the curve in front of the Scales house. Between our house and the Scales house was the home of Merdy King. King dug wells for a living. In front of his home were some very prominent oak trees that are now huge.
For years, Reid told me he once put a car in the trees in front of Merdy King’s house, which is next door to my parent’s home. I laughed this off, but one day while going through the microfilm of the Patrick County newspaper, The Enterprise, from before I was born in 1960, I came across a couple of photos of a car sitting in the trees in front of Merdy King’s house. Low and behold, Reid had been telling me the truth. He came around the Scales curve a little too fast once with no doubt an empty car. He somehow managed to run out of the road, hit the side of the road, got airborne and landed in one of the trees in our next door neighbor’s yard. This accident hurt Reid pretty good, but practicing good old boy logic, I expect he went home and reported his car stolen, to avoid legal ramifications from his attempt to fly an empty moonshine car.
I had many adventures with each of Reid’s sons growing up. One comes to mind was my first drink of alcohol. At Christmas one year, Reid asked us boys if we wanted some egg nog. Being a bit na├»ve, we agreed to have a cup to celebrate the holiday cheer. As we eagerly took a gulp, it became clear that it was not much egg and a lot of nog, laced with moonshine. I remember a group of boys going for the water faucets in a hurry as when the egg nog hit bottom in our stomachs, it began to burn like nothing I ever experienced in my life. We practically knocked each other down trying to get some cool water in our mouths to ease the burn.
                Off all the people I have written about in my books, Reid Smith is one I wish I had written about more. He liked that idea too. His wife, Sadie Willis Smith, not so much. Reid’s son, Joey told me once I ought to write about us growing up, but he would have to kill me if I did. I might need to risk it!
            So, I remember Davis Reid Smith, Jr (November 8, 1935, to September 28, 2018) today. He will always be a legend in my mind.

A book I might risk my life to publish ;-)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Emory and Henry's Civil War


My friend, Eddie Wheeler, “Sarge” sent me his notes on Emory and Henry College, his alma mater, in the Civil War, which follow. For years, Eddie has supported my efforts, and I thought I would share his history of “Fighting WASPS.” He heard me speak about J. E. B. Stuart at the Salem Museum last week and wanted to make sure I had my facts correct.


                Emory and Henry College is located in Washington County, Southwestern Virginia, nine miles east of Abingdon, Virginia, just minutes off US Route 11 or Interstate 81. Emory and Henry was chartered in 1836, named for Bishop Emory, the first Methodist Bishop in America and Patrick Henry or oratory and Revolutionary War fame, and the first Governor of Virginia of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is the oldest four-year degree bearing institution in Southwest Virginia. It predates Virginia Intermont, UVA at Wise, Radford, Roanoke College, Hollins, VMI, and Virginia Tech. Pre-dated only by Washington and Lee, which traces its origins to Liberty Hall Academy.


                The main east-west line of the Norfolk Southern Railway, the Civil War era Virginia and Tennessee Railroad runs directly through the campus. The Confederate Congress realized this early on and in 1862 confiscated all college buildings and renamed it Emory Confederate Hospital. In the hospital, both Confederate and Union wounded were cared for. On the highest part of the highest hill in Emory, Virginia, 206 of the South’s finest are buried. The headstones are numbered, and a fifteen-foot obelisk with brass plates on all four sides lists those who gave their last full measure.


                In a swell, just west of this hill, the Union dead were buried in a long common grave. In 1938, the Grand Army of the Republic disinterred and carried them back up north.

                Six Confederate Generals are alumnus of Emory and Henry. It is the only liberal arts college that contributed six generals to the Confederate Army.


                Henry DeLamar Clayton was born in Pulaski County, Georgia, in 1827. In 1838, his family moved to Lee County, Alabama. He graduated from Emory and Henry College in 1848. In 1861, Clayton enlisted in the 1st Alabama Infantry, which was reorganized as the 39th Alabama Infantry in 1962. The following year Clayton became a Brigadier General of Infantry commanding the 18th, 32nd, 36th, 38th, and 58th Alabama Infantry Regiments. Clayton fought at Chickamauga, Rocky Face Mountain, and New Hope. In 1864, he received a promotion to Major General and commanding Alexander P. Stewart’s Infantry Division company of the brigades of Stovall, Baker, Gibbons, and Holtzclaw. Clayton fought at Nashville and at Bentonville at the end of the war. He returned to Alabama to farm and practice law. In 1866, he was elected as a Circuit Court Judge. Twenty years later he became President of the University of Alabama, where he also taught International Law. He died in 1889 and was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Eufaula, Alabama.


                James Byron Gordon was born in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1822. He attended Emory and Henry College from 1841-43. He served with Hampton’s Legion as a Lieutenant Colonel. Commissioned as a Brigadier General of Cavalry in September 1863, commanding the North Carolina Brigade of J. E. B. Stuart’s Cavalry Division. Wounded on May 12, 1864, at the Meadows Bridge, just north of Richmond, which was part of the Battle of Yellow Tavern that also took Stuart’s life. He is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilkesboro. He was at Emory and Henry at the same time as “Grumble” Jones.


William Edward “Grumble” Jones was born in Washington County, Virginia, in 1824. He graduated Emory and Henry in 1844. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, that same year and graduated in 1848. Commissioned a Brigadier General of Cavalry in September 1862, Jones lost his life on June 5, 1864, at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley. Jones is buried in Old Glade Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Glade Springs, Virginia.

A side note about Jones was that John Mosby, a lawyer practicing in Bristol, enlisted in Jones Company of Cavalry that became the 1st Virginia Cavalry on the Barter Green in Abingdon, Virginia, next to the Martha Washington Inn.


John Creed Moore was born in Hawkins County, Tennessee, in 1824. He attended Emory and Henry like many of the others listed here before going to West Point, where he graduated in 1849. He saw action in the Seminole War in Florida and served in such far flung posts as Santa Fe and Baton Rouge. He resigned from the US Army in 1855. In 1861, he organized the 2nd Texas Infantry. He fought at Shiloh and received promotion to Brigadier General in May 1862. He saw action at Corinth and Vicksburg, where he was captured and later released. He served under Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga before assigned to Mobile, Alabama, in December 1863, in the Eastern and Western Districts of the Gulf. He resigned his commission in February 1864. He taught school in Texas. He was the last Emory and Henry General to die on December 31, 1910 and is buried in Osage, Caryele County, Texas. 


James Ewell Brown Stuart was born in Ararat, Patrick County, Virginia in 1833. He attended Emory and Henry College from 1848-50. He went to West Point in 1850 and graduated in 1854. Started as Colonel of the 1st Virginia Cavalry and rose to Brigadier General of Cavalry in September 1861. A Major General by July 1862, Stuart commanded all of Robert E. Lee’s cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart received a mortal wound at Yellow Tavern, north of Richmond on May 11, 1864, and died the next day in Richmond, where he is buried at Hollywood Cemetery.


William Feimster Tucker was born in Iredell County, North Carolina, in 1827. He graduated from Emory and Henry in 1848. He moved to Houston, Mississippi and was elected probate judge in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, in 1855. He joined Company K of the 11th Mississippi Infantry. He fought at First Manassas with Bernard Bee’s Brigade. 11th Mississippi transferred west and joined the 41st Mississippi. He promoted to Colonel in May 1862. He served as Regimental C. O. at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. In March 1864, he received a promotion to Brigadier General. He fought in the Atlanta Campaign, where he received a severe wound at Resaca, Georgia on May 14, 1864. Incapacitated from field duty, he served in command of the District of the South Mississippi and East Louisiana in the closing weeks of the war. He returned to Chickasaw County and practiced law. He served in Mississippi legislature in 1876 and 1878. He was assassinated on September 14, 1881, in Okolona, Mississippi, where he is buried. Clayton, Moore, Tucker were at Emory and Henry at the same time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Article From The Carroll County Newspaper About New Book To Restore The Sidna Allen House



Fancy Gap, Virginia: Local author Thomas D. “Tom” Perry’s new work, Murder In A Rear View Mirror looks to help local history preservation based on one simple principle. A lot of people just love a good murder story. A portion from the sales of the books will go to help the ongoing restoration of the historic Sidna Allen House, which adorns the front cover of the new book.

“The title of this book, Murder In A Rear View Mirror, means two things. It means looking back at the past, obviously, a rear view. It came from one of my authors I publish other people’s books. We were at a book festival, a lady whose children’s books I publish, and I were talking. You run out of things to talk about at a festival, and we were talking about murders. She said, “I saw a murder once.” I said, “You…what?” Perry said. “She said I saw a murder, over in Collinsville, Virginia. She was at a stoplight, in a parking lot and she saw a man go over after his estranged wife and kill her. She saw it in her rear view mirror. I thought, murder in a rear view mirror. That was where I got my idea for the title.”

Perry said he had been letting the idea simmer on his creative back burner for a while and had written stories about different murders and crimes but hadn’t thought of putting them together under one title. Last fall at Draper Mercantile, Howard Sadler’s program The Last Witness (about the Hillsville shootout) drew him and local history enthusiast Mark Harmon. They discussed the “murder book” in progress. Just like a coincidence in a whodunit, a chapter already included Hillsville.

“The question I would get at almost every book event I’d go to was, ‘Do you have anything on the Hillsville shootout?’ I never did. Most of my books are about Patrick and Henry counties and J. E. B. Stuart. Now I can say, “Yes I do!’” Perry said, “it’s important in the books I do they help preserve history. I’ve donated the proceeds to non-profits over the years from several of my books. I started the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace thirty years ago. One thing led to another, and I said, ‘How about I give you some of the proceeds from every book I sell?’”

Perry said the main thing is drawing attention to restoring the home. He said one lesson he’s learned from previous projects is to “keep the PR going,” making sure people know what is being done.
“Each chapter is a different murder or crime story. There’s two in Ararat where I grew up, three in Mount Airy, a couple in Martinsville, and of course, the Hillsville Shootout. Things that had always interested me. It’s my take on it. I don’t pretend to be an expert on all these things,” Perry said. “The chapter that was the hardest to write was about Virginia Tech, and that one hit close to home if you are an alumnus. I hate to say some of them were fun to write but some were. You kill people over money, over politics, you kill people over love, and I’ve covered almost all of that.”
He said the last one is about embracing the Virginia Tech shootings.

“I go from the Hillsville Shootout to what happened at Virginia Tech. I use Frank Beamer as my connector,” Perry said. “Frank, of course, is an Allen I believe he wrote a high school or college term paper on the shootout, an interesting take. Frank talked about one of the hardest things he did in his life was going to meet the survivors and the families of people who died. It’s in the book. I found a great interview with him. I go from the end of the shootout to how you embrace, if you can embrace, the tragedy of something like Virginia Tech, and I used Frank as my bridge. I don’t know how Frank’s going to feel about that, but I sent him a lot of my Mayberry books.”

Perry noted the power of a good story to move from narration to becoming a folk tale which is why he included a story from Ararat, Virginia about the “murder in Lynch Hollow,” so named because a Lynch mob took justice into their own hands there following a girl’s murder.

“One of my friend’s fathers growing up took that story and turned it into a kind of why a boy should be home before dark,” Perry said. “If you didn’t get home before dark the monster in Lynch Hollow might get you. If you’re down on the river fishing, swimming or whatever and you don’t get home in time…He had the whole thing worked out where this monster was called Raw Headed Bloody Bones, an old Scottish boogeyman. He had sound effects and the whole shebang going on. He used to scare some of my buddies to death when he would tell the story. It’s in the book. This is serious stuff. I hate to make light of it, but after a hundred years or more, everyone has a theory. These are my theories, and it’s my take on it. The idea is to bring attention to the history and to help them save this house. If my book does that, then I’ll be pretty pleased with it.”

Carroll County Historical Society President Ed Stanley said they appreciate any funding they can get to help restore the historic Sidna Allen Home. Stanley said beadboard for the front porch ceiling and front porch columns had been purchased but installing this is on hold, while repairs are made to the roof.

“You know, as long as I can remember, they’d say I wish they’d do something with this house. I wish they would save it. Okay, folks here’s something you can do about it. You get this book, and it gives them money, and maybe you’ll give more money if you’re really interested,” Perry said. “I know some people don’t want this house saved and didn’t want to hear about the Hillsville Shootout. It’s like Mount Airy. There are people who don’t want to hear about Andy Griffith, but Andy Griffith keeps Mount Airy going. You can say what you want about him, but the tourism is real. This could potentially be a showplace that would draw people to Carroll County.”

This story, written by David Broyles, was published in The Carroll News on page four of the June 13, 2018 issue. Since it was NOT available online, I have edited the story and present it here corrected.





Monday, June 11, 2018

R. J. Reynolds Changed The World

Remarks At Down Town School 8th Grade Graduation at First Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on June 11, 2018.


 Statue of young R. J. Reynolds riding into Winston, North Carolina, in 1875, located in front of Wells-Fargo Building in Winston-Salem.



When I was a teenager, I loved history. I still love history. I read books. I listen to books. I write books. All about history. Today, I wanted to share a story about another teenager.
Richard Joshua Reynolds was sixteen years old in the spring of 1865. Born on July 20, 1850, R. J. Reynolds lived in Patrick County, where I grew up, which is about an hour north of us in Virginia.
            In April 1865, as the American Civil War was ending, United States Major General George Stoneman rode into Patrick County with nearly 4,000 cavalrymen. R. J.’s father sent him up on No Business Mountain, you have no business going up there, with the family’s livestock to keep the Yankees from getting them.
            One thing R. J. Reynold’s father, Hardin Reynolds did not consider was what would happen to the many African-Americans he held in bondage on his Rock Spring Plantation, which is preserved as an historic landmark and operated by my alma mater, Virginia Tech. Many of the slaves followed George Stoneman’s United States cavalry Hardin Reynolds told his other son, Abram, “My son the Yankees have been here and torn up everything and my Negro men have all gone with them.”
Upon arriving in Danbury, North Carolina, Stoneman felt the number of former slaves following the raid endangered the future safety of all involved. Stoneman sent “several hundred” under guard to East Tennessee, where many of the men enlisted in the 119th United States Colored Troops. The regiment organized at Camp Nelson near Nicholasville, Kentucky from January 18 until May 16, 1865. George Gray, Peter Gray, Edmond Hylton, Jacob Reynolds, Miles Reynolds, and Samuel Tatum of Patrick County served under Colonel Charles G. Bartlett and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas R. Weaver. The regiment mustered out of the service of the United States on April 27, 1866. They all received pensions from the United States government for their service in the Civil War. These men had the courage to change their world.
Stoneman’s raid continued down into Piedmont North Carolina going through Germanton and Bethania on the way to Salisbury. On April 10, the mayors of Winston and Salem came out to surrender their towns. The Moravians and Quakers of Piedmont North Carolina, who favored peace and the Union, were happy to see them. These pacifists had the courage to change the world. A soldier wrote, “Here we met with a most cordial reception, very different from the usual greetings we receive. The ladies cheered us, and brought out bread, pies, and cakes…The people showed much enthusiasm at the sight of the flag we carried, and many were the touching remarks made about it.” Not everyone was happy to see the Yankee cavalry here. One Confederate bragged to the blue horsemen that they would never find their livestock because he was hiding them in the basement of his house.
Ten years after R. J. Reynolds hid the livestock, he made an important decision in his life. He sold his share of his father’s lucrative tobacco business and went out on his own. He thought he could make it as an entrepreneur, but what he needed was a railroad for transporting his product, which in 1875 was chewing tobacco. There was no railroad in Patrick County, Virginia, and would not be for more than a decade. He looked at a map and saw his two choices were Danville, Virginia, and Winston, North Carolina. Since the latter was closer, R. J. Reynolds came south through Stokes County, where his mother was from, and rode into Winston, reportedly reading a New York Times newspaper somewhere between 5 and 10 thousand dollars in his pocket, which would be over 200K in 2018.
R. J. Reynolds had attended Emory and Henry College, like Patrick County’s other famous personage Civil War General JEB Stuart in 1870. He had Dyslexia and stammered, but he had large appetites for work. He was not alone in the tobacco business in Winston, North Carolina. I believe there were eighteen other factories operating, but R. J. Reynolds changed the world. He spent $388 for a 100-foot lot near the railroad. He sweetened his chewing tobacco to make it more appealing, and he refined the process to make cigarettes in 1913. He made pre-rolled cigarettes, whereas before people rolled their own cigarettes. He named one of his cigarette brands, Camel, because it used Turkish paper and in one year, he manufactured $425 million cigarettes.
He saved money by living in his tobacco factory until he married Katherine Smith of Mount Airy, North Carolina in 1905. He built her a house where the Forsyth County Library sits on Fifth Street today. They had four children: R. J. Reynolds, Jr., Mary, Nancy, and Zachary Smith Reynolds.
Before R. J. Reynolds came here, Winston and Salem were two separate towns. There was no dash and no Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Reynolds supported using property tax to pay for public schools. The Reynolds Family is responsible for making this city what it is today. Without them, there would be no Wake Forest University, Guilford College, or Winston-Salem State University here or in their present state. There are Smith Reynolds Airport and Reynolds Coliseum at North Carolina State University. There are Reynolda and Tanglewood here just to name a few along with the Down Town School.
All of this because R. J. Reynolds left Patrick County to find a railroad. He died on July 29, 1918, of cancer. It is not my place to judge him or his company for what tobacco has done to the health of many who used its products. I am here to report on his history without the emotion that clouds history today. His family continues to contribute to the vitality of this community.
I worked thirty years in computers as my vocation, but from a young age I loved history, and it was my avocation. In the last ten years, I started my own book business to publish my books and my friend’s books. I hope you find a vocation that you enjoy and make a successful life from and I hope you find an avocation that you love. Maybe you will get lucky like I have and turn your vocation and your avocation into the same thing and be happy.
A few blocks away from us here today in front of the giant Wells-Fargo, used to be Wachovia building, where I did contract work several decades ago is a statue. At lunch, I would go out and look at the statue of young R. J. Reynolds riding into Winston on a horse. The base says the following. “Richard Joshua Reynolds 1850-1918. In 1875, this young Virginian, aged 24, rode into Winston in search of a town in which to build his first tobacco factory. Through the generosity of the citizens of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, this memorial has been erected to honor a successful businessman and public benefactor.” I encourage you to go have a look at the statue and when you do, let me leave you today with an idea. Like Richard Joshua “RJ” Reynolds and the others I mentioned in this talk, you too can change the world.



Saturday, May 5, 2018

New Book Murder In A Rear View Mirror



Murder In A Rear View Mirror

I took 2017 off and did not publish any books of my own, but 2018 is going to see multiple titles from my Laurel Hill Publishing company. Already, Avis Turner’s fourth book Alzheimer’s Up Close is out about her experiences as a care giver for her late husband Elbert. This is a subject that strikes close to home for me as my mother suffers with dementia. I brought out Bonnie Turner’s The Eyes of Freya, the first of three in a Science Fiction/Fantasy genre. I worked with Doug Stegall and the Rangeley Ruritan Club to do a history/photo book about the Henry County community of Rangeley, Virginia, which has raised thousands of dollars already for the club.

In 2018, I will be bringing out books ranging from the Civil War, the Papers of J. E. B. Stuart, which covers 1833 until 1854 to World War Two with the letters from Philmore Minter, who served in Company H, 116th Regiment, 29th Division, who fought on D-Day and lived to tell about it. It is the third book I have worked on with Philmore’s son, David Minter.

This bring us to my new book Murder In A Rear View Mirror: Stories of True Crime, which will be available Memorial Day weekend at the Hillsville Flea Market. There are two flea markets, the big one everyone knows about during Labor Day weekend and the smaller one on Memorial Day weekend. I will be donating some of the proceeds from this book to the efforts to restore the Sidna Allen house, which is owned by the Carroll County Historical Society.

This is my first true crime book and it covers stories of true crime that have interested me over the years. The title has two meanings. First, an actual murder seen by one of Laurel Hill Publishing’s authors, Jennifer Gregory, who saw a murder in the rear view mirror in Collinsville, Virginia. The second meaning is to look back, in a rear view mirror, at multiple cases of murder that are well known and some that are not.

The book begins with Virginia Tech massacre of 2007 and ends with the reaction to it over the last decade. Each chapter in the book tells the story of a specific crime from the 1912 Hillsville Shootout to the summer went I around with Judge Woody Lookabill selling his book on the Gina Hall murder by Steve Epperly.

Other prominent crimes with a chapter dedicated to them include the 1929 Charlie Lawson murder of his family in Stokes County, North Carolina, and the killing by Dennis Stockton of Kenneth Arnder in Kibler Valley, Patrick County, Virginia. Two stories from Martinsville include the Shootout on Fayette Street from the late nineteenth century and the Martinsville Seven from 1949.

Mount Airy is the subject of multiple chapters including two bombings involving lover’s triangle, one of Franklin Street and another through the mail by a dentist. Another story involves the mistaken murder at what today is the Spencer’s building, but was Mount Airy Knitting when it occurred.

Two murders from my hometown of Ararat, Virginia, include the murder of J. E. B. Stuart’s great-grandfather, William Letcher, during the American Revolution in 1780 and the murder of a girl named Sadie, which became famous for the lynching of her supposed killer by a vigilante mob in the late 1800s. Two cases from Patrick County include the “Tragedy at Fayerdale, ” which happened at present day Fairy Stone State Park and “Ex Parte Virginia,” which involved the children of Kittie of the Reynolds Homestead.

At 400 pages, the book will sell for twenty dollars and will be available online soon and is available for pre-order now. I will be at the VFW Lot during the Hillsville Virginia Memorial Day Flea Market Friday through Sunday along the gate the front beside my Scentsy gals in their big purple tent.


All these books are available at my website www.freestateofpatrick.com, which has a link to pre-order the autographed books and all the other books I have written.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Remarks on April 21 2018 in Stuart Virginia



Thank Gene Fain and the Wharton Stuart SCV Camp for inviting me here today.
Descendants of the men this statue represent formed the Wharton-Stuart Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans on April 14, 1906, with George T. Munford as commandant, Samuel M. Lybrook as first lieutenant commandant, R. H. Dunkley as Second Lieutenant Commandant, R. E. Woolwine as Adjutant, L. C. Dickerson as surgeon, John A. Adams as quartermaster, John W. Wimbush as chaplain, along with a treasurer, color sergeant, historian and over seventy-six members.
We all know who J. E. B. Stuart was, but who was Wharton? Gabriel C. Wharton was born in 1824 in Culpeper, Virginia. He graduated from VMI in 1847 and became a civil engineer. With the coming of war, Wharton served as Colonel of the 51st Virginia Infantry, where he commanded two companies of Patrick County soldiers. He led men at Fort Donelson in 1862. He served with James Longstreet at Knoxville in 1863. John Breckinridge commanded him at New Market in 1864. He served under Jubal Early at Monocacy, Cedar Creek, and the debacle at Waynesboro, Virginia, in March 1865. He married Nannie Radford and lived at Glencoe in Radford, Virginia. When he died in 1906, they buried him in the battle flag of the 51st Virginia Infantry.
They came from Charity and from Willis Gap. They came from Vesta and Five Forks. They enlisted along Spoon Creek or Hillsville, and some even went into Stokes County, North Carolina, to join the armies of the South. They were the Confederate Soldiers from Patrick County, Virginia, and this statue honors their service to Patrick County, their state, Virginia, and their nation, the Confederate States of America. They were men of a different time, who saw life differently than we do today. We do not have to agree with them, but when we dishonor the military service of honorable men, we lose something in this country.
Patrick County formed in 1790-91 depending on which source one believes, named for Patrick Henry, whose portrait still hangs in this courthouse, although he owned over seventy slaves. The county seat was named Taylorsville, after George Taylor, a hero of the American Revolution, but was usually known as Patrick Court House in most of the contemporary letters I have read over the years. It became Stuart in 1884 after the Civil War to honor General J. E. B. Stuart, twenty years after his death in 1864.
In 1936, the statue of a Confederate Veteran was placed on the courthouse grounds in Stuart, Virginia, with a plaque on the base honoring J. E. B. Stuart. The statue is not Stuart, but represents all the men from “The Free State of Patrick,” who served in the war fought from 1861 to 1865 for the Confederate States of America. The Junior Book Club organized in 1933 with 17 members. They put up the statue, not the usual organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Confederate Veterans, now the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Virginia Lt. Governor James H. Price spoke at the dedication. Interestingly, it was one of the last Confederate Veteran statues placed in Virginia and the last one before World War Two. It would be another 28 years before another went up in Virginia. These are the men the statue on the courthouse square represent. It is against Virginia law at present to remove these statues. A judge ruled on the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville this year.
            In the 1860 Census, 1617 men between the ages of 15 and 50 lived in Patrick County. Eighty-seven percent served in the war. These soldiers faced daunting odds in their service for the South. Seventeen percent became prisoners. Most horrifying for their families, twenty-seven percent made the ultimate sacrifice and died. There were at least 152 men from Patrick in the 42nd Virginia Infantry and only 6 at Appomattox. Of the 334 Patrick County residents who lost their lives in 1862, 102 died due to the war. One can imagine the mental anguish this war brought to them and their families.
Patrick men fought in all the major engagements in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Most of these men enlisted from Elamsville or Ararat at opposite ends of the county.
Patrick County men served in fifty different regiments of artillery, cavalry, and infantry during the war. Twenty-five percent of them served in the 51st Virginia Infantry Regiment. The 50th, 24th, and 42nd Virginia Infantry Regiments contained the next largest numbers. Seven percent of Patrick Countians served in the cavalry and three percent in artillery units. Others served in diverse organizations such as the 5th Battalion Virginia Reserves, 6th Virginia Infantry, 58th Virginia Infantry, the Orange Artillery, and the 21st Virginia Cavalry. Many served in North Carolina units such as the 53rd Infantry Regiment or 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
            Here are some of their stories. A headstone in the Hunter’s Chapel Church Cemetery in Ararat lists James T. W. Clements of Pittsylvania County, 6th Virginia Cavalry. Sheridan’s cavalry captured Clements along with sixty men making a last stand at Yellow Tavern the day “Jeb” Stuart received his mortal wound on May 11, 1864. Present in Harrisonburg, Virginia on June 6, 1862, Clements’ company carried the dead Turner Ashby from the field. Clements served time in a Yankee prison before returning home to Virginia.
The pool of men of marriageable age forced many women to marry much older men such as Edward Noah Martin, who was forty-eight years older than his bride, Naomi Caroline Moran. She kept a sense of humor, stating that, “I’d rather be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave.” You can see their picture hanging in Wanda’s Estate and Custom Jewelry in Stuart and a giant billboard for the business too.
Many children grew up never knowing their father such as Susan Emma Moss, born after the death of her father Jesse Moss of Company G, 51st Virginia Infantry. Moss died of measles and rests today ten miles north of New Market in a cemetery near Mount Jackson. His wife’s pension application is the only record of his service in the Confederate Army. My friend, banjo player, Tommy Morse Moss is descended from him.
            Andrew Jackson Stedman of Gates County, North Carolina, enlisted as a sergeant in Company B, 49th North Carolina Infantry, and received a wound at Malvern Hill in July 1862. He became a first lieutenant in the Signal Corps. He married Susan K. Staples of Patrick County after the war, practiced law in Stokes County, North Carolina, and edited the first newspaper in Patrick County, The Voice of the People, in 1876. It is still in print today as The Enterprise.
Rufus James Woolwine was born October 20, 1840 in Christiansburg, Virginia and died on December 14, 1908 in Stuart, Virginia. In those sixty-eight years he would live as honorable and memorable a life as anyone from Patrick County. He served as deputy sheriff from 1866 to 1891 when he was elected High Sheriff of Patrick County, which he held until 1904. He was active at the Stuart Methodist Church for over thirty years. Tradition has it that he stole R. J. Reynolds girlfriend from him and marriage to Sarah Rosabell Brown came in 1868 and four children were produced among them Rufus E. Woolwine, who served as Commonwealth Attorney for our county for twenty years.
            Rufus James Woolwine was a good writer and in his youth he was “touched by fire” and if not for Jeb Stuart he would be the most famous civil war soldier to come from Patrick County. He enlisted in the fifty-first Virginia Infantry in July 1861 and the next year would be promoted to Captain of Company D. He wrote in his diary on July 24, 1861, "Twas then we bid farewell to home, friends, and connections and took up the lines of march to meet the serried ranks of a strong but dastard foe. Twas then many of us looked upon our native soil as we thought for the last time."
            He saw battle at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in 1862 and at New Market, Third Winchester, and Fisher’s Hill in 1864. He spent a good deal of time in 1863 on recruiting duty and collecting supplies for the regiment. On March 8, 1865 Woolwine was captured at the Battle of Waynesboro, Virginia.
            After capture Woolwine went to Fort Delaware, which held 10,000 prisoners in 1864 and had a death rate higher than Andersonville, Georgia. Restored, it is open to the public during the summer as a state park. From there Woolwine wrote “How much I wish I was in old Patrick this beautiful evening.”
Woolwine took the Oath of Allegiance on June 17, 1865, and was released. Two days later, he boarded the steamer “Richard Willing,” and returned to Virginia. He arrived home on the June 27 after a trip that took him from Baltimore via water to Newport News and Richmond, where he saw Washington’s statue on the Capitol grounds “draped in mourning.” As he traveled by railroad toward Lynchburg, he had to get off at Burke’s Station and walk, then catch another train to Farmville. He rode the last five miles to Lynchburg on the James River and Kanawha Canal, then caught a train to Elliston and walked home from there.
He quickly took his notes and completed his journal while it was still fresh in his mind. Woolwine ended his journal with these thoughts: “Thus ends a journey of four years through the most eventful campaign known in the history of men or nations. Now that peace once more smiles upon our land and country, let us look to the wise disposer of all human events and implore Him in His infinite wisdom and mercy to smile upon and bless us, a subjugated people. God grant that our course may be such as to meet with the hearty approval of those in authority, both on earth and in heaven. Oh! That we may yield placid obedience to the laws of our land and the laws of god, so that we may again place our dear old state in her original high standing. And when we shall have done this and have finished our pilgrimage here below, may we all join that celestial host of angels in bright glory to sing praises forever more, to the great Jehovah.”
Woolwine settled on Russell Creek in Patrick County, where he manufactured tobacco and sold dry goods. In 1866, he became deputy sheriff of Patrick County. In 1964, Louis H. Manarin in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography published by the Virginia Historical Society edited the Civil War Diary of Rufus J. Woolwine.
Former Captain Woolwine moved to Stuart and served as sheriff from 1891 until 1904. For thirty years Woolwine served as secretary of the Sunday school at Stuart Methodist Church, where his favorite hymn was “A Charge To Keep I Have.” Rufus James Woolwine lived as a good citizen, obeying, and even enforcing the laws. He put the war behind him, but left his thoughts and feelings to give us insight into a momentous time in our history.
     Woolwine lived in retirement until his death on December 4, 1908. The old soldier rests today in the Stuart cemetery near his messmate William Dennis Via. Born on September 8, 1838, Via enlisted in the Ross Company of the 51st Virginia Infantry in June 1861 serving with Rufus Woolwine.
       After the war, he married Minnie Via and had five children: Daisy, James, Marcie, Mary and Posie. Dr. Via, a dentist, served as one of the first Trustees of the town of Stuart and mayor in 1884. Less than a year before his own death, the old soldier still attended reunions, the last one in Jacksonville, Florida. As the last survivor of his mess, his time as Corporal, Company D, 51st Virginia Infantry dominated his thoughts. Dr. Via died on March 6, 1915. On February 20, 1914, reflecting upon the death of his friend Via wrote the following poem and sent it to Woolwine’s daughter.

“Oh! Death thou has taken him away,
            And his suffering was so great.
I stayed with him all I could,
            For he was my last ‘messmate’!
My ‘mess’ have all left me now,
            And I am left here alone.
Captain Woolwine, the last to leave me,
            Our friendship was truly known!
We traveled over mountains and valleys,
            Where crystal streams ran down.
Now all their travelings are over,
            Not one of them can be found!
The Lord has done right with them
            I hope they are all at rest.
Though I am left here alone,
            I hope they are with the blest!
If they are with their Saviour,
            Though I cannot long here remain.
My ‘mess’ has gone and left me,
            Though true happiness I hope to gain!
We loved and respected each other,
            While we together roamed.
But they have all left me now,
            And I will seek a heavenly home!
Now I hope to meet them all,
            In the sweet bye and bye.                
And walk the golden streets of heaven,
            Where we will never, never die

On December 6, 1900, an aging man from Sweden rose to speak to the Garland Rodes Camp of the United Confederate Veterans in Lynchburg. Augustus Forsberg, who commanded many of the men from Patrick County in the 51st Virginia Infantry said, “Many years have passed since the events I have just narrated, and, like similar details of warfare, not of such importance as to merit a place in history, they will soon be forgotten. But the participants in the struggle of those ‘days that tried men’s souls’ cannot readily forget the trials and perils to which they were exposed.”
Patrick County’s Civil War soldiers are all gone. They rest in graves from northern Georgia and Fort Donelson, Tennessee to Finns Point, New Jersey, and Elmira, New York. The last veteran of the War, Joseph Henry Brown, served in Company G of the 24th Virginia Infantry. Born in 1843, he survived the war after capture at Five Forks in April 1865, as Robert E. Lee’s lines were broken around Richmond forcing the retreat that ended in surrender at Appomattox. Brown died in 1940 at the age of 96, ending the last human link to the war.
     In July 1913, President Woodrow Wilson presided over the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. One veteran from the North and the South represented each side on the platform near Wilson. In a symbolic gesture of reunification, the President grasped the hand of both men simultaneously. Photographs show Dr. William Dennis Via of Patrick County, the Southern soldier holding a Second National Flag of the Confederacy that is on display in the Patrick County Historical Museum.
     As a young boy, Wilson, a native Virginian, saw Jefferson Davis brought through Augusta, Georgia, after the Confederate President’s capture. My maternal grandmother lived in Augusta and as a boy took me to the spot Wilson saw Davis. This memory is still strong with me and as still strong with Wilson as he stood in Gettysburg that day when he spoke at this historic moment saying, “We are made by these tragic, epic things to know what it costs to make a nation—the blood and sacrifice of multitudes of unknown men lifted to a great stature in the view of all generations by knowing no limit to their manly willingness to serve.”

These remarks come from my book The Free State Of Patrick: Patrick County Virginia in the Civil War available online at www.freestateofpatrick.com