Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2019 All rights reserved

My Photo
Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sleeping Cats

For Wordless Wednesday—which some bloggers do, but I generally forget about—here are some pictures of George and Tanner sleeping;

. . . and one picture of Camilla chewing her foot:



Friday, March 20, 2015

Smith Mountain Dam and Lake

I recently read James A. Nagy's new book, Smith Mountain Dam and Lake, published by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Images of America series. I enjoyed the book very much—and I could connect with it on several levels.

The book especially interested me because I have a strong connection to the area and its history. My roots run over 250 years deep into Bedford and Franklin Counties, and my maiden name is Smith. If you look at the portion of the Franklin County settlers' map below, you'll see a John Smith (1771) who owned land on the Blackwater River just below the last bend on the Roanoke River, a bit above and to the left is Samuel Smith (1779), and near him is Stephen English whose family is intertwined with the Smiths. What used to be their land is now under the lake.

My grandmother, Sallie Lee Brown Smith, told me when I was a child in the 1950s that a dam would be built where the gap was in the mountain. It was hard for me to comprehend then. How could they—whoever they was—do that? But Smith Mountain Dam and Lake makes it clear how Appalachian Power Company did it. 

The book is rich in history of how the dam came to be, and numerous illustrations give an idea of the tremendous effort it took to acquire land, clear much of the land, and build the dam in the Smith Mountain gap. The well-organized book is divided into the following sections: "Before the Dam," "Construction at Smith Mountain," "Rising Water," "The Leesville Dam," "Filled to Capacity," "Welcome to the Smith Mountain Project," "Roads and Bridges," and "Developments and Attractions."

For most of the 1950s—while the land was being cleared—I wasn't aware of what was going on, though I'd heard that my grandmother had identified some of the graves that had to be moved because they'd be underwater. According to Nagy (p. 98):  "These old cemeteries posed a challenge with the installation of Smith Mountain and Leesville Dams in that some cemeteries were located in future reservoir areas. Relocation efforts resulted in some 1,100 graves, many marked only with flagstones, being moved to safer locations." 

When my grandfather died in 1959, Granny Sallie went to live with her youngest daughter in Henry County, and the family farm in Union Hall stood empty for a while. When I inherited the property in 1969, the lake—a mile or so from the farm as the crow flies—had  already filled. 

In Smith Mountain Dam and Lake, Nagy includes plenty of photos that show how the area looked as land was cleared, the dam was built, and the lake was filling. "In September 1963, the dam completely closed the gap at Smith Mountain in order to allow the lake to begin to form." (p. 30) The lake wasn't completely full, however, until 1966. 

I can remember in the early 70s how muddy the lake was and how roads dead-ended in the lake. Not many houses had been built along the shore then, but a lot of local folks had trailers on lakeshore land they'd rented from Appalachian. Some of the local folks whose farms ended up as lakefront property made money from selling off lots. In the 60s, when my daddy's half-uncle Rufus offered to sell him a lake lot in the Union Hall area, Daddy declared that "two thousand dollars is way too much for an acre of land on that mud hole!"

Who could have known then how much that mud hole would change? Smith Mountain Dam and Lake chronicles the changes. The last chapter, "Developments and Attractions" gives a glimpse of how much the lake has changed the area—not just physically but also economically. In this chapter, he mentions the lake's recent history—movies filmed at the lake, the development of Westlake, the brewery, the Virginia Dare, and others.

One of the attractions Nagy mentions is Booker T. Washington National Monument, formerly the James Burroughs plantation. Some of the plantation's land once belonged to my 5th-great grandfather, Jesse Dillon, Sr., who once owned 1,100 acres stretching from Crossroads to Haleford. In 1833, Jesse sold 170 acres of his land to Thomas Burroughs for $900 and a grey mare. Burroughs then sold it and some other acreage to his brother James. Jesse, who was in his 80s, died later that year—on June 12—and is buried near the Blackwater River—one of the rivers that flows into the lake.

What would Jesse think about how his rural neighborhood has changed? And would my grandmother have ever realized that the red clay road—then known as the racetrack—running past her farm would end in many upscale lake neighborhoods?

Granny Sallie, in front of the cabin where she lived for over 40 years.

She'd to go to Bethel Church by way of the racetrack, which crossed the creek at Houseman's Ford and continued on to the church. Now there's a neighborhood on the cove that used to be where the ford used to be before the lake filled in. I've used Houseman's Ford in both my two novels and the lake in one of them.

In Patches on the Same Quilt, two characters leaving Bethel Church race their horses along the racetrack and stop at Housman's Ford. In Stuck, the main character encounters a ghost who had a buggy accident near Houseman's Ford and who can't believe a lake is now in the area.

If you're writing a novel about the Smith Mountain Lake area, Smith Mountain Dam and Lake could provide you some good background information—what the area used to be, how the lake was built, and how the area changed. But Nagy's book is useful to non-novelists, too. Smith Mountain Dam and Lake is a good history reference book for those interested in regional history. Newcomers to Smith Mountain Lake might enjoy learning about life in their area. And, of course, long-time residents and natives of the Franklin-Bedford area would enjoy the book.

I highly recommend Smith Mountain Dam and Lake.

NOTE: James Nagy will be doing a presentation on his book  on March 26 at the Westlake Library at 2 PM and the Rocky Mount Library at 6:30 PM. On March 27, he'll be at the Moneta/SML Library at 2 PM. If you're in the area, you might want to stop by. Meanwhile, there are articles in local publications you might enjoy: The Franklin News-Post, the Laker Weekly, and the Smith Mountain Eagle.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 13, 2015

Red Sky This Morning

"Red sky at morning, Sailors take warning."

Dawn brought pink and orange and red clouds this morning:

 By this evening rain was falling. Though spring is in the air, the trees are still winter-bare.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Sun Cats

After a few days of wretched weather—rain, snow, ice, etc.—the sun finally came out. The cats basked in its warmth. George decided to catch some rays:

So did Tanner:

Then they decided to rassle to decide who got the sunbeam.

Luckily there was enough sunbeam for all, including elderly Dylan who grabbed the spot Tanner had vacated.

Tanner decided to look for a better place . . .

. . .  and he found one. But where's the sun?

Dylan and George are hogging it!

Chloe decides to brown-bag it.

But old lady cat Camilla decides to sleep in a dangerous place.

Later, George takes advantage of the warmer weather to sleep on the deck.

Maybe the sun will help him grow hair on his shaved spot.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 06, 2015

Genealogy Mysteries in Maryland

I've been poking around my genealogy for several months now. Since I recently learned—while checking on my Webb ancestry—that I descend from Moses Greer, Sr., one of the  founders  of Franklin County, I've been looking up the Greer line. The Internet has, of course, provided a wealth of resources, and it wasn't long before I learned the Franklin County Greers descended from the Gunpowder River, Maryland, Greers.

Knowing where they came from made looking them up easier, and I found numerous Internet posts revealing that those Greers came from a long line of Lords of Lag in Scotland.

as shown inThe Historical Families and the Border Wars,by C. L. Johnstone, 1878.

I learned that before they were Greers/Grears,/Griers, the ancestors were Griersons, and before that MacGregors. A bit of poking around the Internet revealed a thousand years of my history—OR NOT.

There's a problem with the founder of the American line—James Greer. Or Grear. Or Grier. Born in 1627, James came to Maryland as an indentured servant in 1674-75 aboard the Batchelor of Bristoll, captained by Samuell Gibbons, who made a tidy profit from hauling ninety or so servants to America. The "list of servants transported by Samuell Gibbons of Bristoll in the Ship Batchelor of Bristoll 1674" is here, as is other information about these servants.

The ship's captain not only made a tidy profit from hauling 90 servants to Maryland, some others also did:

Know all men by these presents that I Robert Ridgely of St. Mary's City for a valuable consideration to me paid by Thomas Selby of Somerset County do Assign, Sell and make over unto the said Thomas all my right, Title and Interest of, in and to Twenty five Rights to Land to me due by assignment from Samuell Gibbons of Bristoll, merchant, due the said Samuell for Transporting Robert Hutchins, Robert Mackahee, Agnes Sincler, John Grey, Thomas Mercer, Anthony Winslow, William Winslow, James Winslow, John Miller, James Grear, John Lynsey, John Keane, John Macknamerry, Jeffery Mackvey, Mathew Shaw, John Bradshaw, John Tarneck, Alexander Wallis, Daniell Henry, John Mackelman, Robert Orr, Hugh Maynard, James Feilding, Andrew Agnew, and Daniell Macknele into this province to Inhabit. To have and to hold the Said five and Twenty Rights to Land to him the Said Thomas Selby, his heirs and Assigns forever, Witness my hand and Seale this Sixth of November 1674
Witnesses: John Blomfeild    Robert Ridgely {Seale} Robert Ellis

Why would a member of a well-to-do Scottish family sell himself into servitude? Others apparently wondered the same thing, and I found a few sources that indicated there were two James Griers. Did they get mixed up somehow? 

A trip to the Franklin County Historical Society to look at the big Greer chart revealed this: "James Grier, 2nd son, born 1627, and emigrated with Samuel Gibbons 2 Nov. 1675. Died 1688 in Maryland." (It's the info by the star below.)

Emigrated? What a tactful way to phrase it. Too much evidence exists, however, that the Maryland  James was a servant and not a nobleman. Meanwhile, back in Scotland, the other James Grier had apprenticed himself to an apothecary/surgeon, a respectful enough career for one who isn't the first son (and thus the inheritor) in a well-to-do family.

I'm not the only one who is suspicious suspicious. From

A tradition seems to have developed among a number of these families that they are descended from a James Grier of the family of Capenoch, son of Sir James Grier and Mary Browne, probably born in the early 1630s. He is mentioned on the "Carrickfergus" tree as "James Grier M.D. of Edinburgh, died unmar." Whilst this tree is known to have many errors, this would appear to not be one of them. Recent research by Richard Miller has uncovered that James Grierson of Capenoch was buried on 23 January 1662 in Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. Contact with the Scottish Genealogical Society in Edinburgh confirmed that the burial was of James Grier(son) of Capenoch who was an MD (Apothecary) and died unmarried in Edinburgh. We will have to look elsewhere for the immigrant James Grier or Grear. There are, however, persistent rumours that members of the Capenoch family emigrated to Ireland at various times. It may be from those migrations that the American Greers spring. 

There are other online references raising suspicions about the Maryland James Grier, but you get the gist. So where did my Greer ancestor originate? Odds are good, since the ship sailed from Bristol, England, and made some stops along the Irish coast, that he could have come from Ireland. But I don't know for sure.  

Update: Since some of the links above go to different sites  than they did when I originally posted, here is an update about the passengers on the Batchelor of Bristol:

Another mystery involves Samuel and Grisselle Smith, who may or may not have come to Halifax County from Maryland in the 1700s. Back then Halifax encompassed part of what is now Franklin County. To complicate matters, Mrs. Samuel Smith's name is spelled lots of ways—Griselda, Grissel, Grizzel, Grezzel, Grisley, etc.

Anyhow, on 26 September 1732 in Prince George MD, one Samuel Smith (born 1708 in Middlesex, VA, died 1776 in Bedford, VA) married Grissel Locker (b. 28 Feb 1715 in St. John's Parish, Prince George MD, and died 1786 in Bedford, VA). She was supposedly the daughter of Thomas and Elinor Evans Locker, and Samuel was the son of Nicholas (b. 1680; died 1757) and Ann Smith of Essex, VA.

Another Smith born in VA also married a woman with a similar first name: "The 1748 King and Queen Co., VA will of Thomas Coleman shows that his daughter Grizzel was married to a Mr. Smith." This Samuel Smith was involved in land transactions in the Franklin County area as early as 1759.

Anyhow, I've come across sites where all of Sam and Grisley's 13 children were born in Maryland from 1735 through 1759, another that says daughter Anne was born in Virginia in 1740, another that says Samuel and Grisley were both born in 1738 in Halifax (with their son John born in Halifax in 1750 and died in Franklin County in 1800).

My guess is that the two Samuel Smith families are pretty well tangled together and have confused many researchers. Anyhow, as I try to untangle these  family lines, I'm pretty confused myself.


Labels: ,