New book reveals rare photos, lore of Rappahannock African American families

‘Slavery . . . ravages are undeniably on the faces of minority residents’

Arguably the most staggering statistic contained in the soon-to-be-published book, “Images of America: African Americans in Culpeper, Orange, Madison, and Rappahannock Counties,” is the fact that between 1900 and 1950 more than 34 percent of Rappahannock’s population relocated.

As in African Americans.

Today, among 7,400 county residents, fewer than five percent are black.

In his new book, author and museum curator Terry L. Miller helps to document Rappahannock’s African American history. Descendants shared with him family lore and much more to reveal the once large black population’s beauty, spirit, resilience, and pain.

The cover of “Images of America: African Americans in Culpeper, Orange, Madison, and Rappahannock Counties,” which will be published on January 21. All courtesy photos

As Miller says of the rarely seen photos in the book, the legacy of slavery undergirds Rappahannock “and its ravages are undeniably on the faces of minority residents.”

In 1860, there were 3,520 enslaved and 312 free blacks in Rappahannock County. The majority of their descendants are no longer here, moved to neighboring counties or large cities far away. If not people, a small number of well-preserved slave quarters here stand as monuments to those who remain an integral part of the county’s history.

Miller writes about Charles W. Kilby, known as “Simon,” who was born in Rappahannock County in 1853, the son of Nimrod Kilby and Juliett Ann Luby, his mother enslaved by Thomas and Mildred Kilby. When Simon was preparing to marry Lucy Frances Wallace, born in 1857, he was given “written permission” to do so by her mother, Martha P. Wallace.

“Since both of Simon Kilby’s parents were deceased, his identity was attested to by merchant and community leader Paschal M. Finks,” Miller recalls. “Over the years, the couple made a home on their own land and raised seven sons and four daughters. They maintained a lasting relationship with the Finks family, as evidence by one of Simon’s sons, John Henry Kilby, Sr., who worked as a farm laborer for some Finks descendants.”

It’s unknown how Amy Gordon got to Rappahannock County after her enslavement in Caroline County. She was recorded as being born in 1859 to “Mary” but owned by Bazil Gordon. By 1870, she was living in Rappahannock in the John Andrew Bowersett household; both are listed as married, assumedly the author writes to one another. Bowersett was a Rappahannock merchant, and in Amy’s lifetime she had three children.

She does not appear in the public record after 1889.

Among other portraits in the book is Rappahannock native Lucy Mildred Terrill (aka Terrell) Peyton, born around 1856 to Harriett Peyton.

“In 1879, she married farmer Edward Fletcher (1856-1927), and they had five children,” the author writes. “Their home was full of encouragement, resulting in their children becoming professionals in their own right. Nephews and grandchildren also lived with them at time.”

Another proud parent, despite her visibly absent smile, was Ida Ralls Frye, born in Rappahannock around 1874 to Andrew “Cafie” and Jane Jenkins Ralls. She married James Frye on Aug, 5, 1894; set up housekeeping, and the couple raised a family of four strikingly handsome children — Fenton, Otis, Lottie and Marie — at the foot of what later became Shenandoah National Park.

Ida died nine months after her husband, on June 18, 1948, both ironically of brain hemorrhages.

The book tells the tragic story of Harry Redcross Williams, born in 1891 to Augustus Williams (born 1855) and Rose Redcross Scott. Harry married Beatrice Lena Brown, another Rappahannock native and daughter of George R. Brown and Annie Eliza Gordon. Sadly, a fatal accident in his barn resulted in Harry “being incinerated almost immediately.”

The oldest of five known children of Charles and Edmonia Williams, Irie Lee Williams Brown was born in 1883 and became the second wife of widower Rev. Lewis Brown in Rappahannock County. Twenty-five years her senior, Rev. Brown was both a farmer and minister. They were the parents of eight known children. Many years after the preacher’s death Irie was remarried for a brief time to Pendleton Wilson Williams, Jr.

Among dozens of other Rappahannock portraits — from the Civil War, through World War I and II, into more recent times — is one of John Jackson, who “played his version of the Piedmont blues on his guitar and entertained audiences all over the world. He was born in Rappahannock to tenant farmers Suddy and Hattie Jackson on Feb. 25, 1924.

“His father taught him to play the guitar,” Miller observes, “where his unique sound afforded him invitations and record deals. A historical marker on Zachary Taylor Highway (US Route 522 in Woodville) pays tribute to his contributions to American music.”

“Images of America: African Americans in Culpeper, Orange, Madison, and Rappahannock Counties,” by Terry L. Miller, 128 pages, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $21.99. Phone 888.313.2665 or visit www.historypress.net.

About John McCaslin 466 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.

5 Comments

  1. I plan on purchasing the book. However, if you want to research Black history look into the following story. I was searching slave owners in Orange. This was in the records, but probably destroyed because someone wrote on it. The story goes as this: The Montague family had a slave named Eva. It seemed she served as their cook and was terribly mistreated. She tried to poison the master. The story then shares that they burned the woman alive. They chained her to a big rock and burned her alive at the old court house for all to see. I guess setting an example to the other slaves. Apparently,while digging up the parking lot at that law office (I think the old movie threater) they uncovered the rock with the chain holds and questioned it. Unknowinly, ( I hope) they placed the large white rock in the old Leggett parking lot at the intersection of main and 15. I believe after questions regarding the rock surfaced, the rock was moved. The author of the story revealed he was asked to not print the story as it may damage the Montague Real Estate company and family image. I am waiting to find out what the slave last name was and where is the family! Find that out and you will forever have a supporter! I wish I could do the research but I don’t think that would fare too good for me. Those families have power and money but I sure wish someone would look into her death. According to the story, there is one man who recalls his grandfather talking about the story. He also is a well known figure in the community. With due diligence, someone could get the story. The article lists its sources. I personally don’t even want my the name to fall from my lips regarding that topic (In this case, finger). Maybe in your updated version of the book?

    • That story is tragic. Burning a mistreated slave is horrifying!I hope this story is historically documented. It shows how much torture went on to slaves.

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