Stovall, Georgia 2019

Stovall Road

Stovall Rd

Early spring in rural Georgia is usually a peaceful presence, unless you are climbing embankments searching for old, unkept graveyards. On April 6, 2019 my sister and I engaged in this exploration searching for the stone with the markings of W.R. Stovall. His date and place of birth and death is unknown,  but as you will see, there is ample evidence that Mr. Stovall was very much alive and prospering just as the twentieth century made entrance.

Of course Kay or I would have been thrilled to find evidence of any Stovall committal, but it would be a bonus to discover the resting place of the former town senior of Stovall, Georgia. He was the man for whom Stovall Road was named.  The paved corridor meanders for ten miles through Troupe and Merriweather Counties. Near the midpoint of Stovall Rd, between Lower Big Springs Rd and Greenville, GA, lies the town of Stovall.

Along the roadway we spotted a billboard with directions to Stovall Baptist Church. We took a risk and were surprised to find the fair-sized place of worship. The building looked newer than I had envisioned, with updated siding painted pure white.

Obviously, this was an active church with manicured landscaping and a large sign displaying times of worship on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesdays.  If Pastor Billy Allen were to draw a circle five miles around the church it is highly likely that most Baptist within the boundaries would attend worship at this location.    

Looking on beyond the church the road dead-ends and changes from pavement to a lovely carved clay street.  To our left and right we spotted two old brick buildings. 

 

 

Kay drove slowly while we both pondered buildings that loomed to our left and right, all secured with boarding over the windows and doors. One structure looked like it could have been a store, but it stood two floors tall. I supposed that it could have been the only multi-use facility in all of Stovall, Georgia.

Straight ahead we could see the road drifted east, out of town. There was a spectacular white fence that lined the exit way for as far as my eye could see.  The view was reminiscent of a small town Main Street.

To our right we saw a building that looked vaguely familiar. It was a large structure, longer than it was wide, that seemed to sit snuggly on a perch. Obviously, it was a non-operational facility, but my mind raced, Was this once a storage warehouse? Perhaps it was a distribution point?

I walked around to the back of the building and discovered what I assumed all along. There were dual train tracks, one was a main line and the other was a spur that once picked up grain or cotton from local farmers in and around Stovall, Georgia.

Stovall StoreThe old store looked structurally sound, but its windows and doors were boarded closed. I remember pondering if there was anything stored there or in the depot. My gut feeling being that both buildings were assuredly empty.

I did note that the long white fence terminated at the store. It was a defining spot where the rural meets urban. I also noted that the grounds were all mowed and manicured, just like the Church property. Could it be that the church maintained what was left of this isolated little town?

.  .  .

But as it turns out, Stovall, GA has several residents. Driving past a magnificent home near the old buildings, we were fortunate enough to spot a gentleman working in his yard. We stopped to inquire about the town and it happened that that this gracious man was the home owner and was willing to share his expansive  knowledge of the town and it’s pastoral past. Kay and I introduced ourselves as ‘Stovalls’, prompting him to produce the original town plot that plainly states downtown Stovall, Ga was owned by W.R. Stovall. The framed document was dated 1906 and was presented as a land plot. It was an amazing artifact that showed downtown Stovall, and all the outlying areas.

Stovall Plot zoom in on name date

a

Land plot for downtown Stovall, Georgia, in 1906.

“The Stovall’s owned pretty much all of this town.  It was farming times, and their farm just ran out.  There were a few seasons where the rain would stop just over there,” the man told us, pointing to the distance.

And then he pointed to the railroad tracks, “There was a water tower just on the other side of the tracks.  The steam engines came in and filled up with water.  But when the deisel trains come about, the railroad quit stoping in Stovall.  After a few years the railroad tore down the water tower, claiming it was their property, and they didn’t want to be held responsible for neglect.”

Kay noted the cemeteries on the large map, which brought the man to his full attention, “Get in your car and follow me,” he motioned to us.  “I’ll show you two cemeteries and you can see for your self.  As for me, I see too many ticks from the road to the headstones.”

The first cemetery contained some gravestones with birth dates in the late eighteenth century, but for the most part, the inscriptions were no longer legible.  It was a small area with twenty or so graves that had been largely unattended.

Kay and I followed our guide to the second graveyard, but again he would have no part in scaling the embankment in search of the graves. He waited by the roadway while brother and sister reached the summit. Up ahead we could see many headstones grouped in a large, but neglected patch. When he saw that we had found our destination, he waved and departed in his pick-up truck.

I felt apprehensive as I watched the man drive away. There were so many answers I needed from him, but alas, he and his vehicle faded down the paved county road. Who is the caretaker of this historical little town that bears my family name? Are any of the farms still owned by families named on the land plot? What will the future hold for Stovall, GA? But most importantly; Where are the Stovall’s of Stovall, GA?

. . .

Kay and I searched the larger graveyard and found the stones were better preserved than the first cemetery we toured. We were able to decipher some headstones with the surnames, Hardy and Neal. There was little vandalism, just a few overturned headstones. Much like the first graveyard, it was overgrown with vegetation and appeared forgotten. To our dismay, there were no Stovall headstones.

. . .

Stovall, Georgia is representative of many towns or villages that sprang up shortly after the Revolutionary War. Soldiers wanted payment for their services and our new government had no money to pay them. Legislatures felt the need to proliferate the lands westward and offered free partials to those who were willing to claim the acreage. Within fifty years after America won her freedom from England, farming settlements were populating areas west of the Appalachian Mountains, particularly in the southern most part of our young country.

Stovall, Georgia is a bonanza for modern-day seekers who have an interest in these old settlements. Most are now ghost towns or unpopulated expanses of days gone by, much like the town of Stovall. Maybe some are fortunate enough to have a resident expert who can tell stories of the old town and prove his words with official land plots.


Stovall, Georgia. My kind of place.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Belmead in Peril

Belmead

Belmead

Other than Bartholomew Stovall’s vast lineage, he also left a fair-sized tobacco farm outside of Richmond, Virginia.  He lived there no more than twenty years before passing, but ironically, the original 320-acre parcel can be identified today at a point where Deep Creek empties into the ocean bound River of James.

In the past, I’ve detailed the history of this sacred place.  The farm has survived iterations of ownership; each century witnessing the plot being bundled with a larger parcel.   Most of those who have read Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant are not surprised that you can still walk on the grounds where Bartholomew harvested his crops and helped raise his family.   Most of those who follow this blog understand how the terminus of a young English lads dreams could evolve into a sanctuary that focused on providing help for underprivileged African American and Native American men and women.

If you are not familiar with Belmead, I encourage you read this blog entry from 2013, before you continue with this post.  It begins with an introduction of Bartholomew acquiring the first 320-acre plot and then continues with the progression of ownership.    

 

https://bartholomewstovall.com/2013/09/

 Belmead – Then and Now

In 1706, when Bartholomew Stovall walked the boundaries of his newly acquired 320-acre farm, he had no idea that the property would eventually be ravaged by giant construction machines. 

One hundred and thirty years after Bartholomew’s passing, plantation owner Philip St George Cocke had no way of knowing that his magnificent, 1,200 acres, self-sustaining, plantation would be divided into parcels less than one acre, lined with carved, asphalt streets and stately homes.   

Fast forward to, 1890 and imagine Katherine Drexel considering plans to convert what remained of John Croke’s slave supported plantation into a home for African American and Native American girls and boys.  How could she possibly imagine that the institution she had built using her own funds would be closed, abandoned, demolished and then sold to the highest bidder.    

In May of 2016, the Catholic Church made their decision that the group of Nuns who looked after this sanctuary should retire or be relocated, and that all property and its assets would be made available to investors, implying that “Sister Katherine’s dreams have been accomplished.” 

In February of 2017 the doors were bolted tight at Belmead and everyone was told to leave the premises.  This holy sanctuary was officially closing it’s doors for good.  

After two years, it appears that efforts have intensified, and other parties have shown interest in the 2,200 acre plot on the James.  At this point, the worst-case scenario seems likely.  Belmead may soon bear the name of the avenue leading into another overpriced suburban community.   

Belmead on the James Inc.

With news that Belmead was for sale, a grass roots, nonprofit organization was formed with the goal of “acquiring the historic Belmead property and preserving intact as much of its 2,265 acres of land as possible.”  Belmead on the James, Inc. (BOJI) stated that their mission is “for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans, as well as to preserve the cultural, historical, spiritual, ecological, and educational legacy associated with the property.” 

So far, BOJI has raised $140,000 from organized donation campaigns.  They have secured one million dollars in promissory grants from The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. 

They sent out a challenge to speculative investors who shared their ideas of preservation and conservation.  With good fortune a philanthropic lender did step forward, but delays in the closure of Belmead forced the prospective lender to reconsider their commitment. 

Today Belmead sits with no offers, but one very serious buyer who is trying to garner enough money for the purchase.  Will the owner of this property wait until BMOJ has enough funding for closure, or will they sell to the first buyer and rid themselves of all the issues?

The property is over 2,200 acres of rich, river basin farmland.  It’s filled with Loblolly pines and other hardwood trees, but parts of it are swampy and useless for development.  Prospective buyers will note that there are cemeteries and many very large, old buildings on the grounds.  Ironically, some of the structures are in good shape due to publicly funded efforts through donations.  One thousand acres is protected by a Conservation easement, but none bear the seal of the ultra-protective, Historic easement.

Some of these items may appear as negatives for those looking to purchase the property.  Ironically, BOTJ wants them to remain as is.  Leave the graveyards to be managed by the caretakers.  Leave the Church and the areas that have been restored for parishioners.  The swamp laden marshes and the swift flow of the James; leave this all to nature.    

In and around that area of Virginia, Belmead is a sensitive topic.  It’s worth has been set and its history has been recorded.  With the good Lord willing, our luck will continue and all three parcels can remain together, free in nature.

As of November 19 there are no significant details to report on the sale of Belmead.  It is important to note that in closing it was mentioned, “for now we are not asking for additional donations for Belmead on the James.”

If you are interested in helping save Belmead look for an update on this blog page, or visit Historic Belmead on Facebook.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Bartholomew Stovall

August 24, 1665, Bartholomew Stovall, my grandfather from nine generations past was born in Albury Surry, England.  When Bartholomew  reached the age of eighteen years, he boarded a the sea going ship, Booth and sailed to the new world of America.

Today, hundreds of thousands if not millions carry his DNA.  Thank you George and Joan Stovall, parents of Bartholomew, for giving birth to our ground zero forefather here in the US.  And Thank you Bartholomew for making that historic voyage.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ann Boleyn and the American Culture

 

       She captured the heart of Henry VIII and hastened Reformation

 By the time young America created the Declaration of Independence, the mindset of their population had already formed core beliefs about how a government and the people should interact; government would operate by consent rather than decree.  Then and today, few realize that this uniquely American marriage of freedom and justice shares a near link with the infamous Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII.

In the novel, Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant, Bartholomew knew his destiny.  As a slave, he was forced to accustom his master’s rules.

By the time Bartholomew had earned his freedom in 1688, he understood that governing in the New World was much like that in his mother country, England.  It was a government of representation and was imposed by a fair legal system, elected by the people.  These facts helped Bartholomew to understand that, should he follow the path that was presented to him with nobility, the truth would be rendered, and he would find his destiny.

This provincial government Bartholomew found in America was a byproduct of the successful Protestant Reformation in England between 1500 and 1650.  During a time of deep rooted religious oppression, noted authors were writing essays supporting the Enlightenment, and others were interpreting The Holy Bible from the Greek and Latin scrolls to English books, so “Even the plowman could read Gods word and form a personal relationship through prayer.”

But the turning point in England’s history had little to do with reformation.  Britain and their provincial experiment, America, as well as large portions of the civilized world, should credit Anne Boleyn for their freedom to worship and to live in a true Godley spirit.  It was Anne Boleyn, the former Queen’s maid and then second wife of King Henry VIII who used her charm, wit, and flirtatious manner to repel the forces of intolerance.

                                                                 .  .  .

King Henry’s attraction to Anne Boleyn was not a quick romance.  At first, she denied his advances, as well as the ‘formal request’ for her to become his solitary mistress.  The king was taken aback by her refusal.  Anne was steadfast against his charm, but the two did become close.  Finally, she confessed her love for him, but reasoned that it would all be in vain because he was a married man.

With her refusal, the king became open with his intentions to marry Anne Boleyn, going so far as to summon the Pope and requested that his marriage to the Queen, Catherine of Aragon be annulled.  But the Pope refused the request leaving Henry livid.

But liberation for the protestants took a huge leap forward in November 1528.  On this date, King Henry VIII summoned Parliament and gave a masterful speech at Bridewell, London.  The King confessed that he had been living in mortal sin, caused by his arranged marriage to his late brother’s wife, Catherine.

He quoted passage from the Holy Bible in Leviticus Chapter 20 Verse 16:

If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”

The King may have convinced the gathering when he stated that he lived in “detestable and abominable adultery”.

                                                                        .  .  .

History has proved that King Henry VIII wanted to be rid of Catherine because she was barren and had not produced him a male heir.  He was also infatuated with Anne Boleyn and wanted her as his queen and beds maid.

But history also proved that by bringing his request to Parliament, Henry was seeking support for his cause from the nobility of the country he ruled.  He knew that he could not ‘decree’ to the Pope, thus he enrolled the help of the people to absolve the authority of domestic matters from a foreign entity.

Henry’s plea to Parliament was the turning point in England’s history.  In incremental events, Henry VIII achieved his objective. On November 3, 1534 the Parliament of England passed the first Act of Supremacy, appointing Henry VIII as The Supreme Head of the Church of England. Finally, Henry was able to discern the legal sovereignty of the civil laws over the laws of the Church in England.  This is to say that Henry could grant himself a divorce and then marry Anne Boleyn.

This sweeping turn of events altered England’s business model drastically.  With Henry’s plea to Parliament England was now governed by consent rather than decree.  It was a mindset that followed those who formed the laws and labored the fields of the New World.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How America Was Made

If you trace history back three hundred and thirty-two years from today, then imagine Bartholomew Stovall, an indentured servant in the early American colony of Virginia.  He had reduced his obligations from four years, to only months, and would soon be set free to make his own way in America.

Bartholomew was ever mindful of the survival odds; Only one in ten indentures would endure freedom.  For the most part, they would take the skills learned on plantations and use that knowledge to grow tobacco, just like their master.  The dream was always real, but the reality for most free servants proved too difficult a task.

The cause for failure was usually of circumstances beyond their control: sickness, lack of help, unfavorable weather.  Some statistics show that, upon completion of indenture, only one in ten received the land they were promised.  There was the dreaded “Summer Sickness” that claimed the lives of near forty percentage of all young immigrants in the mid colonies.

Bartholomew knew that his fortunes had been good, but he never anticipated the difficulty of blending with the populous of America.

                                                               .   .   .

During this early colonial period, most of the duties and laws were based on customs of the mother country.  England’s system may well have been an ideal model but implementing it into colonial America required ‘adaptations’.   From necessity came new ideas, and those ideas influenced the identity and character that branded the new world.

But once he was free of indenture, Bartholomew was to merge with shop owners, farmers, tradesman, and men of GodHe was like scores of other immigrants, ready to claim their partial and make a life.  It was young America on the cusp of the eighteenth century.

The Enlightenment

The Great Awakening – John Wesley

All these free servants understood that the mindset of their young colony was growing but none understood that it was during a rare place in time where The Enlightenment and the religious revival known as The Great Awakening existed simultaneously.   In seventeenth century Colonial America the question arose; Enlightenment or Awakening, reason or faith, science or God?   To everyone’s amazement, the new world of America embraced both lines of thinking.

Indentures from as early as 1620s paved the way for settlers like Stovall.  It was a determined society and the opportunities were endless, if you were willing to work.   Bartholomew’s timing was perfect as the colonies abounded with capitalism.
By the time Bartholomew received his land, the colonies of America became provisional, meaning “This is the way of things and those rules are subject to change at any time.”  It would take Bartholomew but ten years to understand the way in this new America.  In the end, he would settle on a large land plot resting on a navigable waterway.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bartholomew Reaches America – November 11, 1684

The Booth Moored off Jamestown, Virginia Colonies

On his day in history, exactly three hundred and thirty two years ago, The Booth sat moored off the coast of Jamestown, Virginia Colonies.  It had been a four month voyage, but Captain Peter Pagan finally tracked down the terminus of his passage across the Atlantic ocean.

The ship held a cargo of fifty-two servants, less Captain and crew, all of  which had signed a contract obligating them to years of servitude in exchange for freedom in America.

This is the exact truth in so much as history has recorded, but our novel, Bartholomew Stovall – The English immigrant,  details events that led up to, and then proceeds this moment in time.

On board, is a tall English lad, nineteen years of age.  Bartholomew Stovall was surely overwhelmed by the new life in Colonial American, but when all was said and done he owned 320 on the James River.  He married Ann Burton and raised a family of five boys and one girl.

The generations that followed the lineage of Bartholomew must have inherited his audacious spirit.  Today, twelve or more generations and literally millions of cousins can trace their lineage back to Bartholomew, the only documented surname “Stovall” to immigrate.

American Colonies – November 1684

When the Booth finally reached America it was the beginning of winter and the weather was probably much like that in England this time of year.

The Booth anchored close to the shore so the ship wouldn’t rock about as it had for four months at sea.  All of the passengers had an opportunity to peek out of port windows and survey the edge of the continent.  Most assuredly, the first thing they noticed were trees.  Giant pines were packed close together in a display of greenery they were not accustomed.  Each man, woman and child feared what may be waiting hidden behind the wooden giants.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Midpoint of the Passage

On this day in history, exactly three hundred and thirty-three years ago, September 12, 1684, Bartholomew Stovall cast his view to the open seas, North West.  Bartholomew knew full well that he was crossing midpoint of the passage across the Atlantic.  The slave hauling ship, Booth, Captained by Peter Pagan, had made the initial stop at Santa Cruz De Tenerife, Canary Islands to replenish food stocks, water, and rum.

The Booth reached incredible speed as she rode the southerly trade winds past Africa.  Soon enough, the sun stared directly into the face of Captain and crew, making it apparent that they were traveling in a more westerly direction.   They had left Africa and were crossing the Atlantic, searching for Dominica in the West Indies.  When the islands were spotted it would have been six weeks without the site of land.

It was a defining moment when the young, English lad finally realized how totally alone he was as he drifted in the middle of the ocean.  With an obligation to give four years of indenture, Bartholomew Stovall was left to question his compulsion.

But there was no time to dwell on such matters.  As told in our novel, Bartholomew Stovall, the English Immigrant, the next big adventure would happen sooner rather than later.

Thank you, Bartholomew for embarking on the passage to America.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment