As I sit down to write this blog, September is coming on fast. Soon, autumn. In the past month, I have jotted down notes for several blogs, only to have an incessant flurry of events and, simply, time, overtake what I had planned to write.
Today, I catch my breath and exert some extra self-discipline.
The backdrop of history, replete with its ghosts, its pains and pleasures never leaves us. It is particularly omnipresent here at North Point, but lately, astonishing events here in America have revived febrile discord surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments, the evils of slavery, the Civil War.
This blog is not political. Rather, it is about the wonder of history, of the study of history, the discovery of deep family ties, and how they connect us today.
I have written before about how Martha Stevens Marinelli, a descendant of the Brown family, which owned North Point from the 1830s to 1876, came into my life and the life of North Point. Martha visited for the first time one snowy weekend last January, and she returned to North Point this week.
When Martha first contacted me last fall, she sent me a photograph of a simple yet elegant glazed pottery pitcher and bowl set that had been at North Point in the 1800s. The set, like its owners, had traveled a circuitous route as families do when war and political upheaval force exodus. Martha’s ancestors fled to South Carolina in 1876 when carpetbaggers took over North Point, taking the bowl and pitcher with them. Martha was born in South Carolina and lived there until 2004 when she moved to Maryland. The bowl and pitcher, none too worse for wear considering its age and transport, eventually fell under Martha’s possession.
In recent months Martha and I discussed her return to North Point so that we could together conduct more research. But Martha also told me that she wanted to bestow her family heirloom upon us so that it would be reunited with its original home. I knew she was brining it with her on this trip. She and I had agreed that the set will remain at North Point as long as we do and when we leave someday, we will grant it to the King William Historical Society, in Martha’s recently deceased father’s name.
As I counted the weeks until Martha’s arrival, I decided to also invite King William historian Bibb Edwards so that he and Martha could confer. Talking with Bibb, who lives in North Carolina, over the past months, we had decided that the two may be distant cousins (the Edwards are an old King William family; in fact, the Edwards’ were the first holders of the 1702 land grant that became North Point). I had put them in touch with each other via email and they were looking forward to meeting in person and comparing notes. (Another long ago North Point relation by marriage has recently contacted Martha and me via Facebook, and Martha brought with her that woman’s husband’s family history, too.)
Bibb is not only a fabulous and fascinating person (and as loquacious as the rest of us), but I suspected that he and Martha would have a great deal to talk about. As it happened, Bibb was going to be in town for his family’s famous annual Edwards Reunion, which has been a tradition since 1929. He extended his trip to King William and together, the four of us had a memorable two days together.
Bibb and Martha each brought primary and secondary source materials. My husband helped with photocopying and the three of them sat for hours, pouring over documents and books, analyzing time lines, plotting two intersecting strands of further research: one that continues focusing on North Point Plantation and the other on additional branches of Martha’s illustrious family. Of course, the research was aided by good food and drink and North Point’s precious back porch, Mattaponi River view, and lovely breezes. North Point’s resident Lord of the Manor, Lafayette, our beloved Basset Hound, helped with the research.
On the afternoon of the second day of their visit, Bibb took us on a road trip around King William County. With his wealth of historical knowledge, Martha, Bill, and I could have probably continued the tour for a whole other day. I have been at North Point for five years but full time only since this past spring, and there is so much for me to learn about this enthralling corner of Virginia. We walked inside utterly serene Acquinton Church, a prime example of colonial church architecture, peered at old headstones, drove past historic former plantation houses and soaked in every word Bibb uttered. At the granite monument to King William’s Confederate 53rd Battalion members at the King William Courthouse complex, Martha found the name of her North Point ancestor, Archie Beale Brown. I gained a fuller, more visceral appreciation for King William’s place in colonial Virginia. After all, I knew we have the oldest continuously running courthouse in America and yet I didn’t feel the county’s history until I listened to Bibb narrate the deep connections among families, describe daily life in 18th c. King William, explain the impact of geography and rivers on its history, all as we passed verdant fields of corn and soy as far as the eye could see. A finicky, late afternoon summer storm followed us–sunshine one moment; bold, dark clouds and rain the next, which somehow added to the sense of adventure and shared love of history. Theirs was a great visit I shall not forget. I’m already contemplating the next one.
Neither I nor my husband were born in Virginia; Bibb no longer lives here, and Martha herself never lived here, yet King William nevertheless deeply unites us and is our common spiritual home.
And now, nearly 150 years after it was safely harbored away with a family’s precious possessions to South Carolina, a plain and fancy domestic pitcher and bowl set once again finds its home at North Point.