Lemira Virginia Smith (1844 – 1917)
Lemira Virginia Smith was the older sister of Ella Cordelia Smith, who married William Ellis Jones (1838 – 1910). The two sisters were unusually close, and remained together under the same roof for the greatest part of their lives. Lemira was born on October 12, 1844, most likely in Petersburg, Virginia. We know nothing of her childhood, except that which can be assumed from her lineage and upbringing – which she shared in common with her sister.
Her story is noteworthy on several accounts, the first of which has to do with the circumstances of her marriage to a young Confederate Army doctor, William H. Gibbs. The marriage was planned for April 8, 1865, and was to take place at her father’s home on Smith’s Hill in Richmond. This date is quite significant, as it is one day after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox, and just a few days after the Evacuation Fire that destroyed Richmond.
Her father’s home on Smith Hill was completely destroyed in the fires that leveled Richmond. According to the family lore, the property was used by Confederate forces to hide several gunpowder magazines. This was a common practice during the Civil War; the belief being that it was better to distribute armaments in small collections all over town than to risk the capture of one, centralized storehouse. When the fire touched the gunpowder, the whole cache exploded and took the house and everything on the hill with it in a dramatic fireball.
Despite the loss of the city, the loss of her family’s home, and the uncertain, bleak cloud that hung over the prospects of every Southerner in those dark days, the marriage between Lemira and Dr. Gibbs did, in fact, take place on the appointed date. This fact demonstrates a level of fortitude and determined optimism that’s difficult to conceive of today.
It has to be assumed that Dr. William Gibbs died young, as he exits the family lore almost as soon as he enters it. We know that Lemira took up residence in the Richmond household of her brother-in-law, William Ellis Jones (1838 – 1910) and went with them to Dumbarton in the early 1880’s when he built “Summerfield”. She remained with the family in complete partnership with her younger sister for the rest of her life.
According to William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951) “Aunt Dietz”, as she was known to him and to his father, F. Ellis, was a most beloved and cherished person who was as much a mother to them in their separate generations as their own mothers. She did not have children of her own, and the impression given by my grandfather is that she looked to her sisters children as her own; caring for them, loving them, nursing them when they were ill, and educating them as they grew. She dedicated her life to the care and bringing up of her nephews and then later to the next generation of great-nieces and nephews.
In a particularly weighty entry, my grandfather records the following:
“…She taught me to read and what to read. Half the great books that I know were read to me by her; Shakespeare, Don Quixote, and Robinson Crusoe were read aloud to me before my teens. Whatever leaning I have in the direction of tolerance was drilled into my head by her example and precept. More than any other person, she educated me and gave me the character and personality I have today.
She died just before Christmas, 1917 and I was with her at the time. Her going left a void in the world that time has not filled. I would have my children cherish her memory with love and reverence, and tell their own children of her. I cannot hope that they will be like her, for she was the product of a culture now vanished from the face of the earth.”
– William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951)
Aunt “Deitz” is recalled in these pages, her memory honored, and her contribution noted and deeply appreciated. I wish my grandfather was here to read his recollection of her published for future generations to appreciate.
Primary Source: The Baby Book / William Ellis Jones Jr. Family History, By William Ellis Jones Junior (1936)