Monthly Archives: October 2013

Highlight of my Decade: Dinner w/ Charles McNair

Charles McNair; author of Picket's Charge and Pulitzer Prize nominated Land O' Goshen,

Charles McNair; author of Picket’s Charge and Land O’ Goshen,

Alright ya’ll, so this one is sooo off-topic. But it’s my blog and I’ll gloat of I want to.

Tonight I had dinner with Charles McNair, nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994 for his book Land O’ Goshen, and author of the 2013 release Pickett’s Charge. (See the review in my all-new Book Reviews section.)

How did a solitude seeking, cave-dwelling, lower life-form like yours truly pull-off this feat of incredible fortune? Well, not to be redundant, but fate was with me. (And that’s pretty cool, cause I gotta tell you, I’ve never even won a bingo game before and I’m generally of the opinion that I somehow offended Lady Luck coming out of the womb. She’s never shined on me. That is… until this evening.)

Mr. McNair was in Raleigh for a reading and book signing last night (Monday, 10/28/2013.) I had to work and couldn’t get there until the event was over and the poor man was walking out the door. I did manage to get a book signed, introduce myself, shake his hand, etc., and to my ‘shock&awe’, the guy honestly came across as one of the most charming, genteel, and generous fellows I’ve met in years. (A lot of authors can be real pompous, self-important prigs. Shocking, I know. Sorry to have to break the news.)

So… long story short, I dashed home after work last night and checked Mr. McNair’s website. I saw he had an event planned at a bookshop in Durham this evening (10/29/2013.) I knew it would be tight (I had to work till six.) But determined to go and see what I’d missed last night, I hauled ass up 540 to I-40 as fast as my 1990 Honda Civic would propel me (not particularly fast at all), and I made it through the doors at the bitter stroke of 7:05 P.M. (five minutes late, dammit!)

The crowd was small, but I knew it would be given Durham’s zip code (a suburb of New Jersey.) They don’t read much there. Despite the Gothic Walls dripping with ivy, the University lost its intellectual luster decades ago. Now it’s just a clearing house for over-priced bio-technical degrees and MBAs on their way to Wall Street. You want to find a university town that still feels like a university town, go to Charlottesville – or Chapel Hill.

But I digress.

So Mr. McNair blessed us with a very personalized reading of two chapters from Pickett’s Charge, his new book about the last surviving Confederate Veteran; 114 year-old Alabama native, Threadgill Pickett, who is on a final, vendetta-charged mission to hunt down and destroy the last surviving Union Soldier, who is living it up in Bangor Maine. (A long way from Threadgill’s Mobile, Alabama rest home.) Check out my upcoming review for more on the book.

After the reading, Mr. McNair invited his small audience to join him on 9th Street for a beer. Someone suggested dinner, which sounded great to me since I had not eaten a crumb since my bacon, egg & cheese, Bojangles biscuit this morning at 10:00 in the morning (which is roughly Oh-Dark-Thirty to me.) Except I realized I was in Durham (New Jersey), and I knew that there ain’t no getting no cheap grub in Durham. Especially not on 9th Street. I was secretly wishing I’d brought a bologna sandwich with me. I could do like I did when I was in college and sit outside on the sidewalk and eat it while everybody else went in. Then join up again when they all came out, fat and flushed.

Then I thought again – I may never, EVER, in my whole life get to sit down at table with a man who actually got tapped for the Pulitzer Prize list. I’m worried about $20.00? (That’s four hours’ work, at minimum wage, which is the top dollar I can command these days.) Fuck it. Fuck it! FUCK IT!

We marched down to Blue Corn on 9th Street. I got my money’s worth – and I’m not talking about the food.

We (the folks who accepted Mr. McNair’s invitation) talked about books, authors, the history of Durham, racism, Shelby Foote (guess who brought that topic up?) I learned that Umberto Eco was dead (truly I did not know. I’m outta touch.) I was encouraged to write and follow that goal, taking advantage of whatever means available to me (including self-publishing, the crowd-funding model, or whatever.)

And hopefully Mr. McNair made some contacts at Duke that will help him sell a few books and get them in the library there too. (God knows, they have the money.)

I don’t know when was the last time I went out to dinner with anyone – much less perfect strangers. It’s been years. Many years. (And those days were painful, forced, corporate entertainments that were never my idea; absolutely coerced events that I never would have participated in, had I had a choice.) Tonight was sheer, self-indulgent, enjoyment. I feel guilty I had such a good time. Crossing 9th street back to my car, I was walking on clouds.

But wait, it gets better…

So I sent Mr. McNair a thank you note via email this evening (Yes! That Yellowhammer SOB gave me his email address! Rascal!)

And here’s what he sent back:

“Thank you so for the kindness and attention and companionship. It humbled me that you came all the way from Raleigh to this event. I’m grateful. In return, you have an assignment for the rest of this week – two typed double-spaced pp of fiction per day. No excuses. Let me hear from you a week from tonight. Cheers.”

My one line response:

“I’ll take that bait.”

So… ya’ll will have to pardon my silence the rest of the week, and the Merioneth Historical and Records Society will have to wait. I have work to do.

The night is young.

Epic FAIL | Confessions of a highly speculative genealogist.

Ouch! That Hurts!

Ouch! That Hurts!

I fell down the rabbit hole. And now I have to climb back out.

Let me explain (I need to explain it to myself) how I got to the edge of this pesky pit, and how I foolishly (naively, if completely optimistically) scurried down and then tumbled head over arse, chasing a (highly suspect, if attractively romantic) idea – only to find that I was chasing a complete fiction.

First I need to tell you what the heck I am talking about:

In researching my Jones family history, I had a number of questions I wanted to answer. Among them;
1] How did a family of barely literate shepherds manage to quickly produce; three generations of religious fanatics and ardent Welsh-nationalists; a famous poet and first novelist in the Welsh-language (William Ellis Jones, aka “Gwilym Cawrdaf”); an infamous radical (Lewis Evan Jones, Sr., of Carnarvon); a reluctant Confederate Rebel-Philosopher-turned-historian who was renowned to have one of the most extensive personal libraries in all of Virginia (William Ellis Jones, II, of Richmond); a gifted (but sadly crippled by drink) poet and playwright (William Ellis Jones, III, of Richmond, grandson of the Rebel-Philosopher); and me and my generation, who so far, I cannot find a succinct label for, as we are so unfocused and lost, and yet certainly “interesting” in our own particular peculiarities.

2] Why did Thomas Norcliffe Jones (the first Welsh ancestor to immigrate to America) chose to come to Richmond, Virginia of all places (as opposed to Utica, NY, or Pennsylvania, where most of the Welsh immigrants to the US congregated)? It seems an unlikely destination for a Middle Class Welshman. The only Welsh in Richmond in the 1830’s (when he arrived) were laborers at the Tregader Iron Works – a people who were not well-regarded by the more gentile, “Old Virginia” residents of that very race and class-conscious city.

In my quest for answers to these questions, I had precious little hard and fast information to go on. One of my primary sources is “The Baby Book”, an unpublished manuscript and collection of documents, created by my grandfather; William Ellis Jones, III, between 1929 and 1936. This document includes lovely prose style biographies of relatives, a few original documents, family trees of Welsh ancestors; most without complete names, dates, or geographical locations. The sources he cites are generally from correspondences with long-dead, distant relatives in Wales. He didn’t save the correspondences themselves; he just notes the name of the individual who supplied the data. There is one source that he did include; a letter from a college professor who supplied the translation of the preface of a Welsh language book about our ancestor, William Ellis Jones (aka “Gwilym Cawrdaf”), the famous Welsh Eisteddfod winning bard. That translation included a very enticing translator’s note, a piece of information that I glommed onto and ran with… down a deep hole.

The thing I glommed onto was this:

“…Richard and Ann Jones, grandfather and grandmother of the subject of this memoir on his father’s side, resided at Tyddyndu, between Dolgelley and Barmouth; the place, as well as Pontddu and Thy’nybuarth, was owned by them. They had two sons, William and Ellis. When they came to the proper age they were sent to the grammar school at Pwllheli. The school at that time had great distinction under the Rev. Mr. Owens. (*Note—That Goronwy Owain was in this school is seen from the Latin ode he wrote there in 1742.) Here they remained for several years…”

Who was this “Goronwy Owain”, and why did he deserve an asterisk in my family history?

The quest began thusly… I went to Wikipedia. Here’s what the wiki entry states about Goronwy Owen:

“Goronwy Owen (1 January 1723 – July 1769) was one of the 18th century’s greatest Welsh poets. He mastered the traditional bardic metres and, although forced by circumstances to be an exile, played an important role in the literary and antiquarian movement in Wales often described as the Welsh Eighteenth Century Renaissance…. A perfectionist who only published reluctantly and whose literary output is consequently relatively small, his work nevertheless had a huge influence on Welsh poetry for several generations and his poetic genius and tragic life gave him a cult status in Welsh literary circles…”

Really? And “exiled”? Where to? Well now. The answer to that question leads into a deep dark hole that I spent nearly a year exploring.

He was exiled to Virginia, not very far at all from Richmond. You can see where I am going with this?

And to make it all the more convenient, my grandfather, in his manuscript, neglected (or more likely, never managed to obtain), any birth dates for the two boys, William and Ellis Jones, who – according to the translator’s note – attended the school associated with Goronwy Owen.

I spent several weeks (months) tracking down the details of Goronwy Owen’s life and career. I managed to pin down a period of three years between 1741 and 1744 when Goronwy Owen was a young teacher at the grammar school at Pwllheli. Once I had these critical dates in hand, I did the thing that no detective or historian should EVER do – I built a plausible history (a story I wanted to be true), by forcing the few facts I had about my own family, to fit in with the well-documented history of Goronwy Owen’s spectacularly tragic life.

In essence, the story I created was this:
– William and Ellis Jones met Goronwy Owen at Pwllheli, and there they (illiterate heathens from the outback of Wild Wales) were introduced (through Goronwy Owen’s  luminous brilliance) to the enlightenment of literature, poetry, art, and intellectual pursuit.

– The relationship they formed with Owen was deep and lifelong. When others abandoned him, they stuck with him. They even maintained communication with him after his exile to Virginia (when, as history records, Goronwy Owen fell silent for several decades, only to be heard from once prior to his death in 1769.) I had absolutely NO facts to back up this theory, just enough thinly circumstantial evidence to make me believe it had to be true.

– Finally, I reasoned that even long after Goronwy Owen’s death in Virginia, that my Welsh relations (who would have been children or grandchildren of the two ‘boys”, William and Ellis Jones), stayed in contact with Goronwy Owen’s descendants in Virginia, and THAT was the reason that my ancestor, Thomas Norcliffe Jones came to Virginia.

In order to make this rather unlikely story seem even remotely possible, I had to do something to the dates that even caused me to furrow my brow. Since I did not know the dates of birth for the boys, William and Ellis, I had to make them fit the 1741-1744 dates of Goronwy Owen’s tenure at the school at Pwllheli. To make that work, the boys would have had to have been born about 1730 (give or take a couple years either way.) Which looks fine on paper. That is…

…until you consider the FACT that I did know the dates of their marriages to their respective wives, the ages of their wives at marriage, the dates of their children’s births, etc. If you examine all of this data, in context with the manufactured birth dates, the result was that both William and brother Ellis first married and began their large families (William had nine children and Ellis had at least five children) when they were in their late sixties!

In order to explain away this inconvenient circumstance, I manufactured yet another completely plausible theory about cultural tradition and an overly long-lived father who controlled the boys’ lives and means of independence, and who prevented them from pursuing their dreams and ambitions. It was a terribly romantic notion. It read well too. But the fact of the matter is that it was just one more fiction that I convinced myself was based in fact – because I wanted it to be so.

And then my bubble got busted. Big time. Ingloriously.

About nine months ago I obtained a document from the Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Records Society; “A Merioneth Family of Printers in Wales and the U.S.A”, Vol XII (iv), 1997, written by the late, esteemed Welsh historian, Dr. Lewis William Lloyd (d. 1997).

When I first got the article I was in the depth of my research into Goronwy Owen’s life. I thumbed through a page or two and planned to return to it as soon as I returned to researching my Jones ancestors. Then I promptly forgot about the document. Until last week. I pulled it off the shelf and started reading. And there was my busted bubble, complete with sourced footnotes:

“…This resourceful and enterprising family (the Richard Jones family of Dolgelly) descended from Richard Jones of Tyddyn Du, Llanaber, gent., who died in April, 1785… His modest freehold estate was located where the settlement of Bontddu took shape in the course of the nineteenth century, some four miles from the port at Barmouth on the Dolgellau road. Richard Jones had two sons, at least, by his wife Ann, namely William Jones (1757-1830), who was baptized on 3 April 1757; and [David] Ellis Jones, who was baptized on 3 April 1758…”

My whole story about Goronwy Owen providing the ignition spark of the family “genius” just blew into a thousand insignificant little pieces. The boys, William and Ellis, were almost thirty years too young to have ever come in contact with Goronwy Owen. In fact, he was already in Virginia by the time they were born.

So much for my grand, romantic, IMAGINATIVE, ideas.

Now I have to go scrub all the stuff I wrote last winter that alludes to our “Owen” connections. And now I have to start over completely; going back to the original two questions (see above), with no plausible answers on the horizon.

Let this be a lesson. Never tell the story before you have the facts to support it. To do so is to create fiction (which has its place, but not here!)

Oh well. What else am I going to do with my time? It sure has been fun being down this rabbit hole. The climb out may lead me somewhere else even more fascinating!

The Lynching of Zach Taylor – John Jay Chapman’s Haunting Remarks

You know, I am working hard on my little book project, and trying hard to reconcile the past and today (and they don’t balance, no matter how you do the math.) Regardless of which direction I turn, the ugly visage of my family’s past – their involvement in slavery – it just keeps coming like waves of nausea that I cannot shake.

The one place where I did not expect to see this subject rear up was in the little town where I was born, a place well north of the Mason Dixon, a town more familiar for its large Amish community than for anything else. Coatesville Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania is a small place, a rural town by Pennsylvania standards. A quaint little village surrounded by rolling hills and lovely, neat little farms.

I joke that “When God made me born a Yankee, he was teasing.”

I lived in Coatesville for just a few months, making my way “home” back down South before I could remember much of that strange foreign land. But still, my birth certificate carries the fact that it’s my birthplace, and joke or not, I have learned to live with the fact that I was, technically, born a yankee.

Stumbling upon the following information was more than a little difficult to take. But stumbling upon John Jay Chapman’s reaction to the event was a breathtaking experience! He said precisely what I have been thinking and unable to articulate on this subject for years. His words are simple truth – a truth that everyone in this nation needs to know, and injest.

Read on for the description of what happened, and then further on for Chapman’s reaction.

Zack Walker Coatsville PA Lynching in 1911

The crowd looks on in Coatsville, PA, as the body of a black man, Zach Taylor, burns. A mob of more than 1000 people burned him alive, while he was handcuffed and shackled to his hospital bed.

The Civil War had been over for 46 years when southeastern Pennsylvania became the scene of one of the most horrific racially charged stories of 1911 – the beating, lynching and burning of a black man accused of killing a security guard.

Zachariah Walker, a black man from Virginia, was employed at Worth Brothers Steel Company in Coatesville. Walker was likely under the influence when he left a bar where he and some co-workers had spent an August afternoon drinking. On the way home, he reportedly took out a pistol and fired it in the general direction of two Polish steelworkers who were approaching him on the road from the opposite direction.

The shots didn’t strike either man but they did draw the attention of Edgar Rice, a security guard employed by the Worth Brothers, who soon encountered Walker. A hand-to-hand scuffle ensued and escalated to the point of guns being drawn.

This time, a shot from Walker’s pistol found its mark, killing Rice.

The intoxicated Walker stumbled into a neighbor’s barn where he slept off his deadly drinking binge. The next morning, a search party found Walker walking down a dirt road heading out of town. To avoid capture, he climbed a tree and then attempted to commit suicide. The bullet he fired struck him in the jaw and he toppled to the ground.

He was carried to the town hospital and after regaining consciousness, confessed to the killing of Rice but maintained it was in self-defense. Bound by shackles, his left leg was chained by the ankle to the footboard of his hospital bed.

At 6-3 and over 250 pounds, Coatesville Sheriff Charles Umsted had a reputation for being tough. On this day, he added fuel to a volatile situation. As the crowd outside grew larger, he told bystanders that Walker had boasted about killing Rice, but the sheriff made no mention of Walker’s claim that it was in self-defense. He also made it known that he would not intervene if there was an attempted lynching.

According to the Tamaqua Courier, a man with a white mask walked up to the steps of the hospital and, facing the growing mob, shouted, “Men, are you going to allow a white man to be downed by a niggar?”

The mob broke into the hospital, overpowered police guards, and grabbed Walker. The crowd outside the hospital “gave a cheer as they saw their leaders come out with the negro,” according to the Courier report.

With his ankle still chained to the bed and the footboard dragging behind him, Walker was taken to a farmhouse near the outskirts of town. The howling mob now numbered a thousand or more. As the sheriff had proclaimed earlier, he made no effort to stop the brutality.

Walker was taken to the area where he had shot Rice the day before and fence rails, hay and straw were piled around him. At one point, Walker reportedly shouted: “For God’s sake, give a man a chance. I killed Rice in self-defense. Don’t give me no crooked death because I ain’t white!”

In moments, Walker’s body was enveloped in flames.

“Three times did the negro try to escape,” the Courier said of the horrifying spectacle. “Each time the men with the fence rails shoved him back in the fire.”

The following day, the Coatesville Record remarked on the “politeness” of the crowd.

“Five thousand men, women, and children stood by and watched the proceedings as though it were a ball game or another variety of spectator sport,” it stated.

A group of boys stopped for cold soda afterward at the Coatesville Candy Company to talk about the grim spectacle as matter-of-factly as if it was a game. Some returned to the site the next day to gather fragments of bone and charred flesh as souvenirs.

A year after the lynching, John Jay Chapman, poet, dramatist and social critic, came to Coatesville, hired a hall there and held a memorial service. Only two people showed up but his speech, which was published in Harper’s Weekly, gripped the country.

Here is John Jay Chapman’s address:

“We are met to commemorate the anniversary of one of the most dreadful crimes in history – not for the purpose of condemning it, but to repent for our share in it.

We do not start any agitation with regard to that particular crime.

I understand that an attempt to prosecute the chief criminals has been made, and has entirely failed; because the whole community, and in a sense our whole people, are really involved in the guilt.

The failure of the prosecution in this case, in all such cases, is only a proof of the magnitude of the guilt, and of the awful fact that everyone shares in it.

I will tell you why I am here; I will tell you what happened to me.

When I read in the newspapers of August 14, a year ago, about the burning alive of a human being, and of how a few desperate, fiend-minded men had been permitted to torture a man chained to an iron bedstead, burning alive, thrust back by pitchforks when he struggled out of it, while around about stood hundreds of well-dressed American citizens, both from the vicinity and from afar, coming on foot and in wagons, assembling on telephone call, as if by magic, silent, whether from terror or indifference, fascinated and impotent, hundreds of persons watching this awful sight and making no attempt to stay the wickedness, and no one man among them all who was inspired to risk his life in an attempt to stop it, no one man to name the name of Christ, of humanity, of government!

As I read the newspaper accounts of the scene enacted here in Coatesville a year ago, I seemed to get a glimpse into the unconscious soul of this country.

I saw a seldom revealed picture of the American heart and of the American nature.

I seemed to be looking into the heart of the criminal – a cold thing, an awful thing. I said to myself, “I shall forget this, we shall all forget it; but it will be there.

What I have seen is not an illusion. It is the truth. I have seen death in the heart of this people.

For to look at the agony of a fellow-being and remain aloof means death in the heart of the onlooker.
Religious fanaticism has sometimes lifted men to the frenzy of such cruelty, political passion has sometimes done it, personal hatred might do it, the excitement of the amphitheater in the degenerate days of Roman luxury could do it.

But here an audience chosen by chance in America has stood spellbound through an improvised auto-da-fé, irregular, illegal, having no religious significance, not sanctioned by custom, having no immediate provocation, the audience standing by merely in cold dislike.

I saw during one moment something beyond all argument in the depth of its significance.

No theories about the race problem, no statistics, legislation, or mere educational endeavor, can quite meet the lack which that day revealed in the American people.

For what we saw was death.

The people stood like blighted things, like ghosts about Acheron, waiting for someone or something to determine their destiny for them.

Whatever life itself is, that thing must be replenished in us.

The opposite of hate is love, the opposite of cold is heat; what we need is the love of God and reverence for human nature.

For one moment I knew that I had seen our true need; and I was afraid that I should forget it and that I should start schemes of education, when the need was deeper than education.

And I became filled with one idea, that I must not forget what I had seen, and that I must do something to remember it. And I am here today chiefly that I may remember that vision.

It seems fitting to come to this town where the crime occurred and hold a prayer-meeting, so that our hearts may be turned to God through whom mercy may flow into us.

The locus of responsibility; Let me say something more about the whole matter.

The subject we are dealing with is not local.

The act, to be sure, took place at Coatesville and everyone looked to Coatesville to follow it up.

Some months ago I asked a friend who lives not far from here something about this case, and about the expected prosecutions, and he replied to me: “It wasn’t in my county,” and that made me wonder whose county it was in.

And it seemed to be in my county.

I live on the Hudson River; but I knew that this great wickedness that happened in Coatesville is not the wickedness of Coatesville nor of today.

It is the wickedness of all America and of three hundred years of the wickedness of the slave trade. All of us are tinctured by it.

No special place, no special persons, are to blame.

A nation cannot practice a course of inhuman crime for three hundred years and then suddenly throw off the effects of it.

Less than fifty years ago domestic slavery was abolished among us; and in one way or another the marks of that vice are in our faces.

There is no country in Europe where the Coatesville tragedy or anything remotely like it could have been enacted, probably no country in the world.

On the day of the calamity, those people in the automobiles came by the hundred and watched the torture, and passers-by came in a great multitude and watched it – and did nothing.

On the next morning the newspapers spread the news and spread the paralysis until the whole country seemed to be helplessly watching this awful murder, as awful as anything ever done on this earth; and the whole of our people seemed to be looking on helplessly, not able to respond, not knowing what to do next.

That spectacle has been in my mind.

The trouble has come down to us out of the past.

The only reason slavery is wrong is that it is cruel, and makes men cruel and leaves them cruel.

Someone may say that you and I cannot repent because we did not do the act. But we are involved in it. We are still looking on.

Do you not see that this whole event is merely the last parable, the most vivid, the most terrible illustration that ever was given by man or imagined by a Jewish prophet, of the relation between good and evil in this world, and of the relation of men to one another?

This whole matter has been an historic episode; but it is a part, not only of our national history, but of the personal history of each one of us.

With the great disease (slavery) came the climax (the war), and after the climax gradually began the cure, and in the process of cure comes now the knowledge of what the evil was.

I say that our need is new life, and that books and resolutions will not save us, but only such disposition in our hearts and souls as will enable the new life, love, force, hope, virtue, which surround us always, to enter into us.

This is the discovery that each man must make for himself; the discovery that what he really stands in need of he cannot get for himself, but must wait till God gives it to him.

I have felt the impulse today to testify to this truth.

The occasion is not small; the occasion looks back on three centuries and embraces a hemisphere.

Yet the occasion is small compared with the truth it leads us to.

For this truth touches all ages and affects every soul in the world.”



Another Reader Challenge – Wanted: Reunion Photos of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Artillery, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia

William Ellis Jones at his home on "Shrubbery Hill", in Richmond, Virginial"

This is the only photo I know of, of William Ellis Jones, II, outside his home in Richmond, Virginia, a townhouse he dubbed “Shrubbery Hill”. Do you have another, better image. Please share?

I have exactly one photograph of my great-great-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II, and that photograph is not good. I am seeking any existing photos of the many civil war veteran’s reunion images captured between 1880 and 1910, featuring members of Ellet’s Company, Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, A.P. Hill’s Regiment, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (gosh that’s a mouthful of southern Confederate pomp and organization!)

At the moment I am about to take up Draft #2 of the “Book”, and after many months of letting the thing lie quietly, I realize I still have many gaps to fill in the story of William Ellis Jones, II, my great-great grandfather. Among the many lacking “things” is a reasonably accurate physical description – an image – of the man who exists in history and now exists in my head, but who is lacking a countenance equal to his spirit. I would really love to find a good photograph of William Ellis Jones, II, of Richmond, who served the whole of the War in Ellet’s Company, Pegram’s Battery.

Finding the Dietz Family and Jones Family Connection; a Genealogy Community Challenge

August Andrew Dietz (b. 10-19-1869 d. 9-26-1963) How is he connected to my family?

August Andrew Dietz (b. 10-19-1869 d. 9-26-1963) How is he connected to my family?

Calling all my followers and fellow genealogists, I have a “missing link” that I need community assistance solving.

Here’s the set-up:
1] My ancestor, William Ellis Jones, II (b. 1838 – d. 1910), the Civil War diarist and printer/publisher of Richmond, Virginia, mentioned several times in his diary (written in 1862), that his cousin worked at the Confederate Post Office in Richmond. This un-named cousin occasionally pulled strings to get packages across the siege lines to William.

2] I know that this cousin was not a paternal relation. All of William’s “Jones” cousins were soldiers in Alabama regiments. The rest (the majority of the Jones family) were still in Wales.

3] William Jones, II, was injured at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 10, 1864. He retired to the invalid corps, February 1, 1865, and served as clerk in the Post Quartermaster’s Office in Richmond until General’s Lee’s surrender of the Confederacy in April of 1865.

4] By 1866, William was back at work in Richmond at his old job At Clemmitt’s Printing & Publishing Co.; but this time his name was added to the imprint. In addition to becoming a partner at the firm, William married Miss Florence Smith (birthdate unknown), of Richmond, Virginia. She was the oldest daughter of John Wesley Smith (b. 1818 – d. 1854) and Frances Sephronia Osgood (b.1817 – d. 1903), both of Richmond, Virginia, and grand daughter of John Walton Smith (b. 1787 – d. 1861), of London, and his wife Mary Budd (dates unknown), and Sewell Osgood (dates unknown), and his wife Frances Courtney (dates unknown), who was daughter of Thomas Courtney of King William County, Virginia.

5. Florence Smith Jones died not long after her marriage to William Ellis Jones. There were no children produced from this marriage.

6. Florence Smith had several siblings. Her brother was Edgar Alonza Smith, who is mentioned in early 1862 in William Jones, II’s diary, along with “relations” (whether relations of A.E. Smith’s or common relations is unclear, and part of the question I hope to answer by appealing to the general readership with this post.) Her sisters were; Lemira Virginia Smith (b. 1844 – d. 1917) of Richmond, who married Dr. William H. Gibbs (b. 1833 – d. 1910) of New York; and Ella Cordelia Smith (b. 1851 – d. 1918), of Richmond.

7. In 1874, William Ellis Jones, II married his first wife’s youngest  sister, Ella Cordelia Smith. She was 13 years his junior. Shortly after their marriage, the third Smith sister, Lemira Virginia Smith Gibbs, moved (with her husband) into the household of William Jones and wife Ella Cordelia. Dr. Gibbs practiced medicine in Richmond, and Lemira worked in the household alongside her sister, helping her rear her growing family (Dr. Gibbs and Lemira had no children of their own.)

8. William Jones, II, and his 2nd wife Ella Cordelia had three sons; Florence Ellis Jones, Thomas Grayson Hones, and Fairfax Courtney Jones. The eldest son, F. Ellis Jones, followed his father into the family business (the other two became prominent businessmen in other fields.) At the point of F. Ellis reaching about 20 years old, the imprint of the business changed from “Clemmitt and Jones” to “William Ellis Jones and Sons.”

9. These three boys, and at least one grandchild (my grandfather, William Ellis Jones, III, son of F. Ellis Jones) grew up in the household with Lemira Virginia Smith Gibbs – but interestingly they all knew her as “Aunt Dietz”.

I can find no one so far discovered in her family line who was named “Dietz”. I cannot determine where this nickname came from.

10. HOWEVER, and here’s where the missing link comes in:
In the census of 1890, Peter Dietz (b. 1835 – d. 1901), a German immigrant who had settled in Richmond in about 1873, was living in Richmond with his family, including his twenty year old son August  Andrew Dietz (b. 1869 – d. 1963). The occupation of the father is listed as soap maker. The occupation of the son, August Andrew, is listed as Printer.

11. August Andrew Dietz became, perhaps, the most famous printer/publisher in Richmond, founding The Dietz Press in 1901, when he was just 21 years old. He also became semi-famous as a philatelist (stamp collector), who specialized in the study of mail and postal history of the Confederate States of America. He authored many books on the subject and was the founder of several stamp collecting organizations that still thrive today.

His personal papers and collections were donated to the library at Virginia Tech in 2010, and part of that collection is described thusly “The August Dietz Civil War Collection contains materials originally collected by August Dietz, Richmond, VA, philatelist and printer. The collection contains single editions of Civil War-era newspapers, photographs, a woodcut and prints, quartermaster records, playing cards, a handwritten memoir, correspondence, and reproductions of stamps from the Civil War…” (Bold emphasis is mine.)

In a biographical note, related to the collection (which incidentally contains several factual errors, the following is included regarding his early printing career; “In 1883, he took his first printing job and eventually took an apprenticeship at Andrews and Baptist of Richmond, considered ‘the art printers of the South.’ It was here that Dietz learned about printing and Confederate philately, which Frank Baptist had been involved with during the Civil War.” (Bold emphasis is mine.)

FIRST –  I believe that Dietz “first printing job” was in the office of William Ellis Jones & Sons, probably as an apprentice in his early teen years. I further believe that his interest in Confederate postal history began, not at Andrews and Baptist, but under the guidance of William Ellis Jones, who was a printer before the war, who was a confederate veteran and would have known Frank Baptist, as they were both artillerists in Lee’s army, both printers, and both in the quartermaster’s office in the last years of the war. William worked in the quartermasters office until the fall of Richmond (un-like Baptist who went back to the battlefield), and William would have had access to those quartermasters records, and would have been in a situation to save them from the evacuation fires that consumed much of Richmond’s history.

SECOND: I believe that the Peter Dietz family had relations in Virginia prior to Peter settling in Richmond in 1873ish. It is my working theory that these relations are connected in some way to the John Walton Smith, John Wesley Smith, Ella Cordilia Smith, Lemira Virginia Smith line.

Part of my reasoning is the obvious “Dietz” name in common between Lemira Virginia (aka “Aunt Dietz”). The other is that it was very common, almost mandatory, that early apprenticeships were served under the supervision of blood or marriage relations; before a person was “set loose” to either succeed or humiliate his family out in public. I believe that William supervised August first, then graduated him to his friend and former comrade Frank Baptist in order to finish his professional education.

As of yet, I cannot prove any of my theories. I would like your assistance!


The Library is Closed

Library of Congress Is Closed

Now what am I supposed to do?

Banana Republic Effect Impacts Me!

Oh well. Not only can I not afford health insurance, but now I can’t even spend all this free time I have (since I got laid off 4 years ago) doing any fun research either. Oh well. I guess I’ll just go watch FoxNews, so I can let them tell me what I ought to think about all of it.

Oh, wait… I don’t have a TeeVee! Shucks!

This is SO “Off Topic” – But Anyway…

Balogna & Cheese with chips

My celebration supper!

I got a job!  And not just any bus-driving, burger-flipping, call-center crap-type, job. I got a job that I am actually proud of (minimum wage though it is.) I am going to work at one of the finest remaining independent bookshops in the area (start next week!) Okay… okay… it’s (initially) just for the Holidays, and maybe (very maybe) it’ll turn into something longer term, but just the same and despite all the maybe’s, it’s a job at one of the finest (remaining) Indy Booksellers in the entire country!

And it’s (I admit, small) cashflow in the positive column, as opposed to what I’ve been doing for the last several years. So… I am celebrating.

There are also perks w/ this job. All the new release books I can read (they have a friggin’ lending library for staff!) A 40% discount on books I choose to buy (tho I have to confess that even w/ the discount, I’ll probably just start a list and wait for them to be remaindered to ABE or the Half Price Outlet in Bloomington…. This is a minimum wage job, after all. Can’t manage too many luxuries.)

I was so excited when I found out I got the job that I really went all out. I went to Food Lion and bought some sliced luncheon meat and Land-o-Lakes Muenster cheese from the deli and made myself a proper supper! (I am not kidding!) I even sprang for wavy cut potato chips (gosh I have been craving those for a month) to side my sandwich with!

Okay, it’s a far cry from Sushi in Tokyo, when I was in the money back in the day. But my stress level is low, I am doing precisely what I want to do (writing, reading, researching, using my brain on things that inspire me), and honestly I am in the best mental/spiritual place I have ever been, in my entire life. So no complaints. A simple bologna sandwich dinner is okay with me, as long as I have good books to read, and I can learn something new along the way. I am pretty damn happy. This is an opportunity learn a new craft (being a bookseller IS a craft!)

Thanks Gerry S., thanks Mike L., thanks Erin W. for the good references.  Means more than you can know.

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