Virginia History

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Peter Field Jefferson: Dark Prince of Scottsville & Lost Jeffersons (2018)


Peter Field Jefferson: Dark Prince of Scottsville follows the rise and fall of Randolph Jefferson’s most successful son. Nephew to President Thomas Jefferson, Peter Field proved that at least one member of the family had a head for business. The story of his life parallels that of the changing cultural landscape of the James River’s Horseshoe Bend across seven decades—rising from virtual frontier to the establishment of Scottsville in Albemarle County, through the building of the James River and Kanawha Canal, and culminating in the early months of the Civil War. Jefferson’s success as a self-made man is tainted with great personal loss, making his story a distinctively American tragedy.

Lost Jeffersons is a collection of essays which follows descendants of Randolph Jefferson and their kinfolk. Their fates reveal, in part, the genetic decline of one branch of the Jefferson family. A microcosm of Virginia’s gentry, multiple generations of cousin marriage resulted in a concentration of undesirable traits—including alcoholism, idiocy, and insanity—compromising individuals who might otherwise have led productive and useful lives.


” At a Place Called Buckingham” – Volume Two (2015)

Yeck_Buckingham_V2_Cover_Low Rez


“At a Place Called Buckingham” — Volume Two once again collects a dozen essays depicting the people and places of Buckingham County, Virginia. Details gleaned from newly discovered county records, contemporary newspaper accounts, and private collections result in a marvelous mosaic of life at the very heart of Virginia. Meet the proprietors of 19th-century hotels and health resorts, ferry operators, educators, stewards of the poor, planters and their slaves, the hard-working men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and notables whose influence reached far beyond the county. A bonus section, “Maysville Gallery,” features photographs made in 1933 as part of the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.


The Jefferson Brothers (2012)



The Jefferson Brothers introduces Randolph Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s only brother, and brings him out from the shadow of his famous sibling, focusing on the years during which their paths crossed. Over twelve years Randolph’s senior, Thomas Jefferson stood in for the father his brother never knew, guiding his education and helping the younger man establish himself as a successful planter in central Virginia. Particularly after Thomas Jefferson’s retirement from the political stage, the Jefferson brothers related as planters and slaveholders – Thomas at Monticello in Albemarle County and Randolph at Snowden in Buckingham County, Virginia. Life at Snowden, during and after the American Revolution, illuminates not only Randolph Jefferson’s commonplace existence, but also the everyday world of planters in central Virginia. Additionally, The Jefferson Brothers introduces a new Thomas Jefferson, not the great statesman of monumental intellect, but the thoughtful brother and dedicated farmer.


“At a Place Called Buckingham” (2011)



“At a Place Called Buckingham” . . .  Historic Sketches of Buckingham County, Virginia covers 250 years of history in central Virginia. In a dozen engaging essays, historian Joanne Yeck recounts important events in Buckingham County beginning with its formation, through the American Revolution and the Civil War, and beyond the Great Depression. Local heroes and heroines spring to life, revealing the tenacity, intelligence, and ingenuity of Buckingham’s people. New material gleaned from county records, 19th century newspapers, and numerous private collections offers a fresh look at Buckingham’s past. The result is a rich tapestry, which interweaves well-known figures and historical moments with little known tales of hard times and personal triumphs.



Selected Articles

Central Virginia Heritage (Fall 2018)

“Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire”

My ancestor, John M. Harris, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia on May 5, 1795, to Benjamin  and Mary (Woods) Harris, who made their home in the shadow of the Green Mountains near the Nelson County border. In 1803–1804, Benjamin Harris built an impressive, Palladian-style home called Mountain Grove, influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s architectural preferences. . . .



Broadside (Summer 2018) 

“A Lunatic in the Family”

Experienced genealogists know that family skeletons are scattered everywhere. With enough distance, however, a once shameful family member—a horse thief, for example—can become a delightful discovery. Other long-suppressed or forgotten stories remain tragic and shocking. The intrepid researcher must be prepared for anything: a bigamist, a murderer, a lunatic. . . .



Central Virginia Heritage (Summer 2018)



“Lost Jeffersons”

“Buckingham County lies at the heart of my historical and genealogical research. My grandmother was born there, her deep Virginia roots leading back to Jamestowne. Her Harris family, the focus of my initial work, has become the center of an enormous web of cousins, both living and dead, spread across Central Virginia. . . . .



Central Virginia Heritage (Spring 2018)

CVH_2018_Spring_cover“Two Alexander Moseleys”

“During the 18th and 19th centuries, naming practices among Virginia’s planter class were purposeful and surprisingly consistent. Maternal surnames were preserved as “first” names. Grandparents and, sometimes, rather pointedly, wealthy aunts and uncles were remembered in succeeding generations. These practices frequently give valuable clues to family connections. Often, they also result in multiple individuals with the same name, living concurrently in the same county. This can be maddening for researchers. As time passes, biographies become conflated, and genealogists can spend years untangling crisscrossing lives. . . .”


Broadside (Winter 2015)


Virginia Chronicle newspaper database holds key to hidden Buckingham County history

“Conducting research for many of Virginia’s counties is an acknowledged challenge. For some, like Buckingham County, the loss of public records is so catastrophic that it has been described as “hopeless.” While missing public records may never magically reappear, an exciting new supplement is now available. The era of digitized, searchable historic newspapers has arrived, providing researchers with new hope. For anyone interested in Virginia’s history, the rapidly growing database at the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Chronicle is a treasure trove.”


 Virginia Genealogical Society Newsletter (October 2013)

VGS Logo2013:  “Finding Randolph Jefferson”

“I first became aware of Randolph Jefferson while searching for my Harris family in nineteenth century Buckingham County. After surviving the Civil War, Buckingham’s courthouse burned in early 1869. Prior to that catastrophe, many of Albemarle County’s records for the period 1744–1761 were lost when the land that
became Buckingham was part of a much vaster Albemarle, wiping out Buckingham’s pre-history,
as it were. Under such circumstances, it is easy to throw in the towel before even beginning. . . .”

Magazine of Albemarle County History (2013)

MACH_2013Hollywood Comes to Howardsville: The Making of Virginia (1941)

“In 1940, Hollywood motion pictures shot on location were relatively rare. Most movies were made on studio sound stages, on studio back lots, or filmed outdoors at studio-owned ranches in the greater Los Angeles area. The majority of releases during that period were also shot in black and white. Technicolor films were comparatively expensive, the three-strip Technicolor cameras were unwieldy, and film processing was proprietarily controlled by the Technicolor company. At that time, to combine an on-location shoot with color film was even rarer. Thus, in 1940, when Paramount Pictures decided to shoot Virginia on location, transporting cast, crew, and Technicolor cameras to faraway, rural Albemarle County, Virginia, it broke significant new ground.”



 Scottsville Museum Newsletter (Spring 2013) 

“The President’s Brother: Capt. Randolph Jefferson of Buckingham County, VA”

scottsville museum logoWhen someone learns I am investigating the life of Randolph Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s only brother, they inevitably want to know: “What was the relationship with the great man?” That question inspired The Jefferson Brothers (Slate River  Press, 2012).  The Jefferson brothers were very different men, living very independently from each other.  Randolph was young by more than twelve years — virtually a generation apart in Colonial America. . . .

Broadside (Summer 2012)


The Ladies of the WPA: Chronicling Buckingham County’s Vanishing Past

“Launched during the late 1930s, the Virginia Historical Inventory was designed to document Virginia’s quickly vanishing past, particularly everyday buildings constructed before 1860. Funded by the Works Progress Administration and created under the umbrella of the Virginia Writers’ Project, VHI field-workers across Virginia conducted interviews, photographed a wide variety of structures, and wrote statistical reports. Today, the resultant collection is housed at the Library of Virginia and consists of more than 19,300 survey reports (approximately 70,000 pages), more than 6,200 photographs, and 103 annotated county and city maps. This remarkable effort, made by historically minded Virginians, remains one of the many significant legacies of the Great Depression’s New Deal.”


Magazine of Albemarle County History (2012)

MACH_2012Dates and Dashes: The Harris Family Cemetery and the Lives of a Few of Its Residents

“Many years ago, a survey was made of historic cemeteries in Albemarle County. A typewritten, undated description of the Harris Family Cemetery simply states that it is located “at the intersection of Rt. 6 and Rt. 717, about eight miles west of Scottsville. There is a Revolutionary War soldier buried here.” Legible markers were transcribed. Several unmarked and illegible graves were noted.

Today, the beautiful, stone-walled cemetery remains as described in the survey, within sight of where Route 6 (Irish Road) meets Route 717 (Old Sand Road), though it is more precisely ten miles west of Scottsville. Sitting quietly shaded by trees, in the shadow of Green Mountain, not far above Green Creek, the grave site was established on the property acquired by William Harris (ca.1712–1788) when this spot was virgin land and part of an enormous Goochland County. Harris was an educated man, whose family had settled in York County in the seventieth century.”

Magazine of Albemarle County History (2011)


A Most Valuable Citizen: A Profile of Randolph Jefferson

“Randolph Jefferson was born in Albemarle County at Shadwell on October 1, 1755. The only surviving brother of Thomas Jefferson, Randolph led a quiet, local life, dying short of his 60th birthday on August 7, 1815. While the brothers led very separate lives, they shared their Albemarle roots, family culture, and, after Thomas’ retirement from public life, the pursuits and concerns of planters in central Virginia.

Randolph and his twin sister, Anna Scott Jefferson, were not yet 2 years old when their father, Peter Jefferson, died on August 17, 1757. Thomas, age 14, was already away at school, leaving Randolph to grow up in a household filled with females. Their mother, Jane Randolph (b. February 21, 1721, OS) was a mature 36-year-old when her husband died. In addition to his twin, Anna Scott, Randolph had five other sisters, then ranging in age from 4 to 17 years old.”