Virginia History

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Peter Jefferson’s Snowdon: A History of Settlement at the Horseshoe Bend (2020)

CVGA_Peter Jefferson's Snowdon_2020


Peter Jefferson’s Snowdon: A History of Settlement at the Horseshoe Bend

Beginning in the 1720s, a small group of men based in Goochland County, Virginia, began to migrate west, along the James River, settling the frontier which lay at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A few stopped at what is known as the Horseshoe Bend, a particularly beautiful and fertile spot in the river. Today, the modern counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, and Fluvanna converge there at the village of Scottsville. In the early 1740s, President Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter, already a successful surveyor and land speculator, was quick to realize the commercial value of the spot when the newly formed Albemarle County located its seat at the Horseshoe Bend. This volume tells the story of settlement on the south side of the James River and the development of the plantation Peter Jefferson would call Snowdon, a very valuable farm with a complex history.


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

Fluvanna History (2021)

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Mr. Jefferson’s Fluvanna Nephews

“During the 19th century four nephews of President Thomas Jefferson, sons of his only brother Randolph, lived for a time in Fluvanna County, Virginia. Thomas, Isham Randolph, Peter Field, and James Lilburne Jefferson variously farmed, conducted business, married, and raised children within the county’s borders. For decades, their presence in Fluvanna went unnoticed, shrouded by the long shadow cast by Monticello and their prestigious uncle. . . .”



Central Virginia Heritage (Winter 2021)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cvh_2021_winter.jpgNo Longer Lost: Buckingham Burials

“The newest volume of Buckingham Burials is now available from Historic Buckingham, Inc. If you are not familiar with this useful series published by Historic Buckingham, it’s time you were!

“Beginning in 1997, Historic Buckingham published the first results of its cemetery project, recording dispersed burial places across the county. At the time of publication, research had been underway since 1985. Janice J. Robertson Hull, Chairman of the historical society’s Genealogical Committee, compiled the information in the original volume and described the evolution of the project in her introduction. . . .”


Central Virginia Heritage  (Summer 2020)

CVH_2020_Summer_Snowden WPA


The Dwelling at Snowden: A Virginia Historical Inventory Case Study

“Most of us, at one time or another, have consulted the marvelous collection of surveys
that comprise the Virginia Historical Inventory. Created during the Great Depression as a WPA project, in some cases, they offer remarkably accurate details about historic buildings or artifacts. In other instances, however, they suffer from the many drawbacks of oral history. In all cases, they provide clues for further research….”


Central Virginia Heritage (Spring 2020)



No Stone Left Unturned: The Papers of Walter Lloyd Fontaine

“While most of my Buckingham County ancestors led comfortable lives as planters, they passed down no substantive papers to subsequent generations. By the late nineteenth century, some scattered letters and photographs survived, as well as a few oil portraits.

“In a few rare cases, some notable Buckingham citizens (tangentially connected to my families) did leave paper collections now housed at a variety of universities, libraries, and historical societies. Mining those has produced delightful surprises….”


Central Virginia Heritage (Fall 2019)

One Man’s Black Sheep is Another Man’s Local Hero: Discovering Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam

“My journey into Chicago after dark began with an investigation of my Buckingham County-born grandmother’s half-brother, Gene Harris.

“In 1995, I discovered an unexpected obituary in my mother’s files. The deceased was a man named Gene Harris and my grandmother, Minnie (Harris) Sanger, was named as his surviving sister. I had no idea that my  grandmother had a brother. Why had he been kept a secret? Had my mother known him? Perhaps in her youth? My questions were soon answered as I continued to read. . . .”


Scottsville Museum Newsletter (Spring 2019)

“Randolph Jefferson’s Legacy”

scottsville museum logo“Well over ten years ago, I stumbled upon Randolph Jefferson for the first time. I was tracing my Harris family’s acquisition of Snowden, a plantation lying in Buckingham County, directly across from Scottsville at the Horseshoe Bend of the James River. In the 1820s, a land tax record noted that a significant percentage of the farm had been transferred from the estate of Randolph Jefferson to Capt. John Harris of Albemarle County. Needless to say, the Jefferson name caught my attention, though I had no idea who Randolph Jefferson was. It did not take long to find out, however, it took years to collect the information that turned him from a stereotype into a three-dimensional character. . . .”


Central Virginia Heritage  (Spring 2019)



Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: Dissecting Last Wishes in Three Buckingham County Wills

“The Fall 2018 issue of Central Virginia Heritage included three Allen family wills transcribed by Jean L. Cooper. These rare documents go a long way toward illuminating one of Buckingham County’s earliest and largest families who migrated west from New Kent County, Virginia, to Henrico/Goochland/Albemarle/Buckingham counties during the eighteenth century.

“In 1995, Rev. Richard Fenton Wicker, Jr. published a genealogy of this line entitled The Allen Family of England, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas and Illinois, 1600–1995. Over the years, along with many other Allen researchers, I have relied heavily on his solid research. Genealogy, however, is ever evolving and, recently, I learned that some of Rev. Wicker’s conclusions have been disproved based on subsequent findings, including Y-DNA evidence. While it is always best to seek primary documents, secondary sources, such as Rev. Wicker’s book, remain useful and his work is fundamental to this article.”


Central Virginia Heritage  (Winter 2018)

CVH_2018_WinterBuckingham County Gold: The Allen Family Papers

“A deep vein of gold, one of the richest in America, runs through Buckingham County, Virginia. In the early nineteenth century, a handful of families grew wealthy mining the yellow ore. At the Booker Mine, for example, the vein was opened some fifty feet deep and, in 1836, the Booker family’s prospects appeared ‘very flattering.’

“Today, particularly in light of the county’s courthouse fire in 1869, genealogists and historians lack a solid vein of vital county records and must dig hither and yon for nuggets. Many are tucked in private collections, including the impressive ‘Allen Family Papers’ safeguarded in the Virginia Historical Society’s archive, housed at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond. Growing up in Ohio, I was ignorant of my relationship to the Allen family. As I was to discover, my personal connection to the Allens is almost as deep and rich as Buckingham’s precious veins of gold.”


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_coverTwo 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 LogoFinding 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 logo“When 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. . . .”


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.”