Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks (1752-1837): Her Life and Her World
by Patricia L. Zontine, April 2009
Lucy Thornton Meriwether was born into Albemarle County gentry on February 4, 1752. She was the daughter of Col. Thomas and Elizabeth Thornton Meriwether. Her father’s ancestors had emigrated from England, probably Kent County, in the mid-17th century and settled in the counties of Tidewater, Virginia. “Meriwethers brought a large amount of wealth to the colonies, rich in lands, in plate and slaves.” (Anderson, pp. 141-2) The family, as most of the other “gentry” families that migrated, was given high offices and large land grants that allowed them to become part of the “ruling oligarchy that ran the colony for many generations.” (Fischer, p. 212) They served as burgesses, magistrates and clerks of court in their respective counties, and commanders of militia units. Lucy’s father, Thomas, was prominent in local politics and was a member of the vestry for St. Anne’s parish in 1742.Vestry men had civil powers as well as religious duties. (Meriwether, p. 72)
Lucy’s great-grandfather, Nicholas Meriwether II, together with his son-in-law Robert Lewis, pushed north from Tidewater into Virginia’s Piedmont and, being “good judges of fertile, well-watered land,” obtained land grants of over 19,000 acres in the Southwest Mountains area of Albemarle County. (Anderson, p. 62) As was the custom among Tidewater families, “they first dispatched slaves and overseers to clear and cultivate new quarters for some years before moving themselves and their families to the Piedmont.” (Moore, p. 19)
Thomas Meriwether (b. 1714 – 1756) was considered a man of great wealth, due almost entirely to the bequest of his grandfather, Nicholas Meriwether, II. His home was at “Clover Fields” and it is probable that Lucy was born there. Thomas continued to purchase land to add to the land gifted to him by his grandfather until his total land holdings were 9,000 acres spread over several estates. At the time of his death, his holdings dwindled to only 3,000 acres, due to the gifts of land he gave to his children. (Saindon, p. 73) He married Elizabeth Thornton in 1735 and that same year, “he had eleven slaves, two horses, a plow and farm implements, eighteen head of cattle and over a hundred hogs, sows and pigs on his Totier Creek property.” (Moore, p. 29) His wife, Elizabeth Thornton (1717 – 1794) was descended from the Taliaferros, also an early settler family in the Colony. Together, they had eleven children. Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth married Robert Lewis of “Belvoir” who later became Lucy’s father-in-law as well as her step-father.
For information on Lucy’s siblings, click on their names on the Genealogical Chart on this website.
Lucy’s Personal Characteristics
The only existing portrait of Lucy shows her as an old woman but those that knew her remembered that “her person was perfect” and even in old age, she retained “fine features, a fragile figure and a masterful eye.” An admirer also said that “her activity (went) beyond her sex.” (Bakeless, pp. 16-17)
While researching his book Lewis and Clark: Partners in Discovery, biographer John Bakeless spent a lot of time visiting Albemarle County interviewing descendents of the Lewis and Meriwether families who had heard stories from those who knew Lucy. He describes Lucy as “a Virginia lady of the patrician breed, a benevolent family autocrat, with a character so sharp and definite that her twentieth-century descendents still refer to her as Grandma Marks.” A neighbor from her Georgia years described her as “sincere, truthful, industrious and kind without limit.” (Bakeless pp.15-16)
From the letters written by her son, Meriwether, with their teasting tone, it is safe to assume that Lucy also had a playful side and a healthy sense of humor.
She was also known for her intellectual interests. Lucy owned a small personal library that was valued at $30 by her estate appraisers in 1837; a modern equivalent would be several hundred dollars. She left directions in her will for the distribution of her books. Given that she was locally famous as a “yarb” or herb doctor, presumably her books included herbals and medical handbooks. Unfortunately, it appears that all of Lucy’s books and personal papers were lost in the “Locust Hill” fire of 1837.
Lucy’s type of doctoring was called “Empiric” and based on practical experience. She was folk practitioner – a job often filled by women. (Breeden, p. 26) She traveled throughout Albemarle County by horseback caring for the sick well into her early eighties. Perhaps she learned medicine from her father, also known as a healer, and her brother Francis, who was a “Regular” or formally-trained doctor. No doubt Lucy grew medicinal plants in her garden at “Locust Hill” and collected them in the wild as well. Her famous son, Meriwether Lewis, relied on the skills he had learned from his mother when he treated himself and others on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Her son John attended medical school. Some accounts also refer to her son Reuben as a doctor, though it is likely that he was “yarb” doctor like Lucy rather than a “regular” doctor like his brother John. An 1842 merchant’s account statement listed items that he could have used in treating ailments; e.g., sassafras, turpentine, and packages of commercial pills. (Special Collections, UVA Library: See in the “Documents” section of this web site)
Lucy was also known for her culinary skills: Thomas Jefferson preferred her hams to those on his own plantation; his overseer recorded that every year he would get a few for Mr. Jefferson’s special use. (Anderson, p. 16)
There are many stories handed down through the family about Lucy’s bravery and “can do” spirit. Handy with a gun, she drove off a party of drunken British officers being held at The Barracks, a nearby prisoner-of-war camp, from her home during the Revolutionary War. Another favorite family story was of Lucy and “the deer.” It seems a large deer hunting party had gone out from “Locust Hill” and returned tired, hungry and empty-handed to find that Lucy had bagged a large buck in her front yard, had it dressed and cooked awaiting their return. (Anderson, p. 17)
Peter M. McGhee, Esq., wrote an article on Meriwether Lewis* (Special Collections, UVA Library: see “Document” section of this web site) in which he not only wrote about Meriwether but added interesting information and personal memories of others in the family. Writing about Lucy, her children and the loss of their father, he states: “[the children] continued some years under the fostering care of a tender mother but a good disciplinarian. When her two sons Meriwether and Reuben were quite small boys, she made them each a suit of new clothes, put them on Sunday morning, told them, ‘Now you get these clothes dirty and muddy today, I will surely whip you.’ They came in at night with their clothes all dirty and muddy. She carried them in [to] the closet next morning to carry out her threat when Meriwether said to her, ‘Now Mammy you find a switch and I will fend back,’ but she laid [sic] on the switch so heavily that she never had to find [a] switch again.” (p.3)
* This essay by Mr. McGhee seems to be the source for many of the incidents about Lucy and Meriwether Lewis that were used in both the Anderson and Bakeless books.
Lucy’s World: 1752 – 1768/69
No details are known of the early life of Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks. As one of eleven children, no doubt the Meriwether home “Clover Fields” was a lively and busy one. Her father, Col. Thomas Meriwether, was a prominent citizen of Albemarle County known as “a man of wealth.” He died when Lucy was four years old. Five years later, when Lucy was nine, her mother remarried a prominent neighbor and family connection, Col. Robert Lewis of “Belvoir”. Presumably Lucy and her younger siblings moved from “Clover Fields” to their step-father’s house somewhat grander house “Belvoir.” One of Lucy’s older step-brothers was William Lewis who later became her first husband.
The family was surrounded by relatives and doubtlessly there was a lot of visiting back and forth - visits sometimes lasting for several days. Because of the family’s wealth, slaves would have worked in the house as well as field. But even in the wealthiest families, the lady of the house and her daughters would weave, sew and repair items. Mistresses of plantations had to supply slaves with blankets and clothing and during the Revolutionary War when cloth could no longer be imported from England; women were forced to manufacture their own cloth. (Clinton, p.26) We know that Lucy sewed clothing for her own children.
Daughters of Virginia gentry born in the 18th Century were trained to be “decorations for society…to acquire habits that were natural, easy & graceful, to be attentive to their dress and to be educated in musical instruments, voice and dancing.” (Lewis, pp. 149-50) Although this model was more attainable for young ladies living on Tidewater plantations than on the frontier of Virginia’s Piedmont, in 1769, Dr. Walker, Lucy’s uncle by marriage, paid for dancing lessons for Mildred Meriwether, Lucy’s sister, so perhaps Lucy also had dancing lessons. (Moore, p. 82) After the Revolutionary War, a “decorative” education became superfluous, even for the daughters of Virginia gentry. One father’s recommendation to his son was not to marry “one of you(r) high dames of quality.” Instead his son should select a woman “who will not think it degrading to attend attentively to domestic affairs and be content with such living as you can conveniently afford.” (Lewis) Since Lucy spent her early years on the frontier of the Piedmont, her family might very well have raised their daughters in a practical fashion well before practicality became a virtue in Tidewater. Her sister’s husband described the Meriwether family as “plain people in manners and dress.” (Gilmer, p. 19)
In general, education of the young was defined as learning the “3 R’s” and this was considered the responsibility of the family. Thus Lucy was “home schooled.” More affluent families often used tutors and local Episcopalian and Presbyterian ministers began opening schools in their homes where they offered a “classical” education along with room and board for £20 a year. This advanced education was reserved for the boys in the family, not the girls. The most famous of these schools was the one run by Rev. James Maury. (Moore, pp. 81-83) The Lewis’ and Marks’ sons were taught in the same type schools; Meriwether by Dr. Everitt, Rev. James Waddell and Rev. Matthew Maury; and Reuben, by Rev. John Robertson.
According to the social precepts of the time, a life of “gentility” excluded commerce; sons of upper class families were raised to be farmers, lawyers or doctors. These occupations offered modest monetary rewards, but more importantly, they allowed independence which was prized most highly by Virginians. In the decades following the Revolutionary War, the lives of the planters became increasingly difficult: years of planting tobacco had depleted the soil and “the tobacco boom was a distant memory.” Many planters switched to grain production but this was not as profitable as tobacco had been in earlier years when fortunes were made. It also required a diligence and steadfastness that young men of the gentry were not used to applying. During the hard times, many families moved west or south, sold some of their slaves, or curtailed their expensive life style.” (Lewis, pp. 115, 125-135)
Lucy’s First Marriage (1768/69 – 1779)
In 1768 or 1769, when Lucy was either sixteen or seventeen, she married her step-brother and first cousin-once-removed William Lewis. He was 35, sixteen or seventeen years older. Lt. William Lewis (1735 - 1779) had grown up in great prosperity as his father owned 21,600 acres in the Albemarle County area as well as an interest in 100,000 acres in Greenbrier County (now West Virginia), (Anderson, p. 26) Upon his father’s death in 1765, William Lewis inherited “Locust Hill” and 1,896 acres on Ivy Creek (600 of which he later sold) and the slaves to work it. He probably built the house during the three years between his inheritance and his marriage. He was considered a reasonably prosperous planter. No doubt tobacco was his main crop as that was the prime crop through the 17th and early 18th century in Albemarle. (Moore, p. 31) As the soil became depleted of its nutrients, grains began to be grown in the early 1800’s, but they could not produce the fortunes that tobacco had.
William Lewis was a lieutenant in the Virginia militia and served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.* Thus, like many of the men in Lucy’s family, he was away from home for long periods, leaving Lucy to manage his plantation of over 1,600 acres. Her responsibilities would have included supervising slaves, planting and harvesting crops, and getting those crops to market. Receipts for goods purchased indicate that she had an overseer to see to the daily operations, but the overseer was directed by someone, and that someone was Lucy Meriwether Lewis.
* It may be that Lewis served with the Virginia Militia throughout the war and was not with the Continental Army.
William and Lucy Lewis had four children: Jane Meriwether, born 1770; Lucinda, born 1772 but died as an infant; Meriwether, born 1774; and Reuben, born 1777. Jane married Edmund Anderson, (1763-1810) her first cousin in 1785. She was fifteen at the time. They had nine children, one of whom, Meriwether Lewis Anderson grew up to become a “regular” doctor like Lucy’s brother Francis.
According to DAR research, William Lewis died in the autumn of 1779.* On his way home from army duty, he crossed the Rivanna River when it was in flood and his horse was swept away and drowned. He swam ashore and managed to get to “Clover Fields”, the Meriwether family home, but as a result of the ordeal, he came down with a bad chill and died of pneumonia. He was buried at “Clover Fields.” His estate included his plantation, £520 in cash and various chattels, most of which under Virginia law of primogeniture went to his eldest son, Meriwether. However, Lucy as his widow retained dower rights. (Bakeless, p. 13) The estate inventory included 24 slaves and 147 gallons of whisky. According to Isaac Weld, a traveler from Dublin, who wrote of his perceptions of life in Albemarle County, “almost all families have stills” and the drink of choice was peach brandy, many started their morning with a glassful. (Weld, pp. 85-86)
Later in life, Lucy and her children attempted to collect widow’s pay for William Lewis’ army service, but their claims were rejected. They were granted bounty lands for his service, but these lands were lost through the hands of a dishonest agent, who sold them on behalf of the family, and then absconded with the monies.
* DAR records give 1779 as the date for Lt. Lewis’ death although the Anderson book lists it as 1781. If he did die in 1779, he could not have taken part in the siege of Yorktown (family tradition) as that took place in the summer of 1781 and Cornwallis surrendered in October, 1781.The earlier date of 1779 also changes the year in which John Marks would have married Lucy from 1782 to 1780.
Lucy’s Second Marriage (1780 – 1791)
“Lt. Lewis advised his wife on his death bed that if John Marks courted her to marry him. He did court her and they were married.” (McGhee, p. 4)
Within six months after her husband’s death, Lucy Meriwether Lewis married Capt. John Marks (1740 – 1791) on May 13, 1780. In addition to the advice Lucy received from her dying husband (stated above), it was not uncommon for widows to marry shortly after the death of their husbands. Capt. Marks had risen to the rank of captain in the Continental Line during the American Revolutionary War, but resigned his commission in 1781 due to ill health. He was a magistrate of Albemarle County and was appointed sheriff in 1785. (Woods, p. 263) On the Personal Property Tax List of Albemarle County of 1782, Marks is listed as having 25 slaves, 56 cattle and four horses. (Cappon, pp. 47-73) Marks also had “a fine Broad River farm in Georgia.” (McGhee, p.4) He and Lucy left “Locust Hill” in the care of an overseer and went to live there.
Lucy’s oldest daughter Jane remained in Virginia. In 1785 at age 15, she married Edmund Anderson and lived with him in Hanover County. Meriwether aged 10, and Reuben, aged 7, accompanied Lucy and John Marks to Georgia.* Their journey from Albemarle into southwest Virginia and across North Carolina to Georgia is another example of Lucy’s spunk and her ability to take charge of a situation: “When she (Lucy) and her second husband, Capt. Marks, were moving to Georgia he bade her and the wagons to start on, saying he would follow in a few hours, but meeting some friends he was detained and did not follow for some days. Meanwhile, Mrs. Marks finding the overseer drunk and incapable of conducting the procession of vehicles and Negroes took charge herself – riding the saddle horse of one of the wagons and driving till they reached their destined stop where Captain Marks found them later.” (Anderson, p.181)
* There is a question of whether Meriwether did move to Georgia with his parents.
Capt. Marks had learned of the Georgia prospects from Col. George Mathews, who had served in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War, noticed the productive land in nearby Georgia and had taken an option on a large area. Back in Virginia, he induced many planters to return with him to George and begin the cultivation of tobacco in fertile ground. A number of planters from Albemarle County, including John Marks, Francis Meriwether, Benjamin Taliaferro and Thomas Gilmer immigrated to land along the Broad River in Wilkes County, Georgia in 1784. “They lived on widely separated plantations but formed an intimate society based on personal cooperation.” (Writers from the WPA, p.27-28) It is probable that part of the lure of the move was the opportunity to return to the planting of tobacco which was more likely to lead to wealth as compared to the cultivation of grains that had taken hold in Albemarle County. In 1786, a tobacco warehouse was built in the nearby town of Petersburg. The Marks family’s land was originally 293 acres at the confluence of Millstone Creed and Broad River. (Hendrix, p. 27) Captain Marks acquired additional land later.
It is likely that Lucy became a Methodist during her time living in Georgia. In 1785, the Methodist Church began sending missionaries into Wilkes County to organize the Methodists who lived there but also to convert others to their faith. “They were so successful that by 1788, Wilkes County contained more than two-thirds of the 1,600 Methodists in the state. Consequently, the first annual convention of the Methodist Church held in Georgia met at Gen. David Meriwether’s home on the Broad River.” Shortly thereafter, the Georgia Methodist Conference agreed to open the state’s first denominational school in Wilkes County. They built the school, Succoth Academy, on land donated by Lucy’s brother, Gen. David Meriwether. (Writers of the WPA, pp. 30-32)
Lucy and John Marks had two children born in Georgia: John Hastings Marks (1785/86 –1822) and Mary Garland Marks (1788 – 1864). In 1787, her son Meriwether Lewis, now thirteen, returned to Virginia to continue his education. Four years later, in 1791, John Marks died of causes unknown and Lucy became a widow for the second time. She was thirty-nine years old.
In his will, John Marks’ left his lands in Georgia and Kentucky to his children, John Hastings and Mary Garland Marks and presumably to his wife Lucy. (Hendrix, p. 28)
Although Lucy’s brother Francis and other relatives had settled in Georgia with her, after her husband’s death she decided to return to “Locust Hill” with her children Reuben, John and Mary. She wrote to her son Meriwether in Virginia, asking for his help in accompanying the family back to Virginia and Meriwether responded in a letter dated 1791. He wrote that he learned of the death of his “father” (John Marks) from a cousin and chided his mother saying that he was “surprised at not getting letters from her.” He added that he may not be able to come to Georgia until the following spring due to his studies, “I’ve been with Mr. James Waddell for eighteen months…” (Special Collections, UVA Library) But according to Anderson, “The death of Capt. Marks in Georgia brought out a protective aspect [in Meriwether] towards his mother whose mainstay he at once became. Helping in the settlement of his step-father’s estate in Georgia, going to Kentucky to establish the interests of his half-brother and sister in land claims due their father, finally going in his carriage (which carriage is said to have been built at Monticello by Mr. Jefferson’s mechanics and afterwards to have been General Clark’s coach at St. Louis) to bring his mother back to Locust Hill…” (Anderson, pp 501-502)
Once Lucy was back in Virginia, her daughter Jane and her husband Edmund Anderson, along with their growing family, moved in with her at “Locust Hill. Edmund appears to be a person who had many entrepreneurial ideas but no success in business ventures. According to a letter written from “Clover Fields’ in 1791 by Meriwether Lewis to his mother (living in Georgia): “Mr. Anderson’s scheems [sic] are as transient as they are sudden. His whole system of afares [sic] appear to be altered monthly. He has discontinued the business at William Anderson & Co. on the account of some unhappy family differences which are two [sic] tedious to be innumerated [sic]. He has declared himself a candidate for the next Hanover election and it is generally thought that he will be chosen.” Edmund Anderson may not have been the best provider for Jane and their nine children as the family continued to live with Lucy at “Locust Hill” until Edmund’s death in 1810. Jane lived with her mother until Lucy’s death in 1837.
Lucy’s most famous child, of course, was Meriwether Lewis (1774 – 1809), her first son. As early as age eight, he hunted alone at night in the mountains and dark woods of Albemarle County, already showing the characteristics of courage and resourcefulness that stood him in good stead when he later commanded the great expedition to explore the Missouri and Columbian Rivers from 1804 to 1806.
After service with the Virginia Militia during the “Whiskey Rebellion” and the regular army, President Jefferson asked him to be his private secretary. At the age of 30, he was appointed by Jefferson to command the Lewis and Clark expedition. Following his return from the west, he visited President Jefferson at the White House where he became ill (probably late 1807). The nature of his illness is unknown, but “he withdrew from public circles for several months, staying with his mother in Albemarle County, where he was probably treated by her and his physician [sic] brother Reuben.” (Dary, p. 8o)
In March, 1808, he assumed his duties as governor of the Louisiana Territory, stationed in St. Louis. As governor, Meriwether was traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with officials when he died on October 11, 1809. Controversy surrounded the circumstances of his sudden death along the Natchez Trace in Tennessee and the controversy continues today. Was it a suicide or was it murder? There is the fact that he became sick with an undisclosed illness in late 1807; was it an incurable physical disease or a fatal bout of depression?
“Governor Lewis had from early life been subject to hypochondriac affections. It was a constitutional disposition in all the nearer branches of the family of his name and was more immediately inherited by him from his father. They had not, however, been so strong as to give uneasiness to his family. While he lived with me in Washington I observed at times sensible depressions of mind, but knowing their constitutional source, I estimated their course but what I had seen in the family. During his western expedition the constant exertion which that required of all the faculties of body and mind suspended these distressing affections, but after his establishment at St. Louis in sedendary [sic] occupation they returned upon him with double vigour [sic] and began to alarm his friends. He was in a paroxysm of one of these when his affairs rendered it necessary for him to go to Washington.” (McGhee, pp. 14-15)
Lucy had already lost two husbands and a baby daughter, and the death of her oldest son Meriwether must have been a terrible blow. His life had gone from the pinnacle of success of the Voyage of Discovery to a murky tragedy on the Tennessee frontier. One can only imagine her heartbreak when, upon the return of the trunk with which he was traveling, she opened it and found his belongings. An inventory at University of Virginia Library listed the trunk’s contents. Included were:
1 tomahawk, 1 ½ pt. silver tumbler, 1 pr. Red slippers, 1 black broadcloth coat, 2 striped summer coats, 5 vests, 2 pr. nankeen pantaloons, 1 pr. black silk britches, 2 pr. cotton stockings, 3 pr. silk stockings, along with handkerchiefs, drawers, and many books, papers and maps related to the Louisiana Territory.
Lucy refused to believe that Meriwether had committed suicide. Suicide was considered a sin of despair and bore the stigma of moral weakness – an impossible end for the hero of the Great Voyage of Discovery. Lucy insisted that Meriwether had been murdered and she suspected that his French carriage driver had been involved. Sometime after Meriwether’s death, the Frenchman passed through her neighborhood and stopped at a house near Locust Hill. Lucy was informed of his presence but she would not see him or permit him to come to her house. (McGhee, p. 17)
At the time of Meriwether’s death, Reuben Lewis was out West involved in the fur trade. The following year, he became an agent to the Mandan, Osage and Cherokee Indians on the Arkansas River. In 1820, he returned to Virginia and helped his mother manage family business transactions and legal affairs. From letters, it appears that he and his half-brother, John Hastings Marks, helped to settle Meriwether Lewis’ estate. In 1822 at age 45, Reuben married his first cousin, Mildred Dabney (daughter of Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks’ youngest sister, Jane). Lucy deeded Reuben acreage from the original Locust Hill tract to create his farm, “Valley Point”.
The year 1822 marked not only Reuben’s marriage. It marked the death of yet another of Lucy’s children, John Hastings Marks. He was thirty-seven years old, unmarried, and a doctor who had received at least some medical education in Philadelphia (Special Collections UVA Library) and probably also at the College of William and Mary. In a lengthy letter to his mother from Fort Mandan on March 31, 1805, Meriwether Lewis wrote, “I must request of you…to send John Marks to the college at Williamsburg as soon (writer’s emphasis) as it shall be thought that his education has been sufficiently advanced to fit him for that seminary, for you may rest assured that as you regard his future prosperity you had better make a sacrifice of his property (referring to property inherited from his father, John Marks) than suffer his education to be neglected or remain incomplete.” (Anderson, p. 500) It is not known if John Hastings ever practiced medicine as he not listed as a practicing physician in Charlottesville (Rawlings & Hemphill, Eds.)
One author wrote that John Hastings “went deranged, died in a lunatic asylum.” (Gilmore, p. 84) John Hastings did die while in the City Hospital of Baltimore, Maryland, a hospital that evolved from an early “retreat” established for the care of the mentally ill in 1797. In 1808, a pair of local physicians, Drs. Colin Mackenzie and James Smythe, persuaded the Baltimore City Council to lease the hospital to them for a period of fifteen years. (www.springgrove.com/history) A letter from Colin Mackenzie to Reuben Lewis reported the death of his half-brother, and gave him details of John’s last two weeks of life:
Letter dated “Baltimore 22nd Jan’y 1823” (Special Collections, UVA Library, 1823)
“...I regret to inform you that your Brother Dr. John H. Marks died on the 17th of December (unknown) after an illness of 5 weeks. He had been (torn section) to his attack, complaining of an indigestion and loss of appetite to remove which I repeatedly advised him to take some tonick [sic] medicine but in vain. He was continually under an apprehension that poison was mixed with this medicine and refused, in consequence, to take it. He was at length attacked with an (unknown) which harassed him for two weeks and for which he refused every medicine although a number of my medical friends who were called in consultation with me on his case assured him that nothing poisonous was contained in any food or medicine that was prescribed for him. The intermittent (unknown) left him but his limbs and face began to swell, accompanied by a dyspenea or difficulty of breathing, the consequences, we were all convinced of an effusion of water in the chest and which terminated his life. He took exercise daily while he was able, but the disease (torn section) continued unabated. I had him decently interred in the burying ground attached to Christ Church. I was extremely anxious to have written to you during his illness, but I had entirely forgotten your address; nay, I had forgotten the county, in which you resided altho’[sic] I had taken it down on paper, but which, I had mislaid. I take the liberty to enclose a statement of his acct.
I am very respectfully your obe [sic] servant,
Here again, the death carried a stigma: mental illness was considered a moral failing. Lucy was close to her 71st birthday when the letter arrived telling of John Hastings’ death. She was a strong and resilient woman but her grief at the death of yet another son must have been conflicted as well as compounded by previous losses. Still she did not buckle. She continued her healing practice and continued to run her farm. Perhaps she found consolation in her religious faith which offered the hope of reunion with loved ones in the next life. Perhaps her family, her remaining children, her many grandchildren, and the kinfolk that surrounded her, were also a comfort.
Lucy’s Plantation “Locust Hill” (1792 – 1837)
Upon Lucy and the children’s return from Georgia to “Locust Hill” in 1792, many things had begun to change in Albemarle County. The town of Milton, situated on the Rivanna River, was thriving because of the recent dredging of the river. Now navigable to the James River and beyond to Richmond, it served as a tobacco inspection station, commercial center and port for the region. It was nearly half the size of Charlottesville. Shadwell, across the Rivanna River from Milton, benefited from the mill Thomas Jefferson had built there. This complex came to include a carding factory (which employed up to 100 people at one point), merchant mill, stores and a saw mill. (Piedmont Environmental Council, p. 16) While grains had begun to be grown in the county during the Revolutionary War, tobacco remained a popular crop. Tobacco did not lead to the wealth that it brought to the Tidewater area mainly because upland tobacco was too coarse. Citizens who produced large quantities of tobacco and Indian corn were called “planters”; those specializing in small grains, “farmers,” although even small farmers grew some tobacco. Small grains were listed as corn, wheat, barley, rye and hemp. Wheat was the dominant crop by 1800 – Meriwether Lewis in a 1791 letter to his mother told her that the wheat crop was doing very well. The wealth that built mansion houses between 1780 and 1850 did not come from agricultural production alone, but with income derived from the sale of lands outside of Albemarle (as the Marks’ family did), shrewd investments in stores, canals, turnpikes and railroads, and perhaps the loan of money to neighbors at exorbitant rates of interest. (Moore, p. 18, 33)
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a number of planters initiated agricultural reforms on land depleted by tobacco production, poor farming methods and erosion. Planters grew wheat instead of tobacco, and applied plaster and clover to improve the soil. The Albemarle Agricultural Society, founded in 1817, promoted agricultural innovations and education. They sponsored the first county fair and provided leadership and influence on a national level through the nation’s first agricultural journal, The American Farmer. One of the key players in beginning the agricultural society was William Douglas Meriwether of “Clover Fields.” (PEC, pp.16-17) Farming at “Locust Hill” would have followed the new agricultural protocols and the crops would have been changed to mostly grains.
Until Meriwether Lewis reached the age of majority, his guardians managed the estate at “Locust Hill.” After the death of his step-father, John Marks, Meriwether became head of the family at the age of eighteen, and took over the day-to-day running of the plantation. He, no doubt, benefited from advice from older relatives and, of course, he had an overseer to manage the field hands and supervise the planting and harvesting of crops. When the call went out from President Washington for more troops to help suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, Meriwether joined the Virginia militia. “He felt secure in the thought that his mother was capable of attending the affairs of “Locust Hill,” thus relieving him of the estate management he found so irksome.” (Saindon, p. 106) Lucy, as a young girl, would have received training in the skills needed to manage the household of such a plantation from her mother. The mistress was expected to be the first to rise and the last to go to retire; she carried the keys to the larder and delegated the tasks of the day for the slaves and the children. They saw to both the family and the slave families for minor medical problems. (Meriwether, 73) Lucy, being an intelligent and observant woman, probably learned the running of a plantation beyond the house from watching and assisting her husbands.
After Meriwether’s stint with the militia he joined the regular army in 1795; became President Jefferson’s private secretary in 1801, followed by his appointment to lead the northwest expedition in 1804. Thus, Lucy assumed the duties of a full time planter, a position which lasted until her death in 1837. Once her daughter Jane and her husband, Edmund, returned to Locust Hill, Lucy would have had help. Her son Reuben returned to Albemarle County in 1820 and began farming on an adjacent estate.
We know that Lucy became a Methodist and we assume she converted when she was living in Georgia. By the time she returned to Virginia in 1792, the first Methodist church, Mt. Moriah, had been built in the White Hall section of Albemarle County, less than seven miles from “Locust Hill.” Mt. Moriah may have been the church Lucy and her family attended, at least until she gave land closer to home for the building of Shiloh Church. Albemarle Methodists were known for the evangelizing of slaves and they assumed the mantle of the Quakers in opposing slavery.
We do not know Lucy’s thoughts on slavery and abolition. She was a woman of her time and culture. For many southerners, the success of their plantations and their wealth was dependent on their slaves. Freeing their work force would have been economically ruinous. We do know that Lucy treated her slaves humanely and felt protective of them. Evidence of this exists in her will: she bequeathed certain slaves to her daughter with the caveat that she “keep and maintain all the old and valuable slaves that may be on the plantation at her death so long as they may live.” From a 1778 letter written to her by a slave called Uncle Paul, we can guess that she taught some of her slaves to read and write. “Uncle Paul” reported that he was doing well, but there is no indication of whether he had been hired out, or sold a new master or was free.
We also know that at her death, Lucy owned 47 slaves. In 1803, acting as the executrix of John Marks’ estate, she sold “two negroes, a woman named Caty and her child, Lewis, to Reuben for £100.” Growing crops that were less labor intensive than tobacco created the need for fewer slaves to work on farmers’ lands and therefore, some slaves were rented out to those who needed additional help. In 1821, a receipt indicates that Lucy hired out a “boy” for a year at the rate of $1,822 plus $45 “to return said boy well clothed.”
Finally, in 1842, five years after Lucy’s own death, her daughter Jane Lewis Anderson died. For the benefit of the legatees of her will, there was a valuation and division of Negroes. There were seventeen persons in all; seven adults and ten children, all of which had been inherited from her mother in 1838. Some slaves were purchased by Jane’s son, Dr. Meriwether Lewis Anderson, and others by neighbors and relatives. (Special Collections, UVA, Library: see “Documents” section of this web site)
A major financial crisis hit the United States in the 1820’s and had a negative effect on the profitability of agricultural products. We know that Reuben suffered financial problems as there are several letters from people to whom he owed money. (Special Collections, UVA Library) In one instance, he transferred ownership of some slaves to settle a debt. Another letter asked him to honor two debts of $980 each. It is probable that Lucy, her daughter Jane and Jane’s children, living together at “Locust Hill” had the same worries. Perhaps this is when Lucy decided to press for the seven-and-a-half years pay due to the widows of Revolutionary War officers. Her claim was based on her marriage to Lt. William Lewis but it was unsuccessful, even when her heirs pressed the case in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1842.
Lucy remained active in her doctoring into her eighties. Perhaps like Thomas Jefferson, she believed that the habit of exercise preserved health because, according to family accounts, even in old age, she continued to ride on horseback around the countryside visiting the sick, both slave and free. (Jefferson continued his daily rides up to three weeks before his death.) Her good health not withstanding, Lucy was a realist, so four months after her eightieth birthday, on June 23, 1832, she wrote and signed a last will and testament. To her only surviving son Reuben, she bequeathed an additional few acres adjoining the land she had previously given him and on which he resided at” Valley Point.” She also left him “my Negro man named Jack” and a third part of her stock of horses.
To Jane she left “all the balance of my land at Locust Hill….containing the houses, orchards, gardens…all my household and kitchen furniture. The stock of all kinds, all my plantation tools and farming utensils including wagons, carts, carriages, etc. Also my Negro Woman Betsy and her six children…my Negro boy Richard otherwise called Dick and also Negro boy William with this understanding that my daughter Jane Anderson do keep and maintain all the old and valuable slaves that may on the plantation at my death so long as they may live, also two thirds of my stock of horses and my patent leves [sic] watch.
To her youngest daughter, Mary Garland Marks Moore who lived in Alabama with her family, Lucy left “my Negro woman Unity and her six children…. also the sum of five hundred dollars to be paid twelve months after my death.” Perhaps there was conflict between Mary and her half-siblings Jane and Reuben because Lucy added:
I give the above legacy with this express understanding and provision to my executors. Whereas Col. John Marks, my late husband, made provision in his last will among other things that two female slaves should be purchased for the benefit of his two infant children of whom Mary G. Moore is the survivor and whereas but one female slave was ever purchased by me who with her future increase has gone to the benefit of my daughter Mary G. Moore and whereas also my said late husband left some military certificates as they were called which they may think not properly accounted for now my will and desire is that harmony should be preserved and all litigation avoided if possible. To this end I request my executors to withhold the above legacy and every part and parcel thereof from my said daughter Mary G. Moore and her husband William Moore until they accept the same in full of all debts due demands specialties or legacies whatsoever that may be due or owing them from my Estate or from the Estate of their father my late husband [emphasis added by writer].
The will continued:
“In the fourth place, I desire that the balance of my slaves….be equally divided between my son Reuben Lewis and his sister Jane Anderson with the exception of the old ones heretofore provided for. I also desire my books to be equally divided between them in like manner.
In the fifth place, I desire my horse Columbia to be sold at my death…and the proceeds applied toward the payment of Five hundred dollars bequeathed to Mary G. Moore…..whatever interest in what is called the Loyal (Land) Company* or may be recovered I desire may be equally divided among my three children.”
Lucy Marks (seal)
* Dr. Thomas Walker of “Castle Hill” was also involved with the Loyal Land Company.
Lucy died September 8, 1837, at 85 years of age. We do not know the circumstances of her death but certainly her daughter Jane, who lived with her, would have been present. Perhaps somewhere letters still exist reporting the details of her death to absent family members.
On November 25, 1837, an appraisal of her estate was submitted to the Court of Albemarle County and recorded on 1st of January 1838.
In addition to the slaves mentioned above in the will, the appraisal listed:
- 7 cows @ $10 each
- 5 yearlings @ $7 each
- 2 calves @ $2.50 each
- 1 yoke oxen @ $40
- 40 head of sheep @ $2.50
- 2 sows and 26 shoats - $56
- 19 killing hogs @ $7 each
- 100 bushels of corn @ $ .35
- 120 barrels of wheat @ $3.00
- 62 bushels fodder @$1.60
- 6 blade stacks @ $3.33
- 1 top stack tobacco @ $10
In addition to stock and crops, farm equipment, gigg [sic] and harness ($35), and farming utensils, the appraisal lists “1 double house 3000” (sq. ft. ?) for $90. Home furnishings included a loom, a bureau, 8 beds, bedsteads and furniture, kitchen utensils and furniture, 1 clock, books ($30), easy chair and 12 Windsor chairs, and 10 split bottomed chairs. Items that were probably silver included: ½ doz. table spoons ($10), 14 teaspoons ($5), 2 tumblers, ½ pint ($10), 1 pair sugar tongs ($1). There were also pewter plates and basins, as well as 1 patent L Silver watch and gold chain ($50) and other sundry items.
Within months after her death, a fire ravaged her home of 65 years and destroyed many of her belongings. Her daughter Jane appears to have begun repairs in December, 1838: There is a receipt for purchases for weatherboarding, planks, flooring, joists, and other building materials bought from one John Rodes. The total came to $93.08, and was paid in full on September 15, 1840.