local history

Local History: Robert F. O’Neill’s “Small but Important Riots”

Written by Heidi Baumstark

Everyone knows that horses take center stage in Virginia’s Hunt Country. 

But not everyone knows about another “stage” our four-legged friends premiered in during the summer of 1863: war.

In “Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville,” author Robert F. O’Neill unpacks the details of three cavalry battles in Loudoun County that were part of the Gettysburg Campaign. These battles broke out along an approximate 12-mile stretch of Ashby’s Gap Turnpike (today’s John Mosby Highway) when mounted soldiers clashed in summer 1863 — Aldie (June 17), Middleburg (June 19), and Upperville (June 21).

All three conflicts resulted in Union victories, but Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart maintained an upper hand, sparring with Union commander Alfred Pleasonton as a delay tactic to prevent him from gaining intelligence on Robert E. Lee’s movements. By preventing Federal forces from passing through local mountain gaps, Stuart’s cavalry allowed Lee’s troops to travel north unhindered. 

After all, it’s the cavalry (horse-mounted soldiers) who are the most mobile operating in roles of reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing. “Cavalry protects the infantry,” explains O’Neill. “That’s one of their jobs. The other is to find the enemy.”

These three clashes took place between the famous battles of Brandy Station in Culpeper County, June 9, 1863 (the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the entire Civil War, resulting in a Confederate victory), and Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, a win for the North. O’Neill points out, “These three cavalry battles were overshadowed by Gettysburg, [which] happened just 10 days later.”

About O’Neill

O’Neill lives in Virginia’s Northern Neck and comes from a distinguished career in law enforcement. His parents instilled a strong interest in reading and history, which led to his study of the Civil War, specifically the Union cavalry in the crucial year of 1863. On his mother’s side, O’Neill has two ancestors who fought in the war. 

O’Neill’s original edition of “Small but Important Riots” was released in 1993, but after gaining access to previously unpublished documents, O’Neill published a second edition in 2023 with an updated narrative and added information from recently discovered letters, diaries, and soldier records. “I think I cited 13 newspapers in the 1993 edition, but with today’s access to digital databases changing the way research is done, I cited 89 newspapers in this 2023 edition,” he says. After 30 years of searching the National Archives for records pertaining to the Civil War, O’Neill’s findings have significantly advanced the understanding of these three cavalry battles. 

The origin of O’Neill’s book title comes from U.S. Infantry Captain John W. Ames, who was in the area on June 21, 1863. From Aldie, he heard cavalry fighting around Upperville (about 12 miles west of Aldie), and listened to the battle throughout the day, later explaining that the cavalry was fighting “small but important riots.”

“Though Ames is away from the firing,” O’Neill says, “they heard cannon and found out it was the cavalry fighting…. There were a series of skirmishes during that day [June 21, 1863] that surrounded Upperville itself; Goose Creek Bridge is one of those areas.”

The Three Cavalry Battles

According to published records, Pleasonton’s superiors — President Lincoln, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and army commander Joseph Hooker — ordered Pleasonton to search for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia who was heading into the Shenandoah Valley, north toward the Potomac River, and into Pennsylvania. “Hooker’s objective was to save Washington — the capital — from attack,” O’Neill explains. “Hooker was to send his cavalry out to look for Lee. But, Pleasanton disobeyed Hooker’s orders; I found documents that prove this.”

As cavalry commander, Stuart had the whole width of the Loudoun Valley to keep Federal forces away from Lee. Pleasanton was not to take his cavalry into the Loudoun Valley, but he did. And when Pleasonton and Stuart run into each other, that’s what leads to these three cavalry battles in June 1863.

Stuart was in the little mill village of Aldie when fighting broke out on Wednesday, June 17, at a sharp curve on Snickersville Turnpike. A stone monument commemorating the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry stands nearby, honoring those who fought at the Battle of Aldie. “It was erected by survivors of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry; they suffered many heavy losses there,” O’Neill says.

An aspect of the Battle of Middleburg that has always been a mystery was its exact location. On June 17, French-American Union soldier Alfred Napoléon Duffié led his regiment into the Loudoun Valley, where they would ultimately perish. Having found a letter referring to the death of one of Duffié’s officers, O’Neill’s book at long last reveals the circumstances of their defeat. “Based on the information in that letter and further research, I was able to pinpoint where that battle was fought,” he explains. “Duffié, coming into Middleburg on the night of the 17th, was attacked, driven out of town, and retreated south. On the morning of the 18th he’s attacked again; that’s when his officer was killed. Duffié was coming into Middleburg via The Plains Road.”

Severe fighting broke out about one mile west of the village of Middleburg, near a cluster of 19th-century stone buildings still standing at what is now Mt. Defiance Historic Park. On Friday, June 19, the Battle of Middleburg enveloped the area around the blacksmith shop at the intersection of the old Zulla roadbed and John Mosby Highway. The Union’s 1st Maine Cavalry were fighting dismounted from their horses, and the outnumbered Confederates were almost overrun. A stone monument dedicated to the bravery of the 1st Maine Cavalry stands on the grounds of Mt. Defiance, and in the old Zulla roadbed stands a 12-pound Napoleon howitzer cannon that Confederates used as a defensive position. 

Stacked stone walls, still visible today, bordering Mt. Defiance provided cover for Union and Confederate soldiers along both sides of the old turnpike. In the evening of June 19, a storm rolled in, ending the Battle of Middleburg, which resulted in about 400 casualties. Churches became hospitals, including Aldie’s Mt. Zion Church, where graffiti by soldiers can still be seen on the walls. 

The Battle of Upperville occurred on the afternoon of Sunday, June 21, ending five days of cavalry engagements along Ashby’s Gap Turnpike including the area of the Goose Creek Bridge, which spans the waters of Goose Creek in four arches. Northern and Southern cavalry brigades totaling about 6,000 men with horse artillery clashed that afternoon in Upperville across the Ayrshire and Kirkby farms, between Trappe and Greengarden roads.

“That fight has been interpreted several different ways over the years,” O’Neill adds. “The owner of Kirkby Farm allowed me to walk the property and I was able to sort out that battle, as well.” Kirkby Farm was also the site of the Battle of Unison, which occurred months earlier, November 1–3, 1862. The farm is now permanently protected by a conservation easement with the Old Dominion Land Conservancy located in Purcellville.

By the night of June 21, almost a week’s worth of fighting resulted in fatigued and injured mounts, dwindling supplies, and high casualties on both sides. Just 10 days later, the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863) would break out. 

160 Years Later

In commemoration of the 160th anniversary of these three cavalry battles, NOVA Parks is teaming up with the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area to provide a weekend program June 17 to 18. The weekend will include a family-friendly living history program at Mt. Zion Church in Aldie and guided tours at Mt. Defiance, and an all-day bus tour on June 17 will be led by VPHA Historian Emeritus Rich Gillespie. 

On June 18, O’Neill will present a talk on his second edition of “Small but Important Riots” at Buchanan Hall in Upperville. The event concludes with a book signing and a beer and wine reception. 

NOVA Parks Site Manager Tracy Gillespie, who invited O’Neill to speak, adds, “Bob’s book is extraordinary. He has shared a lifetime of learning through this narrative, which has been described as a ‘tactical study’ of the cavalry battles, but it’s so much more than that. It’s storytelling at its best!”

“Thirty years ago, there was no parkland there; it was all private property,” O’Neill points out. “But now we have Mt. Defiance Park and lots of other land placed in easements by folks who live out there.”

Reflecting on his research, O’Neill concludes, “Years ago, I met the late John Divine,” a nationally recognized authority on the Civil War and a native of the early 18th-century village of Waterford in Loudoun. “In 1980, John took me to the Route 50 corridor and explained what he understood about those battles. He suggested I try to write a book on it. I had never set out to do that, but one thing led to another. And I did. I hope that in 10 years someone else will take the story even further.”

Thanks to O’Neill and his dedication to research, we can learn more about these important cavalry battles and their role in the Civil War. And thanks to dedicated preservation efforts by NOVA Parks and other organizations, we can witness the fields and drive the roads where cavalrymen — and their proven steeds — changed history.

More information about the June 17 bus tour (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) beginning at Mt. Zion Historic Park (40309 John Mosby Highway, Aldie, Virginia) and the June 18 (2 to 4 p.m.) lecture by O’Neill at Buchanan Hall in Upperville can be found at VPHA’s website at piedmontheritage.org. Information on O’Neill’s book and his other publications and articles in historical magazines can be found at smallbutimportantriots.com. ML

Published in the May 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Remembering Jim Poston, Middleburg’s Photographer

Written by Heidi Baumstark

They say a picture paints a thousand words. 

If so, then the late Middleburg photographer Jim Poston has uttered millions through the thousands of shots snapped over the course of his illustrious career behind the camera and in the community.

A Middleburg native, Poston was born September 5, 1944, and passed away at the age of 78 on February 24, 2023. One step inside his Middleburg home, and it is evident what drove him. The images covering his walls include Middleburg Life covers, photos of local theater and musical groups, camps for special needs children, car and motorcycle races, and, of course, equestrian affairs, including a few photos of Jackie Kennedy on her favorite horse.

For years, Poston was the official photographer for the Middleburg Christmas Parade. and His iconic capture of the Middleburg Hunt trotting down a snowy Washington Street with riders in brilliant red hunting attire, surrounded by hounds can be spotted throughout the village, forever immortalizing his talent. 

Poston is survived by his wife Cathy Bernache, his son and daughter, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. 

Growing Up in Middleburg

Poston grew up in a cottage on Foxcroft School property where his father worked as a chauffeur. As a schoolboy, he attended Middleburg Elementary School (currently Middleburg Community Charter School) on N. Madison Street. In 1956, he and his father, Herman Poston, moved to W. Marshall Street, the same house he would later share with his wife of almost 34 years, Cathy, and raise his two children Karen and Jamie. Herman operated the old Humble Esso gas station located on E. Washington Street, and young “Jimmy” worked there as a teen. “Jimmy’s dad and friends would gather in the evenings after closing time and jam at the gas station playing bluegrass and old-time country music with his dad on the fiddle and friends on bass, banjo, and guitar,” Bernache says. “That was Middleburg back then. Jimmy had many musician friends — music was a big part of his life.”

His father also owned the building which housed the Hamburger Hut in town where he and Jimmy would have dinner every evening. “I remember it, too,” Bernache shares. “It was on the corner of Pendleton and Washington streets across from the Safeway.” The Middleburg Safeway was just one of the many Safeways where Poston worked, and he attended its grand opening in November 1966. Ten years later he and Bernache met. It was Valentine’s Day 1976. The couple married on New Year’s Eve in 1989. 

Photography Calls

Poston’s initial interest in photography can perhaps be credited to his grandmother, who gave him a Kodak camera when he was very young. That early introduction would pay off 40 years later. In 1998, Madelyn Marzani, then editor of Middleburg Life, walked into the Safeway and asked a cashier if he knew a photographer. The cashier pointed at Poston. The rest is history. 

Because of Marzani, his photography portfolio grew. His success allowed him to retire from Safeway in 2000 and start his own full-time business: Jim Poston Photography. His photographs have been published far and wide in publications including Middleburg Eccentric, Washington Life, Chase, Virginian Sportsman, and various motorcycle magazines. To keep current, he would read several photography magazines a month and was a frequent customer of McClanahan Camera’s in Warrenton. 

Marzani was one of his early photography mentors, but perhaps his most influential one was the late Howard Allen, known in the 1960s as the “Kennedy photographer.” In Allen’s studio, adjacent to The Fun Shop, the two photographers frequently collaborated on projects. Poston also worked with the late Audrey Windsor Bergner, a local author who composed several hardcover picture books featuring Hunt Country estates. Many of those photos were taken by Poston.  

Over his long career, his photo lens captured a variety of scenes: weddings, community events, real estate, Middleburg Spring Races, local hunts, polo matches, The Middleburg Players, Loudoun Ballet, performances by special needs children, and multiple events at Middleburg Community Center, The Hill School, Wakefield, Highland, Middleburg Montessori, and Notre Dame (now called Middleburg Academy). He also worked with the late Eura Lewis to chronicle historical photos for the future Middleburg Museum. His work is one of the most comprehensive documentations of Middleburg, from past to present.

Beyond scenes of Middleburg, “Motorcycles and cars were really his thing,” Bernache shares. In the early days, Poston raced his bike with friends on the local dirt tracks outside of Winchester. Later, he photographed races — both cars and motorcycles — from Summit Point, West Virginia, to Daytona’s Speedway in Florida. He loved classic sports cars and had several Jaguar E-Types of his own.  

Community Memories of Jim

Middleburg’s Town Council member Cindy Pearson has known Poston since childhood. “I grew up in Middleburg and we went to school together. My brother and Jimmy used to pal around together. Jimmy taught me photography and took me along to events and asked me to cover for him; some of my photos were in Middleburg Life. I like to say that I went to the University of Jim Poston.”

The last time Pearson saw Poston was in October 2022 at the 1000 Miglia, an Italian car rally in town. “There he stood, grinning from ear-to-ear with camera in-hand.” Pearson adds, “He always had that little smile. I can just picture him now, smiling up a storm.” 

Tom Sweitzer, co-founder of Middleburg’s A Place To Be — an award-winning therapeutic arts organization creating community through music therapy — has decades of memories of his friend of 30 years. In a touching tribute on Facebook, Sweitzer describes Poston, in his signature purple hat, as a “photographer that clicked every picture with his heart.” He adds that Poston was “in the shadows of every event, play, parade, and music event. He must have taken photos of 50 of my shows between 1995 to 2015. He was a kind and quiet soul. Some of his pictures won awards, but he did it to fulfill his mission in this world — to capture something beyond what an eye at the moment can grasp.”

Sweitzer noted that he saw Poston around Christmas with his purple hat on. “His sweet smile made me smile. I remember thinking to myself, I should really sit with him and catch up. Too late.”

Barbara Grove, former owner of the Harley-Davidson dealership in Winchester, remembers the many events Poston did with her and the special needs kids’ camp that she sponsored every summer. Bernache adds, “Jim would join Barbara at this big motorcycle rally out to Front Royal and welcome the kids. Anything with kids in need — that’s what gave him the greatest joy.”

Grove says, “Jim had a few loves in his life, and motorcycles were one of them. One day, Jim and I rode our motorcycles to Sky Meadows Park and he took a picture of me on my motorcycle that turned into a mural for the wall in my dealership. People have asked me where that photo was taken. That’s what Jim’s photography did — it made you look and admire.”

Middleburg native Howard Armfield is another close friend of Poston’s. “We met when we were 12 or 13; Jim was a couple years older than me when he moved into town behind the Safeway. As teenage boys we were interested in cars and worked on them with other friends in town. He was widely known because of all the photography he did for so many organizations. And he took pictures of several of the historical houses in town.” 

Patti Thomas, good friend and previous broker and owner of Thomas and Talbot, has known Poston since 1989. “My late husband, Phillip Thomas, and Jimmy were a fixture. My husband would say, ‘Quick, we’ve got a puffy cloud day; perfect for pictures.’ And they’d get in the car, Jimmy carrying all his camera gear, taking photos for our real estate brochures.” 

Of his work for Middleburg Life, Thomas adds, “It was like a social diary where everyone could see what was going on. The charities, races — he’d be behind the jumps, a true gentleman paparazzi. He’d capture these sweet candid shots. And he loved his Jaguars and motorcycles.” 

Martha Cotter, a resident of Middleburg, worked with American Children of SCORE, a local children’s music ensemble that performed for 15 years from 1992 to 2007 at Middleburg Community Center and other locations. “Jim was so supportive of children’s music. Going back from his dad playing fiddle at the Esso to these performances, he loved music and took such care to make sure he’d capture the children looking their best.” Cotter would go to his house and they would sit at his desk, going through all the photos. The photos would then get into Middleburg Life and he’d make the photos available to parents. As a result of this ensemble, a music school was later launched: The Community School of the Piedmont, where Cotter serves as executive director. 

“Jim was so supportive of children’s groups and those with special needs,” Cotter recalls. “We thought the world of him.” 

Jim’s Legacy Lives On

He loved this town. He loved to sit outside with his beloved cats and reminisce with friends stopping by. No one was a stranger. His door was always open. He took time to watch each sunset and the various wildlife that visited his backyard. Things like that were important to him. Bernache adds, “Referring to his backyard, he’d say, ‘I’ve had 70 years of enjoyment of that view.’ His children grew up here and had the advantage of walking out that same door and seeing all this nature.” 

His son, James “Jamie” Poston, carries on the tradition of working at the Middleburg Safeway. His daughter, Karen Hoosier, is a horsewoman dedicated to the rescue and rehab of horses in need. “He was so proud of his whole family,” Bernache shares, “and his granddaughter, Taylor Lester, who has become a talented professional photographer in her own right.”

In his last years, his interests focused on working with kids, special Middleburg events, motorcycles, and cars. “He would drop anything to do work for the kids. Kids and motorcycles — that was his joy,” explains Bernache. “He was just really genuine. Really humble, and generous like his father before him.” 

Poston captured the lives of so many, both through his lens, and with his wall-to-wall kindness and undeniable warmth. While he will certainly be sorely missed, he will always live on in the hearts of those who knew him and in the images he so brilliantly captured. ML

A Place To Be will honor Jim Poston and his photography work as part of their annual summer musical June 30 at 7 p.m., July 1 at 2 p.m., and July 2 at 2 p.m. at The Hill School in Middleburg. Visit aplacetobeva.org for more information.

Published in the April 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

The Women of the Waterford News

Written by Heidi Baumstark

Rebellion is not typically what comes to mind when describing Quakers. Instead, they’re characterized by their pacifism, service, as well as their focus on equality. 

However, in 1864, three local Quaker women challenged the status quo by establishing The Waterford News, an anti-slavery, pro-Union newspaper that would run until April 1865. 

Its purpose? To inform readers of the happenings in their village, reveal the harsh conditions caused by Confederate rebels, and “to cheer the weary soldier, and render material aid to the sick and wounded,” as stated in their newspaper. One of their eight, 10-cents-per-copy papers even fell into the hands of President Lincoln, who referred to them as “fair Editresses.”

Who Were They?

The women behind The Waterford News were Sarah Ann Steer, 26, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dutton, 24, and her sister Emma Eliza “Lida” Dutton, 19. They lived next door to each other on Second Street in Waterford, a tiny village founded in 1733 by Quakers Amos Janney with his wife, Mary. Despite their young age, these patriotic women spoke out against the injustice of slavery in a fashion they described as a “hazardous undertaking.”

Despite personal risk with war literally at their doorsteps and living in Confederate Virginia, Sarah, Lizzie, and Lida were determined to get their newspaper published and reconcile two Quaker sentiments: nonviolence and abolition. The three “Editresses” were at added risk of violence from both sides since Waterford remained in the bull’s eye for partisan raids by Confederate John S. Mosby and the Union’s “Burning Raid” conducted in the Loudoun Valley of Loudoun and Fauquier counties in the fall of 1864.  

Lisa Dutton Dainton is the great-great-granddaughter of Lida, the youngest of the three “Editresses.” “I didn’t even know about the journalist aspect of the Dutton sisters until about ten years ago,” Dainton shares. 

However, Dainton is able to shed light on Quaker beliefs. Girls were educated alongside boys, who were taught that violence and slavery were sinful. Decisions in their religious “Meeting Houses” were made by consensus. “So, the Dutton sisters and Sarah Steer would have been accustomed to women having a say and expressing themselves; this is how they grew up,” Dainton explains. In fact, many of the early suffragists like Susan B. Anthony were raised in Quaker homes with the belief that everyone is equal under God.  

Dainton adds, “I’m always proud of all my Quaker ancestors — the men and the women.” She continues, “The Quaker idea of everyone being equal had a huge contribution in creating our nation’s idea of democracy and the Declaration of Independence.” 

Pen to Paper

It was Lida, the youngest of the three, who decided to go straight to the top, writing a spirited letter to President Lincoln: “I just felt that if thee knew the people of Loudoun County generally and Waterford particularly — how true and unwavering they have ever been in their love for their Country and the dear old flag; how cruelly they have been treated by the Rebels because of that devotion, thee would not let them suffer still more by [the blockade]. … We have no military protection. The Rebels have been within a week or two past carrying off every bit of corn, stealing every good, bad or indifferent horse in the neighborhood… [The] half of their wickedness has not been told.” 

Having received no response from her letter, Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah launched their defiantly pro-Union, four-page newspaper. 

In addition to their stated goals, another hopeful intention was to persuade Federal authorities to lift the blockade for loyal, pro-Union Loudouners who were suffering its effects. They hoped that in publicizing Waterford’s plight they could convince the Union to defend their small village that was under attack.

The Waterford News provided a snapshot of daily life in a Southern town while simultaneously boosting morale for Union soldiers by including patriotic editorials, riddles, poetry, and witty humor, all while criticizing Confederate sympathizers. It also included reports about the Loudoun Rangers – the only pro-Union company in Virginia — which was an independent cavalry unit composed of men from Waterford and Lovettsville. True to the Quakers’ value of service, proceeds from the paper were donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a non-government, civilian-run agency created by federal legislation in 1861 to provide health and medical care to Union troops and their families. After the first issue was published on May 28, 1864, the women donated almost $1,000 to the Commission, an impressive $18,900 in today’s value; at 10 cents per issue that comes to 10,000 copies sold. 

Knowing their beliefs on stewardship and service, “It makes sense that they would give away their proceeds,” Dainton added. “They weren’t going to use that money for themselves but gave the money away. So, it all fits.”

Snippets of The Waterford News 

Their first edition was dated “5th Mo. 28th, 1864” (May 28, 1864), which was their Quaker dating system to avoid pagan titles for months and days of the week. Across the paper’s masthead in uppercase letters, “UNION FOREVER” is printed. The eighth and final issue was published April 3, 1865, less than a week before Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865.

Photo courtesy of waterfordhistory.org.

May 28, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 1.”

The first issue ran a poem for Abraham Lincoln on its front page; one of its stanzas reads: “While war is stalking thro’ our land, / And treason rears its serpent head, / And hearth-stones sad and desolate, / And mothers mourn their patriot dead; … No! and our banner, once the pride / And boast of every true Virginian, / Now trampled under feet that bear / The impress of Old Jeff’s dominion.” 

Flip the page and the editorial section reads: “We wish and expect it [the newspaper] to meet the condemnation of our enemies, for they are averse to truth, and that this sheet will contain.” 

This first edition also reveals their frustration caused by the Union blockade, which meant they could not buy nice clothes, bonnets, dresses, and other fineries: “Great distress is felt by the ladies of this vicinity at not being able to appear at meeting [church services] in new bonnets, dresses and wrappings, owing to the stringent blockade.”

June 11, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 2.”

However, in the June issue, there is great joy, for the Union blockade had been partially lifted: “A Few Stores; with dry goods, molasses candy and other stationery, suited to the tastes of the community. Young and handsome CLERKS not objectionable.”

July 2, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 3.”

A column in the July issue encourages readers to press on in doing good deeds: “Let not kind words, loving tones, and love of good deeds cease to find a place in our hearts. Now, if ever, is the time to ‘cast bread upon the waters,’ when tired and weary ones are all around us, and starvation stares so many in the face; when loved ones are struggling with pain, and joy and happiness are hidden in the distance; when hope leaves us and misery looks at us with hollow eyes.” What makes this especially touching is that it was written almost immediately after Lizzie received news that her fiancé, Lt. David Holmes, had just been killed in the Battle of Petersburg in June 1864.

August 20, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 4.”

In the August issue, witty jokes were included “to cheer the weary soldier,” such as: “What is the most fashionable hood worn in the South?” — “False-hood.” “What kind of rations are dealt out plentifully by the rebel leaders to their soldiers?” — “Exagger-rations.” 

October 15, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 5.”

A note from “J. H. F. Point of Rocks, Oct. 1st, 1864” reads: “Now I feel quite an interest in the little Union town and its loyal inhabitants… The lovely residents bid us welcome; and even now the memory of those words that met me, ‘Oh, we are so glad to see you — are you hungry?’ comes to me like far distant music. … May sweet peace soon hover over ‘Waterford.’ A Union undivided and Lincoln at our mast head.” 

November 26, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 6.”

Some want ads read: “Wanted — A straight-jacket for the Editor, who was bent on having her own way.” “Wanted — A cane to support one of our Editor’s lame Conundrums.” “Wanted — A plaster for the mud-hole, it is breaking out again.”

January 28, 1865: “Vol. I, No. 7.”

In the January 1865 issue an editorial includes: “Whilst we deeply sympathize with our Union friends who have lost so much, we can but think they should attach the blame to the original cause — Rebellion, — and not to our own Soldiers. We do not believe, if our Government had been as well acquainted with us as we are with ourselves, the order for the recent burning would have been issued; but having suffered so much at the hands of the Rebels ever since the commencement of this cruel war, we will cheerfully submit to what we feel assured our Government thought a military necessity.” The Burning Raid had the intended effect since it broke the spirit of rebellion, resulting in Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865.

April 3, 1865: “Vol. I, No. 8.”

On the front page of this last issue published six days before the surrender, a stanza from a poem reads: “In the field of benevolence / The workers are few, / Though the wages are certain, / And much there to do, / And blessed are the wages, / And sweet the reward, / When the spirit receiveth / ‘The smile of the Lord.’”

Post-Civil War

After the war, Sarah Steer appealed to the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Philadelphia Meeting, and local Quaker groups to fund a school to teach local African American children. The school was built in 1867, but Sarah began teaching from her side yard in 1865 and so became the first teacher of Black children in Loudoun County. She remained in the village and eventually married in 1904.

Today, the Second Street School in Waterford is owned by the Waterford Foundation and is the site of a unique living history program. Students come to this one-room school, taking on the identities and responsibilities of the students who attended there in the late 1800s.

Lizzie Dutton’s fiancé was killed in the war in June 1864. She later married Union veteran Joseph Dunlop on January 22, 1882, whom she had met during the war. They moved to Indiana to begin their family. 

Lida Dutton also married a Union veteran — John William Hutchinson — on December 27, 1866. He had met Lida when he was in Waterford earlier, and after the war, returned to the village for her. He joined the Quaker faith and moved his bride north to New York where they raised a family.

Dainton adds, “I have Lida’s wedding ring with ‘JWH to EED Dec. 27, 1866’ [John W. Hutchinson to Emma E. Dutton] engraved inside. These ladies are a great example of early feminists and abolitionists. I’m glad people are being informed about them.” ML

More information on the Waterford Foundation, located in the Waterford Old School, 40222 Fairfax Street, Waterford, Virginia, can be found at waterfordfoundation.org. 

Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Wakefield School Celebrates 50 Years

Written by Kaitlin Hill / Photos courtesy of Wakefield School 

“It has been a labor of love for everyone that has been involved, all the way back to our beginning,” shares Wakefield School Board Chair Eileen Quenell of the school’s 50th Anniversary celebration in early February, and more broadly the Wakefield experience overall. 

Opened in 1972, the school was originally called the Wakefield Country Day School and located in Huntly, Virginia. Over the past half-century, the school has seen its share of changes, enhancements, and innovations. In 1982, the name was officially changed to Wakefield School. In 1996, it moved to its new home in The Plains, Virginia. From there, the school set its sights on expansion, completing construction on an upper school in 1999 and various campus add-ons including a Science and Technology Building in 2006, squash and golf facilities in 2010, and an Arts and Music Building in 2022. In 2018, Ashley Harper was inducted as Head of School, a position she still holds today. 

Like Quenell, for Harper, 50 years is a marker of the school’s successful mission of “Virtus et Sapientia” or “Virtue and Wisdom.” Harper shares, “Over the course of the past 50 years, I think what really strikes me is the commitment to excellence in education. Both the education of our minds and the education of our hearts is incredibly important at Wakefield.” 

“Our mission is to build character and foster curiosity in our students, building on our values of respect, empathy, and integrity,” explains Quenell. Dedication to this mission has helped the faculty and staff of the school produce well-rounded alumni ready to take on the world, many of whom came back to enjoy the 50th festivities or participate in organizing the weekend. 

Wakefield alum and Middleburg Life photographer Gracie Withers is on the school’s Board of Trustees and Alumni Committee. A 2010 graduate, Withers was instrumental in the planning of the weekend to honor the school’s legacy. “A big goal of mine was to increase alumni engagement however that looks, whether it’s virtual or in person,” explains Withers. She continues, “We were really happy with the turnout that we had for the 50th Anniversary.” 

In addition to numerous Wakefield staff, Withers worked with fellow alum and Board of Trustees member Brenton Lewis (’09) to conceptualize celebratory events with broad appeal for past and present students. On Friday, February 3, Wakefield hosted a celebratory trivia night at The Farm Brewery at Broad Run to the delight of many. “The turnout was awesome. The trivia was hosted by Matthew Zontine, who has been an English teacher at Wakefield for so many years. He was the perfect person to have as host because everyone knows him and so many alumni were taught by him.” Withers says, “The [school] really turned to Brenton and me to come up with different events that would encourage people to join.” 

Many of the activities had the added excitement of attracting students and staff representing the whole life cycle of Wakefield. “On Friday, when we had the all-school birthday party, we had an assembly and three of our ‘lifers’ led the entire school through their memories. It was so sweet to see junior kindergarteners hearing stories of traditions that have been around for years and seeing themselves in these 18-year-old students standing in front of them.” Harper continues, “Former faculty and current faculty were in the room on Saturday with alumni. Imagine being 35 years old and seeing your fifth-grade teacher. What an amazing experience.” 

The Cocktails & Conversations event at the new George L. Ohrstrom Jr. Theater & Auditorium saw the return of former Head of School Peter Quinn, who shared a trip down memory lane via Q&A with Harper, now in her fifth year of leadership. 

Though more than fun, games, and long-awaited reunions of students and staff, for Harper, Quenell, and Withers, the 50th Anniversary celebration offered the opportunity to reflect on the school’s past and look forward to its future. 

“I think Wakefield, especially at our 50th Anniversary, represents this idea of legacy. There is a legacy on this beautiful hill that means people are connected to something larger than themselves,” shares Harper. “We are proud of our last 50 years and the foundation it has created for us.” Quenell adds, “We work hard every single day to think about the value we bring in education and character building and the support we provide to families… To me, [the 50th] is evidence that our mission is on point. … It’s a great punctuation to all we’ve worked toward.” 

As for the future? Quenell says, “You can’t always see around the corner [in terms] of what the world has in store for the future, so our challenge is to be ready and agile for whatever that may be and be able to prepare our students for whatever lies ahead. And, most importantly, we need to teach our students how to be agile and resilient in the face of change. … How do we help them have the conviction, the confidence, and the voice to articulate themselves? Because that’s what the world really needs, right?” 

Harper finishes, “It is a really special time to be a part of the school as we look toward the next 50 years. I think the growth and change we’re going to see [will be] in really positive ways as we become more aspirational. It’s going to be exciting.” ML

Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Thoughts On Film with Tom Davenport

Written by Will Thompson / Photos by Callie Broaddus

The streets of Middleburg hovered between 20 degrees and just below freezing on a wind-chilled February evening. Even as the sun began to set on Washington Street, a warm light glowed welcomingly from the Middleburg Community Center. Inside, a crowd had gathered from across Hunt Country and beyond to share in experiencing films by local filmmaker Tom Davenport. The screening celebrated the golden anniversary of the production of Davenport’s film, “Thoughts on Fox Hunting,” while raising funds for Friends of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in nearby Delaplane. 

Since the early 1970s, Davenport, who was raised in Fauquier County, has been making films in which the folk cultures of the Piedmont play the leading role. Davenport’s films include documentaries portraying families, communities, and local cultural institutions such as fox hunting, rabbit hunting with beagles, and country music. He has also made scripted films based on folktales set in Hunt Country. Some of his best known are his adaptations of Grimm’s fairy tales set among the Piedmont landscape and culture.

The octogenarian filmmaker first came to live in Northern Virginia in the 1950s when his father purchased a run-down farm on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains which he renamed Hollin. After growing up working and living on Hollin Farms, Davenport traveled out of Hunt Country, receiving a degree from Yale University in 1961, teaching English and studying Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and working as an apprentice to documentary filmmakers Richard Leacock and Don Pennebaker in New York City. Davenport returned to Hollin Farms in 1970 and founded the independent film company, Davenport Films, in partnership with his wife, co-producer, and designer, Mimi Davenport. These days Davenport is not making new films but directs videos for Folkstreams.net, a non-profit focused on preserving American folklife through documentary film. He also helps out on the farm, managing the Hollin Farms natural beef sales.        

After five decades of documenting and telling stories of life in Hunt Country, Davenport’s films have themselves become part of the community’s culture. It’s not uncommon for viewers to recognize their families, neighbors, or favorite landmarks in his films. And his works, particularly his adaptations of Grimm’s fairy tales, have become educational bulwarks in area libraries, classrooms, and on public broadcasting stations.

Following the screening of his films at the Community Center, Davenport talked conversationally and joked with the audience which included current members of the fox hunting community and family members of Melvin Poe, the subject of “Thoughts on Fox Hunting.” “This is a bit like attending my own funeral,” he said with a smile while looking out over a crowd of his friends, neighbors, and colleagues of past and present. Davenport’s anecdotes bubbled over with such enthusiastic detail that his audience was transported to late 20th-century fox hunts, scrambling alongside the filmmakers as they chased a pack of baying hounds and galloping horses while carrying heavy 16 mm film cameras. Davenport also passed around one of the actual cameras used to capture the film: a World War II-era Bell & Howell windup camera weighing nearly 20 pounds that the filmmakers ran with or carried on horseback. 

“You don’t have to go to some fancy tourist place to find something wonderful; you can find it in your backyard,” Davenport shared. “You can find something wonderful in your family or your local community that is worth documenting and you do it in a way that gives it honor, and beauty, and meaning.” 

Recognizing the need for American folklife stories to reach wider audiences, Davenport founded Folkstreams.net in 2002 in partnership with Dr. Daniel Patterson of the University of North Chapel Hill. The American Folklore Society described their work as a visionary project, started at a time when streaming films on the web was in its infancy. It has gone on to become an extraordinary democratic initiative in public folklore and education, exponentially increasing the visibility of the field and giving grassroots communities across the U.S. access to their own traditions, folklore, and cultural history.

“Telling stories is a profoundly human act,” said Davenport. “It’s an attempt to transcend our human limitations of distance, time, and even death. We may pass on, but the best of us, our lessons, values, and heroes, lives on in our stories and reaches generations far beyond our own.”

Davenport’s films, as well as those by other filmmakers, are available to stream free of charge at folkstreams.net. ML

Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Two Men Take a Stand By Taking a Seat: The Desegregation of Middleburg

Written by Heidi Baumstark 

Taking a stand sometimes means taking a seat. That’s what two brave Black men did by participating in peaceful sit-ins in 1961 at three Middleburg eating establishments. That was a start to end the racial divide in Middleburg, which became the first town in the Commonwealth of Virginia to successfully desegregate. 

Those two men are longtime Middleburg residents Rev. Dr. William F. Swann Sr. and James William “Smitty” Smith. “If we didn’t take action, I knew [desegregation] wouldn’t happen,” Swann says. “We needed to take a step forward to make the change.”

The Buildup

In the early 1960s, the civil rights movement was taking root in Washington, D.C. Soon, nearby Loudoun County followed suit with Middleburg taking the lead. Why Middleburg? Well, it had to do something with a new neighbor in town: the Kennedys.

President John F. Kennedy — a pro-civil rights advocate — was sworn into office on January 20, 1961. By the following month, he became a frequent visitor of Middleburg since he was renting Glen Ora, a prominent Upperville estate. His wife, Jackie, longed for a Hunt Country property to pursue her love of horseback riding.

At that time, Loudoun — along with the rest of the South — was racially divided. Eating establishments would only serve Black clients from a rear door or window. Swann remembers, “We had to stand on a spot on the floor if you wanted to be served, but we could never sit at the lunch counter.” With Kennedy nearby, the time had come to test the president’s pro-civil rights stance on his own turf.

In the spring of 1961, William McKinley Jackson, local builder and president of the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP, got involved. A meeting was held at Shiloh Baptist Church in Middleburg with both Swann and Smith in attendance. Jackson asked for volunteers to participate in peaceful sit-in demonstrations at three local restaurants on the same weekend Kennedy would be attending mass at Middleburg Community Center. “It was good advice coming from the NAACP; they asked for volunteers. It was a long time overdue, and we were willing to do it. I didn’t hesitate at all,” Swann adds.  

This peaceful sit-in took the place of a much larger demonstration that had initially been planned. 

Making History

On that monumental day — Saturday, April 8, 1961 — Swann and Smith sat at the counters of three Middleburg businesses: The Coach Stop (9 E. Washington Street, now Zest Clothing & Co.), Halle Flournoy’s Middleburg Pharmacy (11 S. Madison Street, now Aliloo and Son Rug Gallery), and Payne’s Drugstore (101 W. Washington Street, now Northwest Federal Credit Union). 

Smith recalls, “We didn’t want to cause trouble; we were told not to start anything, but to just do a peaceful sit-in. We walked in, went to the counter, and sat down. We ordered a Coke and stayed at each place for about 15 minutes. No one said anything, but we got looks. You could feel it. At the end, we were filled up with Coke! That was the start. And after that, we didn’t have to go to the back window to get food.”

Smith admitted it was scary at first since they heard about other sit-ins on the radio and television where people were getting thrown out of restaurants. “But this was peaceful — no fights, no verbal confrontations,” he added.

Swann remembers, “Since they were sort of expecting us with Kennedy in town, the sit-ins weren’t too awkward. Businesses didn’t want to get negative publicity. This slowly got the ball rolling for desegregation. It was a first for Virginia, right here in Middleburg.”

In his Sunday sermon on April 9, 1961, Reverend Albert F. Pereira of Leesburg who conducted Catholic services in Middleburg acknowledged that “President and Mrs. Kennedy were in the congregation,” a Loudoun Times Mirror article states, along with publishing part of Pereira’s message: “We are grateful to the ministers of this community, the mayor, the president of the chamber of commerce, the drugstore owners, and operators that the first phase of desegregation in Middleburg has been gracefully handled.”

The Aftermath

“We had smiles on our faces afterwards,” Smith says. “Jackson congratulated us since he knew we were taking a risk. My parents were afraid we’d get beat up or get into trouble. But then thanked us for doing a good thing.” 

Smith’s wife, Till, adds, “Mr. Jackson was really staunch about desegregating Middleburg. They picked the weekend when President Kennedy was going to be in town.”

Six decades later, Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton presented Swann and Smith with a “Mayor’s Proclamation” framed certificate for their civil rights efforts that began in Middleburg and then spread to the greater Loudoun area. Mayor Littleton noted it was the idea of Marcus Howard at Mt. Zion Baptist Church of St. Louis to recognize these two local men. On February 9, 2020, Mayor Littleton presented Swann with his certificate at a special service at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. About a week later, the mayor presented the certificate to Smith at his home.

Both proclamations honor their wives, stating, “…none of this would have been possible without the love and support of Reverend Swann’s wife of over 67 years, Sylvia,” and “Mr. Smith’s wife of over 63 years, Till.”

While others helped to open doors, Swann and Smith walked through them. Swann went to bed that night with a sense of satisfaction, believing it was the small beginning of a new era. “It was a deliberate, well-planned day. A day to integrate Middleburg,” he says.

Taking a stand, by taking a seat — these two men certainly made their mark on Middleburg’s history. ML

Posted on: February 10, 2023.