09 January 2011

Family Mystery And A Lesson

Click on image to enlarge.
A recent discovery and personal experience highlight the importance of recording one's family history. Going back to my very early childhood, I can recall a very old (1849) Episcopal Common Prayer book in a desk drawer at my grandmother's home which was located in the Tree Streets area of Waynesboro, Virginia. I looked at it many times. After my grandparents passed away, this book came into my possession. I also recalled there was an inscription on the flyleaf but, until very recently, had never really taken the time to read it. I discovered the inscription reads:

Capt. H.H. Robertson with the kind regards of [unreadable] Baltimore, April 19, 1862

Click on image to enlarge.
A quick internet search revealed that this Captain Robertson was very likely the same one who fought for the Confederacy, serving with Company B of the 27th Virginia Infantry. I emailed an inquiry to fellow CW blogger Robert Moore as I know Robert is quite knowledgeable and a great resource on this type of thing. Robert did not disappoint me. He replied with the following:

Henry H. Robertson was a captain in Co. B, 27th Virginia Infantry. He enlisted in Alleghany Co., 5/15/61 at the age of 35. By occupation, was a lawyer. Present until absent on leave for 30 days 6/15/61, and then present again until captured at Kernstown, 3/23/62. He was sent to Ft. Delaware.

In the weeks following his capture, a friend, Col. William H. Harman of the 5th Virginia Infantry, pleaded earnestly with George W. Randolph, the new secretary of war, that all efforts be made to arrange an exchange for the Alleghany County lawyer. Citing Robertson's "gallantry and intrepidity", Harman wrote: "I do not know a single man who can and will do more for the Confederacy than Capt R, & therefore, I presume to ask you to make an exception in his favor & have him exchanged."

Exchanged 8/5/62. No re-elected to captain. Member of the Va Legislature 1872-1873 from Alleghany Co. Died near Swoope's Depot, 4/28/74. He was buried in Thornrose Cemetery... see the following link... [Here]

Looks like he was also a Freemason.

If the inscription is April 19, 1862, this must have occurred while he was en route to Ft. Delaware. Considering his status as an officer, and that it was early war, he may have been held loosely on certain conditions in the city until arrangements were made for transportation to POW camp.

As I explained to Robert, my grandparents likely knew the story behind this prayer book, but it was my misfortune, or stupidity, to have never asked them about it. My father may also have known, but I never asked him either. All are now passed on and the story of how this prayer book and the connection that Captain Robertson and the giver may or may not have had to my family passed with them.

This experience brought home a lesson I've been reminded of time and time again. If your grandparents and/or parents are still with you, ask them questions about your family history. Record or write down their answers. Ask them questions about specific mementos or old items that may be in their homes. Again, record or write down their answers. So much history that could be saved and shared passes every day simply because we fail to ask questions. I wish I'd asked more when I had the opportunity.

Interestingly enough, this discovery came just a day after I finally started shooting a video entitled "A Tour Of My Office." I've been talking about doing this for well over a year now and finally shot the introduction over the weekend. In the video, which is largely for the benefit of my children and grandchildren, I'll be discussing various aspects of our family history and some of my own "family mementos" as I give a tour of my office.

If anyone can make out/identify the name of the person who signed the flyleaf picture in this post, I would be most appreciative. Thanks to Robert Moore for shedding some light on this family history mystery. 


SerGee3 said...

I think it says "Mrs Colin Mackenzie". I might be wrong about the "Mrs".

Douglas Hill said...

Mr. (or Mrs.?) Colin MacKenzie?

Great find you have there, Rick; something that belonged to one that Col. Harman spoke so glowingly of, and something that likely he valued as a source of inspiration and solace in those undoubtedly dark months at Fort Delaware.

Lessons of gleaning family history before it's too late come hard; unfortunately I likewise speak from experience.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks SG, Doug - since you both came up with the same name independently, that is very likely. As I look closer, I agree that is definitely a possibility. This will give me a bit more to go on.

13thBama said...

A relative of mine survived Fort Delaware. Small world :). Though my relative was an enlisted man and I do not believe he was exchanged.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I don't have any evidence that Robertson is a relative. I'm still doing some research.

cenantua said...

Colin/Colen MacKenzie was a resident of the 11th Ward in Baltimore, in 1860. He was 32 years old as of June, 1860. Born in Maryland, and by occupation, an insurance agent. Recorded as owning $5,000 in personal real estate. His wife, Christina (also born in Maryland), was 26 years old in 1860. They had two children in 1860, Colen and William D. One mulatto servant (Henrietta Gaines, age 22), and one servant (Charlotte Walker, age 40), both females, resided in the same residence.

cenantua said...


Forgot to add... so, not likely the same as the Colin MacKenzie that you mention in relation to those update sources you list. The Colen/Colin (listed in the census as "Colen", but that may be the mistake of the census taker) of Baltimore, was born ca 1828.

cenantua said...

Oh, shucks... I thought I typed that right... that should read "Christiana", not Christina... at least as recorded by the census taker.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Robert, again, for shedding some light on this. In a related note, my grandmother's grandfather (surname Campbell), is buried in the pauper's section of Hebron Church, near Swoope. Since the Campbells were from Nelson/Alleghany county, I've not been able to figure out the Swoope area connection and why he was buried there. But I noticed that Robertson died near Swoope. Could be relevant, not sure. I'll do some more investigating. Again, thanks for your help. You should try for a spot on the History Detectives. ;o)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert - I took the MacKenzie "update" down. Thanks for the info.