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A short story by Etta Belle Walker


Title:     Staunton
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

Near Lewis's Fort a settlement grew up and in 1749 a town was chartered. It was named Staunton in honor of Lady Staunton, wife of Governor Gooch, the official who had given so many land grants to Lewis and his Scotch neighbors. At that time, the town was the county-seat of Augusta (formed from Orange County in 1738), whose boundaries swept far to the west. Old records show that one time the court adjourned in Staunton and reconvened at Fort Duquesne, the colonial outpost which has long since become Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If one would search further, he would find this was done during the French and Indian troubles. Five Chiefs, or rather several of the Five Nations, signed this order or treaty and it is to be seen among other historical documents in the Court House in Staunton.

After the Legislature fled from Charlottesville to Staunton during Tarleton's Raid, that body met and held its sessions in old Trinity Episcopal Church. During this short time, Staunton was called "the Capital of Virginia."

The area around Staunton is full of War Between the States history too, referred to in other places.

Woodrow Wilson was born here in a lovely old Presbyterian manse which is now a shrine to one of the greatest Presidents of the United States. Here, annually, thousands of Americans come to honor him.

The town is a center of culture, for there are located many splendid schools; among them, for girls are Mary Baldwin and Stuart Hall. Staunton Military Academy and nearby Augusta Military Academy are recognized as outstanding schools for boys. There are two business schools, Dunsmore and Templeton Business College. The one for the deaf and blind is a State institution.

Tarleton entered Charlottesville on the fourth day of June in 1781. Jefferson's term as governor expired four days later. Ex-Governor Patrick Henry had been his guest while the Legislature was meeting there. He now hastened to Staunton where the Legislators had fled from Charlottesville. Mr. Jefferson, according to one historian, concealed himself in a cave in Carter's Mountain and Patrick Henry, in his flight to Staunton, met Colonel Lewis and told him of how the Legislators had fled Charlottesville upon Tarleton's invasion.

Colonel Lewis, not knowing who Patrick Henry was, replied "If Patrick Henry had been in Albemarle, the British Dragoons never would have passed over the Rivanna River."

The Legislators were badly demoralized, for they feared Tarleton would come to Staunton. Many of them left during the night and went to the hospitable home of Colonel George Moffett. During Mr. Henry's hasty changes he had the misfortune to lose one of his boots. While eating breakfast the next morning, Mrs. Moffett remarked, "There was one member of the Legislative body whom I knew would not run." The question was asked by one of the party, "Who is he?" Her reply was, "Patrick Henry," at that moment a gentleman with one boot colored perceptibly. The party soon left and after their departure a servant rode up and asked for Mr. Henry, saying he had forgotten his boot. Of course Mrs. Moffett knew whom the boot fitted.

A tale made more popular perhaps because of a recent revival of interest in Salem witchcraft is that of a woman who lived years ago in Augusta County and who was a great aunt of Governor James McDowell of Rockbridge County. She was born Mary McDowell and married James Greenlee.

It is recounted that she was an unusually attractive and intelligent young woman but was considered highly eccentric in her behavior. Neighbors thought that an early love affair had contributed something to her peculiar manner. Be that as it may, she was regarded by her acquaintances as a witch. They believed she had made a written contract with the devil--a contract drawn up in duplicate form so that each party might retain a copy!

Once at a quilting party in her home she urged one of the quilters to take a second piece of cake and laughingly remarked that "the mare that does double work should be best fed." The women misconstrued this to be an acknowledgment that she was a witch who rode a mare at night on her excursions to meet the devil. The rumor of her evil activities rapidly spread throughout the countryside.

The neighborhood thought she was capable of placing curses upon them and attributed such tragedies as fires, loss of family or stock, or poor crops to the unfortunate woman.

The fact that she was never brought before the court with the accusation of being a witch was due in large measure to the standing of the family. That does not mean, however, that Mrs. Greenlee did not live a wretched existence or that failure to declare her a witch made the people less afraid of her powers.

While he was President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson returned to Staunton and placed a tablet on the wall of the First Presbyterian Church in memory of his father, Dr. Joseph Wilson, a former minister. The church in which Dr. Wilson used to preach and in which the President was christened serves now as the Chapel of Mary Baldwin College.

An interesting old home in Staunton is the Stuart House, located on Lewis Street. It was planned by the great architect and builder Thomas Jefferson. Mr. A. H. Stuart, the owner, was a member of President Fillmore's Cabinet.

The main building of the School for the Deaf and Blind is an unexcelled example of Doric architecture. During the War Between the States it was used as a hospital.

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Etta Belle Walker's short story: Staunton