Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Etta Belle Walker > Text of Rockbridge

A short story by Etta Belle Walker


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

Rockbridge County takes its name from the celebrated Natural Bridge and was formed from Augusta and Botetourt counties. A branch of the James River is called North River and this stream waters the county, flowing diagonally across it. Some of the richest soil in all the Valley is found in Rockbridge. Lexington, which is the county-seat, takes its name from the town of Lexington in Massachusetts and was founded in 1778. The first buildings of the old town were mostly destroyed by fire in 1794 and were replaced with substantial brick buildings. An Englishman who was visiting America long ago described the little town in these words:

"The town as a settlement, has many attractions. It is surrounded by beauty, and stands at the head of a valley flowing with milk and honey. House rent is low, provisions are cheap, abundant and of the best quality."

The settlers were mostly the Scotch-Irish and of the Presbyterian faith. As soon as they had cleared the lands and built their homes they planted orchards, built their barns and settled down. These were thoughtful men and women who kept their emotions under constant guard. Yet when occasion arose, they spoke simply and clearly and were unafraid. They detested civil tyranny and as they were far away from the seat of government, to a certain extent they made their own laws and rigidly adhered to them.

They were among the first in the Valley of Virginia to rally to the defense of their country during the War of the Revolution.

In their moral life, they were almost Puritanical. This was founded on religious principle and often they were considered austere and stern. Yet those who knew them, felt the kindness and devotion to which they did not give expressions in words. To them, deeds meant more than promises. Though they reproved one without a smile, their eyes often expressed understanding and sympathy and the offending one felt the deep love which had moved the other to speak--always for the good of the offender. And while some other fault would rear its head, not often was the offense repeated which had called forth the reproach.

The men and women were deeply religious and family prayers were the first order of the day. As soon as homes were established provisions were made for religious services to be held. Tiny churches dotted the Valley wherever the Scotch-Irish settled. If the church was far away, as it was from some, on meeting day young and old mounted their horses and rode the intervening miles for the long services.

Many of these old Presbyterian churches are still standing today and they serve as monuments to that hardy race of men and women who braved all for religious freedom and for civic liberty. The building of these churches meant such labor as we of the present generation cannot know. There were no roads and no sawmills. An old historian tells us how one church was built:

"The people of Providence Congregation packed all the sand used in building their church from a place six miles distant, sack and sack, on the backs of horses! And what is almost incredible, the fair wives and daughters of the congregation are said to have undertaken this part of the work, while the men labored at the stone and timber. Let not the great-granddaughters of these women blush for them however deeply they would blush themselves to be found in such employment. For ourselves, we admire the conduct of these females; it was not only excusable, but praiseworthy--it was almost heroic! It takes Spartan mothers to rear Spartan men. These were among the women whose sons and grandsons sustained Washington in the most disastrous period of the Revolution."

There was little social life in those early days such as their eastern cousins knew along the James River. Except for their church festivals, they did little entertaining. Twice a year they held the Lord's Supper and this lasted for four days, with religious services each day. During these times families living nearest the church invited those who lived at great distances to stay with them. Often some young couple would be married, either just before or immediately after these services. Then there would be a little merriment, extra cakes and a few playful pranks.


Dr. Ruffner has left us a description of Timber Ridge, which was built near Fairfield in Rockbridge County in 1776. The school took its name from the fine oak trees which grew along its ridge. He writes:

"The schoolhouse was a log cabin. The fine oak forest, which had given Timber Ridge its name, cast its shade over it in summer and afforded convenient fuel in winter. A spring of pure water gushed from the rocks near the house. From amidst the trees the student had a fine view of the country below and the neighboring Blue Ridge. In short all the features of the place made it a fit habitation of the woodland muse and the hill deserved the name of Mount Pleasant. Hither about thirty youths of the mountains repaired to 'taste of the Pierian spring.' Of reading, writing and ciphering, the boys of the country had before acquired such knowledge as primary schools could afford; but with a few late exceptions, Latin, Greek, algebra, geometry and such like scholastic mysteries were things of which they had heard--which they knew perhaps to lie covered up in the learned heads of their pastors--but of the nature and uses they had no conception whatever.

"It was a log hut of one room. The students carried their dinner with them from the boarding-schools in the neighborhood. They conned their lesson either in the schoolroom where the recitations were heard, or under the shade of the trees where breezes whispered and birds sang without disturbing their studies. A horn--perhaps a cow's horn--summoned the school from play and scattered classes to recitations.

"Instead of broadcloth coats, the students generally wore a far more graceful garment, the hunting shirt, home-spun, home-woven, and home-made, by the industry of wives and daughters.

"Their amusements were not less remote from the modern taste of students--cards, backgammon, flutes, fiddles, and even marbles were scarcely known among these mountain boys. Firing pistols and ranging the field with shotguns to kill little birds for sport, they would have considered a waste of time and ammunition. As to frequenting tippling shops of any denomination, that was impossible because no such catchpenny lures for students existed in the country, or would have been tolerated. Had any huckster of liquors, knicknacks, and explosive crackers, hung out signs in those days, the old Puritan morality of the land was yet vigorous enough to abate the nuisance. The sports of the students were mostly gymnastic, both manly and healthful--such as leaping, running, wrestling, pitching quoits and playing ball. In this rustic seminary a considerable number of young men began their education, who afterwards bore a distinguished part in the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the country."

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Rockbridge