John - I received this from Bill Pettus tonight. Thought you would like to read it. /Dad
569. Henry Norton11 “Note” Pettus (Lucius10, William9, Walker8, Thomas7, John6, Thomas5, John4, John3, Stephen2, Thomas1) was born 4 July 1881, presumably on his father’s farm in Lunenburg County, Virginia. He died 26 October 1943 at Dorset Corner, Powhatan County, Virginia, of a heart attack. He was buried at Wylliesburg Baptist Church cemetery in Wylliesburg, Charlotte County, Virginia.
Note married Margaret “Maggie” Lyda Perkinson, daughter of John Wesley Perkinson of Wylliesburg, Virginia, and his second wife, Willie Hamilton of Wylliesburg, Virginia, on 4 October 1911 in Oxford, North Carolina. Maggie was born 19 October 1892 near Wylliesburg, Virginia, and died 14 July 1962 in Richmond, Virginia, of pancreatic cancer. Childhood Note was the fourth of nine children and the third of four sons in his family (see chapter 14). Presumably, they were all born and raised on their parents’ farm in Lunenburg County.
Note and his brothers must have found innumerable ways to entertain themselves as they explored the woods and creeks and climbed trees on the farm. When they were old enough to handle a gun, they would have enjoyed hunting for game in the woods. Like any farm boy of his time and place, Note and his brothers would have learned how to hitch a team of horses or mules, how to plough a field, what to plant, when to plant, when to harvest, how to cure tobacco, how to care for farm animals, how to milk a cow, how to slaughter animals for food, how to hunt, how to cure and preserve meat, how to saddle and ride a horse, how to drive a wagon, how to erect fences, how to mend things, how to keep accounts, and how to perform many other tasks that boys raised in urban areas seldom think about.
By the time he reached his teens, Note probably had accompanied his father on trips to Ontario or Keysville in Charlotte County, Rehoboth or Lunenburg Courthouse in Lunenburg County, and perhaps to Chase City in Mecklenburg County to sell tobacco at auction and purchase farming equipment and supplies. Despite the distractions of farm life, Note was an excellent student at Southside Academy in Chase City, Virginia. For the month of November 1901, he received the following grades from his high school principal, Mr. T. H. King: spelling, 98; reading, 97; grammar, 90; arithmetic, 99; algebra 98; penmanship, 93; and deportment, 92. Note’s attendance and punctuality were perfect. Note probably attended Cool Spring Baptist Church for Sunday worship services.
Career ~ About 1900, Note’s parents moved to a farm on the South Meherrin River near Finneywood in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. There Note probably helped his father raise tobacco and other crops necessary for his family’s subsistence. When his uncle, Bill Pettus, purchased a general merchandise store at Finneywood from J. J. Watson in 1906, Note went to work in the store. While he lived in Finneywood, Note also was depot agent and postmaster.
No information is available on how Note met his future wife, Maggie. One possibility is that they met in Chase City while she was in high school at the Southside Female Academy. Note and Maggie were thirty and nineteen, respectively, at the time of their marriage. While waiting for the Big House at Finneywood to become vacant in 1912, Note and Maggie occupied the “Little House,” which still stands next to the “Big House,” overlooking the railroad at Finneywood. After the birth of his first child in December, Note and his family moved into the Big House. A few years later, after the birth of a second child, the family moved to the Mock Place about a quarter-mile south of the Thompson place. This old house was still standing in a grove of trees on the west side of route 698 in September 2007.
When Martha A.Thompson died in 1909, her heirs inherited as tenants in common the Finneywood farm that Martha had purchased in 1901. This 78.03-acre farm adjoined the old Thompson place on the northwest and included the Big House and the Little House, mentioned above. Martha’s heirs were Lucius Pettus and Bill Pettus, sons from her first marriage; David James Thompson, surviving son from her second marriage; and Stella Thompson, the only child of Martha’s third son, J. H. H. Thompson, deceased. When Lucius died in 1917, Note inherited his father’s interest in the farm and purchased David and Stella’s interest. On 7 February 1921, Note and his brother divided their farm with Note getting the land south of the road from Finneywood depot to Charlotte County and Bill getting the land to the north. Note and Bill had 31.03 acres and 47 acres, respectively.
During the depression, Note did not make enough profit from his crops to pay his property taxes or a loan for fertilizer. Note was forced into bankruptcy, and the bank foreclosed on his property and sold it at auction. In December 1929, two years after Maggie’s father died, Note and his family moved in with Maggie’s widowed step-mother, Lillian Norris Murrah Green Perkinson, who was still living at the old Bugg place, an ante-bellum plantation about a half-mile east of Wylliesburg, Charlotte County, on route 607. Note and Maggie kept chickens, hogs, a cow named Lily, and a horse in pens and stables behind the farmhouse.
After moving to Wylliesburg, Note became station agent for the Southern Railway at Randolph, Charlotte County, Virginia. About 1940, the railroad transferred Note temporarily to the Amelia station in Amelia County, Virginia, but soon transferred him for the last time to Dorset Corner, Powhatan County, Virginia, as station agent. Located where Genito Road crosses the railroad tracks about twenty-five miles from Richmond, the depot stood next to a rail siding and the main tracks of the Southern Railway from Richmond to Danville. Nearby were two general stores, Nichols and Sublette’s, and a few houses.
As Dorset Corner was about sixty miles from Wylliesburg, Note and Maggie moved from the farm to a rented house in Clayville, about a mile from his work. About 1943, they moved to another rented house in nearby Moseley. Unlike the house in Clayville, the one in Moseley had electricity and an old-fashioned telephone in a wooden box. Situated in rural Powhatan County, both towns had small depots where trains sometimes stopped en route to Richmond or Danville. Moseley had about a half-dozen homes on one side of the railroad tracks and a shook factory on the other side. A shook is the set of wooden pieces from which barrels are made. Note’s job carried considerable responsibility, especially during wartime, when local trains had to be shunted onto sidings to expedite the passage of long trains carrying troops and heavy weapons bound for Norfolk.
Hobbies ~ Note was an accomplished banjo-player. At family gatherings, he played banjo while his cousin, Bill Pettus, played fiddle to Maggie’s piano accompaniment. The ensemble played such favorites as Mississippi Mud, Soldier’s Joy, Turkey in the Straw, the Beautiful Ohio, and other tunes of that genre.
An avid bird hunter, Note purchased and trained a young setter named Bob to help him find game birds, which Note shot with a twenty-gauge shotgun. Bob dutifully retrieved the fallen birds and brought them to his master. Note’s nephew, Bill, sometimes accompanied him on these hunting expeditions.
Illness and Death
During his last years, Note suffered from angina pectoris and frequent indigestion. Just before Note died, a man passing the depot in Dorset happened to glance through the window and observe him sitting on the bench with his glasses in his hand. Sensing that something was seriously wrong, the man rushed in, only to find that Note had already collapsed and died.
Maggie’s Story ~ The daughter of Confederate veteran John Wesley Perkinson, Maggie was raised on her father’s farm near Wylliesburg with her siblings, Jessie Virginia Perkinson, Johnnie Lee Perkinson, and Norman Louis Perkinson. A brother, Benjamin Harrison Perkinson, died from burns at age four.
Maggie’s father was born in Green County, North Carolina, in 1845 and lived in Warrenton, North Carolina, prior to the war. Sometime before 1860, John’s father, Wyatt Perkinson, had moved with his family to Charlotte County, Virginia, where he bought the old Bugg place near Wylliesburg. In 1868, John married as his first wife Mary Francis Johnson, a native of Virginia, who bore him two children, Helen Raymond Perkinson and Hunter Marshall Perkinson. Mary died before ##1880, and Perkinson married second, Willie Ann Hamilton of Charlotte County, Virginia. Willie died 3 February 1896, and Perkinson married third Sarah Paschall Green in 1897. Sarah died in ????, and Perkinson married fourth Lillian Norris Murrah Green in 1922.
Maggie grew up hearing stories of her father’s colorful wartime experiences as an artilleryman in Graham’s Battery under Confederate General Wade Hampton. Perkinson participated in the famous “Beefsteak Raid,” in September 1864. During this raid, the Confederates emptied a corral full of cattle from Gen. U.S. Grant’s Grand Army of the Republic and drove them across the James River at Coggin’s Point south of Richmond.
The beef from these cattle was vital to the survival of the Confederate army at Petersburg.
Towards the end of the war, Grant sent Wilson and Kautz on a raid with six thousand cavalrymen from Petersburg to destroy railroads, rolling stock, warehouses, and bridges down to the Staunton River Bridge in Charlotte County. The raiders created a lot of havoc but met with such determined resistance from the Home Guard at the Staunton River that they were unable to take the bridge. As the scattered raiders retreated towards Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee sent out a detachment of cavalrymen and artillery to intercept them. Perkinson, who was about twenty at that time, was one of the artilleryman.
Having received word from a scouting party that some Yankees were encamped for the night about five miles away on the South Hill Road, Perkinson’s unit broke camp at midnight and traveled until dawn with their lone artillery piece. To achieve surprise, the Confederates had wrapped the wheels of the cannon with burlap and had maintained strict silence as they headed towards the Yankee encampment.
At dawn’s first light, the commanding officer spied a barrier of fence rails across the road several hundred yards away and signs that the enemy was camped beyond. Perkinson aimed the cannon at the barrier and fired one shot. The results were spectacular as timbers and men were blown high into the air. In 1913, while attending a North-South reunion, Perkinson told his story to a Yankee soldier who said he remembered the occasion and that Perkinson’s shot had killed eighteen men!
At Five Forks near Petersburg, someone fired an artillery piece while Perkinson was standing next to the muzzle. The concussion knocked Perkinson senseless for three days. Perkinson’s unit was under the command of Gen. George Pickett of Gettysburg fame. When Pickett’s horse was killed in battle, Perkinson gave him his own. In 1909, Pickett sent Perkinson a letter telling him that he would rather see him more than any man alive. Pickett had enclosed a check for fifty dollars to pay for the horse.
The one and a half story Perkinson house, where Maggie and her sisters were born and raised, was constructed in the early nineteenth-century of hand-cut logs covered with clapboards. The main house and its two-story wing adjacent to the side porch each had a staircase to three upper rooms, but no passageways connected the rooms on the upper levels. A hand pump for the well was on the porch. A wood-burning cast iron stove stood in the kitchen, where flypaper dangled in curls from the high ceiling. Several fireplaces kept the house warm during cold weather. Linoleum covered the wooden floors in rooms that lacked carpets. An organ driven by a foot-operated bellows stood in the wainscoted parlor. The parlor staircase was trimmed with ornate scrollwork, and the rooms were secured with cross and open bible doors with large, external cast-iron locks and white, porcelain knobs. A framed picture of a sad little girl sitting on a stool and her equally sad-looking dog hung on a wall in the dining room. Some broken china lying on the carpet explained the girl’s mood. A long porch extended across the side of the main house facing the road. A full English basement was beneath the main house. With no central heating, insulation, plumbing, or electricity, the house was truly a relic of a vanishing era.
The front yard had a row of enormous boxwoods that attracted the attention of the Rockefeller family during the restoration of colonial Williamsburg, but Maggie refused to sell while she was living there. After she moved to Richmond, someone dug up the boxwoods and took them away.
Maggie attended Southside Female Academy in Chase City, Virginia, about ten miles from her home. She learned to play the piano, a talent that she used in worship services at Wylliesburg Baptist Church and a Baptist Church near Dorset Corner. She also learned to drive an automobile, although the red clay country roads were often impassable during rainy weather.
After her marriage, Maggie kept house, tended the farm animals, wrung or chopped the necks off chickens, mended clothes, washed dishes, and cooked on a cast-iron wood burning stove. The wood, usually split pine, was stacked in a pile on the side porch. When Maggie experienced problems during the delivery of her first child, Margaret, Note had to send her cousin, Wyatt Perkinson, to Chase City by horse and buggy to fetch a doctor. In those days, women living in rural areas typically gave birth at home, often without a doctor in attendance.
During the worst of the depression, Maggie and Note struggled financially to keep their home at Wylliesburg and raise their three daughters. Sometimes guests would come and stay for extended periods of time, as had been customary since colonial times, but Maggie and Note always did their best to be hospitable and make their guests comfortable despite the hardships. When Note was away from home, trespassers sometimes attempted to steal chickens from the henhouse at night. Alerted by her barking dogs, Maggie raised a bedroom window looking out towards the henhouse and fired her shotgun into the air to scare off the intruders.
After Note’s death in 1943, Maggie remained in Moseley until after the war. When the war was over, Maggie sold the Perkinson place to Acree Devins of Charlotte County and brought the furniture remaining in the house to her daughter Margaret’s house in Richmond. A solid walnut bookcase-desk from the Perkinson house has attracted the attention of antique collectors and museums, because it is the only known piece to have been made and signed by Hamilton Bonner, a well-known cabinetmaker in Warrenton, North Carolina. Bonner’s signature, which is on the underside of a partition between the desk drawers, bears the date, June 29, 1799. The desk contains a secret drawer that once held Confederate money and some flint arrowheads. The desk also held some old books from the early nineteenth century that must have belonged to Maggie’s grandfather.
In Richmond, Maggie worked for Stuart Circle Hospital as director of housekeeping until her retirement. She lived for awhile at the Taylor home on Richmond’s famous Monument Avenue near the hospital until she settled in with her daughter Margaret and son-in-law Bill at their home in Westhampton, a Richmond suburb. During this time, she sometimes drove to Florida or Texas to see relatives. After she retired, Maggie lived for about a year at a retirement home in Halifax County, but the management advised her that she could not keep her car if she wanted to remain a resident. Maggie was far too active to give up her car, so, during the last year of her life, she rented a house, which she shared with her daughter Evelyn, in Victoria, Lunenburg County.Personal Memories
I was only just nine when my grandfather died, so I don’t have very many memories of him. The ones I do have are vivid, though most of them are about things that only a child would consider important. Perhaps my earliest memory of my grandfather is of his visit to my parents’ flat on West Grace Street in Richmond about 1937. “Granddaddy” took me for a walk from the flat to nearby Broad Street Station, where we saw some steam trains. I also remember visiting my grandparents’ farm near Wylliesburg when I was about three years old and watching Granddaddy feed the pigs and milk the cow. I remember releasing the parrot, Polly, from her cage. Polly immediately flew out of the open window towards a line of trees on the creek at the back edge of the farm. Fortunately, Polly returned around sundown. A water-bucket and a dipper sat on a shelf in the pantry of the old farmhouse. No chlorinated water from a modern tap could match the refreshing taste of the cool well water. The aroma of bacon frying in a pan over a wood-burning stove on cool, early-fall mornings lingers in my memory to this day. At night, I would be put to bed in one of the upstairs bedrooms. As these rooms could get quite chilly in the winter, I had to sleep under several comforters and quilts to keep warm. In fact, the combined weight of the bedding made it difficult for me to turn over in bed.
After my family moved to Westhampton, a Richmond suburb, in 1938, we had frequent visits from a young setter named Bob, who belonged to the neighbor two doors down the street. Granddaddy needed a good hunting dog and made the neighbor an offer he accepted. That evening, my father drove Granddaddy, Bob, and me to Hull Street Station in South Richmond where Note planned to take a Southern Railway train home with Bob. As we approached the platform, the engine, which was painted a rich, dark green with large gilt numerals, began letting off steam with a loud hiss. The noise and the crowds frightened Bob so much that he struggled in a panic to break free from his leash (I was alarmed, too). Afraid that Bob’s collar would come off and that he might run away, Granddaddy held on tightly and called out in an excited voice, “Come on Bob! Come on Bob! Come on Bob!” Eventually, Granddaddy got Bob on the train and departed. Bob became a great hunting dog and a faithful companion to my grandparents. After my grandmother moved to Richmond to live with us, she brought Bob with her, and we became fast friends until his death when I was in high school.
When my grandparents moved to Clayville, the house had no electricity, telephone, or running water. A vile-smelling outhouse stood at the far corner in the back of the lot well downhill from the well, which had a well house with locked doors over it and a pulley from which two buckets were suspended on a rope. The road to the house was unpaved. At night, the light from the kerosene lamps was almost too dim to read by, and the lamps cast spooky shadows on the wall that sometimes moved back and forth as the flame responded to any air currents inside the glass chimneys. This phenomenon was particularly noticeable when my mother held a lamp as she took me upstairs to bed at night.
While my grandparents were living at Clayville, Granddaddy once took me across the tracks from his depot to Nichol’s General Store and bought me an orange Popsicle. I remember how the sticky orange liquid got on my hands, face, and clothes as the Popsicle melted in the heat of the day. Next, we went to the black washwoman’s house with a load of laundry. We were met by her son, who was about four years old. Granddaddy spoke to him warmly and gave him a coin, which he promptly popped in his mouth, much to my grandfather’s consternation.
While my grandparents were living in Moseley, Granddaddy once took me with him to Berger’s General Store, which was perhaps a hundred yards from his house. Berger’s store sold nearly everything anyone living in a rural community might need—food, household supplies, farming implements and hardware of all descriptions, dress and work clothes, rubber boots, patent medicines, toys, fireworks, and other things that might take an hour of careful browsing to discover. Candy, both hard and chewy, was exhibited in glass cases. Anything not in a case or on a shelf hung on the walls or on hooks attached to the ceiling. A pot-bellied stove kept the store warm during the winter. When the shook factory closed at the end of the workday, the workers, mostly blacks, came in and sat around the stove telling stories and chewing tobacco. There was a brass spittoon on the floor, but the men seemed to prefer spitting on the stove. The juicy wads sizzled as they stuck to the stove. I sup pose that they eventually turned to ash. While we were at the store, Granddaddy bought me my first pocketknife. Though the blades are now dull and tarnished after years of use, I still have the knife among my prized possessions. After Berger died, his store remained closed until it was finally torn down many years ago. Now residents probably drive all the way to Midlothian (a Richmond suburb) or Richmond to find the things that they could have bought locally in bygone days.
One of my last memories of my grandfather alive was of watching him eat his shredded wheat in a cereal bowl and drink his coffee, which he poured out a little at a time into a saucer, blew, and then sipped when it was sufficiently cool. This procedure was known as “saucering and blowing.” I also remember Granddaddy practicing Morse code with a telegraph key and sounder on his dining room table. He wore a pin-striped, long-sleeved dress shirt and a black bow tie. His shirtsleeves were bound by black elastic bands around his biceps. The front lock of his thinning, white hair was swept up and back in a jaunty arc that distinguished him from most other men I have seen.
I have a clear memory of being taken out of school to attend my grandfather’s funeral when I was in fourth grade. My mother and I stayed with my grandmother in Moseley for the remainder of the week after the funeral, but my father had to return to work in Richmond. About 1948, when my grand-mother—I called her “Big Mama”—was packing the trunk of her car at my house for a visit to see one of her sisters in Florida, she left the lid up. When Bob observed what was happening, he climbed into the trunk and refused to get out. Big Mama and I had to lift him out of the trunk. A year or two later, Big Mama was hospitalized for about ten days. Usually a dog will jump up and down and prance around excitedly when his master comes home. On this occasion, when Bob first saw Big Mama get out of the car, he froze and went into such a violent shaking spell that he was unable to run out to greet her.During the years that Big Mama lived at my home, she provided a steadying influence in my life. When I needed a car to go out on a date, Big Mama cheerfully lent me her 1947 or 1953 Chevrolet. I once took her to a movie with me when I was home from college. Big Mama attended my college graduation in 1956. She even drove all the way to South Carolina for my wedding in 1961.
biscuits, fried ham with red-eye gravy, and fried apples for dinner. She certainly did know how to cook! This would be the last time I saw Big Mama in good health. That summer, after she had undergone surgery for cancer, I saw her for the last time at a Richmond hospital.
About 4 pm on New Year’s Eve about 1975, as I was on my way with my family to see my Aunt Lil in Lunenburg County, I took a route that led us by Dorset Corner. To my surprise, the old depot was still standing. I walked up to the door, where I found a notice declaring that the depot would be closed for good at the end of the day and that the depot would be demolished. The depot appeared to have closed already, but I knocked on the door anyway. Fortunately, the depot agent came to the door and opened it. I explained why I was there, and the agent invited me and my family to come in and look around. I was amazed to see everything much as it had been when I last saw it about 1943. Even more remarkable is the fact that, at the last possible hour, my family and I were able to see my grandfather’s workplace and the very place where he had died!
About 1990, a half-century after my last visit to see my grandparents in Wylliesburg, I found the old Perkinson house, which was set back one hundred yards from a dirt road and hidden in a thick pine forest. No sign of the driveway remained. The only clues to guide me were my memory of the distance from town, a familiar-looking structure on the opposite side of the road, the terrain, and an intersection that I knew was beyond the property. Huge piles of trash, including old rubber tires, and a dense overgrowth of kudzu that even enveloped the house, made access to it difficult. The porches had collapsed in a jumble of debris, and one chimney had separated from the house, exposing the interior.
I remembered the time that a snake had dropped from the ceiling of the front porch where my I had sat with family members as a young boy. I wondered if any snakes were lurking in the dense overgrowth that I had to walk through to get to the house. Nevertheless, my wife, daughter, her husband, and I found a way to get inside and explore the house, which except for the porches, was still structurally intact. The wainscoting and much of the flooring were gone, and the rusty tin roof was riddled with holes. The large white stepping stones to the side porch that had been too high for me to climb when I was a small boy were still in place. Nothing remained of the stables and the pig-sty. Surprisingly, my grandmother’s daffodils behind the house were in bloom.
On my last visit about 1996 to see the house with my wife, my mother, and my Aunt Lil, I drove back and forth several times without finding the landmark pine forest. Finally, I realized that a handsome, new log house had been built on the site of the old Perkinson house. When I investigated, Mrs. Acree Devins, Jr., confirmed my conclusion. She pointed to the remains of the old house lying in a depression about fifty yards away. Gone with the wind!
I last saw my grandparents’ homes in Clayville and Moseley in the fall of 2007. The house in Clayville had been enlarged somewhat and new homes had been built at the opposite end of town. Moseley was essentially the same as when my grandparents lived there, except that the shook factory had nearly collapsed. The site of Berger’s Store remained empty. As these little towns are only about twenty miles from Richmond, I expect that they soon will be swallowed up by new developments.
Children - Children of Note and Maggie Pettus were the following:
i. Margaret Elizabeth12 Pettus, born 12 December 1912 at the Little House, Finneywood, Virginia; died 27 August 1999 in Nottoway County, Virginia; married William Walker Pettus III on 19 July 1933 at the home of Francis and Lina Perkinson, 418 Granite Avenue, Richmond, Virginia (for further information on both Margaret and William, see William’s biography later in this chapter).
Lillian “Lil” Norton Pettus, born 1 June 1914 at the Big House, Finneywood, Virginia; died 14 June 2005 in Farmville, Virginia; married Robert Southall “Dinger” Nelson, son of C. Page Nelson of Victoria, Virginia, on 18 December 1937 at the home of Rev. W. F. F. Little near Wylliesburg, Virginia. Robert died in March 1975 of a heart attack. Both Lil and Robert were buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Victoria.
Having attended grammar school through sixth grade in Finneywood, Lil traveled by horse and buggy to Chase City for high school. Lil learned to drive a model-T Ford automobile at age ten. While she was in the seventh grade at Chase City High, Lil developed heart and kidney trouble as a consequence of rheumatic fever that she had contracted at the age of six. During her illness, Lil was unable to sleep lying down. Instead, she slept in a padded rocking chair.
Having been taught piano by her mother, Lil provided piano accompaniment to an orchestra that played during intermissions for school plays. She also played for school assemblies every morning. During her senior year at Chase City High School, Lil was cast in a play, “The Romance Hunters,” presented in the new school auditorium. Lil graduated from Chase City High School as salutatorian in 1930.
After graduating from high school, Lil enrolled at Blackstone College in Blackstone, Nottoway County, Virginia. During her year at Blackstone, Lil washed dishes at the school cafeteria to help defray her expenses. The following year, Lil enrolled at Smithdeal-Massey Business College in Richmond. While in college, she had a recurrence of the heart and kidney trouble that had afflicted her in high school. This time, she was confined to bed from 22 October 1931 to 1 May 1932. Afterwards, she returned to her home for six months before taking a job as secretary for the Farm Credit Administration in Chase City. In 1933, Lil began working for the Chase City National Bank. Her exemplary job performance gained her a job as manager of the bank office in Victoria, Virginia. While living at the home of Mrs. C. P. Nelson, a widow, Lil met Mrs. Nelson’s son, Robert, whom she would later marry.
Two years later, in 1937, Lil took a job with the State Corporation Commission in Richmond, where she lived with her aunt, Mrs. Johnnie Harrison, on Stuart Avenue.
Robert and Lil were married later that same year. The bride and groom took an apartment in Richmond’s Fan District near her sister Margaret’s flat. Robert had attended Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, but he did not receive a degree. With war clouds on the horizon, Robert went to work as an inspector for a shipyard in Norfolk.
Later, he worked in Tampa for another shipbuilding company until 1941, when he took a job with the shipbuilding division of Bethlehem Steel at its San Pedro yard. Lil and Robert drove across the country with expenses totaling less than fifty dollars. Lil worked as a secretary to a medical doctor in Long Beach.
While living in Long Beach, Lil and Robert sometimes saw famous movie stars at restaurants or on the golf courses. They also experienced earthquakes and an unpublicized Japanese air raid. On 6 October 1942, Robert was operated on for a perforated gastric ulcer and a subdiaphragmatic abscess at Long Beach Community Hospital.
When Note died in 1943, Lil took the train home to attend his funeral, stopping briefly in Chicago to change trains. Along the way, a soldier sitting beside her introduced himself as Bryan “Whizzer” White. Whizzer White had gained fame as a star college football player. When the train arrived in Chicago, he carried Lil’s baggage to the platform. In later years, White became a justice of the United States Supreme Court.
By early 1944, Lil and Robert were back in Tampa, Florida, where Robert returned to his previous job working in the production department for a shipbuilding company involved in the war effort. Soon after he went to work, despite an appeal from his supervisor, C. J. Baker, Robert received a notice from the Selective Service Board reclassifying him and ordering him to report for a preinduction physical examination. Robert dutifully reported for the physical as leader of a contingent of selected men and was declared unfit for duty on 5 April due to “inadequate abdominal wall” and his history of a perforated ulcer.
For many years, Robert suffered from stomach problems aggravated by his excessive alcohol consumption, and he nearly died in 1956 from adhesions following stomach surgery. He eventually overcame his alcoholism but not before he had ruined his health and undoubtedly shortened his life.
After the war, Lil and Robert moved to Robert’s home in Victoria, Virginia, where they purchased the Russell Drug Company and reopened it to sell sundries, sodas, ice cream sundaes, and meals under the name Nelson’s. The store was also the local bus stop for Trailways Bus Lines and for Greyhound Bus Company. About 1950, Lil and Robert built a rancher, which they expanded about 1984, in a wooded area near the town limits. Robert was interested in civic affairs and served on the Town Council. He also was a Mason.
In the 1950s and 60s, Robert and Lil had a pedigreed, miniature Doberman pinscher, which they named Gretchen. As they never had children, they lavished attention on Gretchen almost as if she were their child.
On a train trip to see relatives in Florida, Lil’s train derailed and turned over into a gulley. She was not injured, but she nevertheless received a check for $100 in compensation from the railroad.
In 1963, Lil was employed as a secretary at Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia, where her sister Evelyn was secretary to the post commander. Fort Pickett, originally Camp Pickett during World War II, was used to train troops for duty overseas. With its own airfield and water supply, Pickett covered large parts of three counties in Southside Virginia. When Evelyn transferred to Texas, Lil was made secretary to the post commander in recognition of her outstanding performance the following year. She remained at Fort Pickett until her retirement twenty years later, having received numerous commendations for exemplary performance under several commanding officers. One supervisor recalled how he could call Lil into his office and spend several minutes giving her orders, including telephone numbers to call, while she stood there listening attentively without taking any notes. Lil would then carry out his orders without any prompting or questions. After selling the store, Robert also worked in a warehouse at Fort Pickett for some years before his death.
While Lil was at Fort Pickett, the British government sent some British troops to the fort for training and joint maneuvers with American soldiers. One morning, a handsome-looking officer in an unfamiliar uniform walked up to her desk and asked to see the commanding officer. Lil recognized his British accent and asked what the blue embroidered insignia, “ER,” on the officer’s shirt signified. He replied that the initials stood for “Elizabeth Regina” and explained that he was a member of the queen’s guard delegated to observe the maneuvers. While the officer waited to see the base commander, he engaged Lil in a friendly conversation. When his wait was over, the officer opened his wallet, pulled out a card, which he handed to her, and told her that if she presented the card to the guard at Buckingham Palace the next time she went to London, she would receive a personal tour of the palace. Lil never made the trip, as she was reluctant to cross the Atlantic either by sea or air.
Lil and Robert were members of Victoria United Methodist Church. Lil taught Sunday School and played hymns on the piano. Robert had a part in some minstrel shows produced by a local civic organization. For the celebration of Victoria’s fiftieth anniversary, Robert and Lil dressed in period costumes from the town’s early days. They were charter members of Victoria Golf Course.
Prior to her retirement in 1983, Lil received a printout from the federal government showing her expected retirement income based upon the time she had worked for the federal government and the years when she had made contributions to social security. When she received her first retirement check, she discovered that the amount was less than expected. After contacting the appropriate federal office, she learned that the government had no record of work she had done prior to World War II for either the Farm Credit Administration or the Department of the Treasury. When Lil offered to present pay stubs and produce witnesses who remembered her employment, the government informed her that it would not proceed without finding its own records, which supposedly were in Suitland, Maryland. Lil contacted her congressman, Dan Daniels, who tried to help her but died before the problem could be resolved. Despite all the telephone calls and assurances, the government never found its records of Lil’s early employment.
After Robert died, Lil seldom left home for an extended period of time due to concern that something might go wrong at her house. Finally, some relatives persuaded her to go to the beach with them for the weekend. While she was away, her home heating system malfunctioned on the night of 13 September 1985, causing the air temperature inside her house to superheat. The rapid buildup of carbon monoxide prevented a fire, but a neighbor noticed smoke emerging from the eaves. When the firemen broke in, everything burst into flames, but they were able to put out the fire and save the house. Unfortunately, many of Lil’s belongings were destroyed by the flames or the intense heat. Even the vacuum tubes in her television set melted!
When Thelma P. Fowlkes, who also lived in Victoria, became too feeble to take care of herself and went into a nursing home in Farmville, Lil took care of Thelma’s business. She also made the thirty-five mile trip to Farmville to see Thelma several times a week and make sure that she was receiving adequate care and eating properly. Thelma was the widowed sister of Lil’s deceased brother-in-law, Bill Pettus.
By 1995, Lil was beginning to exhibit early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Following a severe infection that nearly took her life, Lil entered a retirement home in South Hill, Virginia, where she was joined later that year by her sister, Margaret, but in 1999, they both moved to a new retirement home in Nottoway County.
On the morning of 14 June 2005, the author, who had power of attorney, closed the sale of Lil’s house after it had been on the market since the beginning of the year. That afternoon, he and his family visited Lil in the hospital to find that she was expecting to be discharged later that day. When the author arrived home later that evening, he returned a call from the hospital and learned that Lil had died suddenly that afternoon.
Despite poor health as a young woman and frequent urinary-tract infections that sometimes put her in the hospital, Lil outlived all of her sisters and died at the age of ninety-one. Although she was too feeble to take care of herself in her last years, she always knew and dearly loved all her family members.
iii. Willie Hamilton Pettus (female); born 30 June 1916 at the Mock Place, Finneywood, Virginia; a “blue baby,” Willie died at home on 11 July 1918 during a fit of crying when she was unable to catch her breath. She was buried in the yard beside her home.
iv. Evelyn Garland “Pie” Pettus, born 22 December 1921 at the Mock Place near Finneywood, Virginia; died 14 October 1975 in Henrico County, Virginia; married first, about 1946, Robert Seaborn of Victoria, Virginia, at the chapel of First Baptist Church in Richmond, and second, on 23 June 1962, Willie White Paulette, a widower, of Drakes Branch, Virginia. After Evelyn’s death, Willie White married third, Gladys [—?—].
Evelyn graduated from Chase City High School as valedictorian of her graduating class in 1938. While living at Wylliesburg, she fell in love with Robert “Bob” Alexander Hanmer of Keysville, Virginia. Bob was a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. With America’s entry into World War II, Bob joined the Navy, which sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was the chief center in the United States for radar development. Bob was on a training mission off the coast of Cape Cod when his plane went down and he presumably drowned. Evelyn never seemed to recover fully from her loss.
Prior to her first marriage, she lived with her mother in Clayville, Moseley, and Richmond. After divorcing her first husband, Evelyn lived in Richmond with her sister Margaret and later in Victoria with her sister Lillian. While living in Richmond, Evelyn worked for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company and as a secretary for an insurance agency.
In 1963, Evelyn was secretary to the post commander at Fort Pickett, Blackstone, Virginia. She presumably lived with her sister Lillian, who had also gone to work at Pickett. When Evelyn’s supervisor was transferred to Texas, he asked Evelyn to transfer, also. Evelyn went to Texas but soon became homesick and resigned to return to Virginia.
After her mother moved to a rented house in Victoria, Evelyn lived with her until she remarried in 1962. Evelyn then lived with her husband at his home in Drakes Branch, Charlotte County, Virginia. Willie White was postmaster for Drakes Branch.
Evelyn was a talented musician who played piano and sang in church and on a local radio station.
About 1970, Evelyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite radical surgery and chemotherapy, which drove her cancer into remission, she had another operation and more chemotherapy. Evelyn grew progressively weaker as the cancer spread until her heart failed. She was buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Victoria, Virginia.
After Evelyn’s death, Willie White remarried and continued to live in Drakes Branch.