Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Old Virginia Home......The Tale of Roxabel

The new background wallpaper, since someone asked about it, is an old photo of a place dear to my family.

Back early last year, while digging around online, I found this photo.......

It is housed in the Yale University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, among the collected papers of Margaret Marshall.
But let's back up a bit and start at the beginning.....
Yup, I am turning this into a history/genealogy lesson. ;-)

Margaret Marshall's grandfather was Hunter Holmes Marshall.  He was born in 1820 at Hermitage Plantation in Charlotte County Virginia in the Cub Creek area of that county.
Hunter Holmes married in 1841 Sarah Wilmer Stith of Baltimore, Maryland and brought her to Charlotte County to raise a family.
Hunter Holmes bought a large tract of land, built a house and had that land farmed by the slaves he owned, making him one of the elite planter class of Virginia.  The plantation he owned, he named Roxabel.
Hunter was also a lawyer by trade and became a Judge at some point in his career.  He had a small, one roomed brick office built near the house where he could practice lawyering.

The photo is of the plantation house at Roxabel.
Margaret Marshall White was the daughter of Katherine Parke and Griffin Stith Marshall. Hunter Holmes Marshall was Griffin's father and thus, Margaret's grandfather.

Margaret Marshall was a writer and left her papers(or her grandchildren donated them)to Yale Library after her death in 1974.
This antique photo was in amongst her papers.
It is not known who took this photo or the exact date of it.  Margaret believed it was taken sometime in the 1870's.

Contrary to everything you have been told about Southern Plantations and their Palatial Homes, this photo speaks volumes to contradict that misconception.  Yes, there were many grand mansions in the old South but some Plantation homes were quite modest.
The "wing" of the home to the left in the photo appears to have not been enclosed by 4 walls.  Perhaps it was an outdoor kitchen, which was very common in the South during this time.  Cooking was hot sweaty business and was conducted for most of the year outside, rather than in the house.
Which leaves just the main structure of the house for living quarters for 2 parents, and at it's fullest 6 children.  Add in at least 1(perhaps 2 or 3 indoor servants/slaves)and you'll see that Roxabel was NOT a large plantation home by any stretch of the imagination.

I do not know what, if any, interior changes were made to the main part of the house from it's original construction until I was a small child and roamed inside but I can tell you that there are 3 public rooms downstairs as well as a foyer, a stairway with gallery and 3 bedrooms upstairs.  A bathroom was added so there may have been 4 bedrooms at one time before indoor plumbing, or that area may have been a closet of some sort, I don't know.
At any rate, my great grandparents enlarged the house so the 8 persons(plus servants)who lived in the original Roxabel  was even smaller than the Roxabel I knew from my youth.

The home at Roxabel is a far cry from the typical southern Antebellum estate homes that have been restored such as Oak Alley Plantation or Belle Grove.
Roxabel could barely be considered a plantation house next to those behemoths of grandeur.

But I digress......

There are a woman in the wagon and a man standing next to it, and two young children, a boy and girl, standing on the lawn.
Not sure which members of the Marshall family these are, given that 1870's time frame.

By 1870 Hunter Holmes and his wife Sarah were in their 50's and their last child was born in 1859, so the children might be grandchildren, if in fact, this is Hunter and Sarah.

Or if the adults pictured are not Hunter and Sarah, it might be Hunter's eldest daughter, Mary Ann, making her around 30 in the early 1870's.    She married Robert Henry Gaines in 1868 and they had children--Hunter in 1878, Henry in 1880, Sarah in 1884 and Mary in 1886.  Mary Ann and Robert Gaines moved to Roxabel sometime after Judge Hunter Holmes moved to Richmond, VA to resume practicing law, and Robert took over the running of the farm.

So it's possible if the boy and girl pictured are their two middle children, Henry and Sarah, born in 1880 and 1884, this is a photo of the Robert Gaines family taken in the mid to late 1880's.  Mary Ann Gaines was Margaret Marshall's aunt.
Or it's possible that the children pictured are ones we have no knowledge of that were born earlier in their marriage and that would place this photo firmly in the 1870's.

At any rate, it's still a bit of a mystery as to the identity of these folks beyond the fact that they are Marshalls or Gaines.

And here is a photo of Roxabel as it stands today.....approx. 140 to 130 years after that first photo was taken......

Sometime in the 1930's my great grandparents, who had farmed this land as tenant farmers in at least the 1920's, bought the farm Roxabel.  They had the house extensively rebuilt, as you can tell from the side-by-side comparison below and then moved their family in sometime afterward.

My great grandparents lived here until my great grandfather's death in 1956.  My great grandmother continued to live here until sometime before 1967, at which time her children moved her into a house in town, where she resided until her death in 1973.

Roxabel passed out of the family sometime after that and was NOT kept up from all I've been told.
It passed through the hands of at least 2 owners after my great grandparents, before, sometime at the beginning of the 2000's, 3 of my mother's cousins pooled their resources and bought Roxabel back.

They continue to restore and bring back to it's former glory the "old home place".
The house and grounds are available to be rented out for weddings and other events.  Contact me for more information if you are interested in holding your event here and I'll pass it along to my 1st cousins 1x removed. 8-)
And of course the family reunion is held here each Fall.

So now you know more of the story and I didn't go too far off on a tangent with the genealogy stuff.  ;-)



  1. And, I just asked a simple kidding. That was not boring at all, nothing to sigh about. My old home place just was a dogtrot. All this you write will certainly be a gold mine when your children are interested in these matters, which will, inevitably be after there is anyone around with all the minutia that makes this soooo interesting.

    1. I haven't heard the word dogtrot used in ages! It was a very good design to use for homes down South.
      I agree that I need to get this all out on paper(if only digitally)for my kids IF they ever develop an interest in where they came from.

    2. I would say get it digitally in several places, like an sd card or a flash drive. Plus, hard copy in several places. Plus, upgrade the digital copies at least when technology changes. And, review all the digital data to see if it is still good. Like I said, when kids can no longer ask questions, they are more likely to get curious. I am sure my children will be more interested one day.

  2. My home is not nearly so large, but it was built in 1902, and it has a room upstairs that is a mystery. Someone suggested it might have been a trunk room. I don't know if the owners traveled so much that they needed huge trunks for travelling. I think the later owners reconfigured the rooms. However, that seems unlikely since the wall has a chimney in it that was for the fireplace in the parlor below and a pot-bellied stove in the second story room. Since my ex stole all the paper work and architects drawings of the originals and remodels, I suppose I will never know. He left his mother's pictures and a ton of slides of his childhood and stole stuff I would miss. No, I did not give it back to him because he does not even realize he left it!

    Only dismantling things around here has revealed the original plans to me. Of course, guys who know construction show me so many clues as to who did what when by the materials used and construction methods.

    1. What a spiteful human being your ex is/was.

    2. Agreed. I am thinking about starting a blog closed to the general public for people to let me vent. It would also be the beginning of a book most likely to be as popular to sociologists as any true story around. It will get my story and anguish out for once and for all.

      The only reason I have not published something is I don't want to further destroy my children and make them completely hate me for revealing him.

  3. That is SO awesome that the pic is of your family's home. I'm so glad that it is being restored too. Now that would be a house that you and hubs should buy and live in for your retirement.

    1. Except for the fact that it's too large for the 2 of us in retirement and that 3 other people already own it, it's a great plan. lolz

  4. What a fabulous find! I have to learn how to do that with photos...I tried to upload one to use as a background on the weekend but the file was to large. I probably need to change a setting on my camera or something. A few years back I found a photo ONLINE of an ancestor's thatched cottage in a village in England. Of course the house no longer exists but one of my dreams is to visit that village and walk the streets where my ancestors walked. Isn't the internet just the most amazing place?

    1. Jane, You just need to adjust the size(in pixels)of your photo in any photo editing program. I use photoscape(it's free). Just make your photo smaller and you should be able to upload it just fine.

    2. That kind of reduction makes the photo darker because the color is squished into a smaller space. I like technical terms. How do you deal with that? Are there directions for that kind of problem, a common one.

      I want to take a college in course in the programs to manipulate photos.

  5. Very interesting family history. I love how houses and estates had names like Roxabel. How cool is that?

    1. When I was a kid I thought it was weird that the farm/house was named. To a point when they talked about Roxabel I thought it was a person!
      Hey, I was only 3 or

    2. Sluggy,
      That is so precious. I suppose you wanted to meet Roxabel and then she was such a disappointment. Dear me, I am still chuckling.

    3. Lorraine, Actually it was a logical thought in my 3 yr old mind......since my grandmother had an older sister named Rosa Belle. I thought we had another relative named Roxa Belle. lol

  6. I love your history and genealogy posts.

  7. I too love genealogy and stories like this.

  8. Cool old house, but so expensive to unkeep. My Mom's childhood place in Sweden and my Dad's were Huge. Dad's had 16 bedrooms and was turned over to the Swedish government in 1986 for taxes. Most of the furniture and books and things were sent via container freight to my Mom and Dad and the furniture was so large no regular house could hold it. Sad that these places can't stay in families.

  9. That's pretty cool, especially to see the houses side to side! I love the new background and the font.

  10. Awesome!!! I love old houses that are loved and restored! Can't wait until someone loves my house....

  11. I would love to discuss using the home as a wedding venue! Please email me


  12. I find your article quite interesting. I don't think I have seen this picture before. Margaret Marshall was my Great Aunt. Margaret's father was Griffin and his father was Hunter Holmes Marshall. Her brother John was my Grandfather.

  13. I enjoyed reading your article. I have been to Roxabel twice but haven't been in the house. My Great Aunt was Margaret Marshall and her father, Griffin Marshall, was my Great Grandfather.

    1. Hi Cousin!
      Besides my connection to the house via my Great Grands who farmed and eventually bought Roxabel back in the 1930's I am also directly related to the Marshalls through another maternal line(maternal grandfather's mother's line).

      If you are the son of Louella and Jack William Marshall then we are 8th cousins 1 x removed. We are related through Hunter Holmes Marshall's wife, Sarah Willmer STITH Marshall on her paternal Stith line. I am Griffin Stith Marshall(aka Jim Wilkes)'s 5th cousin 4 x removed. Sarah Willmer Stith Marshall and I share a common ancestor in Drury Stith I(1670-1740)who married Susanna Bathurst. Drury Stith I is my 8 x great grand.
      You should email me sometime. (The link is on my About Me profile and on my side bar on the blog.)

  14. Hi, you said your great grandparents lived here in the 30's/40's - Which is when my great grandparents lived here. My grandfather, great aunt and uncle grew up at Roxabel during this time. I'd love to know who you are, as the timeline in your blog isn't quite right. If you're at the next family reunion, my grandfather would love to talk.

    1. Hi Whoever You Are,
      You can email me directly at if you want to get in touch. I have attended each of the last 5 or so Reunions(except we didn't go this year). I am Lillian Vassar's granddaughter.


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