A Great Big Lark

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The AWOL Season

**Needs a better intro**

A few years ago, I promised a post talking about why so many people in the 40th Virginia went AWOL in the Fall of 1862.

A lot of time has passed since then, but I've finally gotten around to looking at the service records of some of the men.  I've also done more reading about the war experience for soldiers, and the incidence and manifestations, during and in the years following the Civil War, of what we would now call PTSD.  I'm not saying that these men were suffering from that, but records so far indicate plenty of reasons for particularly high stress at this time.

Here is what happened with my great-great grandfather and his three brothers.

(Description of the Northern Neck)

In 1860, in the Stony Hill district of Richmond County, Virginia, there were 15 households headed by Baldersons.  For the most part, they were farmers, but not BIG farmers...the largest Balderson farm having a real and personal value of $10,500, and the next largest, $600.  Most were much, much smaller, averaging out at $806.  By contrast, Robert Wormeley Carter, the largest landowner in the district, had a farm worth $325,000.  This is the same parcel on which Ebenezer Balderson worked during the first half of the previous century.

It's in the household headed by James Bailey Balderson, age 56, that our great-great-grandfather Presley lived.  In 1860, he was the only son living at home, along with a younger sister, Margaret.  The oldest Balderson brother, Charles, was a shoemaker who had been teaching his younger brother, James, the trade.  James lived in the home of Charles and Charles' young family.  Charles and James, 33 and 25 years old, both enlisted in Company B of the 40th Virginia Regiment on May 25, 1861.  Both were musicians, but I have yet to find out what instrument(s) they played.

The second oldest brother, William (29), and Presley, the youngest at 23 (and my great-great-grandfather,) enlisted ten days later, in the Richmond County seat at Warsaw. Both were in Company D, along with some other Balderson cousins who enlisted on the same day.

William was the first casualty among the brothers.
Wounded on June 27 at the battle of Gaines' Mill, he died 2 weeks later, on July 13 at a hospital in Richmond.  For a long time, I was unable to find out where he was buried, but recently I found scanned copies of his service records.  Balderson is misspelled as "Bollison" on the records; interestingly, this is exactly how my father, as a small boy, pronounced his grandmother's last name, and she even signed his birthday card "Grandmother Bollison" when he turned three.   This might be  how everyone pronounced it where they lived.  Anyway, Uncle William is buried in the soldiers' section of Hollywood Cemetery, the famous Confederate cemetery in Richmond City.  Probably in an unmarked grave.

Charles had been ill shortly before William's death, and was sent to Chimborazo hospital in Richmond. Three days after William's death, possibly even from the same hospital, he was furloughed and then discharged from service. He had a wife and a few children already at home.  He returned to shoe and boot-making, and lived on into the 1890s.

The third brother, James, was a musician like Charles; they had both this and shoemaking in common. In James' records, he is listed as AWOL in the fall of 1862, just a couple of months after William died and Charles subsequently became ill and was discharged home.  We  don't know where James went or what he did in the months he was gone, but his records include a report of him being a prisoner, paroled on November 25, 1862. By January, he and Presley had returned to service, the only two Balderson brothers remaining in the Army after less than two years of service.

The following May, the war became very eventful for the brothers with the battle of Chancellorsville. James found himself so close to an exploding artillery shell that he lost his hearing.   Presley was also seriously wounded during that battle.   During the following 6 months, James was hospitalized more than once, going  AWOL again in July and August of 1863.  He  was contracted in the spring of 64 to make shoes for Walker's Brigade, possibly 'alternative' service, due to loss of hearing or other wounds or illness.

The fourth and youngest brother, Presley, was sent to Chimborazo Hospital for the first time beginning a month after the death of William and Charles' illness and discharge.  This was immediately following the regiment's engagement at Cedar Mountain, and he may have been the one casualty listed on the muster list.  The reason for his hospitalization was "debilitas," in other words, weakness or feebleness:  exhaustion.  He remained in the hospital until October 23-- a period of over 2 months, after which he was furloughed and instructed to report back for duty on December 1.  He was absent without leave for the month of December, but returned in January, along with his brother James.   Presley was readmitted to Chimborazo in May of 1863 after receiving a gunshot wound through the left shoulder at Chancellorsville while defending the regimental flag after its bearer became a casualty (this is the story.....) This wound is renowned in family lore because of the harrowing treatment it received from the surgeon:  a red hot poker was driven through it. It's moments like this that can change the trajectory of the future.  The furlough that followed meant that Presley missed the events in Gettysburg, which proved close to disastrous for his regiment.   Fate intervened again at Weldon Railroad near Petersburg in August of 1864. During the dark and confusing violence, in the pouring rain, Presley was wounded through the left hand, an injury that would cause him pain and difficulty for the rest of his life as he supported his family by farming. While at home recovering in the late summer and early fall, he  married his second cousin, Mary Ann Coates, who was probably a relative of Charles' wife, Virginia.  Family story says that his old rusty (or bloodstained) bayonet  hung over the fireplace at the home of his grandson, Sherwood (my uncle) in Howard County, MD. One of Sherwood's stepchildren allegedly stole it, and it's no longer in the family.

So, all of the brothers became absent for a period following immediately, or within a few months of their brother William's death.  Charles never returned, and was discharged for reasons unknown. 


During the course of the next twenty four years, Presley and his wife Mary had 5 sons --- Burlington Lafayette, Valverda Manco, Franklin Lesley, Elton Presley, and Wilmore Earle; and 3 daughters --- Dorothy "Dora", Margaret "Maggie", and Emma.

The youngest of Presley's children, born when he was about 50, was my great-grandfather, Wilmore. Wilmore is small and his face is serious in the tintype that was taken of him with his elderly parents in around 1895. His mother appears severe, even a little frightening, dressed in mourning; Presley looks tired, but is smiling broadly as he stands behind his wife and youngest child.  Later, when he was a young teenager, Wilmore was the only witness to his mother's death, after a sudden collapse while she was sweeping.  She never regained consciousness.  At this time his father, who had always been a farmer, was a disabled war veteran, unable to do much work of any kind in his later years. He was finally granted a small pension in 1915, ten years before his death the age of 89.

When Wilmore grew up, he married Landonia "Tully" Minor, a young woman who had grown up in the same small corner of Virginia.  According to my father, her family felt that they were somehow better than my great-grandfather's family.  Their war hero had been in the cavalry.  Maybe that had something to do with it, but most likely it was for complicated reasons going back a hundred years or more...because they had all been living in the same spot since the first of their families came to Virginia.

Wilmore and Tully's first child, a daughter, was born in January, 1912.  Her mother almost died following the birth, and Aunt Dora, her husband's big sister, came to the rescue.  Aunt Dora took care of the baby for the month or so of my great-grandmother's recovery, and at some point during that time, she named the baby after herself:  "Dorothy."  Not everyone was thrilled that she did this.  Baby Dorothy was my grandmother.

 Aunt Dora had married Robert France, a man whose father had served in the war alongside her father. Their fathers' lives traveled parallel paths and these two must have had some common experiences growing up; they were raised on the same war stories, and probably grew up within each others' sight.  They eventually moved up the peninsula and north to Washington D.C., where they had a son and adopted a daughter by the name of Isabelle Galahan.

A little over a year after the birth of Dorothy the younger, Letitia Countee, the local midwife, came to the farm in Newland to deliver Tully's second baby, a daughter.  Sadly, Mary Althea lived only 6 hours.  She was named after both of her grandmothers.

When Dorothy was very small, her father studied at Lynchburg College to become a minister, which he became upon graduating.  Soon he and Tully became the parents of a boy who they named Sherwood. In the years that followed, Wilmore and his young family moved here and there in Virginia, the D.C. suburbs, and even as far southwest as Harlan, Kentucky, on assignments at different churches.  A few years later a third child was born, a second boy named Tennyson Carlyle.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Colonel Marshall's House

On a high hill through the woods and far beyond the back of the house in Marshallee lay the isolated foundations of the home of Colonel Charles Marshall, Robert E. Lee’s traveling secretary throughout the Civil War. Or at least they did, until relatively recently.
This landmark was a favorite destination of my sisters and me, where we collected evergreens at Christmastime and daffodils in the spring, in the buried remnants of the old formal gardens, nearly a mile from the nearest house but close to the noise of traffic from Interstate 95. The house remained standing, minus windows and other important parts, until I was about 10 years old. I remember visiting, looking through an open doorway, and seeing a path in the dust where someone had dragged away a heavy mantelpiece…..or maybe this memory is just a picture I made in my head, after hearing an adult talk about it. It’s impossible to remember which, now.
The house mysteriously burned one summer night in 1978, while I was sleeping in my room which looked out on the beech tree and the woods beyond, toward the hill where the ‘mansion’ stood….the mansion called Markham, and later Marshallee, after Colonel Marshall and General Lee. From that night on, we had to be especially careful when visiting the wooded hill, lest we should step into some innocent-looking greenery only to find ourselves plummeting injured into a hidden cellar or some other part of the home’s concealed foundation. We just avoided the green, tangled rectangle in the clearing in the bend of the encompassing dirt driveway.
Marshallee was a reminder of the Elkridge of the nineteenth century. It was built before the Civil War, but Colonel Marshall bought it in the years immediately following the War, after returning to his civilian profession as a Baltimore lawyer. Marshallee was his home “in the country,” Baltimore being only seven miles from Elk Ridge, as the crow flies. I imagine that seven miles was a good bit further then than it is now, when we have motorized vehicles, highways and interstates to speed us from place to place.
It is said that Colonel and Mrs. Marshall held lavish parties at the house, and that part of the rear wing was devoted to dressing rooms for the fine ladies who attended. In his later years, the Colonel loved to walk the front porch with his granddaughter, looking out over the southwest lawn, toward  the place where my sisters and I found daffodils still growing every year, in the 1970s and 80s…almost a hundred years later.
In our house in Marshallee, less than a mile away in distance, my mother often looked out at the woods through the window over the kitchen sink in the same direction, southwest. It was perfect for catching the low rays of sun in fall and winter, and she knew that when a cold draft made its way through this window, it meant snow. She was always right. I wonder what Colonel Marshall thought about as he gazed to the southwest from his porch. No doubt, he observed the weather and the changing seasons. No doubt, he also remembered some of the things he had seen and experienced on the battlefields of Virginia, and near the Capital, all those years ago to the southwest.

(840 words)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sleep Story

I wrote a lovely post, and then it didn't save, and it disappeared, and I lost it.

At my grandparents' house, I usually slept in the guest room on the first floor.  Down a tiny hallway off of the 'entrance' hall (which wasn't really an entrance hall since only strangers used the 'front' door), the guest room had three windows, two of which faced the spacious side-yard, which was bordered by the Chincoteague Bay and PawPaw creek on the east and south sides, and was empty except for a weathered picnic table and a large cedar tree.  The third window looked out on what I thought of as the 'front' yard, since it was the side of the house that we saw first when we arrived, since it faced the road.  Later I learned that the real front of the house was the side that faced the water, and was fronted by the wide, screened porch.  The 'front' yard contained the willow tree that I liked to climb and sit in. The willow branches made swish, swish noises when it was windy, which was always.  Inhabited by rhythmically-singing cicadas in the summer months, it was easy to climb.  I loved to collect the crispy brown shells that the cicadas left behind.  My grandmother would give me a paper lunch bag to keep them in, and I would take them home to my house in Elkridge, for my mother to throw away months later, no doubt, when these summer days were more distant and my thoughts were absorbed in the worries and business of school days.  Behind the willow tree ran the white-painted, two-planked fence which separated the yard from the end of the tar and gravel lane that dead-ended at the creek, and the low, narrow, ramshackle pier that reached out into the shallow, muddy water.  Across the lane stood the neighbors' house across a damp grassy lawn, and an expanse of salt marsh, and finally, from this same window you could see the bridge that crossed the creek.  Bayside Road ran, and still runs, along the Chincoteague Bay coast from Public Landing, swooping inland at Boxiron Creek and Brockatonorton Bay.  In the 1970s, the bridge still wasn't paved, and each car or pickup truck rumbled over the wooden bridge, the sound echoing off of the surface of muddy PawPaw Creek and drifting back toward the house.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

John Chandler - Part One

 I find it interesting that this year, the year my father died, is also the year that two major immigrant brick walls have come down in my family history research.  One of those walls has revealed John Chandler, the youngest person at the time of his arrival to ever land at Jamestown.  The timing was dramatic; if he had been on an earlier fleet, he may have had to endure The Starving Time, which ended with the arrival of Lord DeLaWarr's fleet in 1610, on which John was a passenger.  The evidence linking this particular John Chandler to my family was established earlier this year, following genetic testing and research...more details of that later.  Some months ago I began putting together John Chandler's story, and typed up the sketch below to give context to his arrival:

                     The situation at Jamestown, Virginia on June 10, 1610, the day that                            John Chandler  (age 9) arrived on board the Hercules, the third ship in Thomas West, Lord DeLaWarr’s fleet

At the end of the previous summer (October 4), an injured John Smith returned to England.  Conditions in Jamestown quickly deteriorated. Relations with the natives quickly went from a fragile truce to an open campaign by Chief Powhatan to starve out the colonists.  Since previously, colonists had relied on trade with the natives for the bulk of their food supply, this spelled huge trouble with the coming winter.  The colonists had neglected their fishnets, which rotted in the water.  Hunting was extremely dangerous, since natives attempted to kill anyone who left the fort.

The expected fleet from England had suffered damage from a hurricane that summer, with the flagship becoming stranded in Bermuda, with a bulk of the supplies and food. One ship returned to England, and the seven other ships landed at Jamestown, delivering 200-300 men, women, and children and few supplies.  Although a fleet returned to England to warn of the settlers’ predicament, no further supply ships arrived that year, or the following spring.

The Starving Time followed, and that winter, 88% of the approximately 500 colonists died.  All of the fort’s animals were eaten, many houses and parts of the palisade were burned for firewood, and some even resorted to cannibalism to survive. 

The Bermuda contingent, including the recently widowed John Rolfe, arrived in May of 1610 to find 60 sick and starving colonists confined to the safety of the blockhouse, with the rest of the fort deteriorated around them.  It was decided to abandon the colony and on June 7, 1610, everyone boarded the ships and began to sail down the James River. 

At approximately 10 miles downriver from Jamestown, they were met by a fleet of supply ships led by Thomas West, Lord DeLaWarr, that had left England on April 1.  The newly appointed Governor West headed the group back to Jamestown.  On the third ship in this fleet, the Hercules, the youngest passenger was John Chandler.  He was also the youngest person to date to have been sent/brought to Jamestown.

*Governor Percy had sent Capt. Francis West on a trading mission to the Potomac.  After trading for corn, West and his men on the Swallow began to return to Jamestown, and at Ratcliffe’s fort at the mouth of the James learned that the colony was in dire need and had resorted to cannibalism.  Instead of proceeding with due speed, they headed to sea and consumed the corn themselves on a return trip to England.

Although he was very young, John Chandler wasn't traveling with relatives.  It is not known if he had any connection to anyone else on the fleet, or why he was aboard.  Just a few weeks later, another boy would arrive:  Thomas Willoughby, age 10, whose uncle was an investor in the Virginia Company.  It is a safe bet that the two boys, as the only children in the colony, became friends.  In any case, by 1624, John Chandler was living as an employee at Thomas Willoughby's military encampment at Elizabeth City.  John Chandler's fortunes were just about to change.  (to be continued)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Howard County Tragedy

September 19, 2013:  It was a slow day at work. Working in a library, sometimes things get very quiet; but when workflow is at a low ebb, it’s easy to indulge in the pursuit of idle curiosities. I had been doing some research, for fun, on the first people to live in my current house back in the 1930s, and decided to look up a Kent County News story of an incident concerning the builder’s father. I was following a trail whose steps I no longer remember, gathering facts that seem trivial now, which gave my mind some mild entertainment in the form of eavesdropping on the past. I found the article I was looking for, detailing an incident of the builder’s father as a teenager, getting into a fistfight with a former teacher on the street in Still Pond, back in the spring of 1883. Typical Kent County stuff, maybe. I dropped a dime into the machine and printed out the page, as my eyes scanned the other headlines on the page. “The strawberry season is not far off.” “The Sale of Bellevue.” And then: “A Madman’s Tragic Act. Killing His Intimate Friend.” Interesting. I read on: “Mr. Charles R. White, of Howard Co., was shot and instantly killed on Wednesday by Mr. Charles Edward Hanson, an intimate friend and neighbor.” Howard County, my home county on the western shore.

Wait. I think I know these people...

Belmont, front stairs and Ballroom wing.

Belmont was built in the 1730s, and was owned and lived in by Dorseys and their descendants, including the Hansons, for more than two hundred years.  In 1965, it ended its days as a privately owned estate, and began a second life as a small, exclusive conference center.  Whole families of high school-aged sisters and brothers in Elkridge, including mine, became part of the Belmont family, securing coveted jobs as waitresses and houseboys.  I spent nearly ten years working there, in several departments, from high school until several years after college, by which time I was sharing the position of Marketing Coordinator which a childhood friend and wife of the former executive chef.  People outside of our community knew little to nothing of the existence of this place, with the exception of the lucky groups who came to stay, a large proportion of them connected with Federal and local governments, including foreign dignitaries and even sometimes people important enough to require Secret Service detail.  Belmont’s isolation was one of its chief marketing points.

When you first came to work at Belmont, you were scrupulously trained by the senior generation of staff members in how to deliver the highest quality of service. These were the motherly women from town who cooked breakfast and lunch every day; the executive chefs, always from “elsewhere,” who always had very special and entertaining personalities; the gruff, businesslike housekeepers, tending to be past middle age and firmly rooted in the community; and the grounds and maintenance men who seemed to know everything…. and did, since they lived in houses right on the property.  Precision, perfection, discretion, and courtesy, doing things “the Belmont way” were required in all aspects of food and beverage service and housekeeping.

Fortunately, it was not only an interesting place to work, but a companionable place, with colleagues feeling like family members and, after a while, the house feeling like home. Very soon after you completed your first shift, as you relaxed in the staff room after dinner with your coworkers, you began to hear the stories, legends, and rumors about the house, and the people who had lived and visited there.

As new employees in the 1980s, my friends and I all heard about the Dorseys during those staff room storytelling sessions: the original builders, landowners, and entrepreneurs who founded this estate and many others, becoming one of the most powerful families in the state.  Caleb Dorsey, the builder, was fashionably superstitious, and had installed 6-paneled witches cross doors throughout the home to keep out evil.  He met his wife Priscilla while fox hunting in the area, and their initials are still carved in stone beside the front door.

Another Priscilla Dorsey, their granddaughter, eloped with Alexander Contee Hanson, a congressman and later a senator who was nearly killed in a Baltimore riot at the beginning of the war of 1812. It was after his untimely death from his lasting injuries in 1819 that the estate fell upon hard times.

If you were to consult local history sources or books containing descriptions of colonial homes in the region, you would notice that in most histories of Belmont, the years between 1819 and 1913 are barely mentioned.  Or, they may be condensed into one or two lines:  “Hanson’s son Grosvenor enjoyed gambling, and the estate was nearly lost.  Two of Grosvenor’s nine children, Nannie and Florence, still lived in the house in 1913."

Yet, every member of the Hanson family--- Priscilla and the Senator, their son Grosvenor and his wife Annie Maria, the latters’ nine children who had lived to adulthood, as well as four more children who died in infancy, or young--- is buried in the old cemetery at the edge of the woods beyond the formal gardens, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.

The rumors and tales told in the staff room of this part of the house’s history were darker, and began to intersect with the countless stories of employees and guests who claim to have experienced strange events and even seen uncanny things while staying or working at the house.

The two old Hanson ladies who remained in the house at the turn of the 20th century used the ballroom to store their enormous stock of canned fruits and vegetables. During the same period, a grimy painting was discovered, blocking a drafty fireplace on the second floor.  This painting turned out to be an original Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, and is now part of the Frick Collection.

It was rumored that the family who lived in the house had a son who was either crazy, monstrous, or had severe developmental disabilities, and that he was often locked in the room in the cellar where the extra chairs are kept.  This is in the same area of the basement where two employees from the phone company were servicing the telephone connections in the early 1990s, when they suddenly left without completing the job, telling the manager on duty that they wouldn’t be returning. There was something “very wrong” down there, and it didn’t involve the phone lines.  None of Belmont’s employees liked going into the basement, which was built of local stone and multichambered, running the length of the five sections of the house.

We were told that somebody was once shot on the front porch because he had borrowed his cousin’s horse without permission.  This is the same area of the house that is featured in Belmont’s “official” ghost story, published in several places, of a phantom coach which drives up the circular drive and stops at the front door, horses stamping, while an invisible person stomps up the porch steps, enters the house, and marches toward the kitchen wing.  I’ve never met a person who has experienced this “official” phenomenon.

Instead, kitchen employees are plagued by trays of glasses that smash while safely stored in glass-fronted cupboards, carefully counted silverware and plates which disappear and reappear in a few minutes’ time, mysteriously exploding wine containers, and other frustrating events which seem to escalate when especially important guests are in residence.  Objects have even been seen flying across the dining room by employees working alone, with both doors to the room closed.

A woman wearing white has been seen, usually appearing as a real, solid woman clad in Victorian clothing, in a particular bedroom by more than one guest, or sitting quietly in the corner of an adjoining bedroom by an employee who was checking the rooms one evening before the arrival of an important group.  She may be the same person whose misty, white-clad form was seen on several occasions standing at a small bridge over a nearby stream in the early morning hours.

September 26, 2013, a week after my discovery in the Kent County News:  I don’t remember if this was a slow day at work, but I do know that I took the time to contact several of my fellow former Belmont friends, with whom I’ve never lost touch.  I couldn’t wait to tell them that by pure chance, I had stumbled upon an incredible story that filled in many of the lost details of the scraps of history we had heard about the “troubled” years of our former workplace.  After finding the article about the May 1883 murder in the Kent County News, I consulted the Baltimore Sun from the same time period, where I found a series of articles describing, in true Victorian fashion, full details of the murder, inquest, funeral of the deceased, testimonies of both families, and Ned Hanson’s trial.  Along with census records of the decades leading up to and following the murder, these articles helped me piece together a strange, sad story of this family who had lived at the heart of our community a hundred years before any of us had been born, in the very house that, in retrospect, had played a huge part in our coming of age, early adulthoods, and for some of us, even in the formation of our own families.  What’s more, the story oddly lined up, in certain places, with some of the strange, unexplained phenomena for which the house had become known.

The following headlines are taken directly from The Baltimore Sun (microfilm, collection of Clifton M. Miller Library at Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland.)  Below each headline, I have summarized the contents of the accompanying article.  Portions in italics are directly quoted from the newspaper.

Part of the Hanson family in the late 1800s, date and names unknown.


(The Sun, May 17, 1883; Vol. XCIII Issue 1 Page 1, Published in Baltimore, Maryland.)

At a little before noon on May 16, 1883, Charles Ridgely White of Elk Ridge, Maryland drove to Belmont to see Charles Edward "Ned" Hanson in order to get some seed corn.  With him in his carriage were a young girl and a female visitor to his house, a Miss Worthington from Washington.  Mr. White was the owner of a farm named "Argyle", a mile above Ilchester, but is said to have lived at the time at his home "Tutbury", which is now located off of Elibank Road, but at the time had an entrance off of Lawyers Hill Road, before I-95 separated the two neighborhoods.  The newspaper noted that White and Hanson lived on adjacent properties, and that their families had been great friends for a long time.
At the time, several Hanson siblings, all adults, were living at Belmont.  They included Priscilla Hanson, age 37; Charles Edward Hanson, age 35; Grosvenor Hanson, age 27; Annie Hanson, age 25; and Florence Hanson, age 23.  Three other brothers lived and did business in Baltimore. They were the grandchildren of Alexander Contee Hanson, the Congressman and newspaperman famous for his involvement with and near death at the hands of an angry mob during the Baltimore Riots, who died a U.S. Senator. Their father, Charles Grosvenor Hanson, had died 3 years earlier.  He and his wife, Anna Maria Worthington, had a total of 12 children while living at Belmont, born between the years 1840 and 1864.  Four of these children died at age 21 or younger; two of these were twin girls who died in infancy.  Of the 8 remaining children, it looks like only one married, and he was widowed at an early age, with no children.

When Mr. White arrived at Belmont on May 16, only Priscilla and Annie were at home.  After waiting for about a half hour for Charles to return, Mr. White prepared to leave, saying that he would return another day to see him.  He was getting his horses ready to go when Mr. Hanson entered the house (presumably from a back or side door), asked one of his sisters who had come to call, and was told that it was Mr. White.  He then walked into the dining room (now the Foyer, where the big staircase is located, and the little 'telephone closet') and picked up a bread knife which was lying on the sideboard.  He walked calmly out the front door and when he was about 10 feet from Mr. White, he pulled out a revolver and fired three shots, all of which hit Mr. White in the head, one first passing through Mr. White's hand.  Death was probably instantaneous, but Mr. Hanson then threw himself upon the body and cut Mr. White's throat with the bread knife, partially severing the windpipe.  Both of his sisters witnessed this, as well as Mr. White's daughter and friend.  Mr. Hanson then walked calmly back into the house, into the kitchen (now the dining room), washed the blood from the knife, and returned it to the sideboard in the dining room (now foyer.)   He then went to his room and waited for his brothers John and Grosvenor to return from Baltimore.
When John and Grosvenor returned, Charles gave them a number of strange reasons for the shooting.  He said that when his mother was dying (10 years earlier), her last request had been that he should kill Charles White, because he had killed Mr. Hanson's sister (Mary, who had died of an illness at Belmont in 1863, when she was 21 and Charles was 15.)  Mr. Hanson had not been present at his mother's death.  He apparently spent part of the 1870s in California, and it may have been during this time that his mother died.  He also accused Mr. White of "flashing his eyes" to make himself look like Hanson.... a habit that Mr. Hanson had.

A jury of inquest was quickly assembled and met at Belmont at 4 p.m. the same day, where the family was assembled and to which Mr. White's body had been brought after the murder.  12 jurors were present, and two doctors, who made the postmortem examination on site, and testified that instantaneous death had been caused by the third shot, which entered the temple.  The postmortem wound to the throat would not necessarily have been fatal.  The Hanson sisters, several house servants, and two additional doctors testified that until this day, a very friendly relationship had existed between the two men, and that they often met to discuss farm operations.  The only cause that could be assigned for the act was Mr. Hanson's mental state.  One of Mr. Hanson's sisters had suffered attacks of insanity, and for some time leading up to this event, some of Mr. Hanson's behavior had made his family uneasy about his mental condition, although he was usually a good-natured person and had shown no signs that he might become violent.  One of the farm hands testified that he had acted strangely that morning, walking around singing wildly at the top of his voice.  The farmhand had remarked to his wife at home at dinnertime that Mr. Hanson was crazy.

At the conclusion of this investigation, the jury gave the verdict that on May 16, 1883, Charles R. White had died from a pistol wound inflicted by Charles E. Hanson, and that Charles E. Hanson was at the time insane.  Charles was given into the custody of one of his brothers who, along with two other men, took Charles to the jail in Ellicott City.  Before leaving, Charles wished everyone a good evening, and said that he would return later that evening after making an explanation for his actions.

(The Sun, May 18, 1883; Vol. XCIII Issue 2 Page 1, Published in Baltimore, Maryland.)
Hanson's Talk and Appearance --- Much Sympathy Felt for the Family.

'Mr. Charles Edward Hanson, who is confined in the jail at Ellicott City for the killing of Mr. Charles Ridgely White on Wednesday, said yesterday that he had acted in self defense.  The spirit of his sister had appeared before him, he said, and warned him to be on his guard, as Mr. White would shoot him on sight.  When he saw Mr. White he became convinced that the time had come for action.  Consequently he killed him.  When questioned on other subjects Mr. Hanson spoke clearly and quietly, but the moment the shooting was mentioned his eyes snapped and his talk was wild and disconnected.  He has a pleasant face and a kindly blue eye when in repose.  His quarters at the jail have been made comfortable with a new bed.  A neighboring hotel furnishes his meals.
'Messrs. Murray, Samuel, and Grosvenor Hanson, his brothers, and several other kinsmen and friends called to see him during the afternoon.  His brothers show unmistakable evidence of having suffered a great deal in consequence of the murder.  They say that Chas. Hanson had shown signs of a gradual mental derangement ever since he came back from California.  He thought at that time that three men were following him, and was frequently excited on account of his vagaries. Afterward he was sun struck, which increased his malady.  He was never known to be violent, however.  On the contrary, he was looked upon as a jolly good fellow, who was fond of listening to a funny joke, and could tell a capital story himself.  Occasionally, when politics was under discussion, he would become excited and it was at such times that suspicions were created as to his sanity.  Much sympathy is felt for the other brothers, who are thorough gentlemen.  Even the sons of Mr. White take this view of the unhappy affair.  Said one of them, "It was a great blow to us, but a far greater one to the Hanson boys.  I pity them sincerely, and shall shake hands with them in the future as heartily as we clasped hands in the past.  We think there is not the slightest doubt as to Charles Hanson being insane, but of course we cannot understand why his insanity took a turn so unexpected and terrible.  The two families have always been intimate.  Charles Hanson and my brother Stephenson here were such close friends that when Stephenson married, Hanson came home with him.  We were all friendly with him, and were fond of hearing him tell of his adventures in California.  Last Sunday Grosvenor Hanson came over to the house and was talking to father about corn planting.  It was on business resulting from this conversation that made father go over to Hanson's on Wednesday.  He was accompanied by Miss Worthington, who is visiting us, and by my little sister, both of whom were going to call on Miss Hanson.  What occurred at the Hanson place is already known.  My little sister says that she saw Hanson in the rear of father, but thought at first that he was a colored man going to attend to the horses.  She says that when the attack was made Hanson rushed forward raging like a wild beast."  The White family were all at the old residence yesterday, and the sons talked unreservedly about the occurrence, but without bitterness, and with frequent expressions of sympathy for the Hanson family.
'Messrs. John J. Donaldson and J. Upshur Dennis have been engaged as counsel for Hanson.  It is not unlikely an effort will be made to get him out of jail on a writ of habeas corpus.  If this is not done he will remain in prison until the grand jury moves in the matter.  The White family will leave the whole thing with the State.  If the writ is issued, however, they will try to prevent Hanson's release unless he is immediately put in an insane asylum and kept there, as they think it would be dangerous to let him go about free, especially since he is said to have threatened to kill them.
'The pistol with which Mr. White was shot is a five-barrelled revolver, marked "Red Jacket No. 3."  The knife is a large, sharp instrument used for cutting bread.  The funeral of Mr. White will take place shortly before noon today.'

(The Sun, May 19, 1883; Vol. XCIII Issue 3 Page 4, Published in Baltimore, Maryland.)
Funeral of Mr. Charles R. White.

Charles Ridgely White was buried on Friday, May 18, 1883 in St. John's Cemetery, Ellicott City, following a service held at the White home.  The Reverend Hall Harrison of the Protestant Episcopal Church officiated, and a large gathering of friends and family were at the house.  The trip to the cemetery "was a long, silent, and dusty drive, and would have been unendurable had not the fragrancy of the wild honeysuckle and the varying tints of the grass and trees given a refreshing yet quiet and beautiful charm to the scene."

Among the friends and acquaintances in attendance were the brothers of Charles Hanson.  Hanson's two sisters were unable to attend on account of being ill.

Following the service, the Hanson brothers visited Charles, who was not well, having been attended by a physician for cramps in the stomach.  He still spoke disjointedly about the shooting, but denied that he threatened to kill the White boys; in fact, he had expressed fear that they would want to kill him for what he had done to their father, but was misunderstood in the excitement at the house.
(The Sun, June 11, 1883; Vol. XCIII Issue 22 Page 4, Published in Baltimore, Maryland.)
Adjudged Insane by a Jury and Committed to an Asylum.

On May 30, 1883, upon the request of the Hanson brothers, Judge Miller at Ellicott City signed an order directing that a jury be summoned on June 9 to inquire into the mental condition of Charles Hanson.  When Charles was brought into the courtroom, he smiled and greeted his friends, shaking hands with several of them.

Charles' brother Murray testified to his long illness in 1871 from sunstroke, and said that during the illness, Charles became convinced that his attending physician had poisoned him.  At another time, he believed that two men were lying in wait for him in Baltimore with the intent of killing him, and he began carrying a pistol so that he could defend himself.  He went to California in 1875 and when he returned, he complained that some men had followed him back to Maryland so they could kill him.  His family became worried that he was losing his mind, but when a long period of time elapsed during which his hallucinations seemed to have left him, they began to feel relieved at his apparent recovery.  Murray told of several incidents which showed the imbalance of his brother's mind, including his uncharacteristic fits of temper when discussing matters of politics, and his belief that he was a Mason based upon his belief that he could tell a man's intentions by looking into his eyes.

After this testimony and two others (one by a physician and one by the prisoner's sister, a witness to the murder), Charles Hanson made his own statement, which lasted almost an hour and left observers without a doubt as to his mental condition. Two sons of Mr. White also testified to his insanity, noting that they had never considered him so prior to the shooting.  The testimony of several doctors followed.  The jury retired for only a few minutes, returning with the verdict that surprised nobody.
Charles Edward Hanson, in June 1883, was committed to the Maryland Hospital for the Insane, now Spring Grove, in Catonsville.  He remained there until his death in 1931 at the age of 83.

A few years later, sometime prior to 1900, his sister Priscilla was also committed to the Maryland Hospital for the Insane.  She remained there until her death in 1925 at the age of 78.
Charles' younger sisters, Anna Maria "Nannie" Hanson and Florence Hanson, lived at Belmont until sometime around 1910, when they moved into rented accommodations in Elkridge following the transfer of the property to the Bruce family, relatives of theirs who were also descendants of the Dorseys, the original owners.

Charles, Priscilla, Nannie and Florence, along with their parents, grandparents, and many brothers and sisters, are now laid to rest in the Hanson family burial ground at Belmont.

The victim, Mr. Charles Ridgely White



After writing the account above, I noticed something really intriguing while looking again at the 1860 Census. 

It turns out that Charles Ridgely White was not the only Charles White who was acquainted with the family.

According to the 1860 census,  a young teacher from Massachusetts named C. J. White was living at Belmont.   I was able to find a brief biography of a Charles Joyce White from Massachussetts who, after his graduation from Harvard in 1859 at age 20, became a teacher in Maryland.  Odds are very strong that this was the C.J. White who was living at Belmont, employed as a teacher, in 1860.  He later became a Harvard professor in Mathematics who published some of his work.

Charles Joyce White

 from Class of 1859. Harvard College Class of 1859 class album of Henry Weld Fuller. HUD 259.704.3, Harvard University Archives.

Mary was 18 when the 20 year old White came to live at Belmont.  Three years later, she died from an illness.  Charles Joyce White never married.  He died in 1917 at age 81.

20 years after Mary's death, her brother killed Charles Ridgely White, a neighbor and cousin, at Belmont. 
After committing the murder, Ned Hanson said that his mother had instructed him, when she was dying, that he should kill Charles White.  Her reason, Ned said, was that Charles White had been responsible for the death of Ned's older sister, Mary, who died in 1863 when she was 21 and Ned was just 15.  The next day, confined to jail in Ellicott City, he stated that the spirit of his sister had appeared to him, and warned him to be on guard against Charles White, who would shoot him on sight.

Is there a chance that Ned, if mentally unstable, confused one Charles White with another?  Did something happen between the teacher Charles and Mary in the years before her death that could have caused Ned and/or his mother to hold Charles (the teacher) responsible?

Did Ned believe that he was visited by the ghost of his mother at the time of her death, and that of his sister prior to committing the murder?

What relationship is there, if any, between mental illness and extrasensory experience?