The buggy, the horse and two cows

My wife has a bone to pick with my great-great-grandfather.

“Benjamin was a jerk,” Honey said.

I was reading to Honey the terms of Benjamin Miller’s will, dated March 22, 1876, which provided first for payment of his debts and funeral expenses, and second, without reservation, “to my beloved wife Mary Hannah Miller, all my household and kitchen furniture, my top buggy and my horse also two cows.”

The other items providing for his widow, however, were on condition that she not remarry.

“Hey, she was his third wife,” I said, “and he had a lot of children to provide for. If she got married again, the new guy would take care of her.”

Benjamin willed his 202-acre farm to two of his sons, cash to the other four children, and provided that his wife would get one-fourth of the crops grown, residence of half the house, pasture for her horse and two cows, and 20 bucks cash a year – but only “upon the condition that she shall remain my widow.”

So far as we know, Mary Hannah never did remarry. Benjamin is buried between her and his second wife, Margaret Pittenger, in Flats Cemetery at New Manchester, W.Va.

I hope they all get along.

LAST WEEK’S COLUMN was a lengthy – and dry, I admit – history lesson on the Miller family and farm. There wasn’t room for some of the personal stories that bring these musty ancestors to life in our imaginations.

David Miller, our great-great-great grandfather, was born in Ireland in 1743, immigrating to America as a young man. He was already living in this Virginia county when he enlisted in the Revolutionary War. He either bought or was paid with 400 acres in the valley of Tomlinson Run for his war service (soldier’s bounty). This area was the western frontier in the 1770s, and still a very dangerous place. During an Indian uprising, family lore has it that he buried his pots near the spring and went to Pennsylvania for a time. When he returned, his cabin was burned and his pots were gone.

David sold his land here in 1779 and went to Washington, Pa., where he bought a farm and married Abigail Martin, a war widow with two children. Abigail had inherited her husband’s bounty land, supposedly 400 acres which in fact surveyed out to only 60. With bitter humor, she called her farm “Little or Nothing.”

A few years later, David sold the Pa. properties and came back here, buying back his former farm at auction. Abigail died in 1816. David remained in this valley his lifetime and was buried beside her in Flats Cemetery when he died at age 99.

I GOT A CHUCKLE out of the terms of a rental agreement dated 1869 between Henry Pittenger and his nephew, our great-grandfather, Morgan H. Miller, for sharing what is the present Miller farm.

For example, Pittenger reserved to himself the apples of the “young orchard,” but would share half and half the apples from the “old orchard,” with the stipulation that “the said Pittenger to help pick said apples.”

Morgan was a Civil War veteran, enlisting Aug. 12, 1862, at age 21 in Co. I of the 12thVirginia Volunteer Infantry by a recruiter named R.H. Brown at New Manchester. We have his picture as a young man, but the company descriptive book gives us more detail, describing him as 5-10 in height, fair of complexion with grey eyes and light hair. As a farm boy, he would have known how to handle a team of horses, and was assigned as a wagoner.

Morgan was captured during the disastrous June 13-15, 1863, defense of Winchester, Va., and sent to Richmond as a prisoner. He was transferred to Camp Parole, Md., near Annapolis, a federal detention center where he was supposed to remain until he could be exchanged for a captured rebel.

On July 16, Morgan wrote a letter to his brother John, asking for $25 to be sent him in three envelopes in care of the Annapolis post office, not the camp. Another prisoner, R.W. Pugh, was writing for the same amount, so if one failed to arrive the other “will answer the purpose” – a veiled way to say they would bribe their way out.

They apparently did, for Morgan shows up again on the muster rolls of Co. I in September. He served the rest of the war, including action at New Market in May 1864. The “desertion” from Camp Parole on his record almost jeopardized his military pension, which in 1911 amounted to $15 a month.

MORGAN WAS LUCKY he was captured early in the war, before prisoner exchanges ceased. Among family documents is a letter dated May 19, 1865, informing Robert Campbell that Confederate records at Andersonville Prison revealed his son, William B. Campbell, had died there Nov. 24, 1864. Campbell had been shot in the leg and captured at the Battle of Piedmont in June, 1864. He recovered from his wound, only to die of “scorbutis” (scurvy), the letter said.

Campbell and Morgan served in the same company and regiment, and they likely had enrolled on that same day in New Manchester.

Two years after the war Morgan married Melissa Campbell, a sister of William, which accounts for the letter being handed down through the Millers. His brother John married another sister, Margaret Campbell, making their children double cousins.

I take great interest in these family stories. My wife does not, except for getting angry over Benjamin’s will.

“The buggy, the horse, the furniture and two cows – that was pretty generous,” I said, trying to defend my great-great-grandfather.

“He was a jerk,” said Honey.


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