History

REMEMBERING THAT AMERICAN HERO

Posted by on Sep 29, 2013 in Blog, Devotions, History | 2 comments

On Thursday I shared with you about when I, and many others, met and thanked returning Viet Nam POW Gary Thornton. Well, that wasn’t the last I’d hear about this American hero.

After the evening of the Seabee Ball in early March of 1973, my momentary life in the limelight ended. Gary Thornton had a lot of living to catch up on and I hoped only the best for him. Having been married to a Viet Nam vet, I was well acquainted with the many adjustments involved for people returning from the war, but for POW’s, reentry to family life and to living in the United States had to be incredible. 

While I can’t recall the exact date, I do recall praying that Gary was finding joy and peace with his new found freedom. Still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment one Saturday listening to the radio, and involved in some craft, when a news broadcaster announced that Gary Thornton, one of the Viet Nam POWs, had just married a former Playboy bunny.

My heart was pounding, and my jaw probably dropped.  I had just heard on the radio an answer to my vague request that I’d had never even verbalized. Since I worked five days a week, what were the chances that I’d be home and listening to the radio at just the exact time that this somewhat obscure announcement was made? Yet I had an answer I didn’t really deserve. At that time in my life I thought it an amazing coincidence.

I married another military man and relocated to northern Virginia. Years passed, and in 1983 I entered a Redbook Magazine’ Great Embarrassing Moments Contest. The event I wrote about for the contest took place on an evening when I was being given the instructions on the protocol of the Seabee Ball that I referred to in my earlier post.  As I wrote the piece for the contest, it brought back so many memories of the Seabee Ball events I had participated in ten years earlier. Again, I wondered about how Gary Thornton was faring, and prayed that his life and marriage had been blessed.

Shortly after submitting my contest entry, I made my monthly trip to the Ft.Belvoir commissary to stock up on food and goods.  While there I spotted a free magazine called Ladycom, and for some reason, this time I picked one up.  After arriving home, stowing the food, and taking care of my young sons I sat sown to enjoy a cup of coffee and glanced through Ladycom.  As I tuned the pages I came to an article about how some Viet Nam POW families were faring ten years after returning home. Gary Thornton was one of five or six POWs, interviewed for the story. He was still married to the former Playboy bunny; they had a daughter and were living very happily.

I was struck by all the combined factors necessary for me to have an answer to my simple prayer.

~ It had only been a short time since I wrote the piece for the contest and prayed.

~ Ten and a half years had passed.

~ Of the 556 returned POWs, Gary Thornton was one of only six or so interviewed.

~ I lived three thousand miles away from where I did on the evening of the Seabee Ball

~ I rarely went to the commissary and even less often picked up Ladycom.

Some people call it serendipity; others call it luck or coincidence. By that time in my life, I gave no credence to coincidence. I’d had the eyes of my heart opened enough times to see how God reveals Himself, and how He works in our lives and in the lives of others. It was such a simple request, yet I was delighted for His generous gift.  Once again, I could only thank Him and praise Him for His faithfulness.

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Shirley Plantation 400th Anniversary

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013 in Blog, History, Journal, Uncategorized | 3 comments

Julian Charity and Carrie Fancett Pagels

Julian Charity and Carrie Fancett Pagels

Last week I had the opportunity to tour Shirley Plantation with Carrie Fancett Pagels, author of “Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance” and several other writers. Historian and tour guide Julian Charity and Carrie gave us a fascinating tour of the property and the Great House. This beautiful home is occupied by the 11th generation of the Hill Carter family that dates back to the 1650s. Shirley Plantation, and many of the others, is located along the James River in Charles City County, Virginia.

King James I of England granted 4,000 acres of land on the banks of the James River (named for him) to Sir Thomas West, Virginia’s first royal governor in 1613. The property was initially named West and Sherley Hundred, incorporating his name and his wife’s, Lady Cessalye Sherley. “Hundred” was a term in the 17th century used for many of the outpost settlements.

Cotton

photo courtesy of Carrie Fancett Pagels

The plantations in Virginia in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century were used for agriculture, first worked by indentured servants and later by slaves. Tobacco cultivation was Shirley’s original crop. That changed over the years to include corn, wheat, barley and oats. Cattle, Sheep and hogs were also raised. As we drove in for our tour we observed beautiful fields of cotton in bloom.

Shirley Plantation

Shirley Plantation

Sir Thomas’s heir and wife sold the property in 1618 upon his death. The new owners changed the name to Shirley Plantation. Captain Edward Hill I purchased the property in 1638 and built Hill House for his family. Captain Hill served in the local militia, as Speaker of the House of Burgesses as well as other positions in local and regional government.

Shirley Plantation continued to pass down through the generations of the Hill family sons. Since Edward III lost his only son during childhood, and the oldest daughter moved to England upon her marriage, the plantation would ultimately pass to his youngest daughter, Elizabeth. While this young lady might have been a target for fortune hunters, she married John Carter, the attractive and educated son of the wealthiest man in North America, Robert “King” Carter. Robert Carter attained that nickname because it was said that his wealth rivaled that of the King of England. When these two great families were joined in marriage in 1723, they began construction of the Great House on the plantation. It has remained in the family ever since. Many other familiar names are part of this family such as Light Horse Harry Lee, Robert E. Lee, Mary Nelson, daughter of Thomas Nelson, who was governor of Virginia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Shirley was used as a supply depot late in the Revolutionary War, when Lafayette’s troops traveled to Yorktown. During the war of 1812 the lead roof from the Great House was sold and melted for bullets. During the Civil War, the James River was a strategic route to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. When General McClellan took over the land of Shirley Plantation and used it as a field hospital, Louise Humphry’s Carter, wife of Robert Carter, provided care for the Union solders encamped in her yard. In appreciation for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of his men, General McClellan issued a Federal Order of Safeguard protecting the residents and the plantation.

Other than the metalwork, stone and marble, all the materials for the Georgian and Queen Anne style Great house and outbuildings were produced onsite. One remarkable feature of the house is the remarkable four story square-rigged “flying staircase” in the front hall. The only other “flying staircase” I’ve seen is a circular one at Carter Hall (part of the same family) located in northern Virginia near Millwood. These staircases have no visible means of support, yet they have stood the test of time.390 Year old Willow Oak

I was also intrigued by a magnificent Willow Oak, now estimated to be 390 years old.

Shirley Plantation is one of 33 plantations listed in the National Register of Historic Places located along the James River and its tributaries in southeastern Virginia. Many are open to the public and provide a rich view into America’s past. To learn more about Shirley Plantation or to plan a visit, see: http://www.shirleyplantation.com

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