Shockoe Hill Cemetery
This Richmond, Virginia cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and with good reason. Besides the hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers and a number of politicians, the cemetery also holds the remains of the longest-lasting United States Chief Justice, a Revolutionary War hero whose exploits became the stuff of legend, a Civil War spy who feigned insanity as her cover, and three key people in the life of author/poet Edgar Allan Poe. Founded in 1822, the cemetery is also considered significant for its 19th century funerary art and botanical specimens.
John Allan and Frances Allan
This prominent Richmond couple are primarily remembered today as the foster parents of author Edgar Allan Poe. It is from them that he took the name Allan. Poe came to live with the Allans in 1811, following the death of his biological mother. The boy was just shy of three year of age at the time. The time he spent living with the Allans greatly shaped Poe's personality and inspired aspects of his fiction.
John Allan was born in Scotland at some point in 1779 and relocated to America around 1795. Francis Keeling Valentine Allan was born in 1785. John and Frances were married on February 5, 1803. The two never bore children together, though John apparently fathered a couple of illegitimate children outside of the marriage. The only child they raised together was their foster child Edgar Poe. While Frances and Edgar were apparently close, Poe and his foster father on the other hand apparently had a tumultuous relationship.
Not long after Frances died on February 29, 1829, Edgar and John ceased to get along entirely and Poe found himself disowned from the family. John Allan remarried and fathered one more child, this time legitimately. When John died on March 27, 1834 he left nothing in his will for Poe even though he made allowances for the illegitimate children he had never had contact with. John was interred next to his first wife in Shockoe Hill Cemetery.
Shockoe Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of Legendary American Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco; a man of whom General George Washington apparently once said, "Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the war, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One-Man-Army." Originally known as Pedro Francisco, there is some mystery regarding the origins of Peter Francisco. It is generally accepted that Francisco arrived as a small child in the American Colonies on June 23, 1765. The young boy (who was presumed to be five years of age) was discovered abandoned on the docks at City Point (now Hopewell), Virginia. Unable to speak English, the locals could not understand or fully identify the language he spoke. The boy, who was dressed in fine clothes (with silver belt buckles bearing his initials), was taken to a poor house. From there, he was taken in by Judge Anthony Winston, the uncle of patriot Patrick Henry.
Raised as an indentured servant in the Winston household, the Judge taught the boy how to speak English. Francisco was finally able to relate the tale of how he came to America. He claimed to have come from a wealthy family that had lived in a European mansion. He said he had been kidnapped from his garden by men who hauled him off to their ship. The men had also attempted to abduct his sister, but had been unsuccessful. It is generally believed that Francisco had come from Portugal, but it not known for sure. The reasons for his abduction and transport to America have have had a number of theories varying from attempts at ransoming or selling the boy into servitude that failed, to an act of vengeance upon Peter's father by the King of Portugal himself.
Peter Francisco grew very tall and strong at a young age (he eventually reached a height of six and half feet or taller according to varying tales) and was taught the trade of blacksmithing. Winston took the teen-aged Francisco with him to Richmond, Virginia in 1775, where they were present for Patrick Henry's famous speech on March 23 where Henry declared, "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" Inspired by the events surrounding him, the 15-year-old asked to be allowed to join the Colonial Army. Winston made him wait another year before joining. The stories of Peter Francisco's deeds on the battlefield have varied in the telling and it is difficult to separate fact from legend in this case. Some or all of the feats attributed to the man may have happened, but there are some aspects of Peter's story that echo the mythology of folk figures such as Paul Bunyan. Not all variations of Peter's stories are presented in this article.
The young soldier's first time in combat was at the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11, 1777. Peter was shot in the leg during the battle. Later, while recovering from his injuries, he met the Marquis de Lafayette who was also wounded and in need of hospitalization. It is said that the young soldier and the only slightly older General became friends during this time.
Following his recovery, Peter Francisco took part in the Battle of Germantown, experienced the shelling of Fort Mifflin and froze with the others at Valley Forge. He was shot in the leg once again at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778. He was wounded once again with a large gash to his abdomen on July 16, 1779. Despite his injury, Peter Francisco killed three British grenadiers and captured the enemy flag. Peter's tour of duty ended and he returned to his life in Virginia, however he joined the Virginia Militia when the British advanced into the South.
On August 16, 1780, Peter Francisco was one of the combatants in the Battle of Camden. As the British Army routed the American forces, Francisco apparently found himself surrounded by British soldiers. The mountainous militiaman is said to have speared a British cavalryman with his bayonet and stolen his horse. He then broke through enemy lines by making the British think he was a British sympathizer and rejoined the members of his unit who were escaping as well. He gave his horse to his commanding officer, Colonel Mayo, who is said to have been in sorry shape (other accounts have him saving the Colonel from British captors). The story then goes that Francisco noticed a cannon that was about to fall into the hands of the British. Rather than allowing this to happen, Peter Francisco hauled the 1,100 pound weapon out of its carriage and carried it upon his massive shoulders as he and the others left the field of battle. It was around this time that people began referring to Peter Francisco as "The Virginia Giant", "The Virginia Hercules", "The Giant of the Revolution" or "The Hercules of the Revolution."
Francisco returned to fighting in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. Shortly before the battle, legend has it that a broadsword with a five-foot-long blade was delivered to Peter as a gift from General George Washington himself. During the battle, considered one of the war's bloodiest, Peter is said to have struck down 11 British combatants with his new broadsword. One soldier managed to impale Peter's leg with a bayonet, pinning it to the side of the horse Francisco rode. Peter is said to have pulled the bayonet from his leg and cleaved the enemy soldier's head in half to the shoulders with his sword. Peter fought on despite his injury and was wounded again more gravely. A British bayonet entered his right knee and exited at his hip. He fell, and was left for dead. He was rescued by a local Quaker and nursed back to health in the man's home. While the battle was technically yet another loss for the Americans, the British suffered great losses that hurt their campaign.
The final physical confrontation between the legendary Peter Francisco and British troops would become known as "Francisco's Fight." This last fight was between a lone Francisco and a group of Tarleton's Raiders; light cavalrymen and soldiers under the command of Banastre Tarleton, a British officer known for his reputed cruelty. A group of nine (sometimes 11 or more are claimed) of Tarleton's men discovered Peter in a tavern South of Burkeville, Virginia and attempted to take him prisoner. Stories vary in how Peter came to be in the tavern. Some stories say it was a stop on his way back to rejoin the militia after recovering from his last battle injuries, other stories say that he had already returned to duty and was actively working as a scout when he was discovered by the British soldiers. It is said that outnumbered, he surrendered immediately.
Emboldened by the quick surrender, all but one of the raiders entered the tavern, leaving their disarmed prisoner alone with a single guard. The remaining soldier demanded that Peter hand over his watch and the silver buckles upon his shoes. Peter Francisco is then said to have told the man to fetch the items himself. When the soldier bent to take the buckles, Peter kicked him in the face. The resulting scuffle led to Francisco being grazed in the side with a musket ball and his escape by horseback. Some accounts have him nearly severing his captor's hand before making his escape. Other accounts have him slaying the man with his own sword and then killing more a few more soldiers and wounding others as they poured back out of the tavern. One of the tales has 400 more of Tarleton's men arriving on horseback and Francisco confusing the men he is fighting by claiming that the arriving troops are with him; making good his escape while the soldiers panic. Another version has Peter calling out to imaginary militia in the woods and frightening off Tarleton himself along with his troops. The stories then claim that he either stole one of their horses or up to eight of them and made his getaway. In the tales where Peter steals multiple horses, he keeps the best one for himself and names it "Tarleton." While this would be Francisco's final fight with the British, he apparently was present for the surrender of the British at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.
Peter Francisco went back to his life as a blacksmith in Virginia. The veteran soldier, now 21 years of age, decided it was also time he also got a proper education. He attended the local school alongside children and learned how to read along with them. Peter married three times and fathered six children. Stories about Peter's great strength continued after the war and became the stuff of folklore. Though there are tales of him lifting a cow and a calf under arm at the same time, Peter also became known for entertaining guests with his lovely singing voice.
Peter Francisco was honored in 1819 when a ship was named after him (it sank only a few years later). He was also named Sergeant-at-Arms of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1824. Peter passed away from an appendicitis on January 16, 1831. His funeral at Shockoe Hill is said to have had a great many in attendance and he was buried with full military honors.
In 1904 a monument in memory of Peter Francisco was erected at the site of the Guilford Courthouse battle. A park in West Caldwell, New Jersey was named for him. March 15 is acknowledged as Peter Francisco Day in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia. In 1975, a postal stamp was made that displayed Francisco carrying a cannon upon his shoulders. Peter's house still stands near Buckingham, Virginia and a sword that once belonged to him is displayed at Buckingham County Historical Museum. A historical marker stands near the site where Peter Francisco is said to have single-handedly taken on Tarleton's Raiders.
In 1971, researcher John E. Manahan stated that he discovered records at the Church of Santo Antoniando Parto Juieu on Terceria Island that may finally have revealed the origins of Pedro Francisco. The records showed a Pedro Francisco having been born in Porto Judeu on July 9, 1760. The name and age match the Revolutionary War hero as well as matching the long-held assumption that he had been of Portuguese origin.
Born on September 24, 1755, John Marshall went on to become the longest-serving Chief Justice of the United States. After serving in the military during the American Revolutionary War, Marshall entered a career in law, followed by one in politics. He became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782. In 1795, U.S. President George Washington offered the position of Attorney General the United States to Marshall, but Marshall declined. He also turned down a position in the Supreme Court in 1798, instead winding up in House of Representatives briefly before becoming Secretary of State under President John Adams.
In 1801, President Adams had Marshall appointed as Chief Justice and Marshall served as both Secretary of State and Chief Justice for a month. He would end up serving as Chief Justice from February 4, 1801 until his death on July 6, 1835. Besides holding that position the longest, John Marshall presided over a number of important cases including McCulloch v. Maryland, Gibbons v. Ogden and Barron v. Baltimore. He also altered how the Supreme Court operated, making the court hand down a single opinion rather than multiple ones.
John Marshall died when his health declined following injuries sustained from a stage coach accident earlier that spring. While Marshall's grave marker at Shockoe Hill is rather plain, he has been honored and memorialized in grander fashions in the time since his demise. A statue of Marshall sits in the Supreme Court building, while duplicates rest at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the corner of 4th Street and Washington Avenue in Washington D.C. A university and four different law schools all bear his name as do a number of high schools, including one in Los Angeles that is often used in movies and TV shows (see John Marshall High School, Los Angeles, CA). The town of Marshall, Michigan was also named for the former Chief Justice. John Marshall's house in Richmond is maintained by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.
Born June 6, 1763, was an American Loyalist to the British Empire who went on to become a successful lawyer following the war. As an ensign in the King's American Regiment, the teen-aged Wickham was captured and put on trial as a British spy. He was acquitted of the charge.
Following the war, Parker Wickham, John's father and a fellow Loyalist was banished from the state of New York under the penalty of death should he ever dare to return. The incident helped spur John into a law career over what he felt had been an unjust ruling. He would end up as law partner to John Marshall for a time and the two became friends. In 1807, Wickham acted as one of the defense attorneys for former Vice President Aaron Burr during his trial for treason. Ultimately, Burr was acquitted of the crime.
Wickham died on January 17, 1839 and was interred at Shockoe Hill. John Wickham's house is still around and is now part of the Valentine Richmond History Center.
Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton
As a 16-year-old boy, Edgar Allan Poe fell in love with neighbor Sarah Elmira Royster (who went by her middle name). She was a year younger than Poe. Elmira's father did not approve of Poe and their courtship had to be hidden from his watchful eyes. Shortly before Poe left for college he became secretly engaged to the girl. He wrote her frequently while away and yet received no response.
Poe returned to Richmond to find that Sarah had become engaged to Alexander Barret Shelton in his absence. This heartbreak further helped drive the young Poe away from Richmond and out of Virginia. It was discovered later that Royster's father had prevented Poe's letters from reaching his daughter and destroyed them all. His deception worked, and believing that Poe had lost interest in her, Elmira married Shelton.
Romance was rekindled between Poe and his childhood sweetheart when they met again in July of 1848. By that time, they were both widows in their late 30s. It is possible that the two became engaged once again, though a stipulation in her late husband's will stated that Elmira would lose three quarters of her fortune should she remarry. Elmira would later deny that she ever would have married Poe, but a letter she wrote to the mother of Poe's late wife Virginia suggests that she seriously considered it at one point.
Within weeks of his final visit to Elmira, Poe died in Baltimore. One of the many theories surrounding his mysterious death is that Elmira's brothers had done something to the writer in an attempt to cease his romantic pursuit of Elmira. Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton herself died on February 11, 1888 and was buried in Shockoe Hill Cemetery. As both the first and last of Poe's love interests, she inspired some of Poe's poems that are on display nearby in the Richmond's Poe Museum (see The Poe Museum). Her house on East Grace Street in Richmond still stands and is a private residence.
Elizabeth Van Lew
A future abolitionist and spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War, Elizabeth Van Lew was born in Richmond on October 12, 1818. Elizabeth gained her political views while attending school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Upon returning to her home in Richmond, she became known for her seemingly extreme political views. Ultimately, this worked in Van Lew's favor when she became a spy for the Union. Nobody would suspect such an outspoken advocate of the enemy of having the subtlety of a spy.
Following her father's death, Elizabeth and her mother set free their slaves. Among the slaves was Mary Bowser, who agreed to work with Elizabeth to spy on the Confederacy. With Elizabeth Van Lew's help, Mary Bowser was able to insert herself as a servant into the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Bowser performed excellently as a spy, going practically unnoticed due to her ethnicity and status as a servant. Her employers' mistaken assumption that she was illiterate due to being black was also an error that worked very much to Mary's benefit. It was a mistake made more than once by Jefferson Davis - another slave (not associated with Elizabeth Van Lew), William Jackson, gathered information while acting as a servant and coachman for the Confederate President. The folly in underestimating the slaves was hardly exclusive to Davis and a number of other blacks in Richmond played a part in the Union's victory. Other former slaves of the Van Lew family, besides Mary Bowser, also helped in the effort by smuggling messages hidden inside of empty eggshells contained in baskets of food or in the bottoms of their boots.
Elizabeth Van Lew convinced local authorities to allow her to act as a nurse at the Confederacy's Libby Prison. She would bring in baskets of food, blankets and clothes for the prisoners. She also brought books for the prisoners to borrow, in which they would pass secret messages back to her by underlining certain letters and words with pin pricks inside. She even offered her house up for use by the captain in charge of the prison. With him and his family living in her house, it helped her keep up appearances with neighbors who were angered by her blatant support of the North. She managed to find safe homes for Union spies with other Union sympathizers in Richmond.
Around this time, Elizabeth also began letting her appearance go and began muttering to herself in public. Her ruse worked very well. Confederate supporters began to view her as simply an insane woman of no consequence. She gained the nickname "Crazy Bet" among the locals. Elizabeth Van Lew did have a few close calls however. On one occasion a woman who had been boarding in the Van Lew home tried to turn her in to Confederate authorities but had no solid evidence to back her accusations against Elizabeth. Other events that could have exposed her activities were overcome either by luck or by Elizabeth's shrewd intelligence and wit. When the Union Army finally claimed Richmond, Elizabeth and her servants climbed upon their roof and flew the Union flag. It was the first Union flag to fly once again in what had been the capitol of the Confederate States.
Elizabeth Van Lew remained in Richmond, though her activities during the war made her a pariah in the community. Since she had spent most of her family fortune feeding and assisting Union troops and prisoners, Elizabeth found herself in poverty following the war. She wound up living off of an annuity from the family of a Union Soldier she had provided assistance to during the war. She died on September 25, 1900, having nearly reached the age of 82. Her grave originally lay unmarked, but a memorial was eventually placed thanks to the contributions of former Union soldiers and their families. The grave is marked with a boulder featuring an inscription that reads:
"Elizabeth L. Van Lew, 1818-1900: She risked everything that is dear to man-friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself-all for the one absorbing desire of her heart-that slavery might be abolished and the union preserved. This Boulder from the Capitol Hill in Boston is a tribute from Massachusetts Friends."
Civil War Prisoners of War
Hundreds of dead Union soldiers who died as prisoners of war during the American Civil War were buried next to Shockoe Hill Cemetery's East wall. In 1866, the bodies were relocated to Richmond National Cemetery. The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a memorial to the POWs in 1938. Another memorial to the POWs was placed in the cemetery in 2002 by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
Shockoe Hill Cemetery Today
The cemetery has long ceased being an active place of burial and is now maintained as a city park. While it fell into disrepair for a time, the group known as the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery was founded in 2007 to preserve the location and teach others about its historical inhabitants.