Last week, I came face-to-face with Danville history in Berkeley County, West Virginia.
That’s where Ward Hill Lamon grew up and is buried. Lamon, 1828-93, was Abraham Lincoln’s law partner in Danville, his trusted friend, and his unofficial bodyguard in Washington. Lamon introduced Lincoln to those who heard the Gettysburg Address.
My first stop was tiny Gerrardstown, a few miles from the county seat of Martinsburg. Located four miles from Interstate 81, Gerarrdstown is the most intact “wagon town” in the county. Stone and log buildings, some dating to the 1700s, stand in various states of repair. It’s like the Land that Time Forgot.
A quarter-mile down Dominion Road is the Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church and its cemetery. Beneath a big maple tree is the sleek, black granite tombstone that marks Lamon’s grave. Nothing notes Lamon’s ties to Lincoln. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was just another local farmer or merchant.
Several of Lamon’s relatives are buried on the same plot, including Dorothy Lamon Telliard, Lamon’s youngest daughter, who died in 1953 at age 95. She wrote a book about her father’s recollections of Lincoln.
My next stop was the Berkeley County Historical Society, 136 E. Race St. in Martinsburg. There, I paid $10 for the 1974 edition of the society’s publication, The Berkeley Journal. An article by Miss Virginia Gold provided more information about Ward Hill Lamon.
Lamon was born near Summit Point, Va. (now West Virginia) but he and his family moved to the Berkeley County town of Bunker Hill when he was 2. He moved to Danville in 1847, but returned to marry a Berkeley County girl, Angelina Turner, in 1850.
The Lamons had three daughters: Kate Lincoln Lamon and Julia Hill Lamon died in infancy and are buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Danville. Their mother died in 1859, and at that time, the third daughter, Dorothy, was only 5 months old. “Dolly” Lamon was raised in Danville by Ward Hill Lamon’s sister, Annie, and her husband, William Morgan.
The highlight of the visit, for me, was the unexpected opportunity to see an oil painting of Julia Hill Lamon with her pet monkey. It is not on public display; a library volunteer moved some boxes aside to so that I could view it in an archive room.
The donor, Rebecca Turner Graff, recorded its history in 1896. Her mother was the sister of Ward Hill Lamon’s wife, Angelina.
The dress worn by little Julia in the painting had been given to the Lamons by the Lincolns. It originally had been worn by their oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Julia died on Sept. 20, 1853, at age 2, and the pet monkey “survived her only 10 days and is supposed to have died of grief for its little mistress,” Graff wrote.
In their 1964 book, “History Under our Feet,” Katherine Stapp and W. I. “Pop” Bowman mentioned the first Vermilion County Fair, in 1851. They wrote, “ … Ward Hill Lamon exhibited his trick monkey … “
In Berkeley County, W. Va., I came face-to-face with Danville history.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org