The Clopton Chronicles

A Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society









Irene Horsely Clopton Waters & Her Sisters

Julia H. Clopton Cresap & Alice C. Clopton Watson



By Irene Horsley Clopton Waters[1]



Decades before her death in 1987, Irene Horsley (Clopton) Waters wrote a very candid and touching essay regarding her early years.   She tells of the rollicking adventures of herself and two of her sisters, Julia H. (Clopton) Cresap and Alice C. (Clopton) Watson.  The family lived in the Rectory of Grace Episcopal Church at Cedar Run Parish, Casanova, Fauquier County, six miles from  Warrenton, Virginia, from January 1899 until August 1907.  In these days of “political correctness,” her terminology may be unsettling, and some of the stories, troubling.  However, her efforts are greatly valued as she eloquently captures and preserves so accurately the mores, fun, and tragedies of rural Virginia in the early twentieth century.



An Unsophisticated Pair of Angels


Father had seen Grant’s Army

march into Richmond for Lee’s surrender.

He was a Southerner, not an American,

until the First World War.



I never think of my childhood, but of our childhood.  I mean of the early youth of us three little Cloptons, Julia, Alice and Irene.  That was our name in the na�ve community in which we spent our first ten to twelve years.  We operated almost as a unit.  Jule, beautiful Jule, with her enormous brown-black eyes, silky black hair, and large, mobile mouth filled with straight white teeth, was the adventurer.  Alice, sweet, gentle Alice, was the peacemaker and the thinker.  I was the tag-a-long, the ugly duckling of the three, completely uninhibited and always spilling what was considered secret or private by the other two, to their complete consternation or embarrassment.

                We were the three middle daughters of five children of a country clergyman[2] in the Episcopal Church.  In those days when a minister received no stated, regular salary, but only a small cash sum, which he collected himself, plus gifts of food and other services from his congregation, and bi-annual “boxes” from the Auxiliary of some large town, two children would have taxed his resources.  But my dear father and Mother had never even heard the word “birth-control,” they would have blushed at such boldness, and would have considered it the work of the very real devil in which they believed.




Grace Episcopal Church

Established 1865



Mother’s father[3] had owned the Peaks of Otter Resort near Roanoke, Virginia, and she considered herself a mountain girl.  Father had seen Grant’s Army march into Richmond for Lee’s surrender.[4]  He was a Southerner, not an American, until the First World War.  He had been reared by two older sisters after his father abandoned his widowerhood and took a third wife.[5]  Mother taught Father how to garden, how to milk a cow, how to support a large family on almost nothing.  They were a completely unsophisticated pair of angels in a most unsophisticated day, living in the unsophistication of rural Virginia soon after McKinley’s assassination.[6]


Heavenly Vanilla


In those days, with my disconcerting

Directness, I always demanded of every

Rural hostess who entertained us,

Whether we would have ice-cream.



Only the actual rich had running water in those days; no one had cars; radio was undreamed of; the movies not yet invented.  When I was about five years old, the son of a parishioner came home from New York and brought with him a small contrivance with a round disk and a little, squeaking horn, which he called a “phonograph.”  The congregation met in the parish house, which was built on the two acres of ground which contained the rectory, to hear the remarkable music which came from this instrument.  Casanova, our post office, was about forty miles south of Washington, in Fauquier County. [7] Two or three years after hearing this phonograph, I vividly recall our wonderment at seeing in a theater in Washington some huge photographs thrown on the stage, and the actual turning of the person’s head from side to side.  It was nearly five years later, 1906 or 07, in another, more populated community of Weston, West Virginia, that we had the excitement of attending the opening of a nicolodeon, and saw the wonder girl, Mary Pickford.

                We did have phones:  the sort you cranked to attract Central, and everybody else on that line, whose bells rang loudly at the same time, giving them the opportunity to listen, if they wished.[8]  At long intervals we rode on the train to Warrenton, six miles away, where out greatest treat was ice cream.  Commercial ice was manufactured on a small scale in Warrenton, but in and around Casanova, people had ice-houses, if they were really enterprising.  For some reason, Mother had never succeeded in prodding Father into building us an ice-house, so one of the finest gifts a parishioner could give us was a large block of ice, all sticky with the straw in which it had been packed in the dark, cool depths of an ice-house.  To this day, ice-cream is my favorite sweet.  In those days, with my disconcerting directness, I always demanded of every rural hostess who entertained us, whether we would have ice-cream.  The big ten-gallon freezers of home-made chocolate, frozen custard, fresh strawberry, and heavenly vanilla were to me the real purpose of the annual Bazaar held at the parish house, and the annual Commencement exercises held at the farm where we attended school.



The Aunt’s Nest


                There was a main chicken house, of course,

 but also numerous small houses for individual broods.

Each house had a board nailed across its front

upon which was boldly lettered the name of that manse! 



In this day, when both water and entertainment can be turned on so easily, such an existence as ours at the beginning of 1900 must seem bare indeed.  Yet in that artless setting, which contained no newspapers with headlines or sob stories, could be found the entire gamut of drama.  We did not read about it, we heard about it as it happened, often witnessed it, sometimes were even part of it.

                If life ever gives me the opportunity to try to write, just from those first ten years of my life in the country I can write a murder story, the tale of a crook, a touching love story, an epic on class lines about the bitterness between colored and white, a second account of the Prodigal Son, and many other exciting, dramatic chronicles.  I can authentically describe backgrounds which range from bitter poverty to the most delightfully gracious and prosperous living.  To prove this statement, let me tell you briefly some of the plots.

                About a mile from us there lived a most delightful English family.  Mr. Williams had migrated to this country in the late 1800’s, bringing with him his wife, his two daughters, Emily and Amy, his son and heir, Jack, and Mr. Williams’ three old-maid sisters.  In a charming wooded section, surrounded by wide fields, he had built a rambling farm house, “Rockhill”, with long halls leading up and down steps to the several wings.  It had broad porches and wide lawns.  Mr. Williams transported genuine English box-hedge which fenced in a stone-paved walkway to the front and around to one side of the house.  The stretch of lawn from his study windows to the front yard fence, provided an excellent croquet ground of smooth, close-cropped grass, but just underneath the windows was a well-cultivated flower bed which contained all the old-fashioned flowers:  English cowslip of heavenly yellow with a dainty fragrance; columbine, pansies, Sweet William, snow-bells, white and yellow violets, as well as long stemmed purple ones.

                Far to the side of the house was an open space, bordered by large trees, which contained the chicken houses.  There was a main chicken house, of course, but also numerous small houses for individual broods.  Each house had a board nailed across its front upon which was boldly lettered the name of that manse!  Mr. Williams had named these humble structures after some of the most famous estates in England.  When he ran out of such names, he coined his own.

                His wife was a real gentlewoman, who, like the rest of the females of the family, always deferred to his judgment.  The two daughters are entangled in my fondest memories of great Christmas trees in the parish house, the delicious smell of freshly cut pine and cedar, and the dearly beloved Christmas hymns, which Emily sang so sweetly, and Amy taught me to play on the little chapel organ.

                The three old-maid sisters were called the three “aunties,” pronounced with a Broad “A,” of course.[9]  They had their own suite of rooms on the second floor of the rambling house, which they called, “The Aunt’s Nest.”  Julia, Alice and I used to be asked in turn to spend the night at “Rockhill” - so-named from the large rocky mound erected in the front year – for the aunties loved to have us comb their hair and rub their feet.  This we were only too happy to do in payment for the delicious meals served on their fine old china, the privilege of reading in the big library, the fun of roving around such a romantic place.



Death at Dawn


While the servants were working with her,

nobody noticed that the cook had disappeared.



Although I am about to introduce a Murderer into this placid scene, I will take time out to give an example of Jule’s mischievousness.  The lane to “Rockhill” led past our side yard.  Its entrance was guarded by a wide gate hung between two huge posts.  On some trip to “Rockhill,” Jack Williams – who was naturally a bit self-important with such a large family doting on the male heir of the family – had reprimanded Jule for some trivial matter.  Every day he rode down the lane to the country post office.  Jule put Alice and me to assist her in teasing him.  We all three climbed up on the big posts and as Jack went through the gate we called, “Hello, Jockawss’ (our rendition of Broad A), hello, Jockawss.”  Of course he told Mother after the second episode.  Jule was spanked as the ring-leader, and Alice and I were put to bed in the middle of the afternoon.

“Rockhill” was not a plantation, yet it was large enough to require a great many colored servants, among them a cook who did nothing but cook for the family.  Three hot meals were served in the great dining room every day, winter and summer, and Mr. Williams enjoyed and demanded a fine table.  This exacting post of cook was held for years by one good-natured colored woman who had been at “Rockhill” so long she was almost a member of the family.  Unfortunately, she died of what was considered indigestion, but was more likely to have been the little known appendicitis.

Many cooks were tried, but Mr. Williams was not pleased with their skill.  Finally they hired a woman who was well-known for both her excellent cooking and also her mean temper.  But the temper did not bother Mr. Williams.  He had been handling hired servants all his life and considered himself able to handle any mean “nigger.”  So the cook was put in the “Rockhill” kitchen, and its ample and popular hospitality increased in fame.  But Mr. Williams found it necessary from time to time to let the new cook know that although she might have the women-folks cowed by her impudence and hatefulness, he was not going to put up with either.  She never dared answer him back, but she brooded.

One morning, a day or so after an unusually bitter set-to, soon after breakfast the family became ill in various degrees.  All had the same symptoms:  extreme nausea and pains in the pit of the stomach.  Mr. Williams was the least affected; Miss Nellie, buxom and florid, the auntie who acted as housekeeper at “Rockhill” because Mrs. Williams was not strong, was extremely ill and had to resort to drinking dishwater and quantities of bread soda and water.  While the servants were working with her, nobody noticed that the cook had disappeared.  She never did come back and since this was in a day when there were no county police and the nearest magistrate or officer was in Warrenton, the authorities got too slow a start to find her.  The end of this story is a part of the next one.





                I strenuously objected to Mother’s

                Working with this queer, crippled fellow,

                With this little mustache and snappy black eyes.



Not far from the rectory, at the very edge of the little cross-roads village which was inhabited entirely by good Irish folks, there lived a lame man and his sister.  They had a rather large, commodious house, and evidently a livable income from some source, but Mr. Oliver had to spend all his waking hours in a wheel-chair.  My mother, whose big heart made her a natural born social service worker, visited Mr. Oliver and his retiring sister every once in a while, and although they were not in desperate need for money, she thought it would be a fine thing if he could have something to occupy his time.

For years, Mother had carried on a voluminous correspondence to represent a big magazine agency, for she simply had to do something to add to Father’s meager salary.  During these years, she had built up a large clientele and earned a substantial sum yearly when the subscriptions were renewed.  She had enlarged her business to the point where she really needed some help.  She conceived the idea that Mr. Oliver could help her at the same time he was helping himself.  Although I was quite young at the time, I was old enough to understand the talk.  I strenuously objected to Mother’s working with this queer, crippled fellow, with his little mustache and snappy black eyes.  Since I was a very jealous-natured child where my mother was concerned, Mother punished me by never allowing me to accompany her to Mr. Oliver’s house.  Now she sternly forbad me to discuss the subject any more.

She took a great many of her materials to Mr. Oliver’s home and gave him the task of addressing envelops to send out the advertising material.  To do this, he had to have Mother’s list of subscribers.  My childish intuition proved correct.  Mr. Oliver turned out to be the villain I had thought him.  He wrote to all of Mother’s subscribers announcing that she had given up her subscription business and had turned it over to him.  He had the correct addresses and the advertising material. It seemed very logical.  He got most of the rebates from that year’s subscriptions, for by the time Mother had straightened things out with the publishers and had worked up the list and written to her friends, the subscriptions were already begun.

In the meantime, unknown to anybody in the neighborhood for weeks, since Mother was their only visitor, Mr. Oliver and his sister had hired the murderous cook.  They did not know of her reputation and no one knew of her presence in the village, nore dreamed she could be so bold to come back to the community where the facts revealed that she had attempted to poison a number of her employers.  It was not until Miss Oliver was found dead on the floor of her room, twisted and bent from what must have been terrible agony, that the woman’s evil attempts proved successful.  This time the police from Warrenton took a strong hand but eventually they had to admit that the murderer had given them the slip again.  She was never heard of from that time on, but I heard my parents wonder, more than once through the years, what had finally happened to her and whether she had made away with any more victims.  As to Mr. Oliver, Mother took no action against him, but with his sister gone it was necessary for him to enter a nursing home, which in its way must have been a prison to him.



Love Conquers All


Then one day, a big handsome buggy

drove through our gates, and Connie’s mother,

an imposing figure in an impressive black dress

and bonnet alighted with the aid of the small,

timid man whom we knew to be Connie’s father.



My mother was the confidant of all the young women in Father’s parish.  One in particular used to come to spend the night with us, since she lived some miles away.  When her beautiful, glossy bay horse turned into our yard, and she dismounted from the side saddle, looking so elegant in her slim black riding habit and stiff riding derby, all of us children knew that she and Mother would be locked in Mother’s rose-papered bedroom for hours.  Connie was desperately in love with a handsome young neighbor, but her parents violently opposed their marriage, even though the young man was like Connie an F.F.V.[10] and due to inherit a fine farm.

We could hear Connie weeping, and through the closed door Mother’s soft, firm tones.  Then one day, a big handsome buggy drove through our gates, and Connie’s mother, an imposing figure in an impressive black dress and bonnet (small hats of the Queen Mary type were known in our community as bonnets) alighted with the aid of the small, timid man whom we knew to be Connie’s father.  Connie had disappeared and they had come to see whether she had given Mother any idea of running away to be married.  Jule, Alice, and I, at Jule’s instigation, hid under the big shrub which grew beneath our parlor window, and listened.

They did not accuse my mother of interfering.  They knew here too well to accuse her of such an act.  But they were well aware that Connie sought my mother’s advice and comfort and thought she might have sworn Mother to secrecy on an elopement.  Mother assured them that she knew nothing except that Connie was much in love and was very unhappy because her parents did not approve her choice.  Then she said in clear tones, “But I have been a little puzzled, since Julius Clarke is a fine looking young man from an excellent family, he is not poor, and he seems to be of thoroughly good character.  He comes to services when the weather permits the long ride to Grace Church and appears to know the entire service by heart, for I never see him using a Prayer Book.”

Connie’s mother replied sharply, “Certainly you don’t see him using a Prayer Book. He would not go to school and he has never learned to read and write.  Can you imagine our Connie marrying a man who had to make a mark as his signature on the marriage license and in the Church register?”

It turned out that Connie had married such a man at the county seat that very day and it was gradually whispered throughout the neighborhood that she was teaching him to read and write.  Her efforts must have been successful, since he was often seen reading the Psalms from his Prayer Book in succeeding years.





One could not buy his way

into the charmed circle

nor earn his way through achievement.

You were born to the magic circle or you were not.



I have mentioned that Connie and her sweetheart were F.F.V.’s.  It was a dreadful thing in the Virginia of that day – and I presume in some localities of the far South today – if one did not come from an aristocratic family.  It was no disgrace to be poor as a church mouse; that could always be blamed on what the War Between the States (never the Civil War) had done to one’s grandfather or father.  On the other hand, drunkenness, sharp dealing, and general unpleasantness of personality was overlooked to the extent of the culprit’s having access to any of the nicer homes; just so he or she was a member of a First Family of Virginia.  One could not buy his way into the charmed circle; nor earn his way through achievement.  You were born to the magic circle or you were not.

                My mother was an angel of mercy to all the villagers.  One time in particular, she proved herself by going in an out of their homes during an epidemic of typhoid which swept through the village, decimating it materially.  The Roman Catholic Sisters came down from Washington to help nurse the numerous patients, and Mother came and went for weeks wearing herself thin in helping them.  She risked her life in the midst of such a virulent infection, and indeed ours too, indirectly, but she would not let us play with the brick-haired, freckle-faced Irish youngsters for whom she took the risk.  Their little homes might be ever so spotless; their manners might be ever so polite; we could not have any social intercourse with them because they were not F.F.V.’s.

                A new man bought out the cross-roads store.  He was a jolly fat man, with a small, tidy wife, and a dear look little girl, named Dorothy.  Mr. and Mrs. Hoskins had come from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where they had lived all their lives.  They thought the country would be beneficial to them all; they had found out that this was a prosperous store which served a large, well-to-to community; and they were looking for new surroundings to help them forget the untimely death of their sixteen-year-old daughter.

                They came to that community believing innocently in the “southern hospitality” and friendliness they had read about.  Little did they know that although they would sell more dollars worth of merchandise than they had dreamed of, especially because Mr. Hoskins, an experienced grocer, sent to Washington for all sorts of rarities, even oranges and a new convenience, toilet paper; yet they would leave that place far more broken-hearted than when they came.

                The store-keeper’s home was located on a high hill overlooking the village and on the opposite side of the train tracks from the rectory.  It was not a bad-looking house and Mrs. Hoskins, a born housekeeper, made it cheerful and attractive and most comfortable.  But no one came to see her gorgeous geraniums; no one came to admire the beautifully worked crocheted and embroidered pieces which decorated every room; no one came.

                Day after day, week after week, month after lonely month, she sat up on that hill, hopefully viewing every vehicle which came down the different roads near the store.  I used to see her looking.  Indeed, I fabricated all sorts of reasons why people were so slow in coming.  Occasionally she spent an hour in the store where she was greeted cordially, but impersonally, by the gentry.  She certainly knew which was gentry and which was plain farmer’s wife; there was an unmistakable air of self-confidence about the F.F.V.’s which other country people did not possess.  No one at all asked if they might call upon her, no one asked her to call upon them.

                My mother was one of those who saw Mrs. Hoskins more frequently than most of her friends, since we lived just a stone’s throw from the village and the store.  Mother was always pleasant, but never really friendly.  However, she did relent a little where Dorothy was concerned.  Dorothy was a lovely child, and far more aristocratic looking with her fair skin and curly blond hair than I, with a distinctly snub nose and not one feature which was really pretty.  Dorothy was dainty and slender; I was chubby to the point of fatness and awkward.  Even Jule, who was our family beauty and Alice whose small pearly teeth, large hazel eyes, and sweet expression ranked her a close second, considered Dorothy the prettiest girl we had ever seen.

                There was a natural congeniality between her and us, because all of us were lonely for new friends.  Even though we three little Cloptons were eminently acceptable socially both as real F.F.V.’s and as the daughters of an Episcopal clergyman, there was a gulf between us and the well-born and highly prosperous children of many of Father’s parishioners.  And Dorothy was just plain lonely for any playmates. Her mind and Jule’s worked together marvelously to make up games.  Mother allowed us to go to her house at fairly long intervals, and her mother meticulously allowed her to pay us visit for visit, but no more.

                We three used to throw ourselves down on almost any nice grassy spot in the yard, and pray fervently on our knees, with hands clasped and eyes closed, that Mother would let us go to Dorothy’s or that Dorothy’s mother would allow her to come to our house.  Sometimes I would try to bribe God in these prayers, by promising to read so many pages in the Bible if He let our wish come true.  That worked very well until I reached the begat-begot chapters in the Old Testament.  I tried hard to keep my promise but found the reading too uninteresting.



Sorry Circumstances


There had been a perfect babble of voices,

but all at once a dead silence fell.



Mrs. Hoskins’ obvious loneliness was quite a weight on my mind, especially after I found her in tears more than once, sitting by her window and staring down the empty roadway leading up to their house.  She had been in our neighborhood for almost a year when Mother’s turn to have the Auxiliary meet with her came around.  Because our rectory was not very large, and because Mother’s modest linens and dishes appeared less shabby in the outdoor setting, she planned a sort of garden or lawn party.

Although our house was clear out of Mrs. Hoskins’ sight, many of the guests would be driving down the road in front of her house.  The nearer the date came, the more unhappy I became because she was not asked.  When I finally asked Mother desperately if we could not as her, she replied:  “I think Mrs. Hoskins is very lady-like, Irene; but after all, she is the wife of a store-keeper.”  Thus did the Virginians and other southerners feel about tradesmen!

The day before the party came, and because Mother was quite busy getting ready for it, with our one servant to help her, she allowed us to go to see Dorothy.  We didn’t even have to kneel down in the grass to get the Lord’s aid for her consent.  We three set out happily and all the way there I planned what I was going to say.  Dorothy and her mother were sitting out on the porch enjoying the fine air.  Before Jule and Alice could stop me, I rushed up to Mrs. Hoskins and blurted out, “Mother sent us over specially to ask you to the Auxiliary meeting tomorrow.  Didn’t she, Jule?”  Jule was too taken by surprise to do anything but nod dazedly, but she recovered quickly, caught the idea, and became quite enthusiastic in seconding my invitation.  Alice, thinking ahead of how Mrs. Hoskins might be received by some of the women, hung back and said nothing.

Jule and I were jubilant that night.  Mrs. Hoskins was so nice we felt that once the ladies of the Auxiliary met her, they would start visiting her home. Practically all of them had arrived and our yard was full of buggies, surries, and even one landau, when Mrs. Hoskins timidly approached the house on foot.  They lived so close to the village they had no real need for a horse and buggy and not having one probably helped Mrs. Hoskins to comfort herself with the thought that she couldn’t visit people anyway.

There had been a perfect babble of voices, but all at once a dead silence fell, during which my mother walked towards Mrs. Hoskins and remarked brightly, “How nice of you to come to call, Mrs. Hoskins, on the very day that so many of the ladies whom you have met in Mr. Hoskins’ store are here for the Auxiliary meeting.”

It was her delicate way of letting the Auxiliary members know that she was as surprised as they were.  It was also an unmistakable means of letting Mrs. Hoskins know that she had not actually been invited.  She was very brave and stayed for nearly an hour, though not until the refreshments had been served.  I am sure she felt that she would choke on the food.  Everyone was so nice to her, and I had great hopes that our scheme had worked.  But it had failed dismally and only added to Mrs. Hoskins misery.

After she left, the comments rained right and left about how charming she really was, what a shame she was a store-keeper’s wife, how sorry circumstances forbade their knowing such a sensible little woman better, and over and over again, what a really lovely child Dorothy was, “in spite of such an environment.”  No one asked Mother why she had come; they all had understood that no invitation had been given to her.  Mother knowing well my inability not to tell on myself whenever I went against her wishes and rules, simply waited.  Finally, before all the women, I went over to her and whispered, “Mother, I did ask her but the ladies see how nice she is.  Why can’t all of you be friends with her?  She acts like an F.F.V.”

The Hoskins stuck it out for another year of bitter loneliness.  It must have been hard for Mr. Hoskins to be so nice and polite to the people who showed so plainly they did not consider his wife their social equal.  He had taken such an interest in procuring special things for different customers from Washington and Warrenton.  Gradually he stopped doing so much of that; he lost his cheery manner; he had very little to say to many of the customers, although he was invariable most polite.  It was a surprise to no one when he finally tacked up a sales sign in the store and word got around that he was advertising it for sale in the Warrenton newspaper.

Jule, Alice, and I petitioned God again and again not to let Dorothy move away, even though for the second year of their stay at Casanova, we had not seen as much of her.  Mother must have been a little embarrassed to allow us to continue the social relationship without her participating in it, and Mrs. Hoskins had always allowed Dorothy only turnabout visits.  I once even prayed privately that Mrs. Hoskins would become seriously ill so that my mother would go to her house, as she did with the villagers; but Mrs. Hoskins, a subdued, pale Mrs. Hoskins, kept on her two feet and she finally left that house without ever having had a caller to see her pretty things, or to taste her delicious cookies.



Chrismas Gif and White Folkses


She called them ‘bad niggers’

and dreaded to see them come

to spend a few days at her cabin.



The colored people for miles around looked upon Mother and Father as their dear friends and benefactors.  Whenever any of them had bad luck – an accident, a long illness, a fire – Parson Clopton and his wife helped them out. There was hardly an Auxiliary of any size in the Diocese to which Mother had not appealed to send a box of clothing, or blankets, or some cash to help some destitute darky.  At Christmas, our yard would always have a dozen or more, respectfully keeping at a little distance, but called “Chrismas gif” loud enough to be heard inside.  None of them ever left empty-handed, simple though their present might be.

For years, we had a colored Mammy, Aunt Amanda, and her grandson acted as a stable boy to Father, when Father was not away on a missionary visit to one of his three little missions.  Aunt Amanda had two sons who had gone to Washington to work.  She called them ‘bad niggers’ and dreaded to see them come to spend a few days at her cabin.  They would drink together, quarrel, and even strike at her.  This did not happen often but once when they came, there was talk of a Negro uprising down in the Carolinas.

Father was away on one of his trips, and Mother carried a shotgun with her when she and we three middle ones went out to lock up the chickens and the barn.  She saw someone lucking in the carriage shed at the side of the barn and called out to them to come out where she could see them.  It was one of  Aunt Amanda’s sons, and he came out from the shadows quite boldly until he saw Mother pointing the gun in his direction.  Then he became quite sullen, rolled his bloodshot eyes from side to side.  Mother said not a word but looked straight at him.  He turned on his heel and left the yard, walking rapidly down the road to Aunt Amanda’s cabin at the bottom of the hill.  She did not come to the house for several days, and when she did, she had a welt on the side of her face.  She said her son gave her a hard beating and cursed her for being such a friend of the white folkses.



The Prodigal Son


Silently I stole out of the basement

and struck off across the fields towards home,

for once in my life disregarding the possibility

of a bull being in the field.



The Prodigal Son I mentioned was in reverse. The young man who had shown off the phonograph in the parish house finally came back home.  It was too late for him to be repentant.  His Brother Elks had found him too much for even their wild ways.  They sent him home in a plain pine box and in it he was buried, with his mother, Mrs. Turnbull sobbing as my father read a simplified service from the Prayer Book in Grace Church graveyard, while his three handsome sisters stood with heads erect and faces stony.

                One of those three girls gave me piano lessons until I disgraced myself at her house and was ashamed to go back for a long time.  They lived about three miles from us and Father would leave me by their house and pick me up in the buggy as he returned from some rural parish visiting.  This day, after my lessons, they sent me down to the cool basement to bring up a plate of cookies.  A small, heavily iced chocolate cake sat in the cupboard, and I stuck my forefinger in exploratory holes all over the top, licking off the delicious gobs of chocolate icing. Suddenly I realized what I had done.  Silently I stole out of the basement and struck off across the fields towards home, for once in my life disregarding the possibility of a bull being in the field.

                I arrived home with my face streaked with chocolate, tears, and perspiration, sobbed out my confession on Mother’s lap, then was suddenly and thoroughly nauseated.  It was my last piano lesson for some months, so complete was the guilt in which Mother allowed me to suffer for some time.

                It is interesting to recall that the house in which this episode occurred was visited by Mary Roberts Rinehart one summer, and that it is the house in which she placed a circular staircase from another building and made it the setting of The Circular Staircase,[11] her first best-selling thriller.  Mrs. Rinehart was the cousin of some wealthy Pittsburgh people who had bought an old stone castle in Fauquier County erected in War Between the States days, restored it, added to it, and then erected matching stone buildings.

                A tower was attached to the main building, and this had been used as a lookout tower during the War.  It was several stories tall and contained a winding stairway.  Dr. and Mrs. Turnbull, the owners, developed a fine estate around these buildings and operated a farm for thoroughbred cattle.  We visited them regularly, since the whole family were Episcopalians who regularly attended Grace Church, four miles away, during the summer, when they occupied the estate.

                The Turnbulls turned the main stone house into a veritable palace of comfort and beauty, installing all sorts of wonderful modern conveniences.  They had a butler, nurses of foreign extraction for the younger children, every type of horse-drawn vehicle, and many fine driving horses which were curried and harnessed to a queen’s taste.

                They had several ponies for their large family of children and allowed the neighborhood children (F.F.V.’s, of course) to have a pony club.  We met once or twice a month and took turns riding on the fat ponies and all of us had blue ribbons on which Dr. Turnbull had printed the name of the club.

More than once, Jule, Alice, and I were invited to spend the night after attending the pony club, and those visits were like a night out of the Thousand and One Nights.  We bathed in a tub of running water (although we had had a Wednesday night bath the evening before – through summer and winter, water was carried upstairs for us to bathe in large tin washing tubs on Wednesday and Saturday nights), we slept in silk pajamas, our beds were soft and fragrant beyond describing, and a butler and a maid waited on the breakfast table, which contained a veritable banquet to our simple country appetites.  Nothing could have exceeded their kindness to us and nothing could have equaled our intense delight.



Miss Mary Turnbull


All the time she was talking

she was holding out the box with one hand

and delicately sniffing her handkerchief with the other.



The Turnbulls had an old maid sister, Miss Mary, who was sweet and friendly but quite romantic.  She struck up such a close friendship with one of the grooms, she had to be packed off to Europe.  Before that happened however, Jule tried to sell her a snakeskin.  With the rest of the Turnbull family, Miss Mary rode on Sundays in the large carryall with side seats, the four miles to Grace Church.  She always dressed in exquisite white clothes, for church, and smelled as delectably as a bunch of roses.  She had said she was looking for a fine snake skin to have it made into a riding whip which she might carry on the Pittsburgh bridle paths as a reminder of Virginia.

Jule, who was unafraid of snakes and everything else, finally rounded up a small garter snake which she killed in a thoroughly gory fashion.  She tenderly placed the dead snake in a small box filled with cotton and put it carefully away until church time two days later.

She, Alice, and I did not go to church that Sunday, but instead waited down in the village on the post office porch until we saw the fine turnout of carryall and two stepping bays coming up the road.  When it had nearly reached us, we ran out and began to wave our arms and to shout, “We’ve got a snake for Miss Mary!”  The carryall stopped and Miss Mary inquired as to the size and type of snake.  “Oh, this is a beauty, Miss Mary,” Jule assured her.  “And it’s quite large.”  Into Miss Mary’s immaculately white-gloved hand she placed the box eagerly for her to take off the top. Poor Miss Mary!  She peeped through a small crack, not taking the top clear off, and what she inhaled nearly knocked her off the carryall seat.  She turned quite pale, pushed the top back on, handed Jule a fifty-cent piece and said quite firmly that she would wait until she got home before she looked at the snake any more closely, that she was sure it would do splendidly, and that Jule had been might smart to kill the snake. All the time she was talking she was holding out the box with one hand and delicately sniffing her handkerchief with the other.  We thought the whole thing a very successful enterprise but Mother thought it necessary to call Miss Mary up and apologize to her.




The Eternal Woodpile


In some manner which I cannot now explain,

she hopped about the woodpile,

and I listened with great interest

as she told her story out loud. 



You might wonder how we spent the long days, especially in the winter when we could not be looking for snakes, bugging the potatoes, taking our horse, Brazer, to pasture, or climbing the trees in the small woods behind our yard.  The Auxiliary in far-off large towns, where the Episcopal Church was strong and wealthy, helped a great deal with this.  We received many boxes of books during those years:  bound volumes of St. Nicholas (a children’s magazine – a very good one), fairy tales, all the Leather Stocking series, all of Dickens’ works.  We three had a large nursery room together.  Mother would put us to bed after an early supper and read out loud to us.  Father often read, too.  From this, we early acquired a taste for books and all of us read to ourselves at a phenomenally early age because we were never tired of associations with the characters in the books.

                As to outdoor pleasures:  we had snows which lasted for two weeks, which kept us housebound, but in the early fall, we used to set wooden box traps for rabbits (and caught many a one) on Saturdays.  Just as long as there was open weather, we rode three at a time on Brazer to farm school which was run by a church member whose husband had left her a widow with a heavy mortgage on her farm, “Weston,” and a large family to support.  “Weston” was another rambling, step-up, step-down house, like “Rockhill” though not as fine, and not quite as well kept.

                Mrs. Nourse opened her school on nothing but she built up a fine one, where we all received excellent background in English and French, and an indelible impression of culture and character.  Since there was nothing else for miles around but an authentic little red school house, this school was a real benefit to the entire neighborhood.  On week-ends, the house guests (paying, of course) and family had square dancing and story telling in the big parlor and lucky was the one of the little Cloptons who was invited to stay over until Monday.

                One of the clearest and happiest of my memories of those days was of Alice telling stories on our woodpile.  We burned wood for all cooking, summer and winter, and in the winter burned small tin stoves in each room.  So we had an eternal woodpile, which was replenished regularly all year.  The wood came in the form of hickory logs, mostly, and they were piled in a corner of the yard under a large tree.

                In all good weather, Alice made a daily trip to the woodpile to talk out loud a story she was making up about Miss Mary and Mr. Jack.  She had won a silver badge in St. Nicholas and was predicted as the future authoress of the family.  In some manner which I cannot now explain, she hopped about the woodpile, and I listened with great interest as she told her story out loud.  We both could remember things she had told for weeks back and it was as much a matter of interest to Alice as to me to know just what Miss Mary and Mr. Jack would be doing from day to day.  Jule did not go in much for this form of literature and was not at all interested in the serial.



Of Bed Bugs and Chocolate Cake


She carefully poisoned the springs

and sides of our wooden beds twice a year.



Our Christmases were wonderful.  Of course, Mother never knew just what she would have for us, but about a month or three weeks before Christmas, a big box would arrive from some Auxiliary, and be mysteriously spirited away under our very noses.  Out of those boxes came our dolls, toys, candies; everything in fact, but the oranges and oysters which the country-roadstore always ordered for Christmas.

                The odor of an orange rind can take me back in an instant to those Christmas mornings when we were speechless with joy over the big tree, blazing with real candles, redolent of pine or cedar and the most Christmasy smells of tallow.

                Somehow, Mother managed to create the illusion of Santa Claus until we were quite large girls, even though we knew quite well that the Auxiliary had sent us a long awaited Christmas box.

                Mother had a great deal of imagination and a great capacity for making us enjoy special occasions.  In addition to Christmas being such a time of happy memories, so were Easter, with an annual egg hunt with eggs we dyed ourselves – but did not eat for the Pure Food Laws were very lax in those days and the coloring was poisonous – Hallowe’en, and all family birthdays.  My favorite birthday cake for years was chocolate-custard layer cake; Alice’s was caramel; Jule’s, white cocoanut; and somehow we all managed to have a freezer of ice cream.

                She nursed us through all the children’s illnesses, against which there was no inoculation in those days, bringing me back to health from walking typhoid, without a single other person in the home catching it.  We had an old-fashioned country doctor in Warrenton, six miles away, so Mother had to do a lot of her own diagnosing and treatment.

Mother herself was the victim of the low standards in drug stores of that time.  She carefully poisoned for bedbugs the springs and sides of our wooden beds twice a year, for with colored help sleeping in a distant room in the house, she could never feel satisfied without taking this precaution.  She put on old leather dress gloves, filled a machine oil can with poison, squirted in and spread it with a long chicken feather.  It was a painstaking procedure which took several hours.

One year the drugstore in Warrenton sent her what she took to be the usual order, but which was a mixture of two poisons which together made corrosive sublimate.  As Mother’s hands became drenched with the drippings from the oil can, this deadly poison worked its way into her skin, closely held there by the gloves.  Her fingers were eaten to the bone and it was six months before she had the use of her hands in comfort.  Instead of my parents suing the drugstore, the drugstore dunned Father for their bill, which was largely various drugs used to palliate Mother’s terrible suffering and to heal the burns.

The sequel to this tragic mishap was that all of us little Cloptons, especially Irene, developed a real horror of poison.  With me this became such a phobia, that once when the community Auxiliary was meeting with Mother, I was climbing around in the large clothes closet looking for something, when up on a high shelf I accidentally touched a machine-oil can.  Immediately I rushed down to the parlor and before the assembled ladies, gasped out, “Oh, Mother, see if my hands are all right.  I touched the bed-bug can.”  Neither Jule nor Alice could ever have committed such a social blunder for they were the proper members of the three little Cloptons.


        1.  John Jones21 Clopton  (Edward Andrew Jackson20, Edwin J.19, George18, William17, William16, William15, Walter14, William13, Richard12, William11, John10, William9, Thomas8, Walter7, William6, Walter5, William4, Walter3, William2, Guillaume1 Peche, Lord Of Cloptunna and Dalham)1 was born November 20, 1858 in Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia2, and died December 20, 1930 in Lexington, Kentucky, by his own hand, and buried Lexington Cemetery3.  He married Irene Cabell Horsley4 Bef. December 10, 1891 in Trinity Church, Nelson County,  Virginia, by the Rev. George S. Somerville5, daughter of Nicholas Horsley and Nannie Dean.  She was born September 1869 in Virginia, and died Bet. 1910 and 1912 in Baltimore, Maryland, and buried, probably, at Sparrow's Point, Maryland6.



Memorial to The Rev. John Jones Clopton

Grace Episcopal Church




This tombstone is found at Grace Episcopal Church, however,

It is believed that she is actually buried in Maryland.  The year of her

Birth and death as shown is also questionable.



Children of John Clopton and Irene Horsley are:

        2                 i.    Anne Latane22 Clopton, born September 9, 1892 in Richmond, Virginia7; died November 5, 1984 in Salt Lake City, Utah8.  She married (1) Francis J. Torney, Major, USA January 1914 in probably Richmond, Virginia; born January 8, 1887; died December 1969 in Bountiful, Utah9.  She married (2) Alvin Davis Meyerhoffer Aft. 1920; died in possibly Salt Lake City, Utah.


               Anne Clopton Torney Meyerhoffer, artist, writer, poet, mother, and grandmother, died November 5, 1984 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

               Born September 9, 1892, Richmond, Virginia, to Reverend John J. Clopton, later Episcopal Archdeacon of Kentucky [which is incorrect, he was a minister], and Irene Horseley Clopton.

               Loved and was loved by her many many friends, and survivors:  son, Francis J. Torney, Jr., his wife Carole J. Torney; granddaughter, Anne T. Lemmon; great-grandsons, Michard L. and Steven E. Lemmon, of Salt Lake City; sisters, Irene Waters and Alice Watson of Illinois; a nephew and two nieces.

               She married Major Francis J. Torney, of Richmond, Virginia January 1914.  He preceded in death.  Later married Alvin Davis Meyerhoffer, of Lark, Utah.  They later divorced.  Anne had been a resident of Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City, Utah.  Art graduate, Chatham School, Virginia.   She was a Washington DC society woman, writer for "Washington Post."  Especially noted for "A Children's Christmas Story."  Past member of American Pen Women.  See you later Sweetheart.

               Friends may call at her granddaughter's home 1176 Iris Lane, November 7, 1984, between 4-7 PM.  Private Service and burial Heber City Cemetery.


        3                ii.    Julia H. Clopton, born August 14, 1894 in Virginia; died March 1982 in Los Angeles, California10.  She married Joseph Cresap.

        4               iii.    Alice Cabell Clopton, born November 1896 in Virginia; died in possibly Illinois.  She married Malcolm Watson.

        5               iv.    Irene Horsley Clopton, born March 4, 1897 in Herndon, Virginia; died August 8, 1987 in Bend, Oregon, and her ashes scattered in the Cascade Mountains, west of Bend11.  She married William Edward Waters II12 1920; born June 22, 1885 in Danville, Kentucky; died June 5, 1955 in Lexington, Kentucky, and buried at Lexington Cemetery13.

        6                v.    Lucy Clopton.  She married Clarence Stinnett.





1.  William Edward Waters, III, provided this information unless otherwise noted.

2.  Clopton-Latane Holy Bible,  (Courtesy Miles George Turpin).

3.  His obituary was published in a Georgetown, Kentucky newspaper, dated January, 1931, and was written by Archdeacon Wentworth.  This obituary also appeared in the report to the Thirty-Sixth Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church, 1931, page 14.  Copy located Clopton Family Archives, courtesy William Edwards Waters. III.

4.  Brown, The Cabells and Their Kin,  (Courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton), p. 305.

5.  The Southern Churchman, 1835-1941,  (Abstract located Virginia Historical Society, courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton), December 10, 1891, States that  John is at that time (1891) Rector of Meade Memorial Church in Manchester, Virginia.  According to "A History of Grace (Episcopal) Church," Cedar Run Parish, Casanova, Fauquier County, Virginia, he was Rector from January 15, 1899 until he resigned August 1907.

6.  Her husband was minister at Sparrow's Point at the time of her death.

7.  Social Security Birth and Death Records, courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton, 567-16-4003.

8.  Unnamed and dated newspaper obituary submitted by Royleta C. Malone gives place and date of birth and date.

9.  Social Security Birth and Death Records, courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton, 528-34-7205.

10.  Social Security Birth and Death Records, courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton, 559-21-8457.

11.  Social Security Birth and Death Records, courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton, 405-28-6274.

12.  William Edward Waters, III, provided this information unless otherwise noted.

13.  Tombstone, loc. cit.






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[1] Three Little Cloptons in Virginia is an excerpt from The Clopton Chronicles, the Ancestors and Descendants of Sir Thomas Clopton, Knt., & Katherine Mylde, and is the property of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society which holds the copyright on this material.  Permission is granted to quote or reprint articles for noncommercial use provided credit is given to the CFGS and to the author.  Prior written permission must be obtained from the Society for commercial use.

Mrs. Waters’ son, William Edward Waters, III., a Charter Member of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society and Clopton Family Archives, graciously  contributed a copy of the original typed manuscript to the Society.  The text of the manuscript has been reproduced in its entirety, although the format has been changed and footnotes added by Mr. Waters and Mrs. Blanton.

The Society wishes to thank Barbara Donley, Virginiana Room Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library, and Bert Hampton Blanton, Jr., B.S., for their assistance.

Also thanks to Clopton descendants, Royleta C. Malone;  Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton; Katherine Elizabeth (DeLoach) Eubanks; and, Miles George Turpin.

[2] Their father was John Jones Clopton, their mother, Irene Cabell Horsley.  An abbreviated genealogy follows.  He was Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Cedar Run Parish, Casanova, Fauquier County, Virginia, from January 15, 1899 until he accepted another call in August 1907.  For a complete genealogy of this Clopton line, see The Descendants of William Clopton of St. Paul’s Parish & His Wife Joyce Wilkinson

[3] Nicholas Horsley.

[4] Actually, General Robert E. Lee was not in Richmond at that time.  General Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.  To read about John Jones Clopton’s vivid memories of the Fall of Richmond, see Fire, Fear and Death:  The Fall of Richmond.

[5] Edward Andrew Jackson Clopton, Esq. C.S.A. was married three times.  It is his third wife, Julia A. King, to whom Mrs. Waters refers.  John Jones Clopton was raised by his half-sister, Ida V. Clopton and his sister, Susan Latane’ Clopton.  See First, Fear and Death:  The Fall of Richmond.

[6] William McKinely, the twenty-fifth President of the United States, was assassinated September 1901 by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz at Buffalo, New York.  He was succeeded in office by Theodore Roosevelt.  Doranne Jacobson, Presidents and First ladies of the United States, Todtri Productions Limited, New York, 1995, p. 70 – 73.

[7] For other tales of Fauquier County, see Fun and Games in Old Fauquier. The Fauquier County, Virginia, USGENWEB Homepage is found at

[8] In the era of the party line, several families shared the same line, each family assigned a specific number of rings to indicate the family to whom the call was intended.  However, the phones rang in all the houses.  Mrs. Smith, and all the other ladies on the line,  knowing jolly well two rings meant the call was for Mrs. Brown, would none the less give in to temptation and shamelessly ease drop on all conversations.  When the nosey neighbors later recounted some tidbit overheard during their clandestine activities they explained:   “well, I picked up the phone before I realized Mrs. Brown was on the line and before I could hang up I heard her tell Gladys. . . “

[9] In Virginia, the word aunt is pronounced with a broad “A,” although in other Southern states, the word is pronounced like the insect, “ant.”

[10] First Family of Virginia

[11] Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958) has been called America’s “Mistress of Mystery.”  Through great hardship she struggled to raise a family, eventually becoming an internationally known author of mysteries.  She served as the first woman correspondent at the Front during World War I, and was a tireless crusader for the Blackfoot Indians of Montana.  A children’s book of her life, Crown of Life:  The Story of Mary Roberts Rinehart from the Forgotten Pioneers Series, was authored by Sybil Downing and Jane Valentine Barker.  The Circular Staircase, begins “This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous.”  The book has been hailed as the best novel by the most important American woman mystery writer.