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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Twelve New State Historical Highway Markers Approved

Bas-relief sculpture on Patriots of African Descent Monument, Valley Forge, PA
Bas-relief sculpture on Patriots of African Descent Monument, Valley Forge, PA

—New markers cover topics in the counties of Albemarle, Fairfax, New Kent, Rockingham, Smyth (3), and Stafford; and the cities of Lynchburg, Petersburg, and Portsmouth

—Full text for each marker below—
—Click on images to enlarge—

Topics covered in twelve recently approved and forthcoming state historical markers include two signs highlighting the soldiering exploits during the Revolutionary War of a “free person of color” from Albemarle County and a Pamunkey Indian, along with markers about George Mason’s Fairfax County parish and church, and the origins of Winchester’s Shenandoah University in Rockingham County.

Revolutionary War soldier Pvt. Shadrach Battles (ca. 1746-ca. 1824) “was one of at least 5,000 black soldiers who served in the Continental Line,” explains the marker, the location of which is to be determined. Battles joined a local militia unit by June 1775, and a Virginia regiment by December 1776. He fought in the battles at Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania, and Monmouth in New Jersey, spent the winter at Valley Forge, and participated in the Southern Campaign. Battles returned to Albemarle County after the war, living as a carpenter and laborer.

Another forthcoming marker will recall Pamunkey Indian Robert Mush (ca. 1758-1837), who attended the Brafferton Indian School at the College of William and Mary. In 1776, Mush (or Mursh) enlisted as a private in the 15th Virginia Regiment. Like Battles, Mush also fought at Brandywine and Germantown during 1777. In 1780, he was taken prisoner of war in Charleston, South Carolina, and exchanged about 14 months later. “Mush later served as a member of the Pamunkey Tribal Government and became a Baptist minister,” the sign’s text reads, before he settled with his family in South Carolina among Catawba Indians.

The Battles and Mush markers are sponsored by the Mary Elizabeth Conover Foundation, which is also sponsoring the marker “George Mason at Pohick Church” that will be erected in Fairfax County, where Mason (1725-1792) resided at Gunston Hall.

Mason, principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and Virginia’s first state constitution, served as a member of the local parish vestry and was entrusted with broad ecclesiastical and civil responsibilities in the community. He served as churchwarden and supervised the construction of the new Pohick Church, completed in 1774. During his tenure in the House of Delegates and as a “representative to public assemblies, and private citizen, Mason pursued measures that promoted individual rights, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state,” the marker’s text concludes.

Shenandoah University is sponsoring a sign to highlight its roots in the Town of Dayton in Rockingham County, where the marker will soon rise. The Rev. Abram P. Funkhouser established Shenandoah Seminary in the county in 1875. The coeducational seminary benefitted from the support of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, which took formal ownership in 1884. As the school’s name changed periodically, so did its scope. It evolved from a high school to a junior college to a four-year institution. “In 1960, Shenandoah College and the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music (which had originated as the college’s music department) moved to Winchester. They reunited in 1974 and became Shenandoah University in 1991,” the marker text concludes.

The Town of Marion is sponsoring three new markers focused on African American history in Smyth County:

  • A marker about Mount Pleasant Methodist Church will recall it formed around 1871 after African Americans in the area, reflecting a contemporary statewide trend, withdrew from white-led congregations to establish the church. The congregation shared a sanctuary with a Baptist congregation, before erecting a new brick sanctuary in 1914. After serving as a hub for the black community, Mount Pleasant Methodist Church closed in 2002.
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  • The marker “The Crying Tree” will highlight the story of Sarah Elizabeth “Sallie” Adams (1841-1913), a young girl of about five when she, her mother, and other family members were sold at a slave auction at the Smyth County Courthouse. The results left the enslaved Sallie alone and a “body servant” to the sickly wife of Marion resident Thomas Thurman. Over the years, Sallie would express her grief by crying next to a white oak tree in the Thurman yard and “sometimes hug the tree and tell it about her burdens and sorrows.” The community named it “The Crying Tree.”
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  • Carnegie High School in Marion will also be remembered. Amos Carnegie, a pastor in 1927 at Mount Pleasant Methodist Church, led the black community in raising money and securing a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to build the four-teacher school building. It opened in 1931 and closed in 1965, when local schools were desegregated. “Katherine Johnson, who later made crucial contributions to the U.S. space program at NASA, taught [at the school] for several years,” the marker will read.

Elsewhere in Virginia, four other markers also center on African American history:

  • The Friends of Widewater State Park is sponsoring a marker about Palmer Hayden (1890-1973), who was born Peyton Cole Hedgeman near Widewater in Stafford County. Hayden served in the U.S. Army in World War I, and achieved prominence as a painter during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He lived in France for five years after earning first prize in a painting competition in 1926 sponsored by the Harmon Foundation. His “most notable paintings are his portrayals of ordinary African Americans in everyday life and his depictions of the legendary John Henry,” the marker will read.
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  • A privately sponsored marker coming to Lynchburg will summarize the career of Morris Stanley Alexander (1891-1977), an African American who was the first caddy master and a longtime golf professional at Oakwood Country Club, which opened in the city in 1914. For more than 50 years, Alexander taught fundamentals and golf etiquette at the club, and a tournament in his name attracted young golfers during the 1950s. Four of his “students later won Virginia amateur state championships, and two were United States and British amateur champions,” the marker concludes.
  • New Kent County is sponsoring a marker about Samuel Wilson Crump (1919-1995), among the first African Americans elected to public office in Virginia under the state’s Constitution of 1902, which disfranchised many black voters. In 1955, voters elected Crump to the New Kent County Board of Supervisors, making him the board’s first African American member since the 19th century. “During Crump’s 12 years of service, he often provided the lone vote against measures designed to maintain school segregation,” according to the approved text.
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  • The Cameron Foundation in Petersburg is sponsoring a marker for the city that highlights First Baptist Church, one of the nation’s oldest African American congregations, which traces its origins to 1756. In 1820 the congregation established itself in Petersburg and opened a sanctuary there in 1863. That building was burned in 1866 by arsonists targeting the city’s black churches. The present sanctuary was dedicated in 1872. In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church during a regional meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The City of Portsmouth is sponsoring a marker to recognize its Cradock Historic District. Begun in 1918 to accommodate the rapid influx of workers at the U.S. Navy Yard in Norfolk during World War I, Cradock was one of the nation’s earliest federally funded planned communities. The neighborhood was designated for white workers while nearby Truxtun, also begun in 1918, was for African Americans. Cradock was the largest project completed by the U.S. Housing Corporation.

The texts for all twelve markers were approved September 19 during a quarterly meeting of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new historical markers. Typically, it can take upwards of three months or more before new markers are ready to be dedicated by their sponsors, who must pay for the manufacturing expenses of their approved marker.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most of which are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

More information about the Historical Highway Marker Program is available on the website of the Department of Historic Resources at https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/highway-markers/.

[PLEASE NOTE: DHR markers are erected not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not memorials.]

Full Text of Markers:

(The proposed locations for each sign must be approved in consultation with VDOT or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT authority.)

Morris Stanley Alexander (1891-1977)
Morris Alexander was the first caddy master and a longtime golf professional at Oakwood Country Club, which opened here in 1914. For more than 50 years, this African American golfer taught fundamentals and golf etiquette at the club, which was all white during the segregation era. Alexander tied the course record in 1928, earning national attention in the black press. The Morris Alexander Junior Golf Tournament attracted young golfers to the course during the 1950s. Four of Alexander’s students later won Virginia amateur state championships, and two were United States and British amateur champions.
Sponsor: James L. Davidson Jr.
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 3409 Rivermont Avenue

Mount Pleasant Methodist Church
African Americans, exercising newfound autonomy after the Civil War, withdrew from white-led congregations and established new churches, including Mount Pleasant Methodist Church in Marion ca. 1871. After sharing a frame sanctuary with a local Baptist congregation, Mount Pleasant erected a new brick sanctuary here in 1914. Black brickmasons constructed the building in the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival styles. The church became a cultural center for the African American community, hosting musical performances, lectures, and meetings of the local branch of the NAACP and other organizations. Mount Pleasant closed in 2002.
Sponsor: Town of Marion
Locality: Marion
Proposed Location: 320 South Main Street

“The Crying Tree”
Sarah Elizabeth “Sallie” Adams (1841-1913) was about five years old when she and her family were sold at a slave auction outside the Smyth County Courthouse. Thomas Thurman, whose house stood near here, bought Sallie to be a body servant for his sickly wife. A slave owner from Lynchburg purchased Sallie’s mother, whom she never saw again, and her siblings. In later years, Sallie told her children that, when possible, she would slip out of Thurman’s house and cry next to a white oak tree in the yard. She would sometimes hug the tree and tell it about her burdens and sorrows, and it became her friend and confidant. That tree ultimately became known in the community as “The Crying Tree.”
Sponsor: Town of Marion
Locality: Marion
Proposed Location: 231 West Main Street

Carnegie High School
The Rev. Amos Carnegie came to Marion by 1927 as pastor of Mount Pleasant Methodist Church. Finding the town’s school for African Americans “hardly fit for a stable,” he organized a campaign for a new building. When the school board delayed, Carnegie raised money from the black community and secured a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which supported more than 5,000 schools for black students across the South. The four-teacher building, constructed by black craftsmen who donated their labor, opened in 1931 and closed in 1965, when local schools were desegregated. Katherine Johnson, who later made crucial contributions to the U.S. space program at NASA, taught here for several years.
Sponsor: Town of Marion
Locality: Marion
Proposed Location: 602 South Iron Street

Palmer Hayden (1890-1973)
Palmer Hayden, artist, was born Peyton Cole Hedgeman nearby in Widewater. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I and later studied art at Columbia University and in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. He achieved prominence as a painter during the Harlem Renaissance. A first prize in a painting competition sponsored by the Harmon Foundation in 1926 led to a five-year stay in France. Although Hayden’s works include seascapes and African themes, most notable are his portrayals of ordinary African Americans in everyday life and his depictions of the legendary John Henry. The Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles houses a large collection of his work.
Sponsor: Friends of Widewater State Park
Locality: Stafford County
Proposed Location: Inside Widewater State Park

Robert Mush (ca. 1758-1837)
Robert Mush (or Mursh), a Pamunkey Indian, was a Revolutionary War soldier. After attending the Brafferton Indian School at the College of William and Mary, he enlisted as a private in the 15th Virginia Regiment in 1776. He fought in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania in 1777 and was taken prisoner of war in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780. Exchanged after about 14 months, he marched to Georgia with a Virginia battalion and served in the Southern Campaign until the end of the war. Mush later served as a member of the Pamunkey Tribal Government and became a Baptist minister. He eventually moved to South Carolina, where his family settled among the Catawba Indians.
Sponsor: Mary Elizabeth Conover Foundation, Inc.
Locality: TBD
Proposed Location: TBD

Pvt. Shadrach Battles (ca. 1746-ca. 1824)
Shadrach Battles, a free person of color born probably in Albemarle County, was a Revolutionary War soldier. By June 1775 he had joined the Albemarle Independent Company, a local militia unit. In Dec. 1776 he enlisted in the 10th Virginia Regiment (later renumbered the 6th). He fought at Brandywine, PA, Germantown, PA, and Monmouth, NJ, spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, and participated in the Southern Campaign. Battles was one of at least 5,000 black soldiers who served in the Continental Line. By 1778, black men were a substantial presence in nearly every brigade. A carpenter and laborer, Battles lived in this vicinity after the war.
Sponsor: Mary Elizabeth Conover Foundation, Inc.
Locality: TBD
Proposed Location: TBD

First Baptist Church
First Baptist Church, one of the nation’s oldest African American congregations, traces its origins to 1756, when worshipers known as New Lights began meeting outside Petersburg. The congregation moved to the city about 1820 and opened a sanctuary here in 1863. After the building burned in 1866 during a wave of arson targeting Petersburg’s black churches, the present sanctuary was built in the Romanesque style and dedicated in 1872. Peabody High School originated in the church in 1870. During the Civil Rights Movement, First Baptist was a center for community organization. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke here in 1962 at a regional meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Sponsor: Cameron Foundation
Locality: Petersburg
Proposed Location: 236 Harrison St.

Samuel Wilson Crump (1919-1995)
Samuel W. Crump, a native of New Kent County and a veteran of World War II, was among the first African Americans elected to public office in Virginia under the state’s Constitution of 1902, which disfranchised many black voters. Elected to the New Kent County Board of Supervisors in 1955, Crump became the board’s first African American member since the 19th century. His victory followed a countywide effort to increase the number of qualified voters. During Crump’s 12 years of service, he often provided the lone vote against measures designed to maintain school segregation. New Kent’s branch of the NAACP named Crump one of the county’s “trailblazers” of the century in 2009.
Sponsor: New Kent County Board of Supervisors
Locality: New Kent County
Proposed Location: New Kent County Courthouse

Cradock Historic District
Cradock, begun in 1918 to accommodate the rapid influx of workers at the U.S. Navy Yard in Norfolk during World War I, was one of the nation’s earliest federally funded planned communities. Its design, based on innovative planning techniques, included a commercial square, recreational areas, schools, church sites, and access to public transportation. In accordance with the racial segregation of the time, Cradock was designated for white workers while nearby Truxtun, also begun in 1918, was for African Americans. Cradock, the largest project completed by the U.S. Housing Corporation, was named for British Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock and features streets named for U.S. naval heroes.
Sponsor: City of Portsmouth
Locality: Portsmouth
Proposed Location: Intersection of Afton Parkway and Prospect Parkway, in median

George Mason at Pohick Church
George Mason (1725-1792), principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and Virginia’s first state constitution, lived nearby at Gunston Hall. As a member of the local parish vestry from 1749 to 1785, he was entrusted with broad ecclesiastical and civil responsibilities in the community. Mason served four terms as churchwarden and, after the death of building contractor Daniel French in 1771, he supervised the construction of the new Pohick Church, completed here in 1774. As a member of the House of Delegates, representative to public assemblies, and private citizen, Mason pursued measures that promoted individual rights, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state.
Sponsor: Mary Elizabeth Conover Foundation, Inc.
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: 9301 Richmond Highway, Lorton

Origins of Shenandoah University
Dayton is the birthplace of Shenandoah University, which traces its origins to a school established by the Rev. Abram P. Funkhouser in 1875. Known in its early years as Shenandoah Seminary, the coeducational institution benefited from the support of the Virginia Annual Conference of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, which took formal ownership in 1884. The school’s name changed periodically as it evolved from a high school to a junior college to a four-year institution. In 1960, Shenandoah College and the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music (which had originated as the college’s music department) moved to Winchester. They reunited in 1974 and became Shenandoah University in 1991.
Sponsor: Shenandoah University
Locality: Rockingham County
Proposed Location: US Route 42 North, at intersection of John Wayland Highway and Killdeer Lane, near Dayton town limit

Updated October 10, 2019