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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Ten New State Historical Highway Markers Approved

Syms-Eaton Academy in Hampton. (See Syms Free School marker text below.)

—Markers cover topics in the counties of Accomack, Chesterfield (2), Gloucester, Montgomery, Westmoreland, and Wise; and the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, and Lynchburg—

—Text of each marker reproduced below—

The lynching in 1927 of an African American man in southwestern Virginia, which resulted in the nation’s first law to make lynching a state crime, and the exploits of two influential families during the Revolutionary War are among the topics highlighted in ten new state historical markers designated for localities in the commonwealth.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the texts for all ten signs during a public quarterly meeting on December 10, hosted virtually by the Department of Historic Resources (DHR).

On the night of November 29-30, 1927, a white mob numbering in the hundreds hanged, shot, and burned an African American coal miner from Kentucky, Leonard Woods, who was arrested for allegedly killing a white man from Coeburn in Wise County. Woods was in jail in Kentucky when his numerous assailants broke in and kidnapped him to carry out his lynching just across the state line in Virginia, for which no one was ever arrested.

Woods’ lynching resulted in Gov. Harry F. Byrd and the General Assembly enacting in early 1928 the nation’s first law to define lynching as a state crime, according to the new marker, sponsored by Pound Historical Society and the department of history and philosophy at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Two forthcoming markers, “Chilton Family and the Revolutionary War” and “American Revolution on the Frontier,” describe the actions during Revolutionary era of a prominent Westmoreland County family and a frontier family in present-day Montgomery County.

During the run-up to the Revolutionary War, Thomas, William, and Charles Chilton, grandsons of planter, merchant, and Westmoreland County justice John Chilton II, signed the Leedstown Resolves, one of the first large public protests against the Stamp Act, by which the British Parliament imposed a tax on Britain’s colonies. Thomas Chilton sat on the Westmoreland County Committee and Charles served in the Fauquier County militia during the Revolutionary War, and another grandson, John Chilton, a captain in the Continental Line, died at the Battle of Brandywine in Sept. 1777, according to the marker’s approved text.

Three sons of Joseph and Jeanne de Vigné Crockett served as officers during the Revolutionary War. In 1779, Col. Walter Crockett, who represented Montgomery County in the General Assembly, commanded a militia that suppressed a Loyalist plot against important lead mines near Wytheville. In 1780 and 1781, Col. Hugh Crockett led militia during expeditions to North Carolina. And Lt. Col. Joseph Crockett served in the Continental army at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth, according to the marker, sponsored by the Meadowbrook Museum of History in Shawsville where the marker will rise.

In addition to the Woods’ lynching marker, African American history figures in five other markers recently approved, including signs for two surviving Rosenwald schools:

  • In Gloucester County, a marker will relay that the Woodville Rosenwald School stemmed from the advocacy of community leader Thomas Calhoun Walker. During public segregation, he led efforts to secure construction of six schools and one teacher’s cottage in the county. Built around 1923, the Woodville School is the only one of the seven structures that remains.
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  • Beulah School in Chesterfield County provided a purpose-built Rosenwald school for Blacks who had formerly met in a church. Constructed around 1920, Beulah School was one of six Rosenwalds built in Chesterfield County and served students in grades 1 through 7 before it closed in 1948.
  • One of the first Black men in the U.S. to earn a degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine is the focus of the marker “Augustus Nathaniel Lushington, VMD (ca.1861-1939),” which is slated for Lynchburg. A native of Trinidad, Lushington attended Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, where in 1897 he earned his veterinary degree. He moved to Lynchburg in 1900 and opened his practice as a large-animal veterinary surgeon.
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  • Delta Omega, the first graduate chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority chartered on the East Coast and the fourth graduate chapter in the U.S., was also the first Greek-letter organization at present-day Virginia State University. Six faculty members founded the chapter in February 1921, when VSU was known as Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. Titled “AKA Delta Omega,” the marker will be erected near Ettrick in Chesterfield County.
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  • A marker for the City of Chesapeake encapsulates the life of civil rights activist Dr. Hugo Armstrong Owens, a World War II veteran who worked to desegregate public facilities in Portsmouth during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970 Owens became one of the first two African Americans elected to the Chesapeake City Council, ultimately serving eight of his ten years on the council as the city’s vice-mayor.

In addition to the markers about the Chilton and Crockett families, two other markers address Virginia’s colonial-era history:

  • A marker bound for Accomack County relays that the Assawaman Church of England formed in 1663 and its now-lost brick sanctuary was constructed after 1680. Francis Makemie, a founder of American Presbyterianism, owned a gristmill on the adjoining lot. The church closed in the early 1800s, after the disestablishment of the Church of England following the Revolutionary War.
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  • For placement in the City of Hampton, the marker “Syms Free School” recalls that Benjamin Syms, who settled in Virginia by 1625, endowed the first free school in the colony by his will of 1635. The school opened by 1649 on property that is now part of Joint Base Langley–Eustis. The school has a direct link to the Hampton Academy.

After approval by the Board of Historic Resources, it can take upwards of three months or more before a new marker is ready for its sponsor to dedicate it. The marker’s sponsor covers the required $1,770 manufacturing expenses for a new 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 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 elsewhere on this website.

Full Text of Markers:

VDOT must approve the proposed locations for each sign or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT’s authority.

PLEASE NOTE: DHR creates markers 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, erected markers are not memorials.

Leonard Woods Lynched
Leonard Woods, a black coal miner from Jenkins, KY, was lynched near here on the night of 29-30 Nov. 1927. Officers had arrested Woods for allegedly killing Herschel Deaton, a white man from Coeburn, VA, and had taken him to the Whitesburg, KY, jail. On the day of Deaton’s funeral, a white mob numbering in the hundreds broke into the jail and brought Woods close to this spot, where they hanged, shot, and burned him. No one was ever arrested. In the aftermath, at the urging of Norfolk editor Louis Jaffé, Norton’s Bruce Crawford, and other journalists, VA Gov. Harry F. Byrd worked with the General Assembly early in 1928 to pass the nation’s first law defining lynching as a state crime.
Sponsor: Pound Historical Society and the Department of History and Philosophy, University of Virginia’s College at Wise
Locality: Wise County
Proposed Location: Route 23 at Pound Gap


Owens-Melvin House
James Edward Owens and Grace Catherine Melvin Owens, the college-educated children of formerly enslaved people, built this Queen Anne-style house ca. 1915. Their son Dr. Hugo Armstrong Owens, dentist and civil rights activist, was born here in 1916. After serving in World War II, Hugo Owens worked to desegregate public facilities in Portsmouth in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970 he became one of the first two African Americans elected to the Chesapeake City Council. Owens served eight of his ten years on council as the city’s vice-mayor. He sat on the Board of Visitors of Norfolk State University and was rector of both Virginia State University and Old Dominion University.
Sponsor: Patrice Owens Parker, Hugo A. Owens, Jr., Paula Owens Parker
Locality: Chesapeake
Proposed Location: 732 Shell Road, Chesapeake


Woodville Rosenwald School
Thomas Calhoun Walker, community leader and advocate for African American education, led local efforts to secure support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund for the construction of six schools and one teacher’s cottage in Gloucester County. Woodville School, built here ca. 1923, is the only one of the seven structures that remains. Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., inspired by the work of Booker T. Washington, helped construct more than 5,300 school buildings for Black children across the rural South. Contributions for Woodville came from the Black community ($2,500), the county ($300), and Rosenwald ($700). The two-teacher school closed by 1941.
Sponsor: Woodville/Rosenwald School Foundation
Locality: Gloucester County
Proposed Location: 4310 George Washington Memorial Highway


Augustus Nathaniel Lushington, VMD (ca. 1861 – 1939)
Dr. Augustus Lushington, veterinarian, practiced in Lynchburg for nearly four decades. A native of Trinidad, he attended Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, where in 1897 he became one of the first Black men in the U.S. to earn a degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine. By 1900 he had moved to Lynchburg and opened his practice as a large-animal veterinary surgeon, primarily caring for horses and cattle on nearby farms. He served as a statistical reporter to the federal Bureau of Animal Industry, charged with combating disease in livestock. He also worked as a probation officer and was president of the Lynchburg Negro Business League. Lushington lived here at 1005 5th St.
Sponsor: Multiple sponsors via the Lynchburg City Schools Education Foundation
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 1005 Fifth St.


AKA Delta Omega
On 26 Feb. 1921, Delta Omega became the first graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.® chartered on the East Coast, the fourth graduate chapter in the U.S., and the first Greek- letter organization at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University). VNII faculty members Pauline Puryear, Pearl Grigsby, Lucy Johnson, Edna Colson, Mae Hatchette, and Louise Stokes formed Nu chapter, renamed Delta Omega in 1922. Puryear later became national president of AKA, the first Greek-letter organization founded by and for African American women. Several buildings at VSU and the building that houses the Ettrick-Matoaca Library were named for Delta Omega members.
Sponsor: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Delta Omega Chapter
Locality: Chesterfield County
Proposed Location: near 4501 River Road, South Chesterfield


Beulah School, Rosenwald Funded
Beulah Baptist Church, just across the road, housed a school for African American children in the Skinquarter community until about 1920, when the school moved into a new building on this site. Contributions for the one-teacher school came from the Black community, the county, and the Julius Rosenwald Fund. This fund, created by the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. and inspired by the work of Booker T. Washington, helped build more than 5,000 schools for Black children in the rural South between 1917 and 1932. Beulah, one of six Rosenwald schools in Chesterfield County, served students in grades 1-7. It closed in 1948 when four elementary schools were consolidated nearby at Winterpock.
Sponsor: Pyramid Network Services, LLC
Locality: Chesterfield County
Proposed Location: 21210 Hull Street Road, Moseley


Assawaman Church of England
Fifty yards north on the hilltop stood Assawaman Church of the Anglican Accomack Parish, formed in 1663. The brick sanctuary was built after 1680 on land donated by William Taylor, a native of England who had settled on the Eastern Shore by 1637. Francis Makemie, a founder of American Presbyterianism, owned a gristmill on the adjoining lot. After the Church of England was disestablished following the Revolutionary War, Assawaman Church closed early in the 19th century and was used as a schoolhouse. A communion chalice from 1749-1750 inscribed “For the use of the Parish Church of Accomack at Assuaman” is in the care of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in nearby Jenkins Bridge.
Sponsor: Francis Makemie Society
Locality: Accomack County
Proposed Location: 12224 Atlantic Road, Assawoman


Chilton Family and the Revolutionary War
John Chilton II (ca. 1666-1726), planter, merchant, and Westmoreland County justice, resided here on a large tract known as Currioman. His gravestone from 1726, in the family cemetery just ahead, was restored in 1927. On 27 Feb. 1766, Chilton’s grandsons Thomas, William, and Charles Chilton signed the Leedstown Resolves, one of the first large public protests against the Stamp Act, a tax imposed on the colonies by the British Parliament. During the Revolutionary War, Thomas sat on the Westmoreland County Committee and Charles served in the Fauquier County militia. Another grandson, John Chilton, was a captain in the Continental Line and was killed at the Battle of Brandywine in Sept. 1777.
Sponsor: John Chilton McAuliff
Locality: Westmoreland County
Proposed Location: southern side of Rte. 622 (Currioman Rd.) Exact location: 38.147997, -76.772632


American Revolution on the Frontier
Joseph and Jeanne de Vigné Crockett settled on this farm early in the 1760s. Three of their sons served as officers in the Revolutionary War. Col. Hugh Crockett, who lived here until his death in 1816, led militia during expeditions to North Carolina in 1780 and 1781. Col. Walter Crockett represented Montgomery County in the General Assembly in Williamsburg and, as a militia commander, suppressed a Loyalist plot against the lead mines near Wytheville in 1779.  Lt. Col. Joseph Crockett served in the Continental army at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth and later led a Virginia battalion that served under Brig. Gen. George Rogers Clark in the West and Northwest.
Sponsor: Meadowbrook Museum of History
Locality: Montgomery County
Proposed Location: 847 Alleghany Spring Road, Shawsville


Syms Free School
Benjamin Syms, who had settled in Virginia by 1625, endowed the first free school in the colony by his will of 1635. Syms, himself illiterate, left 200 acres of land and eight milk cows to generate income for a teacher’s salary, construction and maintenance of a school, and the support of poor children and disabled persons in the community. The school had opened by 1649 about four miles northwest of here on property that later became part of Joint Base Langley-Eustis. In 1805 the Syms Free School was combined with the nearby Eaton Charity School, which Thomas Eaton had endowed in 1659; proceeds from the sale of their land were used to establish Hampton Academy.
Locality: City of Hampton
Proposed Location: near Benjamin Syms Middle School, 170 Fox Hill Road

Updated December 15, 2020