The Seven Years War was sweeping across Europe, and the great Prussian Emperor, Frederick, had his back to the wall. Conscription of all able-bodied men was essential to stave off the onslaught of the combined French and Austrian armies.
One scholarly teenage Prussian youngster who did not wish to waste his life in wars was Abraham Moses — son of affluent parents.
He had been well educated in Frederick's schools in preparation for service to the state but chose instead to flee to America. Sadly, according to Moses family tradition, he was never able to seize any of the inherited wealth he had left behind.
He settled in the South in time to get caught up in the American Revolution in which he cast his lot with the Colonists while distinguishing himself in conflict. Ironically, he may have actually faught against some of the Prussian soldiers loaned to British King George III by Frederick the Great.
After the war, he continued to live in the South where he married, established a family and prospered before his passing in 1821 — the year after his son, Noah Alexander was born. That son is the principal subject of this narrative, and the one who lent his name to the mill on Cherrystone Creek, a mile west of Chatham.
Noah Alexander Moses was born in Mecklenburg, N.C., but lived in several places in the South during his boyhood. He married Roena Motley at Concord, NC in 1845 and sired 12 children — two of whom were born during the Civil War. Son Forest was named after the daring Confederate General, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Beauregard Moses was named after old P.G.T. himself.
After the Civil War, N.A. moved his family to Pittsylvania County, VA, where he purchased a struggling mill on the Cherrystone Creek from the remnants of the Ragsdale estate.
Under his management, the mill took on new life — the dreadful Reconstruction notwithstanding. His success is not surprising since there is evidence of a streak of genius in this miller. He was no ordinary person, and it is known that he had other interests including a store at Moses Mill. From somewhere he inherited the title of Dr. N.A. Moses who worked on cures for cancer and stuttering. Among his other ventures were applications for a few patents for various items of farm equipment.
Family tradition has it that Noah Alexander Moses installed the first water turbine in a grist mill in the county. This replaced the less efficient (but more colorful) overshot water wheel. The title “Novelty Mill” was applied to the establishment because of its unique equipment.
Figures from the Tenth Census (1880) indicate that Novelty Mill had a capital investment of $6,000 and that it had 15 feet “fall” and two “runs” — one for corn and one for wheat. since it ground 150 bushels of grain per day which brought in sales of $15,150 annually, Novelty Mill became the second largest mill in Pittsylvania County. Moses' two employees received daily pay of $1.80. The resourceful Moses began shipping Novelty Mill Flour far and wide by rail. Signs on the sides of the boxcars flamboyantly advertised the contents.
Novelty Mill fell victim to the scourge affecting many mills in the county. Its mill pond silted up, and this gradually but inexorably reduced its capacity. In consequence thereof, it was necessary to install steam equipment in 1920.
The end came for Noah Alexander Moses on Christmas Eve in 1890. His obituary noted that he was of the Baptist faith and that he was buried with masonic rites.
Ownership of the mill passed into the hands of his sons, Forrest L. and Preston B. The brothers operated it until their passing in 1914 and 1915 respectively. Their younger brother, Bealle Moses, age 44, took over the reins at this juncture. It was under his careful tenure that the aforementioned steam equipment was installed.
The colorful old mill became Chatham's favorite recreation spot. Many youngsters caught their first fish in Moses Mill pond and learned to swim in the sift flowing tree lined race while the mill continued to produce quality products.
World War II was raging when a 500 year flood struck Pittsylvania County. A total of 14 inches of rain inundated the Cherystone watershed on a weekend in mid-September of 1944. Moses Mill washed away as the creek rose to a record height of 26 feet. Bealle Moses almost lost his life when the mill building left its moorings with a resounding roar. Incidentally, the building contained the mill's metal safe which was never found. Pictures of the building lodged against a bridge a half mile downstream appeared in the next issue of the Pittsylvania Star. Its headline read: “Flood Does Great Damage as Streams Rise To Record Heights.”
The irony is that the photo was snapped by the Star's Editor and Publisher, Preston B. Moses Jr. Surely, this was one of the saddest stories Moses was to cover during his half century of publishing as the mill, which his grandfather, father and uncles operated for 75 years, passed from the scene.
Fortunately, for posterity, Preston resumed oil and watercolor painting as a hobby after retirement and from vivid memory included the mill in his production of paintings of Chatham's historic sites. This is timely because portions of the building foundation, the base of the dam, the steam boiler stack and a submerged turbine are all that remain of a historic establishment with a proud title: Novelty Mill.
Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills
Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills
Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On
Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse
Clement: History of Pittsylvania County
Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past
Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County
Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County
Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books
Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina
Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town
Herman Melton's online articles are posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.
Copyright © 1994–2005 Herman E. Melton.