Murder on the Rocks

The Legend of Pittsylvania's Unfinished Millstone

By Herman E. Melton

If one drew a triangle on a Pittsylvania County map with one point resting at Greenpond Baptist church, another at Worlds, and the third at Museville, the area enclosed would represent some of the county's most primitive and picturesque terrain. Near the exact center of that triangle can be found an object that is the basis for an intriguing story so typical of many in Pittsylvania County history. The tale reaches back about a hundred years to focus on the construction of a fifty-two inch diameter millstone.

Any story concerning a millstone within the above mentioned triangle is likely to inherit credibility, for millstones were an important item in that area during the nineteenth century. To the east was Anderson's Mill, known later as Tomahawk Mill. It was built in 1887 on Tomahawk Creek by a former CSA Sergeant named James Anderson. Harmon Cook's old mill lay downstream some four miles away. It was built more than a hundred years before Sergeant Anderson grew tired of farming and decided to build a grist and sawmill a short distance downstream from Sarah Oakes' mill. Less than five miles to the west, on Turkey Cock Creek sat George Jefferson's mill built in 1767 — the year the county was founded. Nat and Mose Kirby built a mill on what was then called “Little Turkey Cock Creek” in 1816. McDearman's Mill was about seven miles to the south by southwest. Downstream from that mill sat Holly's Mill. South by southeast, in a stunningly beautiful setting near the headwaters of the Banister River, was located the Foundry Mill. Later, it would be known as Price's Mill. Hodnett Mill was about twelve miles east on Roaring Fork and Moses Mill lay a mile or so downstream from Hodnett's Mill on Cherrystone Creek. About the same distance to the northeast was David Ross's mill on Frying Pan Creek. Upsteam from that mill lay Giles' Mill with its popular large mill pond. The partnership of Alexander Clement and Henry Ramsey had a mill at a point on Turkey Cock Creek “just above the waters of Snow Creek” near the Pigg River.

It can be assumed that each of these fifteen mills produced flour from wheat and meal from corn. It is known that most mills had two runs (four stones) thus making it likely that more than sixty millstones were in service within a twelve mile radius of this spot. Certainly no other area of similar size could boast of the presence of that many mills.

The best millstones (the very expensive “French Burrs”) were imported from France, thus motivating local millwrights to be constantly on the lookout for better stone. It was natural that millstones were familiar objects to natives of that area and that a legend about them would develop.

Tradition has it that on one occasion more than a hundred years ago, two friends or acquaintances were walking along Anderson Mill Road west of Tomahawk Creek. Near the point where present day County Road 800 intersects Anderson's Mill Road, a large area of granite outcroppings are present on both sides of what was then the road.

One of the travelers was a millwright who made a statement that he could fashion a good millstone out of one of the rocks a few feet away on the east side of the road. His companion disagreed and an argument ensued which resulted in what must have been a rather substantial bet.

The millwright set to work to prove his point and collect his prize. As he progressed, the stone took on a circular form and the center hole took shape. Some grooves and lands appeared on the face, and in all probability, the millwright was destined to collect the wager.

According to legend, the story takes on a violent turn at this point. It seems that the potential loser sneaked up to the back of the busy stone cutter and stabbed him to death. Tradition has it that as the dying victim slumped over the stone, his blood stained it permanently. Natives have noticed that after a rain, one can see reddish stains clearly on the stone's flat face — a grim reminder of that foul and ignoble deed.

The legend persists and many elderly and middle aged natives who have lived all their lives in the area have heard the story and viewed the stone on various occasions since childhood. The writer was privileged to hear the story first from the venerable retired banker, Earl Allen (now deceased), who was reared near the Henry County line and only a few miles from the spot where the incident is alleged to have occurred. Mr. Allen recalled that sometime around 1910 (when he was a nine year old lad) his father allowed him to accompany an elderly ex-slave and farm employee on a trip to Anderson's Mill to have some corn ground into meal. En route home, the old man stopped the wagon and team at the site of the legendary crime and proceeded to relate the story to the wide-eyed youngster. Other versions of the story very only slightly in a remarkable consistency. A few natives in the pasted looked upon the spot as haunted and perhaps the more superstitious ones quickened their pace when passing there alone on a dark night.

Interested members of the Pittsylvania Historical Society secured the assistance of Mr. Leo Creasy (now deceased) of Chatham, a native of the aforementioned triangle, in a search of the fabled stone. Leo had viewed it some fifty years earlier, and, like Earl Allen, he knew its approximate location. With Society members in tow, he led the way to the site. With the help of nearby neighbors, including Leland Lawrence, only an hour or so was required to locate the “bloodstained” unfinished stone. The abandoned roadbed that Earl Allen and the ex-slaved traveled on is less than twenty feet away. Members of the search party were astonished to find the stone within the present right-of-way of Anderson's Mill Road (County Route 649). Creasy and other natives present believed that the stone had somehow became inverted during the road construction since no lands, furrows or grooves are visible on the presently exposed surface. They remembered them as being visible in the past. The brick red colored spots (“bloodstains”) were clearly visible despite the accumulation of dirty and organic material. Interestingly enough, this color on the spots was accented when water was poured over them during subsequent tests. This leads one to believe that the so called bloodstains consist of embedded iron that continues to oxidize in the rock formation and especially so when wet. Perhaps this is an explanation for the presence of the red stains. Nevertheless, the belief that a treacherous cold blooded murder occurred here persists.

Finally, it is obvious that the stone has had a lot of attention over the years, for its face is spotted with faint initials not in evidence on companion rocks. This unfinished millstone will not soon be forgotten since the story continues to fascinate both natives and newcomers alike.


Notes


Books by Herman Melton

(Available from the sponsor.)

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On


Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse



Other Books Concerning Pittsylvania County History

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, VA

Clement: History of Pittsylvania County

Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County, VA

Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County


An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County

Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (Dover)

Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina


Tales About People in a Small Town

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.