Ladies of the DAR

By Frances Hallam Hurt

When the good citizens of the United States weep and wail and gnash their teeth over the decline of standards, they would do well to remember the Daughters of the American Revolution. No matter the sewage that washes over the court system and the news, the DAR stands against the tide.

Pittsylvania County has two chapters of this stalwart organization which have never wavered in their dedication to the goals set by the national founders in 1890 — to promote education, historic preservation and patriotic endeavor.

The William Pitt Chapter in Chatham was organized in 1911, and the Thomas Carter Chapter was organized in the county in 1936. Through wars, depressions and epidemics they have held to their goals. The names of the first chapter members are familiar because many of their descendants live here today.

Membership in the DAR is not exactly hit, lick or miss. It is more like proving a claim to a gene. The requirements for proof of an ancestor who fought or contributed otherwise, in the American Revolution, are cast in carborundum. Documentations must be supplied to authenticate every begat. Membership often requires years of research if anything is missing.

The minutes from the first William Pitt meetings reflect the canny mix of socializing and goal-tending which enlivens all organizations. The meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Thomas R. Watkins, regent, who “entertained in her usual charming and hospitable manner, closing with an elegant luncheon of several courses.” There was an “animated discussion of future plans” which included programs on history given by members. They even voted the first of a steady stream of little gifts to worthy causes. This time, it was a gift of $6 “for poor mountain people.” They were ever mindful of the needs of Indians, but their major concern was for veterans.

Right off the bat, these spunky ladies voted to present a play, “The Daughters of 1776.” They did add a proviso — “if the characters can be obtained.” It took a while, but two years later the play was produced, directed by a Mrs. Lanier who was “given a rising vote of thanks for her untiring and successful efforts.” This must have been presented in the old opera house above the present offices of Yeatts, Overbey, Yeatts & Ramsey.

In 1936 the Revolutionary descendants who lived in the county decided that they, too, would like to form a chapter of the DAR. They met at the home of Mrs. W. R. Carter near Danville. Of the 16 present, 10 were descendants of the same Revolutionary hero, Thomas Carter of Greenrock, the family seat. Thus, naming the chapter was no problem. It became the Thomas Carter chapter.

Of interest is the fact that the English ancestor of the founding Stone sisters was also named Thomas Carter “ Sir Thomas Carter. Any connection is not known.

These three sisters “ Mrs. Kirk Perrow (Bettie) of Hurt, Mrs. Samuel Gregory (Mary) of Java, and Mrs. Paul Crider (Katie) played vital roles in the chapter until their deaths. Mrs. Perrow was the organizing and subsequent regent and also served in other offices. Katie Crider also served as regent, but her early job was that of treasurer until Mrs. Perrow's daughter-in-law Epps (Mrs. Perrow, Jr.) gravitated into the job where she remains today. One sister, Mary Stone Gregory, stuck to historian and genealogist. to complete the Stone family saga in the DAR, Mary's granddaughter Sallie Stone Gregory of Java is the presently the regent.

Pittsylvanians have cause to thank the chapter every time they enter the courthouse. The lovely, though somewhat bemused, portrait of Rachael Donelson Jackson is their gift. Born at Markham, Rachael moved with her family to Tennessee where she met and married a young lawyer, Andrew Jackson. He later became President.

This DAR chapter like the William Pitt chapter is unceasing in its emphasis on citizenship, working with county schools to promote participation in the yearly essay contest. Gifts and medals are awarded the winners. Thomas Carter also gives away flags to schools and institutions after they have hung over the capitol.

Things livened up for the William Pitt with World War I when patriotism came off the back burner to touch everybody's life. Dorothy Whitehead Motley remembers that, as a little girl, she helped the ladies knit socks for the soldiers. The ladies knitted solid gray, but Dorothy knitted colored toes to relieve boredom and surprise the soldiers.

Preston Moses remembers carrying boxes to the post office which the ladies had packed for the soldiers.

Life in the little town suddenly became part of the big picture. Troop trains came through regularly, stopping at the train station. The DAR ladies would be right there, plus others, with picnic baskets of food. Eventually, however, they had to give up on the picnic baskets, overwhelmed by numbers. All the mothers got mightily upset, Gertrude Wilson Jones remembers because the girls would steal off to the train station when the troop trains came through.

The threat of the Germans was pervasive — so pervasive that a Home Guard was organized to safeguard the town. Later in 1921, a note in the William Pitt minutes calls attention to the fact that Capt. Purdone (?) “desires the interest of the ladies… and their presence sometimes… at their drill each Thursday night.” A committee was appointed to try to oblige. Elizabeth Wilson Whitehead, regent of William Pitt, laughs over the story that the commander only gave orders after reading them in his hat.

In 1914 William Pitt undertook one of the most frustrating projects an organization could tackle — to find the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. Each member was assigned a soldier by name. Four graves were found, but the chapter then voted to abandon the project as too difficult. It is difficult today with the use of automobiles; imagine a search by buggy.

Both the chapters are zealous in fund raising to support DAR causes. Support for American Indian schools seems an unexpected feature, but it indicates a tender conscience on the part of those first DAR organizers.

Although the Thomas Carter Chapter was girded by Stones (referred to as “Little Pebbles” at Hollins College where they attended), many other old county families played a part. None, however, had as avid a genealogist as Bettie Perrow. She researched 17 family lines and “wore her ribbon full of bars,” a family member said. When a friend was campaigning for national office, Mrs. Perrow was wondering how much money to contribute to her campaign.

“She will get to sit on the podium in Washington, and her ribbon will be two inches wider,” she mused.

When it comes to standing steadfast for that all-American virtue of patriotic endeavor, buttressed by education and preservation, all of the ladies should have ribbons two inches wider.


Books by Frances Hallam Hurt

(Available from the sponsor.)

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

An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County, VA

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County

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

Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Melton: Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Melton: Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Melton: Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Melton: Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

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

Frances Hallam Hurt'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.