Monday, December 5, 2011

Beachland - Part Two

The barn at Beachland.

Once upon a time, Chesapeake Bay Woman was asking herself why she continues to do this silly blog. Her life is chaotic and she really doesn't have the time to devote to properly maintaining  a house and a car and a family and a job a blog. Also, she usually has nothing new to say and often contemplates shutting down or taking an extended break from blogging.

In short, she was just worn out from her life, plain and simple was very unmotivated and uninspired.

Then one day a reader by the name of Suzi sent an e-mail which began by reminding me why I do this blog:

"Hello, my name is Susan. I happened upon your blog while googling information about the DIY home in Susan, Virginia. My cousins grew up in that house and I visited numerous times with my family when I was young. Anyway, I found your blog and immediately got hooked! Now, when I want an escape from life, I’ll pull it up and read about places and things I have known my whole life."


Every so often I receive e-mails like this, just when I seem to need them the most. They make my day.

But then when I read what came next, I swear I heard angels singing:

"My ancestors have been in Mathews forever……and now my sister and I have inherited the home where my great aunts and uncles and my grandfather were born.I happened to notice today that you asked if there was anyone who had property where you could photograph and we would be happy for you to take pictures, if you would like."


This was like an early Christmas present, that continued to get better and better with each word I read.

"All of my father’s family lived in Mathews and have for centuries, since the originals came from England. My father’s name was Smith……not too original, but true, none the less.  My mother’s family was from Loneriacco, Italy.  Oddly, the property in Mathews has been in the family for about 300 or more years (I think) and yet my mother’s home had been in  the Di Maria family for more than 500 years.  How strange and wonderful is that!?  We use to vacation on Gwynn’s Island (and Italy) to be near the family.   I have numerous happy memories of the entire area. I can even, vaguely, remember seeing a movie with my cousins at DONKS, which I still consider the funniest name for a theatre ever!"

"I am one of three sisters and my youngest sister, Harriett, was the true historian and did much of the work to rejuvenate Beachland. She worked at the Dept. of Justice in DC and spent a lot of time archiving old family letters, etc.  Many were from the Civil War and they are so interesting to read. Sadly, she passed away about 7 years ago…..she now rests in the cemetery at the Episcopalian church off  of the main road…..along with my Mom and Dad and what seems like a million other ancestors. Our home is on about 190 acres, on the water……I lose track of the particulars…..but my older sister knows it all.  My hope is to one day retire there and spend my time painting, quilting, gardening and spoiling grandchildren. Like you, I find it to be fascinating and incredibly peaceful……so soothing for the soul!"


Indeed, there was something instantly peaceful about Beachland that I felt before I even laid eyes on the house. As soon as my tires hit the long driveway leading in to the property, I knew instantly this was a place a person could truly relax.

Beachland is like an oasis, a little corner of the county carved out as if its sole purpose is to create a sense of calm.

But back to the Civil War, which has nothing to do with peace and tranquility.

At the library the other day I happened upon a book called Mathews Men Who Served in the War Between the States, by Mrs. Bernard Franklin White, written in 1961. On page 33 it says, 

"Sands Smith, Mathews Court House, member of the famous  Black Horse Troop, organized by two gentlemen of Fauquier County, Virginia, John Scott and William H. Payne.  The members were required to be mounted on black horses and to wear black plumes in their hats.  This troop played a very important part in  the war."

There were so many people named Sands Smith connected to this house that all those sands formed a beach hence the name Beachland. No, I just made that up. are many people in this family's lineage named Sands Smith. The one above, I believe, was Sands III.

Sands II met a rather unfortunate fate. Suzi's sister Gloria, who was my tour guide that day at Beachland, told me the story as we stood in the yard. He was hanged by Union troops and buried head first, with his feet sticking out of the ground. They wanted to make an example of him. Damn Yankees! When I asked what happened to the body, she assured me it was recovered ultimately and he was buried in the family cemetery at nearby Willow Grove.

Just last evening someone sent me a link to a page with more detailed information about Sands Smith's unfortunate death. It says:

"Sands Smith was hanged from a tree after being dragged behind a horse from his home in Mathews County, Virginia for several miles by Union troops during the Civil War. He was executed for shooting a Union soldier off his horse with a shotgun when the soldier insisted on stealing some farm animal(s) from Sands' home. Sands was fairly wealthy and was a good friend to a Confederate operative working out of Mathews County who had two boats, the black "Raven" and the white "Swan," and who did considerable damage to Union facilities on the Eastern Shore and around the Bay. The troops were sent into Mathews County to find that operative, who was ultimately caught, taken to Governor's Island, N.Y., and hanged. The operative was a former soldier from Jefferson County (West) Virginia who was in Stonewall Jackson's brigade, was injured, and moved to Mathews because it was an ideal location to run an irregular marine operation. He called himself a "provisional Captain" in the Confederate Coast Guard or something to that effect. Several Hudginses helped this guy, and another one of the people helping him became a reporter for a Richmond, Virginia newspaper (not the Times-Dispatch) after the war and wrote a short book on their exploits. Capt. Aubrey Brown of Port Haywood, Mathews County, Virginia has a copy of this book."

Click here to view the page with a more detailed account of this fascinating story.

A farmhouse on the property.

Circling back to my opening remarks about how all this started, Suzi's e-mail prompted a series of exchanges that resulted in my visit with her sister Gloria, who told me story after wonderful story about the history of this amazing place. Except I was so mesmerized by Beachland's beauty, I only half remember what I heard.

But that one about those daggone Yankees! the Union soldiers burying her relative upside down and leaving him there as an example sure stuck in my craw mind.

Gloria also took me inside Beachland, and all I have to say is (insert the sound of a jaw hitting the floor here). I was speechless. Words are entirely insufficient to describe the beauty of the interior.

High ceilings, old wood, antiques, paintings, family Bibles, old letters-- I don't have the words to adequately describe how it felt to walk amid all that history.

Gloria showed me one of the bedroom windows where a young couple etched their initials in the thick glass with a diamond soon after they became engaged. She said there's at least one other set of initials scratched into an upstairs window.

There are many other fascinating stories about Beachland, some of which involve things that go bump in the night. Evidently sleep can be evasive at Beachland, unless one has a stern conversation with the resident ghost(s) about the need to keep the noise down. Gloria only hinted at these stories just before I left, but someone else e-mailed me to confirm the part about the need for a stern conversation. Suzi, the third person to broach the topic, also said she rarely sleeps without a candle burning or a flashlight nearby.

Ghost stories, Civil War stories, love stories, Mathews County history, Virginia history, United States history, romance and intrigue: They all can be found at Beachland.

OK, so maybe I tossed in the love stories, romance and intrigue for good measure.

That's because Beachland needs to be a book and a movie.

And I know just the blogger who would love to write the story.

The view of the creek from the back yard.

To Gloria and Suzi and All Who Have E-Mailed Me,

Thank you so very much for introducing me to Beachland. For reasons I cannot explain, I am very drawn to your beautiful home and your family's history and hope to have many more reasons to visit. The stories that you and Beachland have to tell are priceless accounts. I feel privileged to have been invited to see and experience all that is Beachland.

When can we do it again?



Anonymous said...

I want to extend thanks to 'Suzi', who may have also blogged on the DIY Blog Cabin site, for contacting you and offering to share such a wonderful home with you. Also thanks to your hostess Gloria, keeper of so much history.
Don't worry, CBW--you probably will not have to invent history, romance or intrigue; Beech/Beachland must have some of that already in its history. You are just the person that I believe will interpret the stories well.
How were the daughter's and son's dances on the weekend ?

deborah said...

Fascinating! It does need to be a book - your way with words keeps one charmed so that one must read as quickly as possible to see what will come next. Not put the best of ways, but I do hope you will put your fingers to your laptop and start on the next great novel!
I enjoy your blog no matter what you write about and appreciate the time you take to write each day.

Jamie said...

We should do a paranormal investigation at Beachland. I love all those stories from the South.

Mental P Mama said...

Totally needs to be a movie and a book. Can I come to the Oscars with you? Damn yankees. Cannot wait to get away from them...

Daryl said...

I think Suzi and Gloria should come to BlogFest this July.. just sayin'

Maria_NJ said...

Mental P you took the words right out of my mouth, I was thinking Oscars too!!! Hey that girl that wrote that story about the pregnant teen (Juno)got one...if anyone can do this you can CBW...

To Suzi and Gloria, I'm thinking you need a couple of big dogs...

for some unknown reason I am being pulled to that area as well...are we paisans? >VBG<

I have a 2pm start at work today, need to get in the shower, gosh I hope I don't ahve to work till 10pm...akkkkkkk

Dghawk4 said...

I also would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to Susan and Gloria, and you, CBW, as well. Such a remarkable home with a remarkable history.
I think it's wonderful that they are able to recount their family's colorful history.
I really, really think this should be your next book.
Please, please, tell us more!

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

LLC - Son's dance is this coming weekend, the same day as my first book signing (all together now, can we say STRESS?), but Daughter's dance, which was last Saturday, was great according to her. I helped decorate the morning of, the place looked great. She enjoyed herself and said they danced "mostly in groups." Mostly...

Deborah-Thank you, as always, for your kind words.


MPM-You can definitely come to the Oscars. Actually I heard from Suzi this evening, and the possibility of getting a manuscript into the hands of a director is quite real, she has a lifelong acquaintance who has done some well-known films--first I have to write it though! You know, in my spare time...

Daryl - They will DEFINITELY be invited to Blog Fest 2012.

Maria - We need to get you here for a visit and I'll take you over to Beachland.

DGHawk- I promise once I survive Christmas I'll get back over there and meet with Gloria to take more pictures and hear more stories...and in January I'll see about starting a book.


No new blog post this evening, I'm too worn out and nothing I have to say can top Beachland. Wednesday I'll post some Bethel Beach pictures and talk a little about the book and the upcoming signings which I hope to survive these next two weekends - along with CB Son's dance! Serenity now.

Thanks again to Gloria and Suzi and their friends and family who contacted me. I thoroughly enjoy reading the stories and can't wait to learn more.

Windsmurf said...

As always, beautiful pictures and what a fascinating story. Thank you for sharing. I am a Yankee, but I have to say that was a dastardly deed they perpetrated on poor Sands II - must have been one of those Connecticut Yankees. Even to this day they are damnable.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading all of this. My great, great uncle, William M. Brownley was part of the group trying to rescue Sands Smith and lived next door on La Grange Plantation. We have been trying to resurrect pictures, information, maps, etc., regarding La Grange, but it was burned in 1863 in Wistars Raids into Mathews. If you have any information or pictures, etc., on the Brownleys, please let me know.

Dave Wilson at

Unknown said...

My great uncle Nathan Smith was slave child on the plantation and often spoke of the incident concerning Sands Smith be dragged away to be hanged. Would love to know if there is any information or photos depicting my family's life on this plantation. I worked in the fields there helping Mr. Callis when I was a youngster back in the 50"s. Got the Farmall Cub tractor tractor stuck in the field up to it's axle one day. That ended my tractor driving career pretty quick. There are still descendants living from the blacks that worked that plantation.

Bill Hudgins, Glen Allen, VA a great great grandson of William Albert Smith, a grandson of William Henry and Maggie Brown Smith

Felton and Susan Jones said...

Harriet would be so happy that her research into Beechland and her family is being appreciated. She was worried that she was the only one who cared about the history and it would be lost with her death.