A rendezvous with history? One day, a car group of about four of us were traveling through Arrington in Nelson County, Virginia. We turned on to a road called Cold Storage Lane. It soon formed a V-intersection with Copperhead Road. The wedge of land was thin, like a slim slice of cheesecake, and it was easy to see into the woods.
Then one of us noticed a stone or two—grave stones. Likely it was a small family graveyard. I asked the driver to stop, as I would sometimes transcribe a small graveyard—write down the inscriptions appearing on the stones—and put them online for others to view.
The stones read as follows:
Presented by the Employees
Of the Breakers Hotel
Atlantic City NJ
In Loving Memory of
Geo. E. Terrell
Died Jan 28 1908
Born Sep. 15 1902
Died April 7 1904
Forgive me if the one that especially caught my attention was the first one! Who was George E. Terrell and what was the history of the Breakers Hotel? This man was moved from my home state, some 5-1/2 hours away and his fellow workers paid for his gravestone. I thought this puzzle would be a simple one to solve. Little did I expect to experience a rendezvous with history.
Results of the Search
Well, it wasn’t all that easy, but I did uncover a fair amount of information. Some of it was from his World War I registration card. It indicated George was born in Arrington 20 November 1880. At the time of registration, his permanent address was 41 North Delaware Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was black and was employed as the assistant headwaiter at the Breakers Hotel at Boardwalk and New Jersey Avenue. He was tall, slender, and had, as his closest living relative, a cousin, Mrs. Charles F. Thompson at Box 46, Arrington, Virginia.
In 1910, George is in Atlantic City, married for 9 years to Anna Caldwell. He was 29; she was 45 although some data suggests she was younger! She was reportedly born in Maryland and she was a dressmaker. The couple was found in the 1915 NJ census,1 and that helped lead to Anna’s presence—widowed—in Philadelphia, PA. Still a dressmaker…
As to the hotel, one description of it reads:
Atlantic City BREAKERS Hotel. The Breakers Hotel overlooked the boardwalk and the beach. The Breakers Hotel had 450 rooms. It catered to mainly Jewish clientele, and was known as the “Aristocrat of Kosher hotels.”
Nearly Stalled, but Just Around the Corner…
I’d reached at least a temporary dead end, with the promising exception of the cousin back in Arrington, Virginia, Mrs. Charles F. Thompson. Who would she prove to be? Would her maiden name be of use in revealing more?
I searched for Charles F. Thompson in Arrington. A man by that name appeared in nearby Lovingston, Virginia, same county. He was married to a Mary A. Robinson. I would soon find the “A” stood for Antoinette. She was born at nearly the same time as George E. Terrell. Was Robinson Mary’s surname, or might she, too, have been a Terrell?
So What is the Rendezvous with History?
When I performed a web search for the combination Charles F. Thompson and Arrington, I couldn’t believe what turned up. This man worked during the first decade of the 20th century as the butler and valet to the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell.
The Library of Congress was the source, and it holds some papers that include not only proof of the connection, but the signature of the man and the announcement of his marriage, along with photographs of Charles and his wife. After the marriage, the couple returned to Arrington where they would reside for the rest of their lives. Charles returned to farming.
Mary died in 1953 and is buried at the New Mount Cemetery in Arrington. At the time of publishing this article, her husband’s eventuality still remained a mystery to me. In addition, Mary’s history and her absolute connection to George E. Terrell rest on shaky ground. This demonstrates the difficulties one faces when pursuing black genealogy. Yet, I got to enjoy a fulfilling rendezvous with history! Happily, upon visiting the New Mount cemetery, I discovered a stone for Charles. He died three years after she did. It seems certain his stone was added later, perhaps by a distant relative as I have been unable to discover any children from the union.
1 Re-examination showed this census contained Anna, her current husband, and her former husband, George W. Johnson, all together under one roof!
Note: You might also enjoy Deciphering a Cryptic 1700s Philadelphia German Tombstone
2 thoughts on “A Chance Encounter Leads to a Rendezvous with History”
By way of afterword, there were many more details of the search, most irrelevant to the tale. George Terrell’s wife returned, just after his death, to Maryland where she appears in the 1920 census. But in 1930, she is back in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her mother and siblings. She died soon after, August 22, 1936, and is buried at the Mt. Lawn Cemetery in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The couple had no children, which is why, in the WWI census registration, George lists his cousin Mary as his nearest living relative. My thanks to Jane Hamilton and my Philly-Roots Rootsweb friends for their assistance in “digging up” facts.
Great story and wonderful pictures to go along with the folks. Nice finds.