Sylvanside Farm

old fashioned farm work with house and silo
Sylvanside farmhouse, home for many generations of the Gregg family. Photo by author.

 Sylvanside Farm was first purchased and settled by the Greggs, a Quaker family, in 1742. Their descendents lived on the property for over two hundred years. The farm was large and prosperous, with tenant houses, barns and outbuildings. Greggs scattered onto neighboring land, descendants choosing their own farms, professions, and even religious affiliations. The Gregg descendants at Sylvanside were understandably proud of the many generations who lived there. Newly married William Gregg and Elizabeth Wilson Gregg called Sylvanside home during the Civil War. Those years are what this post will focus on.

The Gregg marriage is recorded at the bottom of the page of the 3rd Month, 1861 Goose Creek Meeting minutes, after records of another “William” and “Elizabeth” marriage (William Smith and Elizabeth Nichols.)

handwritten quaker records of marriage
“…The committee appointed to attend the marriage of William Gregg and Elizabeth Wilson reports that they attended and considered it orderly, accomplished, and the marriage certificate has been recorded.” Goose Creek Meeting minutes, courtesy ancestry.com

There may be earlier pictures of both William Gregg and Elizabeth Wilson Gregg, but the dignified portraits shown below give us some idea of their bearing and appearance:

William Gregg (1824-1888) farmed at Sylvanside, as had his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, his great-great-grandfather… . Photo from private collection.
Elizabeth Wilson Gregg (1834-1919) passed along many family memories of life at Sylvanside during the war years and the decades following. Photo from private collection.

Their son, John William Gregg, wrote a family history, and his daughter, Emma Gregg Dickson wrote of memories told to her by her grandmother, Elizabeth Wilson Gregg (shown above):

“On the [Sylvanside] farm when the Civil War came the times were not easy even for the Quakers, most of whom did not fight. “Every day,” said my Grandmother [Elizabeth Wilson Gregg], “several times a day, someone would be sent into the yard to lie with her ear close to the bare ground. In this way we often learned when a marching army was approaching, even though out of sight. Then the doors and windows would be locked, except for one open window. The women in the kitchen and I would start preparing food. It did not matter to us whether the men were from the North or the South, all needed food, all took animals and crops, burned the fences for firewood, sometimes burned crops in the field so the other side would not get them.

“Once when the [Civil war army] men in line outside our open window were getting slices of bread and butter one very young boy said to me, ‘Could I have a little jelly on my bread? It has been so long since I tasted jelly.’ ‘I gave it to him,’ said Grandmother.”

Quaker children in 19th century photograph
The three children of William and Elizabeth Gregg are pictured here. John William Gregg (1869-1940), center, collected genealogy/memories of his family, and information was added by his one of his daughters. John William as a young man is in this portrait with his two sisters: Emma (1863-1888) is on the left, with the dark collar. Laura (1865-1934) is on the right. Photo in private collection.

Emma Gregg Dickson wrote of the night during the Civil War, when her aunt and namesake Emma (pictured above) was born: “On the night of July 22, 1863 the floor of the downstairs rooms of the farm home of William and Elizabeth Gregg was lined with sleeping Northern soldiers. Grandfather went down the stairs in the night and wakened the Captain, made it known that he needed a pass through the lines to get a doctor. The pass was given, the Captain said he would leave the sleeping men until morning but would remove them then. The doctor came and Emma was born. In the morning, true to his word, the Captain placed a guard at the gate to the yard and no one except the family and farm workers was allowed in the yard or house.

“Of all the troubles during the war the most difficult for the housewife was the lack of salt. Grandmother [Elizabeth] said, ‘We broke up the cutting block, and dug the earth in the smokehouse where the meat had been cured and had dripped. We soaked this and then evaporated the water to get the salt.’ At war’s end they had no poultry, no livestock of any kind except one old blind horse, and it was difficult to get seeds for crops.”

Emma Gregg Dickson included an anecdote told when she was young: “My father, John W. Gregg, used to tell us a tale: ‘At one point in the war one old rooster came out from under the corn crib and crowed to his companion, an old turkey. Crowed the rooster: “Er-er-er-oo, Yankees go-o-ne yet? Yankees go-o-ne yet?’ Replied the turkey: “Doubtful, doubtful, doubtful!” and they crawled back under the corn crib.

“The Gregg farmhouse had been enlarged before Emma, Laura and John William lived there. The addition had an extra parlor with a bay window where later Emma and Laura visited with friend and did beautiful needlework. The upstairs bedrooms had no doors connecting them with the older part of the house and the separate garret was unused. About the year 1920 this garret was entered and there to everyone’s surprise were two Union uniforms. Who had hidden there and changed clothing?

After the war a former slave walked in, said he was Tom Weaver and that he wished to work for a Quaker family because he had heard they did not keep slaves. Grandfather [William Gregg] welcomed him and so Tom came to be a valuable part of the ‘extended family.’ Later he lived with John William and Agnes Gregg, who said, ‘Our home is Tom’s home as long as we have a roof over our heads.

He was a fine gentleman, with strict ideas of proper behavior. One year when John W. was attending Swarthmore college he wanted his horse there. Tom set out on the journey of perhaps two hundred miles. ‘He appeared with my well cared for horse on the very dan and hour I expected him.’ Each December early on the 25th Tom would appear and greet us, saying cheerfully, ‘Christmas Gift, Christmas Gift.’ We then had to give him one. One year Elizabeth and Edith surprised Tom by shouting ‘Christmas Gift, Tom! We said it first. Now you have to give us a gift!’ ‘Oh, no!’ replied Tom. ‘Sun’s up, doesn’t count!

“Tom not only ruled the barn, cared for our cows and horses, kept the buggy and carriage clean and drove when we needed him. He kept a tremendous garden of which we were proud, with a grape arbor, and three colors of raspberries as well as a thriving large asparagus bed.

“He lived at our house amicably with Olie and Realus Grayson rooming in his end of the upstairs, too. I can remember being allowed to eat with them sometimes, and having Olie help me learn to read by spelling out the words on the newspapers placed on the wall behind the dish-washing table to catch the splatters. Realus had his own business of hauling with his horse and wagon. They, too, were intelligent and fine people. Tom chewed Brown’s Mule Tobacco. He gave the tin trade-mark mules to us for a play farm in the sand. Tom died at our house about 1912, we grieved.”

old 19th century grave stone in graveyard
Gregg family graves at Goose Creek Burial Ground, Lincoln, VA

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