Rain, relatives and ghosts.
|The road to Somerset Place, Creswell|
On Wednesday, October 15, the day began with rain that had moved in from the west during the night. It seemed like the perfect time to visit Jimmy Fleming, owner of Flemz Market & Deli, local historian, writer and – of course – kin. Jimmy and I are related through the Parisher line, and although we’d never met, I felt an immediate sense of familiarity.
A few days before I met Jimmy, Debbie Armstrong Cobb had passed along a death certificate for Olly Armstrong Voliva, A sister of Mary Ann Armstrong. I had been trying for years to discover, online, what their mother’s maiden name might have been. She is everywhere listed as Armstrong but I’ve wondered if that was truly her maiden name. The death certificate noted Mariah Jarvis as Olly Armstrong’s mother, and Jimmy confirmed that – although from the same source document.
One document does not a fact make, but what I found so interesting about Jimmy’s genealogical insight was “Jarvis is not a Tyrrell County name – more like Hyde or Dare. Even Chowan.”
So now I’m trying to learn more about Jarvis families in those counties, looking for Mariah and possible Native roots among the Jarvis families. (Jarvis is a surname that appears in the Lost Colony project rosters).
After visiting with Jimmy, I drove west to Creswell in a light drizzle to Somerset Place, a former plantation on the shore of Lake Phelps in eastern Washington County. The soft rain created a kind of filtered experience. I was the only visitor at the site, and without a rain jacket, walked around the grounds awkwardly taking pictures while holding an umbrella.
I had read about the history of the site in Dorothy Spruill Redford’s book, Somerset Homecoming: Recovering a Lost Heritage but without a sense of the landscape, nothing was quite as I’d expected.
I didn’t really understand the relationship of the built environment to the lake, or how the cedar trees would look, or how I’d feel when I saw the canals and the scope of that slave-made infrastructure.
Although I didn’t see the interior of the plantation house, it was a gift to be there alone in the rain. With the exception of a single parked truck near the office, there were no people, no aspects of modernity other than signage to distract my attention from the recreated physical world of 1860.
Humid, isolated, evocative, sad. Haunting.
|View through the trees toward shore of Lake Phelps, Somerset Place|
|View of plantation house from path to cemetery, Somerset Place|
|Curtains like ghosts in the windows of Collins/Pettigrew plantation house, Somerset Place|