Friday, April 27, 2012

Foxhall Alexander Daingerfield in Virginia

This is the second article in our occasional series on the horse in Rockingham County (the first one was The Sport of Kings, The Beast of Burden). We again return to this subject as a token notice of the spring horseracing ritual known as the Triple Crown for three-year old thoroughbred horses. The following provides a brief biographic sketch of a world renowned judge and breeder of horses - Foxhall Alexander Daingerfield. He was born in Rockingham County and was, for a time, a prominent personage in Harrisonburg. As we delved into the sources, the materials clearly revealed to us not only one person, but a family who was very capable and active in the horse world.

The Daingerfield Family

The Daingerfields were among the first families of Virginia. During the colonial period, kinships were established with other first Virginia families. As was common then, the relationships often included the marrying of cousins and the naming of children after relatives. The first American Daingerfield family arrived in Virginia in the mid-1600s. One noted ancestor, Col. William Daingerfield (d. 1769), lived at Greenfield, Essex County and served in the House of Burgess from 1747-1751.[1] A son, also William Daingerfield, was one of the first eight colonels commissioned in Washington’s army.[2] The first distinguished colonial ancestors included writers, civil servants, and warriors – interests and talents that Foxhall and his siblings also exhibited.

Foxhall was born February 8, 1839 at Westwood Farm in Rockingham County. His father, Leroy Parker Daingerfield (b. 1788), was the grandson of the first Col. William. His mother was Juliet O. Parker (b. 1797).[3] They were cousins. The Leroy Daingerfield family moved from Tidewater to Frederick County, Virginia in the lower Shenandoah Valley. The New York Times reported in the obituary of Sara Daingerfield Keene (Foxhall’s year-younger sister) that she was born at Rich Hill near Winchester on a land grant issued in 1660.[4] After the Revolutionary War, many Tidewater planters, as probably did Leroy Daingerfield, found their land depleted of nourishment from tobacco farming and moved on to their land holdings in the Shenandoah Valley. These migrants brought with them their interest in horse racing and breeding. In the Valley, they found ideal water and grass for grazing their horses.[5] In the 1810 Census, Leroy Daingerfield’s Frederick County establishment included forty-four slaves. Two years later, the War of 1812 military records showed that Leroy Daingerfield served as a cavalry captain.[6]

On the maternal side, the Parker males served with distinction in naval service. William H. Parker served in the Virginia Navy during the Revolutionary War. Later Parkers taught at the Naval Academy and authored books on naval tactics. During the Civil War, they served on both sides of the conflict and in different services. William Harwar Parker joined the Confederate Navy and his brother, Foxhall Alexander, was a commander in the Union Navy. Another brother, William Daingerfield Parker, was brevetted for gallantry at Gettysburg and rose to the rank of colonel in the US Army.[7] The brief family histories of the Daingerfields and Parkers highlight talents and interests Foxhall Alexander Daingerfield reflected in his life and provided a supply of given names to pass on to succeeding generations.

The Leroy Parker Daingerfield family moved to Rockingham County in 1836. In January of that year, W. H. Gray of Loudoun County and Leroy Daingerfield purchased from Benjamin Lewis 900 acres of land about one and a half miles below Port Republic on the east side of the Shenandoah River.[8] About three years later, in May 1839, Daingerfield sold about 310 acres of the 900 acres for $5,000 to Daniel Dovel. In this transaction, Algernon Gray acted as the agent for William Gray. The resources of the family may be seen from a partially readable 1843 Rockingham County Deed Book document between Leroy Daingerfield and Richard M. Parker of Jefferson City, Virginia.[9] The document authorized Parker to act as trustee for Daingerfield in the public sale of slaves with an estimated valued of $1,900. Any surplus proceeds from the sale went to Daingerfield. On February 20, 1849, thirteen years after the initial purchase, Leroy Daingerfield sold the 590 remaining acres of the original 900 acres for $12,000 to Samuel Baugher and Allen Baugher.[10]

Alexander Foxhall Daingerfield was nine when the family moved to a comfortable spacious house on 980 acres of land in Bath County,Virginia. One source reported eleven children in the family.[11] The 1850 Census showed the parents and six children lived in Bath County.[12] Before 1850, two of Foxhall’s older brothers, William and Leroy, left home to prospect in the Trinity and Shasta areas of California.[13] A couple of sources hint that the family suffered a financial set back after the War – not a surprise given the economic havoc in the South caused by War.[14] In 1870, Leroy Daingerfield, as a farmer, owned real property valued at $4,000 and personal property valued at $1,000. His brother, Foxhall, as Clerk of the Court, reported real property valued at $2,500 and personal property valued at $1,000.[15] The later amounts raise the question of how property was valued, since in 1867, Foxhall purchased an acre lot for $3,000 from his father-in-law, Algernon Gray. Putting that aside, the holdings of the Daingerfields were significantly less than that of Jouette Gray, Nettie’s brother, whose real property was valued at $33,000.[16]

Foxhall Alexander Daingerfield on His Own

War Years - Cavalry Leader

In the late 1850’s Foxhall attended Washington College in Lexington VA. In the 1860 Census, he appeared in his brother, William’s household along with their sister, Sara. They lived in Shasta City, California.[17] Shortly thereafter, Foxhall returned to Virginia to join his law class at Washington College only to have it interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War. He reluctantly supported secession. When Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861, his law class took the required bar exams the next day in Staunton.[18] On his way home to Bath County, Foxhall met his brother Leroy (who had returned from California, married, and moved to Augusta County) riding in a cavalry company. Leroy persuaded Foxhall to join the Confederate forces. At the age of twenty-two, Foxhall purchased a horse at Hot Springs and enlisted in the Bath Squadron, 11th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. He proceeded to Philippi in Barbour County to participate in the first land battle of the War on June 3, 1861. In this battle, his brother became the first soldier to lose a limb (a leg) for the cause. Leroy continued to serve throughout the war in a non-combatant role.[19]

In 1862, the increased enlistments in the Bath Cavalry caused it to divide into two companies. Company G came under the command of Captain Foxhall Daingerfield. The two companies became known as the Bath Squadron. During 1862, the Bath Squadron operated and skirmished in the McDowell and Williamsville area with the purpose of disrupting the supply line and movement of the Union troops.

The Captain described his four year experience as being, “wounded in every campaign, shot four times and sabered once.”[20] His service record confirms this:

Enlisted as Private in Bath County in 1861. Orderly and courier for General Lee (1861). Promoted to Sargeant10/1861. Transferred to Co. G, 11th Virginia Cavalry as Captain. Wouned in action (head and shoulders), prisoner of war 8/2/1862 at Orange Courthouse, sent to Culpeper, then to Old Capitol, then Fort Monroe 8/9/1862. Exchanged 9/21/1862 at Aikens Landing. Wounded in action (foot) 6/21/1863 at Ashby’s Gap. Wounded in action 12/1863 at Petersburg, WV. Wounded in action 1864 at Piedmont. Commanding regiment in 12/27/1864. Wounded in action (thigh) 4/5/1865 at Amelia Springs.[21]
The Battle of Amelia Springs was part of the Appomattox Campaign at the end of the Civil War. (General Lee surrendered Aril 9th, 1865.) Just before Appomattox, Daingerfield was wounded and starving, but as he described the situation “he kept on fighting ‘because we had no real place to go to.’” After the surrender at Appomattox, Foxhall rode 230 miles home to Harrisonburg with a painful leg wound and to his wife of one and a half years.[22]

Citizen of Harrisonburg

On November 4, 1863, while on crutches because of wound in his left thigh, he married Nettie (Henrietta) Henderson Gray at the Old School Presbyterian Church. Nettie (b. 1844) was the daughter of Algernon S. Gray, owner of Collicello and one of the wealthiest persons in Rockingham County. During the wedding ceremony at the part when Foxhall pledged to his bride, “I do thee with all my world goods endow,” his best man and military comrade, Holmes Conrad, blurted out “there goes DiVernon!” the Major’s warhorse. (The major went back to war, DiVernon didn’t.)[23]

Between 1864 and 1886, Foxhall and Nettie had eight children, all born in Harrisonburg.[24] In November 1867, Daingerfield purchased from Gray a one-acre lot for $3,000 at the corner of West and Rock Streets, just south of Collicello.[25] Over the years he added adjacent properties and built a racetrack along Gay Street.[26] The children grew up riding and foxhunting. The oldest son, Algernon, once won a $100 bet for riding 100 miles from the Harrisonburg Courthouse to Harpers Ferry in twenty-four hours.[27]

For twenty-five years Daingerfield practiced law in Harrisonburg. In the 1870’s, he served as Mayor, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and captain of the first hook and ladder fire company in Harrisonburg.[28] A search of 1869 and 1870 Old Commonwealth newspapers revealed no report of news worthy actions taken by him as Mayor. After the War, until February 1870 when Virginia returned to the Union, no popular elections were held. After the restrictions were lifted, Daingerfield announced as a candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court in the November 8, 1870 election.[29] He won and served for a term. He also served as Captain of the Hook and Ladder Company which probably involved him in fighting the 1870 Christmas Day fire that destroyed the south side of Court Square.

In the last important trial – a sensational murder case - in the old court house in the spring of 1874, Daingerfield “ably” assisted Commonwealth Attorney John Paul in the successful prosecution of James Cameron accused of poisoning his wife. In addition to performing civic duties during this period, John Wayland reported that Daingerfield contributed articles to agriculture publications.[30]

Breeder of Champion Horses

During his years in Harrisonburg, Daingerfield would make trips to the south and east to inspect horses for his brother-in-law, James R. Keene.[31] Keene, a well known Gilded Age financier, married Foxhall’s sister, Sara, in 1863. By 1880, discerning horsemen and newspaper reporters followed Daingerfield’s horse-breeding practices and track performances of his horses.[32] During the 1880s his reputation was noted and affirmed after his brother-in-law gave Daingerfield Sam Purdy, a trotting stallion.[33] In the March 31, 1881 Rockingham Register, Daingerfield advertised that Sam Purdy would be standing at the Graybill stables between April 1 and July 15. The breeding fee was $30. The following year, Keene presented Daingerfield with a “splendid bay thoroughbred horse, Dan Sparling.” The local newspaper declared:

Capt. D now has in Sam Purdy, as a trotter, and Dan Sparling, runner, beyond all comparison the two best horses in the State, and in the course of a few years we can reasonably expect marked improvement in the style and blood of Rockingham horses, and Harrisonburg will indeed become the horse-market of the State.[34]
The mutual respect and admiration between Daingerfield and Keene extended to each naming a child after the other and Keene naming a colt, Foxhall, which after winning several meets in England was described as “the best horse in the world.”[35]

By 1890, his father-in-law, A.S. Gray, had died and his son, Willie, had died before his tenth year. In August 1890, Daingerfield started to divest himself of his real property in Rockingham County. The Harrisonburg Land and Improvement Company acquired the land surrounding his residence and 30 acres of land he owned two miles southwest of Harrisonburg for $13,500.[36] Daingerfield’s pastures and racetrack lay on a tract of land west of Collicello, known as the “Boom.” The Harrisonburg Land and Improvement Co planned to dig artesian wells on this land to support the growing industrial base of Harrisonburg. The 1885 Lake Atlas showed that across the street from the Daingerfield property ran the Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks and the colored school was on the other side of those tracks.

After the sale of his Harrisonburg residence, the Captain purchased a small farm and the fairgrounds to breed trotters in Culpepper, Virginia. In 1892, the equestrian reporter for the Richmond Times called Daingerfield “one of the best posted man on pedigree and blood lines in the country.”[37] In February 1893, a fired destroyed the Daingerfield residence. Shortly thereafter, James R. Keene took a lease on the historic Castleton Farm near Lexington KY and in October 1893, the Daingerfield family moved there to oversee Keene’s stables.[38]

The Daingerfield essay in the Bath Bicentennial claimed that Foxhall never recovered “health or fortune in Virginia.” The mature Daingerfield was described as “6’4’, with broad shoulders and very straight, with a white mustache and goatee and a mild manner. He was given to profanity (but it was said) the Major was the only man living who could swear like a gentleman.” Another source said that women found him “pretty good to look at.”[39] In Virginia he was known as the “Captain;” in the Kentucky years he was known as the “Major.”

To Be Continued.....................

[1] The William and Mary Quarterly. Vol. 8, No. 2 (Oct. 1899) and Vol. 12, No. 1 (July 1903). The Will of William Daingerfield suggested he possessed a large land estate and personal property that included silver and many slaves.
[2] Daily News Record. April 3, 2000.
[3] US Census: 1850
[4] NY Times. October 10, 1916. Sara D. Keene Obituary
[5] Alexander Mackay-Smith. The Thoroughbred in the Lower Shenandoah Valley 1785-1842. Winchester, VA. 1948.
[6] DNR. April 3, 2000.
[7] Naval Officers: Their Heredity and Development by Charles Benedict Davenport p. 151 - 153.
[8] G. E. May. Port Republic. Lewis was one of the original trustees of Port Republic when it was laid out in 1802.
[9] Rockingham County. Burnt Deed Book. 20/419.
[10] Rockingham County. Burnt Deed Books: 13/47; 18/175; 20/419; and 22/195. All of these are partial documents.
[11] Bath County Historical Society. The Bicentennial History of Bath County Virginia, 1791-1991. Heritage House Publishing, Marceline, MO. 174.
[12] US Census. 1850.
[13] US Census. 1850. Bath County Historical Society.
[14] Bath Bicentennial.
[15] US Census. 1870.
[16] Ibid.
[17] US Census. 1860. William spent a number of years in this area practicing. He later moved to San Francisco where he had a distinguished career on the bench. Leroy returned home in 1855 via same farming and hotel ownership in the Sacramento area. Leroy Daingerfield was associated with many of the conspicuous characters of the 1850s and knew many of the characters mentioned in Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” according to Bailley Millard in the 1924 American Historical Society publication The San Francisco Bay Region. Vol 3.
[18] NY Times. January 9, 1913. Foxhall Alexander Daingerfield Obituary.
[19] Bath Bicentennial.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Spratt, Thomas M. Rockingham County Men in Gray, Vol. 1. Athens: Iberian, 1995. p.88.
[22] Bath Bicentennial.
[23] Holmes Conrad, from Winchester was a distinguished lawyer and politican.
[24] Isabella, P (1864-1944), Algernon (1867-1945), Elizabeth (1870-1951), H. Henderson (1874-), Julia Parker (1876-45), William P. (1879 – 1888 ), Mary J (1881-1954), and James Keene (1886-1947).
[25] Rockingham County. Deed Book. 2/462. October 28, 1867.
[26] Tommy Bassford. Sketches of Harrisonburg. 1840-1940.
[27] DNR. April 3, 2000.
[28] John W. Wayland. History of Harrisonburg.
[29] Old Commonwealth. September 7, 1870.
[30] Wayland. Harrisonburg, 330.
[31] DNR. April 3, 2000.
[32] Bassford. Landmarks and personages of Old Harrisonburg. 1944 and Evolution of Harrisonburg 1780-1945.
[33] The horse was probably named as a tribute to the amateur jockey Samuel Purdy. He gained famed in 1823 as a substitute rider in the race at Union Course on Long Island between horse from the north, American Eclipse, and Sir Henry from the south. In the first heat the southern horse won. The loss was blamed on the jockey and his treatment of the horse during the race. The dissatisfied northerners called for a new rider and Samual Purdy was choosen and won the next two heats. and
[34] RR. May 25, 1882.
[35] RR. May 25, 1882
[36] Deed Book 38/515
[37] NY Times. Obit 1913
[38] Julie A. Campbell. The Horse in Virginia: an illustrated history. U of Virginia Press Charlottesville. 2010.
[39] DNR April 3. 2000.

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