Jim Chevallier's Web Site



JIM'S ROOTS (THE WILHOITES): Culpeper, Madison, Wolftown and Charlottesville, Virginia

As it happens, our branch of the Wilhoites had stayed in Virginia far longer than most I know of, and so I had more reason than some Wilhoite cousins to want to visit the areas near Culpeper and Madison where, with other German immigrants, the Wilheits had founded the second Germanna Colony, then moved on to neighboring towns.

For reference, here is our Wilhoite line, which remained in Virginia until 1897, when Daisy Wilhoite eloped from her girl's seminary with William Harry Bradley of Savannah, Georgia and moved to New York:

  • Michael Wilheit - born Schwaigern, Germany, died Virginia
  • John Wilhoit - born Schwaigern, Germany, died Culpeper, Virginia
  • Daniel Wilhoit - born, died Culpeper County
  • David Wilhoit - born, died Madison City
  • Benjamin Gaar Wilhoit, born Madison City, died Madison City
  • Jeremiah MacRae Wilhoit - born Wolftown, died Charlottesville
  • Marguerite (Daisy Belle) Moore Wilhoit - born Charlottesville, died NYC
  • Maxine Larue Bradley - born, died NYC
  • Patricia Richcreek Harrison - born NYC, died Poughkeepsie, NY
  • James Bretton Chevallier - born NYC

A genealogical visit to Virginia is a very different thing than one to Indiana or Ohio (where I'd visited small obscure towns for the Richcreek line). Already, driving down from Georgetown (which I loved), I found myself in the heart of history. Virginia highways cross numerous 'runs' (shallow streams), but when you cross one called 'Bull Run', it's a powerful moment. Other memorable names follow: Manassas, Fredericksberg. Only they're not just names - you're there, at or near some of the most well-known places in American history.

Another aspect of being on location in places you've only read about is that the role of geography becomes more apparent. Notably, I learned that Wilhoite genealogists should be very conscious of the Rapidan River. Not only were the original colonies built within loops of this river, but Wolftown, where many Wilhoites ended up, is further down the same river. (I'd actually thought at one point that my ancestors might have found the site simply by going downstream, but my friend in the area said that the Rapidan has never been navigable.)

I had had visions of finding family headstones (as I had in Indiana and Ohio), but as it happens some of my earliest ancestors were buried on family property which for various reasons is no longer easily accessible.

Walls of the Hebron cemetary

I DID visit the Hebron cemetary - whose name will be familiar to any dedicated Wilhoite genealogists - and found almost all the related families (Blankenbakers, Weavers, Walkers, Blankenbakers, Gaars, Garrs, Blankenbakers, MacRaes, Blankenbakers...), but no Wilhoites (apparently too Fanny Wilhoite, my great-great-grandmother, was buried near Washington DC.)

What follows describes about two days in the area. But I could readily envision spending two weeks there, staying in different bed and breakfasts, following up Wilhoite leads, visiting the area's wineries and Civil War battlefields and simply enjoying the area, which is beautiful.

  • Culpeper
  • Madison
  • Wolftown
  • Charlottesville


    Culpeper has several claims to historical significance: George Washington did his first surveying there (at 17), the first Minutemen were raised there (according to the town) and at least one Civil War battle was fought in the region.

    To Wilhoites, and to other Germanna descendants, it's also the city closest to the original Germanna (which is currently being excavated, right around the area of Germanna College.) Some of my earliest relations were born in 'Culpeper', which may or may not have been the current town (once 'Fairfax', while neighboring Madison was 'Culpeper'.)

    You may have seen Culpeper on "Nightline" - a controversial capital case took place there. The town is certainly modern enough - it's got a multi-ethic population, its own correctional facility and a warning against drug dealing in the town center. But the town's historical center gives a good sense of its age. Many of the buildings are in that thin red brick of another time, and some still bear turn of the century signs.

    Though a visitor's center is being built on the presumed site of Germanna, for the moment there isn't much directly related to the old colony. Even the graves were often in people's houses and now are themselves buried. Still, the town has a very impressive museum which crams a great deal of colonial and Civil War history into a rather small space - not to mention samples of the dinosaur footprints which have recently been found in the area. (They also show a photograph of ONE Germanna descendant, Mary Anne Broyles Clatterbuck.)

    I was about to continue to Madison, where much of the small colony moved, when I idly glanced at the bulletin board outside the old courthouse, and found myself staring at a list of Wilhoite names:

    A Texas Corporation
    vs.                                        CHANCERY NO. 00-C-67
    if they be living, or if they be dead,
    then the widow/widower or heirs,
    designees, or successors in title of 

    These people all turn out to be descendants of Ed Wilhoite, owner of a parcel of land near the Rapidan. A granite company from Texas had brought suit to identify their heirs. Walking in, I got a copy of the full suit, which lists all manner of family information and includes copies of older documents.

    A friend later told me that the area around the Rapidan River (where Germanna was originally founded) is loaded with a unique form of black granite. Yet another family property that proved to have value, after we all left.

    A fortuitous end to my Culpeper stay. On to Madison.


    I was so excited to be near the major residence of my Virginia ancestors that I drove down from Culpeper the first night just to glance at the place. I'd hardly driven into the town's main drag when I spotted a place I knew well from photographs: the Arcade.

    Before a fire burned all but its brick walls, this had been the Madison Hotel (and sometime jail), owned by my great-great-grandfather Jeremiah MacRae ("Mac") Wilhoite. (It is now, theoretically, a museum, currently closed for renovation.) Having it suddenly appear before me, there in the center of town, was downright eerie. I sat for a long time and looked at it, then took some photos and drove back to my Culpeper hotel.

    The next day, I drove back and took a liesurely stroll down the street. I didn't realize it at the time, but the house next door had been Mac's as well.

    The energetic woman at the visitor's center gave me several brochures on the town. In one of the center's books, I found a list of town supervisors from the last century. One, it seemed, had been Mac's father, Benjamin Gaar Wilhoite, a blacksmith, who alternated with another man over a number of years.

    I'd checked one graveyard at the start of town, and later checked two others, but, though I found lots of other names from the Germanna colony, no Wilhoites, anywhere. At one point, it occured to me that, unlike his neighbors, Mac had been an Episcopalian. So I headed to the one small Episcopalian church, though not before reading in a town brochure that, though there were few stones, the graveyard was 'full'. Well, there were in fact few stones - seven or eight, one the heart-breaking and undoubtedly expensive six-foot, heavily inscribed stone for a woman who'd died at 22. The rest? Grass. 'Full', it seems. But unmarked and flat.

    This did however make me consider another point. Most of the Germanna colonists were Lutherans, and remained so for generations. Mac (with some Scottish ancestry, it seems) was Episcopalian, which is to say of a different church, which at the time most have had far more significance. What then did this say about his relations to other Germanna families?

    Meanwhile I strolled the town. A hardware store intriqued me by some of its signs, so I stepped in. To the left was a small hardware section. To the right, a gun counter, where the owner was negotiating an ammo buy with a customer. Between them? Guitars, dulcimers and fiddles. The guitars were mass-produced and cheap. The dulcimers were handmade and cost a few hundred dollars. The fiddles were in a separate glass case and cost... $10-15,000 each.

    Oh the surprises in small towns...

    Across the way, I stopped in Beulah's Corner, where Beulah Carson, who'd owned the place for 38 years, told me the town had changed much over the years. Many businesses had closed. She actually knew a Wilhoite, Archie, from nearby Wolftown. I didn't realize until later that he was in fact a fairly close relation. (Beulah's a lovely woman of an older generation, and I hope that any relatives visiting the area will make a point of having a meal at her place.)

    Still, Wolftown was my next stop.


    Wolftown is about 13 miles from Madison, but the two towns seem closely linked. Mac and his wife Fanny had lived there, as well as Mac's father and grandfather.

    When I finally found it, I drove through the town center once before realizing it WAS the town center: a post office/gift shop, a gas station/general store ("Wolftown Mercantile") and.. a bed and breakfast (formerly the town inn.)

    A woman at the gas station directed me to the cemetary, which was just past the post office and the B&B. I went up, took a look, found no Wilhoites, though again lots of related families.

    That night I stayed in Orange with my friend Dr. Sam Pasternack, who's practiced in that area for 22 years. Sam knew of a Wilhoite Lane, but never got to take me to see it. It wasn't until days after I left that he called to say he'd discovered all the Wilhoites on it were Black - yet another thread to follow.

    He called an elderly patient who remembered one Wilhoite in particular - Fanny Wilhoite, whose house, she said, was right across from the graveyard I'd just visited. Fine with me - Fanny was Mac's wife, my great-great-grandmother. The next morning, I drove back and found a small grey house right next to the graveyard. It looked long unlived in.

    I took some photos and then drove around trying to find some other family houses which are listed in a wonderful book ("Madison County Homes" - by Vee Dove.) (When I returned, I discovered in it that John Wilhoite and Benjamin Gaar Wilhoite were both buried near their houses there, still standing in the Seventies.) No luck though, despite the fact that Wolftown REALLY isn't very big.

    One more stop before Georgia.


    Charlottesville, for those who've never been there, is a gem of a city (and home to several Hollywood luminaries). The area around the university is lively and varied. The campus itself - designed by Thomas Jefferson - is a study in classic beauty, with numerous details dictated by technical concerns. The walls to the students' gardens, for instance, are deeply curved. The curve is aesthetically pleasing, but also serves to reinforce the walls - which are only one brick thick.

    My mother wrote years ago that Mac and Fanny had owned two houses 'across from the courthouse' in Charlottesville 'still standing to this day'. It turns out of course that there are LOTS of houses across from the courthouse, not to mention the fact that the Confederate Soldier monument right in front of it replaced yet another row of houses. (After my return, I wondered if she hadn't confused Charlottesville with Madison, where two old Wilhoite houses ARE standing, just down from the courthouse on the opposite side.)

    After trying the library, I ended up at the Albemarle County Historical Society right in back of it. The distinguished gentleman in the library there turned out to be on the Germanna Foundation's board. The library's computer records actually have quite a few Wilhoites, all mentioned in a genealogy they have in their records. Strangely, their paper files on the family are very thin - one announcement of the sale of a 'Wilhoit Farm' in 1984, a note on the origin of the name, a note about a reunion at rhe 'home place' of Ezekiel and Georgia Wilhoit in Foxfield and an ad for two brothers who had run a service station many years back (and whom the librarian remembered.)

    I ended up having lunch at the Inn in Court House Square, run by a lively young woman from Savannah. She had not only researched her site, but named each room in the Inn after a previous owner. None Wilhoites. My waitress, also from Georgia, told me she thought Virginia was the BEST place to live. I didn't disagree. But my next stop, as it happened, was Georgia, to follow the trail of Daisy Belle Wilhoite's first husband, William Harry Bradley.

    Continue to Georgia

    LAST UPDATED: march 2003