During a trip to my Grandfather’s house to scan family photos I stumbled across a real gem as far as Blue Ridge area genealogy is concerned. The original purpose of my trip was just to catch up and scan pictures that he had come across for me. While I certainly accomplished the original goal I had no idea I would stumble across a well-known piece of mountain history.
When we were discussing his father he ventured into the subject of items left behind by my Great Grandfather and said all he had was, “just some old books”. I hadn’t thought much about it at first but as we began scrolling through old pictures and talking about stories from long ago the subject came back into my head about the old books. I asked him about those and he said that he’d gladly walk downstairs to retrieve them for me. Reentering the room I noticed he was carrying a couple of early hymnals. When he handed them to me I noticed the condition was fair at best. Handling them as gently as I could I opened them. The front few pages were written in and I didn’t think much of it until I read the names: Stephen Hensley, Harriet Dean.
Harriet Dean was born April 27, 1848. Stephen Hensley was born years earlier, on January 23, 1842. Both were born to families in the Elkton area, Rockingham County, Virginia. They were joined in holy matrimony December 1, 1864 in Belmont, Ohio (Why Ohio? Maybe we’ll talk about that later). The couple had quite a storied relationship to say the least. Stephen was a circuit preacher in the mountains and worked many late hours as well as extended amounts of time away from home. The stories of their turbulent marriage are many and varied. One story includes an instance where Harriet put their housecat on Stephen’s back and allowed it to scratch the blood out of him. Not exactly something most men would enjoy in the slightest.
Through all of the bad stories shines a number of letters written back and forth between the couple during Stephen’s last days while hospitalized in Charlottesville. The chain of events can be found in Jan Hensley’s book: Sallie’s Story (supplement version). If you don’t own this set I highly recommend them both!
To say I was surprised to see these names written on the pages and cover of these hymnals would be a rather large understatement. I sat there for hours talking to my Grandfather about the significance of these hymnals and the stories surrounding the couple. The visit ended with my Grandfather ensuring me that these hymnals would come to me when his time on Earth had passed. In all honesty I hope I don’t own them anytime soon as I want to spend more time with him but it’s nice to know that one day these will be passed down to me, as they were to him.