A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Chapter Two (Part B)
HISTORY OF SUDLEY POST OFFICE
Antebellum History of Sudley Post Office
Sudley Post Office sits on land that was originally part of the Middle Bull Run tract acquired by Landon Carter, Sr. from his father Robert "King" Carter (Joseph 1996b:3.2). Landon Carter, Sr. passed the portion of land to contain Sudley Post Office to his son John (1739-1789). John Carter built Sudley Manor, which along with Pittsylvania (built by his brother Landon Carter II), was one of the first large-scale agricultural operations in northern Prince William and western Fairfax Counties.
John Thornberry and his household are the first known occupants of Sudley Post Office. John Thornberry, a wheelwright, first appears in the Sudley area in the 1840s. Clues to why Thornberry located himself at Sudley are found in the history of the larger landmass that encompassed Sudley Post Office. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the Sudley Mills tract encompassed the property of Sudley Post Office (Prince William County Deed Book [PWCDB] 26:200). The most prominent feature of this tract was the water-powered grist and saw mill known as Sudley Mill.
John Carter built Sudley Mill as early as the 1760s, and most likely operated the mill as a merchant mill during the colonial and antebellum time period (Harrison 1987:413). Shareholders or large property owners usually owned the larger merchant mills (Conner 1975:iii). Operators of these larger mill complexes had enough capital to have machinery to grind and sieve wheat into flour suitable for export. The establishment of a merchant mill by the Carter family was a natural outgrowth of their vast land holdings and capabilities for grain production. Most mills in the area however were custom mills, that ground grains into feed and meal for the local area and rarely exported goods to foreign markets (Conner 1975:ii; Hasse 1984:287).
The Carter family constructed Sudley Mill to meet the needs of their family estates and of the local farmers in the neighboring four counties. Seven mills operated along Catharpin Run with Sudley being the farthest downstream and the earliest in the area (Conner 1975:i). Susan Moreton, a WPA researcher, recounted a local legend of wagons backing up an eighth of a mile to have grain processed (Moreton in Johnson et al. 1982:26).
Custom mills such as Sudley usually had auxiliary shops such as blacksmiths, wheelwrights and stores as part of their complex. These shops catered to the needs of the customers and to the needs of the mill complex itself. Often the mill owners operated these shops through tenants (Daniels 1993:749). [Note: In her study of grist mills on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Christine Daniels documented several mills having craft shops associated with their operation.] During Landon Carter's (John Carter's son) proprietorship, Sudley Mill boasted a store and a blacksmith shop. The Carter family possibly leased the blacksmith shop in the same manner they leased the operation of the mill to a miller (Johnson et al. 1982:34).
Thornberry's wheelwright shop served as a part of the Sudley complex. The need for a wheelwright at Sudley stemmed from two factors: 1) There must have been a high incidence of broken axles and wheels due to the area's rough roads and the steep ford where all wagon traffic crossed Catharpin Run on the southern approach to Sudley Mills (Figure 2.3), and 2) wagons arrived at Sudley laden with heavy loads of lumber and grains that could have damaged the wagon axles.
Key to the operation of the mill was the network of roads that had developed in the area by the early nineteenth century. The main east-west thoroughfare was the Warrenton Alexandria turnpike established in 1808 (Joseph 1996b:3.5). Two north-south thoroughfares led to Sudley Mills: the Sudley Mill Road leading into New Market (present day Sudley Road) and the Sudley Groveton Road (present day Featherbed Lane). These roads not only allowed transport of grains to the Sudley, but allowed farmers to bring their processed flour and meal to markets for sale and export (McCartney 1992:18).
No documentation was found regarding the type and amounts of grain processed at Sudley for the early nineteenth and late eighteenth centuries. However, Landon Carter refers to his son's mill, Sudley Mills, in his diary in 1770. In the entry he states, "John sent me down 900 and odd weight of flour from his mill" (Green 1987:458). Whether or not this was corn or wheat flour is difficult to determine, however, Landon Carter's earlier accounts of his other son's (Landon Carter II) crop production only mentions corn being grown (Green 1987:132).
Based on Agricultural Schedules of the 1850 and 1860 Federal Censuses, corn continued to be the primary grain grown in the Sudley area. The Industrial Schedules of 1850 and 1860 also list corn as the primary grain processed at Sudley Mill. In 1850 and 1860, corn comprised 75% of the 10,000 bushels of corn, buckwheat, and wheat reported by the Federal Census for the Manassas area (Joseph 1996a:3.8-10; Joseph 1996b:3.10-11). For the same year in 1850, the Industrial Schedule reports Sudley Mill as processing 1500 bushels of corn and, in 1860, processing 5000 bushels of corn (U.S. Bureau of the Census [USBC]b 1850:129; USBC 1860b:329). Based on this census data, Sudley Mills primarily relied upon grinding corn for its revenue.
John Carter passed Sudley Mill down to his son Landon Carter in 1789. Under Landon's proprietorship, Thomas Fortune operated the mill. In the early nineteenth century the mill complex consisted of a store, a miller's house (presumably where Fortune resided), and the mill. Local stories involving the operation of the mill under Landon Carter recount that a slave named "Sam" operated the store (Moreton in Johnson et al. 1982:34).
In 1835, Landon Carter sold the mill complex along with 100 acres of land to Peyton Neville, Benomi Harrison, James Macrae, and John W. Tyler (PWCDB Land Record Book:337), and included the land where Sudley Post Office sits. The 1840 Federal Census lists Peyton Neville's household as containing 33 members of which 22 were slaves and two were involved in manufacturing (USBC 1840). Given the proximity of the listing to the Sudley area, Peyton Neville more than likely lived near the mill complex. In 1847, Neville sold the complex, along with the 200 acres including the land where Sudley Post Office sits, to R.C. Mackell for $5500 (PWCDB 19:369). John Thornberry first appears on the tax lists the same year that Mackell acquired the mill complex (Prince William County Personal Property [PWCPP] 1840). Less than two years later, Neville passed away at the Prince William County seat of Brentsville (DAR 1973). The documentary record does not allow a determination of the nature of the relationship between Mackell and Thornberry.
Mackell owned Sudley Mills for almost ten years. The 1850 census lists him as a doctor residing in Sudley with $6000 in real estate. Dr. Mackell, along with his wife Harriet Mackell and sister-in-law Eliza Bennet, had been born in Maryland. The 1850 Census also lists Joseph Butter as a miller and as living next to the Mackell household, possibly in the miller house (USBC 1850a). The Industrial Schedules of the same census list a grist and sawmill operated by R.C. Mackell. In that year, the mill processed 1500 bushels of corn, 20 tons of plaster, and cut 20,000 feet of timber planks. The amount of grain processed was moderate to small in comparison to other mills in the area that averaged 3000 bushels of corn (USBC 1850b). However, ten years later Robert C. Weir increased the production at Sudley Mill by 2.5 times the amount of corn and almost twice the amount of lumber (USBC 1860b:129).
In 1856, Mackell sold the Sudley Mill tract to Robert F. Carter (earlier deed referenced in PWCDB 26:343). Less than three years later his cousin, Robert Carter Weir, purchased the Sudley Mills complex along with the 200-acre tract in 1859 (PWCDB 26:343). The 1860 Census lists the R.C. Weir household in the Sudley area and the McDowell Map of 1861 (Figure 2.4) details their residence as north of Catharpin Run and adjacent to the mill complex. The household contained five individuals: Robert, Ann his wife, his two children, and C.H. Lambert, a 27-year-old physician. This census lists Weir as a farmer who owned $8000 in real estate and $5970 in personal estate (USBC 1860a). Although the census lists Weir as a farmer, he does not appear in the Agricultural Schedule in 1860. However, the Industrial Schedule of 1860 lists him as the owner of a grist and saw mill. In 1860, Sudley Mill is listed as processing 5000 bushels of corn and 36,000 feet of timber plank, a substantial increase from production during Mackell's tenure at the mill (USBC 1860b:329). Weir's local connections might have contributed to the increase in the amount of raw products being processed at the mill as compared with Mackell's production record.
Before 1860, the use of the land and structures of Sudley Post Office is potentially associated with the mill complex. This is based on the fact that the Sudley Mill Tract encompassed the property on which the post office sits. As part of the tract, the structure of the Post Office was sold as part of the mill complex in the land transactions of 1835, 1847, 1856, and finally in 1859. During these transactions, John Thornberry and his household retained their tenure on the property. As detailed in the next section, the structures sold in these transactions not only served the needs of the mill but also housed the Thornberry household.
Thornberry Household (1846-1861)
For the period after 1846, available evidence indicates that the household of John Thornberry occupied the property/buildings of the Sudley Post Office. The Thornberrys are the only residents that documents associate with the Sudley Post Office property before the War. Both archeological, architectural, and historical evidence suggests that the Thornberry household built the present structure at Sudley Post Office as their domestic residence.
The Thornberry household probably resided on the lot as early as the mid 1840s. John Thornberry appears on the 1846 Personal Property Tax List for Prince William County. At that time, Thornberry did not have any males over the age of 18 living in the house and had no taxable property (PWCPP 1846).
The 1850 and 1860 Federal Census and the Prince William Personal Property Tax Lists for the Sudley area provide more details concerning the Thornberry household. In 1850, the household consisted of John, a 25-year-old wagon maker, and Martha, his wife. The couple did not own the property where they lived (USBC 1850). In 1852, the Prince William County tax collector assessed the Thornberrys= personal property at $79 with four cattle, one silver plate, a clock and $40 in household furniture (PWCPP 1852). By 1855 the tax list documents the household's personal property as including a slave over 16 years of age, two horses or mules, one cow, a clock, and $100 in kitchen and household furniture (PWCPP 1855). The Federal Census of 1860 lists Martha and John with five children between 12 years and three months of age. John's profession was that of wheelwright, and he owned $760 in real estate and $1576 in personal estate (USMC 1850). In this same year the Thornberrys' personal property consisted of furniture valued at $84, two female slaves over 16 years of age, one cow, a clock, $4 in silver plate, and $50 in furniture (PWCPP 1860). The large discrepancy between the assessed value of personal property in the federal census and the county assessment might be due to the federal and county tax collectors using different methods to assess personal property value.
In 1865, John Thornberry purchased the four-acre lot containing Sudley Post Office (PWCDB 26:200). He may have purchased the 4-acre lot from Weir by 1860 but did not record the deed until 1865, since Prince William County did not record any deed transactions during the War (PWCDB 26). Before the purchase of the lot, the Thornberrys would have occupied the land as tenants.
In addition to occupying the land as a tenant, Thornberry probably operated his shop through a tenant arrangement. The absence of any trade tools in John Thornberry's personal property tax lists supports the likelihood of a tenant arrangement. One possible explanation for the lack of tools is that the mill owners owned his shop and tools. As a tenant, the mill owners would have required him either to pay rent or provide services to the mill. Given the diversity of craft activities that Thornberry was engaged in as an undertaker, carpenter and wheelwright, he most likely paid rent to the succession of mill owners from the 1840s to 1860 (Fletcher 1936). Thornberry's shop would have serviced the wagons that brought grain, corn, and timber to Sudley Mills. In addition, the operators of Sudley Mill might have relied on Thornberry, the only blacksmith listed in the immediate area, for repairs to mill machinery.
John Thornberry's daughter Laura describes some details of the Thornberry household in a letter written in 1936 (Fletcher 1936). In this letter she recounts the events surrounding the First Battle of Manassas. She related that the family had lived in the structure for some "15 or 20 years," information she must have learned from her parents since she was only six years old at the time of the battle. She also recalled that her father was a "carpenter, wheelwright, undertaker" and ran a blacksmith shop for his own work. The Atkinson Map of 1861 shows a "Wheelwright Shop" located in the vicinity of Sudley Post Office and the Thornberry's residence (Figure 2.5). Thornberry was the only wheelwright in the Sudley-Groveton area and would have received a great deal of the area's business. The rapid economic growth of his household during the period between 1850 and 1860 is testimony to the success of his shop.
The Thornberry household was active in the Sudley Methodist Church across the road. The Sudley Sunday School Day Book lists John Thornberry as "leader," presumably of the school (Crowson 1958:9). Laura Fletcher's account of her father serving as an undertaker suggests an additional connection to the church. As a carpenter, the local community would have relied upon Thornberry to build coffins especially since his residence was conveniently located next door to the cemetery of Sudley Methodist Church. Thornberry's roles as an undertaker and instructor in the Sunday school would have established his role within the community as both a skilled craftsperson and an educator.