The history of the property later known as Montgomery Hall predates the Revolutionary War and from the time this land was first occupied and farmed, the land and the people living and working there have been intricately linked to the history and extended community of Staunton and Augusta County. The Reconstruction era following the Civil War is no exception. Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865, with local offices to assist formerly enslaved African-Americans with the many challenges associated with their long overdue freedom. With and without assistance from the local field office, they were faced with finding living quarters, negotiating employment with no guarantee of payment from white employers, locating family members separated through sales before and during the Civil War, and aiding orphaned children and elderly men and women with no family to care for them. Many of those newly freed in Staunton and Augusta County also worked to form their own church communities.

One of the most interesting developments at Montgomery Hall immediately following the Civil War was the use of the creek running through the Montgomery Hall property for immersion baptisms by the local African-American community, most of whom were formerly enslaved in the area. The Montgomery Hall property once extended to what is now West Beverley Street and it was on a section of the Montgomery Hall acreage north of the creek (and later also north of the railroad) where most of the African-Americans associated with Montgomery Hall lived. The Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Staunton continued the practice established by his predecessor in baptizing hundreds of formerly enslaved African-American men and women in the creek at Montgomery Hall. Each of these immersion baptisms drew crowds of spectators in the hundreds. Men, women, and children, both black and white, gathered together by the creek to witness these rites.

A more detailed account of these baptisms and the complete history of Montgomery Hall will be published as John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall and available later this year.

John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall is now on Facebook.

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Thornrose Cemetery, Staunton, Virginia

William Madison Peyton was the only surviving child of John Howe Peyton and his first wife, Susanna Smith Madison. He was educated at Staunton Academy, Princeton, and Yale. He married Sarah “Sallie” A. E. Taylor in 1826 and lived in Staunton, Bath County, and for many years at Elmwood (now Elmwood Park) in Roanoke County, Virginia. William Madison Peyton lived in Albemarle County, Virginia from 1862 until his death. His obituary, transcribed below, was published in the Staunton Spectator on February 18, 1868. His brother, John Lewis Peyton, later erected a cenotaph in Thornrose Cemetery in his memory.


Died at the residence of Alex. P. Eskridge, Esq., in Montgomery County, Va., on Saturday, February 15, 1868, Col. William Madison Peyton, in the 64th year of his age.

Col. Peyton resided at Alta Vista in Albemarle County, but having been called to Abingdon by the death of his son-in-law, Hon. Walter Preston, he was returning home, and while on a visit to his brother-in-law, Mr. Eskridge, he was attacked by paralysis, which proved fatal.

Col. P. was the oldest son of the late John Howe Peyton of Staunton, and he left in our community many near relatives and many attached friends to whom he has been known from his boyhood. He married a daughter of Judge Allen Taylor, Chancellor of the Staunton bar.

He was best known in Virginia in connection with Roanoke County, where he lived for many years, and where he was distinguished as an agriculturist and as an able representative in the Virginia Legislature.

He was a pioneer in the development of the Cannel Coal interests of Western Virginia, where a town and extensive mines yet bear his name. This enterprise led him to remove to New York where he soon became well known as the President of the Old Dominion Society, and as such, the leader of Virginia sentiment in that city. He was in New York when the trouble of 1861 began and gained a high reputation as a writer in opposition to the secession of the South. When, however, contrary to his judgment and advice, secession was attempted and war followed, he left his business and his property in New York and came home to share the fortunes of his native State. He was too old and too infirm to render personal service, but he was accompanied by his only son who gallantly fought throughout the war for a cause in which his father could only suffer and endure.

Col. Peyton was well known in Virginia for his genial hospitality, pleasing address, refined tastes, high attainments, vigorous intellect, and clear integrity. He was a fair representative of that class of Virginia gentleman, whose passing away is one of the greatest misfortunes which threaten to overwhelm us.





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John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall will finally be published in late 2015!

The Library on this site has been updated and updates and new additions have been included in the Database. The Database additions represent formerly enslaved African-American members of the Anderson, Lucas, Bird/Byrd, Broady, Rayford, Foster, Jeffers/Jeffries, Campbell, and Davis families in the Virginia counties of Augusta, Bath, Botetourt, Roanoke, Albemarle, Mecklenburg, Washington, Nottoway, Amherst, and Amelia, and Kanawha County, West Virginia.

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Additions are being made to the Database. Probate and chancery records and the birth and death records of several Virginia counties have provided new information pertaining to many of the enslaved people included in the Database.

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New information has been added to Other Families at Montgomery Hall for the Donaghe, Walter, Kennedy, Chidester, Anderson, and Thomas families.

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The Homecoming at Montgomery Hall Park will take place on Saturday, July 13 from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. with proceeds from the sale of food and beverages at this free event benefiting the African-American Heritage Festival. I look forward to sharing details of Montgomery Hall’s rich and diverse history there from 12:30-1:30. I am also working with Jenny Jones, Superintendent of Recreation at Staunton Parks and Recreation to create a visual timeline of the history of the land, the plantation, the two houses, and all of the people who lived and worked there to be displayed at the Homecoming. Last Wednesday Jenny and I worked together to confirm recent details that have emerged in my research and will now be included when published as John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall.

I know of no other park property that can trace its history from a plantation made successful by the efforts of the enslaved African-American people who lived there between 1822 and 1865 to a park created as a haven for and run by the African-American community in Staunton from 1946 to 1978. The nearly 150 acre core tract of land that comprises the present park was formerly known as the Montgomery Hall Farm tract, a portion of the 820 acre Montgomery Hall Plantation, well-known as the seat of the Honorable John Howe Peyton and named as a tribute to his young wife, Ann Montgomery Lewis, a great-granddaughter of John Lewis, founder of Staunton and Augusta County. Peyton and subsequent owners, William J. Shumate, William W. Donaghe, Henry D. Peck, Emma and Frank Walter, Bates Warren, John A. Kennedy, D. D. Chidester, and Alexander C. Thomas each left their mark as owners of the property and all share in Montgomery Hall’s history.

John Howe Peyton’s original Montgomery Hall residence, completed in 1824, was totally destroyed by fire on February 11, 1906 during the Walter family’s ownership. Recently, I discovered documents relating to a previously unknown renovation of and addition to the original house that have provided invaluable information for my book. It was long believed that the present Montgomery Hall was a combination of original and new construction. This is not the case. Both the design for the 1903 renovation and addition and the design of the new house were by T. J. Collins & Son, with the actual work completed by local contractors and sub-contractors under the Collins firm’s supervision. The present Montgomery Hall, completed in the spring of 1907, was built on the site of the former residence and includes features of the original house.

At the Homecoming, I will share the early history of Montgomery Hall as a mostly self-sufficient agricultural community, the crops and livestock raised on the farm, plantation operations, and the database I have created of the previously unknown enslaved African-American people associated with John Howe Peyton and William J. Shumate. There have been many owners and caretakers of the Montgomery Hall property, but the one constant spanning the years from slavery through segregation was the local African-American community’s connection to the land.



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I found quite a few interesting and significant items this week and not too late for some of this new information to be included in John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall:

  • New details about the lives of enslaved individuals (Scipio, Sarah Moore and her daughter, Henrietta, Nancy Moore, Eliza, daughter of Lucy, and Eliza’s child) and have already added some of these details to the Database.
  • T. J. Collins & Son designed a two-story addition and plans for renovation of Montgomery Hall in the spring of 1903 for Mr. and Mrs. Frank Walter. The firm of E. W. Stewart & Co. and other subcontractors completed the addition and other renovations and alterations based on these plans by the end of 1903. Several dependencies original to John Howe Peyton’s ownership were torn down at that time.
  • New information about the sale (in parcels of varying sizes) of Spring Farm by the executor of W. W. Donaghe, Sr.’s estate, including the 90 acres that became John Lewis Peyton’s Steephill in 1877 and the Gum Spring acreage (now Gypsy Hill Park) originally purchased by Staunton for the town water supply.
  • Peyton family correspondence relating to the reinterment of Peyton family members at Aquia Episcopal Church, including a description of the original gravesites at Stony Hill.
  • New details of William Madison Peyton’s life

One item made me smile: The words engraved on the brass collar worn by John Lewis Peyton’s dog, an enormous, but very gentle Mastiff:

“Let knaves, thieves, tramps, and scamps beware of coming near my Steephill lair. My name it simply is Forepaughs, my duty to defend the laws- Yes-sir e bob! I snaps and bites all trenchers on my master’s rights.”


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JOHN HOWE PEYTON: APRIL 27, 1778 – APRIL 3, 1847

John Howe Peyton Obituary

Obituary, John Howe Peyton

Obituary, John Howe Peyton

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I was reading through John Lewis Peyton’s 1881-1887 letter book earlier this week and was intrigued by a letter dated September 16, 1886. Peyton wrote this letter to Mrs. Adele Morgan, a friend from Guernsey, the Channel Island where he had resided for a number of years. In this letter, John Lewis Peyton attributed the longevity of Guernsey’s residents and the residents of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to the healthy climates of both places. He cited several people of advanced age known to him in Staunton. His last example was: “One of my father’s old servant women, who was full grown in 1802, and nursed my elder brother, the late William Madison Peyton of Roanoke, & who is now over 103 yrs of age, is still hale & hearty & walks the streets of Staunton.”

John Lewis Peyton was clearly referencing a woman formerly enslaved at Montgomery Hall. I immediately began searching to learn her identity and finally found the following obituary, originally published in the Rockingham Register, Harrisonburg, Virginia on March 24, 1893:

Died at the Age of 105 Jennie Phipps, an old colored woman who died at the Staunton almshouse last Sunday, had undoubtedly lived more than 100 years. She was brought to Staunton by Hon. John Howe Peyton from Stony Hill in Stafford County, Va, his native place, and was a servant in his family for fifty years until after his death. She was a widow of Ned Phipps, who was the body servant of Major John H. Peyton during the war of 1812-1815. The record of her age was destroyed by Federal soldiers in the late war, with Colonel John L. Peyton’s entire library, at a place in Alleghany to which he had sent a quantity of valuable property for safe keeping.

The age of the person to whom John Lewis Peyton referred in his letter to Mrs. Morgan and the age given of Jennie Phipps are not exact, but their estimated birthdates are not so many years apart. Estate records and Peyton family letters already place Ned Fips and Jenny Fips at Montgomery Hall. This new information revealed that Ned Fips/Phipps and Jenny Fips/Phipps were husband and wife and that she originally lived at Stony Hill, the Peyton family plantation in Stafford County, Virginia. Ned Phipps is mentioned specifically in John Lewis Peyton’s Memoir of William Madison Peyton as having been John Howe Peyton’s body servant during the War of 1812.

New details continue to emerge, gradually piecing together the history of all of those who lived at John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall. As a result of her long life, Jennie Phipps, formerly enslaved, left behind via this obituary more of a written record of her life than most women of her generation and I believe that John Lewis Peyton likely provided the content that resulted in its publication.

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