The Ghosts of Virginia

Last week, I traveled through North Carolina and Virginia. Part of this visit was for speaking engagements. I also wanted to do some family history scouting in Virginia. In the same way that people return to the county of their ancestors in Ireland, or the village in Italy, I wanted to visit my roots. The only experience I have of Virginia is either stories told by my grandmother, or history books. I expected that I would be a cousin to everyone I met on the street. Oddly, this wasn’t the case. As I was reminded, it’s not 1850. I was surprised to find many streets named after family members, and Colonial Williamsburg was like a family reunion. I had some of the best fried-chicken of my life. I met some remarkable people working incredibly hard for their community. And, I now know what Henrico and Albemarle counties look like.

My grandmother talked about Virginia in a poetic and tragic way. I assumed that it was because she was dramatic. But, I found myself feeling the same way. I felt a constant undercurrent of family history everywhere I went. I thought about the great achievements and terrible deeds committed. The entire time, I was aware that all of these people were gone, all of their accomplishments completed by the 18th century, and that the families had long ago dispersed. I definitely felt the ghosts of many of them at each stop. Whether it was Peter Meriwether Fry at the Jefferson Hotel, or Dr. Thomas Walker at Castle Hill, or Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, I could see their world through my eyes.

Robert Carter house

paint color detail, Colonial Williamsburg

There is more between the lines than leading

Today I’m in Richmond. I spent yesterday in Raleigh with the enormously generous and patient Denise Gonzales Crisp. I’m staying at The Jefferson Hotel. I was recommended to try another hotel that was less stodgy, but I’m, yes, stodgy. It suits me fine. I also decided to stay here because my grandmother’s Uncle Peter Meriwether Fry was the hotel’s long-time general manager from its opening in 1895.

Like most of the “official” information I have, there is no mention of anything salacious. In this instance, this could be true, as I never heard my grandmother say anything bad about her Uncle. And in Southern terms that would have been, “Well, I’d rather not say anything.” I have an old clipping from “Men of Mark in Virginia” published in 1908. It’s rather dry. But I like what is written between the lines.

The tone reads pleasantly and suggests a life of peace and harmony, but any of our lives could be rewritten in these terms. Clearly there was an issue of a lack of purpose, he tried agriculture and didn’t like that. He preferred to read about history, but was pressured to take on law, which was a common family profession. He dropped that and ended up in the family business as his father owned several resorts. It drives me mad that there is so little substance here. However, in the Jefferson’s little historical case, I found a nice portrait of his daughter at her Coming-Out party. Supposedly, he made a scrapbook at the Virginia Historical Society. That will be for my next visit.

The Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, Virginia

FRY, PETER MERIWETHER, was born in Richmond, Virginia, March 21, 1856. His parents were Col. William H. Fry and Jane Margaret (Watson) Fry. His ancestry begins with Joshua Fry, who was educated at Oxford University and settled in Essex county, Virginia, between 1710 and 1720. He filled many public offices; was master of the grammar school at William and Mary college; professor of mathematics; member of the house of burgesses, and presiding justice and county lieutenant of Albemarle. With Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson he made a most interesting map of Virginia. In 1754 he was commissioned by Governor Dinwiddie as colonel and commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces with George Washington as major and next in command. He was stricken with fever at Fort Cumberland, and Washington and the whole army attended the funeral. On a large oak tree Washington cut the following inscription which can be read to this day: " Under this oak tree lies the body of the good, the just and the noble Fry."

Rev. Henry Fry was the second son of Col. Joshua Fry, and the latter was father of Joshua Fry, the great grandfather of the subject of this sketch. His grandfather was Hugh W. Fry, who was in business for years in Richmond, was president of Hollywood cemetery company, and of the old Dominion Iron and Nail works, and had a share in other business enterprises. His father, Colonel William H. Fry, was in business in Richmond for years, was captain of the Richmond light infantry blues and colonel of the 1st Virginia regiment, and during the latter part of the war was stationed in Richmond in charge of Camp Lee. He owned an interest in several summer resorts, and was one of the best known men in Virginia.

Peter Meriwether Fry, the subject of this sketch, spent his time in early boyhood partly in the city and partly in the country. While he had no regular tasks, he would assist on the farm during the summer with many things. He had a private tutor until he entered the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical institute, where he was graduated in agriculture in 1876. Mr. Fry read a great deal of history and literature and put much time upon the study of law, but never graduated or practiced the profession.

He began the active work of life as chief clerk at the Alleghany Springs during the season of 1876, representing his father's interest, liked the hotel business and determined to make the work his profession. From 1876 to 1895 he was chief clerk at the Alleghany Springs and the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, and since 1895 he has been employed at the Jefferson Hotel the finest hotel in the South first as chief clerk for one year and afterwards as manager.

Mr. Fry is a member of the Hermitage Golf club, and president of the Richmond Chapter of the V. P. I. Alumni association. He has always been fond of athletic sports, preferably

base ball, but he has little time for such things at present.

In politics Mr. Fry, is a Democrat, who has never swerved from his party allegiance. In religious preferences he is a member of the Episcopal church. His advice to young men is never to keep so busy as not to have a little time each day for exercise in the open air.

On June 15, 1897, he married Miss Irene Virginia Hancock, and they have had three children all of whom are now (1907) living.

His address is the Jefferson Hotel, Corner Franklin, Jefferson and Main Streets, Richmond, Virginia.