The Impact of the Civil War on John Chapman – Part 3

Western Lunatic Asylum Circa 1840

Western Lunatic Asylum Circa 1840

Part two of a three part article. Click Here to read part one and Click Here to read part 2.

This piece was originally written in 2011 by Ellen Percy Miller. It details the life and fortunes of John Chapman before the Civil War and his rapid decline following it.

Broken by the maltreatment to him by Union soldiers, the destruction of his property and the certain knowledge he had lost the Mill which his father had admonished in his will, was not to leave the family, John Chapman suffered a mental breakdown. His family said he became a lunatic in 1862 and they committed him to the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton, Va. in 1864.

John Chapman died in the Western Lunatic Asylum in December of 1866.

In the 1861 Land Tax formulas John Chapman’s 620 ¾ acres of land and buildings in Thoroughfare-Bull Run Mountain were valued at $13,967.25. In the 1865 Land Tax formulas they were valued at $12,967.25 with a notation, “$1000 off-dam…to Buildings.” Other taxpayers had the notation, “Buildings destroyed” which leads to the question of how damaged were Chapman’s buildings? To quote from Noel Harrison’s article, A New Look at Chapman’s (Beverley) Mill… “The exact impact of the engagement upon the industrial complex at Chapman’s Mill is also difficult to determine. This uncertainty is due to the fact that Thoroughfare Gap was later the scene of numerous military encampments and at least three other engagements—in October 1862 and May and June 1863—between elements of the main contending armies. Enough off the interior of Chapman’s Mill had survived by August 28, 1862 to enable the Massachusetts sharpshooters to ascend to its second floor, but, by July 1863, the building was described as ‘windowless and floorless’ and, along with the adjacent structures, ‘deserted.’” One wonders if perhaps the mill functioned from August 28, 1862 until a year later in 1863. We do know that a photograph taken in 1898 by a Spanish-American War soldier in the encampment in Thoroughfare Gap showed a damaged stone warehouse by the mill and on the back is written that it had been damaged during the Civil War.

In 1867 Chapman’s Mill was ordered sold to settle Chapman’s debts, provide his widow with her dower and his siblings with their lost inheritance. The Mill with its sawmill did not get a bid at a public auction.

The Personal Property Tax of 1867 noted that John Chapman’s estate only had 1 horse, no carriage, 7 cattle, no sheep, no hogs, no watch, only $15 in gold, silver plate and jewelry but still had $300 worth of kitchen and household goods. The total value was $708 compared to the Personal Property Tax of 1860 whose sum value was $2,160.

By 1869 his estate was indebted by $31,042.09 (today equal to $620,840.)

Again, in 1870 the Mill did not sell at a public auction.

Sometime between 1871 and 1876 Robert Beverley bought the Chapman’s Mill property, thus ending 130 years of ownership by the Chapman family. John Chapman didn’t follow the dictates of his father’s will: to never mortgage or sell the Mill—it must be kept in the family, “to share and share alike” with siblings, and have “no disputes” regarding inheritances. However, without the advent of the Civil War perhaps he would not have lost his mill.

It took the Chapman family years to resolve John’s estate, partially because he appropriated his brother George’s estate instead of dividing it between the siblings.

As one can see, John Chapman did suffer economically, physically and emotionally from the Civil War. Prince William County’s economic development was also diminished by the loss of its largest and most important industrial complex.

Postscript: Ellen Thornton Chapman, widow of John, died at the Louise Home in Washington DC. This was a home for gentlewomen who had been reduced by misfortune, established in 1870 by William Corcoran who also founded the Corcoran Art Gallery.


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