Do the little things matter?

Posted on June 8, 2013 by


It My concern in bringing this up might seem trivial to some, but it’s not. I assure you.

Just stop for a minute and consider a couple of things… keeping in mind, of course, the Civil War era.

When someone is identified as an abolitionist… what do you envision?

When someone is identified as being from Massachusetts… what do you envision?

What if a person is identified as both an abolitionist and being from Massachusetts?

What about a “Cincinnati girl”?

These are several of the ways I’ve seen one of my favorite Shenandoah Valley Southern Unionist personalities identified over the past year. Not only is most of the information incorrect, it can also be misleading.

For one, think of the mindset that might set in, when considering… for example… this person as a “Massachusetts abolitionist”. I think a lot of people would quickly get a picture in their heads and begin to see the person based on prior understanding of the type of people that fall into this category.

Second, other people might ask… “how was she a Southern Unionist if she was from Massachusetts… or Cincinnati?

Fact of the matter is, she… Jessie Hainning Rupert… was from neither place. She was born in Scotland.

1900 census, showing Jessie Hainning Rupert's place of birth. She was residing in New Market at the time.

1900 census, showing Jessie Hainning Rupert’s place of birth. She was residing in New Market at the time.

Even with that being the case, the question might remain… “how a Southern Unionist”. Of course, residence in a place establishes it as so… though only one category of Southern Unionism. I won’t venture down that path, as I think I’ve discussed it before. Rather, I’ll stick to the importance of the little things I’ve identified… the dispersion of bad information and how it matters. 

Jessie Hainning Rupert, probably in the latter 1800s, if not early 1900s.

Jessie Hainning Rupert, probably in the latter 1800s, if not early 1900s.

The fact is, Jessie was… yes, and as I’ve already pointed out… born in Scotland, the daughter of Presbyterian Rev. William and Mary Park Hainning. She came to the United States in the early 1830s… to a parish on the Ohio River, near… yes… Cincinnati. At least five of her formative years of youth were spent there. Yet, because of the death (typhoid) of her parents and all siblings (except a brother), she… at the dying wishes of her mother… was taken into the family of the attending physician (Dr. Dodge). Therefore, she remaining in Ohio, and was raised with whatever might be considered a “Ohio mentality”, attending school in Steubenville.

At this time Judge H.R. Gamble of Missouri, during the war to be provisional governor of that state, a man of considerable means, believed it to be his Christian duty to devote a portion of his wealth to the bettering of humanity, and for this end was undertaking the education of a number of young women. Being an acquaintance of Doctor Dodge the latter informed the judge of the rare qualities of heart and mind possessed by his protege, said information securing an invitation for Miss Jessie, though a total stranger, to pass the summer at the home of Judge Gamble and to complete her education at his expense.

The visit proved a delight to the judge and his wife as well as to the young woman for whim they were willing to do so much, and at their direction she took the long journey across half of the continent to Pittsfield, Mass., where she became a pupil in the famous Maplewood Institute of that place, one of the most noted young ladies’ schools in the country, continuing there until the spring of 1855.

… and therefore, we now have a “Massachusetts connection”… though, in fact, it was short-lived. She had to leave Pittsfield due to the “rigors of the Northern climate”, and began attending the Oakland Female Institute, in Norristown, Pa.

Among her Norristown friends was a Miss Phoebe A. Preston of Lexington, Va.

Preston and Hainning became very good friends… so good, in fact, that Jessie later went to Lexington to visit her friend… and found a position with “a high academy for the education of girls bearing the name of ‘Ann Smith’, over which Miss Hainning was installed as principal, holding the position for a term of years, all of the time making her home in that of Col. J.T. L. Preston…

What we can see in all of this is… emphasizing the place of birth… and even upbringing… eclipses a much more complex story of her life leading up to being identified as a Southern Unionist. Though not the case with all of the things I found about Jessie (both on the Web and in recent print), some even miss her association with another person of interest (if association with Col. Preston was not enough!)…

The colonel (Preston), a professor in the V.M.I., was a fine type of the old school, Southern gentleman, and his home was a rallying point for the notables of the place. Thus the young principal early made the acquaintance of Prof. T.J. Jackson and the friendship thus established was lifelong with each. Another intimate friend was Margaret Junkin, sister of “Stonewall” Jackson’s first wife and a daughter of Pres. George Junkin of Washington University, who in 1861 was stoned out of Lexington for his Union sentiments. This daughter was a distinguished writer of prose and verse, and later the wife of Colonel Preston.

The “stoned out” part, by the way, was an exaggeration.

 Among the pupils at the ‘Ann Smith’ Academy was Miss Katie Williamson from New Market, a village in the Shenandoah Valley forty-five miles north of Staunton. One summer the principal visited her pupil at the latter’s home, ‘Hardscrabble’, a beautiful estate a few miles from the village itself, and so pleased was Miss Hainning with the prospect that she decided to give up her position at the ‘Ann Smith’ Academy and to start an institution of her own, the College Institute, at New Market. This was in 1859…

Now we now how she came to finally be in New Market. But, what about her sentiments as war approached?

Those years of training in the Pittsfield School had their influence in determining the course of the teacher. She could not sympathize with any scheme that looked to the division of the nation, nor would her decisive characteristics permit her to compromise her feelings or to suppress them. When the war actually began she was most outspoken in her loyal sentiments. Naturally, her school was broken up, the greater part of her friends deserted her and much bitterness in the community was excited against her. A very few, including the Williamsons, though her sons were in the Confederate Army, continued to be staunch friends. Truly the position of the young woman was a trying one. So far as she knew she had not a relative in America; her training had been received in the anti-slavery North, yet her she found herself in the midst of a people furious in their hatred of the North and a unit in their hostility to the principles which she professed and openly avowed. Not more than a dozen people in the village would speak to her when meeting in the street.

Headstone of Jessie Hainning Rupert, New Market, Virginia.

Headstone of Jessie Hainning Rupert, New Market, Virginia. Note the engraving… “Daughter of the Regiment 34th Massachusetts Infantry”… a title she earned as a nurse, following the Battle of New Market. As this reflects, her association with the 34th remained significant, well beyond the battle.

Of course, her story is much larger than I’ve stated here. There is a great deal more about her association with friend… Thomas Jackson; more about what she experienced in the early war; more about her experience after the war. She married a man of New Market, had children, and even had a key role in nursing soldiers in the aftermath of the battle of New Market (and was overshadowed, likely because of her sentiments, by another woman from New Market…Eliza Clinedinst Crim, aka “Mother Crim”). It’s more than I can put in a single blog post, but will detail otherwise in another work.

The point is… maybe some folks might do better not to put too much emphasis on Jessie’s place of birth. In Jessie’s case, does the place of her birth matter? Well, sort of… but the circumstances of her upbringing, I think, were more significant… not to mention her associations… many which were close, among notable Virginians of the Valley.

I get it… it wasn’t the intent of certain writers to give the bigger story. Still, even in a condensed version of Jessie’s story, emphasis might be better placed elsewhere… perhaps more on the “right set of little things.”

When it comes to Southern Unionists in the Shenandoah Valley, her story is one of the most complex… and that is likely the reason why she is so high on my ranking when it comes to stories of Valley’s Southern Unionists.