In December of 2003, my son Bobby and I discovered what is believed to be the oldest surviving wooden water wheel in America. The 1792 water powered grist mill was just about a mile and a half above Piedmont Mall in Danville (as the crow flies) on Sandy Creek. Maj. William Beavers was in charge for the Pittsylvania County militia for the southern half of the county in the period leading up to the War of 1812. The muster for the militia was held on the grounds of the 785-acre Beavers’ Mill tract. We found two military buttons for that period at the site. For more about the mill and artifacts see:
William D. Beavers, grandson of Maj. Beavers, was born in 1838 at Beavers’ Mill on Sandy Creek near Danville, Virginia. His parents were Edwin Rush Beavers (1806-1868) and the former Elizabeth B. Carter. The old 1792 mill was handed down to Edwin and his miller and slaves were grinding wheat and corn throughout the Civil War times.The 1860 census taker came to Beavers’ Mill back home to record Edwin Rush Beavers and his family. His son Jeduthan Carter Beavers. In 1858, the Pittsylvania court appointed Jed to be Trustee for Edwin R. Beavers affairs. From court records, it appears that he had a stroke and was mentally unstable. In 1868, the court ordered the remaining tract of 565 acres divided into six parts for Edwin’s children. One child, Wm. D., had died in 1863 durning the Civil War.
Keeping the mill in operating condition was time consuming and expensive. The parts wore out and were frequently borken. During the Civil War, Mrs. Elizabeth B. Beavers complained that the gudgeon was broken, but the mill was running again after she spent almost $400 dollars on repairs.
The gudgeon above is one of the spare parts at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. The drawing shows how it is used. The iron part covers the end of the central shaft. Replacing this part is a difficult task.
Here our grandson Joey Ricketts is with what we believe to be the 1792 Beavers’ Mill waterwheel. After nearly 200 years underwater, we brought the separate pieces to our yard from the mud, clay and sand of Sandy Creek and reassembled it in our yard. The length is 16 feet 3 inches and the diameter would have been about eight feet. The wood appears to be spruce and heart yellow pine.
In 1859, when he was twenty one years old, William D. Beavers set out on his own to the Red River Valley of Texas. He obviously heard glowing reports of the rich land and business opportunities in northern Texas from relatives of those who moved a few years before. In 1860, he was living with the widow Eliza Pritchett, formerly of Pittsylvania County.
When the census taker came around on 21 Aug 1860 in Sherman, Grayson Co., Texas, William D. Beavers, age 22, was living with the widow Eliza Pritchett and family. The next entry is her son-in-law George S. Fitzgerald, who wife Sarah B. Pritchett died inon 10 Dec 1859. Later in 1860, George married Frances Dance Pritchett (1818-1897), another of Eliza’s daughters.
On the same census page is another daughter of Eliza and her husband. Julia Etta Pritchett (1822-1889) married the Rev. Samuel J. Spotts on 7 Dec 1842. Massachusetts born Spotts was Pastor of the Methodist church in Danville, before he moved west in 1859. All five of their children were born in Virginia. Eliza Pritchett’s husband Joshua died in 1847. Ten years later, in 1857, she sold her land on the upper branches of Stuarts Creek and moved west. She sold the family land for almost $4,000 cash and joined a wagon train with sixteen other families, including over a hundred slaves. After a three month journey, with most of her fourteen children, her grand children and slaves, they arrived in Grayson County, Texas. In October of 1859, forty four members of the Blair, Williams, and Turner families, along with nine slaves and one free Black man, made the same move out west. They arrived in Texas on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1859. Young William D. Beavers may have been with this group. The wagon trains traveled up to the area now Roanoke and down the valley road to Knoxville. They took a “steamer” down the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers, and across Arkansas to the Red River Valley northeast of the present city of Dallas in Texas. William D. Beavers was twenty one when he arrived in Texas with plans to start a tobacco business there. On October 4, 1861, at age 23, William Beavers went to Sherman, the county seat of Grayson County, and enlisted as first sergeant for twelve months in Capt. William Hugh Young’s Company, Maxey’s Regiment of Texas Infantry. He is on the muster roll for that unit dated at Camp Rush in Lamar County on December 1, 1861. The company later became Co. C, 9th (Young’s) Regiment Texas Infantry. The number of “miles to rendezvous” is given as 60.
William Hugh Young was Wm. D. Beavers company commander when he enlisted. He was educated at the University of Virginia. Young was later promoted to colonel and brigadier general. He was captured and held at Johnson’s Island prison until July 1865.
On the company muster roll for Co. C, 9th Regiment in July of 1861, W. D. Beavers is listed as second lieutenant. The muster roll for January and February, 1863 lists Beavers as absent: “Remarks: Sent to Texas as recruiting officer Nov. 1/62.” In March through July, he is again present with his company. His pay is shown to be $80 per month.
During this time the 9th Texas was involved in many of the large battles. Wm. H. Young (1838-1901), the company and later regimental commander was the same age as William Beavers. Young was wounded several times and returned to duty. After the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, he was promoted to brigadier general on August 15, 1864. On a march, his left foot was “all but shot off” and he was captured and sent to Johnson’s Island, Ohio, where he was held until July 24, 1864.
Second lieutenant William D. Beavers did not live to see the war end. The company muster roll for July and August 1863 has the remark for Beavers: “Killed in battle at Jackson, Miss. July 12, 1863.
Another soldier of the same regiment wrote that “..we were corralled at Jackson, Miss. The Feds pounding us there for nine days and nights, here was killed Wm. E. (sic) Beavers of Bonham…..killed by a solid shot…who at one time clerked for W. B. & J. B. Oliphant of Bonham and was as brave and true as ever lived.” William D. Beavers was only 25 years old when he died. On April 26, 1861, William D. Beavers’ older brother Jeduthan Carter Beavers (b 1833) enlisted in Co. B, “The Danville Grays,” 18th Virginia Infantry Regiment. His wife was the former Sallie V. Jordan., wrote to him in Richmond on May 13, 1861. On May 6, 1862, Jeduthan secured J. J. Adkins as substitute. On May 18, 1862 Adkins died of typhoid fever in Richmond. It appears that he served another enlistment in 1863 and 1864.
In April of 1859, the year that William left, his father Edwin R. Beavers began having financial and legal difficulties involving money, land and slaves. An auction was held on August 23, 1860 for part of the Beavers’ Mill land.
These old receipts for 1846 and 1847, which were evidence in the long running court case, were in Pittsylvania Courthouse.
The case continued in county court for 26 years, until both Edwin and Jeduthan were dead. The court, which is one lawyer who has stepped up a notch, ruled that “it appears to the court that since the abolition of slavery, the object of the suit cannot be effected.” As is often the case, it was only the lawyers who were winners. The waterwheel we found was deep down below two rock floors. We believe that the first mill was constructed in 1792 and was destroyed by fire in 1812. Almost half the burned wheel settled into the mud and clay and was preserved.
This is a page from the History Notes publication. The top view is of the waterwheel in its position where it had rested in water for almost two hundred years. The insert shows our first view of a mill timber in the Sandy Creek bank. The museum asked Nancye and I to come to Richmond to assemble the wheel. A metal supporting frame was bolted to the wheel to hold it on a wall of the new musuem building. The display position causes it to appear as it did when it was in operation.
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