Like the branches of a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our family roots remain as one.
Through research to learn more about my family’s roots, we found one of the possible connections quite interesting. My mother found family that had come from Virginia, thought to have traveled through Tennessee, and then later settled in Louisiana. In order to go forward, sometimes you must go backwards. Our adventure took us exploring Frederick and Page Counties in Virginia. In 2022, the area is nothing like it was in the early and mid-1700s when my ancestors arrived as valley pioneers. Sparse record keeping, plus “The Burning” of the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War made thorough and detailed research close to impossible. However, it was fascinating to see several homes built in the 1700s and some foundations that dated back to the mid-1700s and later rebuilt or restored, and some of the history from the old homes led us again to the families that had settled in the valley.
In 1731, Jost Hite was granted more than one hundred thousand acres of fertile farmlands in the Shenandoah Valley by Governor Sir William Gooch. He and his small family arrived and settled in the Shenandoah Valley just south of the town now called Middletown.
It was either the oldest or youngest boys who inherited the farms and estates. Major Isaac Hite, Jost’s grandson, married Nelly Madison, sister of the future president, James Madison, and the couple completed the building of the 7,500-acre Belle Grove Plantation Manor in 1797. They grew wheat, raised cattle and Merino sheep, and had a large distillery and several mills. The house was built with limestone quarried on the property and then expertly crafted to symmetrical blocks. This Federal-style manor house was headquarters of General Philip Sheridan and the location of the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864. So, you see, it survived being an epicenter of the Civil War without even a cannon ball penetrating the outer walls, though dents remain, and continues farming operations today.
What about the other sons and grandsons? What about the daughters and granddaughters? There are stories about them, not really recorded history like these more famous stories that were in our Civil War history books. Some of the Jost Hite family moved only a few miles away and some went on to the next town in Page County. Later, some left for reasons unknown, but several families left because farming areas were becoming overcrowded and some left Virginia because of their belief against the institution of slavery. All true facts and are true in similarity of so many other families in that time. Through DNA testing and research my mother has found the connection but lacks the exact names and family branch from which we grew.
My mother and I attended a Hite family reunion at the Belle Grove Plantation where the sites and the people were amazing! We met distant cousins and made some new friends. We toured towns, museums, and several historical sites. We drove Shenandoah National Park, up the Skyline Drive, and listened to John Denver’s song Country Road. We walked into the Luray caverns and saw the vibrant cathedral-sized rock formations. Checked out the car and carriage and toy museums, plus added a Shenandoah Heritage village tour to the list of things done and topped it off with a purchase of homemade fudge to take home to the boys.
We will find our ancestors, because we are drawn to our connection with them, the roots that grew our tree branch and without which we would not exist.
What do you know about your roots? The paths they took and their story? I bet they are fascinating!
Here is the advice I brought home from Shenandoah: Expand your horizons, reach new heights, keep a sense of wonder, be inspirational, cherish wilderness, see beauty all around you, and enjoy life’s peaks and valleys!