Local historian and retired U.S. Army colonel O.H. Perry Cabot has penned a meticulously researched reference book detailing life in a northern Culpeper County community nearly 90 years ago.
“Anatomy of a Village: Jeffersonton, Culpeper County, Virginia—1930” is a study of that year’s census, providing notes, anecdotes, stories lost to time and observations about some 500 households (354 in the Jeffersonton District, 90 in the village proper and another 55 outside).
A longtime Jeffersonton resident, Cabot spent 17 years writing the limited edition book about which he will speak at 3 p.m. this Sunday in the meeting room at the Culpeper Library. Copies of the book will be available to purchase for $12, with Cabot available to autograph them.
Cabot, known locally for his work with the Society for the Preservation of Culpeper History and Concerned Culpeper Citizens, said he invested time writing the book for two reasons.
“I made informal promises to two people who I very much respected for their roles in their community—Tommy Rosenberger and Clinton Cunningham,” the author said in a statement about the book, and, “I felt an obligation to a community which sustained my itch for meaningful activity for the last third of my life.”
Every sixth word in the book is a fact, Cabot stated, totaling about 6,500, garnered from more than 50 sources.
“There may be similar studies of other communities, but I have never heard of one. I strongly suspect that is because, generally, nobody wants to write such a book,” he said. “The necessary time and resources for questionable gain don’t compute. Certainly, nobody else in Jeffersonton would do so.”
The fuel that sustained the effort then, Cabot commented, involved a motive too subtle for the average reader: “Preservation of a precious, ephemeral, nuanced social structure; at the most visceral level, including all the vagaries and frailties of human nature and the fear of losing it to posterity.”
In writing the book, the author said, he simply tried to describe the community of Jeffersonton as it existed in 1930. The surnames are familiar—Thompson, Hoffman, Stringfellow, Colvin, Hitt, Armstrong, Payne, Grayson, Button and Hall, among others.
The places are historic—Jeffersonton Graded School, limited to white students until 1960; Jeffersonton Baptist Church, the heart of the village for nearly 200 years; and the Waples or English place, a circa 1835 estate said to have hidden buried treasure (taken from a Union paymaster) during the Civil War.
Cabot, in his articulate style, provides descriptions of each home, family and significant place in the village with many supplemented with stories related to others. The dialogue is at times humorous and old-fashioned, providing a glimpse into a time gone by. One conversation details African-American vernacular between neighbors with the woman complaining that the man’s horse was looking at her funny. Cabot said he did not omit details to shield unsavory occurrences.
“As the argument goes, we are a product of what actually happened in the past, not of what we would like to have happened,” he writes. “Some would say it is not necessary to include any detail which might reflect poorly on some past personage, but then the history would be woefully incomplete, and who is to say which detail would meet such criteria?”
Cabot writes the book, but does not pass judgment.
“The 1930s were not just hard times in Virginia. In many ways, they represented the nadir in social support for the lower income tier in the entire country,” he writes. “A few truly reprehensible incidents have been glossed or omitted entirely, but circumstances representing the true nature of the environment are included.”
The book covers the people of Jeffersonton 89 years ago—sometimes endearing, sometimes ugly, Cabot said. “There are remarkably strong examples of good will, charity, patriotism, respect and healthy racial interaction. Then again, all the sins are present in a context which is relatable, even if rather unbelievable.”