In the summer and fall of 1882, newspapers from Abingdon to Norfolk were filled with pleas to help the residents of Patrick County. According to the Strasburg News, Volume 1, Number 3, 17 June 1882, there was no rainfall in the entire county of Patrick in 1881 from the 19th of April to the 3rd of October. The long-continued drought was exceedingly disastrous to crops in the mountainous sections of Virginia, particularly in Patrick County. As early as November 1881, county officials took the necessary steps to relieve the destitution which they knew was inevitable but found that their efforts would be but a drop toward saving 6,000 to 8,000 starving men, women and children, and as spring arrived and the real condition of affairs developed, appeals for help were made. When wagon loads of corn would arrive in Patrick from Richmond, Baltimore, and other areas, the wagons were constantly surrounded by men and women, who walked fifteen and twenty miles in hopes of getting a peck of corn.
The following letter was written to the Richmond Dispatch by local attorney, James H. Rangeley…
“Patrick Courthouse, June 6, 1882. Dear Sirs, —Notwithstanding the kindness of your people in aiding us so generously, our people are in a most deplorable condition. All of the meal and com that has been sent us has been distributed to the starving people, and numbers of them have been unable to get any. We cannot see where this calamity will end— it is absolutely impossible to obtain any com at all. A load of corn and meal reached here Sunday evening, and the town was filled with people this morning by daybreak, begging for a peck, a gallon or even less. A rumor reached here from Penn’s Store to the effect that seventeen hundred bushels of com had been subscribed in Richmond and Baltimore for the relief of our suffering people. Upon this message, we thought that we could get through to harvest but this proved to be a mistake, and a very sad one for us, as we were depending in a great measure upon this for relief. There are people in this village now, at dark, who have been here all day without anything to eat, waiting for a wagon that is expected to bring in some meal. There have been at least three hundred people here in Stuart today begging bread.
We are compelled to appeal to the good citizens of Virginia and elsewhere for aid, and most earnestly entreat that any assistance in their power be rendered us immediately. The people cannot possibly make out until harvest without more help. We do not like to impose upon the generosity of our friends, but our situation is indeed a desperate one. Yours respectfully, James H. Rangeley, Esquire, W. W. Mair, John E. Penn, W. B. Rucker, R. J. Woolwine, Murray Turner, Isaac Akers, and Davis Ayers.”
The gentlemen whose names are signed to the above letter are well-known citizens of Patrick County, whose statements may be relied on. We understand that steps will be promptly taken here to furnish additional relief to these people, whose situation strongly appeals to the charity of the public. —Richmond Dispatch
The last two decades of the 1800s were filled with hardship and tragedy for Patrick County. Next week, we will look at the smallpox epidemic and the forest fire of 1889.
Woody may be reached at email@example.com or (276) 692-9626.