Image: The old Wythe County Courthouse, 1820 - 1902
Photo courtesy of Mary B. Kegley and Wythe County Genealogical and Historical Association.
ATTENTION: FANS OF VIRGINIA AND CIVIL WAR HISTORY!
J. W. Stuart Bookseller announces the release of
The Extraordinary Life of William Alexander Stuart: From Antebellum to Late Victorian Virginia, 1826-1892
A limited first edition of this richly detailed and vividly illustrated work is sure to be treasured by collectors.
Please submit a contact form for further information.
The life of William Alexander (Alex) Stuart moves from an early childhood at his family’s Laurel Hill farm in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains to study with a tutor on relatives’ immense tobacco plantation along the Dan River. After excelling at Patrick Henry Academy near Martinsville, he crossed into the Valley of Virginia for further study in Wythe County, including legal mentoring by his uncle, Judge James Ewell Brown. By age twenty, Alex advanced to the prominent role of court clerk.
Among the siblings who shared Alex’s home in Wytheville was his seven-years-younger brother named for Judge Brown, J. E. B. Stuart, who would become a celebrated cavalryman and Confederate Major General. Alex had initially acquired his own farm, but after marrying the eldest daughter of a Russell County land and cattle baron and lawyer in 1849, he soon made plans to relocate closer to town, where his elegant home, known today as Loretto, opened in 1852.
Never content with a single line of work, Alex added involvement in a series of firms that bore his name, and by the late 1850s, he became cashier, the equivalent of business loan officer, for South Western Bank of Virginia. It was through this work in Southwest Virginia’s high finance that he became acquainted with and ultimately a partner in the lucrative saltworks industry of Saltville. This transition coincided with the outbreak of the Civil War, during which Stuart, Buchanan & Co. would earn Alex a fortune.
Since Alex’s company was often required to accept payment in the unstable Confederate currency, he quickly invested as much of it as possible in real estate, including controlling interests in Richmond and White Sulphur Springs hotels. After the war, he moved to Russell County and followed his father-in-law’s example of building a bucolic empire: Stuart Land and Cattle Company, which still operates in the 21st century.
Much of Alex’s story resembles Margaret Mitchell’s fiction, including the burning of Saltville in 1864 and Union troops’ occupation of his home while he served in the local militia. At a time when America’s nineteenth century history engenders widespread controversy, the dynamism of Alex’s biography exemplifies the importance of reporting it fairly and accurately. Like the heroine of Gone with the Wind, Alex triumphed in the aftermath of the ruin of the South, foreshadowing its advances, however imperfect they continue to be.