Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Portrait of Caroline Harris DeJarnette

Portrait of Caroline (DeJarnette) Staples, with (left to right) her great-great-granddaughter-in-law, her great-great-great-granddaughter, and her great-granddaughter Jean (Staples) Showalter, 1975

            Caroline Harris DeJarnette was my great-great-grandmother. She was born in Caroline County, Virginia, 4 March 1833; she died in Roanoke, Virginia, 15 January 1892. She married on 12 June 1855, in Caroline County, Samuel Granville Staples. He was born 29 November 1821, in Patrick County, Virginia, and died 6 August 1895, in Roanoke, Virginia. They are buried in Fairview Cemetery, Roanoke, Virginia.

Grave marker of Samuel Granville Staples and Caroline (DeJarnette) Staples

            Caroline DeJarnette and Samuel Granville Staples were the parents of Abram Penn Staples Sr. (1858-1913); his son Abram Penn Staples Jr. (1885-1951) was the father of Jean Lee Staples (1912-2004), who was my mother. The Staples family produced a number of distinguished lawyers, of whom Samuel Granville Staples was one. His son Abram Penn Staples wrote a brief account of his life in a family Bible now in the Virginia Room of the Roanoke Public Library, which my grandmother revised and amplified in a document she called “Staples Memoranda”. These documents are the basis of this short biography:

First page of the Staples family Bible

            Samuel Granville Staples studied at Randolph Macon, the University of Virginia, and William and Mary College (1840-41) where he completed his law course and took his degree. He was clerk of the superior court in Patrick County, served in the Virginia legislature in the 1850s, and was a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention of 1860-61 where he opposed secession as long as possible. While serving as a legislator, he met and married Caroline DeJarnette. They made their home at Stonewall, in Patrick County, where Mr. Staples practiced law. At the start of the Civil War he volunteered, and served as a captain on the staff of J. E. B. Stuart. After only one year in the army, he was seriously injured and obliged to retire from active duty. At the close of the war, he found himself wrecked in health and fortune, but returned to the practice of law and in 1869 was elected Judge of the Patrick County Court, an office he occupied until the Re-adjuster party secured control of the state in the 1880s and he declined on principle to run again. He then retired to a farm near Stuart, seat of Patrick County, moved to Roanoke in 1890, and after his wife's death lived in Roanoke with his son, Abram Penn Staples.

Stonewall, the Staples home in Stuart, Patrick County, Virginia
            The family Bible says of Caroline Harris DeJarnette:
             “She was a daughter of Col. Daniel DeJarnette of Caroline County. She was married at Hampton, residence of her uncle, John Hampton DeJarnette, in Caroline County. She was born at her father's residence at Spring Grove in Caroline County, and died at the home of her son Daniel DeJarnette Staples in Roanoke.”
            The DeJarnette family were of Huguenot origin. Details of the family’s early history are uncertain; accounts vary widely and few genealogies cite authoritative sources. Most versions of the story state that the first member of the family to settle in Virginia was Jean (John) de Jarnat, born around 1680 near La Rochelle, a major port on the west coast of France in a region that was heavily Protestant at the time. With the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, withdrawing the rights previously accorded to Protestants, a mass emigration began, of which de Jarnat was a part. He went first to England, and sailed from there to Virginia in 1700, in a group of Huguenots whose support in Britain had become too costly for the British crown. Four ships apparently transported these settlers. Alas, no records exist of the third ship to sail, not even its name, but it is presumed to have brought De Jarnat to America. Click here for a history of the family’s immigration to Virginia, with many specifics although no sources.
Daniel DeJarnette household, 1850 census
            Jean de Jarnat settled in Gloucester County, Virginia, where he married Mary Mumford of Abingdon Parish in the same county, about 1703.  She was the daughter of Edward and Mary (Watkins) Mumford, born, according to a deposition, in 1683. The Abingdon Parish register lists six children of Jean and Mary de Jarnat, among them Joseph de Jarnat,  baptized 3 February 1716. Joseph married about 1739 Mary Pemberton, and among their children was Joseph DeJarnette, Jr. – the spelling of the name had changed – who was born 9 October 1747 and married Mary Hampton about 1775. Joseph Jr. lived at his estate Spring Grove, in Caroline County, where he died 31 July 1824. His son Daniel was born there 9 October 1783 and died there 22 September 1850. Daniel married twice, first on 25 December 1808 to Jane T. Coleman, and second on 21 December 1817 to her sister Huldah Hawes Coleman. Caroline Harris DeJarnette, the sitter for the portrait, was a child of the second marriage.

Spring Grove, Caroline County, Virginia, c. 1900 

Spring Grove, Caroline County, Virginia, c. 1937

            By the early nineteenth century, the DeJarnettes were well established among the leading families of the region. Caroline’s father and brothers owned large plantations. In 1850, according to the census, her father Daniel owned real estate worth $25,000 and 100 slaves, while her uncle Elliott (1788-1857) held the same amount of real estate and 57 slaves at his estate “Pine Forest” in neighboring Spotsylvania County. Calculating the equivalent dollar figure in 2011 depends on what measure one uses; roughly speaking, using the consumer price index gives a figure 30 times higher, using the unskilled wage about 200 times higher, and using the share of gross domestic product about 400 times higher. For more precise figures and explanations, see the “Measuring Worth” website.

DeJarnette reunion at Pine Forest, c. 1937
The five people in the front row on the right end are descendants of Caroline DeJarnette and Samuel Granville Staples: (left to right) Huldah Staples Daniel, William Hunt Staples, Harris (Staples) Brown, Julie Bagby (Epes) Staples, Allen Watts Staples. The photo and identifications come from an online genealogy.

            In 1860, Caroline’s half-brother Robert Elliott DeJarnette (1812-1876) owned personal and real property worth $56,000 and 26 slaves; another brother, John Hampton DeJarnette (1818-1897), owned personal and real property worth $133,000 and 71 slaves; and a third brother, Daniel Coleman DeJarnette (1822-1881) owned property valued at $131,000 and 65 slaves. John Hampton built a handsome house on his estate, now called Hampton Manor, where Caroline was married. It is said to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson, and in the 1940s belonged to Caresse Crosby; if that name means nothing to you, click her name to read the Wikipedia entry. See also this article on the house.


            Daniel Coleman DeJarnette served in the Virginia state house of representatives 1853-1858; he was a colleague there of Samuel G. Staples, and no doubt facilitated the introduction to his sister. At about the same time, he built the house at Spring Grove that still stands. DeJarnette was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and served 1859-1861; he was re-elected, but did not present his credentials and served instead in the First and Second Confederate Congresses 1862-1865. Before leaving Washington, on 14 February 1861, he made an impassioned “state of the union” speech, in which he defended slavery as a bulwark protecting free labor. After the war, he was a member of the commission to determine the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland, along with William Watts; see a letter on the subject in the Watts Collection 1998.26.240.
            The portrait of Caroline DeJarnette was painted by James Westhall Ford, the same artist who painted Michael Vaden, as described in my previous post. This portrait may not seem at first glance to bear much resemblance to the Vaden portrait, but it has several features characteristic of Ford’s works. As in all the Ford portraits on the web, the sitter is at the viewer’s right, facing to the viewer’s left. The backgrounds on the right are dark and looming; in this case, it looks like a painted backdrop, which performs the same function as the tree in the Vaden and Watkins portraits. On the left, where the space opens out more, there are vignettes, a vase of flowers in this painting. And finally, the treatment of the hands is relatively crude.

Portrait of Caroline Harris DeJarnette by James Westhall Ford

            These similarities would not prove much, but according to R. Lewis Wright’s Artists in Virginia, “from 1851 to 1853 [Ford] lived with the DeJarnett family in Spotsylvania County and is said to have painted more than twenty portraits during this period” (p. 56). Alexander Wilbourne Weddell, in Portraiture in the Virginia Historical Society, notes that “Ford is known to have also painted a number of other members of the deJarnette family [Weddell mentions Robert deJarnette, and Dr. Joseph Spencer deJarnette and his wife]. A fire in Richmond is said to have destroyed a number of these and other canvases which were then on exhibition” (p. 150-51). Caroline DeJarnette presumably brought the portrait with her when she married Samuel Granville Staples. Like many ante-bellum Southern portraits, it was said to have been slashed by a Yankee soldier, although he must have been an very inept swordsman to have left such a small mark. Caroline and her husband moved to Roanoke in their last years, and left the portrait to their descendants who already lived there, one of whom was my grandfather. After my grandparents’ death, it hung for many years in a place of honor in my mother’s house.


  1. Extremely interesting! Spring Grove is down the road grom me , and I was very interested in the history.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Did you know that the property is for sale? There are some photos of the interior at this website:

  2. Where is the Hampton house located? Your link to it does not work. I am originally from Caroline County and also found Spring Grove to be interesting.

  3. Hi, the picture of the family reunion is at Spring Grove, not Pine Forest. I have seen it on other websites incorrectly designated. My grandfather owned it and we spent many weekends and holidays there.

  4. It is nice to know who painted Caroline's picture. We have several of her siblings' portraits and I never knew who the artist was. They all look very similar.

    1. Thanks for your correction of the location of the reunion. I would be very interested to see some of the other portraits, and to know how you are descended from the DeJarnettes. You can email me directly from my complete profile page.