Heart of a Southern Woman

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James Steptoe Langhorne- Born into Wealth and Privilege, moved into a Life of Trial and Tragedy—52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, #3


James Steptoe Langhorne– 11 September,1822– 4 December, 1905 –was my maternal 2nd Great Grandfather.  The Langhornes were our “claim to fame” as far as our family relations! At least that is what we were raised to believe! My mother was one of six girls, and three of them carried the Langhorne name as a middle name, Mom carried Steptoe as her middle name—and named one of my brothers Langhorne as well!  Now that I have done a few years of research, yes, the Langhornes were impressive as a family, but we are blessed with a rich heritage of ancestors.

Lady Astor—Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor was probably the most famous Langhorne.   She is my second cousin, the grandchild of Steptoe’s brother John. In another post I’ll explain how helpful she was to my family directly.

Today, I want to tell you a bit about James Steptoe Langhorne. Before I do, I want you to know that we are planning a Langhorne reunion in June, 2014, in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, and are hoping to include as many Langhorne descendants as possible—but especially the descendants of James Steptoe Langhorne! (If  you are reading this and are a Langhorne descendant, please get in touch at helenholshouser@gmail.com)

Originally, the Langhorne family was from Wales. The first in our line to come to America was John Langhorne, who arrived in Warwick, Virginia –the Royal Colony—in 1666 with his wife Rebecca Carter. They built a 2000 acre plantation with a home overlooking the James River, and named it Gambell.  It was located where the city of Newport News, Virginia is today. 

Fast forward, 100 years to his namesake John Scarsbrooke Langhorne, who was born in 1760 on the very same plantation, Gambell.  By the time this John Scarsbrooke Langhorne died, he owned several plantations, and his son Henry increased their holdings significantly. According to family history, Henry let his son James Steptoe Langhorne choose one of the plantations, and after touring them all, James Steptoe, age about 22, looked out over the 13, 000 acre “Langdale” plantation in Meadows of Dan, Virginia , and said it was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen! In fact, he is credited with giving that area its name, Meadows of Dan—located in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, on the Dan River. He chose to settle there, but was blinded by retinitis  pigmentosa – an inherited  family disease– within just a couple of years—and never  actually saw his beloved land again!  MOD, lover's Leap

Langhorne,  James Steptoe Langhorne, portrait           Langhorne,  portrait of Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro Langhorne

James Steptoe Langhorne, called “Grandpa Steptoe” by his grandchildren, married Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro and together they had eight children, and adopted at least two more.  Of course, on a 13,000 acre plantation in 1822 Virginia, Grandpa Steptoe owned slaves. It doesn’t matter how abhorrent and embarrassing this practice might be to me today, it is a part of our history. Most of the area around the plantation was settled by small independent farmers of Scotch Irish descent. James Steptoe Langhorne and his wife are credited with the gifting of land and money to found  two churches in the area, and indeed, they are buried in the cemetery at Meadows of Dan Baptist Church, one of these churches. According to family history, they also held Sunday school and regular school classes on the plantation for area children. My understanding is that Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro was a very devout woman who was dedicated to her Sunday school outreach.  

 Langhorne, James Steptoe's Grave Marker

When Grandpa Steptoe’s first born son, Henry Ellis was sixteen, 1849-1865, he drowned in a pond on the property. The story was told to me by one of my cousins who still lives in that area, Harvey Langhorne Spangler. Apparently, one of the horses had a bad case of colic, and the common practice to help heal the condition, was to help a horse swim off the cramps. Henry Ellis we are told took the horse into the millpond with that very intention! Unfortunately, he did not realize just how deep the pond was, and he and the horse were soon in trouble, unable to stay afloat or climb out of the water! Steptoe was right there, but blind long before this, he couldn’t see exactly what was happening with his son.  Still, he dived into the pond to try to save his Henry!  We are told that Grandpa Steptoe dived again and again trying to find Henry and bring him to safety! Tragically, by the time Steptoe did find him, Henry was gone—the end of an all too shortened life! Blind, one son drowned…what else?

Langhorne Mill 5

During the Civil War there was an incident, where the Union Army came through the Meadows of Dan. In 1935, Steptoe’s daughter Fannie, (Frances Eunice Langhorne who later married Wallace Wolford Spangler and became the parents of Tump Spangler whom  I wrote about before,  here if you’d like to see it:  https://heartofasouthernwoman.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/the-spangler-reunion-part-2-charles-langhorne-tump-spangler/ ) gave an interview about this very thing that was written up by Charles F. Adams  in a local magazine called The Mountain Laurel.

 “At the time Miss Fanny Langhorne was ten, and the Civil War was being fought, Stoneman brought his Yankee army from Tennessee down what is now the J.E.B. Stuart highway. In passing they annexed one of Mr. Langhorne’s horses which happened to be his favorite. He, though blind, accompanied by his small daughter Fanny, insisted on following the army to Stuart in search of his horse. There the captain agreed to allow him to retrieve his horse if he could recognize him. Mr. Langhorne set Fanny to hunt the animal. After walking down the long line of horses hitched to the racks along the road and back again, she was unable to find him. On her return, however at one side, away from the rest, she saw her father’s mount and immediately squealed in delight. Mr. Langhorne was led over to a tall roan mare, not his, but near the one Fanny had discovered, and told to see if that were his. Fanny squealed to the contrary, but Mr. Langhorne turned to her and said, “You don’t understand the joke”. Then his hand was placed on another, his own; this time he said, “This is my horse, but not my bridle”.   (If you’d like, you can find this story here: http://www.mtnlaurel.com/mountain-memories/406-fannie-langhorne-spangler-an-interview-from-1935.html   That took courage and audacity, on his and young Fannie’s part! (This story was originally told to me by brothers, and Fannie’s grandsons: Harvey Langhorne Spangler and Dr. Daniel Patrick Spangler, PhD)       

Horses in Civil War

 There are many other stories, but one dearest to my heart, is Steptoe’s loss of his daughter Evelyn, my great grandmother. Married at just 15, with seven children already, one dead, Evelyn died in childbirth in 1900 as did the twins she was birthing!  I have written of this tragic event in an earlier blog post which can be found by clicking on this link:  https://heartofasouthernwoman.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/one-tragic-day-in-october-a-true-story/

Before she died, Evelyn was going blind with the family disease, one of her sons was blind, Fannie was blind, as were many others who were afflicted by this terrible family disease!

My own maternal grandmother, Kate Houchins Kerse, Evelyn’s daughter,  was living with Grandpa Steptoe and Grandmother Elizabeth after her mother died, when alas the house burned to the ground! What else could happen to this family!  

I wanted to know more about Grandpa Steptoe’s history and personality, and I learned that he was a loving man, committed to his family and his church.. He was also an angry man at times—ruthlessly ejecting “squatters” from his land! His morals were high, his sense of right and wrong perhaps rigid at times. Born into wealth, but living through war and family tragedy, he is an interesting ancestor, my 2nd great grandfather– I’m proud to be kin to him. 

I’m also pleased to be partof this 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge! It is encouraging me to get the stories down onpaper as I have been wanting to do! Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow of “No Story Too Small”for leading us in this challenge! http://www.nostorytoosmall.com/posts/george-debolt-old-school-baptist-minister-52-ancestors-3/          Helen



Author: Helen Holshouser

Old enough to enjoy life, I am a Red Hatter, grandmother, gardener, and amateur genealogist. I am a retired clinical psychologist, master's level, who is disabled with heart disease, but having fun with family and friends. Married over 40 years, I have two grown daughters and three grandchildren. I have learned that grandchildren provide a joy one never knew existed---writing feeds my soul, gardening is therapy, and genealogy research makes me feel like a detective!

8 thoughts on “James Steptoe Langhorne- Born into Wealth and Privilege, moved into a Life of Trial and Tragedy—52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, #3

  1. Pingback: 52 Ancestors: Week 3 Recap | No Story Too Small

  2. Fascinating stories. Thank you for telling them!


  3. thank you so very much Jo Henn! Thanks for taking the time and leaving a comment. Hope to see you again soon! Helen


  4. I was thinking that Grandpa Steptoe was raised in Lynchburg. I wonder where all those plantations were. Thanks for writing.


  5. Thank you Susan for coming by and taking time to comment, i really appreciate it! Looking back I realize that you are right , and that ai did not make it clear that he did live in Lynchburg a great part of his life. There ia a story of their history that I love, i’ll find it and post it in our group on facebook in its entirely…this is part of it, by Thomas Litten:
    :The eldest of the three brothers and heirs of John Scarsbrook Langhorne’s estate was William Langhorne (1783-1858) who moved to Bedford County, where he wed Catherine Callaway, the daughter of the extremely rich planter and iron manufacturer Col. James Callaway of “Royal Forest”, whose third wife was Mary Langhorne of Cumberland. William Langhorne was, like his father-in-law, a planter and iron manufacturer, who was said to be the most courtly gentleman of his day.

    The second brother Maurice Langhorne (1787-1865) moved to Lynchburg, where his inherited wealth was fantastically increased by his successful forays in the Lynchburg tobacco market. Before he died, Maurice Langhorne built for his children the famous “Langhorne’s Row,” a set of four extravagant Greek Revival Lynchburg townhouses, whose architectural sophistication was unmatched anywhere in Virginia with the sole exception of Richmond.

    The youngest brother Henry Scarsbrook Langhorne (1790-1854) would surpass them all. Although he was first seated on some of the Cumberland County lands that he had inherited through his mother, he quickly resolved to move to Lynchburg with his brother Maurice. In 1816 Henry S. Langhorne married Frances Callaway Steptoe, the highly sought after daughter of Hon. James Steptoe and Frances Callaway of “Federal Hill”. Here begins a series of interesting family connections that beautifully illustrate the “web of kinship” that existed between Virginia’s ruling families. Frances Callaway was an older sister of Catherine Callaway, wife of Henry Langhorne’s brother William. Hon. James Steptoe was the eldest son of Westmoreland County planter Col. James Steptoe of “Nominy Hall” and his second wife Elizabeth Eskridge of “Sandy Point” (a daughter of Col. George Eskridge, the guardian of Mary Ball Washington). Hon. James Steptoe had two sisters, Elizabeth Steptoe who married Col. Philip Ludwell Lee of “Stratford”, and Anne Steptoe who married Samuel Washington and became the mother of George Steptoe Washington who in turn married Lucy Payne, the sister of First Lady Dolly Payne Madison. Hon. James Steptoe also had two half sisters who were his mother’s daughters by her first husband William Aylett. The first sister, Mary Aylett, married ThomasLudwell Lee, and the second, Anne Aylett, became the first wife of Richard Henry Lee of “Chantilly”.

    The powerful connections of the Steptoe and Callaway families ensured that the Langhornes, although newcomers from the Tidewater, were met with constant success in the Virginia Piedmont. As the planting of tobacco was no longer as profitable as it had once been, Henry S. Langhorne erected in Lynchburg, the second largest milling firm in Virginia. He never abandoned planting though, and continued to buy numerous plantations in Bedford, Campbell and Amherst Counties. In 1845, he retired and relocated to “Cloverdale”, the 3,500-acre Botetourt County plantation he had just purchased from his niece’s husband George Plater Tayloe of “Buena Vista”. His eldest son John Scarsbrook Langhorne (born 1819) married Sarah Elizabeth Dabney of “Edgemont”, a great-granddaughter of William Randolph II of “Chatesworth”. He inherited Langhorne Mills, along with the bulk of his father’s estate. The second son James Steptoe Langhorne (1822-1905) was given an ample number of slaves and the 13,000-acre “Langdale” plantation located near the border of North Carolina.”
    Our line includes John Langhorne, to his son Henry, to James Steptoe Langhorne.


  6. Thanks cuz. Grandpa Steptoe also named Meadows of Dan, according to family legend. Never knew plantation was named “Langdale” or how large it was!


  7. It is pretty incredible when you think about it– seems pretty humbling and inspiring to me! Thank you right back my own cuz! Helen


  8. Pingback: Harry Langhorne Houchins, Blind, Extraordinary Banjo Player! 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks @42 | Heart of a Southern Woman

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