Meadows of Dan is a small town on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Patrick County, Virginia. It sits at the mouth of the Dan River which runs down through North Carolina. My great, great-grandfather, James Steptoe Langhorne (called Steptoe) is credited with naming this town when he took up residence there about 1840. He and his wife, my Great-Great-Grandmother, Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro inherited a 13,000 acre plantation! They had slaves to help them run the house and the agricultural part of the plantation. They built a grist mill, started a school, and taught Sunday school from their own home. I descend from their daughter Evelyn, one of Steptoe’s eight children. Unfortunately, Steptoe was blind, inflicted with retinitis pigmentosa, the hereditary disease that stole the sight of his mother, several of his siblings, children, grandchildren, and continues in the family today.
Steptoe’s daughter Frances, called Fannie married Wallace Wolford Spangler and they raised their six children right there in the Meadows of Dan while most of the other grandchildren went elsewhere. When we had a Langhorne family reunion last year, it was the Spanglers who gave the tours and led the singing since they were the accomplished musicians from years gone by ! (If you check the right column of categories, you can find many stories and music videos about the Langhornes and the Spanglers.) While all of the grandchildren are gone, many of Steptoe’s Great-Grandchildren, Great-Greats and more still live in the area.
During the Langhorne reunion last year, several of the family attended church services at the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church. We all went to the church cemetery where Steptoe and Elizabeth are buried, as well as Evelyn, Fannie and some others, including Evelyn’s child Virginia. This beautiful church and cemetery rests on land that once belonged to the Langhorne’s, Steptoe and his brother William who donated the land for the church, and even built the first log church there. When you walk in the cemetery and into the church, you can feel a sense of roots–this is where our family lived, this is where they walked, 175 years ago!
Also in this same church cemetery, are the graves of the Langhorne slaves. Yes, they are segregated, but they are present in the same church cemetery which lends credence to the stories of the Langhornes being kind to their slaves and treating them humanely. I am working on another post about the slaves, gathering their names for the National Slave Name Roll Project which was recently started by Schalene Jennings Dagutis. Over the years, there have been some controversies surrounding the “slave meadow” as their area has come to be called, started by an article of that name that can by found in the online mountain journal by Bob Heafner entitled The Mountain Laurel. I discuss this in more detail in the next post.
Over 100 years ago, the members of the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church built a new church–the lovely white one seen in the pictures above. Last night that church burned down! Thank heavens, no one was hurt. Apparently the fire was caused by the furnace malfunctioning. Already the minister of the church is reminding the public that the church is the community, not the building. They will rebuild and be stronger than ever.
When I learned that the church was on fire– I was shocked, even moved to tears! Then I was surprised that I had such strong feelings for a church just barely known to me really, as family history. However, I realized that I had gotten to know many people, many cousins, in that community in the last couple years–I knew it would be painful to them, and part of what I was feeling was sympathy, empathy, the desire to go and be with them, to comfort them. I have to admit, being steeped just now in slave research, I wondered if there was malice involved, or anything to do with the controversies of the slave meadow. As it turns out that was all fantasy on my part, it reflects what I was studying in another era, arson is NOT suspected in this situation, but a wiring or other electrical problem unfortunately. The blessing comes in that no one was hurt by such a huge fire! If you look at the very last photograph above (click to enlarge), you will see that three crosses appeared in the fire. A citizen of the community took this picture, Angela Grubb. What does it mean? Was it real? What do you think, I’d really like to know.
What a heart breaking event for many, many people, members of the church, and others with ties to the community. I am praying that from the ashes something better will arise, with God’s help. Amen.
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