Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.

R.J.Reynolds—52 Ancestors in 52 Week #46



Richard Joshua, Sr. Abram, and Harbour.  standing, from left...Walter and Will .about 1915 From the Patrick Reynolds Collection; no copyright.abt.1915

The Reynolds Brothers abt. 1915: Standing from left: Walter and Will Neal; Sitting from left: R.J.–Richard Joshua, Major Abram,, and Harbour. From the Patrick Reynolds Collection, no copyright


How is it that we can go all our lives knowing all about someone, even visiting their historic homes and learning about them, and not know we are related to them? That has happened to me several times now in my genealogical journey. I am always very surprised to find certain paths to kinship, and I always wish my mother were still alive to share my discoveries. She knew a lot about the family, and she had a love of and zest for history. She would have practically swooned at some of the people I have learned we’re kin to–especially the ones like Henry Cary who designed the Colonial Capital Building in Williamsburg, or Nicholas Martiau, or Peyton Randolph! They give our family tree a luster, a breadth and depth we didn’t know existed!
This week, one of my cousins, Betty Spangler Smith, contacted me with a consultation about our Virginia Harbour family. They are a family that I’ve only gotten to know on paper, but I knew that they took us back to Wales. Betty and I put our heads together and dusted off some of our knowledge of this family.
Reviewing the Harbour family yesterday led me to a discovery that I had “flirted” with before, but had just never taken the time to explore in detail. That discovery was that my 5th great-grandfather, Abner Harbour, 1730-1778, was also the 2nd great-grandfather of Richard Joshua Reynolds, the magnate and founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, making R.J. and me third cousins!
Now, a lot of you are possibly wondering why this is such a big deal to me. Tobacco isn’t even a product considered healthy anymore, certainly not important in our society these days. But I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, my maternal grandmother was from Patrick County, Virginia, and I had an Aunt who lived in Winston Salem, North Carolina, so I grew up touring the magnificent Tanglewood Park and the Reynolds’ estates when open to the public. I even spent most of a week exploring inside what is now Graylyn International Conference Center when I was about eleven years old! Neither I nor my Aunt who took me there had any idea there was a family connection!

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, the Reynolds Tobacco Company and American Tobacco Companies were arch rivals, but tobacco still accounted for huge parts of our economy. As a child, all I knew was that my Dad smoked all the time, as did most people I knew, and that tobacco had been important since the white man’s arrival in America. Every single year, my family packed a basket with sandwiches for supper, and sat on the curb of a huge boulevard in downtown Richmond, to watch the Grand Illuminated Tobacco Parade, the largest parade and only nighttime parade in the Southeast at the time! It was the kick-off to the amazing Tobacco Festival which took over the city like Mardi Gras does New Orleans. What a rush it was to a young child! The lights, the noise, the music, the balloons, the clowns and of course..Joe Camel of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and the most thrilling to me, little Johnny Philip Morris, whom I now know as an adult actor with dwarfism whose real name, was John Louis Roventini. He became the famous voice of Philip Morris Tobacco, and was known as a “living trademark”. Less than four feet tall, maybe that’s why I loved him, he was my size as a child. Yet he strode confidently down the avenue always in tune with his perfect B-flat toned chant: “Call for Philip Morrrrriss!” I can hear it now! Those were exciting times, about 1952-9, the war was over, and we baby boomers were everywhere having fun! We didn’t know tobacco killed.


R. J. Reynolds left his father’s tobacco farm and factory in Patrick County, Virginia, and set up his own company in the nearest town with a railroad connection. That happened to be Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he bought his first building from the Moravian Church. He soon bought out any competitors and produced 150,000 pounds of tobacco in his first year! (Source of this history: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Wikipedia,)
“The company produced 25% of America’s chewing tobacco. 1907’s Prince Albert smoking tobacco became the company’s national showcase product, which led to high-profile advertising in New York City’s Union Square.  The Camel cigarette became the most popular cigarette in the country. The Reynolds company imported so much French cigarette paper and Turkish tobacco for Camel cigarettes that Winston-Salem was designated by the United States federal government as an official port of entry for the United States, despite the city being 200 miles (320 km) inland.  Winston-Salem was the eighth-largest port of entry in the United States by 1916.”
“At the time Reynolds died in 1918 (of pancreatic cancer), his company owned 121 buildings in Winston-Salem.  He was so integral to company operations that executives did not hang another chief executive’s portrait next to Reynolds’ in the company board room until 41 years later.  Reynolds’ brother William Neal Reynolds took over following Reynolds’ death, and six years later Bowman Gray became the chief executive. By that time, Reynolds Co. was the top taxpayer in the state of North Carolina, paying $1 out of every $2.50 paid in income taxes in the state, and was one of the most profitable corporations in the world. It made two-thirds of the cigarettes in the state.”
I knew Reynolds tobacco was big, but this history still astounds me, and helps me understand why Winston-Salem businesses like their banking company of Wachovia, and their lawyers became some of the biggest in the country.
William Neal Reynolds, brother of R.J., had taken over the company after his brother died from Pancreatic cancer.
In 1924 he turned the presidency over to Bowman Gray.
It’s hard to believe that this one family, one small farm in the mountains of southwest Virginia, in Patrick County, Virginia, could parent two of the largest companies in the United States, but R. J. Reynold’s nephew, the son of Major Abraham David Reynolds, Richard Samuel Reynolds founded the Reynolds Metals Company in Louisville, Kentucky!  By 1938, they were headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, and interacting with members of my family in business and education, without knowing that we were family.
Back to Winston-Salem and RJ Reynolds and the tobacco company, I want to show you some pictures and tell you about an interesting personal experience on my part.

R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katherine built an estate in Winston-Salem, NC,  that is now a museum of American art called the Reynolda House. I hope you will think about taking a trip to see this beautiful sight, with its exquisite pieces of American art and time period furniture. You will be so glad that you did! 

Nearby you can explore the beautiful Tanglewood Park, with its action-packed activities for the family! You can fish in two stocked lakes, ride the paddle boats, play on tennis courts, swim in the Aquatic Center, hike trails, ride horses, golf, tour gardens, and picnic in the shelters! I have been there several times over the years, and it is beautiful! Tanglewood was the estate of R.J. Reynolds’s brother, William Neal (also our 3rd cousin) and his wife Katherine Reynolds.

There is another historic estate connected to the Reynolds, known currently as Graylyn International Conference Center in Winston Salem. They also host weddings and special events. “The mansion was built in 1927, and is a large and rambling Norman Revival style mansion. It is 2 1/2 stories and is faced with yellow Randolph County stone. It features an irregular slate covered a hipped roof pierced by roundheaded dormers and ornamented brick chimneys with multiple flues. It is set on grounds designed by noted landscape architect Thomas Warren Sears. Associated with the house are a number of contributing outbuildings including a garage-guest house and “farm” complex. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.”
I love this stone mansion! Here’s some more history you might enjoy, I cannot tell it better! “In 1912, Gray moved his family to Winston to take up his new position of vice president and director of R. J. Reynolds, picked by Reynolds himself to head the company’s finance division. In 1924, he was promoted to president of the company to succeed William Neal Reynolds, and in 1932 he became the chairman of the board of directors. Gray’s brother James Gray, Jr. would also become president of R.J. Reynolds.
Between 1927 and 1932, he and his wife oversaw the construction of Graylyn, their 87-acre (350,000 m2) estate in the countryside surrounding Winston, across from R.J. Reynolds’ estate Reynolda House. In 1932 when they moved into Graylyn, Gray and his wife donated their former house for use as a church.[1] Two years after moving to Graylyn, Gray died of a heart attack while vacationing with his family aboard a ship off the coast of Norway. He was buried at sea.
At the time of his death in 1935, he left $750,000 worth of stock in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to be used for a cause beneficial to the community. His brother, wife and two sons would eventually decide to donate it to a medical school willing to relocate to Winston-Salem. Wake Forest College, then located in Wake Forest, N.C., eventually agreed to move its two-year medical school and expand it to a four-year curriculum, partnering with N.C. Baptist Hospital. Bowman Gray School of Medicine opened in 1941.  

 The move of the medical school later inspired members of the Reynolds family to lead efforts to bring the rest of Wake Forest College to Winston-Salem, which occurred in 1956. Today, Wake Forest University, Wake Forest School of Medicine and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are key drivers of the region’s economy and have national reputations.

Years after Gray’s death, Graylyn the home, was donated to the Bowman Gray School of Medicine, where it served as an academic psychiatric hospital facility until 1959. In the 1970s, parts of Graylyn were used as off-campus student housing. In 1979, the main house hosted the Wake Forest University “German House.” There is an underground tunnel connecting the main house to the large guest house (the “French House”). It was not until 1980, after a fire burned the top floor of the estate, that the president of the university announced the property would be restored to its original condition and used as a conference center.”
This is all so very interesting to me, because I live very close to Wake Forest, NC, and of course have friends and relatives who live in Winston-Salem. I have friends who work in the Baptist Hospital there and some who’ve attended the esteemed Bowman Gray School of Medicine.
Even more interesting to me, is that I know Graylyn mansion very well! When I was a girl of eleven, all full of Nancy Drew courage, I had the opportunity to be at Graylyn everyday for a full week! I was free as a bird to wander the halls and look in the nooks and crannies. This would have been the summer of 1960, so just after they stopped housing psychiatric patients there. That summer they were having some model classrooms for teacher training purposes. My aunt, Mrs. Janey Bell Kerse Sommers (see blog post) taught children then called Emotionally Disturbed. They were generally children with family problems who were average or above average in intelligence, but who weren’t succeeding in school, weren’t learning because their behavior was so poor, they were often suspended, sitting in the Principal’s office, or in time-out. Temper tantrums led the list of manipulative behaviors. Many also had learning disabilities, therefore they needed a special teacher to unlock their learning abilities and teach them to read and do math so they could function in the world. My aunt taught these children. Later she became the supervisor of all Special Education Classes in Forsyth County Public School System in Forsyth County, NC. That summer I was visiting when it was arranged she would teach the model class of these students, some of her own from the school year. I was actually thrilled to get to observe, and she gave me the run of that incredible mansion, because there was hardly another soul around.
I would like to share with you as well, that I admired my aunt’s work so much, that I ended up teaching Emotionally Disturbed children also! I got my education, but I never forgot the techniques and amazing ways my aunt worked with her students as long as I taught. But look at that house–Graylyn Mansion, and oh, can you imagine being eleven and having the chance to explore it. I was sure it was haunted! I would stealthily creep up the stairs, half afraid I’d hear or see something, and half disappointed that I did not! LOL That experience shaped my life in so many ways, now I might just take the time to go back and stay there as an adult. Wish you and I could go together and explore Graylyn the way I did as a child, wouldn’t that be fun!
It was so much fun to discover my kinship to R.J. Reynolds and his family.
LOL, thanks for sticking with me, and if you are family, tell me how you like being kin to the Reynolds or share any ol’ little thing you’re little heart desires. (in a Southern mood, LOL) Until next week!

Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850 – 1918)
is your 3rd cousin 3x removed
father of Richard Joshua Reynolds
mother of Hardin William Reynolds
father of Mary Polly Harbour
father of David Harbour
son of Abner Harbour
daughter of Moses Harbour
daughter of Joyce Harbour
son of Nancy J Houchins
daughter of Walter Thomas Houchins
daughter of Katherine Steptoe Houchins
You are the daughter of Margaret Steptoe Kerse –


This gallery contains 11 photos

Janey Bell Kerse Sommers, 1923-2002, Brillance and Joyfulness Dimmed by Altzheimers-52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #23



Janey Bell Kerse Sommers

Janey Bell Kerse Sommers

Did you ever have a favorite aunt? You knew you couldn’t say that out loud because you might hurt someone else’s feelings, but yes, Janey Bell was my favorite aunt, one I idolized from a young age.

Kerse Sisters, improved picture

l to r, The Kerse sisters, abt. 1942, Katherine, Julia, Evelyn, Janey Bell in black, Nancy, Margaret

 Janey Bell was the youngest of seven children, six girls and one boy. Her brother died when he was  young, and as my mother’s sister, we grew up under the influence of these incredible women. I’m sure being the baby of seven is one reason she had a very playful, joyful spirit, as the youngest child in any family often does. It turned out that she never had children of her own, but had 12 nieces and nephews all of whom she adored. We adored her right back. Janey Bell had a gift for making you feel special. First of all, she would listen to us even when we were tiny children.  She always made you think that you were important when most adults didn’t seem to care.

 Janey Bell was also quite brilliant. Born in 1923 in Richmond Virginia, she graduated from Radford University in the mountains of Virginia. While at Radford, she received the John B. Spiers award for the highest grade average. She went on to earn her Master of Arts in Education from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Just think, when World War II was going on, this young woman was already married, her husband was off at war, and she was breaking records at the University. Like her mother Katherine Steptoe Houchins Kerse, and her Aunt Julia Elizabeth  Nichols, who were professional women in the early 1900s, Janey Bell became a teacher in 1952, when most women were encouraged to be housewives. Janey Bell was not just any teacher either. She taught children with learning disabilities and with emotional handicaps. She did this for 37 years. Towards the end of her career, Janey Bell served as the supervisor for Special Education in the Forsyth County Schools of North Carolina. She had been recognized as the Teacher of the Year in 1980-81 for Forsyth County, and was one of the top three finalists for the State of North Carolina. She was dedicated, creative, and committed  to her students and her profession. As a child growing up, I was inspired by this incredible woman. I remember clearly visiting her one particular summer of many, when she was teaching summer school. She was teaching in the building of the Bowman Gray Medical School, an old castle like mansion. One day she took me with her to her school to observe. As I watched Janey Bell interact with her students,  my own future career was born. I was only about 12 years old, but indeed I went to college, got a degree in psychology and special education, and taught emotionally disturbed children and teenagers myself. Later I earned a Master’s degree in clinical psychology and became a family therapist. Much of that career was modeled after my stellar aunt.

 Janey Bell was married to her husband Roy Sommers for 60 years, she was 78 years old when she died. She was active in her church, Highland Presbyterian, where she served as an elder for many years. Amazingly, I also served as an elder in my own Presbyterian Church later in life. Obviously Janey Bell was a huge influence for me.

 When Janey Bell was about 59 years old, she was diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s. She had begun to forget things in the year or so prior to this. She began to miss meetings that she had scheduled. She would get lost driving home from work, a route she had taken for almost 40 years. I remember one Thanksgiving as the family gathered together for dinner, about 30 of us were together, including five of our six aunts. We said the blessing as was our family tradition. However about five minutes later as we began to go through the buffet line, Aunt Janie Bell said, “Stop! We can’t eat! We haven’t said the blessing yet!”  Murmuring our apologies and our wonderment at her memory loss all 30 of us bowed our heads and said another blessing. The move through the buffet line commenced again but within minutes our precious Aunt Janey Bell stopped us again, very upset that we had neglected to say the blessing. For the third time our whole group let the blessing be repeated. Our Mother’s was a very loving, supportive family. However when the fifth outcry came from Aunt Janey Bell to stop what we were doing and say another blessing, the oldest sister confronted her! She said. “Now Janey Bell, we already said the blessing. You need to let everyone enjoy their dinner. Come and sit with me.”  Janey Bell had us all repeating our names, the schools we went to, and our stories over and over again that day. We were all devastated.

 It wasn’t long before Janey Bell lost the ability to speak except in garbled, unintelligible language. She went to live in a nursing home and used a wheelchair to wander the halls. One day when I went to visit, my husband and Uncle Roy her husband, were with me. At first I didn’t think she knew who I was, but as we began to talk together, it seemed like she knew me after all. She looked  right at me and gave a long  spiel of words, none of which I could understand. When she finished her obvious dissertation, instead of admitting that I could not understand her, I placated her by saying, “Yes, I understand.” She looked right at me, and with an expression of pure joy on her face, said as clear as day, “Good, then tell Roy!”  I was floored when she gestured that I should talk to my Uncle Roy right then. I panicked and made a sign of surrender with my hands in the air. Seeing this, my precious Aunt Janey Bell, turned her wheelchair away from us and paddled away with her feet. It broke my heart. We decided to leave, and when I approached her to say goodbye, there was no sign on her face that she had any idea who I was. She had already retreated into another world it seemed.

 Aunt Janey Bell’s decline and death was painful to watch. However, when you look back at her lifetime, you see a huge trail of children including her students, her nieces and nephews, and me–who bloomed because of her loving, dedicated guidance. Here’s to you-Janey Bell Kerse Sommers, thank you for all the lives you touched, and I love you to infinity and beyond! Helen


Relationship chart:

Jane Bell “Janey Bell” Kerse (1923 – 2002)

is your aunt

Thomas Philip Kerse (1884 – 1939)

father of Jane Bell “Janey Bell” Kerse

Margaret Steptoe Kerse (1918 – 1980)

daughter of Thomas Philip Kerse

Helen Spear Youngblood

You are the daughter of Margaret Steptoe Kerse 


From the Langhorne family:

–James Steptoe Langhorne,1822, great-great-grandfather

-Evalina Langhorne Houchins, great-grandmother

-Katherine (Kate) Steptoe Houchins Sommers, mother

-Janey Bell Kerse Sommers

This gallery contains 2 photos


What’s Blooming in my Garden on my Birthday? March 15, 2013

     Spring is almost here! You can feel it in the air! I’ve actually been out digging in the dirt a couple of times now! I can hardly  wait to have a year full of flowers! Yesterday was my birthday and I enjoyed rolling around my yard in my wheelchair, taking pictures of the few things already in bloom! I could hardly wait to share them with you! 
      Look at this beautiful plum tree just blooming its little heart out! My college roommate, and close friend for over 40 years now, Carol gave this tree to me for my birthday two or three years ago–its still young, but so beautiful! 

Of course, who doesn’t love the look and smell of the spring blooming bulbs pushing up through the soil to cheer up our dreary landscapes! Even though I’ve planted about 75 daffodils along a bank bordering my front yard, I only have about ten to fifteen actually bloom in any one spring! I remember my grandmother who lived with us, had a huge garden of daffodils, so that we would have hundreds of flowers blooming in the spring! We were free to take bouquets to teachers and friends, which the little girl in me loved to do! Those memories, and the fact that daffodils always bloom around my birthday, make them one of my favorite flowers! 

On the left below, you’ll see a hedge of what looks like dead, brown branches. But in reality, its one of my favorite flowering shrubs, just beginning to awaken from its long winter sleep. If you look closely you’ll see a few little yellow flowers peeking out. In another couple weeks, these branches will be covered with yellow blooms! They make a spectacular sight, as blinding as sunshine bursting forth on a winter’s day! 

Can you smell these wild violets? They are one “weed” that I cultivate in my garden, because I love the smell and look of these dainty little purple flowers! 

Right at the edge of the woods part of our yard,  we’ve planted some Bridal’s Wreath! It’s also just beginning to show its beautiful colors! these branches will be covered with the white flowers in another week! I’ll try to remember to show them to you.

     Are you familiar with vinca? There is vinca major and vinca minor, and vinca variegata, all of which I have, and there are more variations I am sure. Periwinkle is the common name for this evergreen vinca vine, not to be confused with the vinca flower which I love to grow in the summertime! I love the fact that it is evergreen, and that it runs along the ground and makes a lovely ground cover. It can run everywhere however, so choose wisely where you want to plant it. Mine thrives in shade and sun, and wet and dry conditions here in North Carolina.  I’ve even used mine to cover a tree stump that I chose not to have removed. It looks quite lovely! I gave my next door neighbor some, and she has it shaped in a perfect circle around her mailbox! I am especially touched when I see my vinca blooming, as it was something I brought from home, my childhood home in Richmond, Virginia. So at 64, these plants have been with me all my life! They have beautiful little violet blue flowers im the Spring, and I just love them. 

        Here’s one more little thing poking its head up through the pine tags! Its my verbena, purple homestead,  just beginning to bloom! This is another great groundcover, that begins here in March, and will grow and bloom prolifically all summer long and into the Fall! 

     How delightful that the flowers are beginning to bloom! I’d love to see pictures of your own if you can post them along with your comment, I don’t know if that’s possible, some of you more tech savvy folks will have to let me know! Wishing you all blooming flowers and joy inyour own life!