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Virginia History Day By Day

July 12, 2011 12:15 am


Thomas Walker explored and named Cumberland Gap (Civil War cannons pictured in today's Cumberland Gap National Historical Park on Kentucky-Virginia border), 1750.


1748: The Virginia Council grants 800,000 acres to the Loyal Land Company in far southwest Virginia. Among the company organizers are John Lewis of Staunton and Thomas Walker, Peter Jefferson, Joshua Fry and Thomas Meriwether of Albemarle County. Two years later, Walker explored the vast region, discovered and named the Cumberland Gap and became known as the "Father of Kentucky."

1849: Former first lady Dolley Madison, 81, dies at her home, Montpelier, in Orange County, having outlived her husband, President James Madison, by 13 years. President Zachary Taylor said of her at the time, "She will never be forgotten because she was truly our first lady for a half-century." Dolley and James Madison are buried together at Montpelier.


1916: [95 years ago today] Suffolk native John Lester Johnson takes part in what may be the nation's first integrated professional boxing match. Johnson, an African-American, was 22 when he fought a match with an unknown boxer named Jack Dempsey at the Harlem Sporting Club in New York City. The 10-round event ended with no decision, although Dempsey--who suffered three broken ribs--said Johnson was the better boxer. Johnson later had small parts in a number of motion pictures. He died in California in 1968.

1996: [15 years ago today] Hurricane Bertha passes over a large portion of Tidewater Virginia. Suffolk and Newport News were in the hurricane's direct path. Portsmouth reported gusty winds, which blew down power lines. Southeastern Virginia received four inches of rain. Emergency officials in Smithfield, Hampton, and Gloucester and Northumberland counties, reported tornado activity.


1852: Presley Marion Rixey is born in Culpeper. Rixey became a U.S. Navy surgeon, and he was U.S. surgeon general from 1902 to 1910. He was the White House physician during President William McKinley's administration and he attended the president when he suffered a fatal gunshot wound in Buffalo in 1901. Rixey died in June 1928. His younger brother was Virginia Congressman John Franklin Rixey of Culpeper. Another brother, Eppa Rixey Sr., was a Culpeper banker whose son, Eppa Jr., was a major league baseball pitcher and later an inductee into the MLB Hall of Fame.

1915: Martha Virginia Wing is born in Amelia County. An actress, Wing took the stage name "Toby," and moved to California in the 1920s. After a few bit parts she took greater roles. Early in her career she was billed as having "a face like the morning sun." She epitomized the platinum-blond look and reportedly received more fan mail than Claudette Colbert or Marlene Dietrich. From 1924 to 1938, she appeared in more than 30 films. She died in Mathews County in 2001.

1982: Major league baseball outfielder Jackie Jensen dies in Charlottesville. He was 55. A Californian, Jensen played for the New York Yankees, Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox from 1950 to 1961. He was with the Red Sox in 1958 when he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player, outpolling both Mickey Mantle and teammate Ted Williams.

1998: Nguyen Ngoc Loan, 67, dies of cancer in Fairfax County. In 1968, Loan, then director of South Vietnam's national police, escorted a bound Viet Cong captain to a Saigon street corner and shot him point-blank in the head in front of journalists. Photos of Loan's execution became one of the most disturbing images of the Vietnam War. Loan fled South Vietnam in 1975 and moved to Burke in Fairfax, where he operated a pizza restaurant.


1825: Ann Hull Herndon, 14, marries Matthew Fontaine Maury, 19, in Fredericksburg, where the couple will reside. The bride is the daughter of Dabney and Elizabeth Hull Herndon of Fredericksburg, where she was born in August 1811. Maury is the son of Richard and Diana Minor Maury of Spotsylvania County, where he was born in 1806. Maury is a naval officer and oceanographer who would later earn the nickname, "Pathfinder of the Sea."

1867: Maggie Lena Walker is born in Richmond to Elizabeth Draper, an unmarried kitchen slave who worked in the home of Union sympathizer Elizabeth Van Lew during the Civil War. An African-American, Walker was a prominent businesswoman who went on to establish the St. Luke Penny Bank in Richmond in 1903. She went on to become the nation's first woman bank president. She married a building contractor, Armstead Walker, in 1896.


1857: Mary Anna Morrison, 26, marries Thomas Jonathan Jackson, 33. The bride's father is Robert Hall Morrison, a Presbyterian minister and retired president of Davidson College in North Carolina. The groom, a Virginia native, is an instructor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington. This is Jackson's second marriage. His first wife, the former Elinor Junkin, died during childbirth in 1854.

1890: Thomas Bahnson Stanley is born near Spencer in Henry County. Stanley was a Virginia congressman from 1946 to 1953 and governor from 1954 to 1958. He founded Stanley Furniture Co. in 1924 in Stanleytown.


1863: In Southwest Virginia during the Civil War, Molly Tynes, 26, rides alone on horseback across the mountains from her home in Tazewell County to Wythe County to warn of an attack by Union troops commanded by Col. J.T. Toland. Tynes was thereafter known as the "Paul Revere in Petticoats" and the "Heroine of the Battle of Wytheville."


1873: Thomas Pogue is born in Gate City in Scott County. Pogue was a motion-picture actor who appeared in 28 films between 1935 and his death in March 1941. His last appearance was as an uncredited extra in the 1941 film "Citizen Kane" just before he died in Hollywood.

1887: Former U.S. Sen. Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter dies near Lloyds in Essex County. He was 76. Hunter, an Essex County native, practiced law at Lloyds. He also served as a congressman and briefly as speaker of the U.S. House. He withdrew from his U.S. Senate seat in March 1861, prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. He is buried in Essex.

Michael P. Gleason is a journalist, writer and historian. He and his wife reside on Gwynn's Island in Mathews County, He can be reached at


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