John Rowland Leavell
The Man who created the Confederate Monument
 
Source: ONDQ Winter 2001, vol 10, no. 4, pgs 26-28, contributed by Michael Frederick Comer, compiled by Edith Greisser, members of the Old Newberry District Chapter of the South Carolina Genealogical Society

On a cold day in February, 1900, with a freezing rain pouring down over the mourners, John Rowland Leavell was laid to rest at Bush River Baptist Church Cemetery, located about nine miles out of Newberry, SC. Eleven of his sixteen children had lived to adulthood, and John Leavell, himself; had lived a full life, making for himself a place in the history of Newberry County.

The Leavell family had moved to the Bush River section of Newberry District from Virginia. The

grandfather, Robert Leavell, born 1718 and dying in 1797, was the first of the family to be buried in the new homeland. John Rowland Leavell, the grandson of Robert Leavell, was born 24 Nov 1820, the son of John and Frances Williams Leavell. John Rowland Leavell was only thirteen years old when his father, John, died. At that time he decided to leave the family home, located on Bush River where it crossed Piester’s Mill, and move to Newberry Court House in search of gainful employment.

He spent two years there before he decided to journey to Charleston, hoping to become experienced in the mercantile business. He was then a boy of 15, armed with letters of recommendation from prominent men in Newberry tucked in with his hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. For the next six years he worked diligently, returning only once to visit his mother in Newberry County. During that visit he had a disagreement with his childhood sweetheart and went back to Charleston with little hope for reconciliation. In later years his son recounted how John Rowland Leavell was a young man with handsome features, six feet tall, square shoulders, dark brown eyes and dark brown hair which had a tendency to curl. While living in Charleston he developed a taste for fine clothes which ever after kept him finely groomed. He “beau’d” many young ladies in Charleston but his life’s love was in Newberry County. So at age twenty-one, before committing himself to a business venture in Charleston, he returned home to ask Dr. Alexander Chalmers for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

For some reason Dr. Chalmers was not against the marriage as much as he was against the young couple moving to Charleston. Dr. Chalmers agreed to the marriage provided John Rowland Leavell would agree to live with his in-laws and oversee the farm belonging to Dr. Chalmers. In January 1842, John Rowland Leavell married Elizabeth Jane Chalmers, moved in with his in-laws, thus fulfilling his agreement to oversee the farm. Exactly one year later, John Rowland Leavell moved his wife and young, three week old son, Richard “Buddy” to a rented farm where they kept house until he was able to buy a farm near Jalapa, which he ran successfully while he taught school in the winter months.

In 1851 Leavell moved his wife and six children into the town of Newberry into a home first owned by John Anderson and later by Hugh K Boyd. Along with them came ten slaves to assist in the care of the large family which seemed to increase each year. There were two cooks, two washerwomen, two nurses, two housemaids, two men who worked in the yard and garden and also tended the horses. The house, garden, stables and stone yard took up the entire block which today is the block containing the Opera House and fire house.

According to newspaper accounts, J. R. Leavell was a manager of elections in Jalapa on 21 Jan 1852, and in 1856 was “Worthy Patriot of the Lodge of the Sons of Temperance.” Also, in 1852 it is noted that he was a deacon in the Newberry Baptist Church. Upon his death he was Senior Deacon of that t is uncertain why John Rowland Leavell went from farming to stone masonry, undertaking and furniture making. Each of those trades required an amount of expertise and apprenticeship that took some years to master. It is possible that he had slaves who were proficient in those trades and performed the bulk of the work. The portrait of J. R. Leavell, a copy at the beginning of this article, reveals the large hands of a working man.

During the War Between the States, John R. Leavell was tax collector for the Town of Newberry. He also ran the Government Shoe Factory, which was located on the second floor of a building on Main Street. That building was in 1900 owned by Joseph Mann. Two of the Leavell sons fought for the South. Richard “Buddy” Leavell was a member of Co. E, 3rd’. Regt. Kershaw’s Brigade. Just a week before his twenty-first birthday, and after having spent three years in the confederate army, Richard died on 30 Nov 1863, from complications due to a leg wound which culminated in amputation. Robert Leavell, at the age of seventeen joined the army and served with Co. A, 4th Regt. State Reserves. After the war he became active in
Veterans groups and received his Confederate Cross at the Memorial Day services on 9 May 1903.

In 1871 the family moved to a thirty acre residence called Oak Grove. The younger children apparently enjoyed the move to the spacious grounds and related years later how their Papa helped them slide down a gently slope on the grounds after a mush enjoyed snow fall. This home is now, in 2001, being restored by it’s present owners.

Various businesses were owned and operated by John Rowland Leavell. These included the J. R. Leavell Funeral Home, a monument business, a furniture making business, and a cotton brokerage firm. The funeral home was passed to his son Robert Y., then to Robert Y.’s nephew, James Leavell, who was a son of Eugene Leavell, another son of John R. Leavell. At some later time, the business was moved to it’s present location on College Street where it is operated as Whitaker Funeral Home.

Elizabeth Jane Chalmers Leavell, wife of John Rowland Leavell, died in 1885. The children had married and left home, with the exception of the twenty-one year old daughter, Mary Beta, who became the caretaker of Papa, who was to die five years later. It is know that he remained active for awhile because he is listed as serving as Jury Commissioner from 1884-1888. At that time there was an older unmarried daughter, Fannie Leavell, who was teaching school and living elsewhere. Into the home moved James Teague Leavell, a brother of John R. Leavell, who remained with this family until his death on 1 Jan 1894.

In 1895 Oak Grove was sold and the three members of this family moved into a rental cottage located on Boundary Street, a former home of Senator Mower which was later torn down. Another account locates this rental property on Johnstone Street. Evelyn Davis of Tennessee, a descendant of John Rowland Leavell, relates that she understood that the Leavells moved from Oak Grove because it had Little has been published in the local papers about John Rowland Leavell other than the advertisements in regards to his businesses. An article in the local paper tells us that J. R. Leavell had grown a beet that was two feet in circumference and weighed seven and a half pounds.

The recorded death of J. R. Leavell states he died 6 Feb 1900 of rheumatism and sciatica and had lived in Newberry for twenty-five years, but in reality it was much longer. His funeral was delayed until 11 Feb 1900 because his son, the Rev. Dr. Hayne Leavell, of Houston, Texas, missed a train connection in New Orleans.

At Bush River Baptist Church Cemetery are stones marking the places of rest of many of the Leavell family, including the five children who died before reaching maturity. The eleven children who lived to adulthood were:

1. Richard Alexander Leavell, died 30 Nov 1863 from wounds suffered during the Civil War.

2. Dorothy Frances Leavell, a school teacher who never married.

3. Martha Katherine Leavell, married John R. Spearman and had four children.

4. Robert Young Leavell, followed his father in the same businesses, married twice (#1 Mamie Evans) and had four children.

5. Margaret Jane Leavell, married Dr. Homer P. Tarrant and had seven children.

6. William Hayne Leavell, was first a minister in the Baptist church and then became a Presbyterian minister. He was appointed US Minister to Guatemala during the Woodrow Wilson administration. Married to Mary George. Was the father of four children.

7. Emma Eliza Leavell married Charles Watson and had five children.

8. Carolina Brantley Leavell was deaf from an overdose of quinine as a child. She married William Ellerbe Pelham and had two children.

9. John R. Leavell, Jr., operated a mercantile business in Greenwood. He married Hessie Blake. They had no children

10. Eugene Leavell, was murdered in 1906 on the way home from a school meeting. He had married Susan Eloise Barre and had seven children.

11. Mary Beta Leavell, after caring for her father and uncle in their last days, nursed the dying wife of Rev. George A. Wright of the Newberry Baptist Church. She afterwards became the second wife of Rev. Wright and had a daughter, Frances Elizabeth Wright.

 

 

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