After World War I, the Commonwealth established the Virginia War
History Commission, and during 1925 an effort was made to locate a
suitable person in each city and county of Virginia to write a history of
his/her community, covering the period of the first World War. Forty-four
communities responded to this request and thirty-two county histories, six
city histories, and six joint city/county histories were published in
1926, in two volumes. These histories provide an interesting window into
the past, and demonstrate the activities, leadership, and extraordinary
degree to which communities supported the war effort. Much of this article
is from Mathews County in War Time, A Community History, by Bertha
B. W. Foster, which appears in the first series published by the War
Early War Years
World War I began July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on
Serbia. By Christmas of that year, committees were soliciting funds for
Belgian relief. Mrs. Giles B. Cooke and Miss Mary Randolph were active in
this process and raised $26 and a large box of clothing.
With the large number of Mathews men serving on passenger ships and
freighters, the county closely watched and was greatly concerned by the
sinking of the Lusitania ,May 1915. The United States protested
strongly and Germany cut back on its submarine warfare. On March 16, 1917,
L. P. Borum of Mathews, Captain of the City of Memphis, and his
crew were forced from their ship by German submarine cannon. Captain Borum
reported that the German captain asked him "…where I was from, what my
ship carried, and my destination. I answered that we were from Cardiff
with, in ballast, bound for New York. ‘Vell’, called the captain of the
submarine, ‘I haff to zink your ship. You know dat?’" City of Memphis
was sunk and Captain Borum and his crew were in lifeboats for eighteen
hours before being rescued by English Monarch which picked them up
and carried them to Glasgow.
A week after learning of the sinking of the City of Memphis, a
Standard Oil ship Heraldton, was sunk carrying down fourteen of her
crew, including Coles Frank Hudgins, son of Mr. and Mrs. O. F. Hudgins, of
A little over a year later, Captain Borum, by now captain of United
States Army Chartered Transport City of Savannah, was honored by
the Belgian government for the rescue of twenty-six crewmen, from an open
boat, of the Belgian steamer Chilier.
Initial Response to War Declaration
The United States declared war April 6, 1917, and Captain Alexander
James, Commander of the Lane-Diggs Camp of Confederate Veterans, was made
chairman of a committee to decide what should be done. A big Patriotic
Rally was held April 21. Daughters of the Confederacy and ladies of the
Mathews Civic League arranged tables. A free lunch was prepared by ladies
of the different communities in the county. Sheriff A. E. Thurston made
arrangements at the court green, including a stage and flags and bunting
on the various court buildings. Captain James called the meeting to order,
Rev. J. R. Stodghill, of the Baptist Church, gave the prayer, and Major
Samuel D. Freeman was the first speaker. Other speakers included W. M.
Minter, Judge J. Boyd Sears, Rev. B. E. Hudson, of the Methodist Church,
Rev. B. N. DeFoe Wagner, of the Episcopal Church, and Major Giles B.
Churches were very active in the county’s patriotic efforts. St. Paul’s
M. E. Church, Rev. W. G. Burch, Pastor, gave $27.50 to the Red Cross and
held special services and prayers for servicemen. St. Mathews M. E. Church
dedicated a service flag, as did many other churches. These contained one
star for each member in service. The Missionary Society of the Mathews
Baptist Church contributed $56 to the Red Cross and its Sunday School an
A Junior Red Cross was organized in all the schools. Rev. B. E. Hudson
was county chairman for the Juniors and Mrs. Wesley Foster was secretary.
The children sewed and knitted, made scrapbooks and property bags, and
collected tinfoil and nutshells. During Thrift Week, Cobbs Creek High
School averaged nearly $11 per pupil in selling War Savings Stamps.
Peninsula High School organized a War Savings Club; Winter Harbor School
raised $266 selling Liberty Bonds and Savings Stamps.
When war was declared, six Mathews men volunteered immediately for
patrol duty with the Navy. They were S. L. Hudgins, Augustus Hudgins, H.
M. Forrest, J. L. Brooks, George Hudgins, and Hezekiah Hudgins. Within
four weeks of the declaration, thirty-three Mathews men were serving.
All men between ages 21 and 31 were ordered to register. Mathews
433 white, 182 colored. This registration exceeded the number registered
in many larger counties. A draft board was appointed with the following
members: A. E. Thurston, Chairman, W. B. Smith, Clerk, Dr. C. C. White,
Examiner. A second registration was called in September 1918 and this time
was for men aged 18 to 45. The government estimated that 836 men would
register, however, 945 men signed up. The county board was called upon for
85 men. The county had 275 men in service which was three times their
Dr. Robert R. Hoskins, a Spanish-American War veteran, directed the
movement to organize a company of Home Guards. This company continued to
practice and drill until the end of the war. Dr. Hoskins enlisted in
service September 1918 and served as a Captain in the Medical Corps in New
York until the war ended.
The Mathews-Gloucester Coast Artillery was organized July 5, 1917.
There were 31 boys from Mathews and 42 from Gloucester. A
Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal photo, featured in the February 13,
1986 "Do you remember?" column, shows the 8th Company Coast Artillery
National Guard. One person from Mathews is identified, Vannie Armistead.
Identified from Gloucester are Company Commander Beverly D. Harwood,
Catesby T. Field, Julien Carbell, Chris Hall, __ Goalder, Robert Wyatt,
Bernard R. Woodland, Herman Horsley, George Cary, Earl Talliaferro, Edward
G. Field, Louis Groh, Fred McKee, Marion Chapman, and Vernon Kerns. Other
Mathews boys included Archie Acey, Charles W. Healy, and Julian B. Fox.
Mathews sent one doctor and three nurses overseas. They were Dr. E. T.
Sanberg, Miss Mattie Shackelford, Miss Lucile Douglass, and Miss Maude
The colored people of Mathews responded to every call of the various
war programs. Thirty-nine men left for Camp Lee November 1917. Members of
Zion Colored Church raised $113.70 for the War Fund. Colored Red Cross
auxiliaries were formed at Providence, Antioch, and Zion (Baptist
Churches?) and accomplished much.
The Mathews Journal had frequent reports and letters from county
men. Emmett G. Butts was selected to represent the Southern kind of
soldier, John Bassett was wounded three times. Oscar Hudgins, Jr., Wilton
Moore, J. H. Baylock, and William Hurst had been wounded. S. W. Treakle
had been gassed. Men writing reports published by the paper included
George Treakle, Rosser Hudgins, Currie Hudgins, and John T. Borum.
County Conservation Efforts
Many efforts were made towards home food production and conservation.
Joseph E. Healy was put in charge of food conservation. Pledge cards were
sent to homes and "wheatless" and "meatless" days were observed. Mrs.
Robert Hoskins arranged a bulletin in the Red Cross rooms for signatures
of those volunteering to conserve food. The Mathews Civic League, led by
Mrs. L. M. Travers, President, and Mrs. R. Wesley Foster, Secretary, and
the Captain Sally Tompkins Chapter of U. D. C., led by Mrs. Theodore
Miller, President, and Mrs. Charles Williams, Secretary, also supported
these registration efforts.
The Red Cross was one of the most active and highly supported
organizations in the county. The Mathews County Chapter was organized May
12, 1917. Mrs. Robert Hoskins was elected chairman; Miss Alice Healy,
Secretary; and W. B. Smith, Treasurer. The chapter was popular and
included Cardinal Branch, Gwynns Branch, and the Cobbs Creek Auxiliary in
addition to the three colored auxiliaries previously mentioned. The Red
Cross held many fund raisers. A Fourth of July celebration in 1918, held
at Lee-Jackson High School, raised more than $500. More than 5000 people
took part in the exercises. A twenty-five piece Marine band played and the
audience heard addresses by Maj. Samuel D. Freeman, Hon. Christopher
Garrett, and Judge Sears. Corporal J. B. Fox and Sgt. S. W. Treakle had
sent German helmets, gas masks, and shells home to friends and these were
displayed to the public.
A summary of Red Cross production by the Mathews Chapter between May
1917 and August 1920, shows over 5500 articles were made for military
relief including knitted sweaters, 210 garments for refugees, 500 comfort
kits, 1000 pairs of socks darned, and 1600 pounds of old clothing. The Red
Cross continued to make refugee garments and collect clothing for war
victims in Europe.
The End of the War and Post-War
The Mathews Journal of November 14, 1918, reported "…They
marched for and yelled for Wilson, and they cheered everybody else.
Oysters were plentiful and firing was frequent. About 400 rounds were
fired, and no one got shot, half shot, or crippled."
Post 83, American Legion, was formed September 1919. Maj. S. D. Freeman
was elected post commander; Dr. R. R. Hoskins, Vice Post Commander; George
Treakle, Post Adjutant; J. B. Fox, Post Finance Officer; and E. Muse
Foster, Post Historian and Chaplain.
The Virginia War History Commission appointed the following committee
members in Mathews: Mrs. Robert Hoskins, J. P. Nottingham, W. B. Smith,
and W. M. Minter. Mrs. R. Wesley Foster was put in charge of Red Cross
reports; Mr. Smith the soldiers’ records; George Treakle diaries and
letters of soldiers; and Shepard G. Miller economics.
This verse is from a letter, written by an Islander, and on display at
the Gwynn’s Island Museum: