Sketches of Southwest Virginia
Publication No. 11 - 1977
THE VERSATILE DRAYTON
Omer C. Addington
Drayton S. Hale according to his marriage record was
born in Russell Co., VA, January 25, 1839. His enlistment record into
the Union Army states that he was born January 25, 1840 in Scott Co.,
VA, but in his application for pension he states that he was born
January 25, 1839 in Russell Co., VA and moved to Scott Co. in 1845. The
Bureau of Pensions states that Drayton S. Hale had been dropped from the
roll because of death which occurred January 22, 1916, and that he was
last paid December 1915.
His tombstone record gives his birth date January 25,
1839 and his death date January 22, 1915. We can safely say that his
death date on his tombstone is not correct, and as you will see later,
he could not have been born in 1840.
What kind of a man was Drayton Hale? And why do we
wish to talk about him today? He lost his mother to illness very soon
after he was born and she spent the rest of her life in an institution.
He was reared by an Uncle, Jim Vermillion, who had the nickname of
"Captain," which was passed on to Mr. Hale and most people
later in his life thought he had been a Captain in the Army.
His teacher as an aunt, Ruth Dougherty, who was a
teacher in Russell County, but she was persuaded by a Dr. Sallings to
come to Scott County to teach his children and school was held in his
Mr. Hale attended this school, and being a very bright
student and eager to learn, asked for and received extra instructions
from his aunt.
After this school term was completed, school was held
at night for some of the boys in the neighborhood at the home of his
aunt, Ruth Dougherty. As times were very hard and he had to work on the
farm, there was not time for day school.
He was a great reader and read on every subject from
books, newspapers and magazines. One of the first books that he learned
to read was the Bible and with the help of his aunt, Ruth Dougherty,
acquired a vast knowledge of the scriptures at a very early age. He was
also a great student of history and had studied the Constitution and
debates of the great statesmen. Having been taught by his teacher and
aunt to be a great patron of his country, and long before the union
began to be dissolved, he like Daniel Webster believed in, "Liberty
and union now and forever more, one and inseparable."
He was married in 1859 to Ruth C. Frazier by Rev.
Charles C. Addington in the vicinity of Estillville, now Gate City, and
to this union were born 8 children, some of which became quite famous.
He became of legal voting age in 1860 prior to the big
presidential election of 1860. If he had been born in 1840, he would not
have been of legal voting age in 1860.
Mr. Hale was a strong union man and believed the
Southern states should not be allowed to leave the union. He had
followed very closely the speeches and writings of Candidate Lincoln, so
he cast his first Presidential ballot in November of 1860 for Abraham
Lincoln. As you know, Lincoln was not the popular candidate in these
parts at that time at the polling place at Peter's Precinct in Scott Co.
Since there were no ballots available for the Republican Party. Mr. Hale
wrote his choice on a piece of paper and signed his name. There was no
such thing as a secret ballot in those days and a vote was cited by the
election officials "Drayton S. Hale for Abraham Lincoln and
Hannibal Hamlin." This created quite a stir on the election
grounds. Later on that evening, a friend came and warned Mr. Hale that a
group of the more impetuous men of the area were forming a neck-tie
party for him and they had already obtained a rope. He eluded the
neck-tie party and escaped into Kentucky that night.
In Kentucky, Mr. Hale began making preparations to
bring his family to that state. He mentions in a letter to his cousin,
C. D. Vermillion, that on May 27, 1861, when he returned to this area to
bring his family back to Kentucky, that the sentiment about his politics
had in no way cooled. If anything, it had been brooded upon by his
absence. His journey back to Kentucky was punctuated by rifle balls.
In his personal recollection Hale states, "On my
return to Kentucky I resumed working a crop of corn. As soon as the corn
was laid by I got up a school on the Kentucky river some two miles from
Whitesburg. The term of the school was three months. I taught the school
about half out. When the political atmosphere got so high in the area, I
soon determined to join the Union Army and assist in my humble way to
settle the trouble."
He was sworn in at Camp Burns in Estill County,
Kentucky for three years. After drilling with the Eighth Kentucky
Infantry, he came down with the measles. After his recovery, he was sent
to Harrodsburg and assigned to Company D, 19th Kentucky Infantry.
He served with the Union forces over three years, from
November 1, 1861, to January 1, 1865, participating in the capture of
Cumberland Gap, and in the retreat of General Morgan from Cumberland Gap
in 1862. He served under Sherman during his seven days fighting before
Vicksburg, and in the following month, January, 1863, was in the battle
of Arkansas Post. At the second battle of Vicksburg, he was carried off
the battlefield with typhoid fever and sent in a hospital boat to
Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, MO.
After he was discharged from the Army, he, with his
family, moved to the new state of Minnesota. He acquired a tract of 160
acres and was instrumental in organizing Todd County, where he served as
a Commissioner of Revenue and Land Assessment. (2)
The end of the war could not immediately change
people's way of thinking. Some bitterness and resentment were bound to
linger and this, of course, led to the assassination of President
Lincoln, of which Mr. Hale wrote about in a letter to his cousin, C. D.
Vermillion, from Minnesota in May 1865.
The infernal devils killed our President. It will do
them no good. I never felt so bad about it in my blief. Some have
rejoiced at him being shot down. I know one thing, if any person abuses
him before me I will hit him with an axe or anything else I can find.
Any other man would do the same thing that has served in the Union Army.
Poor old Abe, I feel so bad about this, Abraham Lincoln stands side by
side with George Washington.
I have an honorable discharge from the United States
Army and would not give it for their whole Confederacy. I want to tell
those rebels if there was but ten acres left of the United States I
would claim my part and help to defend it.
I can't forget some of those Hell Hounds of secession.
I intend to go to Virginia some day, and some of the people who waylaid
me on the road to shoot me four years ago the 27th of this month, had
better look out. They had the advantage then, but Providence and time
brings things on my side. (3)
After his return from Minnesota to Scott County in
1871, much of the bitterness and hatred had died out. No one in the
community seemed to bear him any ill will. The "Hell Hounds",
he wrote about from Minnesota never showed up, and he was left in peace
to carry on his business as a farmer and miller.
He bought a farm on Copper Creek and built his first
mill. This mill did not meet his needs, so he set about to look for a
farm with a better mill site.
He later bought the farm which is now known as the
"Hale Spring". This spring is an extremely large one, and
having a rapid fall, produces tremendous water power. A dam was
constructed, and a mill was built for grinding corn and bolted wheat
flour. To this day, some of the foundation stones still stand. (4)
His farming and milling operations had proved to be
very successful so he built a fine home with a stone foundation and two
stone chimneys cut from limestone by two local stone masons. Stone was
also cut and laid around the huge spring to a height of about four and
one-half feet. The house and stone were torn down in the late thirties,
moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, and rebuilt.
The mill on the spring branch did not meet the growing
needs of the community. In 1897, he began to have a tunnel dug through
the narrow part of the ridge that separates a bend in Copper Creek. This
bend is known as the "dog's tail," because of its shape.
This tunnel was dug by men using only picks, shovels,
and occasionally dynamite. The soil and rock were wheel barrowed to the
outside. The tunnel is approximately three-hundred-thirty feet long, six
and one-half to seven feet high, and six to seven feet wide.
It took about seven years to dig the tunnel and build
the dam. In the meantime, carpenters had built the mill house, and
workmen had installed the mills. This included a corn mill, a roller
mill, and a saw mill. These mills were ready for service when the tunnel
was completed, and they were in use up until about the time of Mr.
Hale's death. After his death, the farm was divided and the mills were
He was instrumental in getting a post office
established in his community in the 1800's, and it was named Hale's Mill
in honor of Mr. Hale. This post office was in use until 1916 when it was
discontinued and moved to Nickelsville. (4)
During this time he took an active part in political
campaigns, especially Presidential campaigns, speaking at schools and
churches in behalf of Garfield in 1880, Harrison in 1888, and in the
election of McKinley in 1896. (5) He also did some writing on various
subjects which he contributed to the local paper. One of these that
merits mentioning is an obituary which he titled "A Tardy Obituary
of Rev. John Strong." Rev. Strong died in 1852, but he did not
write the obituary until 1910. He must have made a great impression on
Mr. Hale, for in the obituary he says "as a boy of 12, I loved him,
being so often in his home. His fine collection of books I had free
access to, and I borrowed and returned." As further evidence of the
deep impression left on him by the Rev. Strong, he mentions the last
sermon he heard him preach, and the text he used. (6)
So a useful and well-lived life comes to an end. Mr.
Hale passed away January 22, 1916, and was interred in the family
cemetery on his farm. After the death of his wife in 1921, she was
interred in the Mt. Pleasant Church cemetery. His body and those of
other members of his family were exhumed and reinterred in the Mt.
Pleasant Church cemetery.
Perhaps an appropriate close to this narrative would
be this quote from the obituary of Rev. Strong by Mr. Hale:
"It is a matter of regret that in our country
here, no records are kept and few epitaphs written above the sleeping
dust of our ancestors. Who, if true as I have often thought, we need
never be ashamed of. Thoughts of those examples of citizenship and
christian examples could see us as I view them in memory's hall. It
seems they would weep, even in that land where weeping is unknown. May
they all rest in peace till the time comes when all that knew them will
be gathered with them."
"Don't, don't let the pride of ancestry die out.
It is a noble thing." (6)
Footnotes: (1) Interview with I. D. Vermillion, March
12, 1977; (2) Hale, Nathan Cabot: Gate City, Virginia Sesquicential
Speech, August 17, 1965; (3) Letter written to C. D. Vermillion from
Minnesota, May 6, 1865; (4) General Service Administration National
Archives and Records Service; (5) Interview with Ezra Addington, March
12, 1977/ (6) Hale, D. S.: A Tardy Obituary of Rev. John Strong
(Clipping from Gate City Herald, 1910).