Sunday, February 17, 2019

John Pegram House

A couple of months ago I shared a brief post about the burning of the Albert W. Boisseau house in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, during Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Fifth Offensive at Petersburg. A near neighbor to the southeast of Boisseau was the plantation of John Pegram. Like the Boisseau home, its final fate was burned ruins. 

Shown above in a period sketch, this close up view indicates the house apparently stood as late as October 2, 1864. Perhaps it fell victim on October 7, as did the Boisseau home. Being between the belligerents' lines, its chances of survival were slim.

The uncertainty of where the armies decided to move to and entrench around Petersburg ensured the destruction of many citizens residences and their associated resources. Crops in all states of cultivation were ruined, farm animals that were not removed before the armies arrived were impressed or consumed, woodlots were denuded, and uncountable yards of earth relocated. All of these activities by the military forces left an indelible mark on the landscape.

After securing the ground that was the Pegram farm, the Federals dug in and created earthen fortified lines and positions. In the above woodcut image from November 5, 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly, the burned ruins of the Pegram house stands to the right and the newly constructed Fort Welch occupies the right.

Comparing the Harper's Weekly close up image to the top sketch close up one notices the same locations of the chimneys. It seems the artists used the same angle to produce their images. Or, maybe, the ruins woodcut was based on the earlier house sketch.

The title of the Harper's Weekly woodcut states that it is "The late residence of the rebel colonel Pegram." However, the owner of the burned home was John Pegram. Perhaps Harper's Weekly confused John Pegram with either Confederate brigadier general John Pegram, or his younger brother, colonel Willie Pegram, who were relatives of this John Pegram.

Pegram is listed in the 1860 census as a "farmer," although planter would probably be a more appropriate occupation description, as he owned $10,000 in real estate and $51,000 in personal property. He was 75 years old at the time of the census and lived with his wife Martha (66), and apparently their children, Oscar (29), Octavia (17), and perhaps his sister Mary Jolly (75). John Pegram owned 44 enslaved individuals who ranged in age from 1 to 55. These people lived in 6 slave dwellings. 

Today, nothing visible survives of the Pegram homestead other than a small family cemetery. However, Fort Welch's earthen walls still stand, reminding us of the high costs of war on civilians as well as on those who served in the military.

Pegram House sketch courtesy of the New York Historical Society.
Harper's Weekly image in the public domain.


  1. Thanks. I will have to look for the cemetery the next time I'm near Fort Welch.

  2. Thanks for the article. Would you know how to locate Pegram slave descendants?

  3. Thank you for reading! Finding descendants of enslaved people can be difficult. However, a number of historic sites have been successful in starting descendants organizations. Those individuals who took the last name of their enslavers and remained for generations in the same area are obviously the easiest to find. I would suggest networking with African American genealogy groups in the Petersburg and Dinwiddie County area as a start. I wish you luck.

    1. Tim, I really appreciate this. Thank you! Thus far I have been able to locate my great-great grandfather, John E. Pegram, born 1899 in Farmville, VA. Hopefully, the genealogy groups can help learn the names and history of his enslaved parents. Thanks and Blessings,
      Daryl E. Pegram II

    2. Mr. Pegram, I think I found something for you. I searched and I believe I found John E. Pegram's death certificate. As you state above, it indicates he was born Aug. 15, 1899 in Farmville, VA. He died in Sept. 9, 1964 at age 65 in Philadelphia of pneumonia. Death certificates usually list the deceased's father and mother. John E. Pegram's parents were listed as John A. Pegram and Clara (no maiden name provided). Email me at if you would like for me to send you a copy of the death certificate.