The Tragic Story of Charlotte Potter
As we walk through our cemeteries, we see the names of all those who lived and died here long before us. We may only see names and dates etched into these fading stones, but if you look into their stories, you will get a glimpse of what it was like to live here over 150 years ago. It was a time when disease, war and disaster were an ever-present threat. We learn from the story of Charlotte Potter that these tragedies could strike at any time. And sometimes they struck the same person over and over again.
Charlotte Potter was born in 1797 in Allegany County, Maryland. In 1817 she married Noah Hillary Dawson. Charlotte and Noah had at least five children together. But Noah died after only twelve years of marriage. After ten years of widowhood, Charlotte married Jacob Green in 1839, also in Allegany County, Maryland. They had one child together, William P. Green, before Charlotte was again widowed by Jacob’s death in 1855. At some point after Jacob’s death, Charlotte moved to West Union with her son, William. Whether she came with her older children, Amanda, Catherine, Jackson, John T., and Rebecca, is not known. Daughters Catherine and Rebecca Dawson both married Duckworths and were living here in Doddridge County before 1855. Her son Jackson Dawson, his wife and five daughters, were also here before 1856. Her son John T. Dawson and his family were living in Wilbur by 1853. My guess is that all of the siblings moved here prior to 1853 and that Charlotte moved to West Union after the death of her husband in 1855 to be with her family.
Charlotte experienced her first heartache from the death of a child just a few months before her husband, Jacob, would die. Charlotte lost her 39-year-old daughter, Amanda Dawson Myers, to tuberculosis on April 3, 1855. Amanda, her husband Upton B. Myers, and their four children were living on Dotson’s Run in Greenwood at the time of her death. Her burial location is unknown. After Amanda died, her 10-year-old daughter, Luvena Myers, went to live with Amanda’s brother, Jackson Dawson and his family, in West Union.
An even greater tragedy would occur less than a year and a half later. On September 25, 1856, Charlotte lost her son and six granddaughters in a devastating fire. Jackson Dawson, his wife, five daughters and his niece, Luvena, were all asleep in their house in West Union when a fire started in the kitchen. The following excerpt is from Hardesty’s 1883 History of Doddridge County:
THE BURNING OF THE DAWSON FAMILY.
"One of the most heart-sickening recitals in the history of Western Virginia, is that of the burning of the Dawson family, on the night of the 25th of September, 1856. The facts as gleaned by the writer are as follows: At the time, Jackson Dawson, his wife, five children of their own and a little girl of the name of Luvena Mires, resided in a frame house of a story and a half in height, which was located in the western part of the town, on the spot on which the residence of John Dye now stands. It was dark, chilly night at the hour of 1 AM when the alarm was given. The fire had started from the kitchen in the rear of the house, and the building, being constructed of the most inflammable material, the flames spread with frightful rapidity. Every member of the family was soundly sleeping, and when the alarm was given the father and mother rushed in a semi conscious condition from the building, but no sooner out than the father, crazed to frenzy at the perilous condition of his children, rushed into the burning building and lost his life in an attempt to rescue the helpless ones. Oh, the terrible scene; who, when at this late day, can bear to think of it? Six little helpless girls enwrapped in hissing flames, from which come their cries for help, but soon the last murmur is hushed in death and the awful scene is past. When daylight came Joseph Cheuvront, the undertaker, repaired to the fatal spot, and from the ruins collected the charred remains of half a dozen human beings, placed all in a box, which was then deposited in the cemetery, where they now repose. If the traveler who visits the town of West Union will stroll into the cemetery there, he will discover an ivy-covered mound, at the head of which stands a broad marble slab, from which he may read the following inscription:
Sarah A., aged 7 years and 7 months.
Mary M.F., aged 6 years, 1 month, 15 days.
Charlotte S. aged 4 years, 6 months, and five days.
Luvena B., aged 2 years, 7 months, and 28 days.
Elizabeth R., aged 2 months and 17 days.
Children of Jackson & Charlotte Dawson and
Luvena Mires, aged 11 years, 7 months and 23 days.
Perished by fire September 25th, 1856."
Death of Son
At this point, Charlotte had already experienced a lifetime of horror. However, she had one more tragedy to endure. Her son, William Green, took care of Charlotte after her husband Jacob’s death in 1855. On August 14, 1862, William enlisted in the Civil War in West Union. He mustered into service on August 23, 1862 in Wheeling as 1st Sergeant of Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry. On January 10, 1863 he was promoted to Sergeant Major of the same Company. After enrolling for service again in West Union in April 1863, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. In August 1864 he was once more promoted and appointed a 1st Lieutenant. It is known from William’s military file that Charlotte was financially dependent on him. Below is a letter that William wrote to her from Webster, West Virginia on April 3, 1864:
"My Dear Mother,
I propose to drop you a few lines to inform you that I am still on the land and among the living and enjoying good health. I left Burlington, W.Va. on the morning of the 2nd and come to New Creek and from there on the Cass to Webster, this side of Grafton. I expect we will go to Beverly or some other place up in the mountains. I will write to you soon again.
I remain your devoted son,
Wm. P Greene, Lieut.
P.S. I expressed one hundred dollars for you at New Creek yesterday. I forgot to pay the expressage on it. You will have to pay it."
But tragedy was to strike once more. Just a few months later, on September 22, 1864, William was wounded in the left foot at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, near Strasburg, Virginia . As a result of this wound, his foot had to be amputated. But the amputation did not stop the infection, and William died November 1, 1864 at the Regimental Hospital in Winchester, Virginia.
The following entry, found in the diary of Flavius Josephus Ashburn, describes William’s funeral:
“On Sunday the 6th I attended the funeral services of Lieut. William Green. He died on the 1st day of this month from a wound received in battle and his body was embalmed and sent home to West Union. He was there placed in a highly finished coffin and conveyed to the meeting house while Bro. Lyon (a Methodist minister and Chaplain in the army) preached his funeral. After which amidst the outbursts of grief and mournful lamentations of his mother and other relations he was interred in the silent tomb."
Buried With Her Family
After an incomprehensible life of family tragedy, Charlotte died in West Union on October 6, 1880. She, along with three sons, one daughter, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren are all buried in the Old Seventh Day Baptist section of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery in West Union. All that remains of Charlotte and her family are these stone memorials that have been severely worn and neglected for many many years. As you can see from the featured photos, most of their headstones are in deplorable condition.
The Dawson family grave marker described above was originally in the form of a tall vertical slab. But it eventually fell off its base, broke into several pieces, and became completely covered with dirt and sod. Its exact location became unknown for many years. On January 19, 2015, a group of volunteers dedicated a day to cleaning up the cemetery, clearing vegetation and straightening headstones. One volunteer, a 12-year-old Doddridge County girl, found and uncovered a completely buried marker that proved to be that of the Dawson family. Nearby was the marker for Jackson Dawson, unreadable but known to be his from the record of a much earlier cemetery reading. Also nearby was the quite legible marker of Charlotte Potter Dawson Green, who had suffered the heartache of the tragic deaths of so much of her family.
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)