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Bragg Family History

Brent D Bragg's research began with William Bragg, Sr. (1809-1863), and has moved forward and backward from him as a reference.  The data on his ancestors is less well researched than his descendants, but they indicate that the Bragg family was here at least in the early 18th century.  The oldest reference we have is “Henry Bragg” who died in 1736.1   He had a number of children; among them was Hugh Bragg, Joel Bragg, and William Bragg.  The next reference was a 1792 will from William Bragg (1760-1792) that left Swift Creek Mill to his son Joseph.2   Due to the life dates of the “Williams”, we feel there must be a missing generation between Henry’s son “William” and the William born in 1760.  More research is needed to fully explain this relationship but a graphical attempt to express this is included in the family tree in this document.

Additionally, some other irregularities exist, for example, William’s (1760-1792) first wife may be missing from this discussion since his only son, Joseph, was born in 1784.  There is a wedding record of William marrying Masey Furguson in 1790, but the wife listed in his will in 1792 was Lucy Jones Bragg.

There were numerous opportunities to gain land during those times.  Service in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 granted land for service.  Transporting colonists to Virginia also resulted in grants of land.  There is a reference to “John Bragg”, master of the ship Dolphin, in 1703 that although we do not have a validated link to Henry Bragg or any of the earlier Braggs certainly seems to fit.3   Finally, there is also the evidence that the acquisition came from grants from the Royal Governor of Virginia since Petersburg was genuine frontier at that time.  For example, Royal grants were given to Hugh Bragg in 1727 and 1730 for 135 acres and 350 acres respectively from the Secretary of the Colony.4

Joseph Bragg (1784-1859), (Petersburg Mayor 1828-1829), who later became “Col. Joseph” owned not only Swift Creek Mill, but other tracts of land in Chesterfield and Petersburg.  There are numerous references of land transactions by Joseph and all his subsequent descendants.  Land, banking, and milling established Joseph’s wealth.  He was a large slave holder, owning 20 slaves at the end of his life.  By comparison, the Friends, who were the largest land owners in the county (802 acres), owned 36 slaves.5   During his lifetime, Joseph was also the surety for many marriage bonds.   He is buried at the family home in Chesterfield.

As can be seen in the family tree, Joseph had seven children, notably William A. Bragg (Sr.) (1809-1863).  Joseph’s other children included Daniel Willson (1812-1877), Thomas, and John (Dr. John (?-1858)).  When William Sr. purchased the High Street house and other parcels in 1832, he paid $2,000 at the age of 23.  Doubtless Joseph must have helped him purchase the house and to help fund the renovations that William put into the house to make it into the Greek Revival style.  The site was plotted as early as 1762 by Peter Jones as a part of “New Town Petersburg” making it a genuinely pre-revolutionary site.

 Petersburg Public Library Collection

The Library of Virginia 

The family continued to be prominent in farming, milling, banking, land, and medicine throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.  William Sr.’s brother, John became a noted physician in Petersburg he had a prominent home on Bragg’s Hill at the end of Washington Street.  Although the home is no longer standing, the off ramp of Interstate 95 to Washington Street is the location of Bragg’s Hill.  Dr. Philip Ryan notes. 

The Braggs were part of the gentry of the area and they were married into other families of other land owners – Gilliam, Bolling, Friend, Dunn, and Mallory.  William Sr.’s other brother; Daniel married Roberta Clara Pocahontas Gilliam in 1833.  She was the grand-daughter of Robert Bolling, who was a lieutenant in the Navy during the Revolutionary War.6 

Daniel and Roberta owned the home at Second and Lombard Streets built about 1810.7  The parlor of this home was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York before the house was demolished in 1916.  Dulaney Ward at the Petersburg Siege museum thought that this house must have been hit by Union shelling during the Siege.  He indicated that there were estimates of damages to the structure between $1,400 and $2,000 which must have been fairly extensive. Roberta died during the Siege in November 1864.  Whether she was killed during the shelling or died of natural causes requires more research.  However, we have been able to determine that Daniel later sold the house in18708 and was living at the Commercial National Bank with a servant when he died in 1877.9

The 1850 Federal Census listed William Sr.’s occupation as “Druggist”.  By 1860, the Federal Census showed William Sr. as owning $56,000 in land and $90,000 in total estate.  These were huge numbers in 1860, comparable to millions in today’s dollars.  Additionally, William Sr. was comfortable enough to list his occupation in 1860 as “Gentleman”. 

The research at the graves in Blandford Cemetery and the Bragg Family Bible in the collection of the Library of Virginia also revealed more information about William, Sr.’s family group.  He was married to Ann Eliza Jones and had four sons and two daughters by her: 

Joseph:  1843-1843 but the grave is not indicated in Blandford
Martha:  1835
John:  1838-1909
William Jr:  1840-1901
Daniel:  1844-1887
An infant daught that died at just over 1/month in 1847
An infant that died with Ann Eliza in childbirth in 1848

In 1849, William Sr. married Eliza Stith and she became a well loved mother to the children. Her tombstone in Blandford reads A mother to the motherless.”  Eliza made many detailed entries into the family Bible and even noted the fire at St. Paul’s Church on February 16, 1854.  Later, Daniel’s wife, Rosa Belle Friend also made very detailed entries into the Bible.  She meticulously put not only the date of her children’s births in the family Bible, but the time of day.

Of William Sr.’s children it’s interesting to note that William Sr.’s son, Dr. John C. Bragg (1838-1909), assisted the Confederacy with supplies and paid the taxes on William Sr.’s estate with bushels of corn.

“Nine items consist of seven receipts to Dr. John C. Bragg of Petersburg, Amelia County, and Nottoway Counties, Virginia, for coal, hogs, and bacon supplied to the Confederate Army; receipts for payment of his taxes with corn, wheat, molasses, potatoes, peas and beans; and a receipt from J.R. Anderson and Co. for delivery of iron to Dr. J.C. Bragg; two receipts to the estate of William A. Bragg of Nottoway County for payment of taxes with corn.”10 

John Hart, Collection of Confederate Letters and Receipts, 1860-1868

Both William Jr. and Daniel served in the Confederacy.  William was a 2nd Lieutenant and Daniel served in the cavalry in Capt. Robert McIlwaine’s regiment.  Daniel was taken prisoner by the Union in 1864 and was held in Richmond until the end of the war.  The Beasley home at 558 High Street was used as Gen. Lee’s headquarters in 1864.  It’s not too much to imagine that Eliza must have seen the General as he rode down High Street.

Following the collapse of the Confederacy and the banks, the family experienced a reversal of fortune from the pre-war years.  William Sr. died in February of 1863.  For the rest of the War, Eliza carried the responsibility for the house.  The value of the land Eliza owned dropped from a pre-war value of $56,000 to $4,000 and a personal property value of $8,000 from $90,000.  William Sr.’s daughter, Martha, married William R. Mallory in 1857; Daniel married Rosa Belle Friend in 1867; and William Jr. married Eliza Madison Lee in 1872.  According to the 1870 Federal Census, everyone except Eliza Madison Lee lived at the High Street home with their families, Eliza Willson Bragg and five servants. 

By 1875, the financial strain must have been severe since Eliza sold the High Street home for $5,816 but kept a life tenancy for herself.  Eliza continued to live in the High Street home until she died in 1893.  Because the deed holder of the High Street house died in the same year as Eliza did (1893), the house went to auction.  Rosa Belle bid on the home with the winning bid of $2,516.25.  She lived there until her death in 1929.  

About 1875, William Jr. and his family moved to Richmond and we suspect it was also about the time that Daniel and Rosa Belle moved to 169 High Street.  The 1880 Census lists Daniel and Rosa Belle living at 169 High Street.11  The city directory also confirmed that they lived at that address in 1887.  Daniel died that year of Bright’s disease, a kidney disorder that was incurable in the 19th century.  Before his death, Daniel ran a tobacco stemmery at 135 Low Street.  The city directory showed the business as still existing in 1890.

As previously stated, William Jr. lived in Richmond at 703 E. Franklin Street (1890 Federal Census) and later at 319 West Franklin (1901 Death notice).  The 1900 Census noted that William’s home had a large household of seven family members, two boarders, and two servants.  Throughout his career, William Jr. was a tobacco dealer and inspector. 

William Jr. was in business with his only son, Hancock Lee Bragg late in the 1890s.  In 1900, he referred to himself as a “Retired Capitalist” in the Census.

In 1905, Hancock moved to New York City and became a prominent and successful businessman.  The 1920 Federal Census lists him as living in the Manhattan Assembly District 9, as a lodger with two other household members.  He died in Richmond in 1941 and is buried in Blandford Cemetery.

Rosa Belle was the last of Daniel’s generation to own the Bragg house.  Rosa Belle’s son, William A. Bragg (Son of Daniel) had a daughter, Elizabeth Patterson who married James Shepherd Russell.  After 110 years, the house left the Bragg family when it was sold to Percy Sadler in 1942. 

As the house approaches its bicentennial, it is reassuring to know that the house is not only appreciated for its history, but also as a home to the families that live there.

Brent D. Bragg, November, 2008

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