Friday, March 25, 2005

Something Else at Work

Wolcott Noobs: This is the latest installment of my reports on the Civil War Border Guerrilla John Mobberly. I try to do about one of these a week. I know I run the risk of appearing a Civil War Bore, but I think you'll find this is a bit different from your usual Blue-Gray fare. You can catch up on the subject by following the John Mobberly Story in the right-hand column, or just scroll on down to the Dishy Meatballs.

So the history books would have us believe that in the late summer of 1862 a troop of Yankees did something heinous to a woman of John Mobberly's acquaintance, which so enraged him that he stole a horse and snuck off to join White's Comanches and begin his depredations on the good Union-sympathizing folk of northern Loudoun County.

Small-town local historians often tend to play up the romantic over the practical in their choice of stories to pass down, and I believe that's what's happened in this case. The story above is just a little too pat, too dramatic. I believe I've found a detail that adds a bit of nuance to the matter.

Now, remember the circumstances of Mobberly's birth: Mother is seduced by a cad who deserts her after knocking her up. Mother raises John alone, enmired in poverty outside Harpers Ferry.

Well, here's an extract from the Loudoun County census from 1850:

Look at that! A sister Jane, four years older than John! Who was her daddy?

I've discovered (thanks Connie Derry!) that these censuses were taken door-to-door in those days, meaning that in the immediate area of Mary Mobberly's house in Waters, was another Mobberly family headed by an Eli Mobberly. Uncle? Cousin? Impossible to say, but the chances that they were unrelated are vanishingly small.

Of course we know nothing about relationships among these people, but look at the age difference between young John, aged 6 in 1850, and Eli Mobberly, 25. Can we hypothesize a worshipful relationship? Would it be outside the realm of possibility to suggest that Uncle or Cousin Eli took on a surrogate father's role for a boy abandoned by his biological father? Or maybe, on the other side of the coin, Eli had some animus against John, borne out of John's bastardy?

The next time these two show up in the official records, it's in the rolls of the May 1861 Vote on Secession. I've alluded to this vote before, but at the time I didn't know that it was not a secret ballot, and that the votes were recorded and were public knowledge.

Here's John, among the Secessionists, which pretty throughly kiboshes any dreamy notion of his neutrality pre-1862:

And Uncle-or-Cousin Eli?

...You chose...

What can have passed between these men?

It would be irresponsible and specious of me to impute John Mobberly's sociopathology to a teenaged rebellion against a father figure. But what we're looking at is an undeniably complicated and nuanced set of family circumstances, played out against a backdrop so polarized it makes Red-Versus-Blue look like Easter Service down at the Church of the Brethren. This vote took place a year and a half after John Brown's Raid, which itself took place within walking distance of both Mobberly families' homes. At the time of the Raid, John would have been 15, Eli about 34.

As I say, we can't know without some more evidence, but knowing what we know about human nature, doesn't this family conflict suggest itself as something that might very well engender and nurture a viciously violent guerrilla -- more likely, at any rate, than some imputed insult from some faceless Yankee troops?

Next Up on the Mobberly Trail: Those wacky Quakers!


1850 Loudoun County Census,

Where Did They Stand? The May 1861 Vote on Secession in Loudoun County, Virginia by Taylor M. Chamberlin, (c) 2003, Waterford Foundation


Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful series of posts - can't wait for the next one.

I have a friend in Leesburg - will refer him to this site, maybe you'll find him on Egg Path.

MikeB said...

I'd read that the secession votes were highly manipulated in many locales but public, holy shit. Reminds me of the recent Jesse James : Last Rebel of the Civil War, concerning another fine young psychopath who earned his spurs at the heels of Blood Bill Anderson in Missouri during the Civil War.

Vache Folle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vache Folle said...

Note that in 1860 Mary and her son John reside near one John Mobberly, aged 70, born in Maryland (grandfather to John?). Also, Mary and John are listed as having been born in Maryland in the 1860 census, and this leads me to place them among the Mobberly's of Frederick, Maryland. The 1850 census shows them born in Virginia, and there is a younger John Mobberly in Loudoun County in 1840 (also Jesse W. Mobberly).

Meanwhile, by 1860 it appears that Jane has married a Mr Wiginton.