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A Serendipitous Discovery: The Carson Family of Warren County

One afternoon in the Archives Research Room, senior reference librarian Zach Vickery requested several of the questionnaires that the Virginia War History Commission collected to document Virginians’ World War I service. I was on duty and talked with Zach about the questionnaire of Irish-born nurse Anne Lougheed Carson. Later, Zach sent Carson’s passport application to me. The name of another applicant—Isabella McNeil Carson—was visible in one image, which revealed why the surname Carson and birthplace of Enniskillen were familiar. I had used Carson’s naturalization record in a presentation for the Library of Virginia’s Irish Ancestry Day in March 2017. My serendipitous discussion with Zach led me to discover that Anne and Bella were sisters and members of a fascinating family.

In 1908, sisters Annie Lougheed Carson (1887–1965), Isabella M’Neill Carson (1888–1981), and Mary Barrett Carson (1897–1980) left their birthplace of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Ireland, for Moville and then Londonderry, where they boarded the Caledonia on 22 February. They arrived in New York on 2 March 1908 and met their uncle William Edward Carson of Riverton, Warren County, Virginia. Their brother George Flanagan Carson (1893–1923) had taken the same journey in August 1907. Their parents, James Lougheed Carson (1860–1934) and Jean McNeill Carson (1858–1934), as well as siblings Joseph Malcolm Carson (1901–1991) and Jean McNeill Carson (1902–1989), joined them after sailing aboard the Philadelphia from Southampton, England, to New York in September 1908.

They were not the first of their family to settle in Warren County. James Carson’s father, Samuel, had purchased land there in 1870. He immigrated to the United States in 1885 with his wife Sarah, and chartered the Carson Lime Company in 1891. Samuel’s children from his first marriage to Annie Lougheed also immigrated, several of whom had notable careers. William Edward Carson inherited the family business (by then known as Riverton Lime and Stone Company) and, as the first chair of the State Commission on Conservation and Development, was instrumental in developing Shenandoah National Park and creating the historical marker program. Adam Clarke Carson served in the Spanish-American War, served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the Philippines, and opened a law office in New York before joining the family business. Charles Wesley Carson worked in the Philippines before joining the Warren Register. Many family-owned properties, from businesses to family homes such as Samuel Carson’s Dellbrook, and William Edward Carson’s Killahevlin, are part of the Riverton Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Anne and Bella Carson’s lives initially followed a similar trajectory. Anne graduated from the Winchester Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1911 and became the hospital’s assistant superintendent. Bella spent some time in the Philippines and graduated from St. Luke’s Hospital’s nursing school in Richmond in 1917. Anne was naturalized in 1915, and Bella in 1916. They served together in World War I. Anne’s service is better documented. She enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Reserve) on 17 June 1917 and received training at Ellis Island for the remainder of June. Anne and Bella arrived in England on 9 July 1917. Until July 1918 Anne served at U.S. Base Hospital 21 in Rouen, France, which was a part of British Expeditionary Force General Hospital No. 12. She was then assigned to British Emergency Clearing Station No. 47 for two months before returning to Base Hospital No. 21 until January 1919. She served in Evacuation Hospital No. 2 in Coblenz, Germany, from January to March 1919. Anne and Bella returned from Brest to Hoboken, landing on 6 August 1919. Anne was awarded a British Royal Red Cross citation for “excellent work and devotion to duty as a Team Sister in a Front Area with a Surgical Team during the final active operations.”

Following the war, Anne continued as assistant superintendent at Winchester Memorial Hospital, served as operating room supervisor, and in 1921 was the acting superintendent of the nursing school. Bella resumed work at St. Luke’s Hospital. Both retired following their marriages, Bella in 1920 to George Carrington and Anne in 1922 to Benjamin Dutton. At this point, their lives diverged.

Anne immersed herself in the Winchester community, serving as the director of the Department of the Queen and Her Court of the Apple Blossom Festival from 1931 to 1947 and as chair of the District Nurse Association. She worked at Winchester Memorial Hospital during World War II and with the Red Cross Bloodmobile program. Anne died in Winchester Memorial Hospital on 7 January 1965. Her son, Benjamin Blanton Dutton Jr. (1925–2011), also served in the military as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, and was involved with the Apple Blossom Festival and other civic activities.

Bella and her three children relocated to Woodstock in Shenandoah County to live with her parents following her husband’s 1926 suicide. After her parents’ deaths in 1934, she returned to Richmond as resident nurse at St. Catherine’s School until the mid-1940s. She died on 9 July 1981, in Annandale. Her eldest son, George Carson Carrington (1921–2007), served as a naval aviator during World War II, following in her footsteps and those of his uncle, Rear Admiral Joseph Malcolm Carson. Her younger son, Alexander McNeill Carrington (1923–1958), joined the faculty of St. Christopher’s School, which is St. Catherine’s brother school. Her daughter, Jean McNeill Carrington Cook (1925–2001), studied classical piano at Syracuse University and performed in concerts across the country.

A single naturalization record revealed the story of a notable Virginia family that was unearthed from census records, passenger lists, passport records, Bureau of Vital Statistics and Board of Nursing registers, War History Commission questionnaires, State Corporation Commission charter books, county records, newspapers, and Ancestry.com databases. Every record tells a story! We just have to piece that story together, sometimes with the help of fellow researchers.

 

–Cara Griggs, Reference Archivist