Monday, May 23, 2011

Montescena

Montescena, the home of Greenbrier Countian, David S. Creigh, is located along Davis-Stuart Road, formerly the Lewisburg-Ronceverte Road, about two miles southwest of town.  The home, which draws from many architectural styles, including Georgian, was built around 1834, probably by local mason and architect, and family friend, John W. Dunn.  The home is sometimes referred to as Boone Farm.

Creigh, who was from a prominent mercantile family in the county, was a beloved citizen.  Marrying Emily Arbuckle in 1833, he left the mercantile business, and devoted his career to agriculture.  However, he was still an active member of the community, serving as a magistrate, bank director, and church elder at the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg.

During the Civil War,  Creigh was a Confederate sympathizer, although it is stated that he was a compassionate and caring man, who came to the aid of both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Lewisburg.  However, Creigh reached his breaking point the following year, on November 8, 1863.  According to different accounts, what exactly happened that fateful day is sketchy on details, but the basic story goes as follows:

While at work, Creigh was informed that there was a Union soldier causing a disturbance at his home.  He rushed back to Montescena to find the soldier pillaging the home, verbally abusing Emily, and threatening her and the couple's daughter.  Creigh attempted to remove the man from his home, when a fight broke out.  Some say that the soldier was attempting to break into a locked trunk, and threatened Creigh with his gun.  Some say the soldier, who was actually a straggler, or even a deserter, was trying to break into Creigh's youngest daughter's bedroom.  Creigh pulled his own gun, and shots were fired from both men.  Creigh was grazed slightly in the cheek.

Creigh tried to disarm the soldier, and the two men scuffled, falling down the stairs.  Again, at the bottom of the stairs, Creigh tried to take the man's gun, but it accidentally discharged, hitting the soldier, severely wounding him, but not before he was able to stumble towards the front porch, and fire another shot at Creigh, this one lodging itself in the front door frame.

With the soldier lying in the portico area, fatally wounded, one of Creigh's slaves brought forth an axe, begging Creigh to finish the man off, for fear that he'd get up again. Several sources cite the identity of this slave as "Aunt Sallie," an elderly house slave, who after emancipation, would remain with the family, but would change her name to Sallie Woods.  Creigh agreed, and the body was buried in a secret location.  Word of the murder spread quickly among slaves in neighboring plantations, and one such slave, a young boy from a nearby plantation, tipped off a Union soldier at nearby Bunger's Mill.

Creigh was arrested by Gen. Averill that spring and taken to Bunger's Mill for trial.  His wife, two daughters, mother in law, and friend John Dunn were also taken into custody, but not allowed to testify at the trial.  Creigh was found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging.  Gen. Hunter approved the sentence.

Since the Union Army had orders to pack up to Staunton, Va., it was decided the hanging would take place there, and Creigh was forced to march with the army over 100 miles.  On June 10, 1864, he was hanged in Rockbridge County and his body left.  A minister's wife, and several other citizens removed the body, and temporarily buried it nearby.  On July 28, one of Creigh's sons was given leave from his unit in order to bring the body home, where it was buried in the Old Stone Church Cemetery on July 31.  The funeral procession was said to be over a mile long, as friends, family, and citizens from all over paid tribute to a man they refer to as the Greenbrier Martyr.

Recent visitors to the home have reported that there is an overwhelming feeling of being watched, and not being alone in the home, especially around the portico area.  Strange occurrences and noises are not out of the ordinary, giving the home the reputation of being haunted.  Is the fateful fight between the Union soldier and David Creigh doomed to repeat itself over and over...or are the spirits of the fallen soldier, Mrs. Creigh, who mourned for her husband, or even Creigh himself, still sticking around?

 The wife of Gen. W.H. Smith, in honor of Creigh, wrote a poem, which along with additional information on this tale, can be found HERE.

National Register Application

Photo of the Creigh Monument from Find-a-Grave contributor Jennifer Selfridge

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