Tuesday, November 12, 2019

52 Ancestors - POOR MAN: Caring for the Poor

Frazier Mountain School
photo courtesy John and Janet Thompson
Frazier descendants

Frazier Mountain was the stomping grounds of my 3X great-grandmother Nancy Frazier Shiflett and her many aunts, uncles and cousins. However, this photo of the Frazier Mountain School is not THAT old, more likely from the very early 1900s.

That is when the settlement movement made its way to the mountains of Virginia. The aim of settlement schools was to provide education for children in rural and mountain areas that were often not served by the county, usually for economic and logistical reasons. Churches often filled the gap building a school, a church, a clothing bureau, and sometimes even a hospital.

Frederick Neve Comes to Virginia
Frederick William Neve

Frederick William Neve was an Episcopal minister born and educated at Oxford in England who was asked to come to Virginia in 1888. He was based in the town of Ivy in Albemarle County, but he was drawn to the Blue Ridge Mountains just twenty-five miles away. He found someone to take him into those mysterious communities – Shifflett’s Hollow, Bacon Hallow, Mutton Hollow, Blackwell Hollow, and Simmons Gap – places that inspired stories of moonshine operations, backwoods justice and suspicion towards strangers.

There were probably 175 people living there, but reportedly only two of them could read and write. Neve inquired about the mountain community and learned that no school or church existed within miles of the area known as “Frazier Mountain” to the locals but previously as “Lost Mountain.” Neve actually liked that name because he reasoned that without religion and education, the people were indeed “lost.” (Today it is known as “Loft Mountain.”)

Ambitious Project
Neve bought some property straddling Greene and Albemarle counties where he could build a mission school. One of the families offered the use of two empty cabins – one for a school and the other to house a teacher. In advertising for a teacher, Neve provided full disclosure about the isolation and lack of amenities. He expected men to apply but instead 15 women came forward. Angelina Fitzhugh was selected and became the first of many women and men who taught the mountain families at the mission schools.

Ruin of Pocosan Mission
at the end of a fire road in Shenandoah National Park
For quite some time, Neve and others like him were thwarted in their effort to help the mountain families. People were pessimistic and thought it was a waste of time trying to cure sinful behaviors like drinking and licentiousness among people that they viewed as not only ignorant but also primitive and untamed. Even when they viewed outsiders suspiciously, the mountain families saw the missions as a glimpse into another world that offered opportunities for their children.

Neve continued to draw followers and missionaries. Together they built mission schools and churches about every 10 miles throughout seven Virginia counties. Costs were sometimes double the cost of a building in a more convenient location. Transportation was still mostly by horse and wagon. There were no paved roads, and even the dirt roads were little more than paths winding through woods into the hollows.

Neve’s most ambitious mission project was the co-ed Blue Ridge Industrial School. It was the vision of his missionary Rev. George Mayo who realized he could not be effective unless he lived among the mountain people. He saw that since most young people were likely to remain in a rural area, a school that provided practical training for farm life and related occupations would be the best chance mountain children would have to improve their condition. The school operated a demonstration farm, dairy, sawmill, orchards, kitchens, workshops. It even operated a cannery for a number of years. The school initially offered an elementary education but soon grew adding more advanced education. BRIS was the first accredited high school in Greene County.

Historic Gibson Chapel at Blue Ridge School
wikimedia commons
Between 1890 and 1912, Frederick Neve started twenty-eight missions, ten of them in Greene County alone, and sixteen schools. He is remembered today as the founder of the mountain mission movement of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1888-1948.

Today all of the mission schools have closed except for the Blue Ridge school which is still going strong as a college-prep boarding school for boys.

Alvic, Philis. Weavers of the Southern Highlands. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky, 2003. University Press of Kentucky. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <https://books.google.com/books?id=G6geBgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+highland+weavers&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.

Campbell, Olive D. Southern Highland Schools Maintained by Denominational and Independent Agencies. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1921. 30 July 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <https://books.google.com/books?id=c4p6V571x2QC&dq=frazier+mountain+school+virginia&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.

Chretien, Kay Collins. “A History of Faith Mission Home.” Shiflett Family Genealogy Website.

Covey, David D. Greene County, Virginia: A Brief History. Google Books. The History Press, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <https://books.google.com/books?id=kkzjkVKswewC&dq=neve%2Band%2Bblue%2Bridge%2Bschools&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.

"A Guide to the Frederick W. Neve Papers, 1854-1981 (bulk 1900-1940) Neve, Frederick W., Papers 10505." Virginia Heritage: Guides to Manuscripts and Archival Collections in Virginia. Virtual Library of Virginia, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=uva-sc%2Fviu03549.xml>.

James, Phil. “Secrets of the Blue Ridge: George Mayo & the Blue Ridge Industrial Schools.” Crozet Gazette. 8 Sep 2017.   https://www.crozetgazette.com/2017/09/08/secrets-of-the-blue-ridge-george-mayo-the-blue-ridge-industrial-school/

“Settlement School.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

Shifflett, Larry. "County Place Names." Shiflett Family Genealogy. <http://www.klein-shiflett.com/shifletfamily/PS/alpnames.html>.

Swenson, Ben. “Far Pocosan or Pocosin Mission.” Abandoned Country. 7 Jan 2013. http://www.abandonedcountry.com/2013/01/07/far-pocosan-wild-with-moonshine-whiskey/

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved. 


  1. Fascinating. He reminded me of the Spanish missionaries who built all the missions in the Southern California area. If I remember correctly, I think there were 20 miles between those ones. Always have to appreciate the efforts of those trying to help others out, whether or not others agreed with their efforts to do so.


  2. When I first saw the acronym for Blue Ridge Industrial School (BRIS) my Jewish heritage came back to me and I thought of this - BRIS, the Jewish ceremony of circumcision :-)

    1. HA HA - I thought of that too, but what the heck. It made you read!

  3. I've been studying western Virginia in the 1700s and early 1800s. Though settlers may have been literate at first, they didn't establish schools and literacy and rough manners became the norm. I think mere survival demanded it. It's good that the trend was finally reversed at some point by people like Neve. Good story!

  4. I'm sure some of my ancestors lived in that area at one time. And I dare say many of them were illiterate. So glad there was someone making an effort to educate people back then.

  5. I have Shifflett, Morris, Bruce and many others from there in my family tree. Are you related to Gordon Shifflett? I have a few Nancy's but don't know which one might be yours.

  6. Hi Wendy,
    Did your Nancy marry Gordon Shifflett? I have a few Nancy Shifflett's in my tree and wondered if mine might also be yours.