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This Piano Participated in History...

We’ve recently received a long-term loan of an 1850/52 grand piano with a link to Bloomsbury from the Camper family via the Jerdone family (1842-1965) owners of Bloomsbury during the American Civil War. As I’ve shared in prior writings, learning the history of an artifact is fun and gives the piece a sense of human history.

Colonel James Taylor II was patented [granted] 13,000 acres of land in what became (8/8/1734) Orange County, largest of the Colonial regions. The land was a “reward” for Taylor's aid in the Spottswood expedition over the mountains ("Knights of the Golden Horseshoe") Around 1722, Taylor built his home and called it Bloomsbury, adding the side/back wing a few years later. Following his death in 1729, Bloomsbury's vast holdings were divided among his children. George received Midland (now Yattan), James III received Bloomsbury, Erasmus received Greenfield and Zachary received Meadow Farm.

After James Taylor III died, Bloomsbury passed out of the Taylor family when it was bought by William Quarles. In 1842, it was purchased by Francis Jerdone. The estate consisted of 1400 acres at that time. The Jerdone family and descendants owned it until it was purchased in 1965 by Jaquelin E. Taylor, a direct descendant of the original builder, James Taylor II. The Jerdone family founded a new cemetery on the property to the left of the plantation house, rather than using the small Taylor-Quarles Cemetery to the right of the house.

During the time the Jerdone family lived here, the Civil War was fought. General R. E. Lee had his army encamped on part of the farm in the winter of 1864. Lee was friends with the Jerdone family, and missing his daughters, was fond of Miss Mary Jerdone. During that winter encampment, General Lee wrote a letter to Mr. Francis Jerdone asking him to entertain Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, who would be in the area for a few days. Mr. Jerdone complied and Davis enjoyed several days of typical Virginia hospitality, including music.

As was usual with most well brought up gentlemen's daughters, it is certain that one or more of the females of the household would have played for their guests. An interesting question is did Lee play? General Lee's entire immediate family were self-taught musicians per Arlington House National Park Staff. What I am hoping to learn from Ms. Kim Robinson (Curator) is if General Lee himself was a pianist or if he played a different instrument. Known to have been a loving father and to have enjoyed familial activities, there is a possibility that he, too, played this piano; but, I need more information before stating that as fact. Regardless, the piano was used during those entertainments, both participating and witnessing a moment in Virginia history.

General Lee’s letters to Miss Mary Jerdone, Bloomsbury (1863, 1864, 1865) prove that there was a friendship with the family and a fatherly fondness for Mary. In his December 29, 1863 letter, he thanks her for the handkerchief and assures her of his appreciation of both her kind sentiments and needlework. His letter of January 1864 is brief and gives one an idea of just how stark things were in Orange County, even for families of means. He wrote, “I send you a few partridges – I hope they will be enough for your dinner. Try and eat something today.” By 1864 life was becoming rather grim for most Virginians. Food supplies were scarce as Union troops looted, burned and destroyed their way through the Shenandoah and Piedmont regions of Virginia. Money, too, was scarce so the idea of mint juleps on the veranda or new gowns were but memories; bread and other sustenance was far more important, and usually difficult to obtain. So, while the entertainments provided Davis and Lee may not have been lavish the hospitality would have been warm.

(The original letters and photograph were loaned or donated by the family to UVA in the 1950s but there are conflicting records at the site. The family is now trying to find the original documents.)

General Lee wrote to Mary again, “near Petersburg” on January 8, 1865. This is the longest of the three letters and indicates his gratitude of being remembered and receiving a New Year’s gift. In it, he also forwards a photograph of himself (stars intact) as he could nothing else to send in return for her gift to him. He also expresses his fatherly views about hoping his picture will “scare away those Cavaliers who were so fond of bearing you off on horseback.”. (Lee was not keen on the idea of his own daughters marrying and leaving home.) The letter wishes her happiness in the new year and sends his “very good wishes to yourself, kind regards to your father and mother..”

At some point, there was a fire at Bloomsbury, and the piano was taken out of the house, damaging the music stand (reproduction in its place). The piano had been safely moved to a storage building, however fortunately for the family, the fire had been contained within the attics. It is not known why, but the piano was not returned to the house and remained in a storage building of the neighboring farm of the Rogers family.

The first American Stodart piano was built in New York City in 1832. This specific Adam Stodart piano was crafted in the early 1850s. It was sold, possibly resold, in the late 1850s by P. H. Taylor on Main Street in Richmond to the Jerdone family.

An interesting question arises at this point. What was the Adam Stodart piano doing at P. H. Taylor? Was it bartered by its original buyer? Was it for sales (play music on it to sell)? Did P. H. Taylor company purchase the instrument for resale? Unfortunately there is no documentation to provide the answer. What we do know is that the piano was at Bloomsbury sometime prior to 1864 and was moved to the Rogers' farm during a fire; where it remained.

Who was Adam Stodart? William Adam Stodart was either the son or possibly nephew of Robert Stodart, an English piano maker. In 1818, upon immigrating to America, William Stodart was employed in a music store in Richmond, Virginia, selling music publications of William Dubois. Dropping "William" and using his middle name "Adam", Stodart moved to New York City where he established a business importing and selling instruments made by his London family. There were five different partnerships (Dubois & Stodart (1822), Stodart & Currier (1835), Stodart, Worcester & Dunham (1836), Stodart & Dunham (1844), Stodart & Company (1850), and finally Stodart & Morris (1856). They built well-made instruments focusing on the square grand pianos such as the one featured in this article. In 1870 Morris took full control of the company upon Stodart's retirement.

One last question, how did Mr. Robert Camper come into possession of this lovely piano? His grandfather, Francis Jerdone Camper, married into the Rogers’ family; neighboring farm to Bloomsbury. There was a fire at Bloomsbury, and the piano had been removed to a storage building on the Rogers' farm. When the Camper family purchased the Rogers’ farm, the piano was brought out of the outbuilding and into their home.

The piano is presently a loan for the next five years. I have contacted UVA’s Archivist to enquire about obtaining high quality scans of the original letters to replace the old 1950 black and white copies.

My thanks to Mr. Robert Camper for this loan to the Arlington House National Park and Randolph of Charlottesville Piano for their assistance with information regarding the age and validity of the story linking the story to Bloomsbury during 1864-65.

Other source:

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