BOTETOURT – Carrie Lee Hamilton, who died in 1952, was the author of the 1904 diary found by a Craig County auctioneer and handed over to me because the diary mentioned Firebaughs.
An October 28 story in this newspaper detailed names and circumstances of the life of the 20-year-old writer. Within a day of that edition, Rosalie Hamilton Goad had identified the diarist as being her great-aunt.
Recently Goad and her cousin, Claudine Drewry Spangler, met me so I could return the diary to the family. As fate would have it, Spangler and I had met when my husband’s uncle passed away a few years ago. She was related to the Firebaughs by marriage for sure.
In another strange twist, she revealed that she lived with Carrie Lee Hamilton for the first 11 years of her life, and she attended school with Pat Charlton, the brother of Don Charlton, the auctioneer who initially found the little book.
The diary held the concerns and pathos of a single woman who longed to be a good Christian and maybe find a beau. Spangler and Goad reported that Carrie’s aunt, Martha Jane Hamilton, who raised Carrie, thwarted the latter goal. She went so far as to move Carrie to Wyoming after she received a proposal in order to keep the young woman unwed.
“You know, if she picked the whole family up and moved them to Wyoming, she ran the show,” Rosalie said of her Great-Great-Aunt Martha.
Aunt Martha must have been a pistol—literally. Claudine reported that she always carried a gun, usually in an egg basket under a cloth.
Carrie Lee Hamilton was born on December 28, 1884 in Alleghany County. Her mother died when she was f4 and Aunt Martha, called “Aunt Matt,” helped raise her and her brother Grover.
They grew up in the Woodland area of Botetourt County, near the intersection of Country Club Road and Blacksburg Road. Apparently she still lived in that area in 1904, based on the information in the found diary.
Sometime after that, Carrie received her proposal from Joe Baker and Aunt Matt moved her away, but they returned after a few years. Aunt Matt purchased a farm on Old Fincastle Road and named it Willow Tree Farm. She left the property to Carrie when she died in 1941.
Carrie owned a small country store in the Zion’s Hill area of northern Botetourt. Goad has a 1936 diary and a ledger from the store that once belonged to her great-aunt. She believes that Carrie kept diaries all of her life, but does not know what became of them all.
In her diaries, Carrie writes of making mattresses, raising a garden, working with flower bulbs, canning, milking the cow and other tasks of rural living. She also became a staunch member of Zion Hill church, where she taught Sunday school.
Claudine Spangler’s parents, Claude and Marie Drewry, moved in with Carrie following Aunt Matt’s death to help with the farm and the store. In return, they received the property when Carrie passed away from pleurisy at the age of 68.
“You had to take care of your people,” Claudine said. She owns the property now; her mother lived on the 52-acre farm until she passed away in 1999.
The store burned in 1953 and the original home has been torn down, Claudine said. A small house was built on the store location.
She remembered Carrier Hamilton as being a tiny woman. She made clothing for Claudine and her sister and even taught Claudine for most of the first grade because a broken arm prevented her from attending school.
“I don’t remember her ever complaining,” Claudine said. The 1904 diary, with its concerns about Christianity, surprised both Claudine and Rosalie, who remembered their great-aunt as a devout Christian.
She was so devout that “she let anybody in the world cheat her at the store,” Rosalie said. “People took advantage of her, even her brother.”
She described Carrie as a hard worker who was always looking for ways to make money. One of her efforts led her to make “rats” for women’s hair. These hair switches, similar to hair extensions today, brought her the small sums of 50 and 20 cents each, depending on the type of hairpiece.
“Aunt Carrie was really good to my mother,” Claudine said. Her mother loved to wear jeans and pants, something not nearly as normal in those days as now, and Aunt Carrie went so far as to purchase knickers for her.
“It looked rather masculine,” Claudine said.
She also remembered that Carrie was constantly writing stories. She remembered one story was about a woman whose lover went to war in The War Between the States but he did not return. “She went to the gate everyday to look for him,” Claudine said.
The legacy of Carrie Lee Hamilton, who never married or had children, lives on in her great-nieces, both of whom recall the woman with much fondness. Essays about Carrie Lee Hamilton and other family members can be found in the “Botetourt County Heritage Book.”
Rosalie, who has letters and other writings from the time period, hopes to create a book from her family information, now that she has retired.
No one knows how the 1904 diary ended up in Craig County, but the journey of it back to Botetourt has certainly made it a rare find.