Averett

John Taylor Averett (December 24, 1827 - February 23, 1898) was one of the more notable members of the Averett family that played such an important part in Danville and Southside Virginia's civic and educational institutions. He was born at Halifax Courthouse, the son of Dr. Thomas Hamlett Averett (July 20, 1800 - June 29, 1855) and Martha Coleman Wootton (Wooten) Averett. His father was born near Halifax, the son of William and Elizabeth Hamlett Averett. Following a custom of that time, he was named for his mother’s father, Thomas Hamlett. On September 11, 1814, at age 14, he enlisted for service in the War of 1812 as a substitute for his father, William, who was disabled by illness. Thomas began his service at Camp Mimms, near Richmond. He was a drummer boy in the 69th Regiment from Halifax, commanded by Capt. Isaac Medley in the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Virginia Militia Regiment,and was one of 66 men in that Company. He was honorably discharged on December 1, 1814 and received total pay of $22.93 for his two months and 14 days of service.He also received a land warrant of 160 acres which was approved on May 15, 1855.

Following the War of 1812, Thomas Hamlett Averett completed his secondary education and attended college, but records of his college and medical school attendance are not fully known. Tradition holds that he attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia but their records do not show his name. He did complete the first year of medical school at the University Of Pennsylvania School of Medicine at Philadelphia in 1820-1821 but did not graduate. The Philadelphia College of Medicine conferred an honorary M. D. degree on him in 1850.

On January 3, 1822, Thomas married Martha Wootton, age 18 years, in Prince Edward County after a $150 bond had been posted and Elisha Jeffress, Martha’s guardian, had given his consent. Thomas and Martha had ten children, six of whom lived to adulthood and survived their father: William Wootten Averett, Dr. Edmund Berkeley Averett, John Taylor Averett, Joseph James Averett, Jane Averett Penick and Samuel Wootton Averett. Four of these children lived in or were associated with Danville.

Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Averett and their family made their home in Halifax on what is now Maple Avenue in a larg white frame structure which has since been demolished. Dr. Averett owned considerable property in Halifax County, including a lot in the town of Meadsville, several lots in the town of Halifax, a tract on Racetrack Road, more than 200 acres on Terrible Creek and 302 acres on Terry’s Bridge Road. In all he purchased over 1,600 acres. He was co-owner of a lot near the Courthouse which was sold for $3 to Halifax Hiram Lodge No. 96 of Freemasons on April 28, 1828.A handsome Georgian-style Lodge building was built on the lot which s is still used by the Lodge. Dr. Averett had been initiated into the Lodge, which was chartered in 1813, on November 24, 1823, and on June 24, 1824, he was elected lodge secretary. He served as Worshipful Master of the lodge from March 26, 1827 until 1839 and was active in the lodge until 1846.On July 22, 1843, Dr. Averett, his brother Joseph C. Averett and their wives sold seven-eighths of an acre, lying between the roads leading from Halifax Courthouse to Terry’s Bridge and Torian’s Ferry to the trustees of Dan River Baptist Church for $1 for use in erecting a church building. Most of the Averetts were lifelong members of Baptist churches.

Dr. Thomas Averett’s medical practice was primarily at Halifax Courthouse and the surrounding county, but he is said to have had patients in Charlotte County and in Person County, N.C. because physicians in those days traveled long distances. In April 1839, the Court of Halifax County appointed him county physician “to attend such prisoners in jail as may require medical attention.” He was physician to the Bruce family at Berry Hill.

In 1836, the Samuel Davies Institute in Halifax was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly as Halifax Academy. Dr. Averett was one of the eleven charter Academy trustees. One of Dr. Averett’s sons, Joseph James Averett, called “Joe Jim,” served as head of the Academy after his father’s death. He succeeded Meriwether Lewis and preceded John Henry Powell, prior to the Civil War. He was born in 1832 and was educated at Emory and Henry College. He and his wife, Rosa Celestia had one child, a daughter Emma W. Averett. He moved to Danville in 1859 and taught briefly at Union Female College. In 1861 he enlisted in the 18th Virginia Infantry, Regiment, Company A, C. S. A. and was wounded during the War. He joined Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge No. 122 in Danville on April 2, 1859. Late in life, he returned to Halifax County and lived at Sedge Hill. His wife was then living in Vance County, North Carolina, leading to the assumption that they were separated. He was dead by 1897.

Dr. Thomas Averett represented Halifax County in both the Virginia and U. S. legislatures. In 1846, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives. He served in the Virginia State Senate in 1848 and 1849. He was elected as a Democrat to the 31st and 32 Congresses, serving from March 4, 1849 to March 3, 1853. During his terms, the two most important pieces of legislation were the compromise of 1850 and the fugitive slave act, both of which he opposed. He was not reelected in 1852.

Dr. Thomas Averett has been described as being five feet eight inches in height with brown hair and fair complexion. He suffered from dim eyesight and failed health in later life and died in his mid-50s. He is buried in the Averett Square in the Halifax Town Cemetery His will and inventory are on file in the Halifax County Courthouse. At the time of his death, he owned fifteen slaves. His wife, Martha, lived for quite a few years after her husband’s death and was listed as a farmer in Halifax County in the 1860 census.She still owned the five slaves left to her in her husband’s will. She later lived in Danville, where she made application for a military pension based on her husband’s service in the War of 1812.The pension was awarded to her in the amount of $8 per month, beginning on November 8, 1879 when she was living in Culpeper County with her daughter, Jane, and Jane's husband Nathan Penick. Jane, born in 1833 and educated in music at home and in Washington, D. C., married Nathan Penick, a teacher, on May 16, 1854, and they moved from Halifax to Danville in 1858 where Nathan joined Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge on March 19, 1859 and served as a captain of artillery in the Confederate Army before moving to Culpeper County.

John Taylor Averett was educated in the common schools of Halifax County, the Male Academy at Halifax Courthouse and then at Emory and Henry College. After college, he commenced the study of law and was employed as private instructor in the family of Rev. Dr. A. M. Poindexter, but, his health failing, he gave up the study of law and became permanently a teacher. He married Louisa Frances Penick of Halifax County, sister of his brother-in-law Nathan Penick on September 5, 1852. He was for a year or two the principal of a school at Whitesville in Halifax County until called to take charge of the old Ringgold Military Academy near Ringgold.The Academy was a famous institution in its day, drawing patronage from the best families of Halifax, Pittsylvania and Charlotte Counties in Virginia, and Caswell, Rockingham and Person Counties in North Carolina. While John was at Ringgold Academy, the Civil War broke out and he was one of the first to offer his services to the Confederacy.He enlisted in the Thirty-eight Virginia Infantry, which was commanded by Col. E. C. Edmunds and later by Col. George K Griggs. He was made quartermaster of the Regiment but joined the ranks of the fighting men whenever there was a battle. After the War, he resumed charge of the Ringgold Academy until 1867 when, in response to the call of many prominent citizens of Danville, he came to this city to take charge of the Danville Male Academy at the corner of Loyal and Jefferson Streets. He continued in charge of this school until the inauguration of the public school system of Virginia in the early 1870s, aat which time he was elected principal of the public schools in Danville. In 1873 he was elected with his brother, Samuel W. Averett, co-principal of Roanoke Female College which had changed its name from Union Female College during the Civil War to avoid the connotations of the word “Union.” The name “Union” had originally been chosen to reflect that the school was a united effort of the Roanoke, Dan River and Concord Baptist Associations. From its beginning, the school was a Baptist school and this association with Baptists was maintained until early in the 21st century when the connection was severed during the administration of Dr. Richard Phau over homosexuality and other issues. The school was located on Patton Street at the corner of Ridge Street, a site now occupied by a Biscuitville. John Taylor Averett served as a trustee of the College since 1859. The co-principalship of John Taylor and Samuel Wooten would last for fourteen or fifteen years until Samuel left to become President of Judson College in Alabama. During their tenure at the College, in addition to their administrative duties, “Mr. Sam” taught French, physics, chemistry and mathematics, while “Mr. Jack” taught English, history and Latin and handled the school’s finances. The 1860 census shows Samuel Averett as the head of a household of 22 people including his wife, Janie, his widowed brother, John, and an assortment of sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, boarders and servants. After Samuel’s departure, John was elected President of the College and filled that position until his death. He was suddenly stricken with a stroke while teaching a class in the college chapel in November 1889 and remained an invalid until his death at his home on Green Street. His wife, Frances, had died in 1872 and the living children at the time of his death were Pattie, Sue B, Janie W., Thomas H., William P., and Edmunds C. Averett, all of Danville.

John Taylor was an active Baptist and was several times a delegate to meetings of the Dan River Baptist Association during the 1850's.He was the first lay moderator of the Roanoke (Pittsylvania) Baptist Association, serving 13 years in that capacity from 1874-1881 and 1883 - 1887. He was an active member of First Baptist Church, served as a deacon there for many years and taught a large class of young men in the Sunday School as long as his health permitted. He also was a teacher for many years in the Union Hill Mission School connected with the church. He helped the “good women of First Baptist Church of Danville, living in North Danville,” to get a Sunday School organized as an extension of First Baptist in 1887. Later that year, it was constituted as North Danville Baptist Church which was renamed Moffett Memorial Baptist Church after the murder of its pastor, John R. Moffett. John Taylor served on the “Committee of 40” appointed to investigate and report on the “Danville Riot” of November 3, 1883 and was a member of Danville City Council from the first ward in 1885. He became a member of Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge No 122 on September 19, 1869, serving as its Master in 1881-1882 and the District Deputy Grand Master for the Masonic District in 1885. He was elected an honorary member of Roman Eagle Lodge on February 8, 1897.

Two of John Taylor Averett’s daughters, Martha E. “Miss Pattie” Averett and Jane Wootton “Miss Janie” Averett taught at Roanoke Female College and a son, William Penick Averett was on the Board of Trustees from 1898 t0 1910. A third daughter, Sue Berkeley Averett, taught in the public schools.

An interesting advertisement for Roanoke Female College which appeared in a local newspaper for the 1874-1875 session contained the following: “Pupils received at any time during the session, and charged from the date at which they enter. Charges for the entire session: Primary English Branches, $40; Advanced English Branches, $50; Oil Painting, $50; Drawing, $25; Use of Piano for Practicing, $10; Incidental Expenses, $10; Board without lights of washing, $150. Payments are required strictly in advance - one half at the beginning of the session, the balance on 1st February, unless other satisfactory arrangements shall have been made. A discount of 50 percent on all tuition fees is allowed to ministers and teachers: of 12 ½ percent to any patron who sends two pupils from the same family.”

Samuel Wootton Averett (March 1, 1838 - September 20, 1896) graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1859 and served on the screw sloop U. S. S. Wyoming in the Pacific Squadron of the U. S. Navy. When his ship put into San Francisco in May of 1861 and he found that the Civil War had broken out, he resigned from the U. S. Navy, made his way to New Orleans and, as a Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy, accepted command of the C. S. S. Watson, a towboat engaged in mounting the defenses of the city. He soon commanded a floating battery at Island No. 10 which was captured in April 1862. He was a prisoner until exchanged four months later. In October 1863, he joined the C.S.S. Florida which terrorized the Atlantic sea lanes before its capture in Bahia, Brazil in October 1864. Six months earlier, Averett had been detailed to carry dispatches from Bermuda to Richmond. His deteriorating eyesight, apparently a malady of many of the Averetts, made him less effective as a naval officer and the Confederate Secretary of the Navy sent him on leave to “Sedge Hill”, the Averett family home in Halifax County where he suffered from a near fatal bout with typhoid fever and a partial loss of vision in one eye. His convalescence lasted until after the War when he secured a job as a teacher at the Culpeper Female Academy under his brother-in law and Roanoke Female College founder, Nathan Penick. In 1872, he came to Roanoke Female College where he served with his brother, John Taylor, until he left in 1887 to become President of Judson Institute, later Judson College, at Marion, Alabama where he served until his death.

In 1904, the name of Roanoke Female College was changed to Roanoke College. In 1908, the trustees purchased a fifteen-acre tract of land on West Main Street near the outskirts of Danville from the Mountain View Land Company for $5,500 and began making plans to move the College to that location. A new building on that site was completed in April 1911 and the College moved into it from its old location on “Baptist Hill” on Patton Street. In 1914, under President Rivers, the school was changed to a two-year Junior College under the name "Roanoke Institute." In December 1916, Rivers suggested to the trustees that Roanoke Institute become Averett College. However, in April 1917, the trustees recommended the name "Mountain View College," but the name did not meet with universal approval, so the name “Danville College for Young Women” was used for one month until the alumnae association, founded in May 1908, weighed in. The alumane association favored the name “Averett College” with a petition to the trustees who, in June 1917, gave in and officially adopted that name in honor of the Averetts. The name was retained until the school became a 4-year coeducational school and finally became “Averett University” early in the 21st century.

The original College campus was incorporated into the City of Danville in 1908. In 1932, the Mountain View area was incorporated into the City with these annexations resulting in a number of changes in street names. Pump House Road, which ran on the east side of the original campus, was changed to Woodland Drive, Riverview Avenue leading to Mountain View Cemetery was renamed as an extension of Robertson Avenue, and one of the numbered streets, probably Fourth Avenue in the Mountain View subdivision running from Woodland Avenue to Robertson Avenue was renamed Averett Place in honor of the Averetts and the College. In 2005, Averett Place which runs from 301 Robertson Avenue to Woodland Drive contained no businesses but six residences.