2525 St. Charles Ave.
My daughter, Isabelle, called me from New Orleans, yesterday, where she found herself standing outside the Robert H. Downman home at 2525 St. Charles Avenue. She had called to ask “aren’t we related to R. H. Downman?”
“2525”, as it was known, has been inhabited by Downman descendants since it was purchased in 1906. The most current article I could find on the house is from 2011 when it was on a house tour. Anne Kock Montgomery was quoted in that Article. She is the grand daughter of Robert H. Downman (the brother of Harriot Jane Downman (Fleming) of Green Mont).
Robert Downman was a big wheel in New Orleans, and had been “King” of Mardi Gras on one occasion. He was also ”The Cyprus King”. He milled and sold a lot of Cyprus. R. H. Downman was one of 200 individuals and businesses responsible for the founding of the College of Commerce and Business Administration of Tulane University (the kind of thing you can find on the internet). There is even a street named for him.
I encouraged Isabelle to knock on the door and introduce herself to her cousins (Anne Montgomery would be Isabelle’s second cousin twice removed). After several anxious hours I had to call Isabelle back to see if she had been received. Alas, no one had answered the door. She left them a note.
I have subsequently found out that Isabelle has already heard back from Anne Grace, the great grand daughter of R. H. Downman.
I spent last evening exploring how the Downmans made their way to the “Northern Neck” of Lancaster County, Virginia, and later to Fauquier County, in Northern Virginia. It’s all pretty confusing, with the Downmans and the Balls marrying back and forth as they did.
It started with William Downman of Plymouth England. The first 105 colonists arrived at Jamestown Island in Virginia On May 13, 1607. By the end of Autumn, there were fewer that 50 survivors. On January 8, 1608 ,Captain Christopher Newport returned with the First Supply Fleet. He returned again in October 1608 with a Second Supply Fleet with 70 settlers including the first two women. Of the “Gentlemen” listed on the passenger manifest of the “Mary and Margaret” there was one “William Downman”.
William Downman’s name appears on no public records (rare in those days) until he is found in Lancaster County in 1649. On November 14, 1649, his name appears on a land patent deed as a neighboring property owner to 500 acres called “Poplar Neck”. William was on the opposite side of “Narrow Creek”. Colonel William Ball was another neighbor. After this time, William Downman’s name starts to appear pretty regularly on land patent documents. In 1653 he was living at the mouth of the Corotoman. This information was found in the Virginia Historical Index, “The Lees, Pinckards, Travers and Downmans”. (The Lees and the Downmans had been associated even in the earliest days; more than two centuries before they came together yet again at Green Mont .)
According to Clarissa Fleming, William Downman (died Lancaster County, Va. c1655) appears to have been an Attorney, and no doubt when he bought land, he wished to be assured clear title whether he had patented the land or bought it from a settler who had patented the land earlier. The London Company gave 100 acre “dividends” of land, but after it was dissolved in 1624, anyone bringing over a settler could get 50 acres of land for each person coming to the Colony. At any rate, acquisition of land in the New World had become much easier. William Downman acquired a good deal of property.
Rawliegh Downman (1680-1735), Williams grandson, bequeaths several farms in his will, dated this twenty ninth Day of December 1718-19. There is no mention of specific acreage. His wife gets the plantation that they lived on, and “four negroes, Sam, Toney, Harry and Jenne”. William III gets a plantation called Mt. Sion, another plot of land in Richmond county bought from James Ingo and John Simmonds, and “a negroe woman called Cate with all her increase”. Another son “ye child which my sd wife is now with child with” gets another farm “bought from John Taylo in Lancaster county”. That same “sd child” also received “a negro girl called Nanne with all her increase”. Both “Son William and ye Childe which my sd wife now goes with all ye money which I have due to me in Great Brittain after my debts. are payd to be laid out in young negroes for them, and it is my will and pleashur yt all my cropps of tobacco made this year shall be shipped home an ye nt proceeds to be equally divided between my sd wife and said two Children when my sd Son shall come to the age of eighteen years.”
William Ball II (died 1694) leaves his wife the 207 acres of land that they live on, including his mill “ and also full power to plant make and manure for her own use a Plantation, if she Please on every other Parcel of Land hereafter by me hereby given and my Will is that she bring up my dear Children untill they be sixteen years of age in Writeing Reading & C and that they be under the tuition of my sons William and Richard, and that whenever the said mill be out of repairs my will is that they be paid for their paines as the mill earnes it. I give to my sons William Ball and Richard Ball all my Tract of Land Lyeing in this neck next to Richard Cundiff’s being about nine hundred and fifty acres to be equally divided between them…..and that Dividend of Land in Richmond County next above Perpetua Creek being about one thousand acres….I give to my four sons James Ball, David Ball, Stretchley Ball and Samuel Ball to them and their heirs forever all and every part of my upper Dividend of Land being sixteen hundred acres more or less lying in Richmond County… I give to my dear daughter Margaret Ball to her and her heirs forever all that and every part and parcell of the Dividend whereon my mother lives at the mouth of Corotoman being about three hundred acres and fifty acres more to bee laid out of my adjoyning Dividend next to the plantation that James Wood lives on only reserving to my dear one third part of all the sider made thereon clear of all charge making and cask. I give to my said son William Ball a man servt named Luke Dickson and a negro man named Robin and a negro woman named Dyner and my silver Tumbler and a Punch cup at mother’s when she is dead. I give my son Richard Ball a man servt called Thomas Alderton and a negro woman called Dadoe and a Silver Mustart pott. I give my dear wife three negroes called Sambo, Tom and Mary and three English or white servants at my Quarter in Richmond County called Robin…James Canady and Sarah….” He goes on the bequeath dozens more slaves, silver articles and the balance of his estate…this 28th day of September Ad 1694.
Land in Fauquier County, Virginia
By the time we get to Rawliegh Downman II there is his Land and plantation in Richmond County, his Parish Plantation adjoining W. John Chinn together with Pigg Hill quarter, his Land and Plantation in Stafford County near the little Fall of Rappahannock River, his Tract of Land lying on Rappahannock River…..Duck River in the County of Fauquier and his Tract of Land in Lancaster County lying on the Deep Bottom River called & known by the name Becks…and his Land and Plantation lying on Tin Pot River in the County of Fauquier, and his Land and Plantation in Stafford County purchased of Charles Carter commonly known by the name of Windsor Forest. This will was written on March 10, One Thousand Seven Hundred & Eighty One.
Rawleigh William Downman (1762-1838) leaves his land and farm called “Norwood” to his son, Rawliegh W; his land and farm in Fauquier County called “Layton Stone” to his son John B.; his land and farm called “Greenvale” to his son Robert. To his grandson William Y. he leaves his own home of “Belle Isle”. He leaves in Trust his land and farm in Middlesex County called “Weeks”, “Windsor Forest” in Stafford County and “Cyrus’s”, also in Stafford County. His Will was written in 1839.
In all of these wills, there are references to what must have been hundreds of enslaved (generally referred to as negroes) connected to these various properties and bequests. I feel uncomfortable even relaying the accounts of these enslaved persons. It is beyond my sensibility to perceive of a time when this ownership of others was accepted and sanctioned.
Although his will is not included in her book, Clarissa does mention that in the will of Rawliegh W. Downman II (1791-1840), he leaves the sum of $500 to each of his 4 house servants and frees all of his enslaved. This will was written 21 years before the Civil War. I believe that George Washington had attempted something of a similar nature, but most of Washington’s slaves were the property of Martha, and she did not share his sentiment.
The Move to Northern Virginia and Warrenton
Rawleigh William Downman’s son, John B., or John Bartholomew Downman, first took up permanent residence in Fauquier County at “Layton Stone”. John and his new wife, his first cousin, Harriot Jane Downman, moved to Warrenton, VA in 1817, a year after they were married. He was 24 and she was 20. They lived in town until 1821 while they were built “Layton Stone”. The house was situated on 1,100 acres one mile North of Remington, Va.
John B. and Harriot Downman had 13 children between 1817, when they arrived in Warrenton, and 1841. Their 2nd son, and ninth child, Robert Henry Downman, was born in 1833. All three of the sons were educated at the University of Virginia.
On April 30, 1856, Robert Henry Downman (23) married Frances Scott Horner (22). His father gave him some land across the road from Layton Stone where he build a frame house that he called “Ravenscroft”, a name first introduced to the family in England in 1709 when Frances Ravenscroft married James Ball II.
The War Between the States
Robert and Frances’s first child, James Wilmot Downman, was born in 1857. A daughter, Harriot Jane Downman (later of Green Mont), was born November 23, 1859, just weeks before the death of her grandfather, John Bartholomew Downman, and on the eve of the coming “War Between the States”. (Robert H. Downman had joined the newly formed Black Horse Cavalry in 1858.)
“Layton Stone” was left to a younger son, John Joseph Downman with his mother a half owner for life. The unmarried daughters were to remain there, if they wished, until 1864. All this changed, however, when the Civil War began in 1861.
The three sons, Rawleigh William Downman, Robert Henry Downman, and John Joseph Downman, all joined the Confederate forces and fought throughout the entire term of the war, leaving only the women at “Layton Stone” and Robert Henry Downman’s wife and two young children across the road at “Ravenscroft”.
Early in 1862, Northern Regiments under General Pope were moving into the immediate area. On March 12, 1862, the family fled. The Union troops burned “Layton Stone” and pulled down “Ravenscroft” to use the lumber to build a marquis for a ball for General Pope.
Clarissa states in her 1958 Downman book regarding “Layton Stone”, The faint outline of the foundation of this house is visible today. It measures forty by fifty and from the measurements one can deduce it was of Georgian style. We have seen a picture of this house which showed only the doorway and the brick surrounding it. The brickwork was done in Flemish Bond and was very handsome. Union troops burned “ Layton Stone” in March of 1862.
The brass plaque notes… Enlisted in the C.S.A. at Warrenton, Va. April 25, 1861, was Corporal Company “H” Black Horse Cavalry, was appointed Captain and Commissary Jan. 9, 1863 of 4th Virginia Cavalry, appointed Maj. Jan. 25, 1863. He was captured at Appomatox, Va. and paroled at that place April 9, 1865. Rank of Major.
Major Robert Henry Downman served on the staff of General W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee, 4th Virginia Cavalry, and was at the surrender of General R. E. Lee at Appomattox.
Rawliegh William Downman and John Joseph Downman both served in the ordinance departments of the C.S.A. John Joseph reached the rank of Lieutenant.
After the war, the family had no money with which to rebuild for all they had had been in Confederate money which, after the defeat, had no value.
Robert Henry Downman returned his family to Warrenton, took up residence in a large white frame house on Winchester Street, and went to work in the Clerk’s office the county court. He rose to the office of Clerk of the Court in 1874 and served in that capacity until his death in 1891. A portrait of him in his C.S.A. uniform, commissioned by his son, Robert H. in the 1920’s, still hangs overlooking the files in the Clerk’s office.
In July of 1877, three years after his appointment as Clerk of the Court. Robert Henry Downman witnessed and recorded the deed of purchase of what was to become “Green Mont” by Mary Elizabeth Lee Fleming. Four and a half years later his daughter, Harriot Jane Downman, married Mary’s eldest son, Richard Bland Lee Fleming.
Robert Henry Downman and his wife Frances Scott Horner are buried in the Downman plot in the Warrenton Cemetery.
to bring this back to New Orleans.
Robert H. Downman II was educated at the Warrenton Academy and than he attended the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Blacksburg, VA, now the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
He left Warrenton at age 19, in 1880, and headed to Texas where he was employed in the drug business of his uncle. By the autumn of 1882 he had become the manager of the wholesale drug department of Castles and Company in Waco, Texas, which ultimately became Cameron, Castles and Story. This is how Robert H. Downman came to meet his future wife, Miss Anne Stewart Cameron. Her father’s main office was then in Waco, the center of his expanding lumber business.
They were married in 1888 and the following year Robert Downman entered the firm of William Cameron and Co. as a junior partner. This started him in the lumber business. In 1901, after the death of his father-in-law, Robert Downman moved to New Orleans where, on behalf of his wife and sister-in-law, he assumed control of the Cameron interests in the state. In 1906, the Downmans purchased their home at 2525 Saint Charles Avenue.
I have always heard that Robert Downman longed to return to Virginia, and that had been his plan when he assembled his “Ravenscroft”. Unfortunately the magnitude of his life seems to have kept him in New Orleans. He did love to visit his sister at Green Mont and he certainly left his mark on The Plains.
There is a glowing article about Robert Downman’ s career and the lifestyle at 2525 in Clarissa’s book on the Downmans. I thought it was kind of fun that Isabelle found herself at 2525 St. Charles Ave. Hope they got the note.
Note: Most of this historical information is drawn directly from Clarissa Fleming’s 1958 book on William Downman and Some of His Descendants. Her sources are well footnoted.