One of the best things about living in a historic house is learning about the generations of its former inhabitants. Our Virginia home, part of which dates to the Colonial era, is rich in history; but we've learned of a connection with the Welfare Program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from a former employee and friend of the family who implemented the plan.
Dykeland, in Amelia County, Va., is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. It is notable for its mid-19th century owner Lewis Edwin Harvie, a state senator and ardent secessionist. It was Harvie who first introduced the bill of secession in the Virginia State legislature. The bill was rejected initially, since Virginia was reluctant to go to war, only to be reintroduced and passed after the firing upon Fort Sumpter in South Carolina.
As war became inevitable, soldiers were recruited from across the divided nation. In Virginia muster rolls bore the heading "The War in Defense of Virginia." Virginia's Robert E. Lee was offered command of the Union Army and decided — because he could not raise his hand against his native state — to instead defend Virginia against the Union Army.
Virginia saw more battles than any other state. As the war wore on, the fighting eventually came to within earshot of Dykeland's neighborhood, and children from the Harvie household were the first to survey the aftermath of the Battle of Flat Creek in 1864.
After the fall of Petersburg in 1865, Lee's army retreated through Amelia to be resupplied at Amelia Court House. Their food rations failed to arrive, a full day was spent in foraging for a famished Army. This delay was critical and allowed the Union Army to catch up with the exhausted Confederate soldiers and within 72 hours the battle of Saylor's Creek ensued — followed by the fateful surrender at Appomattox. Union soldiers had planned to set Dykeland on fire, but a rain-swollen Flat Creek prevented their mischief.
Harvie was president of the Richmond/Danville Railroad and when Richmond fell, and was set to flames, he personally accompanied Jeff Davis and his cabinet on their flight south to Danville. Lewis E. Harvie lived to suffer — along with his family and the entire region — the consequences of the secession he had so hotly and confidently sponsored years earlier. After the war, he was barely able to hold on to a few hundred acres of his much larger pre-war land holdings.
(Lewis E. Harvie's grandfather John Harvie had been guardian to Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson had named him Land Officer for the colony, so the Harvie land holding were considerable.)
Harvie secured a pardon from the U.S. Government, and humbled and broken, kept to himself at Dykeland the remainder of his days. Some of his sons, now so-called "broken down aristocrats," remained bachelors at Dykeland, as did the two grandsons who fell heir to the property. One of the grandsons, William "Tim" Byrd Taylor, became a student of the "War Between the States" and came to realize full well that his grandfather, Lewis Edwin, should have known better than to espouse a cause which in realistic terms was doomed from the start.
Tim Taylor had come to know intimately the devastating effects of war and reconstruction, and when the Great Depression hit the nation, and especially southside Virginia, Tim was up against the economic ravages that were the lot of his generation.
There was to be a sliver of a silver lining in all of this. Tim's brother, Lewis Taylor, was a well-placed and well-connected physician in Washington, D.C., and among his acquaintances was the LDS administrator of the LDS Church's Welfare Program in the D.C. area. As Lewis came to understand the Mormon Welfare Program, his enthusiasm for it grew and he and Tim devised their own version for the Dykeland neighborhood. Accordingly, men who would otherwise have been unemployed and destitute, shared the labor and the yield of several enterprises — including livestock, crops and honey production.
Lewis and Tim implemented their Welfare Plan-based program, to the very substantial benefit of the souls in the Dykeland community. Eighty-two year-old Thomas Brown, former employee and friend of Tim Taylor, recounted this story to me on the occasion of a house tour at Dykeland in celebration of Amelia County's founding 275 years ago.
The Taylor brothers' gospel-enlightened impulse to better the lives of neighbors, the descendants of slaves, brought a lasting legacy of respect and good will among many in the community.
It has been a joy to learn of these far reaching benefits of the inspired Welfare Program, as it was interpreted here in a rural Virginia community.