Category: Virginia

Dr. Patrick Vance – Book Intro

Dr. Patrick Vance of Lexington, Virginia

The most striking story about Dr. Patrick Vance of Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia, is about scalped heads. It is a tiny bit of the story of this Tennessee Vance family but it is simply the best known piece. The earliest known mention of Dr. Patrick is actually in the Draper Manuscripts1

“Surgery and surgical instruments were of the most primitive kind on the early fron- tier. During the Christian campaign, while the men were quartered at Long Island, a Dr. Vance discovered a treatment for scalped persons. He bored holes in the skull in order to create a new flesh covering for the exposed bone. On being called away he taught James Robertson how to perform the operation. Frederick Calvit, a scalped patient, was brought in and Robertson had a chance to practice upon him—”he [Vance] bored a few holes himself, to show the manner of doing it.” He further declares: ‘I have found that a flat pointed, straight awl is the best instrument to bore with as the skull is thick and somewhat difficult to penetrate. When the awl is nearly through the instrument should be borne more lightly upon. The time to quit boring is when a reddish fluid appears on the point of the awl. I bore at first about one inch apart and as the flesh appears to rise in these holes I bore a number more between the first, etc. * * The scalped head cures slowly. It skins remarkably slow, generally taking two years.”

More information on that first appearance in Virginia is available in a history of Sullivan County, Tennessee: “Patrick Vance appointed third surgeon with pay of assistant” The footnote numbered two is the description above. That appointment line is from the orderly book of Camp Lady Ambler, Oct. 20, 1776, and is a detailed description of the Christian Campaign against the Cherokees that lasted until December of that year.2

Another account in James Robertson’s own words, from The Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal, Volume 2, 1805, p. 273 reads:

“III. Remarks on the Management of the Scalped-Head. By Mr. James Robertson,  of Nashville, in the State of Tenessee. Communicated to the Editor, by Felix Robert- son, M. D., of the same place. In the year 1777, there was a Doctor Vance, about the Long-Islands of Holsten, who was there attending on the different garrisons, which were embodied on the then frontiers of Holsten, to guard the inhabitants against the depradations of the Cheerake-Indians. This Doctor Vance came from Augusta County, in Virginia. In March of the same year, Frederick Calvit was badly wounded, and nearly the whole of his head skinned.”

So according to both accounts, Dr. Patrick was on Long Island in the Holsten River which flows from Virginia into Tennessee. Long Island is at Kingsport and according to Wikipedia:

“The Long Island of the Holston River was an important site for the Cherokee, colonial pioneers, and early settlers of the region. The site was used as a staging ground for people following the Wilderness Road into Kentucky. It was a sacred council and treaty site among the Cherokee people. The Timberlake Expedition of 1761–1762 used it as its point of origin and return. It was from here that Daniel Boone, in 1775, began to clear the Wilderness Road, which extended through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.”4

  2. Taylor, Oliver, Historic Sullivan, a History of Sullivan County, Tennessee, with brief Biogra- phies of the Makers of History (Bristol, Tennessee: The King Printing Company, 1909), 65-66.
  4. Long Island (Tennessee),, accessed 8 Oct

Dr. Patrick Vance of Lexington, Virginia

One of my ancestors was Dr. Patrick Vance who lived in Lexington, Virginia. I now live only an hour away and took the opportunity to make a few trips over there to see if I could find some new information. Along the way, I discussed the possibility of publishing a book about the family. Cousins agreed that they would like to see it done and I have just finished the book and sent it to the printers today.

This is a small family and there’s simply no way for me to make enough money off the book to pay for my trips or time.  It’s not that I do this kind of work just for profit but I really prefer a larger pool of possible buyers. I know that in genealogy heaven I will be amply lauded and held dear. Here on earth it’s a bit problematic to put a lot of time into something not doesn’t net an income when I’m still needing an income!  This one is really a gift to family. I hope I’ve done it justice.

I’m taking pre-orders for the print book and the digital version is now available. Check out the cvillegenie shop!

Look for the upcoming post with a bit from the book…


New England Here I Come

I'm heading to Boston and Maine in by the end of this month to do on-the-ground research for my Wilson book. Trying to prepare for this trip is turning out to be a race against time – unexpected for sure!

Though I'll be there for weeks, I will need to spend my time doing research and not writing it all up. In order to know what to research, however, I have to have done research and writing to find out what to research. Of course, it turns out that I have less time now to devote to that than I have had in the past. My web business is booming and I'm staying busier than I thought possible right now. Timing is everything and as usual life forces driving that timing just aren't cooperating!

So making lists and doing what I can before I leave. I spent a wonderful afternoon with a very distant cousin recently. Now when I talk about distant cousins, I'm really talking distant!  He's my 7th cousin once removed, a descendant of Edward Paul Dyer of Maine and Virginia. We met up in the mountains at Graves Mountain Lodge, visited a local cemetery and his old "homeplace", a cabin still standing next to a noisy babbling brook up next to the Shenandoah Park boundary. 

anderson_cabinWhat I found was that it was easy to get captivated by simply the "ambience" of the location. It's gorgeous up there but not only that, I fell under the spell of history, imagining what it would be like to be living in that cabin without electricity or plumbing back in the 1860s like Edward Dyer or the 1940s/1950s like when Roy lived there. It's hard to describe how I felt and as I pulled out my phone to take a picture, I said, "I've got to capture this." 

Thus the pics you see here. The closeup of the cabin combined with the long view with the mountain backdrop may help you see what I mean. It certainly helps to remind me that the human story behind a family genealogy has so much more to it than just dates and family facts. 


This is why I'm heading to New England  – to put myself in that same place these people walked and lived, to get a feel for what it's really like. So I'm going to be looking for cemeteries, photographing graves, digging through old records, talking to cousins and soaking up that which is New England.

 Genealogists aren't required to do that. Writers doing genealogy are. 

I also must remember to not get caught up in all of that and not get that research done. Hmm, gee, well, I guess I won't mind having to go back again later!

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