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How “Old Sill” ran the Charles C. Dovel family household

April 3, 2009

The following article was originally published March 18, 1999 as a part of my Heritage & Heraldry Column in the Page News & Courier.

In the book The Families of Adam Beauregard Dovel there is small account of one Dovel family and its interaction with a well respected and, obviously, outspoken slave woman named Drucilla or “Old Sill.”

Born in 1806, Charles C. Dovel, in 1827, married Elizabeth Koontz, the daughter of Isaac and Susanna Kiblinger Koontz, Sr. Elizabeth and her new husband immediately made their home on her father’s homestead in Alma. The son and son-in-law of slave-holders (fewer than three slaves each), Charles would own only two slaves, including “Old Sill” who was born around 1820 and had been left to him in 1832 by his father’s will.

According to the Dovel book, the story pertaining to “Sill” was extracted from an undated clipping from an old Page News & Courier and was written by Jacob R. Seekford. While small in length, it is of interest in the further understanding of how one of Page County’s over 1,000 slaves that resided in the county from 1840-1860 experienced life.

Seekford began: “Only a few slave owners living in this part of this county would have taken their slaves back after the war. Many of them were glad that the slaves were set free. I knew all of the old slaves of this county and the old masters and mistresses never let one suffer when they lived near their homes. I have seen as many as six of these old slaves, men and women, around one home when these big homes would have a big dinner.” However, Seekford noted “the Koontzes, Shulers and Dovels, who lived around Alma . . . were not fitting people to have slaves in many cases because they gave the slaves more privileges than they gave their own children. I never heard one of them that ever whipped a slave and they kept them more for pets than anything else.”

Seekford went on to state that one slave in the Dovel household, “Sill”, struck an imposing figure at “about 225 pounds” and had been “the complete boss of the Dovel home and ran things just to suit herself . . .” Showing how much the slave woman interacted with the family, Seekford continued that she was responsible for having named all of the Dovel children, including Drucilla, whom she named after herself. Interestingly, all of the girls names closely resembled “Sill” including Priscilla and Cecilia.

When it came to disciplining the children, Seekford recalled that the children’s own mother “never whipped one of them, but Old Sill laid the lash on them whenever she found it convenient.” Seekford had once “heard one of the Dovel boys say that she whipped Russell Dovel with a switch when he was thirteen years old.” Sill, on occasion, even found time to “get-after” her master Charles. “I have heard the late David Dovel tell about this women putting her hands in his father’s coat collar and threatening to whip him” wrote Seekford. Furthermore, to show just how much she ruled the household affairs, Seekford remembered that “She also bossed and ran” Dovel’s home distillery. “She looked after the selling of brandy, in fact she carried the key to the cellar where the liquor was kept.”

Charles C. Dovel died in 1864, and, despite the emancipation and constant flow of Federal troops through Page County during the war, she did not leave the county until 1868. “She came back here [from Clarke County] in 1872″ wrote Seekford, “and stayed about a year and spent all of her time with the Dovel children . . . She nursed old Daniel Koontz when he was sick and laid him out when he died.”

“Sill” later returned to Clarke County where she died and was buried at the Old Stone Chapel.

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