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Portrait of a Pioneer Family: The Lacys of Union County

By M. Angela Crawford

Among the first of those to settle in Union County were the Reverend William Sterling Lacy and his second wife, Julia Ann Eldridge Lacy. The Lacys were the third settlers in the area, important pioneers of El Dorado.

William Sterling Lacy was born at Hamden-Sydney, Prince Edward County, Virginia, on April 8, 1791. By all accounts, the Rev. Lacy was a man of impressive character; it has been written that he had the highest integrity, and the courtesy, charm and hospitality of the old school. He was a man of elegance, with fine literary attainments, the author of several historical documents. Lacy had a highly retentive memory; those who knew him said he could recite from beginning to end the New Testament of the Bible and many of the Psalms and portions of the Old Testament. Lacy retained his faculties to the end of his long life, although he became nearly blind by his last years. He cut an imposing figure, well over six feet tall, large-boned but not corpulent, probably weighing about 200 pounds. He was said to have auburn hair as a young man, blue eyes, and a fair complexion.

William S. Lacy was educated at Hampden-Sydney College, graduating in 1811. He took a professorial chair there in the field of modern languages. Lacy then enlisted in the army in the War of 1812 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in July 1813, and served six months as a private. For this service, he was later granted bounty land in the year 1850.

After serving in the war, in 1816, Lacy married Sally E. Campbell Graham, daughter of Edward Graham and Margaret Alexander. They moved to Pulaski County, Tennessee, and remained there until 1820 before moving to Missouri. Lacy first decided to pursue law in Roanoke, Virginia, with U.S. Rep. John Randolph, but did not ultimately choose to stay with the law, as he soon found he was more interested in the ministry.

Lacy was ordained in 1824, and according to records, the first Presbyterian minister ever ordained in the state of Missouri. He ministered all about the counties there, traveling in the summer and fall seasons to preach and to organize churches on the Missouri and Upper Mississippi Rivers, once preaching at the home of Col. Sam Dyer. With Col. Rev. John S. Ball, he traveled for eight years, finally settling on Lacy property in St. Louis County and taking charge of the Dardenne Church, remaining there until 1832. The Rev. Lacy went back and forth, ministering from Missouri to Tennessee.

In 1832, his wife, Sally, died, leaving ten children: Edward T.; Beverly Tucker; William A.; James H.; Campbell; Anne Smith; John Randolph; Drury; Sally C.; and Margaret S.

In 1833, Rev. Lacy married his second wife, Julia Ann Eldridge Lacy. Julia was raised in New Hampshire, the daughter of Capt. Uriah Zuah Eldridge, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. She was a cultured, well-educated gentlewoman, having graduated from Miss Lyons Academy in 1828, after which she moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to teach, and then to Summerville, Tennessee. To this union were born seven children: Mary E.; Anna S.; Samuel D.H.; Watson E; Sterling S.; Archibald A.; and finally, Fannie Lacy.

In 1843, Rev. Lacy made his final move, to Union County, Arkansas, in the area of El Dorado. He was a pioneer there, the third family to settle in the area. The Rev. Lacy bought a farm of 400 acres three miles from El Dorado for his son to farm.
He and his wife Julia organized the First Presbyterian Church of El Dorado, where he pastored for a year in the first church building. The building was made of log, also used as the courthouse, three-quarters of a mile northeast of the present day Presbyterian church site. A marble plaque is still visible in the vestibule of the church, carrying the inscription:

"Reverend William Sterling Lacy
Who Organized This Church in 1843
And Served as First Pastor
Captain Watson Eldridge Lacy
Faithful Member and Elder for Many Years
Rev. William Stokes Lacy, D.D.

After this, Rev. Lacy also established churches in Camden, Mount Holly, El Dorado, Scotland, Elliott, and Ebenezer; and while teaching, served all of these churches. He continued in active church work until the outbreak of the Civil War, whereupon he retired to his farm.

Rev. Lacy and his wife, Julia, established the first school in El Dorado -- a private academy they ran from their log-hewn cabin, which was at the site now occupied by the Lion Oil Company parking lot at 416 N. Jefferson Ave. Disputes have emerged over the site of the school. Some have placed the Lacy home as being on N. Washington St., but some have placed it as being on N. West Ave., where the City Hall stood (as verified in 1886).

While running their non-sectarian academy, to which children from several Arkansas counties and Louisiana parishes came to attend, Rev. Lacy taught the boys in one room and Mrs. Lacy taught the girls in the other. After two years of operating the school, the Lacys sent for the Rev. and Mrs. A.R. Banks to run the school. The Lacys probably then moved to one of the other reported sites, which was their plantation near the town with crops of corn and cotton, farmed mainly by slaves. After turning the school over to the Banks Family, the Banks Female Academy was established on West Avenue, and was moved after the Civil War to the site that later became El Dorado High School in 1905 and eventually South Arkansas Community College. Reverend William Sterling Lacy died at the plantation home of his son, W.E. Lacy, in 1880, and Julia Lacy died in 1891; both are interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery in El Dorado.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, there is a memorial on the grounds of the Capitol erected in memory of those who fought in the War of 1812 and are buried in Arkansas, and the name William Sterling Lacy appears there. In the Barton Library of El Dorado, a tribute still stands to Julia Eldridge Lacy, in the form of a doll dating back to 1939, created by a local teacher's group, the Alpha Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society, honoring Julia Lacy as El Dorado's first teacher. The petticoat on the doll, embroidered and beaded with a velvet ribbon, once belonged to Julia Lacy.

Rev. Lacy had three children which were of particularly notable distinction; Beverly Tucker Lacy, who was chosen and served as General T. J. "Stonewall" Jackson's chaplain in the Civil War; James Horace Lacy, who was a major in the Civil War; and the Rev. Lacy's youngest child, Fannie Lacy, who had the distinction of being the first white child born in El Dorado.

Fannie Lacy Lester gave several interviews about what life was like in the earlier days of El Dorado and Union County to Juanita Whitaker Green, who later wrote History of Union County (August, 1936):
Matthew F. Rainey brought a small stock of supplies from New Orleans and placed them in a rough shed to sell, thus becoming the first businessman in El Dorado. He and Judge Davis named El Dorado and christened it with whiskey. Their store had groceries and whiskey, but they sold more whiskey than groceries. The store faced the pond where the court house now stands. Many ducks came to this pond in season and many were killed there. Bears, wolves and deer were plentiful and the latter came there often to drink. Rainey is said to have preempted 160 acres of land which he gave as a town site, reserving four acres of land for his cabin and for the house which he expected to build ... From the beginning of the purely agricultural economy that came with the permanent home makers, cotton was the great commercial cash crop ... Corn was the next most important crop; and others of importance were sweet potatoes, peas, beans, wheat, oats, Irish potatoes, tobacco, rye, rice, and garden vegetables. The popular agricultural implements of this age consisted of scooters, shovels, sweeps, turning plows, and wooden harrows with wooden teeth, made out of a forked tree.
Before the Civil War there were no banks in the county, and such functions as are now performed by these institutions were carried on by the commission merchants and cotton brokers at Camden, at New Orleans, and later at Champagnolle Landing. Farmers usually hauled their cotton to Champagnolle on the Ouachita in the fall or winter and sold it to commission merchants in New Orleans through an agent in Champagnolle. They made lists of their wants and the commission merchants filled their orders, even to the ladies' bonnets.

Fannie Lacy Lester remembered that her father, Rev. William S. Lacy, had twenty slaves and that they made an average of eighty bales of cotton each year. Two of the slaves were weavers and three were spinners. They sent to New Orleans each year for the supplies and clothes that they bought. Hats and bonnets of silk and velvet were purchased...by commission merchants who had a list of what they needed.

She thought the people welcomed the creation of new counties out of Union County, because the sheriff and other county officials had too much work and too large a territory to cover. Few roads existed and the principal means of travel were by horseback, wagon or ox team. She remembered that the first bank in El Dorado was opened in 1880 or 1881. Before that time, money was kept at home or in New Orleans.

After the war, Lester said, the carpetbaggers took over the government and destroyed the records or changed them to beat the Confederates out of property. They received position by holding an election but refusing to allow the Confederates and Confederate sympathizers to vote. They even cut down trees in the roads so the people couldn't get to town to vote (History of Union County).

Fannie Lacy married Daniel B. Lester, a carriage maker of El Dorado, in 1871. Their children were Anna Lacy; Drury; Elizabeth; Mary E; D. Bruce; Fannie M.; and Florence. Recalled by relatives, Fannie Lester was a dignified lady who wore seven petticoats, had a keen mind, and was declared by the El Dorado News-Times to be the oldest mother alive in El Dorado on Mother's Day 1934 when she was 90 years old. Fannie Lacy

Lester died at the home of her son, D. Bruce Lester, in 1943. D. Bruce Lester married and had a daughter among his children, Dorothy Lester. Dotte, as she was usually called, married William T. Lawrence of El Dorado, and their son, Samuel Lester Lawrence, married Ginger Hawkins of El Dorado. The author is the daughter of Sam and Ginger Lawrence, and has a brother, William Bruce. There are many descendents of the Lacys still in the area.

Rev. William Sterling Lacy's son, Rev. Beverly Tucker Lacy, served in the Civil War in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Gen. Jackson soon named the Rev. Beverly Tucker Lacy to his headquarters as "Chaplain at Large" in the II Corps and consequently assumed his duties on March 1, 1863. Rev. B.T. Lacy is recalled in The Battle Rainbow: Jackson and his Chaplains, by Chaplain Russ Campbell, as a "genial gentleman, an indefatigable worker and an effective preacher." Rev. B.T. Lacy helped General Jackson both as his chaplain and his friend after Jackson's tragic wound, the amputation of his arm, and Jackson's subsequent fatal bout of pneumonia. General Jackson died with his head in Rev. Lacy's lap, and Rev. Lacy later took the General's arm to be buried at his brother J. Horace Lacy's Ellwood estate in Virginia. Rev. Lacy stayed on with the II Corps as chaplain, and General Robert E. Lee used Lacy's knowledge of the byways in and around Chancellorsville during the war, as Lacy had served a church in that area.

Lacy was the first "supervisory" chaplain in U.S. History, and was instrumental in helping to organize the Great Revival which swept through the army in a wave in 1863. Rev. Beverly Tucker Lacy's story was later told in the movie Gods and Generals, based on the novel by Michael Shaara, in which he was favorably portrayed as the chaplain of Gen. Stonewall Jackson and his regiment.

The Rev. William Sterling Lacy was one of the three sons of Rev. Dr. Drury Lacy, D.D., born in 1758 in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Drury Lacy intended as a young adult to be a farmer, as his father had been, but after an accident with a musket took off his hand, he changed his decision of profession, studying Greek and Latin, and later chairing the modern languages department of Hampden-Sydney College. He ministered, as well, and it is said that his oratory voice was silver, his hands silver, and that he had "a fire in his eye" when he preached. He had three sons with his wife, Nancy Ann Smith: Rev. William Sterling; Rev. Drury; and Dr. James Horace Lacy, who became a medical physician. Within the publication Documents, Chiefly Unpublished relating to the Huguenot Emigration to Virginia and to the Settlement at Manakin Town, published by the Virginia Historical Society in 1886, is a paragraph which states the following: "The Church remembers him as Lacy of the 'silver hand and silver voice.'" He married a Miss Smith, and reared three sons and two daughters. Two of the sons became ministers of the Gospel.

The eldest, William S. Lacy, preached for a time as a missionary, and then became pioneer of the church in Arkansas. The youngest, Drury, was pastor for some time in Raleigh, North Carolina. He then served as president of Davidson College; and subsequently as chaplain in the state hospitals. The third son became a physician. Each of the sons reared a son for the ministry.

Another of Rev. William Sterling Lacy's sons, Major James Horace Lacy, an ardent secessionist, married Betty Churchill Jones, on October 17, 1848. Maj. J. Horace Lacy later acquired the antebellum home and plantation of Chatham as his primary home, which operated with sometimes up to 250 slaves, and his summer home, Ellwood. Ellwood served as field hospital for months after the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Ellwood took center stage during the Battle of The Wilderness in 1864, and by the end of the battle, the home had been ravished, its extensive library ransacked by Union soldiers, its staircase burned. Ellwood, like Chatham, now belongs to the National Park Service.

Chatham House has a rich and famous history. When the war began, Maj. J. Horace Lacy moved his family to Ellwood and gave Chatham, later known as "Lacy House," over to be a hospital and command post. Walt Whitman, searching for his brother during the Civil War, remained there for a time to nurse for the wounded soldiers being housed there. General Robert E. Lee had previously courted his wife under the trees of Chatham. President Abraham Lincoln spent several days at Chatham in the early part of the war, and from its shores the pontoon bridges were thrown, over which the Federal Army under Burnside crossed to the bloody battle of Fredericksburg. Gen. George Washington had even visited Chatham before the house had changed over to J. Horace Lacy's hands.

J. Horace Lacy's ownership of Ellwood, Lafitta, Chatham, and Boscobel plantations elevated him to the status of first rank of Virginia Planters, and partially was the reason he was so enthusiastically captured for a time by the Union army, who wanted him not only because he served the Confederate army, but also because he was a wealthy landowner. He was later released. During the War, his wife, Betty Churchill Lacy, and their children stayed safely with two of her husband's aunts, Lizzie and Nancy Graham.

After the war, the Lacys found Chatham had been shredded by carpetbaggers from the North, the paneling stripped from the walls, every door and window gone, trees cut down, and there were nineteen Federal graves on the lawn. Some time passed before the house was livable again.

Other notable people are within this family line. To trace it back, the previously mentioned Rev. Dr. Drury Lacy, D.D., was the son of William Lacy (1713-1775), who was married to Elizabeth Rice (sometimes referred to as "Catherine" Rice). This William Lacy who was born in 1713 was the son of William Lacy who was the son of Thomas Lacy II; Thomas Lacy II was married to Ann Burnley. Thomas Lacy II was the son of Thomas de Lacy I (1660-1750), who was married to Miss Rhuys (Welsh for "Rice," whose name is thought to have been Phebe).

Thomas de Lacy I was an immigrant (he dropped the "de" in de Lacy later in order to better fit the names present in Virginia at that time), reputed to have come from Wales to Virginia between 1680 and 1685 on the very frontier of the settlements there. He was of French Huguenot extraction, having previously fled to Wales from France during the religious upheavals there, it is believed. There is an account, written by Rev. William Sterling Lacy, who received his notes on it from "Old Mr. William Rice." The story goes that when Thomas de Lacy I had embarked on a vessel from Wales with other emigrants, during the voyage to VA, he was captured by a notorious pirate who went under the familiar name of Black Beard in order to frighten others, but whose name actually was Taike. Every passenger on board the vessel captured was made to walk the plank except Thomas de Lacy, whom the pirate Taike (also known as "Lewis Guittar") swore was "too fine a looking fellow to be drowned, and should be impressed into the service of a noble pirate." Thomas de Lacy did not find that an agreeable suggestion. A character named Minnis organized an attack on the pirate ship, and when pirate Guittar's vessel was besieged, Thomas de Lacy drew his cutlass and shouted, "I am a true man. I am a prisoner!" de Lacy began to cut down pirates right and left, throwing them further into confusion....not one pirate would surrender, and so all were slain. The Governor then gave de Lacy a tract of land on the frontier of what is now Hanover County, and subsequent other rewards. This account of de Lacy and the pirate was given to record in Virginia in May 1700.

The Lacys were a distinguished and respected line which not only contributed to the Civil War and Virginia, but fanned out as pioneers who helped tame and set up settlements in Missouri and Arkansas. Their name is throughout public record in those states and easily located. For Union County, it is known that the name of Lacy cannot be forgotten.

M. Angela Crawford, a descendant of the Lacy Family, lives in El Dorado and is a student at South Arkansas Community College.

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