November 21, 2020

Lamplighter Luke

Luke G Hughes, my great grandfather, was born near Shiloh in Camden County, North Carolina in 1862, during the midst of the Civil War.  He was the son of Joseph Hughes and Mary “Polly” Gibson Hughes.  Luke’s mother died when he was eight years old, and it is said that he was pretty much on his own after her death.  As the oldest of four brothers, Luke started working by the age of 12, and had been a salesman, dry dock worker, farmer, milkman, huckster, and saw mill worker, as well as a lamplighter for the South Norfolk, Virginia community of Berkley for 3 years around 1900.  He and his wife, Jane Roberts Hughes moved their family to Norfolk County, Virginia about 1895. 


In an interview and news story printed in 1949, Luke Hughes, then 87 years old, tells about his lamplighter experience of almost 50 years earlier. 

BERKLEY LAMPLIGHTER BID $75 TO KEEP TOWN LIGHTED – “I bid $75,” said Luke Hughes.  And being low bidder he got the job of being the first lamplighter for Berkley when it was first incorporated way back near the turn of the century.

To know just about what to bid and what it would cost him for oil and globes, Mr. Hughes took a lamp home and burned it all night.  He figured it out and when the bids went in his was the lowest.  “Some bid as high as $150 a month,” he recalls. 

He had to furnish the oil, keep the lamps all 75 of them, lighted all night, and if a globe got broken install a new one.  “But I came out quite a bit ahead,” he says proudly.  “In the Winter it cost me $28 a month but only $22 in the Summer,” he explains.  “That left me good pay because the average wages in those days was 80 cents which was considered good man pay.”

Lamplighter Luke likes to tell how he roamed the streets at dusk with his donkey cart and placed a small ladder against each pole to light the lamps.  Sometimes he took a partner with him.  When he did they made better time for he would drive on and the partner would climb the ladder and then race after the cart.”

Luke was 97 years old when he died in 1959.  He had a long and colorful life, which included a murder trial at 70 years of age.  I can’t say that he was innocent – as Luke’s defense was that he couldn’t remember anything except that they had been drinking and had an argument the evening before.  Both men had been quite drunk, and Luke claimed to have been knocked out or passed out.  He testified that when he woke in the morning, the victim was dead on the floor with a fatal bullet wound.  Luke called the police who arrived and noted that the victim was still warm, and that Luke had scratches and lacerations on his face.  The bullet that killed the man was from Luke’s gun.  At the trial, there was no eyewitness and only circumstantial evidence.  The prosecution was unable to prove to the jury that the gun had been actually fired by Luke Hughes, and Luke was acquitted.

Virginian Pilot and The Norfolk Landmark newpapers; Friday, February 3, 1933; page 8. 

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Key Individuals:

Luke G Hughes (1862 – 1959)

Jane Roberts Hughes (1861 – 1933)


There is confusion regarding Luke's middle name – was it Gibson or Godfrey?  Godfrey is the middle name noted on Luke’s death certificate.  However, delayed birth certification for three of his children – Polly, Florence & Charles – record the father as Luke Gibson Hughes. 

Luke had an uncle, Samuel Godfrey who was married to his father’s sister, Sarah/Sallie.  And Luke’s mother’s maiden name was Gibson.  Thus, it is reasonable that either name could be Luke’s middle name.  I suspect that Gibson is correct, however, as it is found 3 different times and recorded many years earlier than his death certificate.

 - Jane Scribner McCrary

November 6, 2020

Letters Home in 1861

In an earlier blog post on June 11, 2020, I wrote about Henry Philip Hale, an 18 year-old Union soldier, who died only a short time after his enlistment from wounds he received at the First Battle of Bull Run and while in a Confederate prison hospital in Richmond, Virginia.  Henry’s letters were written to his mother and siblings who lived in Brooklyn, New York.  They spanned the time between when Henry’s regiment left New York until after the conflict at the First Battle of Bull Run.

While Henry’s letters to his family only covered a short period, there are several significant occurrences mentioned in his letters including the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth who was the first Union officer to die in the Civil War, making camp in the House of Representatives building in Washington D.C. while it was still under construction, and seeing President Abraham Lincoln.  Thus, I thought it would be interesting to make this blog post simply a transcription of young Henry P Hale’s letters home in 1861.

Washington, May 7 ‘61

Dear Sister,

I received your letter of the 2nd this morning through Jim Smallwood and I was much pleased to hear from you.  I have written two letters home, one to you and one to Mother.  I presume that you have received them both.

We were mustered into the U.S. Service this afternoon.  Some fifteen of the men backed out.  They will be sent home in irons, having once been sworn into the State Service.  There are some few men who are a disgrace to the N.Y. Zouaves, four of whom have been found out and will be drummed out of the Regiment tomorrow and sent home in disgrace.  Two more have committed a crime and will be given up to the authorities tomorrow, and I hope hereafter we will go by a good name.  Col. Ellsworth is a trump and wants nothing but honest and respectable men in his regiment.  We pass away our time playing cards.

I have written Dave [brother], but tell him not to forget his soldier brother, if he don’t take the right side with him.  I have enlisted for the War … let it be five days or five years and God protect the right.  We are quartered in the room of Commerce next to the Patent office – best quarters in Washington.  Our Regiment has the honor of being the first regiment that has enlisted for the War – not thirty day men like the Fancy Seventh of N.Y.  They are the troops of B’way but not of Washington.  We are the only, or I am in the only Company at least, that there was not one man backed out.  Write soon.  Give my love to all and kiss the children for me and tell Ella [sister] that I am not sorry that I am here, altho I would like to see you all, hear you all – bid you good night.  God bless you all and believe me.

Your affectionate brother,



P.S. Please send me an old pair of pants with the books if you have not sent them, if you have never mind.  Don’t send my new ones for I hope to have them on in my dress again.


Camp Lincoln, May 17 ‘61

Dear Mother,

I embrace the opportunity to write you a few lines.  We are to pull up stakes this morning and go a mile below here next to the river where we can have plenty of fishing during our spare hours which are very few, as we are drilled hard and long.  I wrote Sis several days ago asking her to send me some collars – but you need not send them as I have no chance to have them cleaned when they are dirty without washing them myself, and rough dried collars would look worse than none.  I am beginning to think that there will be some fuss in the Camp before long as we now not getting half enough to eat.  Last night our tent had one loaf of bread among sixteen.  You may imagine what the boys thought of this kind of treatment – however, we’ll have to put up with this.  You may hear that we have plenty to eat, but don’t believe it.  The ones that get enough grub has money and buys it from the peddlers about here.  I have heretofore always tried to write a cheerful letter home but when things come to such a point as this I intend to let it be known.  If things do not go on better hereafter – as we are promised, I hear the boys saying they will have it published in the New York papers.

Have you sent that package yet?  I have not received it and cannot understand the reason as you intended sending it on the 11th.  I hope it has not been lost as those little presents will not go amiss with me.

As long as I am writing I will give you an account of the way we do – We are woke up at 5 o’clock by the drum, and get our breakfast – or at least our little mouthful and then are called out at 9 o’clock and drilled until 12 o’clock – when we have two hours for dinner.  At 2 o’clock we go on the field and drill until 6 o’clock – get a little something to eat and have to be in our tents at 9 o’clock.  This is our regular way of living from one weeks end to the other.

Give my love to all the family.  Kiss the children for me.  Give my respects to all my friends.  Write soon and believe me.

Your Affect Son



Alexandria, May 25 ‘61

Dear Mother,

I received your kind letter Thursday night and was much pleased to hear from you.  We left our camp yesterday morning for Alexandria – joined rear troops about daylight.  We had taken the City and had little fighting to do but it pains me to say that we have lost our gallant Col.  He was shot at the Marshall House after having pulled down the Secession Flag.  On coming down stairs the proprietor stepped out of his room and shot him in the breast.  He lived but twenty minutes and all he said was “My God”.  How true his words came.  He said as we were leaving the camp to be prudent and not to run into danger, that perhaps he would be the first to fall, and so he did.  No one else received a shot.  One of our men was shot last night by one of his best friends.  It was very dark and the guard asked him to advance and give the countersign.  He kept coming toward him and did not speak and he was shot dead.  The man who shot the Col. was shot dead on the spot and the American Stars and Stripes fly over this town.

I enclose a few threads of the Secession Flag – I could not get any more.  Sew it into a piece of cloth and keep it.  I hope I may soon return to see it.  I certainly will if the Secession runs as they did here.  You could see nothing but their coat tails.

We have taken 37 horsemen prisoners.  They surrendered without firing a shot.  I have been amusing myself today hunting and searching around for things belonging to the Secessionists.  All we have found was powder and ball.  Write soon and direct as before,

Your Affect Son



Camp Ellsworth, ? 1861

Dear Mother and Sister,

We expect to have a little flight before long.  Two of our men belonging to our Co. was shot at Clouds Mills on Friday morning.  One killed and the other was wounded in the hop.  Young Cornell was buried on Sunday morning.  Yesterday his brother came on with an order from General Sanford for the body.  It was taken up and delivered up to him.

It is now raining in torrents and we are all getting on well passing the time away smoking, singing, and playing cards.  We now have plenty of grub since we have been here such as it is – hard bread, salt lunch Pork – and fresh beef once a week.

I wrote you while quartered at the Orange & Alexandria R.R. Depot and sent you a piece or at least a few threads of the Secession Flag that caused the death of the Col.  I am anxious to hear from you …….

Good bye.  God Bless you all

            Your Affect Son and Brother

            Henry P Hale


P.S.  Please send me a comb in a newspaper.  I have lost mine and my hair is getting quite long.

Washington, June 2 ‘61

Dear Mother and others,

I arrived here last night after quite a nice voyage [the troops were transported part way by ship].  We anchored off Annapolis day before yesterday.  We came on shore about 10 o’clock yesterday morning.  There is two men stationed at each rail from here to Washington.  We have fared quite well – had plenty to eat since we left N.Y. and it’s all in your eye about the men not having enough.  The President [Lincoln] received us last night.  He is about 7 foot, he looked like a fool standing with his hat off –

We are quartered in the House of Representatives – that is, the one they are just building.  I am writing on the floor and sitting on my knapsack and my back is nearly broken bending over – and you must excuse my miserable writing.

Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain your

Affect Son

Henry P Hale


Camp Ellsworth, July 10 ‘61

Dear Mother,

I send you my likeness by today’s mail.  It is not very good nor is it very well got up.  It has no case, I was down to Alexandria yesterday on french leave and thought I would have it take as promised to send it to you from Washington, but was short and could not.  I would have got a case with it but they charged $1.50 and I had not enough.  I expect you will think it looks rather rough, but you know a soldier with nothing but a Regiment shirt and blue pants on cannot look dressed.

I wish when you have the time and money to spare you would have Sis, Birdie & Ella [3 sisters] taken in one case and send them on to me as I would like very much to have them with me as the Lord only knows when I will be home, as it begins to look like War.  Some 5 or 6 regiments have come out here encamped within a mile of us.  There are the Michigan 1 & 2 regiments, the Maine 3, 4 & 5 regiments and an Ohio regiment.  Scott Life Guards Second Artillery Company and three horse company all within a mile of us.

We have not as yet received any pay, more have I any idea when we will.  We have been promised over and over again.  It seems our Regiment will be humbugged out of our money as well as clothes – if I am not paid shortly I will up stakes and join some other Regiment and if I possibly can I will be transferred to Ellsworths Avengers.

My draws [drawers] are worn out and I have none as well as my stockings.  We have a ____ in our Regiment and he is getting all of the boys pay.  I do not intend running up any bill with him.

Did Dave [brother] attend to having that I enclosed to you sent to the Mercury Office [New York Sunday Mercury newspaper]?   If not tell him to attend to it immediately, if not sooner.

I have seen some of my friends from New York who have joined other Regiments.  The reason letter does not reach me in time, you direct it to Washington instead of Alexandria.  Give my love to all.  Goodby

Your Affect Son,



Richmond, August 2 ‘61

Dear Mother,

I write this to inform you of my whereabouts.  I am still among the living although I was wounded in the Battle of Bull Run, and, I presume, named among the dead in the papers.  It was God’s Will that I only got a slight wound in the thigh.  I am recovering fast.  We are treated here with the utmost kindness.  Everything is done for us that one could wish.

I hope that War will soon end and we will all soon return home.  I hope Dave is successful in finding employment and is doing well. 

I have nothing to write about.  I am in a hospital in Maine Street.  Give my love to Grandmother, Sis, Dave and the children.  Goodbye.  God bless you all –

Your Affectionate Son,

Henry P Hale


NOTE:  Private Henry P Hale, 11th New York Volunteers, 1st Fire Zouaves, Company G, died on August 7, 1861, five days after writing the above letter from Prison Hospital No. 1, Main Street, Richmond, Virginia.

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Key Individuals:

     Philip Moore Hale  (1807 – 1870)

     Mary Ann Brown Dickinson Hale  (1816 – 1880)

          Henry Philip Hale  (1843 - 1861)


- Jane Scribner McCrary

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