My interest in genealogy was first sparked by listening to my husband’s grandmother, Esterlene Smith Brooks Kesler, tell stories about growing up in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia. Her favorite story reached back into the days of the Civil War to a young woman whose life seemed to parallel her own in remarkable ways.
In 1850 Peter Kesler, son of Henry Kesler of Franklin County, Va., married Susan Housman, a young woman who lived “over the ridge,” so to speak. Susan and Peter set up housekeeping in a farmhouse on the Kesler farm that dated to 1734, where they raised tobacco and children for 12 years until the Civil War intervened. Peter joined the Confederate army, leaving behind Susan, who was expecting their fourth child, and three children, 8 and under, to run the farm.
Peter died at Gettysburg and never met his new son, William Samuel Benjamin Peter Kesler, born in June 1862. Susan found herself falling on hard times with four young children and no male kin to work the 100-plus acres. Eventually, with mounting debts and the fate of the farm resting on her shoulders, she did what any reasonable woman of her times would do: She married the man next door.
William Brooks was a bachelor about the same age as Peter, and his roots in the county reached even further back. Following his marriage to Susan in 1867, Brooks managed to reconstruct the original Kesler farm, buying it piecemeal from Henry Kesler’s other children until he’d accumulated nearly 200 acres. Brooks also went on to raise three children of his own with Susan alongside Peter’s progeny, including a son named John William Lester Brooks born in 1875. But one of his last acts before his death was to take Peter’s youngest son, “Benny,” to the county seat to register the sale of his father’s original farmland to Benny in his own name. The Keslers were now officially land owners again, and neighbors with the Brooks.
Benny built a fine new home on his farm and took a wife of his own in 1908. Together, they had one child, a son named Vernon. Meanwhile, on the adjoining Brooks farm, J.W.L. Brooks and his wife raised three sons, including one Claude Brooks, who grew up and married my husband’s grandmother, Esterlene “Teen” Smith, in 1944. Both Brooks and Kesler raised tobacco and children just as their forebears had, until a strange twist of fate played out history all over again.
While working in the tobacco fields in the sweltering summer of 1965, Claude suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack, leaving behind his wife and their teenage son Clarence. They struggled along for some time. But Teen realized that Clarence couldn’t handle the farm on his own, and that another pair of hands would free him up to pursue other occupations. So she did what any reasonable woman of her time would do: She married the man next door, who just happened to be Vernon Kesler.
So in 1971, Teen married the grandson of Peter and Susan Kesler, just as she had married the grandson of William and Susan (Kesler) Brooks in 1944. Thus, almost exactly 100 years after Susan married a Brooks to save the Kesler farm, Teen married a Kesler to save the Brooks farm. The more things change, the more they really do seem to stay the same.
Glade Hill, Va.