Reviewed by George Kegley
GEORGE KEGLEY is editor of the Journal of the Historical Society of Western Virginia.
Rockbridge, knee-deep in history and heritage since it was carved from Augusta and Botetourt counties in 1778, is fully portrayed in a handsome volume, “Remarkable Rockbridge,” by Charles Bodie, president of the county’s historical society. Bodie records so much that has happened here and tells of so many interesting people who have lived here.
After writing of early Indian travels through the valley and raids on the few 18th-century homes, he reports the settlement of Ulster Scots, Presbyterians from Northern Ireland often known as Scotch-Irish, beginning about 1716. Many settled on Benjamin Borden’s huge 92,100-acre grant, which covered much of present Rockbridge County.
Bodie does an excellent job of placing Rockbridge and its people in context with what was happening in the rest of the country for more than two centuries. He said he has tried “to show that a locality is always tied to the larger world.” As Charles Bryan, past president of Virginia Historical Society, writes in the foreword, several other histories of the county have been “skimpily researched, narrowly focused, lacking in context and perspective.” Bryan says that Bodie has produced “an exceptional historical narrative.”
Bodie’s writing style is thorough as he combs the county for information about the farmers, slaves, soldiers, merchants, teachers and anyone who has lived there. He draws on the county’s geography, from the famous Natural Bridge to House Mountain, James River, Goshen Pass and scenic hills and valleys.
The book is based in Lexington, the county seat saturated with the impact of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War. Their deeds and traditions still draw many visitors today.
Much of Rockbridge history is related to the two schools on the hill — Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, close neighbors and often rivals. From their early 19th-century beginnings, faculty and students have been central to Rockbridge life.
Bodie, an experienced researcher and historian, edited three guides to manuscript collections in Roanoke and New River valleys, Rockbridge County and the Alleghany Highlands. He holds a doctorate in history from Indiana University.
After the Civil War, James Davidson, a Lexington attorney, lamented that local history was being lost and that residents would soon forget the county’s founders and accomplishments. Bodie has filled that void almost 140 years later.