Tales From Our House

Adelaide Nelson: The Unsung Heroine of Long Branch

Early in the year of 1861, Adelaide Nelson was required to contact her insurance agent over the matter a fire which had consumed Long Branch’s greenhouse while Hugh Nelson, her husband, was off at war. Little did she know that her involvement with this “man’s work” would only be the first in a line of struggles at Long Branch that Adelaide would have to face without the aid of Hugh. Upon Hugh’s untimely and unexpected death in 1862, Adelaide was informed of shocking news: Long Branch was heavily in debt. The farm that had been valued at $103,600 in 1860 was now only valued at $45,000. In fact, it was likely that the farm had a negative net worth.

Adelaide Nelson

Though Adelaide and her two children were left Long Branch in Hugh’s will, they were unable to own it directly because of the amount of money Hugh had borrowed against house. Credit must be given to Adelaide’s intelligence and fiscal acumen, without which Long Branch surely would have been lost from the hands of the Nelson family. Adelaide separated her assets from those of her late husband’s, and invested her own money into Long Branch. By doing so, she was no longer its owner but its creditor, and was entitled to a share of the proceeds when the farm was repossessed and later auctioned off at the Clark County court house. Hugh’s personal effects were auctioned off first in 1867. Adelaide attended and was able to purchase back much of the furniture, household utensils, livestock, and farming equipment. The house and land were auctioned two years later. Adelaide’s bid of $25,025 for the 280 acres including the house (only half the acreage of the original property) was accepted.

Even after its purchase at the auction, the title to Long Branch never reached the hands of Adelaide Nelson. The outstanding claims against the farm prevented her outright ownership of it; they would total about $12,ooo at the time of her death. Adelaide died before seeing the farm restored to its original acreage, but her son Hugh Nelson Jr. was able to purchase back the remaining 250 acres eight months after her death. Long Branch was finally returned in full to the Nelson family on November 11, 1876 under a court decree. Though three of Hugh’s creditors would later file a petition to overturn the legal decisions involving Long Branch starting in 1875, the Supreme Court of Virginia overruled an appeal to rehear any case. The justices wrote that “Adelaide Nelson had done more than enough to meet the claims of creditors against her husband’s estate, ‘and that act of simple generosity on her part [cannot] be tortured into a relinquishment of bar of her legal dower in her husband’s real estate'” (Long Branch: A Plantation House in Clarke County, Virginia, Fourdney 44).  At last, Long Branch was securely in the hands of the Nelsons once more.

Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern

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