We are fortunate to have Caroline’s journal to document a portion of her life; we have little else. Like most women of her time and place she is almost invisible in our male dominated historical records. Perhaps she understood how easy it would be for traces of her life to vanish; perhaps that is why she kept her journal.
Our first known primary source is a Littlepage family bible entry shows her as Caroline B. Ellett, married to Lewis Littlepage, “the 5th day of February, 1829.” 1Library of Virginia Bible Records, Call Number 22806. Also at the Virginia Historical Society, Mss6:4 L7332:2
Caroline officially appears by name in the 1850 U.S. Census, the first to record the all the names within enumerated households: “Caroline B., 39.” Her husband Lewis, 43, is listed above, her children below. She appears similarly in the 1860 Census. These entries suggest her year of birth as 1811, and would be consistent with her appearances in the 1830 and 1840 censuses as a number in an appropriate column.2We do not have a date-of-birth for Caroline, no mention in either of the two journals at the VHS. Neither do we have any other reference to her in a family Bible or newspaper. If you know of this date, please contact me. She also appears in her husband’s 1854/63 will, which improbably survives in the recesses of a California library. Lewis thought enough of her abilities to make her his executrix. 3The will is part of the Robert Alonzo Brock Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia: Call Number 41008; Misc. reel 4610.
In her journal entry of 8 December, 1865 Caroline writes,“This is father’s birthday, born 8th Dec. 1772. Would be 93 years if he were living, died ten years ago. Ma has been dead twenty-five years,..” While that is her only journal entry about her parents, her daughter Rose’s year-long diary of 1853 frequently mentions her Grandfather visiting from Cohoke. Ten years earlier William M. Ellett bought Riverview farm where Cohoke Creek enters the Pamunkey River. Prior he had owned a large tract about 3 miles SW of the courthouse, “on Acquinton, near Acquinton Church.” A portion of this land had belonged to his father, also a William Ellett. Caroline, as an Ellett or Littlepage, likely never lived farther than three miles from King William Courthouse.
Prior to Caroline’s father we have little information. We can only estimate that both her Ellett grand-parents, William “the Elder” and, by tradition and circumstantial evidence, Elizabeth Turner, were born in the mid-1700s. But we can say definitely that when her father was a child the Elletts were already established as one of King William’s largest land-owning families along side the Littlepages, both families with roots extending to the 1702 formation of the County, and probably before.
Of her mother and her family we have even less to go on. Caroline’s entry would place Nancy Baker’s death in 1840. As Baker was not a King William family name in those days, William M. must have “married outside the county.”
It is fitting the only likeness we have of Caroline is with a child; she had thirteen we know of, nine living when this journal was written. In this May, 1849 portrait by itinerant painter John Toole (1815-1860), she is holding Lucy Littlepage, a.k.a Pigeo, pronounced as in pige-on. Caroline would have been about 40.4Caroline writes of John Toole’s visit in her short 1849 diary, a volume journal shared with Junius and Rose, Virginia Historical Society, Mss5:1 L7333:1
By the time the journal opens she was 54 years old, a widow. Two of her sons were in Confederate service: one in a Federal prison camp, the other temporarily stationed in France. Her first born, although living close by, had all the family, property, and professional obligations he seemed able to handle. Her eldest son at home was in the local Home Guard and spent many nights away on duty or in hiding. Her youngest son had just reached the age of conscription. Her namesake daughter Bake was still at home, twenty-three and restless. Caroline was responsible for the operation of a small plantation, the direction and well-being of her slaves, and the raising of two teenage girls, in the midst of a war that was within earshot, and sometimes closer.