Buried Truth: Pete Hill’s family roots run long and deep in Virginia soil: Part One

Photo of Lizzie Seals contributed by the Pete Hill’s descendants.

Baseball Hall of Famer and most likely the son of former slaves, John Preston “Pete” Hill, born in the village of Buena, Culpeper County, Va. in 1882, lived his entire adult life north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

He played ball, not for fame or fortune, but like so many of the early players, he was driven by a genuine love of the game. When he could no longer play competitively, he managed the team. Then with some irony, his later life brought him back to the very same mechanism that gave him his first opportunity — the railroad.

Time tends to eradicate records; letters are destroyed, and contact information lost. Pete’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 2006 rekindled the fires of family connections and a desire to re-establish ancestral roots.

The primary source of data for non-property-owning residents is the federal census data. Significant facts have been discovered proving that the Seals and Hill families lived for decades in the area of Buena in Culpeper County and Rapidan in both Orange and Culpeper.

The Seals

The 1880 census record found the Seals family living in Orange County, across the Rapidan River from the village of Buena. Listed in the household were Edward and Mary Francis (Pete’s grandparents) and children: Lizzie (Pete’s mother Elizabeth, most commonly known as Lizzie), Ella, Annie, Mollie, Maria, Emily (Pete’s aunts) and James (Pete’s only uncle).

Note to those interested in genealogy: The name recorded for the Seals family (as listed above in the 1880 census) was spelled quite differently as Seigles. However, they were confirmed as the correct family by given names, ages and location of residence as compared with the 1870 census.

According to the death records found at the State Library in Richmond, Edward Seals died in Orange County of pneumonia in December of 1880. There remains no evidence of a burial site.

By the summer of 1881, the family was living on the Culpeper side of the river. According to court records, Pete’s aunt, Emily Seals, died at the age of 8 in August 1881 in Culpeper County.

Further research revealed that three of Pete’s other aunts were married in Culpeper County. The local county marriage records reported the following: The oldest sister Ella Seals married landowner Robert H. Hill in either 1882 or ‘83, followed later in the same decade by the marriage of Annie Seals in 1887 to James Hawkins and Mollie Seals’ marriage to E. A. Johnson in 1888.

To date, no marriage record has been found for Pete’s mother, Lizzie Seals. Was the marriage performed in another county? Did she never marry the father of the three boys or was it simply unrecorded?

Family history reports that Lizzie arrived in Pittsburgh with Jerome, Walter and John in about 1889.

Records also indicate that aunts Annie, Mollie and another, named Mariah, moved north and out of state. The trail for Ella is less clear. In 1900 she was living in Buena with Robert H. Hill, but by 1907, he has remarried and was listed as widowed. A death record has not yet been found for Ella.

Lizzie Seals’ only brother and Pete’s uncle, James E. Seals, remained in the Buena/Rapidan area. Living for a while in the village of Rapidan, he made a home for Pete’s grandmother, Mary Francis Seals, until her death in 1912.

By 1917, Seals had purchased a 23-acre farm located “3/4 of a mile south of Buena Station,” became a deacon at Cedar Grove Baptist Church and worked for the railroad as a track inspector. He died in 1935, leaving his land and a few descendants as his legacy.

Stay tuned for the Hill family record.

Previously published in the Orange County Review June 14, 2018

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