Buried Truth: The hunt for Pete Hill, Rapidan, VA native

This was my first foray into the vast world of baseball history and I was duly impressed by the depth of commitment and the array of interested persons.

Among others was a pediatric anesthesiologist from Chicago; a college professor from Buffalo, N.Y.; a Negro Leagues historian from Kansas City and the well- known baseball blogger, Gary Ashwill; each was equally taunted by the “Mystery of Pete Hill.”

Picking up on where their research had traveled, I began to scour newspaper articles, ship’s passenger lists, WWI and WWII draft registrations, Census records (1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930), a Social Security application and a death certificate for confirmation of the following:

Pete’s full and legal name: John Preston Hill

Birthplace: Virginia

Birth year: The day is always listed as October 12; the year varied between 1882 and 1884 with the most consistent date being 1882.

Mother: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Seals Hill, born about 1857 in Virginia

Father: “Ike” Hill, listed by name in only one document with no further information. All Census records list Pete’s father as born in Virginia.

Grandmother: Mary Frances Seals, born about 1835 in Virginia; died in 1912 in Rapidan, Culpeper County, Va.

Siblings: Jerome Bryant Hill and Walter Vaughn Hill, born about 1879 and 1881 in Rapidan, Va.

Pete’s residences:

1900: living with mother, step-father and two brothers in Pittsburgh, Pa.

1910: living with wife Gertrude in Chicago.

1920: living with wife, Gertrude and 11-year-old son Kenneth, in Chicago.

1930: living single in Buffalo, N.Y. and listed as divorced.

Marriage and children: Between 1906 and 1907 Pete married Gertrude Lawson; Children: John Hill, b. Dec. 1, 1907, in Philadelphia; d. Dec. 5, 1907; Kenneth P. Hill, b. Jan. 21, 1909, in Chicago, d. Dec. 6, 2001, in Gary, Ind. For reasons unstated, Pete Hill left the winter baseball season in Cuba to be with his wife when baby John was born.

Occupations listed in Official Records:

Baseball player, 1899-1924 (1920 Census, Ship’s Passenger Manifest)

Railroad Porter, 1930- 1951 (Death Certificate, Social Security Application)

Death: Dec. 19, 1951, in Buffalo, N.Y.

The data collected from more than a dozen official documents is substantial with no glaring discrepancies. John Preston Hill, born Oct. 12, 1882, in Rapidan, Va. was indeed the same “Pete” Hill, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. The facts painted a clear and traceable journey for the baseball player.

But what of Pete’s roots, his family, his hometown? The details of his personal heritage were yet to be discovered. It became clear that corroborating evidence was required. But could it be found?

The task would be extensive; it would necessitate a chain of additional records including deeds, wills, and marriage, death and birth reports. Personal interviews, photographs and field surveys of house and grave sites would hopefully finalize the conclusions.

And I should tell you that there remained one significant missing piece; as of 2009, fifty-eight (58) years after his death and three years after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, no one knew where John Preston Hill was buried!

The hunt was on.

Until next week, be well.

This column was previously published in the Orange County Review http://www.dailyprogress.com/orangenews/ May 31, 2018

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