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  • Writer's pictureBeth Stenstrom

Permelia Chewning Higgerson

Permelia Chewning Higgerson is the 2nd Great Grandmother of Diane Kay Mason Gray

Permelia Chewning was born 27 Jan 1830 in Spotsylvania County, VA, to William V. Chewning (1790-1863) and Permelia (Henderson) Chewning (1793-1879), whose farm was about a mile from the Higgerson farm in Orange County on today’s Hill-Ewell Drive. On 3 Oct 1853 in Spotsylvania County, Permelia married Benjamin Higgerson/Higgason/Hickerson. They resided on an approximately 157-acre farm in Orange County in a log cabin that Benjamin probably built soon after purchasing the farm from James and Mary Somerville in 1844.


 After marrying Benjamin, Permelia bore five children:  John Edgar (1853-1934); Jacquelina “Lena” (1854-1952); William Buchanan (1857-1897); Walter Buchanan (1858-1892); and Andrew Jackson (1861-1949).


The Higgerson farm on Wilderness Run was the site of considerable military activity with men marching to and from battles across the Higgerson land. Permelia took in a wounded or sick soldier, Benjamin contracted smallpox from him and died on Christmas Day, 1862., His oldest son, James Thomas contracted the disease while serving in the CSA, and died only two days earlier in the Variola (small pox) section of the Howard’s Grove Hospital near Richmond, VA , Whether Benjamin knew of the death we do not know. Family lore is that Benjamin was buried in a hollowed-out log at dusk by a slave and his next eldest son, Edgar.


On the afternoon of 5 May 1864, the 149th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment crossed Permelia’s farm and tromped through her kitchen garden leveling her picket fence to which she expressed in strong language her view on what was to happen to them, a “pack of cowardly Yankees” on their way into battle. When they retreated, a Union soldier wrote in his journal, “We were whipped, and she knew it.”  One can just imagine the satisfied “I told you so” look on her face.


Soon after Benjamin’s death, Private William Wallace Porter, an itinerant teacher, who claimed a degree from Denison University in Ohio, but who actually had scanty attendance, arrived probably by train with his outfit, Company H, 8th LA Infantry Regiment, the Cheneyville Rifles of Rapides Parish, from New Orleans to the region of the Wilderness where he met the widow Higgerson, wooed, and wed her in Spotsylvania County on 4 Mar 1867. Permelia bore two more children by her second husband:  Cyrus Porter (1868-1894) and Ann Milar/Miller Porter (1870-1887). Financial difficulties and domestic circumstances led to the family’s deciding to depart the Wilderness, and they settled in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for the winter.


Once the river thawed, Porter is said to have constructed a raft from their wagon upon which they floated down the Ohio River into the Mississippi River headed for St. Louis; however, the current was so strong, they could not make landfall and were pushed downriver where they could finally pull ashore and settled in Portageville, New Madrid, Missouri.


The Higgerson boys ended up buying farmland along the Mississippi River in St. John Township, New Madrid County, Missouri, and moving there with their mother. The four Higgerson brothers and their mother, Permelia (Chewning) Higgerson Porter are all buried in New Madrid County, Missouri, at Sugar Tree Ridge Cemetery with the exception of Walter B. Higgerson, who was buried at the LaPlant Family Cemetery at Barnes Ridge.  Permelia died 20 May 1897 in St John Township, New Mardrid, MO at her home. 

Permelia Chewning Higgerson
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