George Torian was one of my great grandfathers. He was born in 1854 in Halifax County, the son of Sarah Francis
(Fanny) Singleton Torian and Elijah Torian.
George, age 21, married Amelia Blanche Crawley, age 17 or 18, on December 11, 1876.
In 1880, George and Amelia, married for four years, were living in the Black Walnut District of Halifax County,
Virginia. By 1880, they had two daughters: Francis (Fannie) Elizabeth, age 2; and Nannie B., age 10 months. In the
1880 census, George lists his occupation as clerk - tobacco house (looks like tobacco house). Amelia is a
Halifax County throughout the 1800s and the 1900s consistently ranked as one of the largest tobacco producing
counties in not only the State of Virginia but in the United States. Halifax County was also the site of one of the
biggest markets, where buyers came to purchase tobacco being sold by the growers. So, jobs, such as a clerk in a
tobacco house that George had in 1880, should have been plentiful. Just what tobacco house means is not known.
The Black Walnut District is located south of the Dan River, in the southern section of Halifax County. The district
extended from west of the present-day community of Cluster Springs eastward towards Virgilina. The term district
here relates to census taking areas, and perhaps other county-designated areas for voter registration, deeds, etc.
There is also a Black Walnut Creek in the northern section of Halifax County. George and Amelia in 1880 lived in the
Black Walnut District, south of the Dan River. The Black Walnut District covered a large area. It is not known exactly
where George and Amelia lived in the district. Within in the district was much of the land that was own by George’s
ancestors, including his father, so it is not surprising to find George and Amelia south of the Dan early in their lives
Apparently living near George and Amelia in 1880 was Amelia’s mother - Elizabeth Crawley, and members of her
household. George and Elizabeth are adjacent in the census records, which usually met geographical proximity in
censuses of that period.
In 1900, George and Amelia lived in the Staunton District of Halifax County. At home also were: Russell, age 15;
Richard, age 10; Georgia, age 8; Alice, age 5; and William Bryan, age 3. George lists his occupation as doctor of
medicine. Russell and Richard are shown as farm laborers. The 1900 census indicates that Amelia had 11 children
with 7 still living. Besides Russell, Richard, Georgia, Alice and William, who are still at home, Fannie (the oldest) and
Melvin Crider (one of my grandfathers) are still living in 1900, accounting for the seven. By 1900, apparently Nannie
B. had died.
Sadie Catherine Torian, a daughter of George and Amelia, dies as an infant in 1903. She is buried at the Asbury
United Methodist Church on Route 676 in the northern section of Halifax. Also buried in the same graveyard near
where Sadie is buried is Francis (Fannie) and her husband Ernest Lee Womack, and two of Fannie and Ernest’s
children, who like Sadie, die as infants. Fannie and Ernest and the three children are buried in a Womack family
burial area of the church cemetery. This suggests that Fannie and Ernest lived in the area around Asbury Methodist
Church and were members. (Later documentation indicates that Fannie and Ernest lived in 1923 in Vernon Hill,
which is near Asbury Methodist Church.) From dates on the infant gravestones, it is interesting to note that both
Fannie, who was George and Amelia’s oldest child, and Amelia were pregnant at the same time. In 1903, Fannie
was 24 and Amelia, her mother, was 43. Since George and Amelia were living in the northern part of Halifax County
in 1900, they could have been living near Fannie and Ernest, around Asbury Methodist Church.
The Staunton District (a government-designated area, like Black Walnut) is in the northern part of Halifax County.
Why and when George and Amelia have moved to northern Halifax from the southern part is not known. George
between 1880 and 1888 earned a medical degree and begins a career as a physician.
The Directory of Deceased American Physicians 1804-1929 provides that George went to the Medical College of
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine (Hampden-Sidney College Medical department) in Richmond
and was licensed in 1881.
According to the University of Pennsylvania’s records, a Thomas Torian, from Halifax County, Virginia, graduated
from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1835. This Thomas Torian could have been Thomas Torian,
Jr., son of Thomas Torian, Sr., who was George’s grandfather, making Thomas Torian, Jr. George’s uncle (and
brother of Elijah, George’s father). Thomas Torian, Jr. was born around 1810 so graduating from medical school in
1835 would be a good fit for Thomas, Jr’s age. If the Thomas who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania
Medical School in 1835 was George’s uncle, this could have had an influence on George deciding to become a
doctor. Dr. Thomas Torian, Jr. eventually migrates to Louisiana.
The first reference to George being a doctor that I have been able to find is an 1888 South Boston newspaper
announcement that a Dr. George Torian visited his brother John T. Torian in Midway on October 2, 1888.
Therefore, George receives his medical training and his MD degree between 1880 and 1888.
By the end of the 19th century, medical practice was well on its way to being based on scientific principles, e.g.,
experimentation, observations, re-testing, reconciling results with what was well understood and accepted, and
sharing results in publications so that others could benefit. This must have been an exciting time for George to be
practicing medicine because of the advances that had been made and the many discoveries and understanding of
diseases and the human body that were frequently being made.
Much progress was made in medical practice between the beginning of the 19th century and the end. At the
beginning, the practice was based on blood-letting and other extractions from the body, attempting to remove the
incorrectly perceived causes of sickness from the body. This early 19th century practice was completely discredited
by the end of the 19th century as George was entering his medical practice.
By the middle of the century, confidence in the earlier 19 century concepts was rapidly dwindling. However, no
substantial scientific-based practices were yet being widely used. What filled the void was an increasing popularity in
what is described as quackery (faked medicines and other useless treatments) and homeopathy (emphasis on self
treatments such as using herbs and taking hot springs baths).
However, by the end of the century the void was being filled by the many discoveries made in the 19th century that
were revolutionizing the effectiveness of medical treatments and therefore the practice of medicine. These
discoveries included: recognition that germs are the cause of many diseases; the use of chemicals that provide
anesthesia; antiseptic compounds that greatly decrease the dangers of surgery and childbirth; the need for sanitation
practices in many routines of life; various instruments offering diagnostic measurements related to the human body,
such as the thermometer, the stethoscope, and the microscope; and a much-greater understanding of human
anatomy and physiology.
Another great change in medicine which certainly George experienced was in training and licensing of doctors. With
the formation of the American Medical Association in the middle of the century, medical training began to greatly
change. At the beginning of the century, training consisted mostly of one-on-one mentoring with a practitioner. By
the end of the century, several medical schools had opened with course and clinical training by well-qualified
teachers. Training now was for several years. Graduation was being required to get a license with the licensing
system now administered by states.
George's medical school - the Medical College of Virginia - got started in 1838 when Hampden-Sydney College
established a college medical department in Richmond. By 1860, the Medical College of Virginia was a state
institution and continues today as the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Medicine in Richmond.
Being a doctor in a rural area in the 1800s and early 1900s was probably very hard work, demanding long hours, with
lots of stress, disappointments, and frustrations, without adequate help, equipment, and medicines. Also, it is likely
that payments received were low, and possibly nonexistent at times. Such an occupation was probably a long way
from practicing medicine in the late 20th and 21st centuries. And, such an occupation could have taken a heavy toll
on one’s heath. This might explain George’s relatively young death at 69.
In 1910, George and Amelia were living in Campbell County. He was 54 and Amelia was 49. Still living at home
were: Georgie, age 17; Alice J., age 15; and William B., age 13.
Neither George nor Amelia are in the 1920 Virginia census. Both are still living; George dies in 1923 and Amelia dies
in 1937. Amelia is also not in the 1930 census. Also, no indication could be found in Campbell County tax records that
George and Amelia paid any real estate or personal property taxes in 1920 or 1921. This is surprising, since it would
be expected that George, as a physician, would have some taxes to pay.
Apparently, the reason George and Amelia are not listed separately in the 1920 census is because they are living with
one of their sons, Russell, and his family, in Richmond, Virginia.
According to 1920/1921 deeds found in Campbell County deed books, George acquires land next to the Hat Creek
Presbyterian Church parsonage. Hat Creek is about 5 miles north of Brookneal.
George died on December 14, 1923, living 69 years. George is buried in the graveyard behind the Sharon Methodist
Church in Naruna, near Brookneal, in Campbell County. He was in a private hospital in Lynchburg as the time of his
death, and a Dr. Don Preston Peters was associated with the hospital, according to George’s death certificate.
George’s death is recorded in a Campbell County Deed Book. In the Deed Book are listed the following children, with
ages and residences: Fannie E. Womack, age 46, Vernon Hill, Virginia; Melvin (my grandfather), age 40, Hampton,
Virginia; Richard, age 34, Ashville, North Carolina; James, age 39, Richmond, Virginia; Georgia E. Young, age 32,
Waynesboro, Virginia; Alice Wright, age 29, Smithfield, Virginia; and William B., age 26, Brookneal, Virginia.
An obituary appearing in the Lynchburg News wrote that George had a successful practice of medicine for many
years. He was sick for one week prior to his death, died of blood poisoning, and all his children were present at
A book called “Halifax Chronology”, found at the South Boston Library shows a photograph of George and Amelia,
early in their married life.
George and Amelia presumably were members of the Sharon Methodist Church in Naruna. Amelia is known to have
been a Methodist because after George dies she becomes a member of Hat Creek Presbyterian Church near
Brookneal, where her daughter Alice Wright Sublett was a member. Hat Creek Church records show that Amelia B
Torian becomes a member in 1926. The records show that she transfers her membership from a Methodist Episcopal
Church – South (not further identified). Her youngest son, William B, also became a member of Hat Creek at the
Elijah, George’s father, was listed as a member of Thomas Torian’s household in the 1850 census. Thomas Torian,
Sr. was Elijah’s father and Mary (Polly), a cousin of Thomas, was Elijah’s mother. It is not known what had happen in
1850 to Nancy Jennett, Elijah’s first wife, who he married in 1842, and his son, John T. with Nancy. John T. would
later be in Elijah’s household in 1860. Elijah married Sarah Francis (Fanny) Singleton in September 1852.
In 1860, Elijah, age 48, and Sarah Francis (Fanny) F. Torian, age 33, had living at home: John T, age 16, Elijah’s son
from his first marriage; George, (my great grandfather), age 5; and James, just born. There was a John F. Dickinson,
age 20, also living with the family and a male, age 14, not further identified than being a mulatto. Sarah (Fanny)
Singleton was Elijah’s second wife. Why John F. Dickinson and the 14-year old male are in the household is not
known. Elijah listed his occupation as farmer and had $4,000 in real estate and $9,630 in personal possessions (with
slaves probably accounting for a significant portion of this amount).
Sarah (Fanny) Singleton Torian, Elijah’s second wife, is the daughter of the Halifax County physician, Dr. James
Singleton, who, at age 60 in the 1850 census, lists a $10,000 real estate worth. Francis (who is the Frances that
Elijah marries) is age 20 and is living in the household. Other family members are Nancy, wife, age 45; (looks like)
Isis, age 18, female; Carolina, age 16, female; Nancy, age 14; Richard, age 12; Rebecca, age 10; William, age 8;
John, age 6; and Samuel, age 3. The only other Singleton in the Halifax County census in 1850 is James Jr., age 30,
James Sr.'s son, who also is a physician. A deed in 1855, which is difficult to read as to its purpose, does identify
that Sarah Torian, wife of Elijah Torian, is the daughter of James Singleton.
James Singleton married Nancy Adkinson on May 11, 1825 in Halifax County. John Adkinson, probably Nancy’s
father, was bondsman on the marriage record. Nancy was Sarah (Fanny) Singleton Torian’s mother. Nancy was not
James first wife. In October 1809, he married Martha W. Ragland in Halifax County.
In a deed dated October 15, 1868, Elijah declares bankruptcy. Such a bankruptcy declaration would seem to be an
almost foregone conclusion. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, the agricultural economy in the south was in
shambles. The most important resource, upon which the economy depended, African Americans, disappeared, as it
had been known and used prior to 1861. This alone, regardless of other factors, such as the social turmoil, the huge
losses of younger whites, and the infrastructure destruction caused by the war, would be devastating enough.
Before 1861, agricultural productivity in the south was dependent upon African Americans and the slave system. And
the lost of this system, no doubt, met doom for many farmers in the south. New ways of existing now had to be
devised, but unfortunately for many, like Elijah Torian, these new ways would be too far in the future to be of much
help to them.
Prior to this bankruptcy declaration, Elijah grants to his son, John T., 70 acres of land along the Dan River on its
south bank. This grant is in return for debt Elijah owed John T. This would be a good strategy, granting the land to
his son in return of the forgiveness of debt, to avoid debtors taking possession of the land. It is a strategy that would
be used by other ancestors. Was it legal? Today’s bankruptcy laws would cast doubt on the appropriateness of
During this period (in the 1860s, a period of financial distress for Elijah and Sarah), Sarah’s mother, who is now
Nancy Singleton (looks like) Pliff (James Singleton has apparently died, and his wife Nancy has remarried), files suit
against Elijah to recover 725 acres. Perhaps, this is another example of a strategy to protect property from debtors.
By 1870, Elijah apparently has lost most everything.
Elijah and Sarah were benefactors of sorts. Deeds in 1851 and 1855 granted land from Elijah (and Sarah in case of
the second deed) to a group that was establishing a Methodist Episcopal Church – South in Halifax County. The
1851 deed mentions Virgilina as a location of the land, along Torian Ferry Road. The land was granted for a small
consideration; for example, the 1851 deed indicates $6. Whether this benefaction means that Elijah and Sarah were
part of the founding group, and would attend this Methodist Episcopal Church – South, is not known. However, it is
known that George, Elijah’s son, was affiliated with the Sharon Methodist Church in Naruna, Campbell County, as an
adult. This suggests that George might have been brought up a Methodist, so it makes sense that Elijah and Sarah
might have become members of the Mount Cannon Methodist Church that they helped start with a donation of land.
The name Methodist Episcopal Church – South is no longer used in connection with Methodist churches. However, it
was a name used in Virginia, and maybe elsewhere, during the middle 1800s, for Methodist-affiliated churches.
South was added to the name prior to the Civil War to differentiae the southern Methodist churches from the northern
Methodist churches. Today, many Americans of African origin attend a denomination known as the African Methodist
Episcopal (AME) Church. What relationship today's AME church had with the then Methodist Episcopal Church –
South is not known. Since the Civil War, Methodist churches, separately affiliated before the Civil War, have joined
together to become the United Methodist Church.
On the land sold to the church group by Elijah and Sarah, a building was built, and the Mount Cana Methodist
Episcopal Church – South was established. Mount Cana United Methodist Church is still on the same site. A new
building was completed there in 1964, the third constructed on the site since 1851. Mount Cana United Methodist
Church is located on modern-day Route 58, near the community of Omega, a few miles east of South Boston.
Elijah Torian is not in the 1870 census; possible he is dead by 1870 or is living in someone else’s household. But
also, no Sarah Francis (Fanny) Torian appears in the 1870 or 1880 censuses. George, my great grandfather, would
be 15 and James, his younger brother, 10, in 1870. What has happened to Fanny, George, and James in the 1870
census and when and how Elijah died and where he is buried is not known. Sarah will appear in deeds in the late
1800s related to her selling land, with George, James, and John T. Torian.
According to James, a son of Elijah, Elijah dies in 1871, when James was 12.
John T. Torian, George’s older step-brother, mustered into Capt Wright’s Company, Virginia Heavy Artillery (Halifax
Artillery), in March 1862 for a three-year enlistment, as a private. In the fall of 1864, he would spend about forty days
at Richmond’s Civil War Chimborazo Hospital. Why he was there is not known.
In June 1867, John T., age 24 or 25, marries Rebecca Singleton, age 24, who is the younger sister of Francis
Singleton Torian, John T.’s stepmother.
John T. and Rebecca and their family will continue to live in the Midway-Virgilina area of Halifax County, presumably
where Elijah, John T.’s father owned land and farmed. This area is in the southern part of Halifax County, south of
the Dan River. John T. apparently owned and operated, perhaps with partners, a store, or stores, in the area. John
T. eventually participates in the founding of the Citizen’s Bank and Trust Co. in 1918 in Halifax County. He would be
its first president. John T. also served as an early mayor of Virgilina, after its incorporation in 1900. John T’s son,
Samuel M. Torian, Sr., would become a trustee of the Halifax County School Board for nineteen years. Prior to this,
he was on the first town council of the town of Virgilina, elected in 1900. Samuel would also own, with Arthur Tuck,
the Torian-Tuck General Merchandising Store in Virgilina, which stayed in business until around 1950, when it
burned to the ground along with many other Virgilina downtown businesses in a huge fire that destroyed much of the
downtown area. This store sold groceries, hardware, and agricultural products, among other things.
John T., and his son, Samuel, and families were Baptists. John T. was associated with the North Fork, Grace, and
Florence Avenue Baptist Churches during various times in his life, often serving in official capacities. These churches
are Virgilina-area churches.
John T. was elected as a delegate to the Lynchburg Convention, presumably a political party convention. John T.
was also a member of the Halifax County Executive Committee of the Democratic Party. And, John served as mayor
of Virgilina for several years.
In 1888, a Halifax County newspaper had an announcement that Dr. George Torian and James Torian visited their
brother John T. Torian in Midway, where John T. lived. George was 34, James E. was 29, and John T. was 44 at
A 1920 obituary in the Lynchburg News wrote that John T. Torian died suddenly at his home on Florence Avenue. in
Virgilina at age 76. He left a widow of 53 years, two sons, and three grandchildren.
George’s younger brother, James, just born at the time of the 1860 census, is likely the James E. Torian in the Halifax
1900 census. This James has a son, Francis, age 2. James E. lists his occupation as machinist.
The 1880 Halifax County census shows a James E. Torian living in the Red Bank District with Turbeville as the Post
In 1910, George’s younger brother James E., age 49, and his wife, Mary, age 36, were living in Halifax County. John,
Courtney, Pauline, and James were also in the household.
James Elijah Torian died in 1916, living 57 years. James E. is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in South Boston,
Halifax County. Buried with James is his wife Mary Bell Chambers Torian, who died in 1934. James and Mary lived
on Wilborn Avenue in South Boston for many years. Also buried in Oak Ridge are two of James and Mary’s children,
Pauline (Pauline Torian Hodnett) and James B. Torian. Other children were John Chambers Torian, Courtney
Maxwell Torian, Francis C. Torian, and Glenn S. Torian.
A 1916 obituary in the Lynchburg News wrote that James died after a lingering illness while at home on Wilborn
Avenue in South Boston. He worked at the post office where he was very popular. He was survived by his widow,
five children, and two brothers. The service was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in South Boston.
In 1850, Thomas Torian, Sr., age 77, Elijah’s father, was listed as a planter in the census with $3,500 in real estate.
Thomas has also in his household in 1850: Mary A. Torian, a daughter, age 21; Elijah Torian, son, age 38; Joseph
T., son, age 19; and Leonard B., son, age 18. Thomas was in the Halifax County Virginia census as early as 1820.
Thomas was one of Andrew and Sally (Sarah) Comer Torian’s sons. Andrew also had: Scare; Peter; Andrew M.; and
Nathaniel. Andrew was a son of Scher (also seen as Scare), the original Virginia settler from whom the name Torian
comes. (More on this later.) Andrew also had daughters Sally, Polly, Betsy, and Nancy.
According to a Puryear family bible (Mrs. J.H. Puryear was a great granddaughter of Thomas Torian), Thomas Torian
married three times. His first marriage, in the 1790s (Thomas was born on December 18, 1773, according to the
bible) was to Polly Torian and they had: Peter (1793); Thomas, Jr. (1810); Elijah (1812) (one of my great, great
grandfathers); and Nancy (1813).
Polly, who also went by Mary, was also a Torian, the daughter of Peter Torian, another son of Scher Torian, the
original Torian settler in America. This made Thomas and Polly cousins. Although Thomas and Polly have the same
grandfather (Scher Torian), they may have had different grandmothers. Scher was married twice, as is explained
Data shows that marriages between cousins were not infrequent in the American colonies, and in America, going into
the 19th Century. In some parts of the world, such as countries in the Middle East and south Asia, cousin-to-cousin
marriages have been, and continue to be, relatively frequent. In the United States, since the 19th Century, cousin-to-
cousin marriage rates seem to have been in great decline, compared to earlier times. In fact, now more than half of
the states prohibit, or limit, cousin-to-cousin marriages. Survey data in the 20th Century, and beyond, do show an
increased risk for birth defects for children of cousin-to-cousin marriages, from 3 to 4 % for non-cousin marriages to 4
to 7 % for cousin marriages.
An excellent book that discusses cousin-to-cousin marriages including estimated numbers of such marriages, in both
the south and north, is “Southern Honor – Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown.
Thomas’s second marriage was to Elizabeth M. Baker in 1818, and one child, E.M.B, was born in 1819. Then,
Thomas married Elisabeth’s sister, Margaret D. Baker, in 1822. They had: Sary Ann Margaret (1824); Elmira
Thomas; Mary Ann (1828); Joseph T. (1830); and Leonard B. (1833). The bible’s records Thomas death as being in
One of Thomas’s daughters, Frances Elizabeth Torian, who he had with his second wife Elizabeth, marries Sidney
Lea. Sidney Lea was the first president of Greensboro College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Thomas is living
with Sidney and Frances, in Carswell County, North Carolina when he dies in 1862 at age 88.
Andrew, Thomas Torian, Sr’s father, left land on the north side of the Dan River to Thomas and Scare, the upper half
going to Scare and the lower half to Thomas. Land on the south side of the Dan, belonging to Andrew, was given to
Peter and Nathaniel, his other two sons, with the upper half going to Peter and the lower half going to Nathaniel. It is
not clear what upper and lower refers to, but it may refer to the flow of the river.
The land that Andrew Torian leaves to his sons apparently lies along the Dan River from where documentation shows
a Torian’s Mill, close to the point on the Dan River where modern day Route 360 crosses the Dan, to at least where
Hyco River flows into the Dan. Documentation also shows that near the juncture of the Hyco and the Dan a ferry was
operated that was called Torian’s Ferry. Local mapping of the Dan and other Halifax County rivers, using mileages
to designate points along the rivers, indicate that Torian’s Mill was at mile point 19.9 and that Torian’s Ferry was at
mile point 12.6, 7.3 miles. So, possibly, assuming that the Torian land extended a mile either side of the Dan (Andrew
left land on both sides of the Dan), the Torian land could have covered 14.6 square miles (7.3 miles times 2 miles), or
Ferries were needed for successful road travel in Virginia’s past. Reportedly, ferries have been in operation in
Virginia since the 1640s. By 1786, around 140 ferries were operating. In the 1700s, and probably earlier, as with
roads, local residents were given, or granted, responsibility for operating ferries by county governments. Ferry
operators were allowed to charge a fee to users, so ferry operations could be a profit-generating activity. Grantees
were selected, probably among other reasons, because they own the land where the roads came to the river needing
crossing. Successful ferry operations would seem to be no small task, but one requiring unique skills and
manpower. As in other “big functions”, such as roads and education, the state would eventually take over control of
owning and operating ferries, when they were still needed. With time, of course, fewer ferries would be
needed/justified, as bridge building increased. However, ferries would continue to operate, where even today (2013),
the state of Virginia reportedly operates seven ferries.
Ferries would often result in settlements (small communities), with the communities prospering and becoming larger
and larger. Initially, perhaps, at the ferry crossing, a tavern (inn) and/or a store, and other services would be
established, from which economic development came along with population growth. South Boston, in Halifax County,
and Lynchburg, adjacent to Amherst and Campbell Counties, are two examples of present-day Virginia cities that had
their beginnings as ferry crossings (at South Boston, a crossing of the Dan River and at Lynchburg, a crossing of the
The reference to Torian’s Ferry in an earlier paragraph infers that a Torian's Ferry was established at least by the
early 1800s. For example, the paragraph above indicates that Torian’s Ferry was in existence at the time of Andrew's
death (will) (Andrew being one of the original Scher Torian’s sons, born sometime after Scher’s arrival in Virginia
around 1740). So, assuming that Andrew lived 60 or more years, this suggests that at the time of his death (early
1800s), Torian’s Ferry existed. In the 1700s, as mentioned above, the operation of ferries was granted to citizens by
the county government. (Also, in the 1700s, local area individuals were assigned responsibilities for road
maintenance.) Records exist (referred to as Pleas Books in at least some counties) identifying grantees,
assignments, and other information related to roads and ferries. As inferred in the above information, Torian’s Ferry
crossed the Dan River about 7 miles from present day South Boston (down river; east, southeast). At this point, the
Dan River is about 200 to 300 feet wide, a not insignificant distance. Although present day South Boston grew from a
ferry crossing (Boyd’s Ferry), no community, of any size, developed from Torian’s Ferry.
Besides Elijah, Joseph, and Leonard, Thomas had at least one other son, Thomas, Jr. Several Halifax County deeds
in the 1840s mention Thomas Torian, Jr. Thomas Torian, Jr. appears in the 1840 census, age between 20 and 30,
with a wife, age between 15 and 20, and three small children. Earlier, at the start of this George Torian section, a
Thomas Torian was identified as attending the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School and then eventually
migrating to Louisiana.
Leonard Baker Torian, Elijah’s half brother, appears in the 1860 census as age 27, married, with $8,250 of real estate
and $115.25 personal property value. He is married to Martha R., age 20, and they have a daughter named Francis
E., age ½ year. Joseph is not in the 1860 Halifax County census. By 1860, Joseph has died.
During the civil war, Leonard B. Torian serves in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry, Company C, and in Capt William H. Easly’s
Company of Cavalry, the Black Walnut Dragoons. As indicated earlier, Black Walnut is an area of southern Halifax
County. According to records, Leonard enters service on June 30, 1861. In February 1862, he dies of pneumonia at
Lebanon Creek, according to records. However, this record conflicts with the finding that there is a Leonard B.
Torian in the 1870 Halifax Census. An explanation for this conflict has not been found. The most likely explanation is
that the civil war record, which would be less reliable than the 1870 census data, is wrong, or misleading.
The 3rd Virginia Cavalry, Company C, the Black Walnut Dragoons, appears in documentation as a “special” unit,
having a reputation for showmanship and for attracting a lot of attention.
In addition to Leonard B. Torian being in the Black Walnut Dragoons, other members that had a known, or possible,
association with George and Amelia were: Jacob Blane Jr; A.B. Crawley; A.A. Crawley; and R.A. Singleton.
In 1857, Joseph T. Torian, one of Thomas’s two younger sons writes a will. Elijah Torian is a witness to his half
brother’s will. Although the will is not very extensive, one memorable request made by Joseph is that his “old father”
be taken care of. Thomas, Joseph’s father, would be 84 in 1857, and from Joseph’s will, is still alive. Thomas is not
in the Halifax 1860 Census. Records indicate that Joseph was rejected for entry as a Confederate soldier because of
mental deficiencies. Joseph dies in 1857, age 27.
Thomas Torian, Sr., as indicated by deeds associated with him in the 1840s, had very complex business affairs. We
know that he inherited from his father, Andrew, land along the Dan River in Halifax. Did he add to this land with his
own purchases? Thomas is the grandson of the first Torian settler (Scher Torian) in the Halifax County area. How
did Andrew acquire the land that he passed on to Thomas? Did Scher own the land originally? Perhaps this land
came through the Virginia land grant system, with Scher being the original owner (after the Virginia colony), and with
Scher laying claims to the land as part of the land grant system. No confirmation can be found that Scher (or any
Torian) acquired land through the land grant system. Another possible source is the land that William Byrd acquired
as payment for his service in surveying the area in the early 1700s. William Byrd did “recruit” settlers from Europe to
settle this land, and perhaps Scher Torian acquired the land from William Byrd. (More about the role William Byrd
played in bringing settlers to Virginia is presented below.) Whatever the source, Thomas did, at various times during
his life, owned a lot of land, and apparently, despite the land or because of it, got into serious debt and financial
Late 1840 deeds indicate that Thomas had several debtors, including the Farmers Bank in Lynchburg and such
companies as Carpenter & Crump and Brooks & Hudson in Richmond. During this period, Thomas is selling off
hundreds of acres (acre prices in Halifax County at the time ranged from $2 to $3 an acre to as much as $10 an
acre). Thomas is probably selling this land to raise cash to pay debts.
Eventually, in March 1847, Thomas files a deed, which appears to be, in essence, a statement of bankruptcy, and
turns over his assets to a trustee, whose purpose will be to sell off Thomas’s assets to satisfy Thomas’s debts.
Assets listed in the deed included: slaves; 20,000 pounds of tobacco (price per pound not known); a mill; a ferry
operation on the Dan River; 111 cattle; and hundreds and hundreds of acres of land. The total acreage is difficult to
determine because of the un-clarity of the listings – track of lands was listed separately, and numbers given are not
always clear. The total seems to be between 2,000 and 5,000 acres. Also listed are interests in several estates, for
example, the (looks like) Chandless estate. It is not clear what this “interest” would be. Thomas’s land lies along the
Dan River; the ferry that he owns runs across the Dan River, and the mill is on Grassy Creek that flows into the Dan
River. A canal was built along the Creek. Some of the land that is sold by Thomas, through his bankruptcy trustee, is
purchased by Elijah, Thomas’s son.
It is not clear how Thomas gets into this financial difficulty. One situation possibly causing Thomas’s problems was a
severe drop in the price of tobacco in the 1840s. Also, farming then required large amounts of capital, for example, to
purchase slaves that were critical at that time to farming operations. (Farming still requires large amount of capital,
but rather than slaves, who then served the purpose of people machinery, now the required capital is for the
purchase of metal machinery.) Thomas probably had to borrow heavily to finance his farming, mill and ferry
operations. He probably expected and required future cash flows, which did not meet expectations and needs.
Therefore, he was not able to repay his debts. Whether cash flow deficiencies were due to macro-economic events
that Thomas would have difficulty predicting, for example, a depression, a major drop in farm prices, and an
unexpected rise in farm operational costs; or whether Thomas’s financial difficulties were more due to Thomas’s poor
planning, knowledge, and execution would be interesting to know.
This phenomenon of landowners taking on debt in order to develop and use their land as a source of income, only to
find the debt always exceeding the potential income of the land, is one that was repeated over and over during the
1800s. It was common in business then, as it is continuing to be common in business today.
Both terms, planter and farmer, are found as occupations in the Virginia 1850s and 1860s censuses. It is not clear
whether there is an economic/social distinction with the use of these terms, e.g. planter might have implied a higher
status, i.e. a plantation-like operation; a farmer implying a smaller scale, less slave-intense operation. Thomas was
listed as a planter in 1850. Elijah is listed as a farmer in the 1860 census. Information presented in this section does
suggest that Thomas had greater agricultural operations and economic value, before his bankruptcy, than Elijah.
Historical research has been done by others that show that a Schertorio de Turriani was baptized in 1695 in Soglio,
located in what was at the time an independent republic called Grisons (Romansh language). (In German, it is called
Graubünden.). Grisons is now the largest, most easterly Canton of Switzerland. The Soglio area is right on the
border between Switzerland and Italy, in the Alps. A marriage record shows that Schertorio de Turriani married Luna
Gianoli in 1722. Birth and baptism records indicate that Schertorio and Luna's children born in Grisons included:
Petrus; Anna; Maria; and Luna. It is very likely that Schertorio and his family spoke Romansh, since Grisons was
predominantly Romansh speaking at that time.
In 1740, entries were made in the Brunswick County, Virginia deed book that identified a Schertorio de Toriano. Later
county records in Virginia clearly indicate that Schertorio de Toriano becomes Scher Torian, and that Scher Torian
has children named Peter, Andrew, Scare (also Scher), and Mary.
A reasonable conclusion is that the Grisons’ Schertorio de Turriani and the Virginia’s Schertorio de Toriano are the
same person include the following arguments:
1. Good documentation shows that the present-day Switzerland area of Europe was an area where Virginians
(such as William Byrd II) were active in recruiting settlers to Virginia, in the late 1730s, and that some were recruited
and went to southern Virginia;
2. Research has been unable to identify any documentation in Switzerland related to Schertorio de Turriani after
3. The names of known Schertorio de Turriani children born in Grisons is a good fit for Schertorio de Toriano's
children in Virginia;
4. The very close similarities of the names Schertorio de Turriani and Schertorio de Toriano.
However, there are some gaps. What happen to Schertorio de Turriani’s wife Luna, and children Anna and Luna,
assuming Schertorio de Turriani’s children Petrus and Maria are Schertorio de Toriano’s children Peter and Mary?
Luna and the other children of Schertorio de Turriani are not mentioned in Virginia documentation examined and
Schertorio de Torian is apparently married to an Anne when he dies in 1748. Also, where do Schertorio de Toriano’s
children Andrew and Scher come from, since they do not match any Schertorio de Turriani children documented in
One explanation for some of the gaps might be in the fate of the sailing ship Oliver. Documentation exists about the
fate of this ship. It is known that it carried many settlers from the area now known as Switzerland, that it traveled in
1738, and that the Virginian recruiting these settlers (William Byrd II) wanted to place them in southern Virginia, in the
area where Schertorio de Toriano is documented to be in 1740. Furthermore, and unfortunately, many of the
passengers on the Oliver were lost due to various reasons, and that only about a third of the passengers starting the
trip are believed to have survived. If Schertorio de Turriani and his family were aboard the Oliver, this could account
for the disappearance of Luna and the missing children.
William Byrd II, who lived on a plantation on the James River in Charles City County, Virginia, close to Richmond, left
a legacy as a successful surveyor and writer. With respect to surveying, he apparently was the first to extensively
survey along what was the estimated Virginia – North Carolina border, likely resulting in establishing exactly where
the border would be. This border is more than 200 miles, so that such a surveying project was not a small
undertaking. He wrote much that survives, including a diary and accounts of his surveying. The diary is apparently
considered very highly with respect to its writing level and revelations of social and other aspects of life in early-to-mid
1700s Virginia. Byrd lived from 1674 to 1744.
Besides being a plantation owner, surveyor, and writer, Byrd was what I would consider an ambitious 18th century
entrepreneur with a unique, ambitious business vision, which was the settlement of a large tract of land (about
100,000 acres) in south-central Virginia by European settlers. He was able to gain title to these 100,000 acres from
the Virginia (English) authorities on the condition that he would recruit and settle at least 100 European families on
the 100,000 acres (1,000 acres per family).
As the surveyor of the Virginia - North Carolina border, he would know well attributes of the land granted him,
experience that would serve him well as a land-settling entrepreneur. But, he also demonstrated other useful skills,
such as marketing and collaborating with individuals in Europe, needed for recruiting the 100 families. A pamphlet
remains that he produced, written in German, which presents what would be described today as an elaborate
marketing product, in that greatly exaggerated are the virtues of the land offered (and in some cases outright falsely
presenting the virtues). The pamphlet's title is “Land of Eden”, a title that professional marketers today could not
Byrd also showed some persistence in his entrepreneurial efforts in that in the first recruitment attempt in 1736 there
was failure to find sufficient families willing to sign on to the Virginia immigration. The geographical-focus of this
recruitment was the area of what would be today Switzerland, then separately-administered areas. Byrd’s European
collaborating associates lived in Bern (in today's Switzerland). The second recruitment effort in 1738 was successful
(apparently at least a hundred families signed up for the move) and the ship Oliver (referred to above) was contracted
to bring the families to Virginia. (The Oliver had made at least one previous trip to America in 1735.)
The “Swiss” families would be joined on the voyage by a smaller contingent of German families. As speculated
above that economics might have been the primary motivation for going to America, although perhaps partially true,
apparently this is not the full story. Records suggest that some local dislike of Anabaptists existed, of which families
recruited may have been, and this could have also been a factor for encouraging the migration to Virginia.
Unfortunately, for the families recruited, and were aboard the Oliver, disaster struck the trip, as described above,
when the Oliver floundered along the Lynnhaven, Virginia coastline (close to today’s City of Virginia Beach). Very
rough waters and extreme cold lead to a shipwreck right off the coast. The tragedy resulted in the deaths of about
200 of the 300 passengers aboard the Oliver.
Apparently, after this tragic shipwreck and the lost or life, no further attempts would be made by Byrd to meet the
conditions of his contract and fully settle 100 families on the land he was granted. Byrd dies in 1744, not long after
the shipwreck, which was in January 1739.
No known passenger lists remain from the 1738 Oliver voyage, so no certain statement can be made that Schertorio
de Toriano and his family was aboard the Oliver. However, it is known that a Carlo Toriano was aboard and
survived, because there is a record remaining of an inquiry of the wreck, in the Netherlands (the voyage’s origin). A
Carlo Toriano gives testimony about his experiences as a passenger. The name Toriano suggests a relationship to
Schertorio de Toriano, including that they possibly were traveling together on the Oliver. Apparently, Caro Toriano
decides to return to Europe after the wreck. Carlo Torian’s presence on the Oliver is another of the several
circumstantial evidences, provided above, that suggest that Schertorio de Toriano and his family were aboard the
If Luna was lost at sea, this would explain why Schertorio de Toriano (assuming he is Schertorio de Turriani)
apparently has a wife, name Anne, at the time of his death, having married a second time, after arriving in Virginia. It
could also explain why no documentation has been found in Switzerland on Andrew and Scare, children of Schertorio
de Toriano (Schertorio de Turriani) – they were born in Virginia. (However, the possibility remains that they were
born in Grisons, and just no documentation about their births have been found.)
Why did Schertorio de Turriani come to Virginia, assuming that he is Schertorio de Toriano? What is known about
the 1730s settlers from the area around present day Switzerland, and the history of that area at that time, suggests
that the reasons for coming to Virginia probably had more to do with economic reasons than religious or political
reasons. Religious persecution and freedom probably was not a common problem in Grisons. (In the 1730s, the area
would be Protestant.) However, economic development could very well have been a problem due to the area being in
the Alps, with limited available land.
Scher Torian’s sons, Peter and Andrew, each had six children who grew to adulthood and married. Thousands
descended from these 12 children, with many living today with the Torian name. A Torian family history (The Torian
Family History), compiled and written by Marian Brune McCreary and published in 2010, covers each of these 12
children and their offspring.
Many Torians eventually became farmers, and then, other occupations in Halifax County. Some of these Torians, in
the late 1700s and 1800s, migrated to Kentucky, and further points west, such as Texas. Today most Caucasian
Torians in America, more likely than not, descend from Schertorio de Toriano, first appearing in a 1740 Brunswick
County, Virginia deed book.
Some, maybe many, of the Torians of Halifax County (and in Kentucky and elsewhere) eventually became slave
owners and, after the emancipation of these slaves, many of the Torian slaves took on the Torian name, so that today
there are many African American Torians. In 1880, there were more African American Torians living in Halifax County
then European American Torians.
The evolution of the surname Toriano to become Torian reflects a common occurrence with early Americans in their
surnames. Toriano did not become consistently Torian right away. Along the way, into the early to middle 1800s,
such spellings as Toryan, Toryann, and Torean are found. Crawley (see the next section) is another example.
Initially, Crawley was spelled Cralle.
Today, Turriani is a common surname in Switzerland and Italy. I wonder who of these Europeans are off springs from
the relatives of Schertorio de Turriani, and how many of them know that there are Torians in the United States who