“Thy Will Be Done” – Chapter 3 Henry Bedinger & Alec Boteler – The Creative Congressmen by Jim Surkamp

1838 words

TRT: 18:15 Video link: https://youtu.be/A89dZ0mztWk

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With support from American Public University System (apus.edu). (The sentiments in this production do not in any way reflect modern-day policies of APUS).


Alexander “Alec” Boteler who had inherited Fountain Rock, married Helen Stockton and they had Helen (“Tippie”), Charlotte (“Lottie”), Elizabeth (“Lizzie”), and Alec Junior.

Preceding Boteler as the area’s Congressman in Washington, was Henry Bedinger who met Caroline (“Carrie”) Lawrence, the daughter of a fellow Congressmen who, only after he found the forces of love unstoppable, consented to the pact. Before the Bedingers accepted the honorable adventure of setting sail for Denmark and Bedinger being our first ambassador there for most of the 1850s, the two young fathers and husbands were friends, both young lawyers with families. Each also had a strong penchant for art – for Henry poetry, for Alec drawing and painting. – (1).

Alec’s love of drawing and art is not surprising given he was the great-grandson on his mother’s side to Charles Willson Peale, the leading portrait painter in early America, who painted General Washington.

Boteler himself would write:
Drawing is my great delight. If I could have my way. I would have been an artist. But my father threatened to whip me if he ever saw me painting anything. I was descended from a family of painters and my father wanted me to stick to something more material. When my house was burned down during the war it contained some excellent specimens of the Peales, which were heirlooms there. Among other paintings was one representing the artist, to whom my great-grandmother’s picture is being shown on the easel by my grandmother, while she also seeks to steal away the painter’s brush.

While a student at Princeton Boteler’s passion for drawing surfaced in fantastic irrepressible ways.

His daughter, Tippie Boteler much later wrote:

While his future wife was en route to Princeton in a carriage she heard of this Alec Boteler. The story she heard of her (future) husband was that he had thrown a farmer into the water to copy his expression of terror and that the man accidentally drowned; and the young student never recovering from his remorse, had become a gloomy, morose and changed man!

One afternoon soon after his arrival at college, in passing a large brick house, he noticed outlined against the window the profile of a beautiful girl who was evidently intent upon reading. He quickly drew out his pencil and sketchbook and made rapid outlines. On getting back to the college, he finished it and showed it to a fellow student in triumph as the prettiest girl he had ever seen. “Why, that is Miss Helen Stockton!” exclaimed his friend, who was A. S. Dandridge, who lived in Jefferson County and would own the Bower. “If you think she is up to your standard, I’ll take you to see her tomorrow night!”

But Alec Boteler’s meeting Helen Stockton inspired him out of the gloom his absurd behavior had wrought.

Once married and with responsibilities settling on their dreamy shoulders, Alec would love getting together with his creative friend and forever treasure their times together with the wives and children elsewhere.

Henry Bedinger was home at his ancestral home at Bedford nearby and just outside Shepherdstown around 1851 when he tossed off a limerick to his neighbor over the hill at Fountain Rock. The invitation, inspired by his recent readings of Robert Burns, went:

My wife’s awa;’ my wife’s awa’,
Na mair she can me tease;
She’s gan til her father an’ mither an’ a’,
And I can do as I please.

So if you’re in for a night of joy,
And gin grat fun ye wad see,
Just don your plaidie my merry boy,
And o’er the meadow to me.

A wee bit room in eastern wing,
A ceiling so love and snug,
A cheerfu’ bleeze in the chimney neuk
And ablains a bit of a jug.

A bit of jug wi’ the barley bree,
A jest and merry sang,
And twa, thra friends what helping me
To push the hours along.

The wind may roar an’ the rain may fa’,
My wife’s awa’, my wife’s awa’;
Na mair she can me tease,
She’s gan til her father an’ mither an’ a’,
An’ we can do as we please.

After serving in Congress for four years, Henry Bedinger left with his family for Denmark. Boteler, a self-admitted novice at business who pleaded with his uncle to not be given the responsibility of running his father’s prosperous cement mill along the river upon his father’s death, had a costly miscalculation. In 1852, a business calamity overtook Alexander Boteler in the failure of Willoughby R. Webb, a merchant of Shepherdstown, who built his woolen mill on the site of today’s Blue Moon Cafe with thirty employees and upon whose notes he had placed his name because of his friendship for Mr. Webb. He was thus called upon to pay nearly twenty thousand dollars, a large part of it his wife’s money, her father having left her considerable property. – (2).

That woe may have propelled him into the field of elected office with a steady salary, serving in Bedinger’s old Congressional seat from early 1859 until just before war broke out. In 1856, Congress had voted its first annual salary of $3,000.

Artist/Congressman Boteler created a cartoon of Charles Harper’s home and apothecary shop, still looking much the same adjacent on the eastern side of McMurran Hall on German Street. Sensing dark times ahead, Boteler added as its caption, the ominous words from Shakespeare’s Henry VI: “Heavy looks foretell some dreadful story hanging on thy tongue.” – (3).

In November, 1858, Ambassador Henry Bedinger finally returned home to Carrie and their three children who came back from Denmark two years earlier. Carrie disliked the card-playing of even the Episcopalian priest in Denmark. Henry was a favorite to King Frederick VII and many a late evening an excessively homely and sensitive man would materialize from the shadows looking for Henry for a chess game: Hans Christian Anderson, the famed children’s writer.

Carrie and the children marveled that the widespread Christmas custom they brought back from Europe – a decorated tree – was a completely new notion both in Long Island and Shepherdstown. The custom “caught on” in Europe when Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had one.

Fighting his homesickness, Henry wrote a long Shepherdstown-smitten poem to John Boroff, a blacksmith with a shop at the Washington and Princess Street intersection:

“To My Good Old Friend, Mr. John Boroff, of Shepherdstown, Virginia by the Exile.

I am walking on a Sandy Shore, hard by the Sound Sea,
And, to save me, John, I cannot tell why I should think of thee.
And yet, throughout this lengthened day, thy friendly face will come
To fill my soul with memories of happier hours and HOME.

Go where I will, do what I may, I cannot fail to hear
The roaring of thy furnace and thy hammer ringing clear.
What art thou forging now, John, that echoes such as those
Should cross the broad Atlantic from the thunder of thy blows?

My mind has run away, John, and all that I can do
Cannot coax it to come back again from Shepherdstown and you.
It is playing with those marbles, it is spinning the same top.
That often in your absence, John, I’ve spun within your shop.

Does the coulter of the plowman demand the glowing fire,
Or do thy sturdy strokes descend upon the wagon’s tire?
Art thou forming for the woodman’s axe an edge of perfect proof?
Or striking from the solid anvil strong shoes for horse’s hoof?

I know not and I cannot guess, but this I say to thee,
I would give a very pretty gift could I be there to see.
For I must confess the honest truth – my mind has run away
As limber legged Bill Russell did from you one sunny day.

It is wrestling with your prentice boy and tripping up his heels,
And shouting with a merry shout to find how cheap he feels.
It is moulding bullets at your forge, and yet with watchful eyes.
Lest your too sudden entrance should take it by surprise.

And when, with ears all wide awake, it hears your heavy stride.
Although the door is much too near, the window opens wide,
And with a bound away it goes, still leaving you to guess
What evil spirit could have left your tools in such a mess.

Homecoming, then tragedy:

In November, 1858, Henry Bedinger had indeed come home to Shepherdstown and his family to great joy. His daughter, Mary, watched from a window from their home at the southwest corner of Princess and German Street. In the center of the street that November night in 1858 was a huge bonfire, and her father’s joyous speechifying face shone in the hot blaze making them cheer more and more. Then, eight-year-old Mary noticed the adults in their house had become silent, huddled. Their father came home and, a great blow – suddenly was “called home.” Pneumonia took him. And Carrie sold Henry’s share of his ancestral home of Bedford back to his sister, Henrietta and her husband Edmund Lee, (a first cousin of the general, Robert E. Lee). Carrie then used the money to build a new, more modest home near town Carrie named Poplar Grove.

Carrie purchased the farm from Daniel Morgan with a brick house in the middle of a grove of great oaks and poplars. She built an addition to the old house with woodwork of black walnut so common in those days, and there she took her young family just before the storm of the war between the states took over their land. – (4).

The Bedingers’ writing genes continued to create through Henry and Carrie’s children.

Henry’s gifted youngest daughter, Caroline Bedinger, nicknamed “Danske,” was already a prodigious writing talent and even shared editing preferences in her poems with Mr. Boteler. Danske’s daughter, Serena, wrote in later years:

The Bedinger children seemed to have taken to writing books as ducks like to water. They all complained that paper was too scarce and too “hard to write on,” but they utilized every scrap that came to them. Danske’s foil was poetry with a few romantic stories for good measure. Mary’s (nicknamed “Minnie:), I’m told, was fairy tales, with which she could enthrall her younger brother and sister.

Of little Danske it can be said “the ink was in the baby. she was born to write a book” and she was. It was not long out of the cradle before she began to wield her pen. As she presented a book of original poetry, “A Present” to Hon. A. R. Boteler with a note in the book saying that he must excuse the writing, as the paper was hard to write on, and compared to Shakespeare and Milton were not so good either – another note calls attention to the fact that the “thee”‘s and “thou”‘s are customarily used instead of “you”‘s in poetry, and apologizes for a few “you’s that had slipped in. – (5).


1. Mary Bedinger Mitchell, “Memories,” edited by Nina Mitchell. Shepherdstown, WV: Printed privately.

2. Helen Boteler Pendleton, “A Nineteenth Century Romantic” The Shepherdstown Register, December 21, 1933.

3. Boteler Collection, Duke University.

4. Mary Bedinger Mitchell, “Memories,” edited by Nina Mitchell. Shepherdstown, WV: Printed privately.

5. Serena K. Dandridge undated letter, Dandridge Collection, Duke University.

NEXT: Chapter 4. https://civilwarscholars.com/uncategorized/thy-will-be-done-chapter-4-the-war-storm-gathers-boteler-goes-for-the-southby-jim-surkamp/