By Jarred Marlowe
The area of Fieldale as we know it has existed since 1916 when Marshall Field & Company came in and bought a large amount of land in Henry County and established the Fieldcrest Mills factory. Along with the factory, they also built the Marshall Field & Company Clubhouse and the beautiful Virginia home which originally served as a boarding house for factory workers.
Few people are aware though that when Marshall Field & Company bought the land, there was already a community existing there. The community of Waller’s Ford had been thriving on the land near the Smith River for over a century before Fieldale even existed.
Waller’s Ford (also known as the Village of Waller) was named after Col. George Waller, a Revolutionary War patriot who settled the area with his family in the year 1760. Waller was married to Ann Winston Carr, a first cousin to the noted politician and later Henry County resident, Patrick Henry. The Wallers would have eight children while living at their home place near the Smith River. George Waller was a noted tobacco farmer and a local politician during the pre-Revolution times in which Henry County was still a part of Pittsylvania County (the split occurred in 1777).
In the early days of the American Revolution, Waller trained local militia on the Smith River floodplains behind his home. His militia group would go on to join Penn’s Regiment, led by local patriot Abram Penn. In 1781, Penn and Waller led a group of soldiers from Henry County towards present-day Greensboro, N.C., to support Gen. Edward Stevens against Lord Cornwallis in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. After this, Waller was promoted to the rank of colonel in the Virginia militia. Waller and his forces would be present with George Washington at the British surrender at Yorktown a few months later in October 1781.
Waller also helped establish the first local government of the newly formed Henry County. He, along with Penn, Edmund Lyne, and Peter Saunders were the first gentleman justices of Henry County. These gentlemen justices were locally appointed “men of good repute” who presided over the legal and administrative affairs of the county. Waller also served as an early sheriff of Henry County, alongside Robert Hairston, who established the first Hairston home in the area, Marrowbone.
Waller lived in the Waller’s Ford area until his death in 1814. He and his wife are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Martinsville.
Little else is known about Waller, but that may very well change soon. There are currently plans in the works to conduct an archaeological dig at Waller’s homeplace in Fieldale. If the dig proves successful, we could soon have greater insight and appreciation for another one of our area’s forgotten founding fathers.
(Jarred Marlowe is the Vice President of the Col. George Waller Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and currently serves on the board of directors for the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society.)