Antebellum Apothecary Box Owned by Captain Basil Hall of Virginia
Antebellum Apothecary Box Owned by Captain Basil Hall of Virginia – This c. mid-19th century apothecary box has a walnut case, with its drawer sides and bottom constructed of tulip poplar. The box, according to a note we found inside the box itself, composed by a family member, suggests that the box was originally owned by Captain Basil Hall (1813 – 1888) of Arlington, Virginia. Hall was a sea captain, slaver and wealthy landowner. Hall married twice and was the owner of “Hall Hill’s Plantation “-now the site of Arlington Hospital. He is credited as one of the founders of Yerba Buena, modern San Francisco. In 1846, Hall accompanied along a sizeable contingent of Mormon pioneers who sailed to the west coast of the United States, around South America’s Cape Horn to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and then on to California, crossing the equator twice in the process, making perhaps the longest religious sea pilgrimage in recorded history (Subject of a PBS Special “The Voyage of the Ship Brooklyn”). In Yerba Buena, Hall married a young Mormon woman, Elizabeth Winner and later retuned to Virginia to build a rather large plantation, known as “Hall’s Hill”.
Hall, reputed to have been a whaling Captain, purchased 327 acres, in what was then Alexandria, Virginia, from the estate of John Peter Van Ness in 1852. Hall’s plantation, worked by a small number of slaves, featured orchards, livestock, timber, and agricultural crops. He built a house, estimated to have cost $3,000, atop a 400 foot summit on his property. In 1857, Hall’s wife, Elizabeth, was attacked and killed by one of their slaves. Three years later, Hall married for a second time to 23-year-old Frances Ann Harrison, a relation to President William Henry Harrison. The children born during this second marriage included Walter, Edward, Lavinia, and Louise.
The 1860 Slave Schedule recorded on July 29th, lists Hall as owning a 47-year-old male, a 22-year-old female, four males ages 8,6, 5, and 3, and a 6-month-old mulatto female. One could assume the slaves may have comprised a family and that Bazil Hall may have been the father of the youngest. In 1860 Hall’s farm was valued at $10,000 and his personal effects at $15,000, or the equivalent of $235,000 and $354,000 respectively.
Hall was, by politics, a staunch Unionist and former Whig. At the outbreak of the Civil War his property became of mutual interest to both Confederate and Union forces, but for entirely different reasons. Confederate troops moved into what is now Arlington County in August 1861 and set fire to Hall’s home on August 31st in an attack launched from neighboring Upton’s Hill. A subsequent push by Union troops into the county led to their occupation of not only Halls Hill, but the adjacent hills as well. Camps stretched for miles and Hall’s Hill, in particular, presented Union troops with an almost unimpeded view of Washington and the surrounding geographical area.
Union occupation of Hall’s Hill continued throughout 1861 and 1862. His property was considered an ideal campsite due to the abundance of timber and availability of water from a stream and wells. During that time the plantation was virtually stripped of all timber and fencing, while Federal soldiers confiscated Hall’s livestock, most of which became food to feed troops. During the occupation by Union troops of Hall’s Hill, Hall’s family moved to his sister Mary Ann’s summer farm, in Arlington, now the site of Marymount University. Mary Ann was a noted brothel keeper, in Washington DC, as well as a noted political power broker. Indicative of her political power is the fact that she was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC, where only members of Congress are interred. The Smithsonian’s Museum of the Native American now stands on the grounds of the old Hall Brothel; an exhibit about the brothel is in the entrance of the museum.
A year after the final guns of war fell silent Hall began dividing his land among relatives, but also sold one-acre lots to freed slaves at below market prices. In 1870 the value of his estate was appraised at $6,400, while his personal effects were valued at $30.00. He filed a $42,000 claim with the Southern Claims Commission for losses incurred during the war and was eventually awarded a settlement of $10,700 in June 1872.
Both Hall and his wife Frances died in 1888 and were interred in the family cemetery, where his first wife Elizabeth was also buried. The cemetery was believed to have been located behind Trinity Presbyterian Church. In 1939 the Hall family members buried there were relocated to Oakwood Cemetery in Falls Church. Accompanying the box is a old note that
This apothecary box remains in good condition, exhibiting its original finish. There is a section of the front facing wood, just beneath the bottom drawer, that is missing its two attaching dovetails; this could be readily repaired. The box is almost identical to another apothecary box Perry Adams Antiques owned; this latter box had a Richmond purveyor’s label, dating from the late antebellum period. Another identical example, identified to use by a Confederate surgeon, is in the collection of the Museum of the Confederacy. This is a fine identified, antebellum, southern apothecary box, accompanied by an old note found in the box, written by a Hall family member. The history behind the original owner of this box is quite impressive.
Box measures as follows: Height – 8”; Depth – 6.75”; Width – 8”.