Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Ruth Hairston Early (5 November 1849–12 January 1928), preservationist and writer, was born in Charleston, where her father, Samuel Henry Early, engaged in the profitable manufacture of Kanawha salt. Her mother, Henrian Cabell Early, descended from the prominent colonial Cabell and Clayton families, and about 1853 the Early family moved into the Cabell mansion in Lynchburg. During the Civil War, while her father fought with the Army of Northern Virginia and then served as a conscription officer, Early studied French, Latin, and music at the Lynchburg Female Seminary. She completed her education at Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, Maryland, where she graduated with highest honors in June 1867. Like other members of the extended Cabell family, Early followed the Swedenborgian faith. She never married and after the deaths of her parents headed her own household.

Early's paternal uncle, former Confederate lieutenant general Jubal Anderson Early, played a pivotal role in Confederate remembrance and creation of the Lost Cause mythology, and by 1890 she, too, had become a defender of the justice of the Confederate cause. She corresponded with former Southern first lady Varina Howell Davis, former Confederate generals Dabney Herndon Maury and Joseph Wheeler, and the sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel. Early held various offices in the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Grand Division of Virginia (after 1903 the Virginia Division), including corresponding secretary and historian, but her nomination as president for the 1898 term was derailed because of a requirement that the executive office rotate geographically. Desire for the creation of a second Lynchburg chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy led Early to call for and in June 1896 chair the founding meeting of the Old Dominion Chapter, of which she became second vice president. During her six terms as chapter president (in 1897–1898, 1900–1901, 1905–1906, 1912–1913, 1913–1914, and 1924–1925), she directed critical preservation work in Lynchburg. In 1905 she led the chapter's acquisition of the 1.3-acre site of Fort Early, Civil War earthworks that Jubal Early's troops had constructed during their defense of the city in June 1864. Opposite the fortifications Ruth Early erected a seventeen-foot-high granite obelisk in memory of her uncle and his Confederate soldiers, completed late in 1919. She contributed part of the funding for a memorial gateway arch that the Old Dominion Chapter erected at Fort Early to commemorate the Battle of Lynchburg and spoke at its dedication in July 1924.

Early became a charter member of the Blue Ridge Chapter, Virginia State Society Daughters of the American Revolution, in December 1895. Twice she presided over that chapter as regent, from 1899 to 1901 and again from 1922 to 1924. She was also a member of the Lynchburg Committee of the Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia (later the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia). Early supported the efforts of the Francis Scott Key Memorial Association to purchase and preserve Key's house in the District of Columbia. In 1915 and 1916 the governor commissioned her a Virginia delegate to the annual meetings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections.

Beginning in her schooldays, Early wrote essays and poetry for her own amusement. The tercentennial commemoration of the founding of Jamestown inspired her to write By-Ways of Virginia History: A Jamestown Memorial Embracing a Sketch of Pocahontas (1907), a substantial history of the Virginia colony that also included five chapters on earlier historians and chroniclers. Perhaps embracing the example of her maternal uncle Richard Kenner Crallé, who had edited a six-volume collection of The Works of John C. Calhoun (1853–1856), Early edited and published two of her Confederate uncle's manuscripts, Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early, C.S.A.: Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of the War Between the States (1912) and The Heritage of the South: A History of the Introduction of Slavery, Its Establishment from Colonial Times, and Final Effect upon the Politics of the United States (1915). In a strategic move, she chose to establish Jubal Early's credentials on the latter subject by identifying him on the title page not as a Confederate general but as a member of Virginia's secession convention; but then she muddied the message by having the text printed on Confederate gray paper.

Ruth Early compiled an extensive genealogy entitled The Family of Early, Which Settled upon the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and Its Connection with Other Families (1920) and dedicated it to her father. Her final work may have been influenced by a much older cousin, Margaret Couch Anthony Cabell, who wrote an antebellum personal history, Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg, By the Oldest Inhabitant (1858). Early's Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches, Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia, 1782–1926 (1927) employed a similar device of recording the history of a place through topical descriptions, genealogies of prominent families, brief biographies of important citizens and colorful local characters, and reminiscences while adding historical population data and lists of local participants in armed conflicts through World War I.

During her prolonged final illness, Early received word in October 1927 that the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Virginia Division, had named her an honorary president. Another UDC officer offered the comforting observation that "Georgia may have an engraven Stone Mountain, but Virginia and Virginians have your contributions to Historical Virginia." Ruth Hairston Early died at a Lynchburg hospital on 12 January 1928 and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery. Flags in Lynchburg flew at half-staff, for perhaps the first time for a woman in the city. In June 1929 the Old Dominion Chapter of the UDC placed a bronze memorial plaque in her honor at Spring Hill Cemetery.


Sources Consulted:
Biographies in Jennie Thornley Grayson, comp., History of the Virginia State Society Daughters of the American Revolution N.S.D.A.R. (1930), 102–103, Don P. Halsey, Historic and Heroic Lynchburg (1935), 73–75, and Mack T. Eads, "Miss Ruth Hairston Early," typescript prepared in or after 1935 for Sue Ruffin Tyler for "The Women of Virginia" project, Tyler Family Papers Group D, Swem Library, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.; self-reported birth date and birthplace in passport application, 23 Apr. 1902, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Ruth Hairston Early Papers and United Daughters of the Confederacy-Old Dominion Chapter Papers, both George M. Jones Memorial Library, Lynchburg, Va.; Early correspondence (quotation in Anne Norvell Otey Scott to Early, 25 Aug. 1927), commissions, membership certificates, scrapbook, and typed memorials in Early Family Papers (1764–1956), Virginia Historical Society (VHS), Richmond, Va.; miniature portrait, Lynchburg Museum System, and photographic portraits, VHS; Death Certificate, Lynchburg, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; obituaries in Lynchburg Daily Advance, 12 Jan. 1928, and Lynchburg News, 13, 15 Jan. 1928; memorials in Lynchburg News, 31 Jan. 1928, 25 June 1929, Lynchburg Daily Advance, 24 June 1929, and Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Minutes (1928), 61–62.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Sara B. Bearss.

How to cite this page:
Sara B. Bearss,"Ruth Hairston Early (1849–1928)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2016 http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Early_Ruth_Hairston, accessed [today's date]).


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