Oliver Chamberlin and His Descendants In Prince William County

Written by Bill Chamberlin - published in the April, 1996 newsletter of Historic Prince William.

In 1855, Oliver Chamberlin, a Pennsylvania farmer, purchased 187 acres of land at Minnieville in what is now the Coles District of lower Prince William County. He was among a number of northern dairymen who in the 19th century sought inexpensive land in Virginia after decades of tobacco farming had left the topsoil unfit for cultivation.

Three generations of Oliver Chamberlin's family lived in Prince William, most spending at least a portion of their lives in Greenwood Farm, the family homestead. Minnieville is now largely overrun by suburban sprawl, but "Greenwood" survives in the name of a local Baptist church and a neighborhood park. The location of the blacksmith shop operated by Oliver's son, Thomas, is identified on Gene Scheel's Historic Map of the county, which was printed in 1992.

Oliver was born in Gibson, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania in 1807, the 14th child of Wright Chamberlin and his second wife, Sally (Holdridge) Chamberlin. His was the sixth generation of his line of Chamberlins in America, the first having arrived in the Massachusetts Colony sometime before 1637. Over the next 140 years the family had migrated westward, settling in Pennsylvania in about 1800. While his father was at different times, a farmer, innkeeper and educator, Oliver and most of his siblings either farmed or married farmers.

Oliver and his wife, Mary, were both approaching 50 years of age and the parents of six living children when they relocated with their family to Prince William County. Other than the opportunity for bettering themselves financially, it is unclear exactly what motivated such an upheaval at that point in their lives.

However, they had been preceded by two other members of Oliver's family, a half-sister, Mary, and a half-brother, Joseph, both children of his father's third wife. Mary, then 26, and her husband, Thomas Clarke, the younger brother of Oliver's own wife, had moved to Minnieville in 1845 after the death of their two infant children. As would Oliver ten years later, the Clarkes had purchased a portion of the historic Bel Air Plantation which at the time had reverted to wilderness. Three years later, in 1848, Joseph had purchased 87 acres in Dumfries and, at the age of 25, began farming in Prince William County.

Greenwood Farm was bounded by present-day Routes 640 on the south and 610 (Delaney Road) on the east, and by a tributary of Neabsco Creek on the north and west. The Clarke farm was located across the road from Greenwood, to the south. The two families have shared a strong religious faith rooted in their Presbyterian heritage, and in 1859 Oliver and Mary deeded one acre of their land to trustees of the "old school Presbyterians" for the erection of a church and cemetery.

The structure, called the Greenwood church, and said to have been built largely by Oliver and his brother-in-law, Thomas Clarke, was burned to the ground by Union Cavalry during the rebellion. In 1905, a second structure was erected on the site of the original church by the "Virginia descendants of Wright Chamberlain" and dedicated to the latter's memory.

The children of Oliver and Mary Chamberlin all grew to adulthood at Minnieville and, except for Seth (1837-1859) who lived at the farm until his death at the age of 22, all survived into the 20th century. Elizabeth (1836-1935), the eldest, married the Manassas farmer, Charles Bennett, and became the stepmother of his three children by a former wife, then deceased.

One of those children, Emily, married George C. Round, the Manassas attorney. Elizabeth died at the age of 99 and was buried at the Lauderdale Cemetery at the Bennett-Round family home in Manassas. Thomas Oliver (1840-1903) married Demis Ives and remained at Greenwood where he operated a blacksmith shop on 55 acres of the origin farm deeded to him by his parents.

Of his children, all born in Prince William County, Herbert (1873-1889) died in childhood and Charles Bennett (1875- ) and Alice M. ( ) relocated to Washington, D. C., where they raised families and lived out their lives. Thomas Oliver, his wife and son Herbert are all buried at the Manassas Cemetery. Edward Henry (1842-1901) left Minnieville in his early 20's to enter business in Washington, D.C. He died in 1903 and is buried in that city.

The two youngest, Emma C. (1845-1905) and Mary (1850-1925), remained at the farm until the mid-1890's when Mary married and moved to Port Dickenson, New York. After her father's death, Emma also moved to New York where both daughters eventually died. Oliver Chamberlin died in 1896 surviving his wife by six years. Both are buried in the Manassas Cemetery.

Most of the land comprising Greenwood Farm passed from Oliver to his daughters, Emma and Mary (118 acres), and to his son Thomas Oliver (55 acres), Thomas' portion going eventually to his surviving children, Charles Bennett and Alice. The last part of the original Greenwood Farm to be owned by any of Oliver Chamberlin's descendants was sold in 1903.

Mary Chamberlin Clarke, Oliver's half-sister, died at her home near Agnewville at the age of 99, outliving her husband by 18 years. Her funeral was held at the rebuilt Greenwood Presbyterian Church at Minnieville. She was buried in the Greenwood Presbyterian Cemetery next to her husband and two of their five children. Joseph Chamberlin, Oliver's half-brother, died during the Civil War; the place of his internment unknown. His only child, a son Ruel (1858-1890), is buried in Triangle's Public Cemetery.