Originally published in the Suffolk News-Herald, April 2006
The Great Dismal Swamp Escape
In my last column, Richard H. Hosier had been sentenced to death by Union officials. His punishment was overturned by the commanding Union General in Norfolk for reasons unknown, and instead his sentence was commuted to hard labor. Robertson Arnold’s recollections of the Dismal Swamp recalled this story of Hosier’s capture with much revelry. According to Arnold, Richard Hosier was taken to Norfolk to be put to work on the earthen defenses there, but while en route, he escaped from his captor (again!) and made haste toward the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Since there was a great deal of boat traffic along the river, he waited until nightfall to cross. Hosier then tied his clothes up in a bundle, placed them on his head, and swam across the river. Once safely on the other side, he proceeded toward the Deep Creek Canal and then into the Dismal Swamp, where he was safe from recapture. From there, he planned to cross Lake Drummond and make his way back home. Picking up with Arnold’s telling of this adventure:
“It was at that place he performed his great feat. He could not procure a boat, and the prospect before him was gloomy indeed. If he remained there he would, in all probability, have been devoured by bears and other wild animals in the Swamp, or perhaps, starve. Not being in the least daunted, he prepared himself to reach the western shore, which could only be done by swimming. It was seven miles across, but he nerved himself to the accomplishment of his object. He prepared himself as before by making a bundle of his clothes, which he placed on the top of his head, and was then ready to swim across or perish in the attempt. When he was about half-way across he was attacked by a large serpent, and had it not been for a school of gars that was following him, he would no doubt have been devoured. He reached the shore only to meet a more formidable enemy. It was a large black bear. In his scuffle with the serpent he had lost his bundle of clothes and had nothing but a large knife, which was buckled around his waist. Drawing his knife, he rushed forward and was met by the bear, when a regular hand-to-hand fight was commenced. He did not wrestle long before he found an opportunity to use his knife, and plunging it up to the hilt, he soon had the bear lying prostrate at his feet. Having lost all his clothes, it became necessary that he should do something in his nude state. The bear’s skin was the only thing that he could get, so with his knife he skinned him, and getting inside the skin, he started to find some settlement. But his condition was as bad as before. The idea of his being able to get near enough to any person to tell of his condition was absurd. The very sight of him would scare every man, woman and child off the plantation. He could not get a living soul to come to him, and it was not until he had reached his own home, some few miles from Suffolk, that he could present himself as Mr. Hosier.”
Following the war and in the midst of Reconstruction, Richard Hosier went back to farming. As he learned to cope during such a trying period for the South, he was dealt with another blow, the loss of his wife. Her death left Hosier with five young kids to take care of, including their last child, J. Walter Hosier, who was born during the war in 1863.
A few years later, seeing that his children needed a maternal figure in their life, Hosier remarried on January 5, 1871, this time to Sarah Henderson Williamson, whose husband Richard Williamson had died in the late 1860s. Richard and Sarah had three children together: Blanche Hosier, born in 1872; William Paul Hosier, born in 1874; and Robbin Hosier, born about 1877. Richard and Sarah’s time together was short though, as Sarah died sometime in the 1880s or 90s, leaving Hosier again a widow.
With most of his children now grown, Richard Hosier found other ways to occupy his time. In 1895, the Tom Smith Camp United Confederate Veterans was formed in Suffolk, and Hosier was an active member of this veterans’ group. By this point, however, age was catching up with him. In 1898, Hosier turned eighty years old, but was diagnosed with cancer a month after his birthday. He fought the illness for about a year, but finally succumbed to the disease on the morning of September 25, 1899, after being in a coma for nearly a week. At the time of his death, he was eighty-one years old, and the second oldest person in Suffolk. His funeral took place at the Suffolk Christian Church, followed by the burial in Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Richard Hosier was survived by only six out of twelve of his known children. The oldest was Richard T. Hosier, who moved from Suffolk in the 1870s, and became a farmer in the Western Branch area of Norfolk County (now Chesapeake). The next was Samuel Sampson Hosier, who married Florine V. Gay in 1888, and lived in Suffolk. One son, William Paul Hosier, eventually settled with his family in Mississippi. A daughter, Blanche Hosier, married Charles H. Smith of North Carolina, and they moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There is also an unidentified daughter who is noted in the obituary only as Mrs. M.E. Philhower. The most notable of the Hosier children was J. Walter Hosier. Walter served on the Suffolk City Council for a number of years, and also ran an insurance company in Suffolk. Following his death in 1955, the insurance business was continued by his son, Henry Duke Hosier. Today, while the insurance company no longer remains in the Hosier family, it still retains his name, “J. Walter Hosier & Son Insurance.”
Of course, this story is not complete without again mentioning that following his death, Hosier’s family placed a stone on his grave in Cedar Hill Cemetery with his name, no dates, and the word “Mosby.” Of all the epitaphs, this one was certainly fitting. Undoubtedly, his stories of adventure and escape would have made the original “Gray Ghost” very proud.