Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Hams of Vesuvius, Virginia

Pictured above is an image from the first page of 1912's New High School Algebra by Webster Wells and Walter W. Hart.1

Per the stamp, the book was for the W.O. McCluskey Oyster & Fruit Co. of Wheeling, West Virginia, and was from Raleigh Givens Ham of Vesuvius, Virginia, an unincorporated community in Rockbridge County.2

Vesuvius, believe it or not, has a website. Here's an excerpt from its history of Vesuvius:
"The beginnings of the village of Vesuvius date back to the Iron Furnace that was built in northeastern Rockbridge County around 1828. Named for the Mt. Vesuvius volcano in Italy, Vesuvius Furnace was located about one-half mile from the present intersection of Route 56 and 608. ... Pig Iron stamped 'Vesuvius' has since been recovered from the port of Richmond. ... Although the Furnace ceased operations on December 15, 1854, ruins of the Furnace still stand, giving an idea as to what it was like in Vesuvius Furnace's heyday. ... Among the early names of the residents of Vesuvius were Bryan, Bradley, Campbell, Cash, Crist, Drawbond, Fitzgerald, Hite, Humphries, and Wright. ... The area is also home to rare minerals. One is called churchite and is a fairly scarce rare-earth phosphate containing yttrium and erbium, industrially valuable metals. Churchite is found only in Rockbridge County, USA; Cornwall, England; and Auerbach, Germany. Another rare phosphate is Rockbridgeite."
Meanwhile, in addition to the mention of Raleigh Givens Ham, the initials A.M.H. (above the word "McCluskey") refer to A.M. Ham, whose name is written elsewhere in the mathematics textbook. Finally, Maxine Ham is written on the inside front cover. (Of course, it is possible that A.M. Ham and Maxine Ham refer to the same person.)

According to, there was a Raleigh Givens Ham who was born on 1912 to Robert Fulton Ham and Rosa Ella Fitzgerald. He married Mary Margaret Garber, had six children, worked for a time as a bricklayer, and died on March 29, 1985, in Augusta, Virginia. But I don't believe he was the only Raleigh Givens Ham in the family.

While we It would be interesting to find out more about W.O. McCluskey Oyster & Fruit Co. and the Hams of Virginia.

I wonder if one of the Hams worked out the equations I found written on this sheet of paper tucked away inside New High School Algebra.

1. According to the copyright page: "This book may be had with answers or without answers at the same price. Answer books, bound in paper, may be obtained free of charge of teachers."
2. Other unincorporated communities in that county include Brownsburg, Gilmore Mills, Marlbrook, Mechanicsville, Natural Bridge, Natural Bridge Station, Raphine, and Rockbridge Baths.


  1. Raleigh Givens Ham was my grandfather. Where did you find the book?

    1. That's a great question. I love old school books and have collected them from a number of different sales, bookstores and flea markets. Most of them are here in southcentral Pennsylvania, specifically York County. I cannot remember where I specifically picked up this book, though. And I don't believe I have it any more, though I can double-check. .... It's neat that you found this blog post. What can you tell me about Raleigh?

    2. Hi Chris. Well, it has been nearly 3 years. I had sent my mom a note about this, but she didn't respond, so I forgot about it. Anyway, she just sent it to me again so I came back to this site. I don't suppose you ran across the book again? I'm sure my mom could tell you a lot more about her father than I. They lived in Staunton, VA, along with his wife's mother (my great grandmother Garber, nee Curd). His mother, Rosa Ella whom you mentioned, lived right next door when I was a kid. He served in WW2, I believe in Iceland and in Germany.

    3. P.S. I am still throughly baffled as to why anyone would send an algebra book to an "oyster and fruit" company, or why any company would sell both oysters and fruit. I think bartering was a more common thing back then, as my mom tells me that her father once traded a gun for a flute she still has, so maybe he traded the book for something. I'd also guess that AMH was probably his sister, Maxine, whose full maiden name was Audrey Maxine Ham. She passed away just a couple of years ago: