Rainwater Ramsey Tales

William Rainwater Ramsey and Universal Franklin Ramsey. (Unknown source)

Rainwater Ramsey gravesite. Image via finadagrave.com and added by Roger Roop in 2007.

Faded memories, stories that changed with the tellers . . . or just crumbled over time.

I got a letter today from my mother with a clipping from a September 10, 2003, column in The Dickenson Sun/Cumberland Times.

Columnist Anna Belcher was writing about my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side the family, Rainwater Ramsey, who started his family on Ramsey Ridge in Dickenson County, Va.

(The text of the article has been copied to a page on the “Find a Grave” website.)

Dickenson County is a small county in mountainous country. There’s maybe 6,750 households. The three towns in the county are Clintwood, Haysi, and Clinchco.

William Rainwater Ramsey was born Nov. 11, 1829 in Russell County, Virginia, and died Jan. 9, 1902 in McClure, Virginia in Dickenson County. (Russell County, one of the three counties that were carved up to create Dickenson County in 1880.)

He married Universal “Una” Franklin in Clintwood, Virginia, in 1849. They had up to 17 children.

They are buried at Caney Fork Church Cemetery on Ramsey’s Ridge in Dickesnon County.

There seems to be records that he served as a private in the 21st Virginia Cavalry, Company E, of the Confederate Army. But he went AWOL at some point, not unusual for men from the mountains.

He is said to be part Native American (Cherokee), but according to the DNA testing website 23andMe, I don’t have any Native American DNA and I know a cousin or two who have found the same. More fanciful than factual. A claim on Native American ancestry among people named Rainwater is common.

Belcher said she was told he slept in a hollow log in front of the fireplace. and by another family that when he first came to the area, he lived in a hollow tree, “big enough for his horse, too!” Another account (Mrs. Olive Bentley in a history of Big Oak School in “School and Community History of Dickenson County” edited by Dennis Reedy, 1992) said Ramsey “wintered a mule and two calves in the hollow of the oak.”

He built his home, the first on the ridge and the ridge was supposedly named for him. The home had four rooms, two downstairs and two upstairs.

It lacks the lacks the intrigue of the The Da Vinci Code, but for far different reasons, it’s a family tale has its own share of mysteries.

(The photo of the headstone was taken by Roger Roop on Oct. 2, 2005, on Ramsey Ridge, Va. An older headstone is beside it. The photo of William Rainwater Ramsey and Universal Franklin Ramsey is the most common photo of the couple on genealogy sites, but I don’t know the original source of the photo. It has been retouched to improve the quality and enlarged.)

Updated on Dec. 1, 2023.