Constance Cary: The rest of the story - Star Exponent: Columnists

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Constance Cary: The rest of the story

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Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 10:20 am, Thu Apr 18, 2013.

My curiosity, piqued while reading Susan Wall’s brief anecdote regarding the escapades of young Constance Cary, could only be satisfied by a search of what else I might find.  Do all things come back to Culpeper? Of course not, but the plethora of those that do is quite remarkable.

Constance, though born in Mississippi or possibly Kentucky, was a descendant on her mother’s side of none other than the founder of Culpeper County, Thomas Lord Fairfax, VI.  Miss Cary would become a prolific writer using the pen name Refugitta.

Monimia Fairfax married Archibald Car and later settled in Baltimore, MD where he was the newspaper editor of The Cumberland Civilian. After his death in 1854, Monimia and children moved to Vaucluse Plantation, the family home in Fairfax County. However, this residence was relatively short lived after the Civil War broke out in 1861.

As Susan Wall’s article states, Monimia and Constance traveled to Culpeper in the summer of 1861 to offer their services to the doctors in the Culpeper General Hospital. In their absence the Union forces commandeered Vaucluse and demolished it in order to construct Ft. Worth as part of the defense system for Washington City.

Refugees of a sort with no place to call home, the Cary family settled in Richmond, VA. When Constance was not writing she and her cousins Jennie and Hetty were known as the “Cary Invincibles.” Their exploits may have been depicted in Refugitta’s stories, but it is told by public knowledge that they each sewed a model of the Confederate Battle flag.  It would not stray far from truth to speculate that Constance was an ardent secessionist.

Ironically, after marrying Burton Harrison, a lawyer and former private secretary to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, in 1867, the couple settled in New York City. Born to Constance and Burton were Fairfax Harrison, who became President of the Southern Railway Company, and Francis Burton Harrison, who served as Governor- General of the Philippines.

Constance Cary Harrison continued to write and was quite active in the civic and social arena in New York City.  She died in 1920 at the age of 77.

The published literary works of Constance Cary Harrison, the adventuresome girl who in 1863 braved a crossing of the Rappahannock River Bridge at Remington in the dead of night, numbered more than 50. Her style and scope were varied and included short stories, articles, and children’s books, though she is best known for her autobiography, Recollections Grave and Gay, containing no less than four references to Culpeper.  A Google search online will produce the book. 

Constance is buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia.

You just never know where you will find an interesting story!

Until next week be well.

Zann Nelson is an award -winning freelance writer specializing in historical investigations. She is president of the preservation nonprofit organization, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Inc., co-founder of the African American Heritage Alliance, and resides on a farm in Culpeper. She can be reached at or by mailing the newsroom 471 James Madison Highway, Suite 201 Culpeper, VA 22701.   

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