Sally Louisa Tompkins was born at Poplar Grove, Mathews County, Virginia on the 9th of November, 1833. Sally was the youngest child of Christopher Tompkins and his second wife Maria Booth Patterson. Christopher Tompkins was born in 1778 in Caroline County, Virginia. He ran away to Norfolk, Virginia as a young teen hoping to be a sea Captain, but starting first as a cabin boy. He managed to work his way up to Captain and spent many years as a merchant on the high seas. He traveled the world many times going to far off places such as the Indies and Mediterranean, and finally the Caribbean. It was his job to oversee the work being done on a new ship in the shipbuilding town of Mathews, when he met his first wife, Elizabeth Cary Smith whom he married in 1806. Their children were Martha Tabb born 1807, Harriet Paulina born 1809, Henry Armistead, born 1811 and Christopher Quarles born 1813. He kept sailing the seas in the first few years of his marriage, and when finally settling in Mathews became a member of the state legislature. Additionally, he was a Colonel in the Virginia Militia,, fighting in the war of 1812. Elizabeth Smith Tompkins died just four weeks after Christopher Quarles birth leaving the elder Christopher a widow with four young children. The grief was compounded in 1814 with the death of three year old Henry. This was the first in a series of family deaths that would not stop until the middle of the Civil War. The next year, 1815, Christopher Tompkins married Maria (pronounced Mariah) Booth Patterson. Maria came from a very wealthy family in Mathews County, Virginia and upon his marriage to Maria the Tompkins family settled into the Patterson family estate called Poplar Grove. Maria was the daughter of local leader John Patterson, a Revolutionary War Veteran and was brought up with the luxuries of southern antebellum society. She was devoutly religious and made a fine mother to all the Tompkins children. Maria bore Christopher four more children: Elizabeth Patterson in 1816, Benjamin Goodloe in 1818, Maria Mason in 1831 and then Sally Louisa in 1833.
Poplar Grove and John Patterson:
The family home, Poplar Grove, was and is a grand estate. It stands in Mathews County on the waterfront of the East River. The East River Flows into the mouth of the York River and goes on to the Chesapeake Bay. Adjoining the mansion was a tide mill used to mill grain and flour. It is rumored to have milled grains for General George Washington during the battles at nearby Yorktown, Virginia. The house was built several generations before coming into the hands of Sally’s maternal Grandfather, John Patterson. He acquired the house in a card game with his boss, at which time the house sat on over 1000 acres of waterfront property.  The original name of the estate was East River Warehouse. John Patterson was an ardent Whig and planted rows and rows of Poplars in support of his political party, as this was their symbol. During his time as owner of Poplar Grove, the main house was expanded to reflect the prosperity of the Patterson family. In 1782 the house was redesigned by the architect who had designed Mount Vernon for George Washington. By 1820 John Patterson had acquired a total of 69 Slaves, attesting to his mounting wealth. John Patterson’s eldest daughter Maria Booth Patterson inherited Poplar Grove upon the death of her father in 1824. Her husband Christopher kept the mill running and continued to make a good and prosperous living at Poplar Grove. He ran a mercantile and had several other buildings in the Mathews community. Poplar Grove provided Sally Tompkins with a wonderful place to grow up. Her father Christopher died and is buried there, as well as the burial plots of several of Sally’s siblings. The house was sold to a cousin of Maria Booth Patterson Tompkins, John Tabb in 1849, following the death of Christopher Tompkins and most of the Tompkins children. In the middle of the Civil War, the Union Army burned the Mill to stop them from supplying anymore grain for the Confederacy. The Mill was rebuilt and used until the 1920’s. Poplar Grove is still a private residence and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Poplar Grove has also attained a celebrity all its own. In the 1970’s former Beatle John Lennon bought the estate. He is said to have only stayed there one night before his untimely death. Following his death, Yoko Ono donated the proceeds of the estates sale to a local Virginia charity.
Elizabeth Patterson Tompkins:
Elizabeth Tompkins was Sally’s older sister and one whom Sally greatly looked up to. She was sometime referred to as Lizzy by family members. It is said that she was so shy that she was practically a recluse in her home. She also had one of the best religious libraries in the area, to which she frequently lent out to friends. In her religious fervor she had also freed some of her slaves and sent them back to Liberia. In an encounter with one of Lizzy’s freed slaves in Liberia, Dr. Charles Fahs, or Uncle Doctor as he was referred, reported that most of the slaves had died shortly after arriving in Liberia as they could not access the funds Lizzy had for them, nor could they care properly for themselves. One freed slave told Uncle Doctor that he just wanted to return to Poplar Grove and be with his people. Elizabeth was a shy young woman in her early twenties when she took it upon herself to rebuild the Kingston Parish Church (Christ Church) that stood near her home Poplar Grove. The Church had been left in ruins many years before and the Tompkins family had to travel several miles to attend Church services at Ware. Elizabeth spearheaded the rebuilding efforts, overseeing all aspects of the remodeling. She solicited the necessary funds for the rebuild and even obtained all the workers necessary for the job. Work on the new facility, Christ Church, was completed in 1841. A new minister was sent for and the family began attending their new Church faithfully. The following year Elizabeth Tompkins died on September 2, 1842 at the age of 26.
There were many sad occasions in Sally Tompkins childhood. The first was the death of her father Christopher in 1838. The family remained at Poplar Grove after his death, but in 1842 a massive tragedy would strike the Tompkins family. Elizabeth Tompkins had become very ill and died suddenly on September 2, 1842. Martha Tabb, The oldest Tompkins daughter came to Poplar Grove from her nearby home Auburn for the funeral of her sister. They had been very close. After arriving back home at Auburn, Martha took ill with the same illness that had killed her beloved sister. Martha died on September 17, 1842 soon after the death of two of her own children. The next oldest sister Harriet had come to Auburn to nurse her sister Martha and the children. Harriet too fell ill. She died just a few days later on September 20, 1842. Harriet and Martha are both buried in the Tabb family plots at the Auburn estate in Mathews, Virginia. After the death of Martha Tompkins Tabb, her remaining children were sent to live at Poplar grove with Sally, her mother and her sister Maria. These children would become the closest family to Sally as we later learn from her will. Benjamin Tompkins, Sally’s older brother died in August 1847. He left a wife and two small children. Following Benjamin’s death there were only three of the Tompkins children left living. Maria Booth Patterson Tompkins reluctantly sold the family estate Poplar Grove after Benjamin’s death and fled to a new life with her remaining daughters, Sally and Maria Mason. Christopher Quarles Tompkins the oldest remaining Tompkins child had already attended the United States Army Academy at West Point and was a straight laced military man traveling the country. He had given his blessing to the sale of Poplar Grove to Maria’s cousin.
A New Life:
In 1849 Maria Booth Patterson Tompkins took her two remaining children, Maria Mason and Sally to Norfolk. Sally was enrolled as a student at the Norfolk Female Institute during the 1849-1850 school year. The school was brand new at the time and was affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The 1850 census shows all three ladies living in Norfolk. It is unclear exactly what year the three women left for Richmond, Virginia.
The 1860 census has Sally and her sister, Maria Mason Tompkins living at the Arlington House in Richmond, Virginia. Maria Booth Patterson Tompkins died in 1854 in Richmond so it is assumed that the three ladies arrived there between late 1850 and 1854. The remaining Tompkins ladies still had a strong family connection to both Mathews County and Poplar Grove. Maria Booth Patterson Tompkins and later Maria Mason Tompkins would both be returned to Poplar Grove for their final resting place. Once in Richmond, St. James Episcopal Church became the center of life for Sally. Richmond became the Capital of the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War. Life was tranquil for the residence of Richmond until the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.
Civil War Comes to Richmond, Virginia:
The Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) changed life forever in Richmond, Virginia. Mayor Joseph May sent out a call to all that could help, to nurse the wounded Confederate soldiers. Sally Tompkins at once obtained the mansion owned by a Judge John Robertson. Judge Robertson had fled Richmond for the countryside at the onset of the war. Sally took Judge Robertson’s house and turned it into Robertson Hospital. The Hospital was established on July 31, 1861 and took its first patients on August 3rd. The hospital was staffed by a group called the Ladies of Robertson Hospital. In truth, these ladies all were members of St. James Episcopal Church and Sally Tompkins was leading the ladies in all matters concerning the hospital. The first mention of the hospital appeared in the Richmond Enquirer on August 5, 1861. During the next four years, Sally funded the hospital at mostly her own expense, using her vast inheritance. The wounded kept coming and Sally ran a tight ship. On September 9, 1861 Sally received a commission as a Captain, Calvary unassigned, Confederate States Army. This was the first and only commission of a female Officer in the Confederacy. The popular story is that after an order closing down private hospitals came, Sally marched to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and showed him her unmatched survival rate, which led Davis to grant her a Commission, making Robertson Hospital a Confederate Government supported entity. Author Rebecca Barbour Calcutt points out in her Book Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals, that Sally’s commission was dated only 5 weeks after the opening of her hospital. She goes on to point out that the reorganization of the Richmond hospitals did not occur until a full year later in September 1862. It leads one to speculate how and why this commission was granted.
Ensuring the survival of Robertson Hospital and returning the injured back to service became the most important thing for Sally. She had with her several of the family slaves from Poplar Grove. They did the cooking, cleaning and heavy caring at the hospital. The two most popular slaves were Glad Betsy Ashberry, and Sad Betsy Curtis who were called that because of their dispositions around the hospital. In running the hospital it is said that Sally ran the hospital “with a stick in one hand and a Bible in the other”. The Bible and God were her main sources for healing her soldiers. The other was cleanliness. In many written accounts it talks of how she believed “cleanliness was next to Godliness”. This was before the time that antiseptics and cleanliness were known to be beneficial. She had the services of a renowned Doctor, Dr. A.Y.P. Garnett of Washington, who did the surgeries. Several other Doctors passed time at the Hospital as well. While the good Doctors did the bloody work, Sally and her ladies did the caring work. There was always a hot meal thanks to Mrs. John Spotswood who lent her slave Sally to the Hospital to cook for the duration of the War. Captain Sally always made sure that the men leaving had clean clothes and warm socks knitted by Captain Sally herself, and as much Religious council as they needed. Two of the most important people to Sally were the men who brought her the much needed supplies, Benjamin Fickley, Esquire and Captain Snowden who ran blockades and brought Sally whatever she needed.
The running of the Robertson Hospital was not without a few problems. Sally was under constant scrutiny of the Confederate leaders in her management of the hospital. She was ordered to close on at least two occasions, once in 1862 and again in 1864. Sally was not afraid to fight for her hospital. She always won, and her hospital remained open.
Captain Sally also had volunteers in her patients. John Crumley had been wounded and had been a patient of Sally’s. He could not return to duty, so he took it upon himself to become the gardener at Robertson Hospital where he stayed until he passed away near the end of the war. Another was Lamar Holyday who had been wounded in the thigh at Gettysburg. He stayed on as a pharmacist and clerk until he could return to normal military duty. In one of the saddest stories to come out of Robertson Hospital, a young lad of just 14 years old named Nathaniel Newman had run away from his home in Georgia to follow his father into war. His father Captain Newman brought a sick Nathaniel to Captain Sally’s hospital, where it was found that Nathaniel was suffering from consumption. With no cure, Sally made the boy as comfortable as possible and called in Reverend Joshua Peterkin for a baptism. Shortly after the baptism, young Nathaniel died. The hospital was overcome with sadness for the young lad. 
There were many successful recoveries to come out of Robertson Hospital. The fall of Richmond came in April 1865. Sally held fast and maintained her hospital. The last patient was not discharged until June 13th 1865. Robertson Hospital had treated 1,331 over four years and had just a 5.5% mortality rate. The death of her sister Maria Mason in 1864 was a personal loss. The War was over, but Sally’s kind spirit remained. Her slaves were free to go, but most stayed.
Sally had a rare relationship with her slaves. She had just one slave leave her during the war, but he soon returned to her with his apologies. In 1864 Sally had even hired an attorney to fight charges of robbery against her slave William. Following on her sister Elizabeth’s footsteps, Sally made sure her slaves were taken care of for the rest of their lives.
There are many other stories about Captain Sally and her involvement with Robertson Hospital that just cannot be explained as they are too great in number for a short paper such as this. She was the Florence Nightingale of the Confederacy. In the Post war years Sally lead a comfortable life, finally retiring to an estate in Port Royal, Virginia. She always traveled to Confederate Memorial rallies and anything to do with her dear Episcopal Church. Advancing in age, she was asked to be the guest of the Confederate Women’s Home in Richmond, where she was treated as a matriarch. It was here where she died on July 25, 1916. She was taken back to her home in Mathews to be laid besides her sister Elizabeth at Christ Church. In the years following the death of Sally Tompkins, four chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy have been named after her. In Mathews, Virginia a memorial stands at the Court House Square. St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond has a stained glass likeness overlooking their members every Sunday.
 Memoir of Christopher Tompkins Late of Mathews County Virginia Compiled by his Son, Christopher Tompkins from Papers and Records of Authentic Character. 1860
 Anna Maria Yeatman, Personal Family History of the Yeatman and Patterson Family, 1912
 Charles E. Hatch Jr., Mathews County Places and Names (1967)
 Martin Diggs, Mathews County History since 1791 Pg. 81
 Mathews County Federal Census, 1820 Pg.15
 Tompkins Cottage, Mathews County Historical Society
 National Register of Historic Places #69000259
 New York Times, January 23, 1984
 Anna Maria Yeatman, Personal Family History of the Yeatman and Patterson Family, 1912
 Personal Family History of the Yeatman and Patterson Family, Anna Maria Yeatman, 1912
 Kingston Parish Church records 1652-1976
 Sally Tompkins Christening, Ware Episcopal Church, Gloucester County, Virginia 1833
 Kingston Parish Register 1652-1976 Pg. 25
 www.Ancestry.com, Sally Tompkins Family Tree
 E. Randolph Trice, “St. James History”, http://www.doers.org/pages/history.htm
 Richmond Enquirer, August 5, 1861 Pg 3. www.mdgorman.com #530371 “ANOTHER HOSPITAL. The ladies connected with St. James Church have established a hospital on the corner of Main and Third streets, for our wounded soldiers. About twenty persons are now in this hospital, and as the ladies have the management of it, we feel assured that the inmates will receive every attention.”
 Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond VA
 Rebecca Barbour Calcutt, Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals, Pg 28
 Martin Diggs, History and Progress of Mathews County, Pg. 92
 G.E.T. Lane, Mathews News Reporter, December 12, 1916
 Archives at the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia
 Calcutt, Pg. 172-174
 www.moc.org, Museum of the Confederacy, online archive
 Mabel Boardman, Under the Red Cross Flag at Home and Abroad. Pg. 75
 Elizabeth Dabney Coleman. "The Captain Was a Lady." Virginia Cavalcade, vol. 6 (summer 1956-spring 1957), pp. 35-41.
 Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, Richmond, VA, Tuesday, August 28, 1838