More than a century-and-a-half ago, a Cincinnati girl began her life in the Shenandoah Valley — not the Valley of today, but a region on the brink of Civil War. Jessica Park Hainning — who would marry into the Rupert family and later be known as Jessie Rupert — was raised in the North and attended schools in the free states, namely Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Susan Mathias Smith will share her story with the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Round Table meeting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Rockingham County Administration Center, 20 E. Gay St. in Harrisonburg. Admission is free and the talk is open to the community.
Currently, the librarian at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg, Smith was introduced to Rupert’s story by Nancy Branner Stewart, New Market’s main historian, while working as an English teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School.
Smith says, though not as well known as other New Market Civil War-era figures, such as Mother Crim — the nurse known for treating the wounded on battlefields — Rupert served in a domestic-diplomacy capacity throughout the war.
“She was, simply, a Yankee in a rebel town,” explained Susan Mathias Smith, librarian at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg.
“[Rupert] actually burned the Confederate flag at one point. It did not go over well, not at all,” according to Ben Fordney, who added that, for her own protection, Rupert was taken into custody and jailed.
When a Confederate encampment was established nearby, citizens of New Market took Rupert before the commanding general to see what could be done about such an opinionated woman.
Luckily for Jessie, she knew the general from time the pair spent together in Lexington teaching a group of black children how to read. His name: Thomas Jonathan Jackson, the great “Stonewall.”
“[Stonewall Jackson and Jessie] knew each other very well, he actually sent her home with an armed guard to protect her,” said Fordney.
Shortly thereafter, Jessie Hainning married Solomon Rupert, the local justice of the peace and the son of a Hinkle, and Jackson’s guard was no longer necessary as the threat of bodily harm dissolved.
The verbal harassment continued however, as Jessie found herself on the short list of the majority of New Market.
“She was a safe haven, she was known to the members of the 34th Massachusetts [regiment]. They knew that you could go to Ms. Rupert’s house … which probably didn’t endear her to the people of New Market,” explained Smith.
But what differentiated the Ruperts from other Union sympathizers and, what Smith argues, held their marriage together through the war was their unconditional empathy for all who were in need. In one instance, she was known to have nursed back to health a Rebel soldier, Ensign Smith, on the brink of succumbing to pneumonia.
“The common bond in [the Rupert’s marriage] was that they helped anyone who needed help whether Yankee or Rebel, black or white,” said Smith.
After the war ended, Rupert continued her commitment to others by opening a school. In the midst of Reconstruction, she again found herself at odds with the citizens of New Market when she was discovered teaching black children in the evenings.
Two years after the war ended, Solomon Rupert died. With two young sons to support, Jessie returned to the North speaking on life as a Yankee in the Shenandoah Valley during the War. Both of her boys went on to graduate from Yale University.
It was “her belief in the education of all and the equality of all,” as Smith put it, that earned Jessie Rupert the title “Angel of the Shenandoah,” which Smith and Stewart believe was applied prior to her death as her tombstone reads: “Here lies one who famishing fed the hungry; though herself suffering, gave aid to the distresses; though surrounded by enemies, loved all, and who lived to hear her former enemies call her ‘The Angel of the Shenandoah.’ ”
Smith hopes those in attendance will walk away with a newfound respect for the courage of a woman who stood up for what she believed in, no matter if she was standing alone.
“I’m trying to make sure she’s not forgotten,” said Smith.
Contact Kate Kersey at 574-6267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.