BY NOREEN GILLESPIE
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Jun 24, 2001
GLOUCESTER - Three hundred years ago, Daniel DuVal arrived on the banks of the York River, seeking the opportunity to practice his Protestant faith in peace. He was the only member of his family who made the four-month voyage, fleeing religious persecution of the French Huguenots in his homeland.
Today, he has more than 200 identified descendants across the country.
With their ancestors beneath their feet, 90 of those descendants gathered in the graveyard of Ware Episcopal Church yesterday to honor DuVal. After arriving in Virginia on March 5, 1701, DuVal settled in Gloucester and was a registered member of Ware Parish by 1705. Family members estimate that one-third of the graveyard belongs to the DuVal family.
Family members recalled DuVal's journey and contributions to the Gloucester community and erected a marble plaque engraved with the Huguenot cross.
"He wanted to enjoy religious freedom, as we do today," said Joseph Hays, the DuVal family association genealogist from Smith's Grove, Ky. "In 300 years, maybe our descendants will gather and commemorate our honoring him."
The ceremony was just one in a weekend of events in the DuVal family reunion.
Earlier in the day, family members marched in the town parade for Gloucester's 350th anniversary. Gov. Jim Gilmore sent a letter to the family notifying them the day would be officially recognized as "DuVal Day" in Virginia in honor of the family's accomplishments and contributions to the commonwealth.
The four-day reunion was sponsored by the DuVal Family Association. The association was originally established in 1936 by direct descendants of Daniel's son Samuel to celebrate his accomplishments as an architect and revolutionary soldier. Vigilant about holding reunions and meetings to track their genealogy after their inception, the association stopped meeting during World War II, when gas rations made travel difficult.
Records and membership information were lost, and the association remained dormant until 1997, when current association president Judy Anderson Hamby set up a Web site to revamp the organization. After an extensive letter-writing campaign to locate lost relatives, Hamby and fellow board members managed to locate and register 215 DuVal descendants.
"It snowballed," said Hamby, of Lenoir, Ky. "I got several phone calls and letters, and it just started growing."
The organization met for a smaller reunion two years ago, just shortly after Hamby set up the Web site. Choosing Richmond because Samuel DuVal was one of six architects who designed the city, only 60 members were present at the first reunion. This year, however, more than 100 descendants, many of whom discovered the association on the Internet, came to the reunion. Most of them are from Virginia, but many came from across the United States and Canada.
While the organization is far from locating all DuVal family members, Hamby estimates there are close to 200 descendants in the Virginia area alone who have not yet been identified.
That trend could begin to change as the family members identify their shared heritage, however. Some of the attendees hadn't even realized they were related before this weekend. Elizabeth Suitzer and Virginia Price first met on the Logan County, Ky., swim team in grade school, but didn't know they were relatives. When they arrived in Richmond for the reunion, they discovered their DuVal connection.
Through conversation, the two realized they were both related to Maj. Claiborne DuVal, son of Samuel DuVal, who originally owned the land in Kentucky where they grew up.
The precise family tree linking Suitzer and Price still needs some investigation, however. "We haven't quite figured it out yet," Price said with a laugh. "We're still working on that one."
Shirley Kennett, who traveled with her husband, Don, from Kelowna, British Columbia, to the event, didn't know any of her DuVal relatives. Looking to trace her grandmother's lineage, she found the association on the Internet and decided to make the trip to Virginia.
"I didn't know I had any alive cousins," she said. "This has been wonderful."