I am regenerating a thread on John D Portress/Poythress of Southampton Co. VA. the
following was from a posting in 2000. Following the 2000 posting is a transcription of the
murder charges him and his daughter Docia.
There are court records for the charges in the Southampton Co. VA Project. I will add
those to this posting as I get them in order along with the census records.
Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2000 01:33:28 EDT
I had heard this story in bits and pieces and never known its source until
The following information is from the book "Southampton County,
Virginia" by Thomas C. Parramore, pages 169 and 170:
"Somehow, even in the depths of war, there were moments of relief. An
episode that brought smiles for a long time afterward was the launching
of Jack Poythress's submarine in the Blackwater in April 1863. The
inventor was a three-and-a-half-foot midget who could drink a glass of
whiskey without the use of his hands - while standing on his head.
Jack's seventy pounds were all but camouflaged behind a ten-inch growth
of black whiskers, and nobody took his submarine project seriously until
he actually brought the thing down to the river a little below the
railroad bridge and announced that it was about to make its first
cruise. Onlookers found that Jack had fashioned for the defeat of the
Union navy an 'infernal machine' from a smokestack stoppered at both
ends with pine blocks and outfitted with a canvas hose for underwater
breathing. The Mushrat, as Poythress christened his vessel, was to be
driven by means of a hand crank that turned a stern propeller. Unhappily
for naval science, the Mushrat capsided upon launching and almost
drowned its inventor. The craft lay for some time thereafter half
submerged and was finally carried off by a freshet to its final resting
place at George's Bend, five miles downstream. Jack's own end was sadder
still: he was convicted for second-degree murder in 1875 and spent his
final years in prison."
Homicide in Southampton County
An Angry Woman Takes The Law Into Her Owe Hands And Kill A Companion-The Causeof the
Difficulty-Death From An Overdose Of Camphor
Franklin, Va., November 18.-Polly Joyner was shot and Killed by Docia Portressto-day. Both
are white. Docia Portress and Jack Portress (her father) are bothin jail.
Franklin, Va., November 18,-Magistrate Holland held aninquest over the remains of the
woman Joyner this morning. The following issubstantially Jack Portress’s testimony: “I was
in bed this morning, and PollyJoyner came to the door, knocked, and said: “I have come to
see about my hogyou stole. I am going to take the law into my own hands. I have plenty to
backme with guns and pistols.” She then came in and struck my daughter Dociaseveral times
with a stick, and finally picked up my gun from the corner of theroom. Docia got hold of
the breech and Polly told of the muzzle. I jumped upand tried to take the stick which she
had away from Polly and while doing sothe gun went off, and Polly fell, saying to Docia,
“You have killed me.” Dociareplied, “No, you did it yourself.” The entire load of buckshot
entered just tothe left of the navel, lodging in the back just under the skin, producing
deathalmost instantly. The body lay in the door with the feet on the ground, andbadly
Portress and daughter are low, disreputable people, and havebeen in several scrapes
before. The woman Joyner has always been consideredinoffensive. The verdict of the
coroner’s jury is that Polly Joyner was killedby a gun in the hands of Docia Portress.
Jack Portress and his daughter made noattempt to escape.
Mrs. Albert Blythe, who lived near this place, took anoverdose of camphor this morning,
and died in a few hours.
The daily dispatch Richmond Va 19 Nov 1875 Chronicling America Historic American
Newspapers Lib of Congress, transcribed by NJNetter 01 Jan 2017