The Richmond Times, Sept. 21, 1902 An early celebrity south of the James River was John J. S. “Hurricane' Branch” of Nansemond County. He was a constable, detective and bloodhound trainer who gained popularity at the turn of the 20th century. Detective Branch was known for his use of bloodhounds to aid in local criminal investigations and became a popular figure through numerous newspaper accounts of his work. A reporter gave him the nickname “Hurricane” due to his relentless pursuit of criminals. His popularity was such that he received interest from people all over the country.
Recognize this fellow who sits in front of Hardy Elementary School? Reportedly, he used to sit atop South Church Street's Tastee Freeze back when the building was a tack shop.
The Richmond Daily Dispatch, April 25, 1857
Walter Shivers, 17, a cadet at the Chuckatuck Military Institute, was killed by the accidental discharge of a pistol in his overcoat pocket at the residence of H.S. Tynes Esq. in Chuckatuck. The boy’s father sent a buggy for the young man and his sister to return home to Isle of Wight County. Walter threw his coat over his arm to climb into the buggy. As he did so, the pocket struck the banister of a stairway and exploded the pistol. The ball entered the left side just above the hip and passed through his body. He lived another 12 hours in excruciating pain.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 16 & 23, 1912
A fire in downtown Smithfield originated in a men’s furnishing store and burned a block in each direction. The fire destroyed several businesses including the telephone central offices thereby cutting the town off from all communication. The blaze caused $30,000 worth of damage.
Several nights later, prominent business man George Rouse was seen crawling underneath a house with a can of gasoline. Just as he was about to light the fuse, he was apprehended by watchful authorities. Once taken into custody, Rouse confessed that he started the earlier fire. When asked about his motive, he said that he was compelled by an unknown power that he could not resist. It is believed that Rouse was responsible for many more fires in the area.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 18, 1903
While bathing near Carrollton, Eliza Blackwell, 16, and her brother Robert swam beyond a safe depth and drowned. There were several others in the bathing party whose lives were nearly forfeited.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 17, 1908
In order to outwit the girl’s father who bitterly opposed the match, Mr. Willie Reid and his beloved Miss Lillian Everett of Isle of Wight County undertook a 95-mile drive to marry. The met in Chuckatuck, traveled to Suffolk and then to Gatesville, N.C., for their nuptials.
The Daily Phoenix, Columbia, S.C., May 28, 1869
William Edwards, a Welshman, was attacked by a field-hand in Isle of Wight County, Va., and killed by the blow of a hoe. The murderer escaped.
Shenandoah Herald, Woodstock, Va., Oct. 16, 1908
Frank Clark, also known as Joe Bush, was accused of arson on an Isle of Wight County farm. After the fire, Clark remained on the grounds for several weeks and then suddenly disappeared. Shortly thereafter, he was captured in North Carolina by Suffolk private detective Johnny "Hurricane" Branch. The destroyed property, valued at more than $5,000, belonged to Hurricane Branch’s brother and included 22 cows, eight horses and mules, 300 barrels of corn and farm machinery.
The Richmond-Times Dispatch, Nov. 14, 1905
A horse and buggy was stolen from W. L. Bryant’s store in Carrsville. James L. Joyner and Jesse Lakeford pursued the alleged thief, David Johnson, and after a brief scuffle, they shot him in the back.
The Daily Press, Feb. 22, 1905
Dr. John W. Lawson, 68, died at his home near Smithfield. Lawson served as a former member of Congress from the second district of Virginia, a leading member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention and president of the board of visitors at The College of William and Mary. His dying request was that he be buried in his old Confederate uniform. He was laid to rest in Ivy Hill Cemetery.