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Martha F. Shepherd



Martha F. Shepherd was one of my great grandmothers.  Martha was the mother of Eva Luke, who was my Mother’s mother.  Martha was born around 1843, probably in Portsmouth.  


Martha married Dale D. Luke on October 3, 1860 in Portsmouth.  She was about 17 years old and Dale was 22.  C.H. Hale officiated as pastor at their wedding, which was held at Monumental Methodist Church in Portsmouth.   Martha and Dale lived in Portsmouth after their wedding.  In 1880, they lived at 24 Clifford Street. in Portsmouth.


A Martha Luke was committed on January 19, 1886 to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg by court order.  She was living in Portsmouth and the court order was issued in Portsmouth.   Hospital records indicate she had, for several months prior to this commitment date, shown instability and had attempted to set fire to a house.  The records indicate that she was poor, a deserted woman, and had three children (which would be Lillie, Eva, and Rachel).  This Martha’s birth date, according to the records, was 1843. 


The 1900 Virginia Census shows Martha F. Luke as an inmate at Eastern State.  The census clearly indicates the middle initial to be F.  No other Martha's, as wives of Lukes, could be found in Portsmouth in 1860, 1870, and 1880 census records, other than Martha F. Shepherd Luke, wife of Dale Delafield.  This data (the name, including the middle initial; residence at time of commitment; age; number of children; and lack of any other Martha Luke living in Portsmouth during this time) from the hospital and the census records indicate almost certainly that this committed Martha F. Luke is my great grandmother.


What is met by “deserted woman” is uncertain.  Possibly, Dale had left her in the 1880s prior to her commitment, or possibly he had died.  She had, earlier in the 1880s, as indicated above under Dale Luke, lost her two sons, one age 1 and the other age 20.  The hospital records indicate that her mental condition became worst when the subject of marriage was on her mind.  An explanation of this is not clear and a more modern, satisfying diagnosis of her mental condition is not clear from the hospital records. Various mental conditions, such as melancholy (depression) and hallucinations, are given for her over the years, on the Eastern State records. 


A newspaper called the Norfolk Public Ledger was published daily (Monday through Friday) during at least the first half of the 1880s.  This paper had a special section covering Portsmouth news.  Court appearances, and other citizen-related happenings, were covered and written up.  Reviewing this paper’s publications from late 1882 and through 1883 (the period of D.D. Luke’s disappearance, from lack of information on him found in public records – see Dale D. Luke’s section) and from the middle of 1885 through January 1886 (the month Martha Luke was committed to what was then called “Eastern Lunatic Asylum”) discovered several references to Martha Luke and one to D.D. Luke.


In the first half of 1883, the paper reported on a woman (not identified), judged to be insane, and who was back home in Portsmouth, after being released.  Apparently, as the story continued, the woman was still, occasionally, being a “nuisance”.  The story was sympathetic to the woman, stating that her husband and two brothers had gone off to sea, not to return.  Was this woman Martha Luke?  It is possible.  The 1883 date matches D.D Luke’s disappearance; Martha was later committed as being insane; and we know Martha had at least one brother (see the section on Jacob Shepherd’s 1850 census, below) who, like D.D Luke, does not appear in Portsmouth in public records during this period.  We also know from above, that Martha was characterized as a “deserted woman”.  What was met in the story by "the woman had been released, and was back home" is not known.


On December 28, 1883 the newspaper reported that a letter for D.D Luke was waiting to be picked up at the Post Office.  Nothing more is known about this letter, and whether it was picked up.  Does the occurrence that the letter had not been picked up by D.D., prior to the newspaper’s announcement, indicates D.D had now departed Portsmouth, as being suggested in this family history?  An answer to this question cannot be definitely provided, but that the letter needed to be picked up could be consistent with D.D. Luke not being available to pick it up, because he is no where to be found, in Portsmouth.


The July 31, 1885 edition of the Norfolk Public Ledger now reports that a letter was at the Post Office for a Martha Luke.  Who was this letter from?  Was it from D. D. - perhaps giving a final word that he would not be returning to Portsmouth and to Martha?  This is not known.  (In the 1800s, the common practice was for post offices to advertise in local newspapers that letters were waiting to be picked up.)


But, appearing in the paper on September 12, 1885, soon after the letter was waiting for Martha to pick up at the Post Office, is information that the Mayor’s Court has arrested a Martha Luke, white, for lunacy and sent her to jail, by commissioner’s order.  Martha would never again be free.  She would remain in jail until January 1886, when she is taken to Eastern State in Williamsburg, where she remains for the rest of her life.


Did the letter that was waiting for Martha Luke at the Post Office in late summer of 1885 serve as the final straw that broke Martha, sending her to Williamsburg? This likely will never be known.


The January 13, 1886 Ledger Journal edition states that a committee from the Christian Benevolent Association visited Mrs. Luke in her jail cell to inquire as to her condition.  The story stated that the committee wanted a competent nurse and suitable room for Mrs. Luke.  The visit by this committee from the Christian Benevolent Association is a very moving event.  Martha was probably much alone, frightened, and in need, and the concern of these people, and their act, is very heartening.


On January 19, 1886, the paper reports that Mrs. Martha Luke was picked up in Portsmouth by a guard from the Eastern Lunatic Asylum for transport there, as she had been adjudged a lunatic.


In Virginia in the 1800s, apparently once a judge declared a person a “lunatic”, then the judge and the sheriff were free to decide what to do with the person.  Exactly what was the standard for being declared a lunatic is not clear.  Searching the internet, I can find no information on standards for being declared a lunatic.  However, what can be found is that women were more likely to be sent to “lunatic” asylums then men, especially women who were alone (without family connection and protection).  Also found were several reasons why people would be admitted to different mental institutions (lunatic asylums) in the late 1800s.  These included: domestic troubles; religious matters; loss of property; mental excitement; insane by overwork; ill treatment by husband; hysteria; menstrual derangement; desertion by husband; and bad habits.


Rather than one judge, a commission dealing with lunacy, consisting of 3 members, was also used in some communities to decide on committing someone to a mental institution.


Based on the newspaper accounts about Martha given above, Martha seems certain to have been acting strangely.  But with the lost of her 21-year old oldest son and also infant son within a year of one another and the disappearance of her husband, it would not be surprising that she might have been badly depressed (e.g. postpartum depression) resulting in excitability, instability and anger.  Perhaps, Martha was truly in need of commitment to Eastern State to protect her and the community.  But, unfortunately, perhaps she was also badly and wrongly treated by the community, and did not require commitment, ruining the rest of her life.


Martha, unfortunately, would remain at Eastern State for the rest of her life, another 31 years.  Martha is described in the Eastern State records as having small, brown eyes and, in 1903, at age 60, as gray, but healthy.  She was admitted when she was 42 and, according to hospital records, would die on April 11, 1916, at age 73, while at Eastern State, of, reportedly, cancer.   According to Eastern State’s records, Martha is buried at the Eastern State Hospital Cemetery, located on South Henry Street. in Williamsburg.  Records indicate a #40 associated with Martha’s gravesite, but it is not clear whether this is a grave or marker number or some other number.   A monument at this cemetery lists the names of people buried there, and includes Martha Luke.


When Martha was admitted to Eastern State in 1886, her three daughters were still young.  Lillie was around 19 or 20; Eva, one of my grandmothers, was around 14 or 15; and Rachel, was around 9 or 10.   It is not known if Dale, their father, was still alive, and if he was, what role he played as a parent at this time.  It is not known who assumed responsibility for Eva and Rachel; perhaps William F. Luke, Dale’s brother, or other family members.  Eva would be married within 4 years (her first child is born in 1890) to William B. Stokes, and then, at, or sometime soon after the marriage, would be living in Newport News with her new husband.  By 1886 it is believed that Lillie (Lydia) has married.   See the section on Eva Luke for more on this.


A death certificate for Martha Luke verifies the Williamsburg State Mental Hospital records that she died in 1916.  The death certificate states she died of epithelioma (cancer) of the face, and that heart failure contributed.  This must have been a very painful death.  Her mother and father ware listed as unknown; she was listed as being from Portsmouth.  The certificate states that she was at Williamsburg State for 30 years, 2 months, and 22 days.


Martha’s stay at Eastern State represents a real sadness; an event reflecting the times that probably could easily had been avoided with today’s knowledge and treatment.  Also, Martha was probably admitted and then abandoned, although her abandonment is uncertain.  Prevailing attitudes at Eastern State, at least during part of the period of her commitment, according to historic information provided by Eastern State Hospital’s website, was not to release patients due to costs associated with their release, presumably even if they were well.  With 3 daughters, possibly still a living husband, and at least one possibly still-living brother, and maybe more brothers and sisters, someone, hopefully, cared about her.  Whether anyone did, or not, likely will never be known.


My mother would have been about eight or nine at Martha’s death. When at age 94, and asked about whether she remembered her grandmother, my mother answered she could not.  She neither remembered any knowledge of Martha being in Williamsburg, ever going to Williamsburg during this time, or attending a funeral for her grandmother in Williamsburg, or anywhere else.  She would also have no recollection of her other grandmother.


The “Eastern Lunatic Asylum” that Martha was committed to is today called Eastern State Hospital.  Eastern State Hospital, which has had various names since its founding in 1773, was the first planned, public institution for the mentally ill in the American colonies.  It has been in existence continuously since 1773.  Today (2013) Eastern State is one of nine facilities operated by the State of Virginia for citizens with mental illness.  Other major Virginia State Mental Hospitals, which also have been in existence since the 1800s, are:  Western State Hospital (Staunton); Central State Hospital (Petersburg); and Southwestern State Hospital (Marion).


For much of the early history of these institutions (e.g. for much of the 1800s), the institutions served more as custodial care facilities for the mental ill than as treatment centers.  Possibly this would be due to the poor results for those treatments tried in the 1800s.   Also, being committed to these facilities in the 1800s was not usually based on medical considerations of sickness and treatment by medically-trained people but by local authorities more concerned with removing irrational, and therefore unpredictable and possibly dangerous, individuals from the community.  As indicated above, once committed, the likelihood of release probably was very small (even if mental illness was no longer or ever the case).   Such facilities as the “Eastern Lunatic Asylum” often became a dumping ground for anyone not able to care for themselves, and not cared for by someone else.  Martha F.  Shepherd experiences described above are a testament to the statements in this paragraph.


Although the facility in Williamsburg was the first of its kind, by the early 1800s several other states had established similar institutions.  Most facilities were overcrowded, underfunded, and non-curing.   Treatment and care of the mentally ill is another of many, many areas experienced by my ancestors, where great advancements in attitudes, commitment, and success have occurred with time.  For this I am grateful.


Martha’s father was Jacob L. Shepherd.  Jacob was born in 1803 in Virginia.  Jacob was in the 1840 Portsmouth census, age between 30 and 40.  In the 1840 census, Martha’s mother is between 20 and 30 years old.  Also in the household are a male, less than 5; a male, 5 to 10; a female less than 5; and a female, 70 to 80. 


Martha’s mother’s maiden name is not certain, but her birth was in Virginia. 


Jacob’s occupation was cabinetmaker in the 1850 census.  He owned real estate valued at $2,900.  Jacob did not list a wife in the 1850 census, when Martha was seven. Thus, apparently, Martha’s mother died, or had left Jacob, when Martha was less than seven years old.   Martha had a brother, William, 10 years older, who in 1850, is an apprentice carpenter.  Also living with the Shepherd family household in 1850 was an Elizabeth (looks like) Hunter, age 48, and her daughters, Sarah A., age 18; and Virginia, age 12.  The relationship of these other household members to the Shepherds is explained below.  Also, a reason for the difference between the 1840 and 1850 family numbers is not known.


Jacob Shepherd is not in the 1860 census, suggesting he is dead by 1860.  But no death record could be found for Jacob in the state death records of this time.  However, the records only begin in 1853.


Further research discovered that Jacob had a brother named John. 


No William Shepherd (Martha’s older brother) could be found in the Portsmouth censuses for 1860, 1870, or 1910.  What has happened to him is not known.   Perhaps he dies early, or immigrates to another state.   With him gone, with Martha F. Shepherd Luke’s parents dead, and with Dale Delafield Luke dead, or no longer caring, perhaps Martha F. was very much alone in the world, and this would explain why she might have been left in Williamsburg State Mental Hospital, apparently abandoned, for 31 years.   What about her daughters?  Did they know that Martha was at Williamsburg State, and if they did, did they visit, try to get her out?  If they did not know, why?   Answers to these questions are not known, and may never be known.


A William Shepherd is on a Gosport (Portsmouth) Naval Yard list of personnel working on the CSS Virginia (Merrimac).  Whether this is Martha’s brother is not known.  A John Stokes is also on the same list.  Martha’s daughter Eva’s (one of my grandmothers) first husband was William B. Stokes.  Nothing is known about where and when Eva met William.  They were living in Newport News, Virginia when he was killed in 1896 or 1897.  Could Eva have met William in Portsmouth, and then they moved to Newport News for employment purposes?  (Newport News was the site of a new shipyard.)   It is unlikely that Eva would have gone on her own from Portsmouth to Newport News.  Was William, Eva's husband, related to John Stokes?   Was that the William Shepherd at Gosport, possibly Martha’s brother, an explanation for Eva meeting William Stokes, a possible relative of John Stokes?   Since D.D. Luke, Eva’s father, is known to have been ordered to Portsmouth while he was in the Confederate Army to work at Gosport  suggests that perhaps that if the William was Martha’s brother then the above scenario for how Eva met William Stokes becomes very plausible. In the 1850, at age 17, William, Martha’s brother is listed as an apprentice carpenter in his father’s census.  As a carpenter, he might have been qualified to be working on the CSS Virginia.


Several Shepherds are found in Portsmouth in the late 1700s and early 1800s.   These include: Margaret A. Shepherd who marries Fletcher G. Porter; Solomon Shepherd; Capt Shepherd who led a defense of the shorelines against the British in 1807; and John Shepherd who, with other Portsmouth residents, petitions the Virginia General Assembly in 1783.  The marriage of Margaret A. Shepherd to Fletcher G. Porter is interesting since Fletcher is known to be a descendent of Isaac Luke as Dale D. Luke was.   Was Martha F. Shepherd related to Margaret A. Shepherd?


A connection between Martha F. Shepherd and Margaret A. Shepherd does exist.  On September 13, 1854 a Miss Sarah Ann Hunter dies of consumption while at the residence of Mr. Fletcher G. Porter.  Fletcher was Margaret A. Shepherd’s husband. Sarah Ann Hunter is in Jacob Shepherd’s 1850 census (see above).  Sarah was the daughter of Elizabeth Hunter.  Elizabeth is believed to be Jacob’s sister.  As stated above, Jacob (and Elizabeth) are believed to have a brother, John.  John dies in 1838, leaving a wife, Nancy and children Margaret and Edward.  This Margaret then is presumably Margaret A. Shepherd who marries Fletcher G. Porter.  This would make Sarah Ann Hunter the cousin of Martha F. Shepherd as well as the cousin of Margaret A. Shepherd Porter, and would account for Sarah, and her mother and  sister, Virginia, being in Jacob’s 1850 census, and then for Sarah being at Margaret A. Shepherd Porter’s residence when she dies in 1854.


According to Roger L. Whichard’s “The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia”, a Solomon Shepherd was an associate of Col. Willis Riddick at the 1788 Virginia Convention that ratified the US Constitution.  Apparently, Col. Riddick represented Nansemond County at the convention.   A Virginia Historical Society publication “The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788”, written by Hugh Blair Grigsby, identifies Willis Riddick and Solomon Shepherd as Nansemond County representatives at the 1788 Virginia Convention.  Both Willis Riddick and Solomon Shepherd voted for Virginia ratification of the United States Constitution.  Portsmouth was not represented by the Nansemond delegation but the Norfolk County delegation, which also voted for ratification.


Whether Solomon Shepherd was an ancestor of Martha F. Shepherd, and her father Jacob, is not known.


There were at least 30 Shepherds in Virginia, according to the 1790 census.  None lived in Portsmouth, but there were two in Nansemond County.


Another spelling for Shepherd in the early 1800s records was Shipherd.


Some of these Shepherds, listed in the 1790 census, lived in Goochland County.  One of my great, great grandfathers (on my father side) was John S. Cocke, with the S standing for Shepherd (see the Lillie Shepherd Cocke section).  John S. Cocke’s mother was Elizabeth Shepherd, of Goochland County.  What relationship existed between the Shepherds of Goochland County and those in Portsmouth is not known.  If there were a relationship, this would be interesting, in that then, ancestors of my Mother were related to ancestors of my Father.

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