Per Martin (personal correspondence, 2016), Silas Vester Morefield was born on November 6, 1893 in Westfield, Surry County, North Carolina.
He was married to Miriam M. Workman on 10/18/1930 in Richmond, Virginia. Miriam was born on April 18, 1897 and died June 16, 1981, as shown on her tombstone (see figure). An infant daughter was born March 1, 1932, but did not survive (see figure). Silas’ father was George W. Morefield, born August 1862 in North Carolina. His Mother was E. Elizabeth (Eliza), born in December 1865. His mother was supposedly part Cherokee. His siblings were Mary (May), Della, Nonnie (Nannie) L. and Lee. Geehan (1953, p. 1) notes that Silas V. Morefield was from Chula, Virginia, a town that is just under 4 miles away from Morefield mine (or more like 2 miles, as the crow flies). For 18 years, Morefield was a service station owner and a hatchery operator (Amelia, 1957, p. 20).
Any story benefits from being told first hand. Blessedly, Morefield saw fit to do just that, but submitting a lengthy, humble letter to Rocks & Mineral magazine, published in the September issue. Morefield (1933) explained how he found the pegmatite:
“On an afternoon the latter part of September, 1929, I was squirrel hunting on our farm and accidentally ran across some mica lying on the ground, on a southern slope of a hill. I also noticed quartz rock, bits of greenish stone and some kind of a stone with six smooth sides. Not knowing anything about minerals, all I noticed at the time was the color of the stones. Well, I began to wonder what I would find down in the ground, and a few days later I took my equipment that I used for blasting stumps and went over on the hillside. After looking on the ground, I selected a spot and managed to get a hole down about four feet. Then I put two sticks of dynamite in and set off a blast. After the smoke had cleared away, I walked up and began investigating, and the first thing that I noticed was mica, large blocks that were twelve inches across, a six sided greenish stone about twelve inches long, also some other green stone.”
Mr. Morefield operated a store and gas station in Amelia Court House and he set some of his new-found mineral specimens in front of the store. Within two weeks of his discovery, a vehicle with travelers from the U.S. Bureau of Standards stopped by and they saw the flashy specimens and enquired about the source of the specimens. Later, back in Washington, D.C. , they told coworkers at the U.S. Geological Survey about their find and the mine was then known to the geological world.” Retrieved 4/11/2017, from http://www.morefieldgemmine.com/history.html
The story sounds a little different, as it was told in 1957. In this later article, instead of two sticks of dynamite, there were eight sticks. Instead of just mentioning greenish stones, he specified that there was “some extra good beryl” (Amelia, 1957, p. 20). Note that photos of several lovely green or blue-green specimens of Beryl from Morefield mine have been uploaded to Mindat.
In addition to storing rocks at his gas station and store, he was known to display specimens all over his porch (Amelia, 1957, p. 20).
In his words, Morefield (1933) indicated that he had quite a few mentors. He mentions Mr. Jones, the Virginia State Chemist; Mr. Elder, Mr. Jones’ assistant; Dr. C. S. Ross, U. S. Geological Survey; Dr. R. J. Holden, Professor of Geology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia; and Drs. Ross, Holden and William F. Foshag with the Virginia State Division of Chemistry. It is important to note these mentors when considering this book’s chapter on minerals found at Morefield mine, because with typographical errors notwithstanding, any specific names of minerals used by Morefield would have come from these mentors. Morefield (1933) explained that the gentlemen from the U.S. Bureau of Standards “told him the name of each stone.” Later in the article, he notes, “I soon met the Virginia State Chemist, Mr. Jones, and his assistant, Mr. Elder, who would lose no time in identifying all the different minerals I carried into their office.”
Four years into Morefield’s discovery (1933), he had already had the opportunity to sell the following gems and minerals: “many specimens of Phenacite, Beryl, Columbite crystals that weigh from 1-3 pounds, also Microlite in gangue and out, a large quantity of gem quality Amazonite, several tons of Beryl for the BeO content, several carloads of crude Feldspar, some mica crystals, and also sheet and scrap mica.
In 1933, Morefield offered for people to visit his house and mine. In a story told later in the chapter about the Morefield mine at the Smithsonian, Morefield may have drawn the line with answering personal correspondence. Nonetheless, there is ample evidence of his having hosted guests to the mine. The Farmville Herald (Amelia 1957) mentioned that Morefield had visitors from all over the world, specifically mentioning European visitors from Belgium and Germany, the latter being a couple that visited in Christmas 1956. In the same article, Morefield recounted a story of when three busloads of school students arrived at his house, just when he was planning to plant 20 acres of wheat. He stopped the planting to give them a tour.
In 1935, Morefield earned its first professionally-published article, written by United States Geological Survey ___ Jewell J. Glass. She acknowledged “the courtesy…of Mr. S. V. Morefield, whose permission to collect much of the material here described, has made this paper possible.
Jones (1940) interviewed Morefield directly. He noted that, in the 1930s, Morefield was able to sell amazonite for $1.50 to $2 per pound, shipping it via a New York firm to Germany. A family in Ida [Idar-Oberstein], Germany fashioned those semi-precious stones into rings and necklaces. This was corroborated in a 1957 article, which explains, “During the war, Moorefield [sic] had many sales to Germany. ‘They cut anything from handles and beads to door handles,’ Morefield said” (Amelia, 1957, p. 21).
However, Morefield’s supply opportunity froze up when Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies were implemented. Jones (1940) indicated that the “Jewish family [was] schooled for centuries in the art of cutting semiprecious stone…[and] took the rough pieces, which Mr. Moorefield [sic] had thought for the longest time was ordinary rock colored just a little deeper than the average run, and cut it into anything the market demanded in the way of jeweled ornaments.” The article is low on specifics yet high on dramatic turns of phrase: “The Hitler got to stiff-arming the Jews. He ran them out of Germany. He confiscated their wealth. He took over their property...Every day he [Morefield] picks up the paper to find that Hitler has done something else.” Regarding the future, Jones quotes Morefield as saying, “Anybody's guess is as good as mine.” A twenty-first century writer, looking back to this time period, might suspect there was no way Morefield or Jones could have guessed just how bad things might get in Germany (and around the world) before Hitler’s plans were terminated.
As of 1957, Morefield still had some rings, bracelets and other jewelry made from minerals found at Morefield mine (Amelia, 1957, p. 21). Apparently some of the jewelry was made from tumbled minerals; the article describes tumbling in barrels of corn or sand, from 18 to 31 days. This generated a very smooth surface, such as would be created if the mineral were subjected to a lengthy exposure to moving water.
Idar-Oberstein (2017) notes that Idar had a population of 7,897 in 1933; the Nazi’s merged this town along with Oberstein, Tiefenstein and Algenrodt, to result in a population of 20,066. Of the population of Idar in 1933, Wawrzyn (2017) indicates that 129 were Jewish, down from a high of 192 in 1910. These documents do not identify any of the Jews as gemcutters. What is clear is that they were persecuted. According to Wawrzyn (2017), “(a)t least 42 Idar-Oberstein Jews perished in the Shoah” [the Hebrew term for the Holocaust]. The following provides additional detail regarding their fate (Wawrzyn 2017):
On Pogrom Night, the synagogue’s interior was destroyed. The Torah shrine was set on fire, and although members of the fire brigade extinguished the blaze, they went on to smash the synagogue’s windows. Jewish homes were ransacked, and three Idar Jews were so badly beaten that they had to be hospitalized. The municipal authorities appropriated the synagogue building in 1940. Almost all Jews left Idar-Oberstein while the Nazis were in power.
Lehrer (2016), however, states that “There were a lot of Jewish people who worked in Idar and when the war came they were all rustled up and were sent to work camps to carve the war medals for the generals. By the time I went to Idar there were no Jewish people left, literally the whole industry [gem-cutting and cameo engraving] was decimated after the war. Richard [Hahn] was the one man that built it all back after 1948.”
Per Sam Dunaway (2016, personal correspondence), “Silas was a prolific collector and dealer in Indian artifacts and that might be a connection to his Cherokee heritage. He also got into trouble once opening a burial mound. When he had the chicken hatchery in the old tobacco warehouse in Amelia, it was noted for as many as 6 very large tables covered with artifacts.”
While he may have been in trouble about the burial mount, he freely described his acquisition of some Indian bowls, a “stone throne”, and other “artifacts from the Indian mount across the branch” (Amelia, 1957, p. 20).
Morefield’s interest in Native American artifacts has been detailed in many articles. Jones (1940) indicated that this hobby had become an important feature of Morefield’s life after his mining interests took a downturn. Types of artifacts he mentioned included more than 5,000 arrowheads, so-called Folsom man stone points allegedly dated to 20,000 B.C., bowls, mortars, pestles, banner rocks, war clubs and a ladies-style vanity case. He validated Sam’s story above, noting that the displayed his finds in the “Amelia Hatchery where he is proprietor.” Morefield’s collector tendencies also turned toward a “minor collection of Confederate relics, many of these came from an old powder magazine up at the forks of the road that was blown up by the Rebels during Lee's retreat from Appomattox.” Apparently Morefield was a member of the American Museum of Natural History, according to a placard in his den.
Morefield’s interest in personally managing his collection of Native American artifacts waned when he discovered that some of his collection had disappeared. Of his 18 Folsom points, three were found in Amelia; some came from Charlotte, North Carolina; others were from Buckingham and Cumberland Counties in Virginia. He sold his collection to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, after he realized his collection had dwindled to 13 Folsom points and that many arrowheads were missing.
Per Sam Dunaway (2016, personal correspondence to Betsy Martin), Mrs. Ilene West, formerly Morefield’s 16-year-old secretary, said she wrote letters to individuals both inside and outside the USA for him.
The article in 1957 was close to the end of Morefield’s life. However, his mother was still living at that point, and as a 90-year-old, was still a craftswoman, making log cabin quilts using a treadle sewing machine (Amelia, 1957, p. 21).
[Insert personal conversation, 2012 from Sam about West]
Personal correspondence, from Sam Dunaway to Betsy Martin, 3/6/2011:
“His crippling arthritis is visible in old photos, both hands and feet. He built a well-remembered (in Amelian’s memories) a stone wall at or near the tobacco warehouse which contained much amazonite and pot holes in the dirt streets were filled with mine waste and amazonite. The wall was built as he sat on the ground, sliding his body along.
“You may remember one of Bill Baltzley's photos showing Silas on his tractor. It was his transportation and he could pull it up to the side of his porch and dismount directly onto the porch!” (see figure).
16) indicated that Morefield died on July 28, 1959. He, his wife and an infant were buried at Arbor Baptist Church on Route #628 in Winterham, Amelia County, Virginia.
Morefield was an owner with a vision.
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