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Tompkins Cottage


Monmouth. Her dad was Colonel Chris- topher Tompkins. He was a very success- ful planter, sea captain, ship owner and ship builder who amassed a considerable fortune. When Miss Tompkins was just five years old, her father died leaving her great wealth. After his death, she and her mother moved to Richmond. They had lost interest in the rural, isolated life at Poplar Grove and were more attracted to the Richmond social life and the promi- nent people of the big city. In Richmond, they joined St. James Episcopal Church. The Tompkins family was living in Richmond when war broke out. Miss Tompkins was 28 years old. She was not a woman to “stay in her place” sewing and knitting for soldiers, collecting supplies and donations, all considered “womanly” services at the time. Seeing that all the available hospitals were more than full, she quickly appealed to her father’s friend Judge John Robertson for the use of his palatial mansion. His family had moved away to farm to avoid the fighting and to stay out of danger. The judge agreed. Using her own funds, on August 1, 1861, she converted the luxury home to the Robertson Hospital. She then went to work nursing the wounded and comfort- ing the dying with the help of four slaves and some volunteers. “Mammy Phoebe” had served the Tompkins family as a bondservant. She raised Sally Tompkins


The House & Home Magazine


from birth then served side by side with disabled soldiers, their family members, and many of the socially elite females of Richmond who came forward to help Miss Tompkins tend to the sick. She persuaded Dr. A.Y.P. Garnett,


a highly respected physician from Washington, D.C., to serve as her chief surgeon, as well as a half dozen other doctors. Robertson Hospital was regarded as one of the most efficient hospitals at the time. Sally Tompkins was known to have an absolute “obsession” with cleanliness.


When Confederate President Jef- ferson Davis learned that most of the hospitals taking care of Confederate soldiers were woefully inadequate, he made a decision. It also became known that some of the hospi- tals were keeping soldiers who Army officials believed should already be back on duty. He ordered that all private hospitals for soldiers be closed. That order included the Robertson Hospital which had already been operating for three months. Heartbroken, but still determined, Sally Tompkins found a way to get a meeting with President Davis. Davis was aware that her hospital had the highest survival rate of any hospital treating Confeder-


The coat Capt Sally Tompkins wore as she tended patients is on display at Tompkins Cottage in Mathews, Va. Photo by Bob Cerullo.


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