The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Hays Family of Chatham Hill

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991

Issue: September, 1991

When we were taking this month's Backroad tour, we stopped at the Chatham Hill Country Store on Route 16 to get soft drinks and a snack. We didn't realize it, but when we got to talking to the owners of the store, Fox and Barbara Hays, we found that Fox was a walking history book about this area. We spent an enjoyable hour or so talking to the Hays and learned much.

Fox Hays was born in this area and moved to Richmond to work. After he retired, he and Barbara moved back to Smyth County, Virginia and began operating this Country Store. They bought and are renovating the old Sexton house to live in.

One of Fox Hays ancestors was Captain William Hays, who was in charge of all the militia in this area of Montgomery County, before the Revolutionary War. His ancestors were in this valley before it was legal for settlers to live west of the New River. They probably moved to this area, left when there was an Indian uprising, and came back again. The earliest documented date William Hayes was here is 1769, but Fox Hays thinks he was here earlier than that. Captain William Hays was Fox Hays great-great-great-grandfather.

Fox was born in the old brick house that we point out on the BACKROAD at mile 53.2. It was built by slave labor in his grandfather's day. During the Civil War, his grandfather, George W. Hays, met his grandmother when he walked by her home in Wytheville. She came out to give biscuits to the soldiers and he said, "I'm going to come back and marry her." And he did. She was sixteen years old and her name was Laura Nickiti Huffard, daughter of William Huffard. During the Civil War, Union Soldiers out hunting food to feed their troops stopped at George Hays house and confiscated all the corn out of one of his two corn cribs. The next day they came back for the corn in the other crib. George refused to let them have it, telling them that it was all his family would have to eat through the winter. When the soldiers insisted, he drew his pistol and they left, without the corn.

Fox Hays says that at one time, the Chatham Hill post office was located in his old home. He said, "At one time there was a house in every hollow." His father ran a small store in the community and ordered the "electricals" for the present Bethel Chapel when it was being built.

Fox Hays started talking about his ancestors. One branch of the family, John Hays moved to what is now Tennessee early in the history of our country and his brother, Colonel Robert Hays, married the sister of the wife of President Andrew Jackson. The famous Colonel Jack Hays of the Texas Rangers was a notable person on this branch of his family tree.

Another branch of his family were the Kegleys of Bland County. The family was distinguished as being doctors and judges. There is a tragic story there. Pierce Kegley, a judge, was assassinated in the Bland County Courthouse in 1970 and his brother Dr. G.B. Kegley ran from his office across the street to attend his own brother, first on the scene, but it was too late for medical help. Pierce Kegley died on the way to the hospital in Bluefield. Fox Hays mother was a Kegley, daughter of Reverend Henry C. Kegley.

Fox Hays is quite a talker and weaves the stories of this area into the folklore of the nation. If you are in the area, drop in at the Chatham Hill Country Store. Fill up your gas tank, buy a snack or a hot dog (Barbara makes homemade chili for them), and ask him to tell you about his ancestors. If you have Hays, Kegley or Huffards in your family tree, you might even be related! At any rate, you will be sure to enjoy meeting Fox and Barbara Hays and will leave the little country store more well informed for having stopped.