A History Lesson along the Banks of Lake Joyce

Along the banks of Lake Joyce, four gravestones tell a small part of the story of the Early Republic and the Civil War era. Times were substantially different then... Let today’s manicured lawns, glistening pools, and the peaceful paddleboarders on the 85 acre freshwater lake drift from your mind. This was no resort area. The early settlers replaced Coastal Virginia’s woodlands with farmlands. The Revolutionary War had been won, the Constitution written, and young Americans in the South were providing for an exploding population. Princess Anne County was yet to become identified as a tourism destination and later renamed Virginia Beach. And the Joyce family farmed the lands along their future namesake as the young country faced an economic decline.

Joyce families are found in the area back to 1624 when the region was first settled.  Although sometimes identified as “Joice” in some census data, on the gravestones along Lake Joyce, as well as a few related at Kempsville Baptist Church, the spelling is “Joyce” During the period when the Joyce family lived in what is now Baylake Pines, it is reported that over half the land supported the agricultural needs of the settlers. 

Nicholas Joyce appears to be our first resident on record in the Joyce family, although his stone is not in the Baylake collection. In the 1830 Census he was identified as a landowner with two male slaves under the age of 10, one adult male slave, and two adult female slaves. Nicholas is referenced to be the husband of Jacamine (Jacomine on some census data) H. Joyce on one of the gravestone. Jacamine was born in 1801. She was just 6 years old when the HBMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake along the Lynnhaven Inlet in 1807. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the Embargo Act which prohibited trade between the US and Britain, and ignited the War of 1812.  The Joyce family was identified as #443 and were described as a Planter Class, a social-elite who held large estates for farming, often making use of enslaved Africans. Many, not only identified with British nobility, but also were related to the British upper crust. As an adult, Jamamine was one of the roughly 9000 residents of Princess Anne county during this Antebellum Period (1830-1860). Due to the new limitations on the export economy, inflation, and high unemployment, the country began to sink into an economic depression. Jacamine passed away in 1864 as the end of the Civil War drew near.  

Nicholas and Jacamine had one son who is buried at this site, John M. Joyce. John’s gravestone includes a crown with what is possibly a sword and refers to him being the “son of Nicholas and Jacamine Joyce.”  He was born in 1836 and is noted as a Farmer in the 1850 Census and a Laborer in the 1860 Census. He married Celestine (nee Smith) who was born in 1849 and was recorded as being 28 years old in the 1870 Census and who was a “House Keeper.” John died from dysentery in 1869 at 33 years of age, after the Civil War was officially over. Jno, an abbreviation for John at the time, is also referenced as his name in some historic documents with a spouse named Celestia (Smith). John’s wife’s gravestone is at the Baylake site, but the proper spelling of her name cannot be made out. What does the crown on John’s gravestone mean? It’s quite possible that John was a Union Loyalist in a state that had seceded from Union. Another reason for the symbols could be that the privilege of being a part of the elite Planter Class was important for the family to record on their family plot. 

Also identified under the Family Number 443 is Simon Hancock, whose grave is at the Baylake site. Born in 1824, he died in 1853 at 29 years of age. Simon could be one of the young slaves mentioned in the 1830 Census under Nicholas’s estate. No other reference to a Hancock family was found in this search. Also, there was no additional information about or gravestone for Henry H. Joyce, who is recorded as part of family #443 and born in 1840.  Henry may have been named after King Henry, as was Henrytown, the former name of the Baylake community in colonial times. Why is there no gravestone for Henry at the family plot? There is no date of death on record.  One could speculate that Henry sided with the Confederacy and was disowned from the family or that he passed during the Civil War and his remains were unrecovered. Since no death was recorded and no gravestone, we only know that he lived and was part of the local Joyce family.

Another mystery is that of John’s wife Celestine/Celestia.  Noted as a widow in the 1870 census, Celestine was only 30 at the time of John’s passing.  She later married Thomas Edmunds. Abbreviated as Thos, he is noted as a wheelwright (someone who repairs wooden wheels) in the Census description. Celestia Joyce’s grave on the better condition stone at Kempsville Baptist Church describes her as the “beloved wife of Thos Edmonds”.  Yet there is record of another wife prior to, and seemingly at the same time as Celestia by the name of Mary E. Edmunds who lived around 1840-1901. Edward D.Joyce’s gravestone was located there with a birthdate of 1874 and per the 1880 Census, he was five years old, deaf and dumb and the son of John and Celesia Joyce.  His gravestone reads “Beneath this stone in soft repose is laid a mother’s dearest pride.” He passed away at 1898 at 24 years of age. His mother passed just five years later in 1903 at 55 years of age. Wouldn’t it be unusual for one person to have two gravestones? Why would Edward share the Joyce last name and dwelling number of John M. Joyce on the census data when he was born five years past John’s death?  I like to think that Thomas took Celestia and Edward into his family to protect them during their hardship after John’s passing, especially given the disability he endured. These may be mysteries that remain peacefully unsolved along the quiet banks of Lake Joyce.

The railroad from Norfolk to the Virginia Beach oceanfront opened in 1883, pushing the farms further south and west, and changing the area to one of tourism. Beach cottages dotted the lands on the western section of Lake Joyce. And to the East, Baylake Pines was developed in the 1950s.  More recently, Bayville at Lake Joyce was developed from lands that belonged to the former Baylake Pines private school. Today, Lake Joyce is a private lake and a hub of recreation, surrounded by homes. As the only lake in Virginia Beach that allows power watercraft, boaters and paddlers of all kinds respectfully enjoy and protect the natural beauty of the area. Residents have pride in this fresh water lake that is sourced by aquifers and houses a manmade island known as Treasure Island, or Blackbeard’s Island, where even more mysteries (and possibly a treasure) lie buried, forever content to be undeveloped and undiscovered. 

Information in this article is pulled from the Sargeant Memorial Collection at the Slover Library in Norfolk, Ancestry.com, local cemetery plots, and with the assistance of local historian Robert Perrine of Old Donation Episcopal Church. 

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