Chiswell Langhorne

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Chiswell Dabney Langhorne
Chiswell Langhorne.jpg
Nationality United States
Occupation Auctioneer, Industrialist
Spouse(s) Nancy Witcher Keene
Parent(s) John Scarsbrook Langhorne
Sarah Elizabeth Dabney

Colonel Chiswell Dabney Langhorne (November 4, 1843 – February 14, 1919) was an American railroad industrialist. He was the father of Nancy Witcher Langhorne and the maternal grandfather of both Joyce Grenfell and Michael Langhorne Astor.[1]

Langhorne was born in Lynchburg, Virginia at Point of Honor. He was the eldest son of John Scarsbrook Langhorne (who inherited Langhorne Mills in Lynchburg along with the bulk of his father Henry's property) and Sarah Elizabeth Dabney (whose family owned the Edgemont plantation).[2] The family were wealthy planters and slave-owners before the American Civil War.[3] The Confederate General Jeb Stuart was a relative [1].

The Langhorne family lived in greatly reduced circumstances after the war. But, during the next quarter century, "Chilly" made a new fortune working first in the tobacco auctioneering business and then in railroads.[3]

As a young man, Langhorne entered the Confederate Army and served with distinction during the war. Soon after the Civil War, he moved to Danville, Virginia, a major center for bright leaf tobacco. The sale of loose-leaf tobacco by auction on a warehouse floor had originated there just before the Civil War. The practice, which was called the "Danville System", was quickly and widely adopted. It is said that Langhorne originated the auctioneer's fast-talking "chant," which proved very effective at evoking a heightened sense of bidding, and was also copied everywhere.

In 1864, while the Civil War was still in progress, Chiswell Langhorne married sixteen-year-old Nancy Witcher Keene. They had a total of eleven children; eight survived childhood.

In 1885, by which time they had at least six surviving children, he moved his family to Richmond. Through the influence of his wartime commanding officer, he landed a construction contract with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. This was the start of his building a railroad fortune.

By 1892 he had installed his family at Mirador, a colonnaded house in Albemarle County, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He died in Richmond following an illness of several weeks. In 2006 the Langhorne House in Danville was listed under the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in Virginia.


Nancy “Nanaire” Witcher Keene

He and Nancy Witcher Keene (1848—1903) had 11 children:

  • Elizabeth "Lizzie" Dabney (1867—1914); married Thomas Moncure Perkins, their daughter Nancy Lancaster, became a noted interior decorator
  • Elisha Keene (1869—1916); married Sadie Reynolds
  • Three children (John, Mary, and Chiswell Jr.) were born and died in infancy between 1870-1872.
  • Irene (1873—1956); married to American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the "Gibson Girl", an iconic image of the early 20th century, and later owner of Life magazine
  • Harry (1874—1907; married to Genevieve Peyton
  • Nancy Witcher ("Nannie" to immediate family) Nancy (1879—1964); married Waldorf Astor, eldest son of William Waldorf Astor and Mary Dahlgren Paul
  • Phyllis (1880—1937); married Robert Brand, 1st Baron Brand
  • William "Buck" Henry (1886–1938); married Edith Forsyth
  • Nora (1889—1955); married British architect Paul Phipps (1880–1953), they had a daughter Joyce Irene Phipps, who became an actress/comedian, and son Thomas (Tommy) Wilton Phipps, a scriptwriter


  1. ^ James Fox (2000). Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia. ISBN 0-684-80812-9. 
  2. ^ Speight, John F. "Genealogy Data Page 850". 
  3. ^ a b Langhorne, James Callaway (2013). The Virginia Langhornes. Lynchburg, Virginia: Blackwell Press. ISBN 978-1-938205-10-1. 

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