So we now have two possible birthplaces for Pete Hill: Buena Vista, Virginia, from a 1912 1916 passenger list; and Rapidan, Virginia, from his Social Security application (also his brother Walter’s birthplace on his World War II draft card, and the place where their grandmother Mary Francis Seals died).
There are two Rapidans in Virginia that I’m aware of, one in Culpeper County, several miles south of Culpeper itself, the other farther to the west, in Madison County. The Culpeper County Rapidan was actually incorporated as “Rapid Ann Station” in 1854, and was not renamed “Rapidan” until 1886 (by which time all three Hill brothers had been born, and only two years before the Hills moved to Pittsburgh in 1888). The Rapidan in Madison County, on the other hand, appears as a place in the 1880 census. That’s one point in favor of the Madison County location. However, since we know Pete Hill’s mother, Elizabeth Seals, was born in Culpeper, that’s one point in favor of the Culpeper County location—though of course they are really not that far apart.
Her mother, and Pete Hill’s grandmother, Mary Seals, was supposed to have died in Rapidan in 1912. I was able to find her in both the 1900 and 1910 census, living with her son James, Pete Hill’s very young uncle (born in 1876), and his family in a place called Cedar Mountain, in Culpeper County between Culpeper and Rapidan. (The Civil War Battle of Cedar Mountain took place nearby on August 9, 1862, just twenty years before Pete Hill’s birth.)
Now let’s back off and look at the problem of Buena Vista. There are currently two places in Virginia with that name, one in Rockbridge County south and west of Charlottesville, the other in King and Queen County due east of Richmond. The Rockbridge County Buena Vista was incorporated in 1890, after the Hills had gone north, whereas the Buena Vista in King and Queen County is present in the 1880 census.
But, looking at Google Maps, I realized for the first time that just north of Rapidan, Culpeper County—just a couple of miles, really—is an unincorporated place called Buena, Virginia. If you look at the map below, you’ll see that Culpeper, Cedar Mountain, Buena, and Rapidan form almost a straight line only a few miles long, roughly following the rail line that was originally built as the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in the 1850s. (Click on the blue markers for notes about each place.)
View Hill and Seals Families, Culpeper County in a larger map
I think it’s entirely possible that “Buena” was originally known as “Buena Vista,” and that the little community has in the 126 years since Pete Hill’s birth lost its “Vista” somewhere along the way (perhaps when the Rockbridge County town was incorporated). Hill may have sometimes given the name of the tiny unincorporated community as his birthplace, while other times naming the larger town nearby. The 1880 census shows no trace of either the Hill or Seals families—but if Buena (or Buena Vista) was a designation for a loose collection of rural or semi-rural homesteads with a number of black families living there, their absence from the census is not at all surprising.
If I am right, Pete Hill would actually be only the second Hall of Famer from Culpeper County (current population 34,000). Eppa Rixey was born in Culpeper in 1891, by which time Hill was eight years old and living in Pittsburgh.