Friend of Friends Friday: Slaves of the Virginia Dodsons, 1853-1865

A couple of months ago I received a query regarding my ancestors, the Dodsons of Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  In particular, Angela Pearl Dodson was seeking information about the slaves that this family owned, or that relatives of this family had owned.  I circle back to this topic today, with a posting from the special collection of the Alexandria Library: Morales, Leslie Anderson , Jennifer Learned, and Beverly Pierce. Virginia Slave Births Index, 1853-1865, Volume 2, D-G. Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books, 2007.

The information for Dodsons, from all the reporting counties of Virginia, begins on page 85 (with the alternative spelling Dobson) and continues to page 88.  Each entry proceeds in this order:

Informant’s Surname, Informant’s First Name; Slave’s Name; Mother’s Name; Date of Birth; Place of Birth.

 

page 85 page 86 page 87 Page 88This volume contains the slave birth records for slave owners whose surnames begin with the letters D, E, F, and G, for the period of 1853-1865.  I am more than willing to look up information for other names that this volume may cover.  Please leave  your query in the comments.

 

You have to read this!! – 1861:The Civil War Awakening

Growing up in southwestern Virginia I studied the War of Northern Aggression  American Civil War twice before leaving elementary school.  Book reports, timelines, war monuments, heroes’ homes, battlefields and class lectures were integral pieces of the Lost Cause/States’ Rights curriculum.  None of that childhood education or my recent family research prepared me for the chaos I found myself in among the pages of 1861: The Civil War Awakening.  Adam Goodheart has stripped away 150 years in this great narrative, sweeping the reader into the sights and sounds, the worry and the hope of that year in America.

The Union was a sentiment, but not much more.  ~Henry Adams 

Writing from his barracks inside the Capitol, Theodore Winthrop wrote a dispatch to  The Atlantic Monthly.  “Our presence here was the inevitable sequel of past events,” he wrote. “We appeared with bayonets and bullets because of the bosh uttered on this floor; because of the bills —  with treasonable stump-speeches in their bellies — passed here; because of the cowardice of the poltroons, the imbecility of the dodgers, and the arrogance of the bullies, who had here cooperated to blind and corrupt the minds of the people.  Talk had made a miserable mess of it.”

Goodheart’s account of this year deftly uses such original sources to construct character and narrative; it is a lively, compelling story of our country’s descent into the madness of fratricidal war.

Project 150: Ira and Serena Sayles in 1861


November 1861   The rolling hills of Allegany County, New York were studded with trees, bare-limbed but for the oak trees.  Red brown leaves would be clinging fast to those branches until harsh winter winds pulled them into crunchy swirls.  

All that remains of The Gothic, built by Samuel S. White in 1851 for his daughter, Serena White Sayles

Ira and Serena Sayles would have been leading very full lives on the campus of Alfred Academy and Alfred University, which were situated on the hill just beyond the Main Street of the town, Alfred.  Waking early to parent two young boys, ten year old Clifton and four year old Merlin, the couple would have departed The Gothic, their lovely framed house, to teach; Serena would have taught French while Ira taught modern and classical languages, mathematics and geology.  The end of the fall term was approaching, and the campus would have been filled with the tension that accompanies examination preparation.  Of course, autumn winds brought more than northwestern cold fronts that year. 

Alfred – Hotbed in Cold Times

Alfred University was a community of religiously devout, liberal intellectuals; ardent believers in equal rights – for women and for negroes.  Among the guests entertained on the 1861 campus were Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lectured on the “Classes of Men” and Frederick Douglass, who spoke on his “Life Picture.” Shortly after shots were fired on Fort Sumter, the entire graduating class of the university enlisted, leaving for Elmira, New York on July 2, 1861 to become part of the 23rd New York Volunteers.  Professor, and Sayles’ neighbor, Jonathan Allen accompanied the young men as they headed to Washington, D.C. and to the front, where he witnessed the chaos of the Union retreat at Bull Run.

 That November letters from Asher Williams, Luis Kenyon, Edmund Maxson, and other alumni would certainly have been shared among the community as were, no doubt, Jonathan Allen’s first hand accounts.  Copies of the Angelica Reporter, Genesse Valley Free Press and the Elmira Advertiser could have been found in every hall, in every home. 

Students and faculty alike would have been immersed in a dual world in which academic studies prepared students for peace time adult lives and community organizations prepared everyone for war time contributions.  Serena and Ira may very well have argued about just what those contributions should be for each of them.  Ira was probably quite keen on enlisting himself, while Serena, who was pregnant with their fourth child*, would have encouraged him to remain active enlisting others.

November held hope for quick victory over the slaveholders’ treason and joy for Alfred’s loved ones who were still safe.  But there was almost certainly some tension among this abolitionist community about what Lincoln and the Union was finally going to do about slavery.  Thus far the war had nothing to do with slavery, though slavery had everything to do with the war. Among the thanksgiving and prayers offered up that November 28, Ira and Serena would most certainly include thoughts for their unborn child, their former students turned soldier and for unknown slaves fleeing their oppression.  For the Sayles family the secession of southern states had already become an opportunity to end slavery on American soil, once and for all.

Project 150 is a series of Civil War posts that, taken together, will tell the story of my family’s life choices during the years of rebellion.  Sources used for today’s post include privately held family documents, documents held in the Alfred University archives and the New York State Military Museum and the Federal 1860 census accessed at ancestry.com.

*Their daughter, Florette, had died of unknown causes in 1857.