The Dodsons Cross County Lines: Surname Saturday

In the summer of 1772, Edward Dodson cast a shadow into my future as he set out from Amelia County, Virginia.  The young man crossed the Meherrin River and continued on into Mecklenburg County, passing the farms of Samuel Dedman, William Wills Green, and John Hyde to assess the red soil along the little fork of Allen’s Creek.  Edward walked the tract’s perimeter with the owner. Finding the rolling, timbered hills fit for his needs, the aspiring farmer handed John Glassock five shillings, current money of colonial Virginia.

The Mecklenburg County Court convened once a month in the settlement that would one day become Boydton some 5 miles south. Residents used the court day as a social occasion, and  traveled from their farms to conduct business, swap stories, and trade goods.  Glassock and two friends, James Brown and Peter Burton, were among the folks who gathered on that August 10th, 1772.  The court ordered county clerk, John Talborne to duly record that John Glassock

…Doth give Grant Bargain, Sell Alien assigns and confirm to the Said Edward Dodson and his heirs. & Assigns for ever one certain tract or Parcell (sic) of Land Containing Ninety five acres lying and being in the County of Mecklenburg on the Little fork of Allens Creek…

Brown and Burton bore witness to the verity of the transaction.

Meanwhile Edward Dodson returned home to plan his emigration to Virginia’s remote interior.  On the last day of April 1773, Edward took possession of his “parcell”, perhaps with his wife, Francis, already pregnant with their first child Sarah.

Five shillings purchased the first acres of land that would remain in the Dodson family for six generations.  The story meanders, like a creek, into the 20th century.

Map.Virginia.1776.DavidRumseyMapCollection

Edward and Francis Dodson moved from around Amelia to a farm situated between the Meherrin River and Jefferson Falls on the Roanoke River. A General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America. (1776). digital image: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, DavidRumsey.com.

Reference:

Glassock to Dodson, Mecklenburg County (VA) Deed Book 3-433; Microfilm #32533, Family History Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Fences Are For White Folks

This illustrated envelope dates from the 1860s. Depicting a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and accompanied by a poem, the iconography prominently features “The Fence that Uncle Abe built.” From the U.S. Civil War Papers, ca. 1850-1917. Box 7. Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

This illustrated envelope dates from the 1860s. Depicting a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and accompanied by a poem, the iconography prominently features “The Fence that Uncle Abe built.”
From the U.S. Civil War Papers, ca. 1850-1917. Box 7. Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

I am currently enrolled in a MOOC, HIST1.1x The Civil War and Reconstruction – 1850-1861, taught by respected historian, Eric Foner.  Each week our online student body analyzes a primary resource, an activity I enjoy immensely. This week’s challenge was the above envelope.  Who was the audience for this 1860s product?  What message was it trying to convey?  How did it reflect the symbolism and policies of the nascent Republican party?

so I posted:

Last year, when I took the course the first time, I am sure that I saw a clear appeal to the demographic that embraced free labor in an expanding country. Now, all I can see is an appeal to white men, who had the privilege of dreaming about being their own boss, marking their own territory, building their own factory/workshop. Blacks, enslaved or free, and Asian immigrants didn’t have the opportunity to set up boundaries, either physical or mental. Indigenous peoples measured territory and property with a whole different paradigm. The nascent Republican party was appealing to the common man, as long as he was white. The economic and cultural revolutions may have broadened the concept of “good” labor, but the political system was still attempting to reinforce white supremacy.

The discussion that followed had me return, reflect, and drill down into the free labor/free soil ideology, a fascinating and confusing exercise that only got productive when I harnessed my roaming mind to my own family history.

I can say with reasonable certainty, that my cattle drover ancestor, John Pearson Minor, regarded land as the ultimate asset, not only for the stock that could be raised on top of it and sold to expanding markets but also for the coal, salt, and other mineral resources beneath it that could be mined and sold to expanding markets. From his base in Southwestern Pennsylvania he speculated in land in what became West Virginia, Illinois, and Iowa. Extended family swept westward through this free soil era as well.

Letters reveal that the free labor concept of “work hard and rise to the top” was a core piece of this westward impulsion. Other documents indicate that these same people aligned themselves with the Democratic party. Republicans may well have captured the votes of some of this crowd, but only in as much as the Republican-defined property rights aligned with their own self interest. And that self-interest was what white men could define, legally describe, control, and profit from.

In as much as enslavers demeaned the very work that such cattlemen/farmers/entrepreneurs conducted, I speculate that my ancestors viewed slaveowners with contempt, and the ultimate insult would be to not acknowledge their social structure, the cornerstone of which was human chattel. And Native Americans worked from a whole different paradigm regarding property and community with a degree of stewardship of resources that was alien to the white, Protestant mind.

This one branch of my family demonstrated that an American could be an advocate of free labor and agitate for “free” or deeply discounted soil, and yet remain committed to a hierarchical, racist social structure, that codified a particular definition of property–fenced in by white folks.

A Raise in the South: Vintage Postcards

A road winding through the hilly farms of 1910 Greene County, Pennsylvania was likely to be pitted and ice pocked in late February.  Nevertheless, birthdays, particularly of beloved grandpas, required festive acknowledgements.  The Ruse family decided to let the mail do the travelling for Christopher’s seventy-third birthday, and, via USPS, invited young and old to shower the elderly carpenter with celebratory wishes.  Seven-year-old Donald Minor, my grandfather, received an invitation from Chris Ruse’s granddaughter, Helen E.

Dear Donald, We are having a surprise Postcard shower for Grandpa Ruse on March 13.  We want all of you to send a card and to tell everyone you see that knows him.

The adult who formed each cursive letter for Helen conveyed more than a mere request. On the front of the postcard greeting was a reproduction of an early twentieth century print, A Raise in the South.  In the scene, nine southern black men are gathered in a smoky, windowless room around a large table, mid-way through a hand of poker.  I suppose the cartoonish characters were meant to be child-appropriate and the title a clever play on the word “raise,” but a larger lesson was truly being dealt.

The Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction had become firmly lodged in the national psyche by 1910, guiding the country’s sectional reunion.  According to this historiography, the war was fought by valiant white men, Yankee and Rebel, for the cause of liberty.  Emancipation of slaves had not been a wise move; African-Americans needed –and desired–the paternal governance of the superior white race.  Tossed from memory were tales of black heroism and self-efficacy. What lingered were caricatures of idleness and incompetence, portraits of black men seeing raises within the context of a game, not within  the framework of gainful employment.

The birthday invitation from one child to another was an early lesson in the state of race relations within the country Don and Helen would inherit.  Insidiously, cartoon postcards planted doubt and fear, which in turn sprouted justifications for the South’s use of murder, segregation, and disenfranchisement of black Americans in the effort to re-establish a country of white men, governed by white men.

Far from comic,  A Raise in the South, is a chilling reminder of mass media’s influence on public memory.

Postcard. "A Raise in the South," From Helen E. Ruse to Donald C. Minor, 27 February 1910. Donald Minor Postcard Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Postcard. “A Raise in the South,” From Helen E. Ruse to Donald C. Minor, 27 February 1910. Donald Minor Postcard Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

The Story Lies In His Hand

Page Five of The MINOR FAMILY ALBUM

How good it is to see familiar faces!!

The fifth page frames a young couple’s portrait, carefully staged to tell the story of a momentous autumn day. Robert Minor had just taken May Stevenson’s hand in marriage.

The twenty-three year old groom was dressed in well-tailored pin-striped pants worn with a frock coat and matching waist coat–a fashion which would indicate that the Thursday wedding was held during the day.  His bride, seventeen year old May Stevenson, wore an exquisite gown with lace at the throat, on the bodice, and at the cuffs.  The hat, no doubt designed and made by her milliner mother, Mary Jones Stevenson, was trimmed in the this same lace and finished with feathers.  September 8, 1892 was a grand day for these families.

The Presbyterian minister, T. G. Bristow, conducted the service in Carmichaels, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  After Robert and May exchanged their vows, and the LARGE families of both bride and groom mingled in congratulations, the newlyweds stopped by the Public Square studio of T. W. Rogers and had their picture taken.  Robert stared a bit like a deer caught in a lantern’s light, perhaps rocked by the realization that the circuit of ice cream socials and steamboat shows had come to an end. A soft smile tugged at May’s face, however.  The young lady had survived the arduous years following her father’s death and secured her future with this prosperous young man.  Together the youngsters would join in the family business–raising cattle and children to carry on the Minor legacy on Ceylon Road, Garard’s Fort, Pennsylvania.

May Laura Stevenson and Robert Minor said "I do" on September 8, 1892, in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania.  The service was officiated by Rev. T. J. Briston, a Presbyterian minister.

May Laura Stevenson and Robert Minor said “I do” on September 8, 1892, in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. The service was officiated by Rev. T. J. Briston, a Presbyterian minister.

Aside

Sometimes I wonder what drives me to recover the lost facts, uncover the tales hidden by unidentified eyes.  This story, the recovery of a life lost, speaks to that urgency, that insatiable hunger to know yourself by recognizing an ancestor.  Such a powerful telling of one personal history. 

Worth Reading!

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/fashion/Modern-love-What-the-Sea-Took-Away-a-Daughter-Restores-.html?src=rechp&_r=0