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.

The Minor Family Album: Continuing The Search for Mr. Chin Whisker’s Identity

Mr. Chin WhiskersMy last post contained a LOT of information about the face that greets me when I open the Minor Family Album.  Mr. Chin Whiskers was originally thought to be our family patriarch, John Pearson (Pierson) Minor, but that hypothesis was thrown out when a cousin shared copy of a labeled tintype of John P. Minor.  My image and his image were NOT of the same person.  Continuing my search within the Minor family tree, I compared my image to another image of a known Minor, Samuel Minor, who was John P’s brother.  These two images were not of the same person.  I left the post dangling the idea that perhaps my image is of a third brother, Asa.

Is this bearded man Asa Minor?

Among my family artifacts are documents and letters found in an old leather satchel, retrieved from the Minor Home Farm long ago by my mother.  Included in this treasure trove are letters from Asa Minor to his brother, John P.  (You can read more about this exchange here.) These papers establish that the brothers kept in touch, and presumably John’s children would have known of their uncle.

The 1860 US Federal Mortality Schedule tells us that Asa died in January of that year, succumbing to consumption from which he had suffered for nine months.  His wife continued to live on the farm in Deerfield Township, Warren County, Ohio.

So, Asa kept in touch with John.  Asa was alive in the 1850s when everybody with a bit of money could get a photograph made.

That is all we really know.

Could this photograph be Asa?  If I can confirm that the TW Rogers took a photo of a photo and if I can confirm that the man’s clothing is typical of the late 1850s, then I could feel a wee bit of confidence in that identification hypothesis.

For now…

I turn to the blogosphere, to photo detectives, to descendants of Asa Minor–what do YOU think?

  • What timeframe does the jacket, vest and beard suggest to you?
  • Are there other copies of this photograph out there, LABELED?
  • Are there other photographs of Asa out there?

Of course there are other possibilities…

What if this is a member of Mary Jane Gwynne’s family?  I don’t have much research to document her family, other than her father, Alfred, died in 1835.  And until I can narrow down the timeframe for the photograph, original or copied, then I can’t really narrow down which male family members this might be!!

And so I conclude this post as mystified as I began.  The whiskered man begs to tell a story.  For now, the story will have to remain untold.

Mr. Chin Whiskers





Re-Viewing the Past: Wordless Wednesday

Stuck between some sheet music bearing my grandfather’s signature was a photograph.  A faded copy of a copy, it depicted a mid-19th century cane-carrying gentleman astride a large dapple gray horse.  Establishing provenance of the photograph is almost impossible, but the copy appears to have been among Donald Minor’s possessions, which were then stored by my mother, Marilyn Minor Strickland, and inherited by me.

When first discovered, I posited that this commanding figure was a Minor.(read my first post here)

Found among the sheet music of Donald Minor, this photograph bears no identification, of the rider or the photographer.  From the Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection, 2014.

Found among the sheet music of Donald Minor, this photograph bears no identification, of the rider or the photographer. From the Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection, 2014.

Since that summer day, I have been in communication with two Minor cousins, and was lucky enough to score a new photograph.  This time provenance is known. The original photograph of John Pearson (Pierson) Minor was taken by J. P. Shafer of Morgantown, West Virginia,  held by his son, Samuel, in Greene County, Pennsylvania, and then passed down through that family to my cousin, Ron.

Tin Type of John Pearson Minor, J. P. Shafer of Morgantown, West Virginia, photographer.

John Pearson Minor, J. P. Shafer of Morgantown, West Virginia, photographer; from the Ronald Minor Collection, 2014. 

The figure on the horse bears a striking resemblance to the man calmly sitting for his portrait.  My investigation into my mystery horseman will require additional knowledge of period clothing and hairstyles.  I also think the cane may hold a clue about his identity.  But I am stepping lightly toward identifying the rider as one John P. Minor, circa 1860.

Church Record Sunday: Goshen Baptist Church 1843

“Church Record Sunday – describe a specific church record or a set of records held by a church or denomination and how they can assist genealogists. This is an ongoing series developed by Gena Philibert Ortega at Gena’s Genealogy.”

Trolling through the records of Greene County, Pennsylvania, I came across a transcription of the Goshen (John Corbly) Baptist Church minutes, 1773-1857, in which appear the names of several Minor ancestors.

Abia Minor and his wife, Margaret Pearson, became members shortly after bringing their young family to the wilds of southwestern Pennsylvania.


Met at Thomas Wrights and after singing and prayer proceeded to business. When Abia and Margaret Minor were received by a letter of dismission from Highestown, New Jersey.

John Pearson Minor (1791-1874), their eldest son, remained in the vicinity of Big Whiteley Creek and, as noted by local historian, William Hanna, in the 1888 History of Greene County,  was among the prominent members of this congregation, “fervent in spirit” and”diligent in business, being extensively engaged in droving, and one of the active participants in the affairs of the Farmers and Drovers Bank of Waynesburg.”

This religiosity and business acumen would account for the inclusion of this handcut and bound booklet among the documents of the Minor Satchel.

A Copy

We the undersigned do agree to pay the sum assigned to our names.  To John Long, Corbly Garard, jonathan Garard, JP Minor, Vinson Long, Jeremiah Stewart and Abner Morris.  A building committee for the benevolent purpose of building a meeting-house for the regular baptist church on big Whiteley, called Goshen.  To be built of brick 43 feet by 55 feet, one story 14 feet high.  To be built at or near the place where the old house now stands.  The money subscribed to be paid, one half when the house is covered, and the balance when the house is completed.  For the faithful performance of the above we here unto set our names and sum.  This 12 day of December 1842. 

The names and sums pledged are then duly recorded: you can review the entire document at flickr.com. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/31479748@N03/sets/72157629979227291/)

The addendum to this 1843 record states indicates that this brick building was completed by February of 1844:

Settled up all borrowed money and A Minor is to lift a note in the xxxxxxx for $220 and give up to John P. Minor xxxx.  my hand this 19th day of February 1844.


Goshen Baptist Church was renamed John Corbly Baptist Church


An 1860s letter from Abia Minor to his father, John P. Minor: Amanuensis Monday

ABIA MINOR was a resident of Moultrie County, Illinois when he wrote this letter to his father, my great-great-grandfather, JOHN PEARSON MINOR of Greene County, Pennsylvania.

It is an undated description of the winter weather–I have yet 160 rods along my fence that was 30 feet wide and was between four and five feet deep(with snow) but it has settled down to about 3 feet–and reports about his children’s plans.  His eldest boy, John, is of age (b. 1839?) and wants to be doing for himself talks of going away this spring.  

Abia talks about his farming plans and how he want(s) to put a corn crop for I think we will raise good crops next year and I am trying to make some more fence so I can keep some stock without so mutch (sic) trouble in winter; before discussing arrangements for the mailing of daughter Isabel’s saddle and some much coveted flannel for himself.  You said you would send her saddle and some flannel for me a warmth that would be quite a present to me for sutch (sic) flannel is hard to get here and if you send it box them in a light box and send them from any point on the railroad or if any one was comeing out you could put them in a trunk and they can bring them through for nothing.  But, he continues, if his father wants to send them by railroad direct them to

Abia Minor


Coles County, Illinois 

and take a receipt from the station agent for them and send it to me by mail.  

Abia then requests his mothers likeness which you can have taken and send it in a letter and Isabel says you have yours taken on horseback I wish you would send me a copy of it it can be taken on paper or leather and sent in a letter.  

Abia Minor closes his letter with salutations to his brothers and sisters, a plea for letters from them and a pledge to answer back.

I remain yours Truly     Abia Minor