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 House that Jacob Built

Document. JohnPMinor_JamesMcClelland.Agreement.EHYellowed from one hundred eighty-four years, the paper unfolds with a pungent, almost yeasty smell.  Ink, now walnut brown, spreads line after line across the long, creased sheet.  When pen touched this page, the roads west of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains were detestable. Neither railroad nor canal connected Greene County stock and crops to eastern metropolitan markets.  Small farms dotted the hilly landscape and residents interacted with the same folks day after day after day. And yet my collection of family papers holds numerous examples of memoranda and receipts that clarify and testify to verbal contracts.  The key to a prosperous and self-sustaining community, it seems, was documented communication.

The language of this Article of Agreement is rooted in the law.  Though it names the parties as John P(ierson) Minor, my great-great-great-grandfather, and James McFarland, house joiner, it is unclear whether either man actually wrote this document on 22 February 1831. But someone in the Garards Fort area knew how to construct a legal-like agreement for a home renovation project on the “brick house formerly occupied by Jacob Myers.”

John P Minor stipulated that James work on site for the coming year, laying “plowed and grooved” floors upstairs and down, partitioning each floor into three rooms, and building sashes for all the windows. Mr. McFarland was to “run up two pairs of stairs in the dwelling house” and one “outside on the porch.”  Cupboards were to be built in every conceivable space. To accomplish this work in a time-effective manner, James was to be lodged by the Minors, thus saving everyone from the headaches of a daily commute from neighboring Cumberland Township.  John P. was to “furnish bords (sic) glass hinges door laches (sic) nails and all the necessary materials for finishing the same” and pay James upon “the true and faithful performance” of this renovation three hundred dollars cash.

There is neither codicil  to indicate the project’s completion nor receipt of payment among my Minor collection.  Yet the work must have been satisfactorily completed and the home occupied, for in his will John P leaves “unto my son, Francis Marion, the tract of land whereon he and I reside, known as the ‘Myers Farm’ containing three hundred twenty-nine acres more or less.”

But… why was this agreement preserved, first by John P and later by son, Marion?

John P and Isabella McClelland* Minor set up housekeeping within the boundaries of her father’s farm. Four children later, the couple had the resources to purchase a piece of Robert McClelland’s land, which abutted property of Jacob and Mary Corbly Myers.  As neighbors and fellow congregants of Goshen Baptist Church, John and Isabella would have had many opportunities to hear of the Myers’ impending migration to Clear Creek, Ohio in the early spring of 1829.   The township’s loss of the Myers’ family was to be a Minor’s gain of prime farm land.  John P speculated in land throughout his life, accumulating acres in Pennsylvania, Missouri, West Virginia, and Iowa, but he, himself, remained at the home farm, the Myers’ farm, “enclosing his happiness within his horizons.”**

Marion, my great-great-grandfather, was just starting to pull up and toddle after his seven older siblings in 1829 when the farm was purchased, and just beginning to take on farm chores when the brick house was finally occupied by his mom, dad, and siblings, Abia, Robert, Hannah, Mary Anna, Margaret, Rebecca, Samuel, and Isabelle.  For all intents and purposes, this was the only home that Marion ever knew, and this carefully preserved record of the 1831 renovation may have given Marion a sense of grounding, or prompted memories of childhood, or provided evidence of just how far the family had progressed in his lifetime.

The brick house, formerly occupied by Jacob Myers, became home, and the hills against which it nestled became a legacy, passing from father to son to grandson to great-grandson.

 “…unto my son, Francis Marion, the tract of land whereon he and I reside, known as the ‘Myers Farm’ containing three hundred twenty-nine acres more or less.”

  “to my son, Robert Minor, my home farm, situated in Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania containing three hundred acres more or less.”

 “unto my son, Donald C. Minor, the farm on which he now (February 1938) resides, known as the Home Farm, containing approximately three hundred forty acres…”

The Minor Farm on Ceylon Lane, Greene County, Pennsylvania

Minor Home Farm, Brick “Mansion House” on left, circa 1910. Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection. D Kay Strickland Family History Library.

A legacy that heard my mother’s laughter, sheltered her dog-grieving sobs, embraced her valedictory success, and witnessed the cutting of her wedding cake.  This is the house that Jacob built, formerly occupied by the Myers family…and stuffed to the rafters with Minor hopes, dreams, and love.

Wedding Reception of Norman and Marilyn Minor Strickland,  Minor Home Farm, 13 June 1953. Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection. D Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Wedding Reception of Norman and Marilyn Minor Strickland, Minor Home Farm, 13 June 1953. Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection. D Kay Strickland Family History Library.

*John first married Hannah McClelland in 1814. She died shortly after giving birth to their second boy in the spring of 1817, and John married her sister, Isabella, later that year.

**Alex de Toqueville made this observation of the German immigrants in eastern Pennsylvania, during his 1831 trip through America.

Article of Agreement between John P. Minor and James McFarland, 22 February 1831. Papers of John Pierson Minor, Satchel Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Article of Agreement between John P. Minor and James McFarland, 22 February 1831. Papers of John Pierson Minor, Satchel Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Article of Agreement between John P. Minor and James McFarland, 22 February 1831. Papers of John Pierson Minor, Satchel Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Article of Agreement between John P. Minor and James McFarland, 22 February 1831. Papers of John Pierson Minor, Satchel Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Transcription of above document: Continue reading

Friday’s Faces: Samuel P. and Louisa Long Minor

My great-grandfather, Robert Minor (1869-1943), was brought up on the family farm just outside the village of Garards Fort, Pennsylvania.  Just down the red-dog Ceylon Lane stood the sturdy brick home of his Uncle Samuel (1825-1909) and Aunt Louisa (1832-1917) Minor.  Sam and Robert’s dad, Marion Minor, were two of John P. and Isabella Minor’s sons, farming land  purchased in the 1820s from the Myers and McClelland families.

Sam and Louisa were married in 1852.  In the next eighteen years, Louisa gave birth to eight children, three girls and five boys.  Their eldest daughter, Isabella, died in childhood.  But the rest lived to thrive into adulthood.  At the time of this studio work, two boys, Jesse and John, had migrated to Taylor County, Iowa, where they settled among many other Greene County transplants.  Three boys, Friend, Sam, and William,  were finding their way in and around the farm, and the two girls, Mary Euna and Della, were still living at home. A teenage Robert would have known those cousins well, and would certainly have recognized Sam and Louisa as they are captured here in this set of 1885 portraits by Thomas W. Rogers of Carmichaels.

Annotations by Marilyn Minor Strickland.
Photograph.Minor_Louisa Long.front.1880s.EH

Photograph.Minor_Louisa Long.back.1880s

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Photograph.Minor_Samuel Pierson.back.1880s

Robert Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania

On this anniversary of Robert Minor’s death, I am seeking cousin-ly review.  Robert is shown here in front of his home on Ceylon Lane.  With confidence I can identify his wife, May, and his two children, Helen and Donald.  But who are the rest of the folks?  What say you, descendants of John P. and Isabella Minor?

Minor Family Group Shot circa 1915. Back row (l-r): unknown, Robert Minor, May Minor, unknown. Middle: unknown. Front row: Helen Minor, Donald Minor, unknown, unknown.

Minor Family Group Shot circa 1915. Back row (l-r): unknown, Robert Minor, May Minor, unknown. Middle: unknown. Front row: Helen Minor, Donald Minor, unknown, unknown.