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.

 

On This Day: The Discharge of Captain Ira Sayles

Winter SkyAs the sun set one hundred fifty years ago, Ira Sayles glumly faced life as a civilian. The New York abolitionist had enlisted in the summer of 1862, joining Alfred neighbors and friends in forming Company H, 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteers.  Their first deployment was in Portage Station, New York, to be issued uniforms and weapons, and to elect company officers.  Private Ira became 1st Lieutenant Sayles.  The regiment traveled by train, their early legs through Williamsport and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lined by cheering children and flag-waving townsfolk.  A brief stop in Washington, D.C. was followed by passage down the Potomac, into the Chesapeake Bay, to Fort Monroe.  The soldiers, by and by, found themselves in the September humidity of southeastern Virginia, eight miles from the North Carolina border, and just mosquito-wings distance from the Great Dismal Swamp.  Camp Suffolk would soon surround the southern town of Suffolk, with earthen forts, trenches, and rifle pits.

The recruits of the 130th NY Volunteer  infantry were unseasoned soldiers, and days of shoveling red clay were followed by nights of marching.  Footsore, hungry and often wet, the companies would return from their Blackwater River escapades without having fired a shot.  By the end of September the regiment began losing soldiers to the diseases of the swamp.  And 1st Lieutenant Sayles was elected Captain to fill one such resignation.

From the Family Records of Sharon Babcock.  THANK YOU!

Captain Ira Sayles was proud to wear the officer’s sword, and to marshal the energies and courage of his men.  After all the pre-war public-speaking, after all the furtive dealings along the local Underground Railroad, Ira must have found the actual participation in slavery’s eradication a seductive reason to endure all the trials and horrors of the war.

Unfortunately, Ira’s forty-six year old body rebelled against the prolonged exposure, manual labor, and sleep deprivation.  By January, Ira Sayles, suffering from chronic debilitating pain, reported for a hospital cot instead of picket duty.  At length,  as it became evident that Ira’s passion could not overcome the frailties, his regiment’s physician, B. T. Kneeland, wrote these words :

February 19th. 1863

I certify that I have carefully examined Capt. Ira Sayles of Co. H, 130th N.Y. Vol’s. and find him incapable of performing the duties of his position, because of rheumatic disease induced in my opinion by frequent and long continued exposure and fatigue, in performing the duties of his office.  

Surely a long, sleepless night followed the examination.  The next day, after sharpening a fresh goose feather quill, Ira dipped deep into his abolitionist soul to find these words:

Sir,

I have the honor hereby to tender my Resignation of the Captaincy of Company H of the 130 Regiment, New York State Volunteers, which post I now hold.

It is with unfeigned regret, that I find myself compelled to take this step during the continuance of my country’s imminent peril; but the labors, the exposures, and the watchings of the past six months’ service here, have made such inroads on my health, that it is evident I can no longer perform the severe duties of a Captain of Infantry, either creditably to myself, or effectively for my country.  In such case, honor and patriotism alike demand, that the sword I am no longer able to wield with due energy, I resign to stronger hands.  (Please find Surgeon’s Certificate enclosed.)

Praying for my country’s Early and Honorable Peace through Victory over her Insolent Foes,

I have the Honor to be, Sir, Very Respectfully Your Most Obd’t Serv’t,

Ira Sayles

One last time, Ira proudly added:

Capt. Comd’g Co. H., 130 Reg’t., N.Y.S.Vols.

By February 26, Ira would have received notice. Special Order No. 55 had been issued by Head Quarters, Department of Virginia, Seventh Army Corps, Fort Monroe, Virginia:

The following named officers having tendered their resignations are honorably discharged from the military service of the United States

Capt. Ira Sayles 130th Reg. N.Y.Vols. on account of ill health.

By command of Maj Genl. Dix

The sun set that February night on a civilian Ira Sayles.

The Cloak of Defeat: Friday’s Facing The War

Author’s Note:  What began as a mere dabbling into my family roots has become a robust investigation of my family history. Slowly the search has become centered on the lives, decisions and events of the Civil War era, 1850-1880, as they shaped the physical and mental landscape in which my grandparents and parents lived.  Here I repost an essay from last summer, in which I first grapple with how those past lives reached out to touch my childhood, my mental landscape.  

  The Dodson Farm, Mecklenburg County, Virginia

I am American by birth, Virginian by the grace of God.

And like many southern white children of the 1960’s I grew up in a culture that wore its defeat like a thick woolen cloak draped around one’s shoulders, adorned by the tales of our brave soldiers J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson.  To be Virginian was to represent your family and your state with honor, as demonstrated by that great leader Robert E. Lee.  You may not believe in the cornerstone argument BUT you must honor your duty to the motherland and your family, and rise to their defense!

While the institution of slavery was mentioned, pro-slavery racism and its sibling Jim Crow segregation were not discussed.   Ever so subtly children inherited their parents’ mistrust and loathing of all things Yankee, and even with a Yankee mother I could not escape this net.

I remember walking the hall of my high school, surrounded by my black and white friends, laughing and taunting the plain clothes police officer lurking in the dark corner–present to protect any little white child from unruly mobs.  Discussing the latest desegregation violence in Boston, one of my gang cried,”Ain’t so easy, is it, Yankee Boy!”  We all hated the hypocrisy of the Yank, whose finger pointed to the South as the crucible of all American sin and never at himself, ignoring the seeds of racism within his factories, cities, and governments.

All this anti-Yankee sentiment persisted into my adult discussions of the Civil War, and I continued the tradition of defeat.  The Civil War was about states’ rights, far more than it was about slavery.  Most southerners didn’t even OWN slaves, and many who did were right kind to them.  Yankees always think they are so moral and pure, but even they didn’t like free blacks and took drastic measures to ensure that freedom and liberty to the emancipated did not equate into white men’s jobs.  And so it was until I began my genealogical journey.

In census documents, deeds and wills, slavery became slaves–people that my people owned, like the trees they sold for lumber and the hogs they raised to butcher.  My people participated in one of history’s slave cultures, using the commodity of bonded labor to produce commodities like tobacco to be sold in a global economy.  To ignore the stories of slaves, even if they are only names found in documents, is to ignore black pioneering in the United States.  What is contained in my family’s papers, documents and stories will be shared whenever and wherever possible.

For me, it is time to drop the cloak of defeat, and be a true Virginian, honoring all the people who contributed to the development and promise of that state, and to all of these United States.


Virginia Memory: Cohabitation Registers–Follow Friday

The Library of Virginia’s digital holdings include a section entitled Virginia Memory: What’s New, collections that are recently acquired or collections that are in the process of being expanded.

 

Today my attention was caught by the Cohabitation Registers, more properly known as Register of Colored Persons…cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866. These documents were the legal record of slave marriages and children, and included names of the man, his wife, his last owner, place of birth and names of children.  There are not records for all counties but the collection’s explanation suggests that new additions are to be expected in the near future.

friend of friends friday-BLACK PIONEERS OF MECKLENBURG COUNTY, VIRGINIA

My ancestors include well-to-do farmers in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  James H. Dodson (1815-1884) was  a middling planter; in other words, he owned enough slaves to not work along side them in the field but not so many as to be considered upper-crust in his society.  In the gathering shadows that my research summons are the shapes of people, folks he owned,  black pioneers who helped him plant and harvest the foods he placed on his family’s table and the tobacco he sold in his community’s auction.  I have uncovered little information about the women of James H. Dodson’s life, and even less about the slaves that worked his land.

A SOURCE OF INFORMATION

Both our federal and state governments found the gathering of census information to be useful quite early in our nation’s history, and the reams of resultant data provide valuable glimpses into the past.  One such census was begun in 1853 by the Commonwealth of Virginia; its purpose was to conduct an annual registration of births and deaths.  The Slave Birth Index was transcribed for the years 1853-1865 by the Works Project Administration and recorded on  microfilm in the 1930s.  To make this information more accessible to genealogists and family historians, the volunteers and staff of the Alexandria Library transcribed the microfilm in the 2000s, making it available in a multi-volume print record.  It is from this source that some of my family’s shadows get names.

From the second volume I transcribe here the slave births of Oakview Plantation, home of the James H. Dodson family, Mecklenburg County, Virginia:

Baby                             Mother’s Name                    Date of Birth

female                            Ann                                             May 1857

female                             Fanny                                        February 1855

male                                Jane                                           April 1857

Catherine                      Jane                                             January 1857

Eliza                               Joana                                           December 1855

George                         Ann                                               September 1854

George                          Ann                                              December 1855

Charlotte                       ——-                                        July 15, 18xx

female                         ———                                       April 15,  1853

Catherine                   Jane                                             June 1856

Clarasey                     Hannah                                        August 1860

Cornelius                   Fanny                                           July 9, 1860

George                      Joanna                                           May 7, 1860

Lucy                         Joanna                                           December 1861

Martha                      Fanny                                           December 1858

S. B.                          Jane                                               November 1858

Source:

Morales, Leslie Anderson., Ada Valaitis, and Beverly Pierce. Virginia Slave Births Index, 1853-1865, Volume 2, D-G. Westminster, MD: Heritage, 2007. Print.