I have been getting acquainted with my 19th century grandmothers during the last few weeks, creating more questions than stories at the end of each day, which is frustrating at many levels.
I catch myself re-centering the family account around the men, specifically the white men, who populate the records. It is a habit. A learned way of processing the world that I resist, unsuccessfully, as I try to bring womenfolk out of the past’s shadows.
So I end up tossing the paper into the bin, or cutting whole paragraphs of text, or moving the whole post to trash.
And I begin again.
This week I will (re)focus my attention on Mary Green Dodson, 1787-1858, daughter of William Wills and Martha [Archer Rowlette] Green; wife of Edward Dodson, Junior; mother of James H, my 2nd great-grandfather; and cousin to Sarah Jane [Rowlett] Dodson, my 2nd great-grandmother.
Mary grew from girl to woman, wife to widow, mother to elder, in the watersheds of Allen’s and Butcher’s Creeks, Mecklenburg County, Virginia. I have looked out on those woods, walked those hills, with red clay, that Mary saw every day, clinging to my shoes. Childhood treks from Chase City to the country that had held generations of ancestors made little impression on me until I strolled up cow-worn paths with my father, his drawl spreading stories of his childhood on my children.
I have lots of records for many branches of my families, but I return to those from Mecklenburg County time and again, because of this connection to the white feldspar-studded land. And this genealogical homecoming has prodded my reckoning with the unspoken family lore.
The land and its tobacco guaranteed food security, housing security, community esteem. And none of that was possible without the work of black people-enslaved, sharecroppers, tenant farmers.
When I reconstruct pieces of Mary Green Dodson’s life, I also feel those African Americans emerging from shadows.
I hope I do all of these folks justice with my story-telling.
Their hopes, dreams–and nightmares–built this country.
2 thoughts on “Sunday morning musing”
I look forward to further enlightenment from your family, Kay. Wendell Berry’s essays in The Art of Loading Brush set in modern day Kentucky helped me understand the role of tobacco and not just the product, but how the cooperatives helped farm communities set a fair price, and survive. He also helped me understand the interdependence of farm communities, and how the purchase of machinery, to replace horses, mortgaged and then lost the land. Another book of shorter poems and essays help me understand women and ranching and community – Cripple Creek women rewriting the West. Lessons such as yours from a hundred years ago shine a brighter, longer light than the fleeting daily news.
Calling ancestors to the table is a fascinating act of faith, and inevitably I leave my work with new eyes for my present.