Reckonings come with a whoosh of adrenaline. Stinging insights fall over, around, under questions, like water tumbling over stones. The poet Wendell Berry wrote (1):
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Surely my family story is singing. In complex harmonies. In minor keys.
I was not told the story of Anderson Perry Strickland or his wife Julia. I didn’t even know about their child, my great-grandfather, Sidney. Until.
Until I began excavating the stories–and silences–that I did hear.
My grandfather George Strickland lost his father, Sidney, to the flu on the 6th of February 1897, and his mother three weeks later, on the 28th of February. Orphaned at the age of five, he lived several years at the Oxford (NC) Orphanage, before being adopted by the Mecklenburg County (VA) Dodson siblings–Edward, Dora, and Molly. George married a neighbor girl, Florette Sayles. Her mom, Eulalia (Lilly), a fourth Dodson sibling, lived with George and Florette and their four sons on the Dodson homeplace during the last 10 years of her life. And my father, the youngest of George and Florette’s boys, titled her BEST BAKER EVER, because of all the biscuits, cookies, and cakes that ended up in his little boy stomach.
That was my father’s origin story, making me a Virginian through and through. Until I used all the 21st century tools to construct a Strickland family tree.
In my mind I’m going to Carolina
Turns out that George Strickland was a North Carolina boy, a son of North Carolinians Sidney Strickland and Virginia Coppedge. Sidney was the son of North Carolinians, Anderson Strickland and Julia Stone, growing up on the farm lands along Cypress Creek, Franklin County, first purchased by his Stone great-grandparents in 1803.
My grandfather’s grandfather left his pregnant wife, two daughters, seven sons, an elderly mulatto enslaved woman, a middle-aged enslaved black man, and a middle-aged mulatto enslaved woman–before all the crops were harvested in September 1863. He traveled the roads from his Cypress Creek farm through Peach Tree Grove and Nashville to Rocky Mount where he may have hopped a train to Weldon. Once in that railroad town, Anderson Strickland enlisted in Company K, 24th Regiment North Carolina Troops. My great-great-grandfather fought and killed Union troops for the next 10 months, until he was wounded during a skirmish outside Petersburg (VA). His left arm was amputated in the field before he was admitted to the Confederate States Hospital in Petersburg. This 46 year old father-husband-farmer-soldier died “of exhaustion” one month later, and was buried in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia.
When I read Clint Smith’s book, How the Word is Passed, I ruminated–for a LONG time–on his experience as a black man attending a Sons of the Confederacy event in Blandford Cemetery. His observations of white folks memorializing the 30,000 Confederate soldiers buried in that soil needled me to ask of myself–how do I incorporate the sentiments of the Lost Cause narrative even as I grapple with the monstrous evil that my ancestor participated in and died to protect.
How can I do a better job of passing the truth?
Stay with me, in these next posts, as I explore resources that detail the society in which Anderson Strickland lived, and helped me reckon with all that my family’s history entails.
Died, in Franklin county, on Thursday morning the 22d inst., Mrs. Anne Stone, consort of Wm. Stone, Esq., and daughter of the late James Boon of the county.
The Obituary of Anne Boon Stone, Raleigh Christian Advocate (NC) on 4 July 1856.
(1) “Our Real Work.” Copyright ©1983 by Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words.
(2) Lindenkohl, A. (1865) North Carolina & South Carolina. [S.l., U.S. Coast Survey, A. D. Bache, Supdt] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/99447451/.
(3) How the word is passed: a reckoning with the history of slavery across America. Smith – Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company – 2022.