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Random Thoughts

Negative space

Shifting my focus from what caught my eye–the hoar frost on cat tail stubble–to the sunlit leaves and the spaces between and around them, I saw something decidedly different.

The letter F.

F, for Friday.

Or Fall.

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Random Thoughts Strickland Transcriptions

Examining the Language of Slavery

During the mid-nineteenth century North Carolina was the global supplier of naval stores. The “Turpentine State” lay in the long-leaf pine belt–a region of dry sandy clay subsoil that ran from North Carolina, south to Florida, and as far west as southern Alabama and Mississippi.

The sap of turpentine orchards was harvested and distilled into spirits of turpentine and rosin; pine trunks were burned in earthen kilns to produce tar. These naval stores rendered ship hulls watertight and preserved hemp rigging. Camphene, a mixture of turpentine and alcohol, was a widely used illuminant until the development of Pennsylvania kerosene in 1860. By the late 1850s, naval stores were the South’s 3rd largest global export crop, exceeded only by cotton and tobacco.

Weekly Raleigh Register,(Raleigh, NC)
Wednesday, January 17, 1855

My 2x-great-granduncle, William Gray Strickland, owned several tracts of land in the pine belt, and put one 760 acre parcel up for sale in 1855. Its proximity to the North Carolina Railroad, which ran from the Neuse River town of Goldsboro through Raleigh, the state capital, and ultimately inland to Charlotte, was a major selling point, as was its piney woods, portions of which he had “boxed and attended to for one year.”

The land lay 12 miles north of Raleigh and the previous year, Gray Strickland had sent enslaved turpentine hands to tend portions of the piney forest. They would have cut a hole or box near the base of trees 8-15 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep, with a highly skilled boxer cutting up to 75-80 boxes a day from November until March. As the sap began to rise–peaking in July and August–“dippers” had harvested the resin from the bottom of each box and stored it in barrels shipped by river or rail to distilleries.

Turpentine operations were distant from the main Strickland lands; the isolation of the orchards made for hard, solitary work in insufferably hot conditions. And perhaps that distance created an opportunity for one enslaved man to seek freedom.

Dennis was about 21 years old, a sturdy five foot three, 150 pound man who sought freedom in December of 1853. As James G. Williams, Dennis found work in pine belt counties to the south and east of Strickland’s Wake County plantations, relocating as necessary from river towns to turpentine orchards. For almost two years the young man labored as a ditcher, a striker, a turpentine hand, a maker of barrels. Making his way as a free man.

The Spirit of the Age,Raleigh, North Carolina,17 Oct 1855, Wed  •  Page 4

Then in late August of 1855, Gray Strickland began to track Dennis in earnest, running an advertisement in several Raleigh papers, including the Spirit of the Age, The Semi-Weekly Standard and The Weekly Standard.

The enslaver offered a reward worth $3000 in today’s currency to any North Carolinian who could catch and confine Dennis, and he offered to cover expenses of the collaborator who delivered the young man to Gray.

I couldn’t find an earlier advertisement for Dennis, which makes me wonder about the timing of this reward offer. Was Gray Strickland needing a strong, highly skilled worker?

Or did he need to capture this young man to prove to Dennis, to the rest of the black community enslaved on Strickland land, and to the larger community that he had the money and the power to catch, confine, and control.

The Weekly Standard,Raleigh, North Carolina, 30 Jan 1856, Wed  •  Page 3

In this “status update” Gray Strickland tells people to cease the hunt for a fugitive, and indicates what he thinks should happen to any enslaved person who seeks freedom. Unwritten is the warning otherwise transmitted to any enslaved person thinking of seeking asylum among abolitionists or creating freedom with new identities: “You will be caught. You will be punished. You will be separated from everything you know. I have that power.”

Historian Walter Johnson aptly notes that the language of ‘dehumanization’ is misleading because slavery depended upon the human capacities of enslaved people. It depended upon their reproduction. It depended upon their labor, and it depended upon their sentience. Enslaved people could be taught: their intelligence made them valuable. They could be manipulated: their desires could make them pliable. The could be terrorized: their fears could make them controllable.…The illogic of it all appears to reveal a simple linear truth that is often lost–oppression is never about humanity or lack thereof. It is, and always has been, about power.

Clint Smith, How The Word Is Passed

Sources

https://coastalreview.org/2019/08/the-turpentine-trail/

Cecelski, David, “The Turpentine State,” from the blog David Celeski: New Writing, Collected Essays, Latest Discoveries, https://davidcecelski.com/2017/12/17/the-turpentine-state/.

Outland, Robert B. “Slavery, Work, and the Geography of the North Carolina Naval Stores Industry, 1835-1860.” The Journal of Southern History 62, no. 1 (1996): 27-56. Accessed June 18, 2021. doi:10.2307/2211205.

Advertisement by Gray Strickland, The Spirit of the Age,Raleigh, North Carolina17 Oct 1855, Wed  •  Page 4; digitally accessed on Newspapers.com. Transcription below.

$100 REWARD

Since Dennis has been a runaway, I have heard of his being in Johnston county as a turpentine hand and ditcher; I have heard of his being about Averasboro’ as a maker of turpentine barrels and striker in a blacksmith shop; perhaps in Fayetteville [a prominent town on Cape Fear River] or its vicinity, and about Goldsboro'[a Neuse River town]. I cannot say whether these representations are true, but I have no doubt he is in Johnston, Harnett, Cumberland or some of the adjacent counties [all part of the turpentine belt], working about as a free man. I learn he passed in some places by the name of “John G. Williams;” he doubtless has other names by which he has passed during his long absence.

I will give the above reward for the apprehension and confinement of my Negro Man DENNIS, if taken in this State, or $200 if taken out of the State. Said Dennis has now been run-away about twenty months, viz: since December, 1853. He is slightly bow-legged, toes turning out a little, rather round shouldered and stoops slightly in walking; has a scar on one of his thighs caused by a snag, of dark complexion, 5 feet 3 or 4 inches high, aged about 21 years, and weighing when he left about 150 pounds.

I will give the above Reward of $100 for his apprehension and confinement in this State, or $200 if taken out of the State, so that I get him again. If delivered to me in Raleigh, I will pay all additional expenses beside the above Reward. Letters concerning said Runaway, to be addressed to me at Raleigh.

W. GRAY STRICKLAND

Raleigh, August 25, 1855

Categories
Random Thoughts Ruminations

Keeper of Family Lore or Family Historian?

I listened to a fascinating CAFE live conversation between historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman the other day. At minute 8 or so they begin to discuss the difference between journalists and historians.

Journalists, they point out, follow the story; they look for facts and find sources to deliver the story. Historians look for facts in primary sources–art, documents, records, newspapers–to find patterns in the past that created change, tracking a story but not always knowing what that story is going to turn out to be.

Journalists tell us what happened. Historians ask “who cares?” and “so what?”

it’s a case of both/and

When my dad declared me “Keeper of the Family Lore” I had no idea how deeply I would travel into the past. The facts led to questions and the questions led to course work and books, which led to more course work and more books. Some 15 years later, I am a citizen archivist and genealogical antiquarian; a history enthusiast and translator of the family lore.

I am drawn to historian folks like Drs. Richardson Cox and Freeman because they have been instrumental in helping me see patterns in the present BECAUSE of their study of patterns in the past. And they motivate me to apply the techniques and processing skills of the historian to find patterns in my genealogical stories.

This blog gives me a platform to connect with other history loving folks. Sometimes I am simply an antiquarian, posting names and dates and timelines for the sheer love of detail. But the posts I most enjoy writing are those with a rich narrative around the facts that answer the “who cares” and “so whats” about my family’s relationships and events.

In this moment I am striving to be a part of a larger conversation that historians are having about our Civil War and Reconstruction era, and how we can use what the nation learned then during this current backlash against expansive democracy. It is a process that is both intriguing and humbling, leading to an ever more liberating understanding of the history behind my family’s lore.

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Random Thoughts Strickland The Geek Within: Tips, Tricks and Techniques

Diagram Your Family Tree with Gutenberg Block

I played around with this Gutenberg Block editor in hopes of sharing genealogy basics in a more visually appealing, less overwhelming format.

‘Cause, let’s face it, when you’re trying to engage with kin that lie somewhere out there beneath your family tree’s shade, the typical checklists of names and dates of birth, death, marriage, and the (seemingly endless) enumeration of siblings and kids can be so tedious that a mind wanders and, before you know it, perusing leads to closing the tab rather than clicking a contact button.

What if the data was shared in a more graphic form? Can the Gutenblock editor help me create a family diagram?

My grandfather Strickland was an orphan who inherited the Mecklenburg County (VA) farm from the three, single Dodson siblings who adopted him. Their sister, married to a Sayles, was my grandmother Strickland’s mother. When my dad narrated our hikes around Oakview with stories of his childhood, I only saw my Virginia roots so deeply embedded in that rich red soil, worked by generations of Dodsons, the people they enslaved and the people they hired to sharecrop.

But my last set of posts about Ira Sayles and George Parker got me to thinking about where little boy George Strickland played until his parents died of the flu in 1897. Let’s dip into his family tree.

In my mind I’m going to Carolina

George Ricks “Ricky” Strickland

Born in Franklin County NC; Died in Richmond VA

1893-1960

Children
  • Cleora
  • Luther
  • Norman
  • Polly
  • Laura Maud
  • George Ricks “Ricky”
  • Eugene
Sydney Nicholas Strickland

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1850-1897

married in 1879
Virginia Elizabeth Coppedge

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1859-1897

Anderson Perry Strickland

Born in Wake County NC; Died in Petersburg VA

1820-1864

Married in 1843
Julia M. Stone

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1825-1919

Children
  • Laura
  • William
  • Robert
  • Sydney Nicholas
  • Jane E.
  • George Augustus
  • Lucien
  • DeWitt Clinton
  • Daniel H.
  • Joseph A.

William B. Coppedge

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1829-1896

Married in 1857
Laura Ann May

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1839-1918

Children
  • Virginia Elizabeth
  • Geneva
  • William J.
  • Alverrada
  • Charles
  • Robert S.
  • Ida M.
  • Anna L
  • Minnie L
  • Oliver J.

Look at all those North Carolina folks! I could keep going back, tracking down the Stallings and Bowdens, the Dents and the Boons of Franklin, Nash, and Wake County. But four blocks of vital statistics hit me as a just enough information to whet someone’s curiosity.

My original idea was to end with a diagram, with connections, branches, shoots. And though this attempt is far more basic, I feel satisfied. My goal was to discover another way to share basic data, and I think I stumbled on a satisfying format. Only time will tell if such posts promote more reader engagement. For now…I’d say family historians have a friend in the WordPress editor.

Categories
Random Thoughts Ruminations

The Arrivals

I headed out the door with keys and leash in hand, my tri-colored English Shepherd girl at my heels. A quick car ride later, we are out and about in the (temporarily) pollen-free air of Francis Slocum State Park. The viridescent hills have changed once again as deciduous trees continue their spring fashion show.

“Sweet sweet I’m so sweet” came from first one tree then another; Yellow Warblers in the park!

“Sweet Sweet Canada Canada Canada” sang White-Throated Sparrows, an endearing reminder that my winter buddies are still around.

Burbles and churps pulled my attention skyward and I watched acrobatic maneuvers of Tree Swallows swooping for insects I couldn’t spy.

But wait…that isn’t a white belly. That head isn’t blue-green.

OH!!! Today’s new arrivals were Northern Rough-winged Swallows with their plain brown backs and dusky throats. Darting low over the lake, they snatched today’s hatch and returned for oh-so-brief pauses on wires or snags. My swallow counts for eBird will get a bit tricky now.

I love it all–the wind, the clouds, the song, the flight, the greens. Even the arrival of ticks can’t deter my good mood.