March Marsh

This March no lacy edges embroider the frozen lake; no bear paw padded prints in the snow.  Francis Slocum State (PA) Park is greening.  The brooks stumble over worn stones then quietly meander through roots. The table is full and awaits spring’s migrating guests.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Dodsons Cross County Lines: Surname Saturday

In the summer of 1772, Edward Dodson cast a shadow into my future as he set out from Amelia County, Virginia.  The young man crossed the Meherrin River and continued on into Mecklenburg County, passing the farms of Samuel Dedman, William Wills Green, and John Hyde to assess the red soil along the little fork of Allen’s Creek.  Edward walked the tract’s perimeter with the owner. Finding the rolling, timbered hills fit for his needs, the aspiring farmer handed John Glassock five shillings, current money of colonial Virginia.

The Mecklenburg County Court convened once a month in the settlement that would one day become Boydton some 5 miles south. Residents used the court day as a social occasion, and  traveled from their farms to conduct business, swap stories, and trade goods.  Glassock and two friends, James Brown and Peter Burton, were among the folks who gathered on that August 10th, 1772.  The court ordered county clerk, John Talborne to duly record that John Glassock

…Doth give Grant Bargain, Sell Alien assigns and confirm to the Said Edward Dodson and his heirs. & Assigns for ever one certain tract or Parcell (sic) of Land Containing Ninety five acres lying and being in the County of Mecklenburg on the Little fork of Allens Creek…

Brown and Burton bore witness to the verity of the transaction.

Meanwhile Edward Dodson returned home to plan his emigration to Virginia’s remote interior.  On the last day of April 1773, Edward took possession of his “parcell”, perhaps with his wife, Francis, already pregnant with their first child Sarah.

Five shillings purchased the first acres of land that would remain in the Dodson family for six generations.  The story meanders, like a creek, into the 20th century.

Map.Virginia.1776.DavidRumseyMapCollection

Edward and Francis Dodson moved from around Amelia to a farm situated between the Meherrin River and Jefferson Falls on the Roanoke River. A General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America. (1776). digital image: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, DavidRumsey.com.

Reference:

Glassock to Dodson, Mecklenburg County (VA) Deed Book 3-433; Microfilm #32533, Family History Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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.

Leading Me On

This gate set out to conspire with the sun this morning, I swear, leading me on to believe that a warm front had moved in overnight.  Just beyond the shadows spring melt was sweetening the air.   Liar.  Fooler.  Twenty degrees still leaves my cheeks cold and my hands numb.  And the snow banks still smell like winter.

This gate set out to conspire with the sun this morning, I swear, leading me on to believe that a warm front had moved in overnight. “Just beyond the shadows, spring melt is sweetening the air!”  Liar. Fooler. Even sun kissed, twenty degree air leaves my cheeks cold, my hands numb. And the snow banks still smell like winter.

sun kissed

In Defense of Family History: Must Read of the Week

“Family history is a natural trespasser, barging through the hedges that mark the fields of academic study.”

Alison Light.  “In Defense of Family History,” The Guardian (London), online edition, 10 October 2014.

A bolstering read for those of  us who indulge.  An illuminating read, perhaps, for those who put up with us.😉