Sometimes You Can Go Home

The Descendants

I stood tall beside two other descendants of Samuel S. White, Doris Coleman Montgomery and Dale Coleman.

On May 28, 2016 I drove through the rolling landscape of north central Pennsylvania to the New York border.  I drifted west over winding backroads until I hit the outskirts of an ancestral home.  Along the banks of Cryder Creek, Whitesville contains the memories of pioneering people, including the White and Teater families, from which I am descended.

In the late 1810s, Samuel followed his father-in-law, John Teater, to the farmland that became Independence Township, Allegany County.  His wife, Nancy, was a teacher and helpmate to every endeavor that Samuel undertook, which included the raising of seven children and the building of a hamlet’s first hotel in 1827.  Samuel was a farmer, cattle dealer, a shop keeper, an innkeeper; he served his community as town clerk, postmaster, and town supervisor. With time the hamlet took on the name Whitesville.

Folks of Independence Township had long believed the oral tradition of how their town got its name.  Roger Easton, Independence historian, led the effort to formally attribute the village’s name to Samuel White’s life and legacy.  That last Saturday in May several descendants gathered at Lot 50, site of the White Hotel, and unveiled the Legends and Lore highway marker.

Thank you so much, Roger and all the supporters of the Independence Historical Society for your dedicated efforts (and for lunch)!!

The folks who helped make this happen

So grateful to all of these residents of Independence Township, particularly Independence Historian, Roger Easton (far left), who led the effort to commemorate Samuel S. White’s contribution.

 

Namesakes: Francis Marion Minor

I have always been curious about the name of my 2nd great-grandfather, Francis Marion Minor.  Neither Francis nor Marion makes an appearance among family tree leaves until his birth in 1828, a strange happenstance in an era that often confounds modern genealogists with its generation-lapping of names.  So what’s up with John Pierson and Isabella McClelland Minor in 1828?

Photo.Newspapers.FrancisMarion.Namesake.1825

An area newspaper, the Washington Reporter (Washington, PA) carried the musings of a Mr. Sample on its front page in January 1825 about Brigadier General Francis Marion.  The South Carolinian was known among American Revolution veterans as the Swamp Fox for his daring guerrilla tactics against the British forces occupying the southern coast.  His movements against a superior force were credited with forcing the redcoats’ evacuation.  And during the 1820s General Marion was still being remembered as a prominent revolutionary hero, comparable in intelligence, benevolence, and bravery to the illustrious General George Washington.

John and Isabella were raising their children where they had been raised, in Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, just outside the village of Garards Fort–an area developed by the revolutionary generation. As those community members aged, and began to die out, there was a heightened sense of that generation’s role in the country’s freedom and enfranchisement. To honor and commemorate the grit and determination of their predecessors, parents named their children for people they had never known but would always admire.  And that is how I think my great-great-grandfather got his name–Francis Marion Minor (1828-1918).

 

The Dodsons of Mecklenburg County: Friends of Friends Friday

In the decade after Edward and Francis Dodson unpacked their wagon (1772),  the 95 acres on Little Fork of Allen’s Creek, Mecklenburg County (VA) became a bustling farm. Green stalks of corn grew from hills of rich, red clay soil. Hogs snuffled through thick stands of oak, hickory, persimmon,and pine. Cattle grazed in fields that first yielded crops of wheat. The farmers sold surplus timber and crops to purchase those tools and foodstuffs they couldn’t produce themselves. And they purchased “heads” to increase their productivity, which would increase their profits, which would increase their savings, which would purchase more acreage–and more “heads” to work the new land.

The Dodson Farm: Mecklenburg County, Virginia

The county was criss-crossed by spring-fed creeks and rivers, and by centuries-old trading paths, first packed down by the feet of the Occaneechi Indians.  The road from Petersburg (VA) to the North Carolina border cut through the Mecklenburg Court House settlement, and was heavily used by the Continental and county militia companies as they positioned supplies and men during the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.  Edward Dodson served as militia company lieutenant from 1778 for the duration of the rebellion, and no doubt was called to guard the munitions at nearby Taylor’s Ferry on the Roanoke River.  Having enslaved  men, women, and children back on the farm privileged a resilience on the Dodson place that helped the family survive throughout those turbulent years.

In 1784, the Dodson family welcomed Edward Junior. Sally (Sarah), William, Elizabeth, and Martha probably knew what was up with the addition of one more baby, but toddlers Nancy and John were likely enthralled by the newborn.  Outside their house could be heard the cries of two more babies, Robin (Bob) and Amy,  born to the enslaved Kate and Biddy. In the quarters of the forced laborers two-year-old Bristol and Lucy were looked after by seven-year-old Sukey and four-year-olds, Dick and Bristol. Will, Peter, and Pat worked the farm with Kate and Biddy, overseen by Master Ed.

Post-war Virginia was just beginning to reconcile the concepts of liberty and slavery, the American contradiction that would shape generations of Dodsons.

Resources:

Mecklenburg County (VA) Personal Property Tax Lists, 1782-1805, scanned microfilm images. A Binns Genealogy CD Series, Williamston, MI; BinnsGenealogy.com.

Name of Enslaved                    Date of Birth

  • Peter                                      before 1767
  • Will                                                  1767
  • Pat                                           before 1767
  • Kate                                         before 1767
  • Biddy                                       before 1767
  • Sukey                                               1777
  • Jim                                                     1780
  • Dick                                                   1780
  • Bristol                                               1782
  • Lucy                                                   1782

 

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.

Fences Are For White Folks

This illustrated envelope dates from the 1860s. Depicting a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and accompanied by a poem, the iconography prominently features “The Fence that Uncle Abe built.” From the U.S. Civil War Papers, ca. 1850-1917. Box 7. Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

This illustrated envelope dates from the 1860s. Depicting a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and accompanied by a poem, the iconography prominently features “The Fence that Uncle Abe built.”
From the U.S. Civil War Papers, ca. 1850-1917. Box 7. Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

I am currently enrolled in a MOOC, HIST1.1x The Civil War and Reconstruction – 1850-1861, taught by respected historian, Eric Foner.  Each week our online student body analyzes a primary resource, an activity I enjoy immensely. This week’s challenge was the above envelope.  Who was the audience for this 1860s product?  What message was it trying to convey?  How did it reflect the symbolism and policies of the nascent Republican party?

so I posted:

Last year, when I took the course the first time, I am sure that I saw a clear appeal to the demographic that embraced free labor in an expanding country. Now, all I can see is an appeal to white men, who had the privilege of dreaming about being their own boss, marking their own territory, building their own factory/workshop. Blacks, enslaved or free, and Asian immigrants didn’t have the opportunity to set up boundaries, either physical or mental. Indigenous peoples measured territory and property with a whole different paradigm. The nascent Republican party was appealing to the common man, as long as he was white. The economic and cultural revolutions may have broadened the concept of “good” labor, but the political system was still attempting to reinforce white supremacy.

The discussion that followed had me return, reflect, and drill down into the free labor/free soil ideology, a fascinating and confusing exercise that only got productive when I harnessed my roaming mind to my own family history.

I can say with reasonable certainty, that my cattle drover ancestor, John Pearson Minor, regarded land as the ultimate asset, not only for the stock that could be raised on top of it and sold to expanding markets but also for the coal, salt, and other mineral resources beneath it that could be mined and sold to expanding markets. From his base in Southwestern Pennsylvania he speculated in land in what became West Virginia, Illinois, and Iowa. Extended family swept westward through this free soil era as well.

Letters reveal that the free labor concept of “work hard and rise to the top” was a core piece of this westward impulsion. Other documents indicate that these same people aligned themselves with the Democratic party. Republicans may well have captured the votes of some of this crowd, but only in as much as the Republican-defined property rights aligned with their own self interest. And that self-interest was what white men could define, legally describe, control, and profit from.

In as much as enslavers demeaned the very work that such cattlemen/farmers/entrepreneurs conducted, I speculate that my ancestors viewed slaveowners with contempt, and the ultimate insult would be to not acknowledge their social structure, the cornerstone of which was human chattel. And Native Americans worked from a whole different paradigm regarding property and community with a degree of stewardship of resources that was alien to the white, Protestant mind.

This one branch of my family demonstrated that an American could be an advocate of free labor and agitate for “free” or deeply discounted soil, and yet remain committed to a hierarchical, racist social structure, that codified a particular definition of property–fenced in by white folks.