Snow days

DSC_3656Today was the day that Quinn was supposed to rage through the trees, whipping lightweight flakes into road-obscuring drifts.  But the winds never came, and the system showered my neighborhood with snow that sits in heavy lumps on branches and gathers between dog toes like tiny snow melons.

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Lucy Boyd Dodson, Freedwoman

In building out my Dodson ancestors’ social and economic ecosystem I asked questions about the enslaved.  I wondered if I could find evidence of how their journey from emancipation through Reconstruction differed from the post-war opportunities of my family.

In doing this research I uncovered what I believe to be a family tree of Lucy Boyd Dodson, enslaved on my 2nd great-granduncle’s farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  Benjamin Franklin Dodson was married to Delia Boyd Dodson, who became executrix of his estate in 1864 after he was killed by a Union sniper at Petersburg, Virginia.

The inventory that Delia filed that autumn included the names of the enslaved:

Nancy and 2 children (Caroline and Lucius)

William

Archer

Armstead

Sandy

Lucie and 3 children (Henrietta, Virginia, and Elie (Elsi))

Caroline

Inventory of Benjamin F. Dodson, 1864

Estate of Benjamin F Dodson, Mecklenburg County, Virginia Will Book 22:123, 1864.

Lucy is found in the Virginia Slave Birth Records as the enslaved of Benjamin Dodson, bearing four children between 1854 and 1860, including Henrietta named in the Probate Inventory.  The 1860 mortality schedule lists the deaths of two of her children, Martha and Robert.  Another son, Alexander, is unaccounted for in the inventory or following records.

The 1870 census records Lucy Dodson living in the Boydton District of Mecklenburg County on a farm with Archer, Armstead, Henrietta, and three more children not listed in the inventory, Kesiah, Nathan, and Mary.  Virginia and Elie, from the 1864 inventory are not included in the list.

The 1880 census records Lucy as the wife of Armstead Dodson, living in the Boydton District with their two children, John and Harriet.  Nathan is working as a house servant at the next-door neighbor’s farm. Kesiah and Mary are working as servants in the household of Delia Dodson’s sister, Harriet Boyd Dodson Cogbill, in Boydton.

Henrietta may have moved to North Carolina in 1871 and married Paul Merryman.

Kesiah, Mary, and John have left no trace that I have found. But Nathan and Harriet moved into the 20th century leaving bread crumbs of data in marriage licenses and death certificates.

Harriet married Frank Swift, moved to Norfolk, Virginia, and had several children: Willie, Ruth, Elmira, Mary, and Ernest.

Nathaniel B. Dodson moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1887, and married a Mecklenburg County gal in 1898.  Sarah Goode and Nathaniel had several children: Lillian, Nathaniel Jr, Evelyn, Ralph, Harold, Edith, Kenneth.  Their youngest, Owen Dodson, was a poet, playwright, and Howard University professor of theater. James V. Hatch wrote a biography of the “dean of Black Theater” after Owen’s death in 1983.  Reading Sorrow Is The Only Faithful One has been a fascinating way to confirm some of my hunches about Lucy, Armstead, and their children.

Lucy and Armstead remained farmers on the land near Taylors Ferry Road, Mecklenburg County for the rest of their lives.  Lucy died before 1900, as Armstead is listed in the 1900 census as a widowed farmer living with his brother, Archer (of the inventory list perhaps), and two grandchildren, John H. and Lucy Dodson.  Armstead died on March 14, 1913 and was buried at Shiloh Colored Church, Boydton, Virginia.

This sketch of Lucy’s life will be painted in as I compare her life to that of the widow Delia Dodson, a process that I expect to be a rather uncomfortable reckoning with the inequities perpetuated from slavery to reconstruction to Jim Crow through my life.  The present is much the past.

I am constructing a public tree for Lucy in Ancestry.com, a platform that is amazingly cumbersome in trying to record how African Americans moved from enslavement into freedom! I welcome any suggestions that would make that tree more helpful to family seekers.

 

 

 

 

It’s Complicated

I shouldn’t have been astonished.

The Mecklenburg County, Virginia U.S. Federal Census of 1860 enumerated two Dodson households–my white 2nd great-grandparents, James and Sarah, and his brother and sister-in-law, Benjamin and Delia.

In the U.S. Federal Census of 1870 James and Sarah were enumerated with 9 children; Delia, widowed by a Union sniper bullet in 1864, was listed with 6 children.  An unrelated white Dodson family, William, Lucy and 4 children, is also listed.

Sixteen additional households carried the Dodson name, and 6 individual Dodsons  lived with other families.  All of these Dodsons were black and mulatto.  The freed.  The emancipated.  The formerly enslaved men, women, and children of my ancestors.

Peter, George

Abram, John, Mary, Frankey, Philip

Lucinda, Alexander, Alexander

Reuben, Nansey, Alice, Clarisa, Nancy, Edward

Armstead, Lucy, Archer, Henrietta, Keziah, Nathan, Mary

Mary, Jordan, Emma, Mary

Orville, Leanna

Louis

Alexander, Joanna, Lorice, Petius, Joseph W

James, Martha, Amos, Henry, James, Nathan, Charles, Fannie

Charles

Harriet, Richard, Mary F, Margaret

Alexander, Maria, Charles, Selina,

Richard, Harriet, with Celia Hepburn and her children, Mary F. Margaret A., Robert H.

Benjamin, Lucy

Edward living with Stokes, Harriet, and Elvira Walker

Ellen Dodson living with Clarissa, Samuel, Oton, Margaret, Matilda, Samuel, and Henry Hepburn

Susan living with a white family

Alice living with a white family

Nancy living with the Dailey family

Richard, Harriet, Mary F., Margaret

Narcissa with the Gillespie family

I am humbled to realize that I spent almost a decade documenting “my line” before asking the whereabouts of the unnamed of 1860, enumerated by a number, sex, skin color, and age.  In the 1870 census their names and occupations, who they live with, who they live by, begin to unravel a knotty, complicated story.

I am in the process of mapping their social network, curious to know if I can connect these names to previously collected Dodson records, picking up strands of my ancestral story with all the Dodsons of Mecklenburg County.

Version 2

 

The promise

I start the week with a broken range.  Locked out of stove top and oven because of a suspected short in the control panel, I can’t create with ingredients.  No dinner making. No holiday baking. No soups, chili, stew, cornbread, or greens.

My reliance on Wegman’s shifts from produce to prepared-right-there aisles.

If I shift my exasperation to the side a bit, I can see the promise of this week of waiting for the repair person.

Instead of gathering flour, sugar, and butter, I can gather pine cones, pine boughs, and glue gun.  Wreaths and swags can emerge from my hands, and I am still able to move into the season of advent, a time of re-grounding and renewal as I watch the sun move to its most southern point in my afternoon sky.

The promise of the sun returning, the days lengthening, fuels my hope for peace and inspiration.

The promise of hope.

From a broken range.

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What I Have To Say

Folks:

Take a woman friend to lunch.
Buy her flowers.
Stop by with a prepared meal.
Surprise her with a call or a card.

Damn…We are tired, tired of being angry.

And exhausted by the memories that incessant reports dredge up.

And some of us have to navigate hyper-vigilance, dissociative numbing, and depression of PTSD.

Some of us have to take extra care to remember to eat.

And to take our meds.

Some of us can’t stop crying.

So be patient with the women in your life. Be gentle and kind.

And give space for stories to be shared. Treat those stories with respect.

Listen. Believe.

This country is full of sheroes.

Male Monarch Butterfly.EH