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.
Dory was rescued six months ago from the night streets of our small town, just a wee handful of curiosity. Cappy, the eldest dog, quickly asserted his “do not touch me” rule. Luci, on the other hand, delightedly modified doggy games to meet her new toy’s size and age, and willingly accepted the kitten snuggles. I often find the two curled up, sharing space, snoozing. Sisters.
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.
Glassock to Dodson, Mecklenburg County (VA) Deed Book 3-433; Microfilm #32533, Family History Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.
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.