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

 

Surname Saturday–The Crutes of Mecklenburg County

Brainstorming and journaling are good for the future

Sorting through my family lore stash, I came across two sheets of yellow paper, folded into quarters.  My father, Norman Strickland, had distinctive handwriting, the product of his years as an electrical engineer.  So even though the bulleted pencil notes were not dated or signed, I recognized the scraps of thought as Norman’s brainstorming, sketches for memoir writing that never progressed beyond the legal pad.

IMG_3441

“Use green tomatoes to remove tobacco gum from your hands” caught my eye. That tip had prompted a quick jot about where the cotton was grown on his family’s Mecklenburg County, Virginia farm, which led to him thinking about cows, which prompted his noting of the Crute family.

Those last thirteen words kindled a memory of my father standing in the feldspar-studded field of Oakview on a sweltering July day, my kids nearby roaming the hoof-packed cow paths.   Norman loved to recall how his father, George Strickland, always had a team of mules hitched up and two tractors going, with crucial assists from tenant farmers.  Norman must have been remembering the Crutes.

The note snagged this memory and my curiosity was piqued.  Who were the Crutes? 

Tobacco had been the cash crop on this Butcher’s Creek farm for five generations by the time my father learned that green tomatoes would remove tobacco gum.  Until the markets crashed in ’29 and the Southside of Virginia watched its economy slide with the rest of America, my grandfather had been capitalizing on his entrepreneurial spirit. A partner in a Chase City sawmill when he married my grandmother, Florette, in 1921 George remained an active source of farm labor and support for his guardians, Edward, Dora, and Molly Dodson.  In 1927, George inherited the Dodson home place, Oakview.  Then the depression silenced the saw mill.

Around the time my father was born in 1928, George, Florette, and their four sons were back on the farm, full-time.  And the Crutes were nearby.

Matthew Bell Crute and his wife, Cora Hayes Crute, lived just off the Boydton-Chase City Road on land, it is thought, adjoining the western corner of Oakview, with their eight children: Charles (18),Willie Bee (16), Robert (13), Clarence (12), Daisy (10), Alice (7), Angie (4), and Odie (infant). In the 1930 census, Matthew stated that he was a general farmer working on his own account, and all but the youngest two children were in school.

Hunter's Lane, Mecklenburg County, VA 1932

The Dodson/Strickland farm was located between Route 46, or the Chase City-Boydton Road and the county road 679 also known as Hunter’s Lane, along Butcher’s Creek. It is thought the Crute farm was located along RT 46. (Map from 1932 WPA Writer’s Project. Library of Virginia, Digital Collections.)

When my father was just a toddler, Matthew was treated by Dr. Funch from April 5-11, 1931 before the 46 year old father succumbed to the Spanish Influenza.  Was it after this tragedy that the Crute family supplemented their income with regular part-time work in the Strickland tobacco fields?  Did Cora also help my grandmother?  In what other ways did the Crutes interact with my father?

May 22, 1938

Early in the morning of May 22, Robert Monroe Crute was found, his skull crushed, his left forearm broken.  The physician on call, A. Tyree Finch, recorded that the death was thought to be a result of an automobile hit-and-run.  Cora buried her 24 year old son by his father in the home cemetery.

Newspapers recorded Robert’s accident as one of several automobile deaths in that month, as if cars were a mounting cause of concern. How I wish I could talk with my father about Robert, and his death.  Were folks suspicious about what had happened?

But fields need plowing

Norman joked about his father’s incessant movement and the expectations on the family to implement George’s plans.  Neighbors expressed horror watching twelve year old Norman atop one of the tractors.  “You’re going to get that boy killed!”  George paid them no mind.

That would have been 1940, and by census records Clarence was the sole means of support for his mother, and two sisters still at home, Angie and Odie.  Willie and Charles apparently moved on, as did Daisy and Alice.  Norman’s brothers, Sidney (18), Clifford (16), and Paul (14), were still at home, attending school and providing labor.  Clarence may have continued with part-time regular tobacco work,  taking a share of the crop in payment.

The following decade ushered in an era of migration, accelerated by World War II and its technological advances.  Farming, according to my father, was an honorable occupation but not necessarily one to which a kid aspired.  It seems that the Crutes dispersed as actively as the Stricklands did, in search of new opportunities.  I know where my folk landed.  I am still wondering about the Crutes.

SCAN0478

A team of mules and two tractors manned by three fellows that I speculate are  Charles, Clarence, and Robert Crute.

As I look at the bits and pieces of the Crute history intertwined with my family’s story, I realize how incredibly important Cora, Robert, Charles, and Clarence were to the Strickland family’s moving through the depression.

I wonder; how did the Crutes see their relationship to the Stricklands?  Was there any reciprocity from the Stricklands, any work done on the Crute farm?  Ruminating for another day…stay tuned.

Reclaiming all the past

These thoughts are for all you white family historians out there.  Particularly the ones who are, like me, struggling to tell the unmentionable, the dishonorable chapters of our ancestors’ lives.  The plot lines of which extend into our own days, leaving us uncomfortable with our race.  Our whiteness.

I have been silent on this blog space, for what seems like a long time.  Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because what I have to say is so disconcerting to me.  I have hung out with my research for months, letting it rattle my bones.  Letting the names and the implications of the unnamed disturb my imagination, and disrupt my nostalgia of my southern past.

And humbled I return to this segregated space to confront the taboo against mixing race and family.  The taboo against talking straight up about how I can trace my status, my education, my opportunities right back to those of my Dodson forebears in 1772.

I want to reclaim all the past.  I want to braid stories of the Dodsons with the connections of the Crutes and dozens of unnamed African Americans who contributed to the Dodson legacy, yet seldom profited from it.

I hope you will return to learn how my dad’s scribbled note prompted my memory of something Norman said, which together led to the documentation of the Dodson Crute Connection.

Next up:  The Dodson Crute Connection

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By 2 o’clock

Deadlines are my friend.  Deadlines are my friend.  Deadlines are my friend.

2 o’clock.  That is my latest deadline.

Computer time–1:39.

Twenty minutes to sift through my busy brain  and find some compelling story or intriguing information that is worthy of a reader’s time.

I got nothing.

Or maybe I am just procrastinating a bit of discomfort.

Oh, dear…I am.

Very late last year I made a commitment–to myself–to share my family’s history of enslaving with Coming To The Table’s Shared Legacies project.  And I did share a first draft,  a typical family historian attempt to craft story from facts and conjecture.  However, with feedback I realized that the Shared Legacies were to be a first person point-of-view, a narrative about how my ancestors’  enslaving linked to my own life experience, or, better yet, a narrative of how I discovered the descendants of the people my 4th great-grandparents enslaved.

Well, I don’t have any of the latter.

And I can’t write succinctly about why the Revolutionary Era Dodsons haunt me.

I have four more minutes…to convey to you, dear reader, that I have a shit-ton of White Folk Work to do.  And I will make a commitment here, today, to peel away excuse after excuse, and sit with my discomfort.

I hope you will join me as I examine how liberty became a race-based right in my family.