Sunday morning musing

I have been getting acquainted with my 19th century grandmothers during the last few weeks, creating more questions than stories at the end of each day, which is frustrating at many levels.

I catch myself re-centering the family account around the men, specifically the white men, who populate the records.  It is a habit.  A learned way of processing the world that I resist, unsuccessfully, as I try to bring womenfolk out of the past’s shadows.

So I end up tossing the paper into the bin, or cutting whole paragraphs of text, or moving the whole post to trash.

And I begin again.

This week I will (re)focus my attention on Mary Green Dodson, 1787-1858, daughter of William Wills and Martha [Archer Rowlette] Green; wife of Edward Dodson, Junior; mother of James H, my 2nd great-grandfather; and cousin to Sarah Jane [Rowlett] Dodson, my 2nd great-grandmother.

Mary grew from girl to woman, wife to widow, mother to elder, in the watersheds of  Allen’s and Butcher’s Creeks, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  I have looked out on those woods, walked those hills, with red clay, that Mary saw every day, clinging to my shoes.  Childhood treks from Chase City to the country that had held generations of ancestors made little impression on me until I strolled up cow-worn paths with my father, his drawl spreading stories of his childhood on my children.

I have lots of records for many branches of my families, but I return to those from Mecklenburg County time and again, because of this connection to the white feldspar-studded land.  And this genealogical homecoming has prodded my reckoning with the unspoken family lore.

The land and its tobacco guaranteed food security, housing security, community esteem.  And none of that was possible without the work of black people-enslaved, sharecroppers, tenant farmers.

When I reconstruct pieces of Mary Green Dodson’s life, I also feel those African Americans emerging from shadows.

I hope I do all of these folks justice with my story-telling.

Their hopes, dreams–and nightmares–built this country.

 

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