Categories
Random Thoughts Strickland Transcriptions

Examining the Language of Slavery

During the mid-nineteenth century North Carolina was the global supplier of naval stores. The “Turpentine State” lay in the long-leaf pine belt–a region of dry sandy clay subsoil that ran from North Carolina, south to Florida, and as far west as southern Alabama and Mississippi.

The sap of turpentine orchards was harvested and distilled into spirits of turpentine and rosin; pine trunks were burned in earthen kilns to produce tar. These naval stores rendered ship hulls watertight and preserved hemp rigging. Camphene, a mixture of turpentine and alcohol, was a widely used illuminant until the development of Pennsylvania kerosene in 1860. By the late 1850s, naval stores were the South’s 3rd largest global export crop, exceeded only by cotton and tobacco.

Weekly Raleigh Register,(Raleigh, NC)
Wednesday, January 17, 1855

My 2x-great-granduncle, William Gray Strickland, owned several tracts of land in the pine belt, and put one 760 acre parcel up for sale in 1855. Its proximity to the North Carolina Railroad, which ran from the Neuse River town of Goldsboro through Raleigh, the state capital, and ultimately inland to Charlotte, was a major selling point, as was its piney woods, portions of which he had “boxed and attended to for one year.”

The land lay 12 miles north of Raleigh and the previous year, Gray Strickland had sent enslaved turpentine hands to tend portions of the piney forest. They would have cut a hole or box near the base of trees 8-15 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep, with a highly skilled boxer cutting up to 75-80 boxes a day from November until March. As the sap began to rise–peaking in July and August–“dippers” had harvested the resin from the bottom of each box and stored it in barrels shipped by river or rail to distilleries.

Turpentine operations were distant from the main Strickland lands; the isolation of the orchards made for hard, solitary work in insufferably hot conditions. And perhaps that distance created an opportunity for one enslaved man to seek freedom.

Dennis was about 21 years old, a sturdy five foot three, 150 pound man who sought freedom in December of 1853. As James G. Williams, Dennis found work in pine belt counties to the south and east of Strickland’s Wake County plantations, relocating as necessary from river towns to turpentine orchards. For almost two years the young man labored as a ditcher, a striker, a turpentine hand, a maker of barrels. Making his way as a free man.

The Spirit of the Age,Raleigh, North Carolina,17 Oct 1855, Wed  •  Page 4

Then in late August of 1855, Gray Strickland began to track Dennis in earnest, running an advertisement in several Raleigh papers, including the Spirit of the Age, The Semi-Weekly Standard and The Weekly Standard.

The enslaver offered a reward worth $3000 in today’s currency to any North Carolinian who could catch and confine Dennis, and he offered to cover expenses of the collaborator who delivered the young man to Gray.

I couldn’t find an earlier advertisement for Dennis, which makes me wonder about the timing of this reward offer. Was Gray Strickland needing a strong, highly skilled worker?

Or did he need to capture this young man to prove to Dennis, to the rest of the black community enslaved on Strickland land, and to the larger community that he had the money and the power to catch, confine, and control.

The Weekly Standard,Raleigh, North Carolina, 30 Jan 1856, Wed  •  Page 3

In this “status update” Gray Strickland tells people to cease the hunt for a fugitive, and indicates what he thinks should happen to any enslaved person who seeks freedom. Unwritten is the warning otherwise transmitted to any enslaved person thinking of seeking asylum among abolitionists or creating freedom with new identities: “You will be caught. You will be punished. You will be separated from everything you know. I have that power.”

Historian Walter Johnson aptly notes that the language of ‘dehumanization’ is misleading because slavery depended upon the human capacities of enslaved people. It depended upon their reproduction. It depended upon their labor, and it depended upon their sentience. Enslaved people could be taught: their intelligence made them valuable. They could be manipulated: their desires could make them pliable. The could be terrorized: their fears could make them controllable.…The illogic of it all appears to reveal a simple linear truth that is often lost–oppression is never about humanity or lack thereof. It is, and always has been, about power.

Clint Smith, How The Word Is Passed

Sources

https://coastalreview.org/2019/08/the-turpentine-trail/

Cecelski, David, “The Turpentine State,” from the blog David Celeski: New Writing, Collected Essays, Latest Discoveries, https://davidcecelski.com/2017/12/17/the-turpentine-state/.

Outland, Robert B. “Slavery, Work, and the Geography of the North Carolina Naval Stores Industry, 1835-1860.” The Journal of Southern History 62, no. 1 (1996): 27-56. Accessed June 18, 2021. doi:10.2307/2211205.

Advertisement by Gray Strickland, The Spirit of the Age,Raleigh, North Carolina17 Oct 1855, Wed  •  Page 4; digitally accessed on Newspapers.com. Transcription below.

$100 REWARD

Since Dennis has been a runaway, I have heard of his being in Johnston county as a turpentine hand and ditcher; I have heard of his being about Averasboro’ as a maker of turpentine barrels and striker in a blacksmith shop; perhaps in Fayetteville [a prominent town on Cape Fear River] or its vicinity, and about Goldsboro'[a Neuse River town]. I cannot say whether these representations are true, but I have no doubt he is in Johnston, Harnett, Cumberland or some of the adjacent counties [all part of the turpentine belt], working about as a free man. I learn he passed in some places by the name of “John G. Williams;” he doubtless has other names by which he has passed during his long absence.

I will give the above reward for the apprehension and confinement of my Negro Man DENNIS, if taken in this State, or $200 if taken out of the State. Said Dennis has now been run-away about twenty months, viz: since December, 1853. He is slightly bow-legged, toes turning out a little, rather round shouldered and stoops slightly in walking; has a scar on one of his thighs caused by a snag, of dark complexion, 5 feet 3 or 4 inches high, aged about 21 years, and weighing when he left about 150 pounds.

I will give the above Reward of $100 for his apprehension and confinement in this State, or $200 if taken out of the State, so that I get him again. If delivered to me in Raleigh, I will pay all additional expenses beside the above Reward. Letters concerning said Runaway, to be addressed to me at Raleigh.

W. GRAY STRICKLAND

Raleigh, August 25, 1855

Categories
Dodson Rowlett Surnames

The Last Will of Thomas Rowlett: 1806

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 2.56.44 PMSource: Mecklenburg County, Virginia Will Book 5, p 320, 1806; accessed digitally from Family Search (familysearch.org) September 13, 2018.

In late December of 1805, Thomas Rowlett of Mecklenburg County wrote a new will.  Less than a month later, the son of William Rowlett and step-mother Sarah Neal Archer Rowlett was dead.  Thomas left an estate that included a mill and a 1300 acre plantation on which lived 9 horses, 32 head of cattle, 38 sheep and 17 lambs, 4 sows and 24 pigs, 7 turkeys, 59 Dunghill Fowls, 13 geese, and 4 ducks.

And twenty-three enslaved people who worked as carpenters, field hands, grooms, cooks, and household help.

Phill (£200), Joe (£100), Sam (£120), Tom (£120), Bob  (£75), Peter (£60), Charles (£90), George (£75), Isaac  (£75),John (£60),Caesar (£5)Dixon (£50),Ned (£30),Lucy Senr  (£30), Hannah (£90), Diannah (£60), Susanna (£90), Creacy (£75), Lucy Junr (£75), Nancy  (£55), Dizy (£40), Amy (£25), and Fanny (£15).

I Thomas Rowlettof the County of Mecklenburgand the State of Virginia do make and ordain this my last will and Testament in manner and form following—

First I give and bequeath unto Sarah Coleman the wife of Thomas Coleman a negro woman named Hannah. Secondly I give and bequeath unto my dear mother Sarah Rowlett one hundred dollars annually during her natural life if she will accept of the same. Thirdly I give and bequeath unto Colo William W Green my Grey Riding Horse call Yorick to be delivered upon my death.

Fourthly, all the rest of my estate both real and personal I desire may be kept together for two years after my decease and then my executors hereafter named is hereby directed to sell the whole thereof to the highest bidder on twelve months credit taking sufficient security and after paying my debts if any should be due, and the legacies aforesaid—

I will and desire that the whole of my estate arising from the said sales and the profits of my Estate until the said Sales – be divided into three equal parts or shares to be divided as follows to wit one third part or share aforesaid I give unto my brother William Rowlett,

one other third part or share I give unto my sister Mary Rowletts Children, to wit, Sarah Coleman, Thompson Rowlett, William Rowlett, Peter Rowlett, Thomas Rowlett, John Rowlett, Archer Rowlett and Martha Rowlett to be equally divided,

one other third part or share, I give unto the Children of my deceased sister Martha Green, to wit, Archer Green, Abraham Green, Elizabeth Oliver, Sarah Green, William Green, Martha Green, Lewis Green, Mary Green, Susanna Green, and Rebecca Cole Green, to be equally divided among them.

Lastly I nominate and appoint Archer Green, Thomas Coleman and William Rowlett my brother executors of this my last will and Testament with a request that my plantations and carpenters shall be more particularly managed for the two years aforesaid by the said Archer Green and that he will leave the Mill finished.

I hereby revoke all other wills, I so hereby decide this to be my true last will and Testament this twenty ninth day of December on thousand eight hundred and five.

Signed sealed published and declared as the last will and Testament of Thomas Rowlett in the presence of us:

Edward L. Tabb, I Ridley Jr., Elizabeth Neal, Clarissa H Neal

Signed   Thomas Rowlett

At  a Court held for Mecklenburg County the 13thday of January 1806

This will was proved by the oaths of Edward L Tabb and I Ridley Jr. witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded and on the motion of Thomas Coleman one of the executors therein named who made oath thereto and together with Charles Colley, James T. Hayes, William Pettus, William Stone and James Batte his secureties (sic)  entered into and acknowledged their bond in the penalty of fifty thousand dollars conditioned as the law directs certificate us granted him for obtaining a probate of the said will in due form, liberty being reserved for the other executors therein named to Issue in the Probate when they shall think fit.

Teste  William Baskervill CS Cou

Analysis to follow.

Categories
Dodson

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.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Dodson Random Thoughts

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.