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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.