I listened to a fascinating CAFE live conversation between historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman the other day. At minute 8 or so they begin to discuss the difference between journalists and historians.
Journalists, they point out, follow the story; they look for facts and find sources to deliver the story. Historians look for facts in primary sources–art, documents, records, newspapers–to find patterns in the past that created change, tracking a story but not always knowing what that story is going to turn out to be.
Journalists tell us what happened. Historians ask “who cares?” and “so what?”
it’s a case of both/and
When my dad declared me “Keeper of the Family Lore” I had no idea how deeply I would travel into the past. The facts led to questions and the questions led to course work and books, which led to more course work and more books. Some 15 years later, I am a citizen archivist and genealogical antiquarian; a history enthusiast and translator of the family lore.
I am drawn to historian folks like Drs. Richardson Cox and Freeman because they have been instrumental in helping me see patterns in the present BECAUSE of their study of patterns in the past. And they motivate me to apply the techniques and processing skills of the historian to find patterns in my genealogical stories.
This blog gives me a platform to connect with other history loving folks. Sometimes I am simply an antiquarian, posting names and dates and timelines for the sheer love of detail. But the posts I most enjoy writing are those with a rich narrative around the facts that answer the “who cares” and “so whats” about my family’s relationships and events.
In this moment I am striving to be a part of a larger conversation that historians are having about our Civil War and Reconstruction era, and how we can use what the nation learned then during this current backlash against expansive democracy. It is a process that is both intriguing and humbling, leading to an ever more liberating understanding of the history behind my family’s lore.
When George Parker decided to risk everything and flee the bondage of a Murfreesboro (NC) plantation for the safety of the Union Army encampment in Suffolk, Virginia he didn’t know how his story would end. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a military order, establishing George’s status as “not slave.” But the proclamation came no where close to defining a new status for Black Americans. Refugees leaving slavery were stateless, neither property nor US citizens.
Chandra Manning’s book, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War, asks the reader to consider that this moment of freedom-seeking was not just a story about who catalyzed emancipation, but about a process of emancipation, in which refugees had to navigate and shape military and civil statutes that defined their identity and relationship to the US federal government. And no discussion of emancipation can transpire without a deep dive into how the concept of citizenship–and who could claim it–transformed as a result of the war efforts of black Americans.
Early in the book, Manning reminds us that historically wartime emancipations did not result in permanent freedom nor had they led to a reduction in the practice of slavery. In spite of attempts during the American Revolution and in the War of 1812, the presumptive status of black Americans throughout antebellum America remained “slave,” not freed, not citizen. This ideological barrier enabled white America–north and south–to accept the fact that the federal government had a relationship with white men only. Thus, the United States was a slave nation on the international stage until Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ruptured that idea, and established a powerful relationship between the federal government and Black Americans.
It was but one step toward altering the place of non-whites in the American consciousness.
Black refugees hoped for more than permanent emancipation. In serving the Army as soldiers, grooms, teamsters, ditch diggers, spies, cooks, seamstresses, laundresses, and nurses, they sought to lay claim to citizenship, and receive the permanent protection of the federal government in securing their rights to mobility, family, jobs with wages, and access to courts. Becoming indispensable to the Union victory was another step in altering the American consciousness.
For emancipation to become permanent and a pathway to citizenship, military authority had to be transformed into civil authority.
It wasn’t until December of 1865, months after the war had ended and President Lincoln had been assassinated, that the federal government codified the abolition of slavery in the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, the ultimate civil authority. It would be another two and a half years before the 14th Amendment established equal protections under the law and citizenship rights.
I revisit the story of George Parker with renewed appreciation for the dangers he faced and the aspirations that buoyed his journey out of slavery.
If reading history isn’t your thing, I strongly recommend watching Dr. Manning’s interview with the National Museum of civil War Medicine.
Chandra Manning, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War; Vintage Books: New York, 2016.
I played around with this Gutenberg Block editor in hopes of sharing genealogy basics in a more visually appealing, less overwhelming format.
‘Cause, let’s face it, when you’re trying to engage with kin that lie somewhere out there beneath your family tree’s shade, the typical checklists of names and dates of birth, death, marriage, and the (seemingly endless) enumeration of siblings and kids can be so tedious that a mind wanders and, before you know it, perusing leads to closing the tab rather than clicking a contact button.
What if the data was shared in a more graphic form? Can the Gutenblock editor help me create a family diagram?
My grandfather Strickland was an orphan who inherited the Mecklenburg County (VA) farm from the three, single Dodson siblings who adopted him. Their sister, married to a Sayles, was my grandmother Strickland’s mother. When my dad narrated our hikes around Oakview with stories of his childhood, I only saw my Virginia roots so deeply embedded in that rich red soil, worked by generations of Dodsons, the people they enslaved and the people they hired to sharecrop.
But my last set of posts about Ira Sayles and George Parker got me to thinking about where little boy George Strickland played until his parents died of the flu in 1897. Let’s dip into his family tree.
In my mind I’m going to Carolina
George Ricks “Ricky” Strickland
Born in Franklin County NC; Died in Richmond VA
George Ricks “Ricky”
Sydney Nicholas Strickland
Born and died in Franklin County NC
married in 1879
Virginia Elizabeth Coppedge
Born and died in Franklin County NC
Anderson Perry Strickland
Born in Wake County NC; Died in Petersburg VA
Married in 1843
Julia M. Stone
Born and died in Franklin County NC
William B. Coppedge
Born and died in Franklin County NC
Married in 1857
Laura Ann May
Born and died in Franklin County NC
Look at all those North Carolina folks! I could keep going back, tracking down the Stallings and Bowdens, the Dents and the Boons of Franklin, Nash, and Wake County. But four blocks of vital statistics hit me as a just enough information to whet someone’s curiosity.
My original idea was to end with a diagram, with connections, branches, shoots. And though this attempt is far more basic, I feel satisfied. My goal was to discover another way to share basic data, and I think I stumbled on a satisfying format. Only time will tell if such posts promote more reader engagement. For now…I’d say family historians have a friend in the WordPress editor.
George Parker died of grip at his home near Alfred, May 28, 1902. He was born in bondage near Murfreesboro, N. C. Slavery kept few records and the date is not known, but at his death he was probably not far from the allotted age of man. He was sold once. In 1863, along with others, he escaped from the small plantation and came to the union camp. A little later he was brought north by Prof. Sayles. The first money of his own was two pennies given him by a little boy. He worked for a number of different people, including Chandler Green, Valencia C. Baker, Amos Burdick and others. He was accounten (sic) an excellent hand. He became widely known and respected. He attended school several terms and, although it was hard for him to learn, he was deeply interested in education. He had an ambition for which he carefully saved his money until nineteen years ago when it was realized, and he bought the farm which was his late home. On May 10, 1885, he was married to Ellen Van Dosen Simons, who survives him.
He was converted in younger years. He loved to go to church, and attended regularly until failing health made the trip too hard. He had many friends. They say of him that he was perfectly honest, his morals were above reproach, his heart tender and appreciative. He did not understand being born again, but it was his purpose to serve his God and live right. In at least one of the homes where he worked he was counted one of the family, and when speaking of the young ladies of the family he would call them ” our girls.” Only kind words are spoken of him, and the feeling of many would be expressed in the words of one man who said: “Well, George and I have been friends ever since he came to this country.”
There was one occasion when he was always present, if possible, and that was Memorial Day. Probably this was the first time he has missed for many years. It was peculiarly appropriate that his funeral was held in the same place the next day, and that the same patriotic decorations were in place. Surely it was as he would have had it be. Under the flag whose stars and stripes thrilled his heart when he saw it floating over the Union camp–under that flag the last tribute of love and respect was paid to his memory.
Funeral service were conducted in the First Alfred Church Sabbath afternoon, May 31. A brief sermon was preached by James Dawes, the black missionary who has been attending the University. A short life sketch and tribute was presented by Pastor Randolph. A large and sympathetic audience was present. Interment in Alfred Rural Cemetery.
Published in The Alfred Sun (New York) on June 4, 1902.
died of grip: died of complications from influenza
the allotted age of man: George appeared in the 1865 New York State census with stated age of 22. He could have been between 55-60 years of age when he died.
came to the union camp: George was part of a group of refugees who arrived in Camp Suffolk’s contraband camp, Uniontown, in early 1863. [see post His Future Was Not Yet Written]
he was brought north by Prof. Sayles:Professor Ira Sayles was a well known educator of Allegany County.
he attended school: George attended the Preparatory Program at Alfred Academy, 1869-1870.
he bought the farm: the farm lay on the outskirts of Alfred, New York
he married: George married the widow Ellen Simons, and helped raise her son, William.
he was converted: George became a member of the Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church, adherents of which keep the sabbath on Saturday. Alfred Academy and Alfred University were affiliated with the Seventh Day Baptist denomination.
Post photo of Alfred, New York countryside by Kay Strickland, 2013.
The Union army appeared to be making quick work of the southern insurgency as the United States entered the new year of 1862. Recruitment offices around the north just shut down. Why keep something open when it was so clear the war was going to end and soon?
But then came General McClellan’s attempts to capture Richmond, capital of the Confederate States of America. The losses on the battle fields of the Virginia Peninsula Campaign were staggering. Now the decision to discontinue recruitment seemed not only foolhardy but catastrophic. The foreseeable future was one, not of victory celebrations, but of a sustained, long war.
Soldiers, from every state, were needed.
In early July 1862, Lincoln put out a call for 300,000 volunteers; every able-bodied man between 18 to 45 was urged to enlist. As word of the Peninsula Campaign’s failures spread, enthusiasm for the cause waned. Enticements were added, money bounties increased.
Ira Sayles, a long-time abolitionist and ardent supporter of the War, answered the call, and used his position in the communities of Alfred, Whitesville, and Independence to alternately cajole and shame other men to come with him to Almond, to enlist in what would become Company H of the 130th New York Volunteers.
War Meeting to be held at the Methodisth Church in Whitesville, On Monday Evening August 4th 1862.
Recruitment broadside created by Ira Sayles, August 1862; shared by Roger Easton, Former Historian, Town of Independence, Whitesville, New York: The Independence Historical Society, 540 Main, Whitesville, NY 14897.
The poster directs citizens to attend a war meeting on Monday evening, the 4th of August, in the Methodist Church in Whitesville, the town in which his wife grew up and in which his brothers-in-law had businesses. I can hear his voice ringing from the pulpit:
In the extremity of its danger, our tottering Government appeals to each one of us, personally and individually; and implores us to rush to the rescue.
Her defeat will be our shame, her fall, our RUIN!
Let no man stop to count his dollars, nor the profits he leaves; for, the Triumph of this Detestable Rebellion, come Anarchy, Confiscation, Bankruptcy, Vassalage, Slavery, SEMIBARBARISM. Our flocks, and our herds, and our pleasant homes, will be seized upon as plunder of War! Our school-houses, our academies, and our colleges will be emptied. Our rail-roads and our canals will be destroyed and will forever lie in ruins. Our ships will rot at their docks. Our factories and our mills will lie idle, and fall into utter decay. No one need flatter himself with the hope, that those things will not be so.
The History of all Anarchies Testifies to the truthfulness of this Picture.
Let Each Able-Bodied Man between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, subject to Military Duty, feel that the suppression of this terrible rebellion, and with it, the slaying of all these evils, may depend, under God on his single individual arm; and that their triumph will be chargeable to him alone, should he now refuse to rally to the ? Of our Noble Beleaguered Government.
My friend, nay my brother, let me beseech you not to turn away from her agonizing cry for help! Are you a husband and a father, look on those dear ones—dearer than life—and remember, that, if you go, it is to avert all this overwhelming run from them;that, if you stay, it is to invite it on them; that they and their children, and their children’s children will pronounce your name, with grateful pride, if you now peril your life in your country’s cause; but that if you remain at home, like a cowardly craven and contemptible slink, these same children, your posterity, will blush with burning shame, whenever they are reminded of your base poltroonery.”
“Who would be a traitor knave, Who would fill a coward’s grave?
Who so base to be a slave…Let him stay at home”
[from Robert Burns’ patriotic song “Scots Wha Hae”]
To the true patriot, the advanced bounty, twenty five dollars and the advanced pay, one month’s wages, making the little sum of thirty-eight dollars is of no consideration that yet if he is to leave behind him a dependent family, this little sum, together with the monthly wages, the remaining bounty, seventy five dollars, and the one hundred and sixty acres of land secured to himself or his ? May be matters of some account.
Let Allegany send from her hills and her valleys a brave and a Loyal Regiment ready to meet the demoniac yells of those southern semibarbarians, with a cool, steady, dauntless courage.
Let each gray-headed father, as he sees his brave son arm for the deadly strife, bless God, that He has given him such a son to represent Him in the bloody hour. Let each mother, wife, betrothed, or sisters, as she bids her loved one farewell, shrink from the awful sacrifice; but rather bid him God speed, shedding no unwomanly tears.
Let all who can not go, either on account of sex, age, or infirmities, or other causes justifiable before God, assist the destitute families of those who do go, and pray, if they ever do pray, for God’s protection of the Just and True—all do these things,except the cowardly dastards who can go and ought to go, but dare not; let them hide their craven heads and eat dirt.
Brave Hearts of Allegany, I do not say to you ”go,” but “come!”
I go as one of you, to share with you the soldiers’ fare, the weary march, the bivouac, the picket guard; with you [rest of line unreadable]