friend of friends friday-BLACK PIONEERS OF MECKLENBURG COUNTY, VIRGINIA

My ancestors include well-to-do farmers in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  James H. Dodson (1815-1884) was  a middling planter; in other words, he owned enough slaves to not work along side them in the field but not so many as to be considered upper-crust in his society.  In the gathering shadows that my research summons are the shapes of people, folks he owned,  black pioneers who helped him plant and harvest the foods he placed on his family’s table and the tobacco he sold in his community’s auction.  I have uncovered little information about the women of James H. Dodson’s life, and even less about the slaves that worked his land.

A SOURCE OF INFORMATION

Both our federal and state governments found the gathering of census information to be useful quite early in our nation’s history, and the reams of resultant data provide valuable glimpses into the past.  One such census was begun in 1853 by the Commonwealth of Virginia; its purpose was to conduct an annual registration of births and deaths.  The Slave Birth Index was transcribed for the years 1853-1865 by the Works Project Administration and recorded on  microfilm in the 1930s.  To make this information more accessible to genealogists and family historians, the volunteers and staff of the Alexandria Library transcribed the microfilm in the 2000s, making it available in a multi-volume print record.  It is from this source that some of my family’s shadows get names.

From the second volume I transcribe here the slave births of Oakview Plantation, home of the James H. Dodson family, Mecklenburg County, Virginia:

Baby                             Mother’s Name                    Date of Birth

female                            Ann                                             May 1857

female                             Fanny                                        February 1855

male                                Jane                                           April 1857

Catherine                      Jane                                             January 1857

Eliza                               Joana                                           December 1855

George                         Ann                                               September 1854

George                          Ann                                              December 1855

Charlotte                       ——-                                        July 15, 18xx

female                         ———                                       April 15,  1853

Catherine                   Jane                                             June 1856

Clarasey                     Hannah                                        August 1860

Cornelius                   Fanny                                           July 9, 1860

George                      Joanna                                           May 7, 1860

Lucy                         Joanna                                           December 1861

Martha                      Fanny                                           December 1858

S. B.                          Jane                                               November 1858

Source:

Morales, Leslie Anderson., Ada Valaitis, and Beverly Pierce. Virginia Slave Births Index, 1853-1865, Volume 2, D-G. Westminster, MD: Heritage, 2007. Print.

A Mom’s Goodbye

This morning, as I steeled myself to watch my son’s back recede into the maze of airport security this weekend, I felt a tug from the past.  “Remember,” she said, “he is going on an adventure, following his dream and his loyalties, to become the man he needs to be.  At least he enters into a world of safety and civility, with a university’s throbbing pulse.  He won’t be put deliberately into harm’s way.  You are lucky.”

Sarah Jane Rowlett Dodson must have felt awash with anxiety and sadness as she watched her son’s back recede down toward Dodson’s Corners, Virginia.  Greene left home to pursue his adventure as a soldier for the Confederate States of America.  He didn’t get the chance to become a man.

It is going to be much easier to ponder this mother’s goodbye than to say mine.  So my next few posts will be a bit of productive coping.


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My proof that Greene Dodson actually existed and fought in The War Between The States begins with my Grandmother Strickland’s family history, “Some Genealogical Facts of the Strickland-Sayles Family”, compiled and written by Florette Sayles Strickland, March 1976.

James Dodson and Sarah Jane Rowlett, united in marriage 18–, in Mecklenburg Co. Virginia.  Born to this union: Greene, Virginia, Harvey, Henry, Dora, Molly, Adlaide, Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie), born Aug. 15, 1856, Edward (Ed), and William Rowlett (Bud).  ….Greene, the oldest son, was killed while serving in the Confederade (sic) Army near Petersburg, Va. shortly before the War ended. He had left school to join up, tho (sic) he was under age.

The 1860 Federal Census provides further evidence.  Listed among the residents of Regiment 22, Mecklenburg County, Virginia are Dodson, James (45), Sarah (35), William (13), Eugenia (10), Harvey(8), Maria (6), Mary (5), Lilly (3), Usebia (2).

Because my grandmother referred to the eldest son as Greene I have concluded that Sarah Jane’s boy was named William Greene, after James’ mother, Mary Greene.   The search among Confederate Soldier records included all the possible variations: William, Wm., William G., W. G., Greene, William Greene Dodson.  After falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, I found the muster cards provided some confusing results.

Next: The Confederate Citizens’ Papers yield an important clue.

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Map of Mecklenburg Co., Va. Surveyed under the direction of A.H. Campbell Capt. P.A.C.S. in Ch’ge Topl. Dept. [by] H.M. Graves Lt. Engrs. Sept. 1864.

Map Collection at the Library of Congress

Tombstone Tuesday/This Day In Family History: Norman Scott Strickland’s Birth Day

Looking from Hunter's Lane across the fields of the Old Dodson Place, Mecklenburg County, Virginia

Travel south from Chase City, Virginia on the Boydton Road about 15 minutes, turn left at Dodson Corners onto Hunter’s Lane.  Follow the bend to the left, through a grove of pine to the meadows shorn of their grass by cows now shunning the noon heat among the shade of oak trees. Sitting on your left will be the headquarters of the Butcher’s Creek Hunt Club.Site of the Old Dodson Place, "Oakview" This house marks the site of the Old Dodson Place, the homeplace of George and Florette Strickland’s family during the depression, and where my father, Norman, grew up.  The youngest son in a family of four boys, Norman was born this day 1928.

This past spring I returned to this land, to breathe some ancestral smells, look out on rolling land my father once walked.  Had it not been for the company of coon dogs who rushed to greet me, I would have tramped through the long grass, risking contact with some very healthy poison ivy, to look for crumbled buildings and civil war trenches, farm garbage dumps and Grandfather-dug watering holes.  The air was hot and muggy, heavy with the fragrance of wild honeysuckle and white wild rose.

Oak Trees of OakviewTowering above me were oak trees, just acorns on the ground when my dad shot squirrels out of their predecessors. Thick brambles of poison ivy, honey suckle, rose, and pricker bushes grew at their base.  It would have been along hedgerows like these that rabbits hopped out, to eat by the road’s edge. And my father with buddy Charles D. would slowly approach in his daddy’s 1938 Ford pickup truck.  While one boy drove, the other would lie on the huge front fender, flat on his belly, rifle in hand.  Spot the rabbit, catch it in the scope, pull the trigger. The rabbit went from being vermin to being dinner.

Norman Scott Strickland grew up to leave this farm, to leave Chase City.  He was coworker to fellow General Electric electrical engineers for 35 years, a choir member of countless church groups, a community leader, a good neighbor; a gardener, a bird watcher, a dog lover. Most of all Norman Scott Strickland was a gentle friend, ever ready with a smile, particularly for his wife, and six children, and two grandchildren.  After losing a third battle to cancer 16 July 2006, Norman returned to the red soil of Mecklenburg County, where I can come and leave a stone in remembrance of his life well lived.