Saturday, February 9, 2013

taking the dirt road

Sometimes I venture off the farm and do a little driving. I'm lured easily by old dirt roads..especially those that are less traveled. There's not a lot to say about roads but they host all sorts of travelers and always lead somewhere with a beginning and an end...there's just something I like about that. One day last month the cowboy and I found a secluded, less traveled dirt road - it was like it was made just for us to drive on that day.

the old dirt road with no name
Near the end of this road, that has no name, stood a house. Not just any house, this house was different. It was obviously abandoned with many old structures that surrounded it. There was a story to be told here and I could not resist the urge that was drawing me to it. So cowboy pulled over and yes we did...we crossed that gated driveway and began walking down the undisturbed dirt road that lead to the front porch of this ancient but still very prominent, old house. There was something different about this house. The trees that gathered around us were rustling loudly. The air was cool to my face but warmed me from within. There was a story to be told here. The cowboy and I walked around briefly but I could not escape the feeling that we were not where we were supposed to be. I took in as much as I could of the sights of the old homestead - the split driveway - the layout of the broken down structures which included some sturdy framed tobacco barns - even the grain of the wood siding. I didn't want to forget a thing..and I haven't. There were no neighbors, no mailbox, no address but for days I could not get this house out of my mind...I needed to find out it's story and so the search began.

the Jones farm house
Kudos to Google...there's no doubt that I would still be digging and possibly endlessly, without it. Deep in the archives of the internet, I found that this old house, near the end of that untraveled dirt road, had belonged to the Jones Family and dated back to the early 1800's. I had also found the registration form that listed this homestead into the National Register of Historical Places. This 23 paged, well written form filled in so many of the pieces..answers to questions I didn't even have yet. It made the hair stand up on my arms. From the pine board floors of the house to it's 9 foot ceilings and movable metal key holes on the existing panels of the original doors. To the outbuildings and all that inhabited them including the detailed descriptions of those enchanting tobacco barns. As I continued on reading about the prosperity of this local tobacco farm..I saw what I had been looking for. This particular farm not only supported the Jones family but also their slaves. A prosperous mid-nineteenth century plantation home that dated back to the slave era, into the civil war and eventually providing freedom to the slaves that worked the plantation in the twentieth century - now referring to them as farm tenants. This was the story. So I began to dig deeper looking for additional info on, what the registry referred to as the farm tenants.

house and outbuilding
One thing that I found was a 13 paged, detailed list of freed slaves in Lunenburg County dated between 1815-1850. I had no way of knowing if the Jones family farm tenants were on this list or if they knew each other or were even possibly relatives but I couldn't get away from the feeling that this list somehow meshed with this farm. No matter which way I dug - all roads lead back to this list. And so my mind wondered...it took me back to an era that is etched so profoundly on my heart. I read these pages over and over. I pasted below just a few of those that were featured on that list. It's gripping and stirs something so deep inside of me that I feel it in my bones.

 
Griffin, aged about 45 years formerly the property of John Cocke, dec, of  
        Nottoway  County, about 5 feet 11 inches high, with a small scar on the 
        back of his right hand, bright mulatto with long hair, a little gray, it 
        appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that he has been duly 
        emancipated by a deed from James Mackarland law duly recorded in the 
        county Court of Lunenburg registered the 10 December 1822.  No. 16
Ellick, aged about 34, years formerly the property of John Cocke, dec., of 
        Nottoway County, about 5 feet 8 inches high, with a scar under his right 
        jaw, a bright mulatto, nearly ball, short hair, it appearing to the 
        satisfaction of the Court that he has been duly recorded in the County 
        Court of Lunenburg registered the 10 December 1822.  No. 17
Menirva Lee Dinkins, about 22 years old, bright mulatto, born of fine parents in 
        this County, small mole on her upper lip, about 5 feet 7 inches high, 
        ordered to be registered in Lunenburg County Court 10 January 1848.  
        No. 137
Emily Dinkins, about 20 years of age, bright mulatto complexion, a scar on her 
        right arm near the shoulder, about 5 feet 6 inches high, born of fine 
        parents in this County, ordered to be registered in Lunenburg County Court 
        1 January 1848.  No. 138
Eliza, a bright mulatto, 5 feet 2 inches high, 26 years of age, no scar, 
        emancipated by the will of Turner Shell and permitted to remain in this 
        County by order of this court, ordered to be registered, and the Court 
        certified, the above register to be correctly made, done in open Court 
        18th May 1848.  No. 139
Sarah Chapman, daughter of R. Chapman, a bright mulatto, about 21 years of age, 
        born of fine parents, no scar, a mole on the upper lip of the right eye, 
        about 5 feet 4 inches high, is ordered to be registered.  The Court 
        certified the above register to be correctly made, done in open Court 9th 
        October 1848.  No. 140
Drury Cooper, a free mulatto born of fine parents in this County, who is about 
        24 years of age, 6 feet 1 inches high, has a scar on the upper part of the 
        forehead and on the left hand at the root of the thumb, bright complexion, 
        straight hair, is ordered to be registered, the Court certify that the 
        said register is correctly made.  January 8th, 1849.  No. 141
Clara Ann Young, a free woman of dark complexion, about 27 years of age 5 feet 3 
        inches high, no scar, born of free parents, proved her freedom by the oath 
        of John D. Bell and is ordered to be registered and the Court doth certify 
        that said register is correctly made, June 11th, 1849.  No. 142
Samuel M. Diarman, an infant son of Mary Doswell, who was emancipated by the 
        will of David M. Doswell, dec., six years old in July last, a bright 
        mulatto, about 3 feet 4 inches is ordered to be registered and the Court 
        certify also the register to be correctly made, 13th August 1849.  No. 143
Alpheus Addphus Gustavus, an infant son of Mary Doswell, who was emancipated by 
        the will of David Doswell, dec., one year old in March last, has a scar on 
        his right shoulder, yellow complexion, about 2 feet 5 inches high, is 
        ordered to be registered and the court certify also the register to be 
        correctly made, 13 August 1849.  No. 144

I've went back to this homestead a couple times since I discovered it. I can not begin to tell what I feel when I'm there..the untraveled dirt road, the deep rooted trees, the wind sweeping through the once worked fields..I don't just feel the history there, I can see it and with lots of emotion...it moves me.

African American History Month