Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Land Of Cotton

We have arrived at the last episode of Who Do You Think You Are for 2012. Although it looks like NBC will not renew WDYTYA  for another season, there have been rumors that another network might pick up the popular series. Of course those of us who do family history know very well that the concept will not die. We all will continue to do our own individual Who Do You Think You Are stories.

Paula Deen was the last celebrity this year to venture into the past. That past was a Georgia plantation around the time of the Civil War. John Batts, Paula's 3x great-grandfather, was listed in the 1870 census as a planter meaning he owned a plantation which today would have been worth a million dollars.  Also, records show that Batts owned 35 slaves in 1860.

Further research shows that John's oldest son, William, fought and died in the Civil War. After the war, John Batts' life changed drastically eventually leading to his suicide sometime before 1879. I think it is safe to assume that  his financial situation contributed to his death and, of course, no one knows whether or not things would have been different had William Batts survived the war. 

Are you thinking Gone With The Wind right now?  Scarlet O'Hara? Rhett Butler? Before I-75, the route to Florida took travelers through the back roads of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents' car in the late 1940's, early 1950's --looking out the window, hoping to get a glimpse  of an old plantation manor house. And they were there -- although mostly in disrepair and abandoned. I am sure at that time in my life I didn't realize what i was seeing.  Instead I visualized the Hollywood version of the Old South. Grand plantations that survived long after the war between the states and eventually just deteriorated due to age. What I didn't see was the devistation caused by the effects of the Civil War. 

It is easy to see from the tax records of John Batts that his lifestyle changed drastically after the Civil War until he finally committed suicide sometime before 1879. It is easy to romanticize the Old South but it takes a family history like that of Paula Deen's to bring us back to reality.

And nothing can bring us back to reality like the letter that Jordan Anderson, a former slave,  wrote to his former owner, Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson in 1865.  Jordan Anderson was a slave who was freed from a Tennessee plantation in 1864 by Union soldiers. He eventually came to live in Dayton, Ohio, where he dictated the letter to an abolistionist named Valentine Winters. Winters published the letter in a Cincinnati newspaper in 1865.  (This area of southern Ohio was very much a part of the Underground Railroad. If you attended the NGS Conference in Cincinnati this year, you may have had an opportunity to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center just a short walk from the conference center.) The letter itself has been sliced and diced by many and it surfaces every few years. Many compare the letter to the writing style of Mark Twain. The letter swings back and forth between dry satirical humor and the violence that characterized slavery.

Jordan gives Col. Anderson the opportunity to prove his sincerity by requesting that his long overdue wages be sent to him by Adam's Express.  (  The amount would be $11,680 plus interest for 32 years of faithful service. At the same time he expressed his concern for the safety of his wife and family. The letter gives us a snapshot of Jordan's life in 1865. He made $25 a month, had a home, attended chuch, and his children were doing well in school.

Jordan Anderson was an actual person who was born around 1825 and eventually was sold to the Anderson family when he was around the age of 7. He was freed in 1864. He died in 1905 at the age of 80. He wrote the letter in reply to a letter sent to him by Col Anderson.

Colonel Anderson was born in 1823. He sent a letter to Jordan in a last chance effort to save his plantation. He felt that Jordan could help him return the property to its pre-Civil War condition. The colonel lost his plantation in 1865 and died in 1867 at the age of 44. You have to wonder if Col. Anderson took his own life like Paula Deen's 3x great-grandfather. After all their circumstances were similar and, no doubt, not unlike that of many other southern plantation owners.

But Jordan's main concern in 1865 was the safety, education, and future of his family. It appears he succeeded. The full text of the letter can be easily found on line.

Note: For the next few weeks I will be working on my own Ohio Genealogical Society lineage papers and I will be posting about my experiences with this project. I am also planning a trip down the new Route 24 to the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Coming in October: Which Witch is Which. The Associated Daughters of Early American Witches.

Coming in November: How many people can you squeeze on a tiny boat. The Mayflower Society.

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