Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Workday Wednesday: Tobacco Farming in Southside Virginia

Last week my daughter asked me to order a book for her that she’s been waiting for. I ordered it online from Amazon and checked my wish list for something I wanted, too. When the box arrived, my daughter eagerly opened it to find this one on top: 

The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry:
A Case Study of Lunenburg County, Virginia 1746-1832
by Richard R. Beeman

“This one must be mama’s,” she said and handed it over. I’m sure she thought the title rather dry but I was excited about it. Even better, the books came before our weekend camping trip, so we were both happy about that. We finished them before Sunday.

My Watts family was first listed among Halifax County records as early as the formation of the county in 1752. Indeed most of my father’s ancestry hails from that area and I can trace many names not only in Halifax but Pittsylvania, Charlotte and Mecklenburg Counties as well. These were all once a part of Lunenburg. Insight into Lunenburg County will also shed light on the surrounding areas as well. 

For instance, Sizemore was a name in early Halifax and Lunenburg records. Family tradition has it that my ancestor George Sizemore of Halifax County died there around 1809 and was accidently killed while rolling a hogshead of tobacco. Tobacco farming was certainly one thing the whole region had in common. I found it interesting that a figure illustration used in Beeman’s book is nearly identical to one I used in my Sizemore book compiled in 1996. Beeman credits The Tobacco Institute for his drawing. I found mine in the 1991 book Daily Life: A Sourcebook on Colonial America edited by Carter Smith. I received permission to reprint from the publisher, The Millbrook Press in Brookfield, CT.   The notation on my illustration stated that this print originally appeared in W. Tatham’s An Historical and Practical Essay on the Culture and Commerce of Tobacco, 1800. You can see a part of that print here from the National Museum of American History. One identical to Beeman’s can be found at’s Tobacco Production, Trend Of Prices, And Exports. Additionally, here is a a nice account by Rosa Yancey entitled Tobacco Growing in Early Virginia

Further information on the region found in Beeman’s book was the fact that Scotland had a large share of the tobacco market in the Southside. Two Scottish firms of prominent importance were Alexander Speirs Company and William Cunninghame and Company. Between these two firms, there were stores set up at the county courthouse site in every Southside county (Beeman, 79). I remember the Speirs Company listed in a court record in relation to the Watts family. I’m going to look at those records again.

Beeman discussed the making of community and he drew conclusions from several old area church records. Community is one of my buzz words across several disciplines including history and social work and church history is another interest that I’ve been focused on lately. Studying how Beeman was able to use those old records encourages me about the seriousness and importance of seeking to preserve such. The official religion in Colonial Virginia was the Anglican Church of England, later the Episcopal Church. An evangelical revolt constituted a threat to Angelican domination as early as 1759 and Baptists became widespread in the whole of the southern backcountry. Beeman discusses how this phenomenon served as a mode of community organization that shook the social structure immediately.

What interests me about this is my Hardy/Dodson family of Halifax & Pittsylvania Counties. Joshua Hardy married Jemima Dodson, the daughter of Elisha Dodson and his wife Sarah. The Dodsons were a pretty prolific family in the area. Information indicates that on December 4, 1762 Elisha Dodson and Sarah Dodson were baptized in the Broad Run Baptist Church, Fauquier County. Their son Elisha Jr was one of the infants received into the care of the church on 9 Oct 1763. It is indicated in such records that Elisha and Sarah Dodson were "dismissed to Halifax." In 1774 Elisha patented 400 acres in Halifax Co and appears on the tax lists there from 1782 until 1787 when he apparently moved to Pittsylvania. He continues on the tax lists in Pittsylvania Co through 1796, so apparently died at that time.

So, despite the seemingly dryness of the title and topic (according to my daughter at least), this book provides a lot of good insight into the lives of my Virginia ancestors. I have several research avenues I want to follow up on and a list from the book’s notes on other references that will be worth perusing as well.

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