A few days ago, I sent off for the AncestryDNA kit. It was Cyber Monday and they were running a 30-percent-off special, so I figured, “Why not?” Actually, my sister Theresa told me Ancestry was running the special and offered to pay for half of it, making the offer even more attractive.
Considering Theresa and I shared a womb, as two thirds of a set of triplets — the other’s a boy — it can be assumed that we have the same ethnic background. So, no need for two tests. What a bargain!
With lots of English and German surnames in my genealogy, I suspect my results will be pretty boring, but I’m hopeful there will be a surprise or two. One mystery I hope will be unraveled is the rumored “Black Dutch” ancestry on my maternal grandmother’s side.
My mom’s family, at least back to the early 1800s, were from eastern Kentucky, particularly Knox and Whitley counties, near the town of Barbourville.
When I was growing up, Granny always told us her family was Black Dutch. I never knew exactly what she meant, and still don’t really, as there are so many explanations for the term. Depending on the source, Black Dutch has been used to refer to German gypsies, Melungeons, Sephardic Jews, Native Americans, mixed-race people and others ethnic groups.
Theresa saw a photography exhibit at the Smithsonian many years ago about German gypsies and she said the people in the photos looked a lot like my mom and her siblings.
My Granny, Allie Arizona Engle, was the daughter of John Jefferson Engle and Louisa Melinda Warfield. John Engle was descended from Melchor Engle, who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the mid-1700s.
You can read more about Melchor here at FindAGrave.com.
Being the only known German surname on my mom’s side of the family, I suspect the Engles are the source of the Black Dutch story.
Another family history mystery I’d like to solve through DNA testing is that of what my great-great-grandpa, John Wesley Miles, was up to in the late 1800s. I blogged about him a while back, and you can read that here.
To paraphrase, in about 1880, John left his wife and young son in Kentucky, saying he was headed out for a sack of cornmeal. He didn’t return for about 20 years.
The story I always heard was that he had a Wild West adventure, heading to Oklahoma, Texas or Arkansas. There, he was rumored to have started a new family before eventually returning to Kentucky, toting a sack of cornmeal like nothing ever happened.
I’d like to find the descendants of that other family in Texas, Oklahoma or wherever they are.
Also, John Miles claimed half-Native American ancestry, so I’d like to know if there’s any truth to that. The alleged Native American ancestry also might have come from someone else, or might not exist at all. Hopefully, DNA will shed some light on that.
So, that’s it for now. I haven’t even got the test kit yet, but when I send it off and the results come back, I’ll be sure to let you know what it says. I’m hoping for surprises, scandal and intrigue, but I’ll settle for not boring.
A few weeks ago, while researching something entirely different, I stumbled across the story of Fannie Virginia Casseopia Lawrence. Widely known in the 1860s as a “redeemed slave child,” Fannie was a poster child for the abolitionist movement.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Slave child? Isn’t that little girl white?” No, despite her fair complexion and light brown hair, she’s not. In the mid-1800s, when Fannie was born to a mulatto slave mother and a white slave owner, she would have been described as an “octoroon,” or someone who is one-eighth black.
At the time, terms like quadroon, octoroon and quintroon were used to describe people who were one-fourth, one-eighth and one-sixteenth black. Regardless of how white Fannie appeared or how little African ancestry she actually had, she was considered black.
You can find many carte-de-visite photographs of Fannie online, including on the Library of Congress website. In the photos, the cherubic child is photographed in various poses, among them kneeling to pray while clad in an angelic, white nightgown.
Because these photos were used as anti-slavery propaganda, this was all about strategy — not only the sweet, innocent pose, but also because Fannie appears to be white. The thinking was that one might be more apt to support the cause, emotionally and monetarily, if one could imagine that praying child as one of their own.
But who was Fannie?
There’s an entry on FindAGrave.com about Fannie, written by a Rick Lawrence, who may or may not be a relative (he didn’t respond to my message). According to Lawrence, Fannie was born in 1858 in Rectortown, Fauquier County, Va.
Fannie’s mom was said to be a slave named Mary Fletcher and her dad was reportedly Fletcher’s owner, Charles Ayres. Ayres, who went by the middle name “Rufus,” was a white lawyer and farmer.
As described by William Page Johnson II, who wrote an article about Fannie and her family for the Historic Fairfax City newsletter in 2015, “Like many slaveholders, Rufus, who was unmarried, took full advantage of the relationship and had at least three children by his slaves Mary Fletcher, Jane Payne, and Ann Gleaves.
“However, unlike most slaveholders, he acknowledged them and provided for them in his last will and testament.”
In November 1859, that will came into play when Ayres was killed by a neighbor. An article headlined “Fatal Affair” in Richmond’s Daily Dispatch states that Ayres was “shot and instantly killed” by James Phillips, and that “the difficulty between them originated about the location of a road.
“Ayres struck Phillips with a cowhide, when the latter drew a pistol and shot Ayres, killing him on the spot.”
A subsequent article in the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser describes a more drawn-out incident, involving multiple locations and an additional suspect or two, but the end result is the same: Ayres is dead.
(Both of these articles can be found in the Library of Congress newspaper archive, Chronicling America. Just search for Virginia, the year 1859 and Ayres.)
After Ayres death, the aforementioned slave women and the children Ayres fathered with them were freed. Unfortunately, because of laws at the time, that also meant they had to leave the state of Virginia. Because Mary Fletcher was married to another slave and had other children who were not freed upon Ayres’s death, she chose to remain enslaved.
But during the Civil War, in 1862, Mary Fletcher, Fannie and several other slaves, including others named in Ayres’s will that remained in slavery, escaped. There’s a long, detailed description of the escape in Johnson’s story, but in short, the group flees to Union territory.
What happens to Fannie’s mom after this is uncertain — Johnson includes some theories in his article — but Fannie ends up being adopted by a Civil War nurse named Catharine Lawrence. Lawrence was acquainted with the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, abolitionist brother of Harriett Beecher Stowe, who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Lawrence takes Fannie, who’s about 5 years old at the time, to New York. There, she’s baptized by Beecher as “Fannie Virginia Casseopia Lawrence.” It was at this point that Fannie’s “career” as a “redeemed slave child” began.
According to Johnson, before baptizing Fannie, Beecher held her up to his congregation, declaring dramatically, “This child was born a slave, and is redeemed from slavery!” upon which there was an “audible gasp from the astonished, and equally horrified parishioners, who assumed the child to be white.”
Johnson goes on to write that Beecher told his congregation of the terrible fate awaiting Fannie, had she not been adopted by Lawrence. Because of Fannie’s “near-white complexion,” Johnson writes, “Fann[ie], and others like her, were in danger of being abused by their white masters, or worse, being sold as Fancy Girls, a 19th century euphemism for light skinned slave prostitutes, which were then common in New Orleans.”
Or as Beecher put it:
… Look upon this child. Tell me have you ever seen a fairer, sweeter face? This is a sample of the slavery which absorbs into itself everything fair and attractive. The loveliness of this child would only make her so much more valuable as chattel; For while your children are brought up to fear and serve the Lord, this one, just as beautiful, would be made through slavery a child of damnation.
It was an effective ploy, albeit for the good cause of ending slavery.
Sometime shortly after that, photos of Fannie were taken and widely distributed. As Johnson tells it, the pictures were “wildly popular in the North, making Fannie the most photographed slave child in history.”
While Johnson doesn’t say Fannie was abused or neglected in any way, he describes the tactics Beecher and Lawrence used as “exploitive.”
According to the Find A Grave entry, Lawrence raised Fannie “as her own child.” This is supported by the 1865 New York census, which shows a 6-year-old Fannie living in the town of Schoharie with Lawrence and her older brother, Henry Lawrence, a farmer.
Find A Grave also states Fannie married while in her teens and had two children. Johnson’s research led him to this quote by Lawrence, which supports this and also suggests the marriage was not a good one:
The little one that I adopted and educated, married one whom I opposed, knowing his reckless life rendered him wholly unfit for one like her. When sick and among strangers, he deserted her and an infant daughter and eloped with a woman, who left her husband and two small children.
Fannie is believed to have died sometime before 1895. Her burial site is unknown, although it’s believed to be somewhere in New York.
You can read Johnson’s article, in its well-researched entirety, here. It includes a lot more information about Fannie and her family, including the story of her older sisters, who also were brought north and adopted, but to even less happy endings.
And here, you can read an NPR story about other children who were photographed for anti-slavery campaigns.
If we hadn’t walked to the Bataan Memorial Museum, we wouldn’t have eaten “Santa Fe’s Best Hot Dog.” It’s that simple: when you walk instead of drive, you’re more likely to stop at a take-out window for Chicago-style hot dogs smothered in green chiles and cheese. Or see the world’s biggest raccoon, eating pears.
OK, maybe I’d better stop at the pear-eating raccoon and back up.
One year, for our annual trip to New Mexico, my sister, Theresa, and I decided not to rent a car. Unlike past trips, we wouldn’t spend our days driving through the Land of Enchantment, stopping to take photographs, chase tumbleweeds, bird watch, visit ancient ruins and eat green chile cheeseburgers at roadside diners.
Nope, that year we decided to do something more relaxing: hole up in Santa Fe for a week. We’d visit our favorite restaurants, shops, museums and galleries, and the ones we’d meant to see on past trips. We’d experience all “The City Different” had to offer, and we’d do it all on foot.
So, in late November of that year, Theresa and I flew to Albuquerque. We caught a shuttle to the Inn on the Alameda and by lunchtime we were sitting at our favorite Santa Fe bar, Del Charro Saloon, eating green chile cheeseburgers.
We discovered Del Charro a few years years ago. Although not completely devoid of tourists — obviously, we were there — Del Charro feels like Santa Fe’s equivalent of “Cheers.” It’s a few blocks from our hotel and most everything on the menu is less than $10. The house margarita is a steal at $7, and because you’re walking, you can have [almost] as many as you like.
Over the next week, Theresa and I walked to the historic rail yard and farmer’s market. We shopped for vintage western wear and visited El Santuario de Guadalupe, one of several old, adobe churches in Santa Fe worth seeing.
We walked to the Bataan Memorial Museum, dedicated to the Filipino and American soldiers who made the “Bataan Death March” during World War II. It was on the outskirts of downtown, but we figured if 75,000 soldiers could walk 60 or 70 miles under torturous conditions, we could walk to a museum two miles away that honored them.
En route, we discovered Chicago Dog Express, home of the aforementioned “Santa Fe’s Best Hot Dog.” (And indeed, they are.) On the way back, we stopped at a corner grocery store, Kaune’s, that sells local foods at prices far less than gift shops on the historic, tourist-infused plaza.
Quick travel tip: When looking for local edibles, skip the gift shops and head to a grocery store or farmers market.
We walked Canyon Road, a mile-long arts district where you can buy everything from Peruvian folk art to a $137,000 Mary Cassatt painting. We ventured onto Garcia Street, a historic neighborhood with an array of New Mexican Territorial-style homes.
We walked down East Alameda Street, turned left on a gravel road and crossed a well-traveled gully up to Cerro Gordo Road. There, on a hillside sits a tiny chapel built in 1928 as a tribute to San Ysidro, patron saint of farmers.
And while walking to the plaza one night, we saw the biggest raccoon on the planet, eating pears. It was round as a barrel and seemed much more interested in gobbling pears that had fallen from a nearby tree than in the pair of tourists looking at it. We watched the hungry raccoon for a minute or so, then ambled off toward the plaza.
It was near-Christmas, after all. The plaza was strung with lights and just a short walk away.
Here’s the recipe I use for bizcochitos. It makes about two dozen of the anise-seed sugar cookies. There are many variations — some people use wine, others orange juice, some whisky or brandy, and some spell it “biscochito.”
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, lard or unsalted butter or margarine (I use lard.)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. aniseed (or 1/8 tsp. anise seed extract) (I prefer seed.)
1 tbsp. brandy
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp. cinnamon for dredging
Preheat oven to 350 and have 2 ungreased cookie sheets ready. Combine the first 5 ingredients in the food processor and blend until the shortening and the sugar are creamed, about 5 to 10 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With a fork, mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Still using the fork, add the shortening mixture from the processor and keep blending until no loose flour appears in the bowl and the cookie dough begins to draw into a mass.
At this point, you can either pat out 2 1/2-inch rounds, just under 1/4 inch thick, or you can chill the dough for 15 minutes and then roll it out onto a lightly floured board with a rolling pin. Rolling out enables you to cut fancy shapes if you like. A quick method is to place a tablespoon of dough on the board and flatten it into a circle with the bottom of a glass or cup.
However you shape them, dredge one side of the bizcochitos in the cinnamon sugar and arrange close together on the cookie sheet with the sugared side up. Bake 10 minutes or until the cookies turn a pale blond. Cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cookies cut thicker than 1/4 inch will be softer, once baked, than thin cookies. The dough can also be baked at 375 for 15 minutes, in which case the cookies will be browned and crisp. Store in a cookie jar or paper bag, where they will keep for at least a week.
(A version of this article also appeared in WalkAbout Magazine in 2013.)
If you walk to the center of Lynchburg’s Miller Park today, between the Aviary and what’s called the “fireman’s fountain,” you’ll find a flowerbed. The contents of this flowerbed aren’t remarkable — one small tree, a few clumps of hostas, other common plants — but what is noteworthy is its border.
At first glance, the rectangle of flagstone slabs, connected with heavy, iron staples, looks like overkill. After all, it’s only corralling foliage and mulch. But what a lot of people don’t know is that in its previous life this flowerbed was a bear pit.
Yes, you read that correctly. There were once bears at Miller Park, along with deer, monkeys, snakes, birds, alligators, wolves and other wildlife. During the early part of the 20th century, the City of Lynchburg operated a zoo at what was once known as “City Park” and later named for local philanthropist Samuel Miller.
It’s difficult to say exactly when the zoo opened. There is, however, mention of it in the Nov. 22, 1899, edition of the Lynchburg News.
A story headlined “Bears for the Park” reports that “two fine bears” just arrived in Lynchburg aboard a Norfolk & Western freight train. The bears were acquired by the city from C.N. Otey, said to be a “well-to-do business man of Wytheville.”
The article further explains that prior to that time Otey had kept the bears as pets.
Why Otey relinquished the bears isn’t stated, but the 1900 U.S. Census might offer a clue. At the time, the 42-year-old Otey was a bartender and married father of six. Otey’s brother and father-in-law also live in the house.
That said, one can imagine Otey’s wife of 15 years, Ella, thinking something had to go. So Lynchburg got two bears.
In “The History of Lynchburg, Virginia, 1786-1946,” author Philip Lightfoot Scruggs writes that the zoo “was initiated through a buck deer being given to E.C. Hamner, chairman of City Council’s committee on parks.” The year isn’t mentioned.
Over the years, the City of Lynchburg’s Committee on Parks reported annual expenses and other statistics related to the zoo. For example, the city’s 1900 Annual Report lists the following expenses were incurred in 1899:
Food for animals — $414.48
Addition to green-house and monkey house — $156.08
Bear pit — $942.20
Fencing — $189.11
Parot [sic] house — $125.14
Winter quarters for monkeys and birds — $110.60
Animals and birds bought — $129.68
Eagle house — $83.85
The Committee on Parks reported in 1902 that former Lynchburg citizen Randolph Guggenheimer, then a resident of New York, had donated money to build the Aviary. Hamner said the building would cost $2,500 “without the heating and painting,” and would “enable us to take better care of the small animals and birds during the winter, and also enables visitors to see them.”
In his book, Scruggs describes the Aviary as “especially interesting” and said its “most fearsome” feature “was a great rattlesnake which so impressed younger visitors that they were likely to think of the aviary as a snake house.”
In 1902, Hamner also reported that the zoo had the following animals in its collection: 13 monkeys, three bears, seven parrots, two ferrets, two cockatoos, 35 guinea pigs, 20 rabbits, five owls, four groundhogs, two caracaras, 60 pigeons, six fantail pigeons, two Australian doves, three silver pheasants, two falcons, three white turkey, four peafowl, six deer, one badger, one coati, three red foxes, three gray foxes, six raccoons, 50 squirrels, two gophers, one turtle, one wolf, five alligators, 100 goldfish and four guinea fowl.
Donations — “animals presented,” as stated in the 1902 report — also were noted. Among these were two cockatoos, donated by Louis Lazarus, and two alligators and a turtle, donated by W.B. Bigbie.
One can imagine the stories behind these donations. Perhaps, Bigbie brought two tiny alligators home from a trip to Florida in a shoebox, only to have them grow too big for the family bathtub. Something had to be done with them, so off they went to the zoo.
Deaths also were reported. In 1904, Park Superintendent R.C. Driver said the following animals had died or had been killed by dogs: “three monkeys, nine deer (killed by dogs), five raccoons, three black-snakes, one peafowl, sixteen rabbits (killed by dogs), thirty guinea pigs (killed by dogs), two ducks, one falcon, two American eagles, one buzzard, three groundhogs, two silver pheasants and one sea-dove.”
The zoo was a popular local attraction. In 1903, Hamner said the Aviary “has now become the main point of attraction and a source of enjoyment for both young and old.” He added, “As the zoological department is constantly growing, so the number of people who visit the park is increasing, and even in wet weather the crowds are large.”
Hamner also noted that the local Knights of Pythias built a squirrel enclosure for the zoo, where the children could “feed [the] animals from their own hands.” This, Hamner added, “can give the little ones much pleasure.”
Sometimes, however, this didn’t work out so well.
In 1921, the zoo was closed. As reported in the publication The Playground in 1924, “In 1921, the city manager of Lynchburg, Virginia, abolished the zoo at Miller Park in order to supply recreation facilities which would serve a larger number of people and permit active participation in recreation activities.”
The Aviary eventually became a public library, among other things, and is currently operated by the city’s parks and recreation department as an events venue. At some point, the bear pit was filled with dirt and plants.
Because it’s been almost 100 years since the zoo closed, photos and personal accounts of the zoo are hard — perhaps impossible — to come by. Sometimes, I forget that people didn’t always walk around with cameras in their pockets.
Also, those who would remember going to the zoo, even in the early 1920s as young children, would be pushing 100 years old today.
There are secondhand accounts, though, if you ask around. For example, Doug Harvey, director of Lynchburg Museum System, remembers his aunt, Lillian Burnette Tweedy, talking about the zoo.
“[She] told us that she rode the street cars from Floyd Street to the park for a nickel to see the bears,” Harvey said. “This was about 1917.”
And Lynchburg native Don Bobbitt, posting on the Facebook group Living in Lynchburg, wrote the following:
I remember, as a child visiting an aunt, and she had a collection of those pictures you looked at through a viewer. I was fascinated by how amazing the old Miller Park was, with exotic flowers and plants and animals, and people dressed in their Sunday finest, walking around. There were dozens of them. But alas, she and her kids are long gone. Perhaps someone has a set of these?
Perhaps someone does. One can hope! And if I find copies, you’ll be the first to know!
Thanks to Doug Harvey, Wayne Fitzgerald and Don Bobbitt for your help with this article.