Alvy Dortch left Mecklenburg for economic reasons

Alvin (Alvy) Dortch endured many tragedies and hardships. He was one of five children. His mother Sarah Poythress died when he was only age 9. His father and two other siblings died by the time he was age 14. He also suffered from severe depression. I assume Alvin’s older sister Martha was like a mother figure to him. Martha married John Vaughan and died about the time Alvy was being sued for debt. Maybe after she died, Alvy didn’t think there was any reason to stay in the area. Since he couldn’t farm, it was hard to remain in a predominately farming area and survive economically.

After his parent’s death, Alvy lived with Rebecca Stanley, who I believe was his aunt. (Rebecca’s maiden name was Poythress). His brother, Oliver Jasper Dortch (known as “O.J.”) was living with Dr. Riggan, who was a dentist. Dr. Riggan had three marriages without any children. I’ve been wondering if there’s any family relationship with Dr. Riggan or his second wife Eliza Hart. Or perhaps Dr. Riggan was simply generous and tried to help his neighbors out of financial difficulties.

Alvy was conscripted into the Confederate Army at about age 18, while he was visiting Petersburg. He was first made a guard at a hospital. After getting sick several times, he put in a request to be transferred to serve with a troop of men who he knew. He ended up being a prisoner, yet survivor, of Point Lookout.

His oldest daughter, Theresa, had a seizure by the fireplace. Her dress caught fire and she died in front of her two young children, Fanne and Maude (ages 5 & 2). This happened while the men of the area were out harvesting tobacco. That same day, Alvy took his granddaughters Fannie and Maude Gray home with him. He raised them as his own children. His youngest child, Millard Dortch, was two years younger than his granddaughter Maude Gray and four years older than his other granddaughter Fannie Gray.

Part of Sally Vick’s 1951 letter. Sally was daughter of Alvy & Tennessee Dortch

With his war wounds, Alvy was unable to farm.  So, he created a wagon train business carting goods from the farmers in Mecklenburg, Virginia, to markets in Petersburg. Virginia’s economy was in tatters for decades after the war. There was catastrophic economic damage from the economic “Panic of 1893”. 15,000 businesses and 500 banks in the U.S. failed. No one had money. Farms were failing from drought and farmers lost their lands.  During the country’s economic crisis, Alvy struggled to provide for his wife, eleven children and two grandchildren. He applied for a military pension but received a rejection letter. He borrowed money from Dr. Riggan, but couldn’t earn enough to pay back the last $120 of the loan before Dr. Riggan died. As executor, Dr. Riggan’s (third) wife called in his debts.  Alvy became insolvent.

During times of trial, we often want to be with someone who understands us. I believe that’s what led Alvy to move to Southampton County, Virginia. There, he lived near his friend,  Samuel J. Glover. I haven’t been able to figure out yet, if Alvy’s wife, Tennessee Glover, was related to his friend. Samuel and Alvy had been in the same military unit. After the war, Samuel Glover lived with a ‘Hart’ family that is possibly related to Eliza Hart, second wife of Dr. Riggan. After leaving Mecklenburg, all of Alvy’s adult children were working, trying to earn money where they could. His wife, Tennessee, and a few children temporarily moved to Petersburg to get jobs, while Alvy worked at various odd jobs. The whole family moved to Kankakee, IL (just south of Chicago) about 1903. The family worked in factories there, including the Paramount Knitting Company. Tennessee and Alvy ran a boarding house.  It was big enough to house their young adult children, 4 grandchildren and 3 boarders.  One boarder married Alvin’s daughter Martha.

Fannie Gray married George Stowe, had eleven children and remained in the Kankakee area most of her adult life. When Fannie was much older, her daughter Catherine started asking about where she was from, interested in knowing more about her family in Virginia. Fannie didn’t really remember or know. Catherine started writing letters, which were given to me when I started asking the same questions.

1942 Fannie Gray

Reclaiming Our Ancestors

Jessica Jones wrote her first website post one year ago today. I’m celebrating this anniversary by telling people about her inspiring African American genealogy website. The name of her website is “Reclaiming Our Ancestors”. Jessica shows pictures of her ancestors and their records, in a helpful and interesting tutorial way.

African American genealogical research is particularly challenging. Research success is more likely when we know more about the records, laws, and history of the places our ancestors lived. I attended a few classes at genealogy conferences to learn more about researching African American genealogy, including slave research. Jessica’s posts teach all the same things I learned in the genealogy workshops that I attended, and more!  Jessica wrote a post about her Chavis family in Mecklenburg, Virginia. She found the records that show her ancestor transitioning legally from being slave to free. She shows the records and how she made this discovery in this post.

I love these words Jessica wrote about why she does family history and why she created her site: “…though our ancestors may have been enslaved in life, their memory doesn’t belong to the enslavers. They are our families and they belong to us. I want us to know them. To say their names and celebrate their lives.”

Congratulations Jessica, on one year of wonderful, interesting, and inspiring posts! I look forward to reading what you will share this coming year.

Jessica Jones and her son

Site Note: This post is shared with the permission of Jessica Jones. The links to both this post and her website “Reclaiming Our Ancestors” are also on now listed on “African American research links” at the top of this site. (here)

LaCrosse Virginia

LaCrosse became an incorporated town in Mecklenburg County in 1901. This brief line in the newspaper (above) listed what was on the court calendar for the next session. This notice was printed 9 Feb 1901, so LaCrosse probably officially became a town in February or March 1901, depending on when court was held. The area was known as LaCrosse before officially becoming a town (incorporation). LaCrosse and it’s name are an interesting thing. It’s spelled like the sport of lacrosse. I’ve seen newspaper articles debating on whether the spelling is one word or two. But people can agree that the name comes from the town being located where two railroad lines crossed. I’ve read in some places the two lines were: The Atlantic and the Danville Railway lines. This news article below says the Seabord Air Line and Southern Rail Ways. My ancestors who were in what is known today as the Bracey area, were earlier referred to in newspapers and the Census as living in LaCrosse.

I really enjoyed this article written in 1902, a year after the town’s incorporation. It describes the buildings, economy, things sold, tobacco industry, lists a population of 500, and names the school and the principal.

My husband and I took these pictures of LaCrosse. In addition to this post, these pictures will show up (within a few days of this post) under the ‘pictures of places’ section of this website. I’m trying to include pictures both past and present from around the county; partly to preserve some history, and partly for those who haven’t been to Mecklenburg to see what places look like. If you have pictures you’d like to have included here, and be credited for, please email me.

LaCrosse train depot
LaCrosse town cemetery