Research of Enslaved Families Brings Ph.D. Candidate to Menokin

BY GUEST BLOGGER: Mariaelena DiBenigno

My name is Mariaelena DiBenigno, and I am an American Studies Ph.D. candidate at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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Mariaelena DiBenigno

My research focuses primarily on how enslavement manifests at public history sites in Virginia’s Tidewater and Northern Neck regions. I study how these histories emerge on the museum landscape in both material and narrative form. Often, these histories involve communities still overlooked by public and academic history.

In February 2016, I learned of an opportunity to research enslaved families at Menokin. I had long appreciated Menokin’s interdisciplinary focus and its insistence on telling diverse, multilayered narratives. It is a site committed to collaboration and community.

During my initial Menokin visit, I learned about the Gordon family and their ties to the local landscape. Daniel Gordon, whose biography I was asked to trace, was the grandfather of Evelyn Taylor Parker and Juanita Taylor Wells; these two sisters had shared their story during an oral history outreach program hosted by Menokin.  According to Evelyn and Juanita, their great-grandparents, Alexander and Nellie Gordon, may have been enslaved at Menokin along with their son, Daniel. Their family had compiled a family

cookbook that contained an extensive genealogy and family history. I also had access to several primary and secondary documents that, coupled with Evelyn and Juanita’s interview and family cookbook, provided substantial assistance for my research into the Gordon family’s connection with Menokin’s nineteenth-century past. Throughout this spring and summer, I worked with genealogists, historians and family members, and I learned far more than I ever expected about local history projects and genealogical research techniques. I also thought long and hard about the implications of interpretation at historic sites and who has a role in the decision-making process.

Currently, I am exploring Daniel’s parents, Alexander and Nellie, in order to concretely tie Daniel to the Menokin property. So far, I have discovered much about Daniel and his wife Maria. They owned extensive property in Richmond County, and they were involved in local religious and social life. However, I have yet to definitively link Evelyn and Juanita’s Daniel Gordon to the Daniel Gordon found in Menokin’s inventories. There is an age discrepancy between the Daniels, but this does not mean the families are not linked to Menokin’s landscape. My work will now track the earlier generations to find a common ancestor who might link the two family lines. I have more censuses to transcribe, birth and death certificates to analyze, circuit court records to explore, and church archives to examine.

There is also the fascinating angle of DNA testing among Gordon family descendants. Overall, this is a project that requires diligence, close reading, and perseverance. It is a necessary endeavor. The Gordon family’s relationship to Menokin deserves focused attention and it is an honor to conduct such research.


Maria also serves on Menokin’s African American Advisory Work Group (AAAWG).

Save The Date For #GivingTuesday 11.29.2016

11-29-2016

 

 

<<Ways To Give

 

 

 

 

#GivingTuesday 2016 is November 29th. You can be part of the celebration. While you are making your end-of-the-year charitable giving decisions, we hope you’ll consider the Menokin Foundation.

You support what you believe in. We hope you believe in Menokin.

 

Down and Dirty

Westmoreland County students spent the day at Menokin participating in the TOTS (Think Outside The Sink) education program. They learned about watersheds and the relationships between people, the landscape and the watershed. 
The students also learned about the natural elements that Menokin is made of – wood, stone, clay (brick) and shell (lime mortar). The lesson culminated in painting with dirt, which was a BIG HIT! 

Thanks for coming!

Menokin African American Advisory Workgroup

In 2016, the Menokin Foundation  spearheaded the formation of the African American Advisory Work Group (AAAWG). The primary goals of the AAAWG are to assist the Menokin Foundation in:

  • telling the story of African Americans at Menokin to inspire a fuller understanding of and appreciation for their central role in Menokin’s story.
  • engaging and involving the African American community in ongoing efforts to preserve and interpret Menokin, and developing the historic site into a cultural learning center.
  • acting as a leading pilot or prototype for engagement of any community type.
  • telling the big picture story. (What are the lessons to be extracted from our local history?  How do we relate this history to the state in general and, in bigger terms, the world?)

The group now consists of the following advisory members:

MENOKIN

  • Alice French – Menokin Staff; Education and Outreach Coordinator
  • Dudley Olsson – Menokin Board; Education Committee chair
  • Tom Duckenfield – Menokin Board; Education Committee member

MUSEUM AND HUMANITIES PROFESSIONALS

  • Bessida Cauthorne White – Genealogist; Member of Middle Peninsula African American Genealogical Society
  • Lauranett Lee – Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Trustee; former curator of VHS African American exhibits
  • Mariaelena DeBenignio – College of William & Mary history doctorate and researcher

GORDON FAMILY DESCENDANTS & LOCAL COMMUNITY MEMBERS

  • Evelyn Parker
  • Juanita Wells
  • Mark Cox
  • Brenda Leigh Wells
  • Beatrice Robinson Ball
  • Vera Robinson Rich
  • Skip Taylor
EDUCATION AND PROGRAMMING INITIATIVES AT MENOKIN ARE MADE POSSIBLE – IN PART – BY THE 56 SIGNERS SOCIETY OF MENOKIN.

 

Dominion Volunteers Energize Menokin

Recently we told you about the generous grant from Dominion Energizing Communities that was shared with Menokin through the Friends of the Rappahannock.

img_4168At 7:30 on Tuesday morning of this week, their trucks rolled in and the volunteers went to work. To say that Menokin was buzzing is not an exaggeration. Table saws, power tools and happy, hard working people made quick work of the prearranged list of projects to benefit Menokin and our visitors.

I was thrilled to find that – upon my arrival at 8:30 – the transformation of a dog kennel into a covered pavilion was already completed. Later in the day one of the newly constructed benches made its way into the space and is ready for use.

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Over by the house, a team was busy at work re-roofing our storage shed. Others were steadily cutting lumber (generously donated by Wood Preservers of Warsaw) into patterns for tables and benches, while the next group assembled the pieces into furniture.
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After all of their hard work was completed the team leaders brought in pizza and homemade desserts and invited the Menokin staff and trustees to share. Most of the volunteers joined me for a tour of the house and learned more about the history and rehabilitation of Menokin.

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So next time you’re walking the trail to Cat Point Creek and pause to rest on a bench; or have a picnic lunch by the house or the water; or sit to reflect on the on the lives of theimg_8069-jpg enslaved people who worked the land; thank the volunteers of the Dominion Foundation for making your visit to Menokin a little more comfortable.


We would also like to thank our Menokin volunteers Kirwan King and Ben Rennolds for picking up and hauling all of the lumber and building supplies for the project. Thanks, guys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominion Energizing Communities at Menokin

The Menokin Foundation would like to extend our thanks to the Dominion Foundation, Friends of the Rappahannock, and Wood Preservers, for their support to make Menokin a more engaging learning center.

The Menokin Foundation and Friends of the Rappahannock recently received a grant of $2,500 from Dominion as part of their Energizing Communities initiative. This grant will go towards improving the experience for school groups and visitors to Menokin through the addition of benches and picnic tables and grounds maintenance. On Tuesday, October 25th, the Dominion team will be on site at Menokin:

  • building 4 new picnic tables;
  • building 6 new benches;
  • re-roofing a shed in need by the Menokin house; and
  • cleaning up a picnic shelter for visitors to enjoy

In addition to the support from Friends of the Rappahannock and Dominion to make this community project possible, we are grateful for the support of Wood Preservers who will be donating supplies towards the project. Please visit Menokin on October 25th to see this project and community support in action!  Hike the trails, enjoy a picnic outdoors, and call ahead to the Menokin Visitor’s Center to schedule a hard hat tour of the house while you’re here!

Energizing Communities is a grassroots effort driven by Dominion volunteers across the many states and communities served by Dominion. Each year, hundreds of employee volunteers put their talent, time and efforts into improving their home towns in many different ways during a fall project blitz. Local employee volunteer councils work with parks, zoos, schools, shelters and other organizations to choose projects.

We can’t wait to share with you these improvements taking place to make your experience at Menokin more enjoyable!

Meet Sam McKelvey!

The Menokin Foundation Board President Hullihen Moore is pleased to announce that Samuel McKelvey of Richmond, Virginia, has been chosen to lead Menokin as Executive Director. McKelvey, selected after a comprehensive national search, will begin his appointment on October 24, 2016.

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Sam McKelvey

Moore said that McKelvey is particularly well suited to complete Menokin’s innovative Glass House Project and to introduce new programming to the site. “Sam brings to the table an excellent mix of experience, leadership, initiative and enthusiasm,” Moore said; “he has a track record of bringing in diverse and younger audiences and he has shown himself to be a leader in creating new programs and events to engage the public in broad and meaningful ways.”

McKelvey currently serves as Site Manager for Meadow Farm Museum at Crump Park, an 1860 living history farm site and museum. During his tenure at Meadow Farm, McKelvey has significantly updated the site’s programs and re-interpreted a number of tours, bringing in new audiences, growing attendance, and making the site relevant to a new generation of students, families, and tourists.

McKelvey also serves as a Recreation Program Coordinator for the 150-acre site, which rests under the purview of Henrico County’s Division of Recreation and Parks. He has managed and developed a wide range of outdoor opportunities and experiences for the park’s thousands of annual visitors, including fishing, hiking and nature trails, picnicking, play areas, seasonal festivals and, most recently, adding more livestock on the farm.

McKelvey is an avid champion of community storytelling and bringing history to life. In 2014, he led the planning and execution of a 3-day re-enactment of the Battle of New Market Heights which brought 5,000 people to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle in which African-American soldiers from the “U.S. Colored Troops” won largely on their own their first significant battle close to the Confederate fortifications of Richmond.

McKelvey received his BA in History and Geography from James Madison University and his MA in History from Virginia Commonwealth University. He currently chairs the Historic Preservation Function Group for Henrico County Recreation and Parks and he has co-chaired or lead numerous other planning committees, including the Henrico Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee.

He believes Menokin offers the region and the country an extraordinary opportunity. “The Menokin Foundation has laid the groundwork for a totally new approach to engaging people with ideas and themes in American history,” McKelvey said. “The Glass House Project is like nothing else in historic preservation today – it encourages us to think in new and different ways. I am looking forward to working with the board, staff, volunteers, and local community to accomplish the Foundation’s goals. My wife April and I look forward to actively participating in the Northern Neck community.”

McKelvey succeeds Sarah Dillard Pope, Executive Director from 2005 until December 2015, when she became Dean of College Advancement at Rappahannock Community College. Leslie Rennolds has served ably as Interim Director since January 2016.

The search committee, co-chaired by Penelope Saffer and Ro King, included trustees and stakeholders: Moore, Dudley Percy Olsson, Candy Carden, Nancy Raybin, and past Board President W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr.

For the nationwide search, the Menokin Foundation retained Marilyn Hoffman and Connie Rosemont of Museum Search & Reference, an executive search firm in Manchester, NH, and Boston, MA.

ABOUT THE MENOKIN FOUNDATION

The Menokin Foundation is a 500-acre National Historic Landmark site in the Northern Neck of Virginia that includes the collapsed home of Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lightfoot Lee and his wife Rebecca Tayloe. In 2015, the Menokin Foundation launched a multi-year, $7-million capital campaign to construct a groundbreaking, 21st-century glass structure that will preserve, protect and interpret the original house without reconstructing its 18th-century interior. The grounds and kayak boat launch are open daily 7 am to 7 pm and the Visitors Center is open Wednesday – Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.menokin.org or call 804-333-1776.

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