Tag Archives: Menokin

Cultural Landscapes of Menokin: An Historical Analysis – Part I

Originally prepared in October 2012 and revised in November of 2013, this research conducted and prepared by C. Allan Brown is part of the The Menokin Glass House Project.

 

The report will be shared in a serial fashion with the intention of a weekly post as time allows.

PART I

The objective of this report is to provide an explication of how the landscape of Menokin has functioned historically as a setting for human habitation.  The focus is “cultural” usages and meanings rather than “natural” conditions as wildlife habitat.  To borrow the terminology of anthropological studies, the analysis centers on an examination of human pathways (movement through space in time) and activity areas (utilization of space in time).  Eighteenth-century plantations in America were complex agricultural-production systems.  Their organization reflected societal and individual attitudes.  In the most refined examples, such as Menokin represents, they were also expressions of aesthetic and associational values.

Perhaps the most distinctive quality of the natural landscape of Virginia’s Northern Neck, the broader geographic setting between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, is the pattern of irregularly-shaped, small plateaus encompassed by shallow escarpments that occasionally approach true “cliffs” in character.  In the vicinity of Menokin, the level (or nearly level) upper plateaus are typically quite modest in extent.  By contrast, the tidewater landscape farther down the peninsula (as also along the lower James and York rivers) is usually flatter and more broadly expansive.  Land, sea and sky begin to merge there.  But in Menokin’s locale, discrete elevated pockets of land have been carved by numerous interconnected rivulets.  The resulting dendritic pattern is clearly visible in satellite imagery of the immediate region (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

The generally wooded condition of the surrounding ravines has created nearly continuous bands of foliage that envelope each enclave.  The density and verticality of the trees define compact spatial edges and frequently also limit long-distance views.  Upon each plateau itself there is a prevailing sense of containment and seclusion.  Those particular qualities also make the Menokin landscape quite different from the continuously rolling topography of the piedmont to the west, where the ground levels (and perspectives) constantly vary, and mountains are always on the horizon.  It is evident that the natural landscape of Menokin (Fig. 2) has had significant implications for the development of its cultural landscapes.[1]

Figure 2

Menokin plantation takes its name from references to the Indian word associated with the stream which bounds the property along the southeast.  As early as 1657/58 the name “Manakin” appears in local records in relation to that “Creek” or “Run” or “Swamp.”[2]  (An upper branch sometimes was called “Muddy Run”; in recent years, the latter name also has been applied to the entire stream.)  The current spelling of Menokin only became standard in the late 18th Century with the Lee family tenure.  Prior to that, numerous transliterated variations may be found, ranging widely from “Monoaton” to “Monocon” to “Manoikin.”  Mary R. Miller, in her very useful study of Place-Names of the Northern Neck of Virginia (1983), in attempting to distinguish between the variant spellings, nevertheless made some significant errors which have produced subsequent confusion.[3]  It does appear however that the similar place-names of “Monascon,” “Monaskan” or “Menaskant” (thought to be a shortened form of “Monasukapanough”) identify an entirely separate locality on the border of present Richmond and Lancaster counties.[4]

The Algonquian meaning of “Menokin” is unknown today, according to most authorities on American Indian cultures.[5] Variations of that place-name today appear throughout the eastern seaboard.  As unlikely as it may seem, modern authorities also believe that the Algonquian word bears no relation to the Monacan Indians who inhabited the upper James River region during the contact era, yet who spoke a separate Siouan language.[6]  (Thus the similar name of the Huguenot settlement of “Manakin,” established in 1699 in what became Powhatan County near an abandoned Monacan Indian town, is considered to be merely coincidental.)  It also should be mentioned that there was a “Manoakin” on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1663.[7]  Clifford C. Presnall’s article on “The Menokin Mystery” in the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine (pp. 3020-3022) attempted to address the matter but ultimately circulated further misinformation.

Menokin’s somewhat strategic location at the confluence of two small streams (named “Rappahannock Creek”[8] and “Manakin [sic] Creek”[9] in the earliest records) and near the

Figure 3

main travel artery of the Rappahannock River (Fig. 3) was recognized as being highly suitable for occupation even in the prehistoric era.  An abundance of early artifacts (stone flakes, pottery shards and fire-cracked rock) have been recorded by archaeologists investigating the plateau near the house ruins (Fig. 4).[10]

Figure 4

By the contact era with Europeans, the vicinity was occupied by the Rappahannock Indians (who evidently had resided in the broader region since about 1300 C.E.).[11]

The locality’s association with them is reflected in the site’s long-standing place names.  Indeed, Capt. John Smith’s 1612 map of Virginia appears to locate the principal seat of the Rappahannocks (“Toppahanock”) in the general Menokin neighborhood (Fig. 5).[12]  He reportedly first encountered them in December 1607 and then again in July 1608 (Fig. 6).[13]

Figure 5

 

Figure 6

 

One archaeologist has suggested that in the mid-seventeenth century (and perhaps earlier?), when there probably were only a few hundred Rappahannocks left, the

Figure 7
Figure 8

chief “town of the Great Rappahannocks”[14] was situated along the southern edge of what became the Menokin estate (Fig. 7).[15]  The particular promontory that he identified is one of the first to be encountered upstream along Rappahannock Creek and is slightly secluded yet affords a clear view to allow monitoring of movement on the nearby river.[16]  It would seem to be an ideal defensive position.  However, there appears to be disagreement among historians; a recent map of “Indians Towns” along the Rappahannock River (Fig. 8) does not include the Menokin location.[17]  (In any case, compare the apparent discrepancies among the relative locations of “Toppahanock,” “Acquack” and “Nomanye”/”Nawmanay,” known today as “Nomini”.)  This important subject needs to be more fully investigated in consultation with experts on Virginia’s indigenous people.  Future archaeological excavations may clarify the matter.


[1] For the broader physical context, see John R. Wennersten, The Chesapeake: An Environmental Biography (Baltimore, 2000); Philip D. Curtin, Grace S. Brush and George W. Fisher, Discovering the Chesapeake: The History of an Ecosystem (Baltimore, 2001).
[2] Virginia Land Office Patent Book 4, p. 303
[3] See Mary R. Miller, Place-Names of the Northern Neck of Virginia (Richmond, 1983), pp. 93, 97, 98, 101.
[4] Ibid., pp. 97, 101.
[5] See William Bright, Native American Placenames of the United States (Norman, OK, 2004), pp. 263, 278, 294.
[6] See Jeffrey L. Hantman, “Between Powhatan and Quirank: Reconstructing Monacan Culture and History in the Context of Jamestown,” American Anthropologist v. 92 (1990), pp. 676-690; Karenne Wood and Diane Shields, The Monacan Indians: Our Story (2000); Dennis B. Blanton and Julia A. King, eds., Indian and European Contact in Context: The Mid-Atlantic Region (Gainesville, FL, 2004), esp. pp. 22-26.
[7] See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography v. 19 (1911), pp. 173-180.
[8] Although the earliest documented name for the stream known today as Cat Point Creek is “Fleet’s Creek” (see Henry Fleete’s patent of 750 acres along that stream, dated 1 August 1652; Virginia Land Office Patent Book 3, p. 97), within a few years it was consistently known as “Rappahannock Creek” (see John Stephens’ patent of the original 1000 acres of the Menokin property, dated 13 March 1657/58; ibid., 4: 303).  The name “Cat Point Creek” came into common usage only beginning in the nineteenth century. However “Cat Point, Rappahannock Creek” was familiarly known by the mid-eighteenth century; see, e.g., Virginia Gazette (Purdie& Dixon), 3 September 1772.   The earliest record of “Catt [sic] Point” that I have seen dates to 5 February 1706; see Richmond County Deed Book 4, pp. 92a-93.  There was a ferry across Rappahannock Creek situated at that location as early as 1686.
[9]John Stephens’ original 1000-acre patent of the Menokin property, on 13 March 1657/58, situates it as “upon Rappahannock River or Creek opposite to the land of Colo. Henry Fleete, bounding southwesterly upon the said creek which divides this land from the said Colo. Fleete’s land, southeasterly upon Manakin [sic] Creek being a branch of the said Rappahannock Creek;” Virginia Land Office Patent Book 4, p. 303.  See also Camille Wells, “Menokin in Time:  A Documentary Research Report” (1997) prepared for the Menokin Foundation; it is the most comprehensive history of the site that has been produced.
[10]See Thane H. Harpole, David A. Brown and Meredith Mahoney, “An Archaeological Survey of Menokin, Site 44RD35, Richmond County, Virginia” (June 2008), esp. figs. 2, 3, 10 and 23; Deanna Beacham, “Examples of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes in Virginia” (2011), pp. 15-17.
[11]U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge:  Comprehensive Conservation Plan” (December 2009), section 3-6.  See, also, James D. Rice, Nature and History in the Potomac Country:  From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson (Baltimore, 2009); Edward DuBois Ragan, “Where the Water Ebbs and Flows:  Place and Self Among the Rappahannock People, from the Emergence of their Community to its Seclusion in 1706” (PhD diss., Syracuse University, 2005); Stephen R. Potter, Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs:  The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley (Charlottesville, 1993).
[12]See Edward W. Haile, Virginia Discovered and Discribed [sic] by Captayn [sic] John Smith 1608 (Champlain, Virginia, 1995); Philip L. Barbour, ed., The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, 1986).  See, also, Helen C. Rountree, Wayne E. Clark, Kent Mountford, and Michael B. Barber, John Smith’s Chesapeake Voyages, 1607-1609 (Charlottesville, 2007); Susan Schmidt, Landfall Along the Chesapeake:  In the Wake of Captain John Smith (Baltimore, 2006).
[13]Karenne Wood, ed., The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail, 3rd edition (Charlottesville, 2009), p. 42.  See also Keith Egloff and Deborah Woodward, First People:  The Early Indians of Virginia, 2nd edition (Charlottesville, 2006), esp. p. 76.  The “Cat Point Creek and Vicinity” guide, published by the Friends of the Rappahannock (n.d.), identifies “Dancing Point” on the western shore of Menokin Bay (“location according to local legend”) as the site of the “King’s town” and the place where “in December of 1607, that the Rappahannocks first met the explorer Capt. John Smith.”’
[14]Stevan C. Pullins, “A Phase II Archaeological Evaluation of Site 44RD50 Associated with the Proposed Route 3 Project, Richmond and Westmoreland Counties, Virginia” (August 1992), p. 10.  Note that elsewhere in that report (p. 9) the adjective “great” shifts place, modifying “town” (i.e., “Great Town of the Rappahannocks”). There is also a reference to a Rappahannock town along Rappahannock Creek (“Fleet’s Creek”) in a patent dated 8 October 1657: Virginia Land Office Patent Book 4, p. 185.  Curiously, Wells’ comprehensive 1997 research report (“Menokin in Time,” op. cit.) makes no mention of Pullins’ 1992 report.  See, also, Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas’s People:  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries (Norman, Oklahoma, 1990), p. 118.
[15]Capt. Henry Fleete’s 1652 patent of land southwest of the present Menokin property was situated on the “north side of Rappahannock River, southwest of Great Rappahannock town where the Indians are at present seated 2 miles up Fleet’s Creek [i.e., Rappahannock or Cat Point Creek]” Virginia Land Office Patent Book 3, p. 97.  See, also, Pullins, “Phase II Archaeological Evaluation,” pp. 11-12.  John Stephens’ will, dated 5 March 1661, bequeathed the 1,000 acres of the Menokin property, “lying on Raa’ok. Creek, on the same side the Indians liveth on as per patent… ;” (Old) Rappahannock County Deed and Will Book, 1677-1682, Part I, pp. 66-68.  See, also, Thomas Hoskins Warner, History of Old Rappahannock County, Virginia, 1656- 1692 (Tappahannock, 1965), pp. 36-37.
[16]It seems that the promontory has not been physically investigated by archaeologists; it was not examined during the survey conducted in 2008 by DATA Investigations, LLC.  Aerial photographs indicate that as late as about 1950, that area of the plateau was open (now wooded).  See, also, Douglas W. Sanford and Michael J. Klein, “An Archaeological Assessment of Richmond County, Virginia” (February 1994), pp. 91-95, 100.  Not far from the Mount Airy millpond, a Rappahannock ossuary, dating from c. 1630-1660, was excavated just south of the Menokin property; see Potter, Commoners, Tribute and Chiefs, pp. 218-220.
[17]Figure 9 (uncredited) was found in the files of the Menokin Foundation.  It may be related to the “Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail” project.  Also, Figure 6?  For the uncertainty today of actual locations of the Indian towns, see Rountree, Powhatan, p. 12; Blanton & King, Contact, pp. 62-64, 69, 71.

 

Bill Moore – Tidewater Musician

Both Warsaw and Tappahannock can claim a little piece of Bill Moore’s fame.

Born in Georgia, William “Bill” Moore was a barber and farmer in Tappahannock, although he also worked across the Rappahannock River in Warsaw in Richmond County.

The following biography by Eugene Chadbourne gives a good look into the life and career of Bill Moore.

Bill Moore
Bill Moore

Half of the recordings done by this artist may have gone the way of Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse, but the eight tracks that were released in the late ’20s and subsequently reissued time and time again easily maintain the reputation of William “Bill” Moore as an elite country blues multi-instrumentalist in the elaborate syncopated East Coast blues or Piedmont blues style. There is also a blues conspiracy theory in which two different people named William Moore actually created the body of work more often attributed to one, yet even in this case the instrumental dexterity of half of them is never questioned.

Historic marker in Tappahannock, VA
Historic marker in Tappahannock, VA

In the ’20s and ’30s, many commercial record labels looked for country blues and classic blues artists to make recordings with. Representation was light on the southeastern seaboard in comparison with other areas of the nation such as Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta. Moore hailed from the so-called tidewater area of Tappahannock, VA, and was enlisted by Paramount in 1928, the project involving his traveling to Chicago in a frozen and frosted January for a single recording session. This event stood in contrast to Moore‘s normal life; he ran several barbershops, the inspiration for his brilliant “Barbershop Rag,” and also made some income as a farmer.

Moore made the most out of his face-off with a microphone: even the most dogmatic of Delta blues devotees will admit that his music is an instance where it is actually worthwhile moving the phonograph out of the cotton fields. Like his contemporaries in the Deep South, Moore‘s performing circuit consisted of events such as house parties, fish fries, and community dances, his repertoire a mixture of traditional songs and ragtime material. Some of the music he performed came out of the minstrel scene, including a pair of ditties written by Irving Jones, a late-19th century black composer and entertainer. Moore‘s abilities on piano, guitar, and fiddle were impressive.

Moore relocated to Warrenton, VA, following the Second World War, remaining there until he died of a heart attack in the early ’50s.

Sherwood Cemetery is the local spot for blues fans to pay their respect to the artist whose initial series of 78s was released first under the name of William Moore, then Bill Moore. This detail along with concerns about vocal styles and what might be simple bookkeeping errors — one of the recorded titles was copyrighted under the names Moore and Williams rather than just plain William Moore — all gave rise to the theory that these were two, two, bluesmen in one.

Ragtime CrazyOnly a collection released by Document entitled Ragtime Blues Guitar (1927-1930) contains all the existing material attributed to Moore. On this and all other sets featuring his material, tracks by similar stylists are also featured, including Blind Blake, one of Moore‘s major influences. Minneapolis traditional blues performer Dave “Snaker” Ray recorded a piece entitled “Rappahannock” for which Moore receives songwriting credit; it is actually a reworking of motifs from Moore‘s recordings, but is not actually one of the titles originally released under his name.

To purchase and download the songs of Bill Moore, visit this link:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/virginia-traditions-tidewater-blues/african-american-folk/music/album/smithsonian

The Architects Newspaper Taps Menokin Glass Project for Best of Design Award

COPIED IN FULL FROM THE ARCHITECTS NEWSPAPER BLOG

2016 Best of Design Award for Unbuilt > On the Boards: The Menokin Project

Joseph McGill and the Slave Dwelling Project

Now that I have the attention of the public by sleeping in extant slave dwellings, it is time to wake up and deliver the message that the people who lived in these structures were not a footnote in American history.

– Joseph McGill, Founder of the Slave Dwelling Project

joseph-mcgill


The Menokin Foundation is pleased to announce that Joseph McGill will be coming to Menokin on September 22, 2017.

Education Coordinator, Alice French, has organized a Sleepover Conference, which will also include Frank Vagnone, international thought leader in innovative and frank-vagnoneentrepreneurial non-profit management and his blog series, One Night Stand.

Make sure to follow us for details of the Sleepover Conference as programming and events are developed.

In the meantime, read about Joseph McGill’s visit to Belle Grove Plantation on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog.


Programs such as the Sleepover Conference are made possible, in part, by the 56 Signers Society of Menokin.

 

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.

headshot
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).

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.