by Alice French, Menokin Education Coordinator
It’s funny when you work at an historical site how people always assume that because it’s old, all of its past is known and there is nothing new to discover. Of course, we are famous at Menokin for disproving that year after year and this past year we again learned something new about the people who lived here.
A few years back, I visited a local senior living facility in Richmond County to give a presentation on Menokin and spoke about how we tell stories. I was interested in developing an oral history program related to our county’s past, and I was looking for a place to begin. After chatting with the group for a bit, one of the women told us she thought her grandfather, Daniel Gordon, was born a slave at Menokin and then freed under the Emancipation Act. She is his granddaughter, Evelyn Gordon Parker, still a Richmond County resident, who also writes for the Northern Neck News. Wow, I thought. How amazing is that? She told me she had visited Menokin once before, and a few weeks later, returned with some photographs of her family, including one of her grandfather and grandmother.
This past winter, I visited with Evelyn and her sister, Juanita Gordon Wells to record and document some of their memories. Her grandfather has an amazing story, which I shall wait to share in a later post. But for now, I think the other really cool thing is how we learn about our past. This man raised his family with very strong values of faith, family and education. Over the years, the pride and strength of these values were instilled in one generation after another. And sometimes there are parts of history that are known better within families through oral traditions than are found in courthouse records. In 2011, The Gordons published a cookbook, recounting their early roots as well as family recipes.
Evelyn’s brother, Thomas Daniel Gordon, was interested in recording the family history and established the first family reunion in 1979. These reunions continue to grow. They have traced their relatives all over North America with family members all the way up to Halifax, Nova Scotia! Each time the family meets, they travel to a different location and this summer of 2016, the Gordon Family will be coming back to Virginia! We have invited them to visit Menokin for a special family tour.
As a result of our chance meeting, Menokin has since begun to further document the history of the Gordons. I hope to tell their story in ways that can help others discover and understand their past through video and classroom experiences, and continue to explore the lives of other Northern Neck residents. We are also seeking research assistance from a graduate student to help complete the missing links in their phenomenal story and see this as a great opportunity to develop an ongoing digital history for the future.
Thank you, Evelyn and Juanita, for helping us begin this exciting work.