29 August 2010
Every year for the last 10 years, the good people of Burkville, Alabama have gathered for an annual celebration of “the people’s vegetable.”
Burkville is a very small community in Lowndes County. It is just down the road from Montgomery, on the way to the county seat at Hayneville. The festival, which attracts hundreds of people on the last weekend in August, is very much like a big house party where neighbors gather to “chew the fat.” There is food, music, mule wagon rides for the children and a wonderful collection of art in Annie Mae’s Place. Every possible permutation of okra is available, from gumbo pots to pickled delicacies.
I was supposed to do a genealogy workshop, but that didn’t work out. I couldn’t compete with the soulful blues being belted out by Sonny Boy King!
By way of history, gumbo is the African name for what we call okra. It was brought to the North American continent by slave ships. Originating in what is now Ethiopia, the word is thought to derive from “quillobo,” which is the indigenous name for the okra plant in central Africa. The words “Gumbo” and “Callaloo” are often used to describe something that is mixed up. This is, no doubt, how the dish so many of us love got it’s name.
In case you didn’t know, okra has many healthful attributes.
It lowers bad cholesterol and keeps the intestinal track clean, which reduces the risks of heart disease and colorectal cancer.
For those of you who turn up your nose at okra’s sliminess, I have a proven method for eliminating it. Just trim the okra above the line between the cap and the pod then soak it in lemon juice before cooking.
There are many other communities that have okra festivals, including Mobile, New Orleans and Birmingham. But the fun for me is in Burkville, which is nearest to my ancestral roots.
For more information on the festival, go to http://www.okrafestival.org/home.html and start planning your trip for next year!
24 August 2010
I succeeded in finding the grave of James E. Leslie, the man I believe sired my great-grandfather, Tom Leslie.
Born in 1823 in North Carolina, James migrated sometime before 1850 to Lowndes County, Alabama. He operated a blacksmith shop in Hayneville and lived about 17 miles from town in the Braggs community. In 1875, he died.
The Leslie family plot is in the New Bethel cemetery on County Road 7. James’ wife, Elizabeth Farley Leslie, is there along with three of their children: Elizabeth, William and Jane. His first wife, Martha Ann Betterton, whom James married in 1848 when she was 12 years old, is no where to be found. And, unfortunately, the gravestone that covers James is overturned and so embedded in the ground, I couldn’t turn it over to read it.
Throughout the day, I tried to put myself in the mindset of a person living in 1850. Gazing upon the verdant fields of Lowndes County, it is easy to fantasize on the times. In my mind’s eye, I can see the cotton fields. I reconstruct a modest little house of white clapboard where the Leslie’s live. James is riding his horse into Hayneville, where he lives and works during the week. Elizabeth is at home, minding the children.
In the midst of all this bucolic beauty, I wonder where my relatives are? Is Tom picking cotton?
The 1850 Federal census says James was in possession of a 30 year old female slave. Was that Tom’s mother? By 1860, James was no longer a slaveholder. Did he sell her… and their son?
Clearly, there are many more mysteries to explore.
21 August 2010
The signs throughout the countryside tell you to “Keep Alabama The Beautiful” and, indeed, Alabama is that … one beautiful state. It’s natural bounty includes lush green rolling hills and pastures; a multitude of lakes and rivers; healthy livestock – cows, sheep and horses — grazing the land. Even though the corn fields this year are burnt from heat and drought, there is an abundance of budding cotton.
I spent the day touring the back roads of Lowndes County, the birthplace of my great-grandfather, Tom Leslie. According to the records I have, Tom was born in this place sometime around 1850. My father told me he left slavery with Rhoda Reeves, who later became his wife and the mother of his children, which included my grandfather, Robert Leslie. Tom died in 1939 in Montgomery, which is about 20 miles from Hayneville, the county seat.
As I drove through the town square in Hayneville, I saw a weathered old man sitting under a canopy. His pick-up truck was parked nearby, loaded with big bags of sweet potatoes. He was selling but the bags were too big for me to buy and put to good use (sigh). Further on, my nose was tantalized by the pungent smell of watermelon permeating the air.
On a lark, I stopped for lunch as soon as I noticed the ”Deerwoods BBQ” restaurant, just off the square. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to find an African American man at the counter, obviously the owner. He presided over a soulfood buffet that whetted my appetite beyond control. His pleasant repartee made me feel right at home.
I sat down to enjoy a plate of fried chicken wings, butter beans cooked with okra over fluffy white rice; a side of candied sweet potatoes and cornbread muffins. I washed it all down with a big glass of iced sweet tea. As I glanced around the dining room, I couldn’t help but appreciate the sign that read “Bless All Who Enter,” feeling supremely blessed to have found such a tasty repast in such a lovely place so rife with familial ties and historical significance.
19 August 2010
This is Nemo. He is my road dog.
As I pack up the car and prepare to get on the the road for the first leg of my genealogy adventure, Nemo senses the excitement in the air. He’s ready to roll — as am I.
First stop is Clarksville Tennessee where we will overnight with fellow genealogy buff, Lawson Mabry. The Mabry family I am visiting are distantly related to my Leslie ancestors. They provided numerous historical documents that have contributed greatly to my work.
It’s a six hour drive to Clarksville. That’s almost halfway to my final destination in Alabama.
I expect that Nemo will be, as he always is, patient and calm. He will recline in his cushy bed, strategically positioned on the passenger seat. We will stop every couple of hours to hydrate and potty. Hopefully, I won’t bore him with my random chatter
18 August 2010
I am getting ready to hit the road tomorrow for my annual genealogy adventure. I am headed to previously unvisited counties in Alabama and (if my strength holds out) Mississippi. Between now and Labor Day, I expect to drive about 2500 miles.
There is one side of my family that I feel I have been neglecting lately — the paternal LESLIE clan. So I shall be focusing on them this year. One of my goals is locating the cemetery in which I believe the progenitor of my Leslie surname rests. That would be James E. Leslie, who is buried in New Bethel Cemetery in Lowndes County.
James was the local blacksmith circa 1850 when my GGrandfather was born. In the 1850 census, he’s listed with one female slave. Can’t read whether her age is 50 or 30. I’m betting 30 and that she might be my GGrandmother. There was no housing listed for her on the slave schedule, so she would have been in the house with the 27 year old bachelor James.
Last year, my efforts were rewarded with finding a probate document in the Dallas County courthouse that appears to list my great grandfather (“”boy Tom”) and his mother (“woman Harriett”) as part of the estate inventory associated with Thomas Reeves. Tom was valued at $1000, Harriett at $400.
Every time I see one of these references, I am reminded of just how strong our ancestors were. If not for them, I could not be.
And so, I’m off to seek the wizard… the yellow brick road will lead me to Lowndes County, Alabama. I will click the heels of my ruby red shoes together if I get in trouble