I saw that big, block of a white house, but I didn’t know what I was looking at. And, really, I wasn’t even much looking at it, because my whole attention was zeroed on a small building a couple hundred feet beside and behind it. A one and-a-half story log cabin sitting on fieldstone piers, mud-chinked, with small windows in the gable ends and central front door. In pristine condition. What was this?
I turned to P.P., who shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I don’t even want to say this,” she started, “but it’s true. It’s just so ugly.”
“Please do. Please do,” I urged.
“Well, the official story is that’s where the Daltons lived while they were building the house.”
The house — oh. This was Daltonia.
“But that log cabin was Anse Dalton’s house.”
Wait. “Anse Dalton!? Anderson Dalton? That was — he was the father of my great-grandfather Lon W. Colvert‘s first wife, Josephine.”
“Yes, well, after the War, he was a driver for the Daltons. But in slavery …”
Yes? “In slavery, he was a — I hate to say it — he was used to breed slaves. That’s what they called this — ‘the slave farm.'”
I sat with that for a minute.
“It’s terrible,” she continued. “They thought, just like you can disposition an animal, you could breed people with certain traits. He had I-don’t-know-how-many children.”
I knew about slave breeding, of course. About the sexual coercion of both enslaved men and women, particularly in the Upper South. I’ve read slave narratives that speak of “stockmen,” but never expected to encounter one in my research. I thanked P.P. for her openness, for her willingness to share the stories that so often remain locked away from African-American descendants of enslaved people. Not long ago, I started working on a “collateral kin” post about the Daltons. I knew Josephine Dalton was born about 1878 to Anderson and Viney (or Vincey) Dalton; that her siblings included Andrew (1863), Mary Bell (1876), Millard (1880), Lizzie (1885) and Emma (1890); and that she was from the Harmony/Houstonville area. I’d stumbled upon articles about Daltonia and had conjectured that her parents had belonged to wealthy farmer John Hunter Dalton. I’d set the piece aside for a while though, because I had no specific evidence of the link beyond a shared surname. However, here was an oral history that not only placed Josephine’s father among Dalton’s slaves, but detailed the specific role he was forced to play in Daltonia’s economic and social structure.
P.P. did not know Anse Dalton, but Anse’s son Millard and her grandfather had grown up together. P.P. was reared in her grandfather’s household and vividly recalled Millard Dalton riding up to visit on his old white horse. “You can have her till I go home,” he’d tell her as he handed off the reins.
I can finish my Dalton piece now. Though I will never know the names of the children that Anderson fathered as a “stockman,” genealogical DNA testing may yet tell the tale, and I have a clearer picture of Josephine Dalton Colvert’s family and early life.
Photographs taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2015.