According to the 1850 federal census William H. Clopton was a farmer in Charles City County, Virginia. He is also believed to be yrmama’s first cousin, eight times removed up. The original Clopton property there along Black Creek was called Roslyn, and just down the road were the Tyler place, called Sherwood Forest, and my cousin William Clopton’s plantation, Selwood. And by “Tyler” I mean former President John Tyler, and his second wife, Julia. John Tyler’s occupation is listed on the census form as “farmer,” just like William; aw shucks.
Highlights from yrmama’s William H. Clopton Research
On June 29, 1849, William was in court for the trial of one of his slaves, 20 year old Nancy Willis, who was accused and convicted of the felony of setting fire to William Gibson’s house in Richmond. She was transported to the penitentiary and eventually executed by hanging (from the neck until dead, they always specify that) on Friday, the 24th of August 1849. Part of the court proceeding in June was a determination of her monetary value, so that William could be fairly reimbursed. The six justices present each said how much they thought she would bring if sold with public knowledge of her guilt. Then they added up their numbers and divided by six…William was paid $491.66 for Nancy.
You might ask, “yrmama, how does this make you feel?” How do I feel about this? How do you THINK I feel about this? Geez o Pete.
yrmama also found another legal document concerning William H. from about fifteen years later. It is “Record of Slaves Who Have Escaped to the Enemy During the War” from the Commissioner of Revenue for Charles City County. As in, you shouldn’t be liable for paying personal property tax on people who have run away from you to join the Union Army. On 4 April, 1862 these individuals escaped from Selwood: Willis (60), Marston (43), George (37), Jessy (28), Lewis (28), Peter (48) and John (40). I bet old William was pissed. I also wonder if sixty year old Willis might be related to Nancy Willis from the first case.
Phew. Second installment on the way. Gotta let this settle. God bless all their souls.
One of my seventh great grandfathers was named William Clopton. He was born in Eastwood, Essex County, England in 1655 to Rev. Robert Clopton and Mary Sutcliffe. A preacher’s kid, the Clopton Chronicles suggests that he left home first for London, to escape the Puritan atmosphere of home, and then on across to Virginia.
In Virginia, about 1680, he married a widow, Ann Booth Dennett whose father was Dr. Robert Booth, an early resident of Jamestown. In her book, Jamestown Brides, Jennifer Potter describes how marrying a wealthy widow was desirable to the “planters” arriving in Virginia from England because they came with their late husband’s wealth. They generally got snapped up before the maidens.
Ann and William had five children; Anne, Elizabeth, Robert, William and Walter. Ann’s first husband, Thomas Dennett left a will that names four children that Ann had with him; Anne, John, Sarah and Elinor – it’s kind of weird to me that those don’t aren’t mentioned again in any Clopton records. Was eschewing her Dennett children part of the marriage bargain? I guess supporting four children would put a dent in whatever wealth she brought to their alliance. Did those kids stay around but not get mentioned because they weren’t bloodline Cloptons? Did they stay with their father’s side of the family? Does that reflect badly on William? On Ann? On the Dennetts? Whose decision was it?
William and Ann lived in New Kent County, in St. Peter’s Parish. William was a vestry man at St. Peter’s Church and served as the clerk of the Vestry for many years until he begged off due to debility. He was appointed “surveior of the highwayes” and authorized to collect “tithables” from people to defray the cost of the work. He also collected the tithes for the church – apportioned at one time as 84 pounds of tobacco from each head of household – I think tobacco was commonly used as currency. The church budgets list various costs, including paying parishioners to keep people who could not provide for themselves, like “ancient” people, the sick and lame, or “a Bastard child” and it’s mother.
William Clopton enslaved people, I assume to grow tobacco and work in the house. The St. Peter’s Parish Register, records births, deaths and marriages. Many enslaved babies are included with a first name, their birthdates and baptism dates like this list:
Nane, negro of Wm. Clopton born 29 April, 1704
Jno, negro of Wm. Clopton baptized June 25, 1710
—-bin, negro of Wm. Clopton born June 6, 1706
——, negro of Wm. Clopton born May 8th, 1707
——, negro of Wm. Clopton born May 30th, 1713
——, negro of Wm. Clopton ———–
(Of course this Wm. Clopton is also in the right time frame to be his son, William Clopton.)
There are two main farms that were owned by this part of the Clopton family. The original Clopton home place, which at some point came to be a plantation called Callowell, was west of Crump’s Mill, which is on the southern branch of Black Creek. According to Malcolm Harris there were remains of a stone and brick cellar in the 1970s. Apparently there is a large cemetery there but the stones are hard or impossible to read. Here is a real estate ad from 1857:
The other property associated with this immediate family was called Roslyn. It was farther west and near the border of Hanover County. In the mid 1800s it was the site of a mission church called St. James, established there by St. Peters Parish. The St. Peter’s Parish website describes it as being between present day Orapax Farms (Dispatch Road) and the Chickahominy River. There are large ancient oak trees but no buildings. In Old New Kent County, Harris describes it as having been half a mile east of where Cattail swamp comes off Black Creek. My excellent Google Maps skills show these two do coincide.
William and Co., for a few generations, (I’m mostly following the descendency of his oldest son Robert, my sixth ggggggreat grandfather) kept buying up more land and the 1850 census shows that the ante bellum Cloptons living at Roslyn, or “Clopton Estates,” owned about 4,000 acres. William Clopton, the immigrant, died about 1732 and is buried with Ann Dennett Booth in the churchyard of St. Peter’s.
Here finally is my punchline: You know the Clopton men were not out there hoeing and harvesting 4,000 acres, or even the 400 they held at Roslyn. Marx said that workers create all wealth. Would that wealth have been created without the Clopton bosses, bossing it into being? What kind of twisted koan is that? If William Clopton and his descendants had not been so determined to keep giving everyone in the neighborhood the same couple of names, over and over and over, it would be more possible to determine which ones enslaved how many people. But I think it is fair to lump all those Williams and Roberts who lived in the same decades together and say that as a group they owned the people whose names I shared here. According to the 1850 Slave Schedules the Cloptons in New Kent County enslaved 42 people, and one of those owners was a four year old boy. In 1860 it was 29. I figure that represents the people enslaved at Roslyn and Callowell.
Jamestown Brides; The Story of Englands “Maids for Virginia,” by Jennifer Potter 2019
Old New Kent County (Virginia); Some Account of Some of the Planters, Plantations, Places, by Malcolm Harris 1977
The Clopton Chronicles, a Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society. rootsweb.com
The Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent and James City Counties, Virginia, 1684-1786. Richmond, Virginia Library Board, 1937.
yrmama is not a cat person but I have two new, very wild barn kittens. Four eyes peer down warily from the rafters as I faithfully pour out the kitten chow day after day. The larger gray one, William Clopton, now meows at me when I first come in and I don’t know what that means.
Any child who ever tells you they will take full responsibility for an animal doesn’t know what they are talking about and should not be believed. That animal will ALWAYS become yours. yrmama is really allergic to cats so it was one of my thirty two daughters who decided to bring the kittens here. yrmama is no dummy and knew giving permission made for a 93% chance that they would be her barn kittens, and now, since that daughter is completely AWOL from the barn, they are entirely mine. They are destined to remain wild too because yrmama’s already busy (thanks C19!) respiratory and immune systems don’t allow much time with them. But the kitten’s wildness is part of their appeal. This is what it would be like to be luring fox kits, or baby skunks in to eat. (If there is a de-stunk baby skunk that needs a barn to eat cat chow in – call me.)
I have been trying to position the food bowl so that I can see their little butts when they eat, but it doesn’t work so I don’t know their sexes. And it doesn’t matter, since I’m going to trap them one of these days and take them to be neutered rendering kitty gender a completely moot point.
In the meantime I have bestowed genderless names on the kittens in honor of my ancestors who believed that as many people as possible should be named William Clopton in order to bamboozle future genealogists. The big gray one is William Clopton. It’s eyes are a bit too close together which creates a resemblance to Rod Blagojevich. The smaller kitten has front paws that were put on at the wrong angle and has slightly shortened front legs, maybe a form of kittie dwarfism. Consequently, it sits back on it’s haunches with it’s front paws crossed over it’s chest, like a rabbit. Or a kangaroo. Or a T-Rex. My ancestor’s second favorite name was Robert Clopton. This cat’s additional degree of cuteness led me to cute-ify “Robert” a bit, so I call it Bobert Clopton. Bobert might not be able to hunt as well as William Clopton but gets around just fine.
Dorothy, my maternal grandmother, knew what to do when someone was taking her picture. This was not due to the Gladwellian 10,000 hours of practice put in by modern girls, but because her uncle was a professional photographer. There are lovely portraits of her from the time she could stand where she’s popping out some version of this: face the camera, line your left heel up with the instep of your right foot, tip your head just a hair towards the outstretched toe, then find an arm position and facial expression to match the occasion. Here, that being some boy about to give her a corsage. The bob! The shoes! The gorgeous dresses they got to wear in the 1920s!
This mirror selfie approximation of the pose took about 30 tries and I’m not even kidding. It’s the best I could do. Grandmother’s foot trick is subtle, brilliant and surprisingly hard to not over play. Turns out the rest of it requires standing up very straight and then relaxing your shoulders and neck so that your head just sits there. Who knew. Today’s fashion statement involves second hand, black Old Navy jeans, the same brown belt I wear every day, a scoop-neck Patagonia t shirt and a DIY cardigan. If you have a tightly knit sweater you are tired of, or that makes you sweat too much, you can find a pair of scissors, slice it up the front and voila; a cardigan. No, it does not unravel into a big mess. I’ve committed this wanton act of creativity many times and your should too.
In the photo above, taken in the late 1960’s perhaps by my father, we have the adorable baby yrmama surrounded by her grandma, mother, brother and grandpa. Grandma was a figure larger than life – affectionate, bossy, and very hardworking. No one in this photo is very comfortable in front of a camera except, it appears, Grandpa. Baby yrmama doesn’t care much either way about the camera but hates the way her mother and brother are holding on to her lest she bust out in unruliness. Ha. Little did they know about who they were dealing with, literally.
In the photo to the right we have full-grown yrmama. Today’s hairstyle was achieved with a big old handful of mousse and a nice long wall squat under the hand drier in the pool locker room. yrmama was blessed with teflon hair that rarely needs combing and I’m not even kidding. A secondhand magenta madras shirt is layered under a rust sweater that yrmama actually bought off the rack at Target when she went to a genealogy conference and found she had not packed warm enough clothes for scouring the nearby graveyards for familiar names. That strategic clashing creates a nice glow, don’t you think?
I’m now more or less the same age Grandma was in the first photo and I think I look something like her. My life is very different than Grandma’s but like her I am very hard-working and very bossy. I’d like to say I’m as affectionate as she was but I’m not sure it’s true.
I have three daughters who always look terrific in photos whereas I usually look apologetic. I remember a time when I could not stand to look in a mirror with someone. I just didn’t have the confidence to see what I looked like while someone else was looking at me too. My daughters all spent a good portion of their adolesences practicing what to do when a camera shows up. They can effortlessly “find their light,” strike the pose, flip the hair, tilt the head, jut the hip, tip the chin and exude confidence.
I don’t really know what I look like. I’m always surprised by mirrors and photos and unpredictable reflections. Photos confuse me because I look like I’m trapped inside an unfamiliar voluptuous mound of flesh. That effect is especially highlighted if I’m caught sitting in a chair, trying desperately to look tall, thin and blond and perhaps not even there. My son, who was born looking like a super model and never even had to practice, recently took a brilliant photo of himself on the beach with me in my bikini, sitting in one of those painful cloth folding chairs. Good God. In some photos my face sags, like a gravity burst is sucking the joy out of me. I look like one of those droopy-eyed dogs. Sometimes I look like my mother. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the photo is of me or my oldest daughter.
In the past few years illness has messed dramatically with my size, from normal (the way I’ve always been, the size and shape I was from high school through my late 40’s) to way too skinny, to normal again and then shooting past that to mildly plump. Every time my clothes don’t fit I give them away and restock in my new size at Crowded Closet and Goodwill. Resultingly, there’s hardly anything I’ve worn for years like I think most people have, clothes in which I might feel nostalgia, or like my same old self. I pull a hanger from the stuffed rack at Goodwill and think, “omg, that’s huge,” when it’s actually my size. When I was too skinny the shorts my size seemed impossible so I tried to make slightly larger, reasonable sizes, work and they literally fell off my narrow butt.
So, I’m practicing. Maybe I’ll watch some instructional videos on how to look like myself in a photo. Meanwhile, I’m becoming very clear on the fact that this corporeal form of energy pressed into matter that is my vehicle through this lifetime is just that. It’s doing a fine job of helping me hurtle through space and time. I like it! Now, if I can just learn to seemyself in it as the molecules get switched out for new ones and the pattern continues to break down (aka aging) I will have won.
Do you remember the feeling of falling? There is a moment when you’re running downhill gleefully, thrilled at the sensation of your feel moving faster than you ever expected yet keeping everything balanced over them. Then a falter, either your feet can no longer keep up and don’t lift in time to match the momentum of your body, or the crystals of your inner ear are sloshing so hard that they can’t tell you where you are in space anymore. There’s a moment when when a voice that sounds like yours says, “I’m going down,” and then you surrender and fall and it feels just like falling in a dream.
Gravity is incredible. Your body, which normally teeters giddily upright meets the ground with incredible force. You and the earth that you are normally dancing lightly atop, slam together, like monster magnets.
How to not fall: Sit very very still in a bomb-proof chair. Do not bend over and then straighten back up. Do not lean back casually against anything solid-seeming, like a bookcase. Do not think about what you will be doing a few seconds from now or how to answer a companion’s question – STAY IN THE MOMENT! Sit on the top step and bump your way slowly down on your butt. If you must leave the house hang on tight to your friend’s arm until you are back to the bomb-proof chair. Meanwhile, undertake a precise, strenuous program of corrective exercise and DO NOT STOP until you are in peak physical form. Simultaneously and systematically optimize your balance and coordination. Get your act together! Meditate more. Regulate your emotions. Modulate your blood pressure and liver enzymes with Brain Power. I know you can do it. You can succeed. You are all that. And More.
What do you do when unfathomable, meaningless sadness, lands on you; a sagging, wet weight on your chest? As though one of those giant slabs of old snow slides down from a steep roof in a way that knocks you off your feet and pins you there on the salty sidewalk. Or if you have dragged yourself into town to run some errands and while you are waiting for permission to cross the intersection a delivery truck drops a tire into the huge pothole of black slush that has nowhere to go because the storm drains are clogged with ice and the vomit of undergrads, and it drenches you from neck to knees.
Move to Arizona and cry near a sunny golf course? Go see your therapist so you can whimper without dignity in that big puffy chair? Go about your business, stumbling and weepy and when kind people ask if you are okay you whisper, “no?” Do you remember that alcohol with ultimately make you sadder (but will it?) and is comprised of ruinous but otherwise empty calories, but you drink a little too much anyway? Do you take up smoking? Or maybe you are the type who can express yourself through your artwork. Geez. Go for a run? Again, geez. If that works for you, fine.