History buffs and genealogical researchers in Bath, Highland and Allegheny will soon have an invaluable tool: a compilation of materials pertaining to the Highlands in libraries and public collections across the country.
Dr. Charles A. Bodie of Lexington gave a fascinating presentation of his work thus far on the compilation to the Bath County Historical Society at its annual meeting Nov. 1. Bodie, who holds a master of arts and doctoral degree in American history from Indiana University, lives in Rockbridge County. He is a church organist in Lexington and, as society president Tom Davies noted, "a man of many talents and many interests." Bodie's prevailing interest is history; he has conducted similar research projects for Gloucester and Rockbridge County.
A frequent visitor to Bath throughout his life, Bodie said he recently discovered his parents' signature on a 1936 guest list at Three Hills [a Warm Springs inn]. "I wondered, is it possible I was conceived in Bath County?" he joked. "But I think it was about three months too early."
Funded in part by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Bodie recently began his research for the historical societies in Bath, Highland and Allegheny.
"I'm looking for old manuscripts and papers relating to the three counties," he explained. "I started right here, in the three counties, rather than going to Richmond. I was very impressed by the work being done in Bath, Allegheny and Highland. Saving history is a minority enterprise, because most people don't care about this type of work."
While Richmond serves as the seat of historical collections relating to Virginia, most of the material there concerns the eastern part of the state. Bodie said, "They've heard of Andrew Lewis, but that's about it."
The $9,000 grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, based in Charlottesville, is the first grant ever awarded in this region. "The foundation really liked this project," Bodie said. "In applying for the grant, I tried to explain that the writing of local history cannot move forward very well unless people know where to look for materials."
His research is limited to "accessible locations -- libraries and other public places, not people's attics. But there is probably more material in private hands than in the libraries, still today." His manuscript research includes correspondence, diaries and other business ledgers.
Bodie dispalyed several "historical nuggets" he has found in Bath and Allegheny. One is a list of home-veterinarian remedies for horses, upon which early settlers were as dependent as today's citizens are upon automobiles. Bodie found the paper booklet from the early 1800's, bound in twine, at the Bath society's museum in Warm Springs; it is a part of the Chester Cleek collection. "When you do historical research, you never know what you are going to find," he said.
One ugly part of the South's history is slavery. Bodie showed two documents about slavery during his presentation. An inventory of the slaves in James Hickman's estate, done in the 1850's, showed that slaves accounted for more than half of the value of his considerable estate. They are listed by first name and age, each with a corresponding value; women of child-bearing age and men in the prime of life were valued at $500-800; a tiny child was valued at one dollar; an elderly woman named Rose had no value whatsoever.
There is also a letter written July 12, 1847 by "Isaac..., a servant of Shanklin McClintic," to a Mr. Lockridge. Isaac pleads with Lockridge to buy him and his wife, because she "will be sold in the fall. If you don't do something for me, I expect there will be a parting," Isaac wrote. "I want you to come and buy us both. If you can, you will do me a great favor."
Bodie also displayed a copy of an 1825 map of Bath, Highland, Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties, traced in 1900 by J.T. Mcallister, a Bath county attorney. "He was my grandfather," noted Jean Randolph Bruns of Warm Springs, who was in the audience.
After the VFH grant was announced in May, Bodie began conducting a mail survey of 100 libraries across the country. He wrote to all in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as the Harvard and Yale libraries, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. "Our stuff from Bath, Highland and Allegheny just gets scattered everywhere," he noted.
Fifty-six libraries responded to Bodie's request. Of those, 15 reported the presence of materials related to the Highlands, or the chance of it, he said. Bodie then began visiting libraries within a day's dirve of Lexington, and also embarked on an intense navigation of the Worldwide Web, or Internet. His visits included libraries at the University of Virginia, Washington & Lee, and William & Mary; the C&O library in Clifton Forge, and the Library of Virginia.
"I found about 300 collections with material on this region," he said, noting that a collection includes one or mroe documents. The greatest collection is at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, which Bodie called "the starship repository for manuscripts in Virginia."
He noted, "It's hard to summarize what I've found; the collections are very diverse. For Bath, of course, there are a lot of materials on inns and hotels; I've found a lot about turnpikes, and the iron and railroad industries were very important. Of course, material on the Civil War is abundant. I've found family trees, business ledgers and inventories, but mostly correspondence."
Bodie's catalogue will include the title, size, and date-range of each document, and a brief description of its contents. "Then I'll organize them and develop an index," he said. "I hope to have everything ready before the year 2000; I call this my pre-millenium project."
At least two public workshops will be scheduled before the project is complete. "The VFH likes to have communications," Bodiue explained. "It is important that this be a community effort." When the first workshop is anounced next spring, people in Bath, Highland and Allegheny will be encouraged to bring their private collections, so they may be included in the available research materials. A later workshop will focus on the management of the materials, and how to assist the public who will use them.
The three historical societies have designated a project committee member: Clay Hamilton will represent Bath, Diane Klein will represent Highland, and Donna Dressler will represent Allegheny.
Bodie is enthusiastic about his undertaking. "Think of the possibilities that these records can open up," hesaids. "They can increase our knowledge of family; it can put families in the context of time, place, occupation, connections to church and school, their legal problems, their concerns. As primary evidence, they can make the telling of history more accurate by refuting falsehoods. It is important to use the raw material -- sometimes we get waylaid by myths and falsehoods; we need this primary evidence. We need to know a lot more about people who lived here. We need to know more about how they made a living, about business, and their children, about the practice of slavery."
Bodie concluded, "Investigating and writing history puts a person in company of many others who value the preservation of text; it's as important as saving an old builidin, or excavating a site ... We need to remind people that there was once a world that moved more slowly; a world of horse travel, muddy roads, physical discomforts ... It's a time when our country was younger; when patriotic traits were not an embarrassment; when people were buoyed by a sense of optimism, and found politics exciting. This work can connect us to this time, which has much to teach us still."