Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Totten Family: Making Molasses 1983

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"The County Visits"

"Making Molasses: An Age-Old Art"

When the wintry winds blow and the snow falls in the month of February, what could be more appealing than a big plate of steaming hot pancakes for breakfast, lathered with butter and covered with molasses? Not the usual kind of molasses you find n a store, mind you, but the rich, dark, homemade kind -- that kind made by the Waymon Totten family of Yanceyville.

The growing of sugar cane for the making of molasses has been known for centuries, and the Totten family uses that knowledge to the fullest. Every few years, the whole family -- Waymon and Beatrice, and sons Tommy, Henry, Otis, Robert, Waymon and J. C. -- gather together for the pleasant ritual of boiling down cane sap to make the molasses.

The process is a simple one, but one that takes considerable time from start to finish. Beginning in mid-fall with a cane field grown on the family's farm, it takes at least seven or eight hours for the process to be completed.

The first step is to cut the cane and strip it of its dry outer covering, which later will be used for livestock feed. A tractor is then connected to an ancient cane press, into which the cane stalks are slowly fed. The press crushes the sap from the cane, and it runs, green and foaming, into a large tub placed at the bottom of the press.

Up to fifty gallons of the sap is collected before it is poured through a burlap bag strainer into a large boiling tub, roughly three feet by seven feet, and two feet deep. Underneath the boiling tub is a pit, in which a fire is built and fed with hickory or oak slabs. The fire must be watched constantly during the boiling process, lest the molasses be damaged by a fire too hot or too cool.

The sap is cooked in the boiling tub for five hours or so, the cook watching carefully as the green, thin sap turns slowly into thick brown molasses. The sap must be stirred constantly during the cook process to avoid scalding, and the cook and his helpers stand close by with long ladles skimming the green foam from the top of the sap as it forms. To leave the foam on the sap would cause the molasses to be bitter instead of sweet.

After the sap has been cooked for the required length of time, it has developed just the right consistency and color for true homemade molasses. It is then poured quickly into glass containers and left to stand, a thick, dark green foam rising to the tops of the containers. Unlike the foam that was skimmed from the top of the molasses while cooking, this foam is sweet as sugar itself, and is later drawn off to provide the base ingredient for "molasses pudding," which is served as a dessert.

The finished molasses has a long shelf life, and jars of the homemade sweetener have been known to sit on a shelf for ten years or more, only to have the same fresh taste when opened as the day it was bottled.

In a good growing year, a cane crop such as grown on the Totten farm could provide up to 100 gallons of molasses, which is then divided up among the members of the family. Some of each batch is sold to non-family members, but the Totten family doesn't make a business of supplying the old-fashioned concoction for profit.

To watch the making of molasses in this traditional way is to be temporarily transported into another time, a time when everyone joined together at harvest time to work together in providing food for their families for the coming year. One would notice, too, that the cooking of molasses provides more than just an edible product. It provides a chance for socializing, for sharing the days news, and spinning tall tales.

Yes, while such social events as taffy pulls, barn-raisings and quilting bees have largely disappeared from the scene, one such event is kept alive by the Totten family of Yanceyville, who, as makers of homemade molasses, have kept an age-old art and made it a part of their lives.

Source: "Making Molasses: An Age-Old Art." The County Magazine, February 1983, Pages 8-9. Print.

Photograph: James Waymon Totten (1910-2002) and wife Beatrice Williamson Totten (1914-2001) displaying jugs of molasses made in 1983 on their Caswell County farm.

Frogsboro, Caswell County, North Carolina

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Frogsboro is an unincorporated community in Caswell County, North Carolina. However, the origin of the name "Frogsboro" was long a mystery. Many speculated, and reasonably so, that it had something to do with frogs, but until recently the full story was not known.

According to Caswell County resident Donald Hightower, the following explains the name given to the Caswell County "Frogsboro" community:

"There was a frog pond on Warren Wade's farm that in later years was enlarged. However, some viewed it as an over-size mud hole! One could hear the bull frogs croaking, often resulting in some large and tasty frog legs. The frog pond remains today, across the highway from the Old Lea Bethel Baptist Church.

"This is what I was told many times by the older men that lived around Frogsboro. Back in the day, I enjoyed sitting around and listening to them talk: Floyd Harris; Warren Wade; Earnest Rudd; Speck Thaxton; Tom Fitch; and Shorty Hightower (my father). Those men knew a lot of Caswell County history."

Dated: September 12, 2016

1. Robert Warren Wade (1920-2006)
2. Floyd Owen Harris (1912-2007)
3. Ernest Rufus Rudd (1913-2002)
4. Henry (Speck) Thaxton (1926-1993)
5. Thomas Fitch
6. Daniel Lorenza (Shorty) Hightower (1909-1974)

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Courthouse Fire Made Many Heroes

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"The County History: Courthouse Fire Made Many Heroes" by Joshua Durham

The old Caswell County courthouse stands like a silent sentinel, overlooking the public square in Yanceyville. Built just prior to the Civil War by free and slave labor, the old structure has been the scene of many important and intriguing trials, and to most residents of Caswell County, stands as a reminder of the many-faceted history of Caswell.

But, without the hard and fast work of a few courageous men in 1952, the old courthouse could have been lost forever, the victim of a flash fire!

The morning of March 13, 1952 dawned cool and clear, and people went about their business in Yanceyville as usual, not suspecting that the day was going to be one for the history books.

Around ten o'clock that morning someone spotted a small column of smoke drifting from under the eave of the courthouse, on the southeast corner of the roof. This small column soon turned into a billowing cloud of thick, dark smoke. A call was put in for the Yanceyville volunteer fire department, then the only such department in the county, and firemen soon arrived on the scene.

An attempt was made to enter the attic of the courthouse through a doorway located at the top of the winding staircase in the front of the building, but without modern breathing apparatus, the firemen were forced back down.

Friday, September 09, 2016

1940 Caswell County Community and Neighborhood Grouping

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Community and Neighborhood Grouping of White Population Caswell County, North Carolina (1940)

In 1940 the Caswell County Land Use Planning Commission cooperated with the United States Bureau of Agricultural Economics in a "reconnaissance survey" of neighborhoods and communities in the county as the first step in discovering groupings of rural people which would provide the basis for the organization of community land use planning. By on the spot observations and by informal interviews it was discovered that there were forty nine fairly well defined large communities. These were determined in some cases by voting districts, consolidated school districts, and the topography of the area.

The communities were Anderson, Cobb's School, Dan River, Hightowers, Leasburg, Milton, Pelham, Stoney Creek, and Yanceyville. There were, of course, a great many more. At least forty-five places with their own distinctive names can be identified today on a map.

Source: Powell, William S. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977. Durham: Moore Publishing Company, 1977. Pages 316-317. Print.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Milton High School Life (March 1, 1920)

Milton High School Life (March 1, 1920). Click on pages to see a larger image. Milton High School Life (March 1, 1920)

Note the possibility that the Editor, Graves Satterfield, is Mary Graves Satterfield (1902-1955), who married Waller Rhodes Morton. She apparently came by the name Graves from her maternal grandmother, Mary John Graves (1849-1962). And, she had Graves ancestors on both the maternal and paternal sides of her family. She is a second-great granddaughter of Bartlett Yancey, Jr.

John A. Tucker, Assistant Editor, most likely is John Archibald Tucker (1903-1970), a Caswell County lawyer who never married, became ill and destitute, and spent part of his last years in the Caswell County Home. Like Mary Graves Satterfield, he also was a Graves descendant. His mother is Dora Belle Graves (1867-1918). 

James T. Holt, Business Manager, probably is James Thomas Holt (1899-1998). He is the son of Calvin Lea Holt and Lucy Jane Dodson Holt, and had a long teaching career.

Winnie Taylor, Joke Editor, probably is Winnie Taylor (1904-1985), who married Delmas Dodson Chandler and was a much-loved Caswell County elementary teacher.

 Moorman Dalton, Sporting Editor, probably is Moorman Acuff Dalton (1902-1988). He was born in Virginia, son of William Douglas Dalton and Lucy Custis Goad.

 Cartoonist Joe Tucker probably is Joseph Conrad (Joe) Tucker (1905-1954), son of Dr. Frederick Preston Tucker, M.D., and Jennie Charlotte Hanes. He became an artist and lived in Washington, D.C.

"Death of Mrs. Hattie Connally"

This is Hattie Verona Paylor Connally (1861-1920), daughter of William C. Paylor, Jr., and Susan B. Williams. In 1882, she married William Hundley Connally (1852-1898). They had at least seven children. She rests at Cedars Cemetery in Milton, NC.

Note the High School Honor Roll: Eunice Barker, Rebekah Lipscomb, Bee McMullan, Ella Satterfield, Ila Warren, Ruth Oliver, James Holt, James Gillespie, Ernest Gillespie, Aubrey Pinchback, Gilbert Gillespie, and Julian Satterfield.

 Note advertisements by:

1. The Caswell County News
2. J. J. Lipscomb
3. Milton Mill Company
4. Lewis Walker, Druggist
5. W. T. Oliver
6. R. L. Dixon
7. W. L. Thomas & Sons
8. M. C. Winstead, Attorney at Law
9. James A. Hurdle, Dentist

In 1920, James H. Evans (born 1851) was owner and editor of "The Caswell County News" (Milton, NC). Click on photo to see a larger image.

The following is from "Milton High School Life" (March 1, 1920):
"James. H. Evans: Owner and Editor of The Caswell County News, a representative Caswell county newspaper and Milton's big modern job printing plant -- Equipped to print anything and everything right.
"Biggest, Largest, Most Far Reaching Industrial Enterprise Ever Operated in Caswell county."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Caswell County Men's Group

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First Row (Seated): Thomas Scott Allen (1918-1988); Jack Lea Pointer (1925-1995); Walter Giles (Pete) Nichols (1919-1991); John Martin Scott (1915-2004); Melvin Grady Gusler (1925-2004).

Second Row (Standing): Unidentified; John Foster Pointer (1920-1999); Unidentified; Luther Price Hudson (1905-1977); Unidentified; Unidentified.

Photograph courtesy Jean Bradsher Scott.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Diary of Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (1825-1883)

Diary of Reverend John Sharshall Grasty

The Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (1825-1883) is the son of Philip Lightfoot Grasty and Jane White Clark Grasty of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He attended the University of North Carolina, 1842-1843, obtained a license to practice law in 1844, and settled at Henry Court House, Virginia.

After a single entry of February 28, 1843, the diaries begin with irregular entries from January through December, 1844, when Grasty was nineteen years old. Daily entries begin in January, 1845, and continue through 1850. During this period he practiced law in Henry County, Virginia, attended Union Seminary in Farmville, Virginia, and early in 1849 was called to the Presbyterian Church in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina.

The entries record his interest in law, religion, reading, conversation, phrenology, the temperance movement, courtship and marriage, visiting and "taking tea," backgammon, etc. Between the entries for September 27 and June 10, 1847, are a number of outlines for sermons. Generally there is little elaboration in the journal comments, although occasionally a remark on religion or courtship will be extended.

A typical entry is that of April 7, 1849:

"Walked up to Dr. Roane's--he and myself came down street--spoke of Miss Galloway, etc. I read Autobiography of Goethe--after dinner went down to Mr. Johnson's store--got Rice on Phrenology--went up to Dr. Roane's. Dr. Jones, Mr. Henderson and myself conversed--I then attended prayer meeting. I then went to McAlpin's store-then took a walk--after tea read Scottish tales."

There are passing references to many persons from prominent families in Caswell County, North Carolina, and in Danville, Virginia, where he frequently journeyed. An especially interesting account is given of a month's tour to Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; New York City; Niagara Falls; Lowell, Mass.; etc. in May-June, 1850.

Miscellaneous items include two letters of 1834 and 1852; a poem, 1871; and a brief history of the Grastys in Virginia, 1967.

As a result of efforts by Millard Q. Plumblee of the Caswell County Historical Association, a transcript of the diaries is preserved on microfilm at the State Archives of North Carolina (Raleigh, North Carolina). The Call Number is Mfp.124 (MARS ID 2634).