It has been the work of more than thirty years in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Library of Congress, Glasgow, Scotland and Antigua. New finds have necessitated repeated revisions. What started out as a handwritten manuscript, morphed to the computer and to a DVD at submission. History of a Dream Deferred, William Byrds Land of Eden by Charles Rodenbough, has been published this month.
The concept for the book has never changed: to pick up the history of the 26,000 acres that William Byrd II acquired in 1728 when he led the Virginia members of the survey team to run the border between Virginia and North Carolina, and follow that land for a hundred years through the fascinating range of people who sometimes owned part of the title.
In the process, the reader begins with meeting William Byrd II and his son, William III, famous Indian fighter; the Willing family, early American bankers from Philadelphia; Francis and James Parke Farley, owners of an Antigua sugar plantation; Daniel Parke, the rogue who came to be father-in-law to Partick Henry and Martha Washington; a British General and a London widow who at one point owned half the land; the four daughters of James Parke Farley and Elizabeth Byrd, who married into the tidewater families of Banister, Tucker, Carter, Lee, and Corbin of Virginia, the Shippens of Philadelphia, and the Izards of Charleston; and in the next generation the Brodnax, Glenn, Ruffin, Wilson, Winston, and Reynolds families.
One of the more unusual episodes in the book follows 100 nameless slaves that were brought from the sugar plantations of Antigua to work on the Land of Eden, after it became known as the Sauratown, and allows us to examine post-colonial slavery in North Carolina.
Another episode follows the aging Patrick Henry who bought two shares of the Sauratown, on the day he died, to will to two of his sons. Another vignette concerns a defrocked priest of the Church of England in his attempt to defraud the Byrds interests.
Finally there is a family struggle played out in the courts of three states, Antigua and London, over a period of thirty years, concerning the convoluted title of the Farley family to this Dan River estate. When it is finally settled, the 17 tracts are followed as they fracture by deed to many families and speculators. This last section follows the early titles of each of the sections as they break up.
The text includes seven genealogical charts to assist in following the many names within families. There are 276 pages with 61 pictures and maps. A very extensive bibliography serves as a resource for any study of the upper Piedmont and the book is fully indexed.
In a companion advertising piece, the author imagines quotes about the book as they might have come from some of the subjects, if they were still around to read what has been written.
Charles Rodenbough is also the author of Alexander Martin, Biography of a Revolutionary War Statesman and a soon to be released novel, Pine House, the Day Emancipation Dawned.
This latest book has many connections with the early history of Stokes County and the northern Piedmont of North Carolina. Rodenbough was raised in Stokes County (between Walnut Cove and Danbury), the son of Stanley L. Rodenbough and Grace Taylor Rodenbough of Danbury. He still has many connections in the county, including the Stokes County Historical Society. Copies of History of a Dream Deferred, William Byrds Land of Eden may be obtained through the publisher at www.lulu.com.