CASE HISTORIES OF VIRGINIANS
The material to be presented in this appendix is intended to fill the gap between the Old South and the twentieth century. It will trace family lines as they come down to the present from the heyday of the plantation era.Next Page
This material is not subject to statistical breakdown. The variables are too great, and interpretation would play too great a part in making the necessary classification. These biographical sketches, pared down to the bone of social class factors (unfortunately one frequently has only occupational categories as guides), are given in brief detail for the interpretation of the reader. At the end of each case there is a short evaluation which is, however, based on a full reading and careful study of all the biographical data. At the close of the appendix there will be a general estimate of trends.
Given a person of some social prestige, what was the status of his father and mother and of their families? What of his brothers and sisters and children and wife? In a word, how much social mobility, how much climbing and falling, how much social rigidity, can be found by studying these family lines? From considering many cases one gets a general impression, an impression of much or of little social class rigidity. The reader will decide whether the data justify the conclusions.
Beginning with the first biographical sketch and continuing through most of volume IV of the History of Virginia (the first volume of biographical data), choosing each tenth name, the data were summarized, as follows in the next pages. The six-volume work from which these data were taken was published by the American Historical Society, New York and Chicago, in 1924. The material, therefore, was gathered shortly after the World War. The year of birth of each subject is included in order to relate his actions and his times.
The researcher corresponded with the American Historical Society to ascertain by what means persons qualified themselves for inclusion among the biographical sketches. The Society explained that anyone who wised his biography, of that of his parent or spouse, included, and who would obligate himself to the extent of purchasing a set of the volumes, was so privileged. And from the thousands of persons included, one must realize that hundreds of people of quite ordinary standing, to say the least, chose to have their family history revealed. The net result was that one was able to determine from the nature of things emphasized, from the content of the data given, which families now belong, or earlier belonged, to the leading citizenry, and which are to be adjudged less imposing social status. Therefore, if an ancient and honorable family has now descended to the status of "farmer with 15 acres of orchard," we know that there has been circulation downward. Similarly if a man of renown, a trustee of his church, a member of a city council, who send his children to "prep" and finishing schools, descended from a "farmer who owned no slaves," then we know that we are dealing with a case of social ascent. It is a good thing, therefore, that many kinds of persons included themselves in the biographical sketches to follow:
Armistead C. Gordon (p. 3): born at "Edgeworth," Albermarle county 1855; educated at Charlottesville Institute and the U. of Vir., honorary Doctor of Laws, honorary LL.D.; leading attorney and author; president of the state and bar association, mayor of Staunton, city attorney, commonwealth attorney, president of the local chamber of commerce; high social standing.
family: father: graduate of University of Virginia; editor, lawyer, died young.
father's father: General William Fitzhugh Gordon.
mother's father: justice of Virginia supreme court.
great-grandfather: state constitutional convention, 1776.
brother: Vir. state senate, assistant district attorney: corporation lawyer.
Evaluation: A descendant of several distinguished lines of Virginians carries on the tradition of status and honor. High degree of social class rigidity.