This country is fast loosing our agricultural heritage. The average age of farmers in this country is 58. Very few young ones are choosing agriculture and animal husbandry as a major in our colleges and universities. We are fast loosing those skills. This is to our detriment as a society who’s founding is based on agriculture and free enterprise. In fact, the first businesses were agriculturely based. We all can trace back our family histories and find a farmer somewhere. These were the back bone of hard working can-do individuals who formed the strong moral character thread that wove strength into this country. It is yet to be seen if this strength is enduring as we are being stretched, divided, scraped, and spit upon and I do not know if the fabric that these farmers will endure this abuse from within. We need to remember where we came from and learn their lessons. We need to pull forward the legacy of their strength and work ethic. So I have reached back to see if I can glean some strength from my family past.
I am the great great grand daughter of Eli Ball Stokes. He was a life long farmer in King George County here in Virginia. As you can see, he was a Corporal in the 9th Virginia Cavalry, 1st Company, also known as Johnson’s Regiment and also Lee’s Legion. This is his wedding photo. I found an application of a soldier’s disability he filed at the age of 85. It is in his handwriting. He states his occupation is farmer and when asked how long he has had this occupation. He states, “all my life”.
I have a photograph of him much older, probably around the time this document was filled out. My first observation is that one of his hands is in very clear focus. It is well worn, leathery and wrinkled, a badge of a farmer.
I have many of these photos thanks to my mother and her father who saved them. Several years ago I made copy negatives of them and printed many copies in my home dark room for my family members so we can have some record of our heritage. This is an important pursuit because this is a history lesson. We are not learning history in our schools, but we can learn our country’s history from searching out that of our family.
Eli married Mildred Jane Clark….
…And they had a a daughter, Mildred Viola Stokes, my great grandmother who along with her husband, Herbert Sisson, owned a grocery and a bakery in Washington, D.C. Another example of entrepreneurship.
Their daughter was my grandmother, Mildred Myrteen Sisson.
I am the first in 4 generations to pursue farming. I feel this sense of kinship with Eli, but also those brave Americans that subject their livelihoods to the wind and the rain, that partner with their piece of the earth to earn their keep and provide valuable food and fiber to fellow citizens. I am proud to be a shepherd and feel satisfaction to pass this American heritage to my children. They have their own dreams of course. But they take with them a code of hard work, entrepreneurialism, and patriotism.