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Remembering roots

Schreinaer Hodges stands on the same ground at Plainview Farm near Saluda that was farmed by her great-grandfather, Hezikiah Burnett, a freed slave. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

Schreinaer Hodges of Saluda remembers a lot from her 80 years, and she’s handing down that family history as it was told to her by her grandfather, Joseph Burnett.

Her great-grandfather, Hezikiah Burnett, was a slave near Dunnsville in Essex County. After the Civil War he migrated to Middlesex County and found work at Purkins Farm. The land her grandfather worked is still a farm about 2 miles north of Saluda on the east side of Route 17. The gray farm buildings of weathered wood, including a corn crib made of logs, have been longtime landmarks for those traveling the Tidewater Trail.

Hodges recently made a short drive to that historic farm, which is now called Plainview Farm.

Treading the same ground as her ancestors stirred feelings in Hodges of what it might have been like for her great-grandfather when he had moved to an unfamiliar area.

As a slave, Hezikiah had almost been sold and taken from his mother when he was a child, said Hodges. He had a hernia and was not able to do hard work. “If the times were good, the master could support a lot of slaves; if not, he’d get rid of some,” she explained. “He was one to be sold because he couldn’t work hard.”

The owner’s wife liked Hezikiah’s mother and felt sorry for her.  When the wife learned a slave trader was coming in a few days, she hatched a plan to hide Hezikiah. The wife told Hezikiah to hide under her hoop skirt, said Hodges. “When they came, they couldn’t find him, so he wasn’t sold.

“People lived with so much insecurity back then and with so much fear,” she said. “But, God is good. We’re still here.”

Once he was freed, Hezikiah worked the farm for many years, making 50 cents a day. This seems like so little money, but it was a wage during a time when many had little or no income.

“I wonder just what happened there [on the farm],” said Hodges. “So much could have happened. You can almost feel the presence of people who had been there.”

Her great-grandfather probably had the same farm chores as any farmer: putting up hay, plowing fields and milking cows, she said.

He married Sara Hoskins and they had 19 children, including Joseph Burnett, Hodges’ grandfather.

After more than 20 years, Hezikiah had saved enough money to buy 24 acres for $125 on what is now Zion Branch Road, just north of Saluda.

Much later, Mrs. Hodges’ future husband, George Hodges, would walk from his home and cross Route 17 to milk cows in a barn that is still standing on Plainview Farm. “That’s how a school boy earned a little change,” she said.

The Hodges, who were married in 1949, had six children. They still live on the 20-plus acres that Hezikiah bought on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1882. Their land was part of the farm where her great-grandfather started his rise from slavery and put down family roots.

posted 03.04.2009

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