Heritage – it is important

By Eric Millirons, special correspondent
Featured in July 31, 2008 print edition

"The 1908 time capsule removed from the base of the Confederate monument on Route 60 earlier this month will be opened Saturday, Aug. 2 at 10 a.m. at the Buckingham Courthouse."

In today’s society, it seems that the heritage that has descended to us by our forefathers has been placed on a very distant “back burner.” We are all recipients of our forefathers and should never forget it. The blood in our veins, the color of our hair or eyes, even the way we speak is all a part of that which has been handed down to us. More than this is the fact that along with these inherited traits, there are also stories, tales of a different era that are passed from generation to generation, some humorous and some serious. But in most, it is the inculcation of these memories that brings forth justifiable pride in one’s ancestry.

Clarence Day, an author of the early 1900’s, in a rather whimsical way broached the subject of ancestry, and thereby heritage, with what has become a favorite quote. He said, “If your parents didn’t have any children, there is a good chance that you won’t have any.” In very simple terms, one miniscule change in a series of events could mean that someone would not exist. Given this, it is well that we remember our forefathers.

Nowhere is it more evident that someone cares about the memories of his predecessors than with John “Jack” Stinson. With his wife Betty, he lives a somewhat retired life, having left Reynolds Aluminum as a purchasing agent many years ago. The reason for the “somewhat” is that he is constantly on the go. Most recently, he attended a rededication of a Confederate monument in Buckingham. It had been 100 years since it was unveiled and Jack believes that one of his great-grandfathers, David Washington Stinson, was at that unveiling. On August 2, he, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”, will be in Buckingham again. This time to see what is contained in the time capsule that was placed in the base of that monument 10 decades ago.

It seems that the early childhood of Jack Stinson was not one of constant elaboration of the deeds of relatives gone by. “Daddy didn’t talk about history much.”

A stumbling block in his early quest for history was the location of his boyhood home. “Living in Newport News, we didn’t get to see Buckingham kinfolk but a couple of times a year, but when we did, we loved it.”

He did get to Richmond to visit one of his mother’s aunts. On those occasions, there was one activity that was always on his to-do list. Entering her “shotgun” house as he called it, he would immediately go and read the discharge paper of another great-grandfather, Joseph Fleming Martin. In actuality, it was not a “discharge paper” but rather a certificate given him by his commanding officer some years later. The document states his history with the 21st Virginia Regiment and closes with [he] “received his final discharge on the 15th of April, 1865, at Farmville, Va., after the surrender of the army.”

Realizing his pride in the contents of the document, it passed to him after his great-aunt’s death because she had written on the back: “This goes to Jack because he loved it so much.”

With his interest in family and history piqued, Jack began reading every book he could on, as he calls it, “The War.” In his home is an immense library of books on the subject, filling one wall completely from floor to ceiling. The top shelf is so high that he has installed a moveable ladder in order to reach some of them.

As he continued talking about history and “The War,” he began speaking somewhat solemnly about his great-grandfather Stinson. “The reason I’m here is that David W. Stinson was in the hospital in Farmville when Gettysburg occurred.”

Had his forefather been at Gettysburg, it would have been very likely that he would not have returned, unless to hallowed ground in Hollywood Cemetery. At that battle, the 56th Virginia Regiment was almost annihilated. The way Jack put it, “The 56th didn’t have enough men at the end to even start a fight, much less finish one.”

But families are more than remembrances of war and the pains that go with it. Jack spoke of how there was a celebration in Richmond which David Stinson attended many years after the war. In those days, such festivities always included a parade and this one was no different. Many of the old soldiers marched ever so gingerly down the street near where David was seated. The band broke into Dixie and this aging soldier rose and walked with them saying, “I’ve got to go. Those are my boys.”

There are numerous accounts of David Stinson’s life that could be told. He had been a tobacco farmer, a lieutenant in the army, had returned home after the war, married, and even had a job with the school board in Buckingham County that paid a whopping $30 a year. If that were the conclusion of a story, it would be sufficient, but it is not. David was also a gentle and caring man. “He would pull his granddaughter, Etta, up on his red mule named “Pickett” and give her a ride. She thought the world of him.” Often the smallest of remembrances measures the true size of a man.

The Stinson family heritage is alive and well, and so should it be with all families. If nothing else, our ancestors gave us life and life gave us opportunity. They have given us our heritage and we are their legacy.

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