Passion for history is good, but…

Posted on March 1, 2017 by


While I haven’t taken my foundations in rhetoric course yet (it’s on the horizon… Fall 2017), I think I’ve got a good handle on how the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric play out in the writings of some people (and I’m especially interested in how some contemporary historians use rhetoric… letting their passions get in the way of having a handle on the most effective balance). In consideration of this, recently, my attention was drawn to a Facebook post that someone saw, and knowing my level of interest in Page County, Virginia, shared it with me. So, I took a look at the post to which they referred me.

Regretfully, the play on pathos was ramped up so much, there was no hope for logos, and whatever ethos the writer carried is subject to intense scrutiny (except, perhaps, that it is an accurate reflection of the writer’s personally-molded character in delivering history). In short, the history as presented… failed… unless, of course, you consider an equal love by the audience for that sort of content. Passion for historic subjects is good, but I think things get precarious when the rhetoric is overzealous in targeting the emotions of the reader.

The subject of the quick post was one Strother Hansford. Hansford was born ca. 1820, and was a native of my home county… Page County, Virginia. Now, we can project “he may have”, and “it’s possible he experienced…”, but let’s talk about what we know… what we can know… first. Let’s talk about the documented history that exists before we even begin to venture down the road of speculation (and, as opposed to what I saw, not be so much of a “cherry-picker” when it comes to the range of “possibilities”).

There was a question as to whether or not he was a free black or slave in Page County, and how he eventually found his way to Adams County, Pennsylvania. Those two remain unanswered. A simple glance at the 1860 census (living in Hamiltonban, at the time), however, seems to make it clear enough that he probably arrived in Pennsylvania by 1855. His son, Jonas, was born ca. 1856, followed by daughters Clarissa and Caroline (ca. 1858 and ’59, respectively). All three children… along with his wife, Elizabeth, claimed Pennsylvania as place of birth, and while limitations on the ability of African-Americans to learn how to read and write in Virginia existed (but did not necessarily mean that such was always the case), neither husband or wife, according to the census, knew how to read or write. Also according to the 1860 census, it seems Strother cared for his family based on his work as a laborer (farm laborer, perhaps, based on those living nearby). It might also be worthwhile… or of interest… to note that, on the two pages on which Strother Hansford appears, his family was the only non-white family (the Hansfords were listed as “mulatto”).

So, that’s about all we know about Strother Hansford up until 1860. It’s not a lot. By Feb. 25, 1865, however, he was drafted (in the Hampton Township) into the ranks of the Union army, served as a private/hostler in Co. C, 24th U.S.C.T., and was honorably discharged in Richmond, Virginia, in October, 1865.


Strother Hansford’s headstone, Fairfield Union Cemetery. Courtesy of Find-a-Grave

In the twenty-five years after his discharge, there were at least six more (if not seven) children born to Strother and Elizabeth. Interestingly, I found one discharge paper from the Spanish-American War, of one Lemon Lincoln Hansford. Lemon isn’t listed on the Find-a-Grave page for Strother, and, I suppose if I looked further into census records, I could firm-up a relationship, but… Lemon’s paperwork, it seems, reflects Strother and Elizabeth as parents, and that Lemon was recognized as… “white”.


There’s also the part in this Facebook post I saw, which goes into a comment about Hansford living at the time of the Nat Turner incident and the incident “turning slavery into its harshest form”, yet the author makes no effort in recognizing the differences in reaction between, say… the Tidewater and the Shenandoah Valley.

I could dig into more about Strother Hansford, but really, the volume of material isn’t really my point right now (though I’ll probably look to satisfy my own curiosity, as Strother was a fellow native of Page County). Really, it’s about passion for history without that passion taking over and obliterating (and/or ignoring) the history itself.
Passion for historical subjects is good, but shouldn’t warp the history being delivered. Folks who aren’t equally blinded by overzealous passion can see through that, and the credibility of the history and the history storyteller are both compromised.