Editorial: Status and (Historical) Society

In the “statusphere” that is Rappahannock County, good looks and influential jobs don’t count for much. Education, money and power – those old status standbys – maybe mean a bit more. But most important by far is family background – especially whether you have “roots” in the county.

“Status honor,” as the German sociologist Max Weber termed it, is earned by those Rappahannock residents who can trace their lineage back at least a couple hundred years; moreover, they still live on the very land that their ancestors first farmed! The names Fletcher, Eastham, Miller and Massie come immediately to mind.

At the very foot of the social ladder, of course, are so-called newcomers or come-heres. Each of the bottom rungs might represent a decade, say, of residence in the county. (Owning land per se doesn’t count unless you also live here full-time.) This explains my own inferior status, even though I grew up right next door in Fauquier County and have had a cabin here since 1972.

Thus imagine my happy surprise when I discovered that an ancestor, Joseph Nicklin, settled here after serving as a surgeon in the War of 1812. At the time, it wasn’t yet Rappahannock County, but still a part of Culpeper. Joseph’s son, John Bailey Nicklin, even represented the area at the General Assembly in Richmond.

I discovered all this through the truly remarkable resources and dedicated volunteers of the Rappahannock Historical Society. It is physically located in a fittingly historic building on Gay Street in the county seat, but can be located online at rappahannockhistsoc.org. Besides genealogical research, the society can also help trace the history of the land you own, among many other informational and educational services.

Led by John and Judy Tole, the nonprofit society is worthy of and welcomes donations to further its mission of “collecting, preserving, interpreting and disseminating the unique history and heritage of Rappahannock County [and] promoting knowledge of the past for a better understanding of the future.”

Check it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Walter Nicklin