Free blacks in Virginia: The Roanes of St George’s Parish, Accomack, VA

With thanks to Mr D via Ancestry.com, I’ve spent some time in the family history rabbit hole researching a free African American Roane family group in St George’s Parish, Accomack County, Virginia. It’s been an interesting experience piecing together this family group’s history.

If it wasn’t for Mr D sending me a message, chances are I wouldn’t have stumbled across this group of Roanes. Accomack County isn’t one previously associated with my African American Roane ancestors. The result being I’d never scanned Accomack county documents. What’s interesting about this family group is the fact that this group had been freed long before the African American Roanes in Charles City (“Free blacks in Virginia: The Roanes of Charles City County, VA”  http://wp.me/p1fqOP-80).

So let’s walk through the Roanes who were resident in St George’s Parish in the early-to-mid part of the 19th century.

Not unsurprisingly, the Roanes of Accomack County were a farming family. That gives me a window into their day to day lives. And, as an extended family group, I imagine a scenario where they helped each other during the busy periods in the farming calendar.

Stephen Roane

The earliest appearance I can find for this Stephen Roane in the census records is 1810. While it’s frustrating that the 1810 census didn’t record the year of birth or age for respondents, there are still some basic assumptions that can be made about Stephen.  In 1810, he is listed as the head of a household. From this, I could safely assume that he was an adult male. Working on the assumption that he was probably between the ages of 20 (a very low age estimate) to 30 (a more probable age given marriage customs of the time), this gave me a working range of 1780 to 1790 for when he was born.

So what does his household look like on the census returns?

1810 Census

 

1820 Census

Name:  Stephen RoanHome in 1810 (City, County, State):         St George, Accomack, VirginiaNumber of All Other Free Persons:          4

Number of Household Members:            4

Name:  Stephen Roan

Home in 1820 (City, County, State):         Drummond, Accomack, VirginiaEnumeration Date:          August 7, 1820Free Colored Persons – Males – Under 14:             2

Free Colored Persons – Males – 26 thru 44:           1

Free Colored Persons – Females – Under 14:        1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 14 thru 25:       1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 26 thru 44:       1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 45 and over:   1

Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture:      2

Total Free Colored Persons:        7

Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other:                7

1830 Census

 

1840 Census

Name:  Stephen RoanHome in 1830 (City, County, State):         St Georges Parish, Accomack, VirginiaFree Colored Persons – Males – 55 thru 99:           1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 10 thru 23:       1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 55 thru 99:       2

Total Free Colored Persons:        4

Total – All Persons (Free White, Slaves, Free Colored):                4

Name:  Stephen RoaneHome in 1840 (City, County, State):         Accomack, VirginiaFree Colored Persons – Males – 55 thru 99:           1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 55 thru 99:       2

Persons Employed in Agriculture:             1

Total Free Colored Persons:        3

Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves:                3

1810 tells us very little. Prior to the 1850 Census, only the name of the head of a household was recorded. On paper, Stephen’s household appears to be a small one: Stephen, a wife and two children.  Without years of birth, it’s a hard call.  This could equally be a household of adults.  Without individual names and ages/years of birth, it’s a hard picture to paint.

1820 tells us quite a bit more. This is a growing household. 1830 and 1840 paints a typical picture: as his children enter adulthood, they’ve started to leave home.

Overall, there are plenty of gaps in Stephen’s story. His county of birth, as well as his year of birth, are unknown. It’s uncertain if his connection with St. George’s parish goes back to his birth. I simply cannot find any further information about him prior to the 1810 Census. Nor does there seem to be a Roane presence of any kind in Accomack County prior to the 1810 Census. So how and why he came to be here is a mystery.

Daniel Roane

Like Stephen, I know very little about Daniel Roane’s origins.  I’ve been unable to locate a county or year of birth for him. All I do know for certain is that he was born in Virginia. I’m hazarding a guess that he was born around the same time as Stephen; that is to say between 1780 and 1790.

1810 Census

 

1820 Census

Name:  Daniel RoanHome in 1810 (City, County, State):         St George, Accomack, VirginiaFree White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15:               1

Number of All Other Free Persons:          3

Number of Household Members Under 16:         1

Number of Household Members:

Name:  Daniel RoanHome in 1820 (City, County, State):         Drummond, Accomack, VirginiaEnumeration Date:          August 7, 1820

Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15:               1

Free Colored Persons – Males – 14 thru 25:           1

Free Colored Persons – Males – 45 and over:        1

Free Colored Persons – Females – Under 14:        4

Free Colored Persons – Females – 26 thru 44:       1

Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture:      3

Free White Persons – Under 16: 1

Total Free White Persons:            1

Total Free Colored Persons:        7

Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other:                8

1830 Census

 

1840 Census

Unable to locate Name:  Daniel RoaneHome in 1840 (City, County, State):         Accomack, VirginiaFree Colored Persons – Males – 10 thru 23:           1

Free Colored Persons – Males – 55 thru 99:           1

Free Colored Persons – Females – 24 thru 35:       3

Persons Employed in Agriculture:             4

Total Free Colored Persons:        5

Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves:                53

What is interesting is that Daniel and Stephen live in close proximity to one another in 1810. They live next door to one another in 1820 and 1840. This suggests a close blood tie.  I would hazard a guess these men were either brothers or first cousins.

1850 Census

Stephen and Daniel disappear from the records by 1850. Instead, I found what looks to be the next generation of the family in Accomack:

1850 Census

 

1850 Census

Louis Roane

Name:  Louis Roane

Age:       32

Birth Year:           abt 1818

Birthplace:          Virginia

Home in 1850:   St Georges Parish, Accomack, Virginia

Race:     Black

Gender:               Male

Family Number:                773

Household Members:

Name    Age

Louis Roane        32

Ann F Loyd          19

George Roane

Name:  Geo Roane

Age:       28

Birth Year:           abt 1822

Birthplace:          Virginia

Home in 1850:   St Georges Parish, Accomack, Virginia

Race:     Black

Gender:               Male

Family Number:                727

Household Members:

Name    Age

Geo Roane         28

Peggy Roane      30

Abel Roane         4

Betsey Roane    36

Rachal Roane     5

Tabitha Roane   0

Elizabeth Roane                10

Given the lack of other black Roane family groups in St George parish, I’m working on the assumption that Louis and George Roane above are the sons of either Stephen or Daniel, making them brothers or cousins. They too are living in close proximity to one another in 1850.

George Roane

Attempting to unpick the familial relationships within George’s household is something of a trial.  George, his wife Peggy and son Abel are one family group within this household. So how is Jane and her three daughters related to him?  Jane could either be George’s sister or his sister-in-law. I’m hedging a bet that she is, in fact, his sister-in-law; which would make her three daughters George’s nieces. On the surface, that’s what seems to make the most sense.

I’d pinned my hopes on tracing this family from 1870 onward due to the unusual names it provided, specifically Tabitha Roane and Rachael Roane. In the history of the family, there are only a few women who have ever borne either of these names. Unusual names are traditionally gold dust, making it much easier to find ancestors in the records. However, after an extensive and exhaustive search, I can find neither of these girls post-1860.

I have found Abel Roane in the 1904 Virginia State census. In it, he is cited as a laborer living in Norfolk, VA.  Which leads me to wondering if he, like other Roanes, switched back and forth between using a first name and a middle name.

Pre-1800

So far, I haven’t been able to establish residency in Accomack County for these Roanes prior to 1800.  Neither the 1788 Tax List for Accomack Co Virginia (http://www.accomacroots.com/1788tax.asp )nor the 1799 Tax List for Accomack Co Virginia (http://www.accomacroots.com/1799tax.asp) cite any Roanes for this county, black or white. There is a white Elizabeth Roane living not too far from the African American Roans in Accomack County. Whether there was a relationship and interaction between her and the Roanes above remains unclear and uncertain. However, I’d be inclined to guess that she at least knew of them if she didn’t knew them directly.

Post-1850

The 1860 census for Accomack county is interesting by what’s not in it rather than what is. I would have expected to find an ever increasing Roane family presence in Accomack. After all, of the men above had children. One would expect those children to marry and settle in the same area. In 1860, there are only two Roanes listed in Accomack:  Elizabeth Roane (white) and a Jacob Roane (black).  This is the first census where Jacob appears in Accomack.  Jacob’s county of birth is unknown.  He may have always been resident in Accomack, meaning he could be a freed slave and still related to the other black Roanes listed above. At this point, I haven’t found the evidence to explain Jacob’s seemingly sudden appearance as a head of household in 1860 or his connection to the Roanes who lived in Accomack prior to 1850.

Of course, the other question is, where did the families of Stephen, Daniel, Louis and George Roane disappear to? Clearly, they moved elsewhere. Without the names of Daniel and Louis’s children, they are difficult to trace, it’s hard to say if they moved to another county in Virginia or if they left the state entirely. Yep. Another mystery.

One explanation might be they left Accomack in the face of a series of epidemics which struck this part of Virginia in the 1850s and then again in the 1860s. Typhoid, consumption (TB) and cholera swept through this part of Virginia more than once over these two decades. African American Roanes may have decided to quit the county for an area less prone to such lethal epidemics. This strikes me as one of the more logical explanations. As a family, each Roane family group owned land and paid their taxes…so there isn’t a hint of financial woes.

One set of records which might shed light on when these families left, and possible circumstances for their move, would be Accomack land registries or land sales records. Since these haven’t been digitised yet, the prospect of another side trip looms J

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