Free blacks in Virginia: The Giddings / Giddens family of Northampton County, VA

When I stumbled across the marriage certificate for Louis Roane (1848 – 1912, Gloucester County, VA) and Lucretia Giddings (1849 – ?, Northampton County, VA), I had no idea what a fascinating detour it would provide. On the one hand it introduced me to the Giddings/Giddens family of Northampton County, VA. On the other hand, it also introduced me to Ibby Roane (born in 1778), a free women of colour and a distant relation on my paternal grandmother’s Roane side of the family.

Ibby Roane

Ibby Church family tree

Ibby Church family tree

Ibby (an abbreviation of Elizabeth) is yet another person proving tricky to find in the records.  However, I did stumble across an 1860 census which lists her:

1860 United States Federal Census

Ibby Roane - 1860 Census

Ibby Roane – 1860 Census

To put this above into context, the 35 year old Ibby Giddings (nee Church), is the daughter of Ibby Roane and a Mr Church (I haven’t been able to find his first name). It’s interesting to note that Ibby Roane kept her maiden name and not the name of her husband, yet passed on his name to their daughter. Looking at the census above, as a live-in mother-on-law, I get the feeling she was the matriarchal of the household. I’d dearly love to know more about her origins as she is among the oldest generations of free black Roanes I’ve found. It is unclear if she was born free or was emancipated by a slave owner. What is clear is that by the time her daughter Ibby Church is born, both were free.

Lucretia Giddings

Benjamin & Comfort Giddings/Giddins family tree

Benjamin & Comfort Giddings/Giddins family tree

The story picks up with Lucretia Giddings, the daughter of Ibby Church and Henry T Giddings. Which makes her the grand-daughter of Ibby Roane. She, in turn, would marry Louis Roane – who was no doubt a relation to Ibby Roane, Lucretia’s grand-mother. Lucretia and Louis would also go on to set up house in Northampton County.

It quickly became apparent that Lucretia’s father, Henry Giddings, came from a family of free African Americans. I cursory bit of research took me by surprise. His family had been free since the 1790s. Not only did his family have a long history of freedom in Virginia, this family was well documented in Northampton County records.  And what a fascinating history it was too!

Taking a look at the family tree above, Henry’s mother, Comfort Giddens, was the child of slave owning John Giddens and Sarah, a slave.  John Giddens freed Sarah and their children in his will of 1790. It’s not known why he chose to free them.  However, what makes his will an absolutely amazing read is a condition he put in his will. Should any white member of his family try to re-enslave Comfort, her children or their descendants, they were to be fined $100.  I’ve never seen this in any manumission papers or wills where slave owners set slaves free. It was clearly John Giddens desire for his slaves to have their freedom to the point of actively protecting their freedom after his death.

At the moment, it’s unclear how Benjamin Giddings/Giddens, Sr. came by his last name or if he was a blood relation to the white Giddens family.

I have, however, found two books in the Library of Virginia in Richmond which have information on the Giddens / Giddings family of Northampton County:

  • THE REGISTER OF FREE NEGROES, NORTHAMPTON COUNTY VIRGINIA 1853 TO 1861 (Frances Bibbins Latimer, Heritage Books, 1992); and
  • INSTRUMENTS OF FREEDOM, DEEDS AND WILLS OF EMANCIPATION, NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, VIRGINIA, 1782 TO 1864 (Frances Bibbins Latimer, Heritage Books, 1994).

Both are invaluable sources of information about the family. Not the least of which is the carefully noted physical descriptions. With a distinct lack of photographs, this is the closest I can come to getting a sense of their appearance.  The image blow is a perfect example:

Daniel Giddens (Henry's brother) in Northampton County Deed Book

Daniel Giddens (Henry’s brother) in Northampton County Deed Book

As with other free black families I’ve covered, the Giddings/Giddens were largely a rural farming family. Collectively, they owned an impressive amount of land which stayed in the family for a considerable period of time. Indeed, Giddings and Giddens can still be found in their native Northampton County. The family’s connection with the county runs deep.

It always puts a smile on my face when I stumble across an African American family with such a history. I’m looking forward to delving more deeply into the family’s history to uncover more Roane-Giddings/Giddens unions.

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11 thoughts on “Free blacks in Virginia: The Giddings / Giddens family of Northampton County, VA

  1. Hello and thank you for the message. I’m afraid I haven’t done much research on the Giddens / Giddings family. I’ve only done a cursory investigation on the Giddings line that married into the Roane side of my family. There is a James Giddens born in 1837 and resident in Northampton County VA in 1860. He is the son of Sally Custiss and Daniel Giddens. His name appears as Gim Giddens on that 1860 census. I’ve also seen him in a rather large Giddings / Giddens family tree on Ancestry.com. This may or may not be the person you’re seeking.

  2. Hello this is amazing research. I am Henry Giddins Jr. a direct descendant of the Northampton County VA Giddings/Giddens family. I still have family members who spell the name both ways. I’ve been working on my family tree going from present back to this original set of Giddings ancestors. My grandmother still resides in Accomack Co., not too far from St. George’s parish. Luckily the family has not been too creative with given names over the years (Henry, James, Otho) being a prevailing few similarities. I’ve had trouble finding the generation before my great-grandfather Percy Giddins (b. 1894), his mother was Mary, but I cannot find record of her spouse or her father to continue the search. One census record I found has her listed as widowed. Any information about Mary Giddings/Giddens born prior to 1880 would be greatly appreciated. I live in Richmond, VA now and will be making a trip to the Library of Virginia to continue my research.

  3. This is a great find! I do not think I have seen this before. I have been looking for George Giddings who was the father of my great-grandfather-Levin Giddings. According to his civil war records, Levin was born about 1845 died about 1928. Levin had been using the last name Goffigon until he was told by his mother Ibby Goffigon that his father was really George Giddings. We are not sure which of the George Giddings the father was. We do know through DNA testing that we go back to John Giddens II, who emancipated his children with Sarah the enslaved woman. I have almost all of these names in my tree and will look more closely at this information to make corrections. I had been under the impression that “Ibby” might have been short for Isabel, but will have to give thought to the name Elizabeth.

    • Elenora, thank you for confirming a long-held suspicion about John Giddens II. I’m thinking Libby, a shortened version of Elizabeth, became Ibby. That’s my guess. Now, to turn my attention to figuring out which George Giddings fits into this story!

      • I spent some time on this today. You’re in luck, this is the line you are looking for. Funnily enough, I’m related to the white Giddens/Giddings via thier Rogers line. As it stands, Levin is my 8th cousin, 5x removed via the English side of the family. I’m still trying to figure out how Levin’s Giddens/Giddings relate to the many other Giddens/Giddings who were old, old families of free people of color in Southampton, Northampton, Surry, and Charles City Counties in Virginia. I’d also love to learn more about Sarah, the mother of Levin’s line.

      • It is great to hear from you. We do not know where the Giddings/Giddens origianted. We would like to know more about Sarah. Diane Harris is also looing. She is descendant from John Giddens and his wife. I matched DNA with her Uncle.

  4. Brian, Elenora Giddings Ivory alerted me to your website. I am a retired professional genealogist who has spent many years researching the Giddens/Giddings family in Virginia, and have been sharing research with Elenora since 2005. My mother was a Giddings, and my 4th-g-grandfather was the John Giddens of the 1790 Deed of Emancipation.

    I just checked Ancestry DNA, and you and I are a match. I’m not sure how your Rogers line connects to the Giddens, but we also have common ancestors In Tidewater Virginia: Holloway, Mathews, Tavernor, etc.

    • Hi Diane,

      Happy New Year. I wish WordPress made it easier to add images to comments. I’ll break down my link to this family group in stages.

      This line goes from me to Thomas Giddings (Gething Gittings Giddins) (1643 – 1710) and his wife (who is my 3rd cousin, 10x removed), Elizabeth Bell (1650 – 1709):

      Thomas Giddings (Gething Gittings Giddins) (1643 – 1710)
      husband of 3rd cousin 10x removed

      Elizabeth Bell (1650 – 1709)
      wife of Thomas Giddings (Gething Gittings Giddins)

      Mary Harrington (1626 – 1699)
      mother of Elizabeth Bell (above)

      Edward Harrington (1584 – 1651)
      father of Mary Harrington

      Mary Elizabeth Rogers Lady (1565 – 1634)
      mother of Edward Harrington

      Thomas George Rogers Sir (1541 – 1587)
      father of Mary Elizabeth Rogers Lady
      (this line also connects to my de Lisle (aka de Insula), de Popham, and Bartellot de Stopham lines in England as well as back to Joan Beaufort, Dowager Queen of Scotland).

      Edward Rogers I, Esq; of Cannington (1563 – 1627)
      son of Thomas George Rogers Sir

      Edward Rogers II, Esq (1597 – 1683)
      son of Edward Rogers I, Esq; of Cannington

      Ann Rogers (1615 – 1665)
      daughter of Edward Rogers II, Esq

      Anthony Matthews IV (1640 – 1688)
      son of Ann Rogers

      James Matthews (Mattis) Sr, (1670 – 1762)
      son of Anthony Matthews IV

      Charles Matthews (1704 – )
      son of James Matthews (Mattis) Sr,

      William Matthews Sgt (1740 – 1804)
      son of Charles Matthews

      Drury Cook Matthews (1760 – 1830)
      son of William Matthews Sgt

      Lewis Matthews (1824 – )
      son of Drury Cook Matthews

      John “Johnny” Matthews (1860 – )
      son of Lewis Matthews

      Effert Matthews (1881 – 1929)
      son of John “Johnny” Matthews

      Pauline Matthews (1912 – 1989)
      daughter of Effert Matthews

      Barbara Ann Turner (1933 – 2010)
      daughter of Pauline Matthews

      Brian Sheffey

      I know it’s not easy to follow, so I hope that makes sense. You can see where the Matthews family comes into play too. As for the Holloways…my but I have PLENTY of Holloways in Virginia and South Carolina. Thanks to DNA, triangulation, and probate records, I’ve been able to identify the English men who fathered my mulatto ancestors for my Matthews and Holloway lines.

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