Fellow genealogists will understand the pain of trying to find a critical document in order to push genealogical research forward. Colonel William Bolling’s 1845 Last Will and Testament, and the accompanying 1845 Estate Inventory, was a missing crucial document for me.
The need for these documents is simple. In order to further research some of the enslave people (EPs) held by him on Bolling Island and Bolling Hall, I needed to know how he had distributed his EPs amongst his children. Knowing this would give me the best indication possible on where they, or their children and grandchildren, were living by the time of the 1870 US Federal Census. Chances were high that more than a few of these EPs, and their descendants, would be living on Bolling land in 1870. I could also do highly focused research using a myriad of Freedmen Bureau Records (i.e. Bank account records, freedmen marriages, work contracts, lawsuits/complaints, etc).
I searched high and low for William’s last Will. I threw everything at solving this problem – to no avail. Oh sure, I found plenty of references to his 1845 Will in numerous books and databases. However, the actual Will remained elusive. The kind of fear that only a genealogist or historian can feel began to creep in. Perhaps William’s Will had been lost; burned along with so many other Goochland County, Virginia documents…collateral casualties of war.
My last roll of the dice struck paydirt. I posted the following in the Virginia Genealogy Network group on Facebook:
Group member Debbie P-R came up with the goods. His 1845 Will formed part of a Virginia Chancery court case involving the estate settlement of William’s son, William Albert Bolling. This case is accessible via the Virginia Memory website via http://www.lva.virginia.gov/chancery/case_detail.asp?CFN=075-1871-001
I had to laugh. I’d already used the Virginia Memory site, where I had found a Bolling family court case involving Col. William Bolling’s daughter (and William Albert’s sister), Jane Rolfe Bolling-Skipwith’s Estate. Col. William Bolling’s name hadn’t appeared in my Bolling search string results, which explains why I missed it. So many thanks to Debbie for pointing me to this second Bolling family court case.
This Will is a goldmine of EP research! It was absolutely worth the effort in tracking it down. Col. William Bolling’s 1845 Will follows below.
Apologies for not transcribing it in full. Time and current deep research keeps my transcribing time short.
Image 413 from the Virginia Memory Chancery Court case file
EPs cited in the image above:
[Item 3]: I bequeath to my son Thomas Bolling in trust for my son William Albert [Bolling] in absolute property the following slaves, namely Henry, his wife Mary Ann [Whiting], their son Jack, called Jack Nicholas, their daughter Angelina and all their children younger than Angelina, and Elvira…
One of the main puzzle pieces this gave me was a new surname to research: Nicholas. Did any of Henry and Mary’s other use the surname Nicholas? Was this Henry’s surname? Time, and further research, will tell.
This family group currently looks like this in my family tree:
Staying with the same image:
[Item 4]: I bequeath to my son Thomas Bolling in trust for my daughter Mary Bolling [wife of Charles Duncan McIndoe] for and during her life the following slaves, namely William called William Tillar [his surname is difficult to read, so I am trying to confirm it], young Andy, Amey and her brother and sisters, and [the names of the following EPs on the next page of the Will – which you will see if the next image below. For continuity, I’m adding the text from the next page here] and Virginia (the daughter of Billar) with remainder at her death to my son William Albert.
Image 414 from the Virginia Memory Chancery Court case file
[Item 6]: I bequeath to my wife Mary [Randolph] Bolling in absolute property the following slaves, namely Old Polly, her sons Riton and George, and daughters Polly, Bellar, her daughter Zipphora, Dick my blacksmith [and] his wife Maria [and] their son Robert, and Elsey, and I bequeath to my daughter Jane Rolfe Bolling…absolute property the following slaves, namely my blacksmith Daniel, called Daniel Fleming, his wife Diana, called Diana Britton, and all their children except Levi, given some years ago to my son Thomas, Aggy, called Aggy Skinner, Arianna, Jacob, Matilda, Ellen, John, called John Strong, his wife Becca, and their children, Daniel, called Daniel Orange, his wife Betsey, and their child Virginia.
The rest of the image above deals with land property matters as well as non-EP related matters.
Item 6 provided the proof that I needed that Daniel Fleming was the father of Diana Britton’s children. That was a key proof to find. The other key piece of information confirmed what I also strongly suspected: that Old Polly was Polly the younger’s mother. This information enabled me to update my tree as follows:
Group 1 from the above image:
I am still trawling through Col. William Bolling’s list of EPs to identify the correct Dick, Maria, Robert, and Elsey referred to in the image above.
The next group:
Aggy gained a maiden name – Skinner. Which, if course, begs the question of how she is related to the other Skinners held by Col. William Bolling.
One of Col. William Bolling’s John’s also has a new surname – Strong. I believe I have picked up his trail in Richmond, Virginia in 1870…a location quite a few of Col. William Bolling’s EP s had relocated to by 1870.
The image below covers the dispersal of non-EP related real estate, shares, etc:
Image 415 from the Virginia Memory Chancery Court case file
If there was ever a textbook example of why an enslaver’s probate records are critically important in African American genealogical research…This 1845 Will is it.
I will leave with one last observation. I’m sketching out an article that will examine this in more detail: surnames used by EPs. Like so many other parts of my enslaved ancestry – these EPs knew who they were. They knew which white families they were biologically connected to. Unable to read or write, they claimed their ancestry in the most basic of ways: surnames that did not change from one generation to the next, nor change when they went from one enslaving family to the next. Liking or not liking an enslaving family seems to have had very little bearing on what many of my enslaved ancestors called themselves. Blood ties, however, did.
The pieces of the puzzle are slowly but steadily falling into place with Col. William Bolling’s EPs. And, of course, I can’t wait to make more discoveries about this group of EPs. Every new discovery inches me closer to finding the common ancestors I share with so many of Col. William Bolling’s EPs. Somewhere in the ancestry of a few of these EPs while be a white Randolph, Skipwith, Carey, Rolfe, Carter, Nicholas, and Bolling. At least that’s what DNA is strongly suggesting.
This article follows on from the article Me, Virginia Historical Society’s ‘Unknown No Longer’ website…and a question answered via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/me-virginia-historical-societys-unknown-no-longer-website-and-a-question-answered/