Category Archives: AfAm History

The history of people pf colour in the United States – both free and enslaved – relayed through the prism of my own ancestors.

Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers

Diversity. It’s a word that packs one heck of a punch. It has the power to evoke passionate reactions across the conservative to progressive spectrum of thought. For clarity, in the course of this article, when I refer to diversity I speak of the diversity of experiences in ancestral and family history research. 

I began my ancestry journey around a decade ago. Like any novice, back then, I made some basic assumptions about that journey. I expected to have a magnificent tree composed of distinctly different family branches. Then I discovered my Quaker, Puritan, and Scots-Irish frontier ancestors…ancestors who married their cousins over and over and over again due to reasons of religion and/or isolation. 

I still have a magnificent family tree. It’s just a tree with many, many inter-locking, deeply entwined, and linked branches. It’s not a unique tree by any means. It’s the kind of tree that is actually fairly common for Americans with deep colonial era roots. However, the big online genealogy services have a product in the form of online family tree building which doesn’t reflect this. It’s a dissonance that can be exceedingly frustrating for reasons I’ll cover in a bit. This is one example of genealogical diversity based on cultural differences.

A number of my colonial female ancestors married young. They were far from unique. I know that 14 or 15 was a very young age for an ancestor to begin having children. However, for a Scots-Irish girl in the Appalachian Mountain region, that was just part and parcel of every day life: marry young and starting a family. Automated error messages from family tree building sites informing me that these girls in my family were having children ‘before their child bearing age’ aren’t really helpful. That was the world they lived in back in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  My 20-something times great-grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor (Henry VII of England), was 12 years old when she married Edmund Tudor. She was a mother by 13 years old. 

Now, I’m happy this is no longer the case. Today, girls and young women have options a 17th Century girl could have never dreamt of, less imagined. This is another form of diversity within genealogy: the diversity of basic life experiences, societal customs, and gender.

When I touch on the topic of diversity within genealogy it’s not about political correctness. It’s about a true, honest, and candid recognition of history – without prejudice, air brushing, or white washing the bits of history we don’t like; or would much rather forget. The only way I can truly glimpse my ancestors and ancestral kin is through seeing them in-situ, residents of the society and distinct cultures their lives played out within.

I hope these examples illustrate that I won’t be tackling the subject of diversity within genealogy along the lines some might have assumed I would.

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project

Following on from my previous article, Genealogy Challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams  (Old Ninety-Six, South Carolina (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/genealogy-challenge-researching-the-43-enslaved-children-of-moses-williams-old-ninety-six-sc), this research project is well under way.  And again, my apologies for future gaps in publishing articles in the near future. Every time I sit down to outline an article, one of this project’s researchers finds a record that sends the whole team down the genealogical version of a rabbit hole. Writing tends to take a back seat. When it comes to genealogy, you have to ride whatever line of discovery which presents itself when it presents itself. You never know if you can ever return to a specific set of circumstances which led to a discovery trail should you decide to stop and return to the research later. When the ancestors point the way…we follow.

The Moses Williams project is composed of a few phases:

Phase 1: Finding the enslaved children of my 4x great-grandfather, Moses Williams (1756, York, Virginia-1884, Barnwell, South Carolina) in North Carolina and South Carolina, and tracing their lines of descent;

Phase 2: Identifying Moses’s siblings and extended family in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina;

Phase 3: Tracing his extended enslaved family’s line from Texas up through Tennessee and Kentucky, over to Virginia in the east, then south through Georgia. 

The probate records, tax records, and deeds of their Williams family enslavers (who were also their kin), form the bedrock of this research. We’re talking building a family tree of enslaved people within the depths of the American chattel slavery period. There will be no marriage records to consult. Other than a few mid-19th Century Mortality Schedule entries, there won’t be death records. Nor will there be Antebellum newspaper articles, unless one of these ancestors ran away; or committed some deed, usually negative, to warrant appearing in print. Nor will they have surnames. The rules of what we consider traditional genealogy do not, and will not, apply. 

The major family tree/ancestry services need to not only be transparent about this – they need to address this within their respective services, and the very coding that drives their respective platforms.

In the very early days of this project, I went the old school pen and paper route

A working example of diagramming information about enslaved people from documents

I diagramed  the movement of enslaved people from one Williams family member to another. Every deed, every Will, every estate inventory, and every tax record citing enslaved people received it’s own diagramed work-up. I would make notes linking individual enslaved people from transaction to transaction. I had dozens of sheets of paper in no time at all. Which was fine for me. However, I needed to share this information with an entire research team. Creating a PDF document from dozens of scanned pages wasn’t going to cut it. 

This project needed to go online. It also needed to be accessed, added to, edited/corrected by all of the researchers in real time. Everyone needed access to add vital research records, leave notes, or comments for the other researchers to see. The team also needed to post queries for the other researchers to follow up on. We also needed to see Moses’s family members within a family or group context to better enable us to make important connections.

Enter Ancestry.com. It made sense to build this very unconventional tree using Ancestry:

  • All of the research team were Ancestry.com members;
  • The majority of records we would need were on Ancestry; and
  • Having a public project tree would mean it would be easily discoverable by Williams family descendants who might have missing puzzle pieces to contribute.

I knew this would be an unusual family tree from the beginning. Typically, genealogists work from the present backwards through time. This tree works from the past to the present. On the majority- European side of the family, the tree starts with the family’s immigrant ancestor, John Williams, Sr, who arrived in Virginia during the early years of that colony. He is the anchor ancestor. From him, we can trace the movement of enslaved people from one generation to the next within the family. Well, we can once my contact in London can find a copy of John’s colonial York County, Virginia Will in the American Colonial Records Archive in the British National Archives. Sadly, the original in Virginia was either destroyed or lost.

I will readily admit I was stuck on how I wanted to add enslaved people to this tree. Ancestry.com wasn’t built with this in mind. I made all manner of outlines on paper. I wasn’t happy with any of them. Three very long phone conversations with Ancestry.com didn’t shed any light on how I could tackle this either. While the people I spoke to at Ancestry were pleasant and curious about the project, none could offer any suggestions as to how I could accomplish it. Basically, they thought it was impossible.  

Present me with ‘impossible’ and I’ll take that as a personal challenge to find a work-around solution. My solution might not be elegant or pretty…but it will get the job done. It’s what I do.

Providentially, I received an invite to join a Facebook group called The Beyond Kin Project (https://www.facebook.com/beyondkin). This ingenious project encourages and facilitates the genealogical documentation of enslaved populations. It has growing participation from descendants of enslavers, people who want to share vital information that will assist descendants of enslaved people, to support their descendants’ genealogy research. Descendants of enslaved people also share the documents they have found during the course of their research. By the way, I would like to give a shout out to Donna Cox Baker, one of this project’s co-founders. Donna has a brilliant genealogy blog that is well worth checking out: The Golden Egg Genealogist via http://gegbound.com.

Beyond Kin had an ingenious methodology for tackling adding enslaved people into an overall family tree format on Ancestry. My synapses were fired up. Once I understood the project’s approach, I was able to easily adapt it for the Moses Williams Project.

I’m not going to get into the step-by-step approach on how to build a tree like this one. You can see the Beyond Kin methodology on their website and Facebook group. Suffice to say it shares the same basic challenges as the Moses Williams Project. There is no straightforward way of tackling these problems. Both projects do the best they can will the tools available at the moment.

I will do a “how to” guide for our project once I work out some of the technical foibles, glitches, and eccentricities of creating a tree like this on a service like Ancestry. Suffice to say it’s a long, labour-intensive, time-consuming, and complicated process. For now, the current project team is getting the research job done.

Let’s look at two working examples from our tree below:

Here we have Daniel Williams, a man (and a direct ancestor) whose descendants in South Carolina figure so largely in the story of my 4x great-grandfather Moses Williams and his family. The first part of Daniel’s page looks like any other ancestor’s page on Ancestry. There are his vital details. His parents are there (one note: his father shouldn’t be cited as “The Wealthy Welshman”. This is an historic Williams family error. We’ve left this mistake in the project tree for the simple reason that this is how he’s referred to by many of his descendants. While an error, it makes him easy to identify among a staggering number of John Williams in the family).

We also see Daniel’s wife and children. 

It’s the second half of his page where things become unconventional. Key records like Wills, estate inventories, and Deeds are added as spouses. We then change the relationship between the record and the enslaver it’s attached to from ‘spouse’ to’friend’. This removes any biological connection between the record/document and the person it’s attached to. The enslaved individuals associated with each record are attached to the relevant records they appear within as ‘children’. We then change the ‘childrens’ relationship to the document and the enslaver to a non-biological category, ‘guardian’. Creating duplicates, and then merging them, allows me to have a single page for each enslaved individual – and add them, again and again, for each and every Williams family member who held them in slavery. 

This approach allows the team to see each individual in context, see all of the Williams family members they were associated with…and the other enslaved people who they left behind as well as those who went with them to their new destination. 

Seeing them in this way enables us, and will continue to enable us, to identify who were part of their family; as well as identify those enslaved people who were not a part of their family.

For instance, a few things have already become apparent. There were two distinct groups of enslaved people who were kept within the Williams family. 

The first group were enslaved people who were always kept within the Williams family. Their descendants, and their descendants, were also held within the Williams family.  DNA strongly suggests the enslaved who continued to be held by the family were its blood relations.

The second group were enslaved people who were sold to people outside of the family. The team surmises these were not blood kin to the Williams family.  Deeds of sale are beginning to support this hypothesis. The enslaved people who were bought by the Williams from outside the extended family are tending to be the same enslaved people who were sold to people outside of this family.

The exception are the instances where a Williams died intestate, without a Will. Estate sales in this instance seemed to have been something of a free-for-all. However, we’ve noticed members of the immediate and extended family acquired specific groups of enslaved people when such an estate sale happened. They were buying enslaved people we either know, or strongly suspect, were their black relations. 

We wouldn’t be able to make these connections and associations without a family tree like this project’s tree. 

Daniel is a pretty straightforward example to illustrate. He has only one known document to work with thusfar: his Will.

Things become substantially more complex with his grandson, Maj. John Williams:

For starters, there are all manner of enslaved – related documents associated with John. Some of his Deeds were provisional – meaning they were never enacted – while others were finalized. It’s taking quite a bit of time working out which of his deeds were enacted and which ones were not. This is important in determing where enslaved people were at a given point in time. 

We can also see he seems to have held far more enslaved people than his father, Daniel. Working out which of these enslaved were originally held by the family in previous generations, and which were brought in from outside of the family, is going to take time. 

We also need to determine how the different groups of the enslaved would have identified themselves. Not all of them were Williams. I already suspect other family groups in the above image will include Caldwell, Martin, Griffin, Deloa(t)ch, Hightower, Higgins, and Smith family members.

Here’s another example, this time using an enslaved person’s Ancestry page:

One of the key pieces of information we add to an enslaved person’s page are the documents in which their names appear. We treat records like these like a census record. These documents usually have dates and locations.   For Cuba, for instance, her name first appears (for now) in 1833 as part of John W. Williams household. John, as it turns out, died intestate in Edgefield County, South Carolina. His widow, Ann Freeman Martin-Williams bought Cuba, and Cuba’s children, during the sale of her husband’s estate. 

We know that Cuba and her children were in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1833. And again in 1847, when Ann Freeman Martin-Williams died. And again in 1858, when Ann’s estate sold Cuba and her children to Ann and John’s three daughters. Knowing where each enslaver – family member lived pinpoints the precise location where Cuba and her children were living. It makes things easier when searching for Cuba’s children in the 1870 Census, the first census where formerly enslaved people are recorded in their own right.

Using a tree like this facilitates this kind of research like nothing else I can think of.

It’s why understanding, accepting, and supporting diversity in genealogy matters. There’s no getting around it. Online genealogy services are actively marketing to the descendants of enslaved people without really offering a more streamlined way for those descendants to grapple with building research trees. That’s just for starters. Like Native American genealogy, black American genealogy is distinctly different from European-American genealogy the further back in time we go. In many ways, when it comes to enslaved ancestors, each and every one is like researching an adoptee, or an orphan with no known ancestry. That’s another aspect of diversity within genealogy.

This is especially true in a time when such services are specifically advertising their genealogy services to Americans with ancestors who were enslaved

https://www.ispot.tv/share/7cq8

https://www.ispot.tv/share/AZf4

https://www.ispot.tv/share/Am2o

https://www.ispot.tv/share/AHvt

The only advert we’ve seen that mentions that awkward “S” word is this advert:

https://www.ispot.tv/share/7drx

There is another reason for these services to truly address diversity. These are the category choices the team is faced with when adding enslaved people to our project tree:

The standard relationship definitions used by genealogy service providers don’t adequately address researching enslaved ancestors

None of the classifications in the image above are appropriate in defining the link between an enslaver and the enslaved. Doing the best we can with the tools we have via Ancestry, we use ‘Guardian’. It’s part of eliminating any biological links between an enslaved person and the enslaving family when no such connection exists. It’s the best classification to use in order for this project tree to work properly. However, it isn’t appropriate. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not just Ancestry. Every online family tree building site is like this. 

With a growing number of descendants of enslavers wanting to share information from records they have, for every project like the Beyond Kin Project and the Moses Williams Family Tree Project, and for every descendant of enslaved people who join a family tree building site due to marketing/advertising…this issue needs to be addressed. This is especially true when marketing ancestry services to specific groups of people. 

The question should always be, do we have a service that meets a specific demographic’s ancestral research needs? In other words, looking at your genealogy service through their eyes, and honestly assessing what their experience of such a service will be.

Diversity, in this instance, is about recognizing difference in genealogical experiences.  Plus looking at, and experiencing, the genealogy journey not from the service provider’s lens of its genealogy experience – but through the lenses of its diverse customer base. In this instance, I feel certain there are black genealogists, and black genealogy project founders, who would be only too pleased to act as consultants for the big genealogy services.   All these companies need do is reach out, and ask.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Race & Diversity, slave census

Genealogy challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams (Old Ninety-Six, SC)

My cousin and research business partner, Donya, hit me me with a small newspaper clipping packed with some major family history implications for our Edgefield County/Old Ninety-Six County, South Carolina family:

Edgefieldians already know we’re connecting to one another in a myriad of ways from 1800 onwards. Whether our Old Ninety-Six  ancestors were white, Native American, or black…everyone in the Old Ninety-Six region is related. With a long history of cousin marriages,  most of us are related to one another at least three or four ways.

My 4x great-grandfather Moses, and his 43 children, connects many of us at a much earlier date than any of us could have imagined. This one man pushes our combined ancestry back to around 1769, the year Moses was born. We reckon this one man is going to connect around two-thirds of the black and mulatto residents of 19th Century Edgefield/Old Ninety-Six.  

Two. Thirds. I’m still wrapping my noggin ’round that one.

This journey of discovery will be far from straightforward.  Honestly, though? It has the makings of a brilliant documentary.

The first challenge is the fact that Moses, his children, and their respective mothers, were enslaved. So it’s not going to be a matter of diving into census records between 1790 and 1870. Moses and his descendants won’t appear in their own right until the 1870 census. If we’re lucky, some of them may appear in the Freedmen Bank Records between 1865 and 1870…if we’re lucky. Most of our formerly enslaved ancestors from Old Ninety-Six didn’t open Freedmen Bank accounts unless they lived near to a city or large town.

At this stage of our research, we have identified the family who held them in slavery. Not unsuprisingly, this was the Welsh – descended Williams family of Hanover County, Virginia; Caswell, Granville, and Pasquotank Counties in North Carolina; and Laurens, Newberry, and Old Ninety-Six /Edgefield Counties in South Carolina.

The relationship between Moses and the Welsh – American Williams family wasn’t just one based on enslavement. DNA is already giving us an insight into which Williams family member fathered Moses. However, that reveal is planned for a forthcoming book.

In the meantime, I thought this would be an opportunity to outline the various stages we’re preparing to tackle this behemoth of a genealogical conundrum. 

First up is creating a family tree for the Welsh-descended Williamses:

I’ve adapted our Ancestry.com tree to an old school pen and paper format, concentrating on the specific line of Williams who held Moses and his children in bondage. Milennials will be horrified. However, sometimes, the pen and paper approach is necessary. This step came after a week of reading countless Williams family Wills, estate probate records, tax records, and deeds of sale and/ or deeds of transfer.

The next step was literally sketching out the enslavement of our ancestors within this family, one generation at a time. The image above gives an overview of our ancestors enslavement within the second generation of the Williams family.

The next step was mapping out enslavement based on Wills and Deeds. In the image above, I’ve made a special note regarding the date and location of the Deed. In a way, I’m treating Deeds like they were a census. We know exactly where these ancestors were in 1795 based on this record.We also know exactly where they were going at this date.

While this deed doesn’t offer clues about the family relationships between these people, it does tell us these souls left Pasquotank, NC for Newberry, SC at this date in one large group. We know who went to South Carolina, and who remained behind in North Carolina.

The image above explores our kinsmen and women’s fate within the third generation of the Williams family.

These series of Deeds have been an invaluable information gold mine. Almost all of them gave our enslaved ancestors and kin’s ages (all of those numbers in parentheses). In other words, we could extrapolate birth years. I can’t begin to convey how rare this information is when it comes to enslaved people’s history.

The superscript numbers are tracking numbers that allow us to follow a person through a series of inter-family deed transactions and transfers through subsequent Wills.

The images marked ‘4’ and ‘5’ mark what I refer to as ‘outlier deeds’ within the Williams family. At this stage, were not entirely certain who the enslaved individuals are, or how they fit into the overall history or narrative of our Old Ninety-Six family. It’s my practice to always record, and make notes, even if the information – or its impact – is unknow. You never, ever know if you can re-find such information. From my experience, I know nothing is ever wasted. There will come a point and time in the research process where I will be mighty pleased I took the time to record this information. 

The above is a pretty straightforward representation of the dispersal of our enslaved kin by their owner-relative. I’ll admit my heart went out to poor Rose. Her life was spent going back and forth between various Williams family members.

So, at this point, we’re still tracking down Wills, estate inventories, land records, tax records, and deeds for a handful of Williams family members…as well as sketching out more Generation 3 transfers. Then, it will be time to sketch an outline of the same for Generation 4.

Once Generation 4 is complete,  that will bring us to the 1870 Census. Then? Well, we’ll know where our newly freed kin were from the last set of Wills and deeds. We can map their known last location from such Wills and Deeds, along with ages, to individuals and family groups in South Carolina in the 1870 Census for the Old Ninety-Six region. 

And then start the whole process over again for our kin who remained in North Carolina from 1795 onwards.

Yep. This is an enormous undertaking. Which, in its own way, is historic.

If researching an enslaved man and his 43 children wasn’t challenging enough, good ole 4x grandad Moses has provided us with even more challenges:

  • We’re seeking Moses, his 2 wives, and 43 children in at least 6 different known counties in two states
  • There’s an even earlier generation of this family. Their story begins in Hanover County, Virginia;
  • Born about 1769, we know Moses had at least one child named Moses, Jr by 1791. We estimate Moses, Sr began having children from 1784 onwards;
  • The birth of 43 children covers quite a span of time. If our Edgefield family trait of 1 child every 18 months holds true for Moses, were talking nearly an 80 year time period. This means no one white Williams held all of them. These children would have gone to various members of the Williams family over a few generations. And could have been relocated as far afield as Texas, Arkansas,  and Missouri;
  • 40 girls means 40 different surnames, if each one married. Their daughters would also go on to have different last names due to marriage…and their daughters. You get the general idea;
  • Moses, Sr was definitely fathering children when he was a grandfather. We have reason to believe he was also having children when he was a great-grandfather. In other words, some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be older than his youngest children. Yeah, I’ll let that one sink in for a moment. Heck, the man lived to the august age of 115 after all! Basically? We have to be extra careful when looking at the birth years on census returns; and
  • This is a big swathe of time to cover for 1 person.

So please bear with me. There are going to be quiet spells in terms of my publishing. Our Twitter feed and Facebook page are always busy. You’re always free to keep in touch with us via those routes.

In the meantime, please do wish us well. We can certainly use the positivity.

Namaste

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, searching census records, slave census, South Carolina, virginia

Perry Sheffey: snippets of a life played out in the early years of Reconstruction

The Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records (1865-1872) has come up trumps again.  Okay, so I was looking for records for a Perry Commodore Sheffey in Wythe County, Virginia. And, of course, came across story snippets for a Perry Benjamin Sheffey in neighboring Augusta County, Virginia. Yes, both were cousin. Genealogy works that way sometimes. You want to focus on one person in particular…and another person jumps to the front of the queue. I’ve learned to roll with it.

A brief bit of Sheffey genealogy background context

My early Sheffey ancestors in Virginia have been relatively easy to research and trace. First, there were so few Sheffeys to research. Second, my Virginia Sheffey ancestors primarily resided in one place: southwestern Virginia.

On the less-melanated side of the family tree, there were 3 brothers who were the children of German immigrants: Congressman Daniel Henry Sheffey, Maj. Henry Lawrence Sheffey, and John Adam Sheffey. Only two of these brothers – Daniel and Henry – would go on to have enslaved people. This made researching my melanated Sheffeys a more straightforward task. I knew where to look for them.

Genealogy always has exceptions. My 4x great grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, is one. Typically, my melanated ancestors who were enslaved were the results of European descended slave owners fathering children with African-descended women.  My Sheffey ancestry is an exception.  John Adam Sheffey never had slaves.  Yet, of the three brothers, he is the one who had children with an enslaved woman, Jemima. Indications suggest Jemima was part of his brother Henry Sheffey’s household. While I continue to search for records to verify this, I believe she entered Henry’s household with his bride, who was Jemima’s mistress. John eventually left Wythe County, Virginia for Greene County, Tennessee.  Jemima and their children remained enslaved in Wythe.

Having only three Sheffey brothers to work with, and understanding which of them owned slaves – and knowing where they were resident between 1790 and 1840 – made my research far easier than other families I’ve researched.

Map of Augusta County

To the left is a standard map of Virginia. Staunton and Augusta County are just beneath the blue arrow. To the right is an enlarged image featuring Staunton, marked with key places where Sheffeys lived within Augusta County.

Daniel Sheffey, the eldest brother, established himself in Staunton, Virginia (see ‘A’ in the above map). Henry, the middle brother, established himself in Wythe County and neighboring Smyth County.

The geographic location for Daniel and Henry made it easier to understand why African-descended Sheffeys lived in specific parts of southwest Virginia. For instance, African descended Sheffeys in Staunton, and the surrounding area, were strongly associated with Congressman Daniel Sheffey. Those in Wythe and Smyth Counties were associated with Major Henry Sheffey. Henry, whose wife pre-deceased him, died prematurely young himself in 1824. His own children were parceled out among his family. His enslaved nieces and nephews, who are part of my direct Sheffey line, were also parceled out among the wider family. However, without a Will, I have no idea to whom they went, nor the provisions he made for them. This remains a stubborn and frustrating mystery I would dearly love to solve.

The only fly in the ointment has been a distinct lack of probate records for either Daniel or Henry. If either of these men made Wills, they haven’t been digitized, and remain in some dusty and unexplored corner…or they were lost/destroyed. Finding these Wills, and related probate records, will answer a multitude of questions.  An important genealogical question is how their African descended kin became dispersed among the European-descended Sheffey descendants and allied families in Wythe, Smyth, Staunton, and Augusta Counties between 1815 and 1850.

Back to Perry Sheffey

Perry Benjamin Sheffey was born in 1837 in Mint Spring, Augusta, Virginia (see ‘D’ in the map above) to Robert Sheffey and Esther Bates (possibly Harper – her children cited different maiden names for her on their marriage certificates). I call his family group the Mint Spring Sheffeys. They were the only Sheffeys to reside in this part of Augusta County. And, given where they lived, I presume their story began with Congressman Daniel Sheffey.

My first port of call was the 1865 Cohabitation Register for Augusta County. I found Perry, who was living on his own.  This still strikes me as strange.  He had 2 children by this point. His children and wife’s whereabouts in 1865 remain unknown. I also found his parents along with his siblings. However, unlike the cohabitation registers for Wythe and Smyth Counties, no last owner was cited for Perry or his parents. There are no further clues to be gleaned from this source.

My other go-to resource, the Freedmen’s Bank Records, also had nothing for this family.

So, as you can see, there remains quite a bit of work to do on Perry Sheffey and his family.

Freedmen’s Office Records

Perry’s story really picks up in the early days of Reconstruction in Virginia. The Freedmen’s Bureau Archives has three records for him. Each record is insightful, providing a glimpse into everyday life for freedmen and women played out against the backdrop of Reconstruction

The first record is dated 7 June 1866:

silver watch cropped

Transcript: Patrick Corbin (F) vs. Wyatt Smith (F) claims $10 is due him for which friend of Smith’s, Perry Sheffey (F), wishes to leave as security a silver watch to be forfeited if the debt is not paid in ten days from June 7, 1866 – Rec’d the watch [CB] 63323-7 (incident/Claim number).
June 19 – Watch delivered to Pat Carter – Witness O. Morris

Perry strikes me as a likable chap. He’s just the kind of mate you’d like to have if you’re in a tight spot. Here he is putting up a presumably prized possession as collateral for a friend’s debt. It’s not important whether or not the watch was expensive. Nor is it really important whether or not it held sentimental or practical value to Perry.  At the end of the day, it was his watch.

Naturally, I was curious about historical backdrop this small event played itself out against. A short article, Staunton a mixed bag of progress, problems in 1865 (http://www.newsleader.com/story/news/history/2015/12/04/staunton-mixed-bag-progress-problems/76801420/ ), provides an excellent overview of Staunton, Virginia in 1865. Suffice to say Staunton, and Augusta County, were in a bad way in 1865. Swathes of Augusta County had been destroyed during the Civil War. Economic hardship was keenly felt. And, according to the article, there was a degree of lawlessness that made me think of the old Wild West. These were challenging times – and few were immune from deprevation.

$10 was quite a bit of money in 1865.  Adjusting this for 2017, $10 in 1865 would be worth around $140.00 in 2017. That puts the debt of Perry’s friend, and the value of Perry’s watch, into perspective. While it cost him in the end, Perry went out of his way to help a mate. I have to wonder how he felt about Wyatt Smith afterwards.

The second record is dated 25 April 1867:

Land complaint cropped

“Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRQG-R4?cc=1596147&wc=9LMK-923%3A1078522902%2C1078525001 : 25 June 2014), Staunton (assistant subassistant commissioner) > image 58 of 195; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913 (College Park, Maryland: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Transcript:  Perry Sheffey (c) lives at Stuart’s Drift, Augusta Co., complains that he rented by verbal agreement from Zachariah McChenney, a house and about 25 acres  of land then occupied by Thomas Parnell at an annual rent of $25 at 1/3 of the part possession of house to be given in March 1867 at the latest. That Parnell has not removed and says he shall not move out until the coming Fall and that meantime Perry Sheffey has been compelled at great inconvenience and loss to live in a room in Z McCherney . [Signed by McChenney] 

Note at the bottom: Directed Sheffey to notify McChenney that he required place vacated by Parnell and to report all of this office result.

I was curious about who this Parnell was. Why was he causing Perry a bit of a headache? A search in the 1860 and 1870 Census didn’t place a Parnell in Stuart’s Drift, or Augusta County. He remains a mystery.

I can appreciate Perry’s frustration.  You are freed from the bondage of slavery. You have a family you want to provide for. And, you want your slice of the American Dream – a slice you never thought you would live to see. He was free…and he planned on making the most of it. Whatever the situation was between Zachariah McChenney and Parnell, it had nothing to do with Perry. Putting myself in his shoes, I would have felt pretty salty about the situation.

It appears that Perry and McChenney knew each other very well. McChenney’s name appears in more than one of these accounts about Perry.

There is something that isn’t very obvious in this account. Yet, it’s important.  Zachariah McChenney filed this complaint on the behalf of Perry. There’s an easy answer why. Virginia’s Black Codesof 1705 and 1866 forbade people of color from filing complaints or law suits against European-descended people (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Codes_(United_States ). You were free…but with some fundamental limitations.

Freedmen Bureau records meticulously recorded racial designations. An ‘F’ appearing next to a person’s name designated them as a Freedman or Freedwoman (i.e. a formerly enslaved person). In other words, they were black/mulatto. So too the letter ‘C’ next to someone’s name to designate ‘colored’ – which also included free people of color. An absence of any letter, or the letter ‘W’ designated someone who was white. From my experience, ‘white’ was a default setting, hence it not appearing very often. Using the record above, the absence of any code letter indicates that Parnell and McChenney were both white. While Perry has a ‘C’ for colored.

Perry was a fighter. Farming was his livelihood and he didn’t seem inclined to just let things work out for themselves.  I was liking him already. I don’t know how this matter was resolved.  However, I do know that Perry can be found in South River Township in Augusta County in the 1870 Census. He’s listed as a farm laborer. That census told me a little bit more about Perry. He couldn’t read or write.

Perry Sheffey in 1870

Perry Sheffey’s household in 1870

By 1880, Perry is still a farm laborer.  However, by this Census, he can read and write.

Perry Sheffey in 1880

Perry Sheffey’s household in 1880

I have to admire his tenacity. Somehow, some way, after a day of physically grueling work, he learned how to read and write. I picture him rising before sunset to face a day of farming and all that entailed. Anyone familiar with farming knows it’s a long and grueling work day. I know I, for one, would be inclined to go home, eat, and put my feet up. Not Perry.  Bit by bit, hour by hour, he became literate. That determination is something I admire.

It’s the last Freedmen’s Bureau record that I found for him, dated 9 June 1866, that had me laughing out loud:

Perry Sheffey complaint

“Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FPGR-7WY : 24 December 2014), Perry Sheffy, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913 (College Park, Maryland: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 2,414,653.

Transcript: Elick Johnson (F) vs. Perry Sheffey (F) lives near Bardy Brook – complains that Sheffey has two wives and one is a white woman, the other is in the County – is a public nuisance as they often live together – Mr Adam McChenney told him to mention the case.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall while this conversation was happening. It’s the writer in me. I can just imagine the hushed, scandalized, urgent tone of the person’s voice relaying this complaint to the Union officer.

Perry, it seems, was going to live his life the way he wanted to without apology. In fairness to him, the basis of this wasn’t exactly unheard of. The 1850, 1860, and 1870 Censuses for the area show quite a few households headed by women of color with multi-racial children. These were the second, “hidden” families of the European descended men in the area. I can only surmises that Perry thought if it was good enough for them, then it was good enough for him. At least he was open and honest about it. If they were all living together, as the complaint states, then it was probably a harmonious arrangement. I get it though.  It was not the done thing. And it certainly wasn’t the done thing for a man of color. Still, the cheekiness of it makes me smile.

Three tiny snippets of bureaucratic record keeping provided some depth to someone who was previously just a name among many names. Story snippets like these are worth their weight I gold precisely for that reason.

 

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The Hale family of Virginia : Using Eastern Cherokee Applications to build family tree branches

I’ve been researching my paternal Hale family in Wythe and Grayson Counties for the past three or so years. This hasn’t been a particularly easy family to research.  They are one of the few families comprised of free people of color (fpoc) who haven’t been extensively researched. Like my Hill, Carpenter, Clark, Kenny/Kinney, and Robertson kin, who were also fpoc in the same region of southwest Virginia, very little has been written about them.

When you factor in the majority European and Native American Hale family branches…it is one enormous and sprawling family that encompasses the four corners of America.

I had a pretty good foundation for this specific ancestral line via census returns.  However, I knew there were large gaps that included plenty of missing people. Nor did I have a clue about how my direct Hale lines connected with the wider Hale family in Lancaster, Bedford, and Essex Counties in Virginia. Much less the older branches of the family in New England.

A message from ‘GingerGirl’, a Hale family relation, via Ancestry.com changed all of that. She suggested I take a look at Eastern Cherokee Applications (ECAs) on Fold3.  The existence of ECAs came as news to me. Turns out, this tip was quite the revelation.  The myriad of Hale family ECAs on Fold 3 enabled me to finally tackle my Hales. Not only tackle them…but connect the dots between different Hale family groups scattered across Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

I have one suggestion, before I continue.  I recommend checking this resource out if you have ancestors who were fpoc. I have found missing fpoc ancestors and kin from the Bird/Byrd, Drew, Findley, Hathcock/Haithcock/Heathcock, and Walden families, among others, through their ECA applications.

So what kinds of genealogy information do these applications have? 

Plenty.  I’m going to use cousin Jerome Hale’s EPA as an example.

fold3_page_3_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

The image above is a pretty standard application cover page.  It has the applicant’s name, as well as the application roll number assigned to their case.  In the case of Jerome, his ECA number was 41355. You can also use this number to search for any other EPA attached to an applicant’s file.  As you can probably imagine, entire families submitted individual applications. Making a note of each ECA roll number enables you to cross-reference and cross-check information.  There’s also a date stamp. I use this date when updating the then-current residency information on an individual’s page on Ancestry.com .

fold3_page_4_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

The page above has a wealth of basic genealogy-related information:

  • The applicant’s full name, including any Native American name they might have had
  • Current residency information
  • Age at the time of application, and the birth date the applicant used
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status, including the name of a spouse
  • Tribal affiliation. OK, we’re talking abuot Eastern Cherokee aplications, so it’s no surprise that the tribal affililation is going to be Cherokee.  However, I have seen a handful of references to a parent who was Choctaw, Shawnee, or Powhatan
  • The names, ages, and dates of birth for the applicant’s children
  • Parents’ names, as well as their place of birth

There’s a bit of a mystery around Jerome’s father, William.  William vacillated between the surnames Clark, Hale (Haile), and Kinney (Kinney) when he was younger. Frankly, his habit of chopping and changing between 3 different surnames has made him a nightmare to research. Part of the problem is the identity of his father is unknown. His mother, Phyllis, used the surname Kenney/Kinney; whether this name was through birth or marriage is also uncertain.

I’m left wondering where these surnames came from.  And, more importantly, what these surnames meant to them. Names are a fundamental part of anyone’s identity. These surnames clearly meant something to Phyllis and William.  What they meant to them, however, remains unclear.

This also raises a question about the relationship between my Clarks who were free and my Clarks who were enslaved. Both groups have origins in Grayson County before a removal to Wythe County. Both groups share a tri-racial – European, African, and Native American – ancestry. The two groups, including descendants, also married each other in Wythe County. DNA matches suggest both Clark family groups shared a common Clark ancestor.  Who that person was remains unknown.

What this page tells me is that Jerome’s father, William, finally settled on Clark as his family name, which matches later Census returns for him. His wife, Selia/Celia, and their children also chopped and changed between using the names Kinney/Kenney and Hale; finally settling upon Hale as their family name.

fold3_page_5_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

The page above also has basic, yet crucial information:

  • Parents’ place of residence in 1851. Seemingly innocuous, this is an important piece of information to have. There are times when I can’t locate ancestors or kin on the 1850 Census. It’s simply due to not knowing where a person was living, especially if they had a common name. Even more so if they moved around frequently.  and my Hales moved around quite a bit.  I couldn’t find Jerome’s parents in the 1850 Census, for instance.  Once I knew where they were in 1851, I went back and finally found them in the 1850 Census.
  • The names and residences of siblings. Again, this is pure gold dust.  With other family ECAs, I discovered the applicant had siblings that I hadn’t discovered in my other research efforts. Or, I could finally make a connection between a few different family groups. Even better, depending on the thoroughness of the applicant, I also discovered if an applicant’s mother remarried, thus having a different surname – as well as discovering the married names for sisters. Having a woman’s correct surname at a certain date point enabled me to find them in vital records, etc.
  • Last, but by no means least, you can have 3 generations’ worth of family lineages provided, as in the case above.

There are a few things to unpack regarding the dates used in the ECAs

The dates of 1834-5 and 1851 were important due to various treaties signed between the Eastern Cherokee and the US government. Basically, the US government wanted confirmation that an application has been a member of the Eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties of 1835 (Treaty of New Echota, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_New_Echota ), or 1836 (Treaty of Bowles Village with the Republic of Texas), or 1843 (Treaty of Bird’s Fort with the Republic of Texas, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Bird’s_Fort ) between the United States and the Eastern Cherokee.

These dates don’t seem to be hard and fast excluders if an ancestor wasn’t a recognized as an Eastern Cherokee tribe member at those date points. I’m still researching this to determine what tripwire/minefield these 3 date points represent for a prospective applicant. Bureaucracy is a demanding mistress.  Those year dates are far from arbitrary. They are there for a multitude of reasons.  Treaty years is but one.

The year 1851 has to do with the Drennen Roll. This roll was a post Trail of Tears. This roll logged payments made to Cherokees living to the west of the Mississippi River.  These Cherokees were removed from the eastern United States to the west of the Mississippi River as a result of an 1835.  The roll was prepared by John Drennen, and contains the name of the person to be paid, their Cherokee district, and information about their family group.

Back to the genealogy nuggets of gold

fold3_page_6_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

I’ve included the image above just to illustrate the affidavit part of the process. Like any other legal matter, affidavits were part and parcel of this process.

Other Hale family ECA’s contain additional genealogy nuggets that are pure gold. Like the letter below, which is part of Silas Hale’s ECA. Silas was Jerome’s cousin.  Below is a letter written by Silas to the US Court of Claims regarding his own application.

fold3_page_7_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

This is a very simple letter.  Yet, I love this for so many reasons. The first is that Silas could clearly read and write. Given that this was 1907, it’s something that can’t be take for granted. It’s also pretty cool to see an ancestor’s 100+ year old writing.  The vocabulary and penmanship tells me something about Silas. Considering this was a chasing letter, it’s pretty polite.

Transcription:

Appl. #37721 | May 15, 1908

Silas Hale,

  Jellico, Tenn.

Sir:

Relative to your application for participation in the Eastern Cherokee Fund, please state whether you, your parents, or grandparents ever resided with the Cherokee tribe. If so, state when and where. Were you, your parents, or grandparents recognized as white people, Indians or negroes in the communities in which you and they have resided?

Why was the parent through whom you claim not enrolled in 1851, and where was he or she residing in 1834-5, if living at the time? Where were your grandparents on the side through which you claim residing in 1834-5?

If your parents or grandparents were slaves, state whether slaves of Indians or white people.

Very respectfully,

Special Commissioner

By

Chief Clark  

The other thing that leaps out at me are the not-so-subtle questions about race and slave status. They seem to be filters. Again, seemingly simple questions that could be used as tripwires to invalidate a claim (Blood Quantum Laws via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_quantum_laws; and Who’s a Native American? It’s complicated via http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/14/whos-a-native-american-its-complicated are quick introductions to this topic).

The vast majority of Hale ECAs were rejected. The usual reason cited was a lack of documentary evidence to prove their Cherokee ancestry. There were other factors at play.  The letter below, from Charles Hale (another cousin), is a not so subtle hint that family members knew the forces that were at play regarding their applications.

charles-hale-apprehensive-letter

The sentence “under misapprehension in having this application filled out” speaks volumes. He clearly knew exactly what was at stake.

Silas’s response to the letter he received follows below. He too knew what was at stake. I include it to illustrate some of the key genealogical information that can be gleaned through these applications.

fold3_page_10_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909fold3_page_11_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

I apologize for not transcribing it.  I’ll readily admit that I struggled with the cursive writing. However, the parts I could easily read again had important genealogy information:

  • Silas stated that his grandparents and parents were recognized as Cherokee, although not formally enrolled in the tribe;
  • His mother was Cherokee and European
  • He believed the reason why his father hadn’t enrolled in 1851 was due to his leaving Cherokee territory for Virginia. Which, as it turned out, was true. His mother had already died by 1851; and;
  • That his grandparents were resident in Cherokee territory in 1834-5. In fact, all of them had died in Cherokee territory.

Again, it provides a concise little genealogy covering his parents and grandparents: their names and where they were living at key dates.

Like the majority of other Hale ECAs, Silas’s was rejected.

I love these ECAs for the information they contain.  They equally frustrate me. I keep asking myself how the Court of Claims could expect people living in remote areas in the early to mid-1800s to have gathered – much less think about –legal/official proof of Cherokee affiliation. You’re busy just trying to deal with the hurly burly of everyday life and providing for your family.  Time is an issue. Do you take the one or two days necessary to ride into town to enroll as a member of a Native American tribe or do you tend to whatever your source of income and/or subsistence was? Many of my Hales were farmers.  A day or two away from the farm was simply out of the question.

Enrollment and/or documentary proof may, or may not, have required money. If so, where was that money to come from? These were not rich people. I know I probably wouldn’t have spent the money or time to prove something that my family, and others who knew my family, already knew to be true.

I also can’t take literacy for granted. Regardless of race. If multiple generations of a family were illiterate, there would be no one to write such proofs down for posterity.

These were also people who moved about. Frequently. Even if they had the inclination, time, and money, to register – it’s an easy thing to lose or misplace papers with each move you make. There’s one Hale family group who went from North Carolina, to Virginia, then on to Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and were ultimately removed to Oklahoma. That’s a whole lot of moving. Considering they only had access to horses and wagons, this is actually quite impressive. However, there were a whole lot of opportunities to lose important papers, should those papers have existed in the first place.

This is the other aspect of ECAs that I find interesting.  The historical context, the backdrop as it were, that impacted upon the lives of these applicants. History and genealogy do indeed go hand in hand. These applications provide us with real glimpses into both.

Image Credit:
Images via: Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909

Eastern Cherokee Applications via Fold 3:  https://www.fold3.com/title_73/eastern_cherokee_applications#overview

 

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Leila Sheffey-Taylor: A life lived in the turn of the 20th Century black press

Part of what drives my genealogy journey is putting flesh to the usual vital statistics details for my ancestors. Vital statistics are unquestionably important.  However, it’s rather dry stuff. For me, it’s about making the ancestors three-dimensional, living, breathing people with personal histories, quirks, and foibles.  You know, the things that make people, well, people. I face the same challenges in researching ancestors who didn’t move among the great and the good as any other genealogist. There is a distinct lack of anecdotal materials, letters, journals, or diaries to achieve this goal.

My Newspaper.com membership, however, is enabling me to catch glimpses of the personal lives for quite a few of my ancestors and ancestral kin.  Actually, that membership is working overtime. However, it’s a double-edge sword.  The lives of my less melinated ancestors and kin who were middle class or wealthy have been fairly well documented in old newspaper clippings, letters, journals, and diaries.  Not so for my ancestors and kin who were poor or people of colour. From my experience to-date, people of colour rarely appeared in your everyday newspapers.  If they did, it was for reasons that weren’t very happy or positive.

Enter newspapers whose audience were primarily people of colour. These papers have proven to be an information goldmine.  They chronicle the social lives and careers for their community – as well as state and national news that directly affected their readership.

leila-a-storm-sheffey

Leila A Sheffey , 1906

When it comes to Leila A “Storm” Sheffey, a cousin who descends from a different Sheffey line than mine, African American newspapers have revealed a story worthy of a Jane Austen romance: a plucky, astute, and educated heroine; solid middle class values; a trip; an illness; a society courtship; and a marriage. OK, this being an Austen story comparison…a good marriage.

The heroine of this real life version of Austen was Leila. Of course, none of the clippings I’ve read explain that ‘Storm’ nickname. Although one of them certainly commented about it. She was the daughter of a middle class NW Washington DC family. In 1899, her father, Isaac Taylor Sheffey, was a successful carpenter while her mother, Laura Ann Woodson, worked for the US Bureau of Engraving.

leila-a-storm-sheffey-visit-10-mar-1899The thing that strikes me about the 1899 article above is a sense of the seeming innocence of a bygone age. It would be inconceivable to print anyone’s full address in this day and age. Yet, there hers is.

Even better, there’s a snippet about her general demeanor: unassuming and positive in a marked degree. It just makes me think of the Parthenon of strong leading ladies amongst Austen’s heroines.  Aspects of Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliott, Catherine Morland, and Elinor Dashwood spring to mind.

The other thing that immediately sprang to mind was the sheer distance and expense of travelling from Washington DC to Des Moines, Iowa. In 1899, that would have been quite the journey by train.  It was definitely an adventure. This too tells me something about her.

The last thing that struck me about this seemingly superficial account was the strength of family connections. George Woodson was the nephew of Leila’s mother, Laura Ann Woodson. George and Leila both had deep roots in Wythe County, Virginia. While Leila’s family moved to Washington DC, George struck out for Iowa.  Both families clearly remained in contact despite the distance between them.  I can imagine the letters that passed between both households in Iowa and Washington DC: catching up on all the usual family news that fill such letters. The fondness, and the bonds between them, were clearly strong.

The article describes Leila’s cousin, attorney George Woodson, as ’distinguished’. His career certainly was.  However, and this will be touched upon in a further newspaper clipping, the paper was conveying another emphasis through the word ‘distinguished’. Leila’s mother, Laura Ann, was believed to be the 3x great-granddaughter of President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. This Woodson-Jefferson family link is hotly –and I do mean hotly – contested between the Woodsons and the Monticello Organization. In this instance, we have a strong oral family tradition butting heads against a DNA test showing otherwise. Nevertheless, in 1899, this is what was believed.

On her father’s side of the family, she was a great grandniece of Virginia Congressman, Daniel Henry Sheffey (1770-1830), who was quite the politician in his day.

I can only suspect it was these family associations that led to the length of the article. What strikes me is that details of their respective family backgrounds were known. I have to laugh, it took me years of research to reclaim this lost knowledge.

leila-a-storm-sheffey-visitor-28-oct-1904

From 28 Oct 1904, Iowa State Bystander

Between Oskaloosa, Des Moines, and Washington, DC, there are plenty of snippets for Leila like the one above. Whether it was singing at recitals, or fetes, family gatherings, or visits, there’s been a wealth of short print pieces that bring her to life. I’ve included an extra one below:

leila-a-storm-sheffey-visit-24-oct-1902

Her 1906 engagement announcement is simply pure gold:

leila-a-storm-sheffey-engagement-9-nov-1906

Again, there is a hint to another Presidential link.  Her future husband, Dr Charles Sumner Taylor, was believed to be either a descendant of, or cousin to, President Zachary Taylor.

Putting modern American black viewpoints about such associations to one side, as genealogists and historians, we can only view things from our ancestors’ point of view. Generations ago, such family associations clearly meant something. That would be the ‘belonging to the first families of the old dominion’ bit. No matter how we feel about such things today, you don’t get a newspaper article like the one above without such connections meaning something to the reporter who wrote the article, the publisher, and the community in general.

Honestly? There are other parts of the story I find far more insightful. She was a respected court reporter. She clearly worked, and worked hard. In doing so, she earned the respect of her peers. This was no easy feat for a woman in 1906. She was active in her community. And the couple seems to have been generally well-liked and admired.

And, of course, I can’t help but wonder if she met Dr Taylor during her earlier visit in 1899, the visit where she fell ill. Was he the doctor who tended to her? What a story to tell their children and grandchildren. Did that first meeting, and his courtship, lead to her permanent move from Washington DC to Iowa? She’d clearly been resident in the town for a few years prior to her engagement and marriage. Whether this is how their romance happened or not, the newspaper snippets and articles I found for her truly transformed her from a name on my family tree to a living and breathing person.

I heartily recommend checking out both Newspapers.com and ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gob to find your own ancestors’ stories.

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Pleasant Roane (Rowan) and the road to manumission in Lynchburg

I’ve been meaning to write about Pleasant Roane for quite a while.  I’ve always felt badly that other research and other stories commanded my attention more, and overshadowed his tale.  Well, as much of his tale as I’m aware of. It’s quite the interesting tale.

I’ve also been surprised that I see to be the only Roane family descendant researching Pleasant. Mine is the only family tree in which he appears. This, in part, probably has to do with the obscurity of his origins. Any Roane would be proud to claim him.

So what prompted my interest?  He is one of a handful of my enslaved ancestors who sued for his freedom…and then sued the State of Virginia to be allowed to remain in the state once he was freed.

Virginia had a statute on the books that slaves freed after 1806 had to leave the state or suffer re-enslavement (see http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/_An_ACT_to_amend_the_several_laws_concerning_slaves_1806).  The only means by which a person freed from slavery after 1806 had to remain in-state was to sue the state and hope the state would find in their favour.  This was by no means guaranteed. The reason why they would wish to remain is pretty simple:  while they were free, other members of their family (i.e. spouse, children, siblings, etc) remained in slavery.

Access to the court wasn’t simple and straightforward for African-descended people.  A 19th Century person of colour, by law, could not sue the state or a person of European heritage. Not at the State or Federal level. A person of colour needed a European-descended person to bring a suite on their behalf, or act as their guardian and act as a proxy in order for a suit to be heard in court.  In the eyes of the law, people of colour had a legal status similar to a minor. That’s the short form backdrop to Pleasant’s story.

I know little about Pleasant’s origins. He’s believed to have been born in Bedford County, Virginia.  An approximate year of birth remains elusive. His first child with a known birth year, Charles, was born around 1815. Estimating that Pleasant was around 20 years old when Charles was born, a plausible birth year for Pleasant would be somewhere between 1780 and 1795.

His court papers provide some of his history.  He was enslaved by John Depriest, his first verified enslaver, in Campbell, Virginia.  There will be an earlier – and as of yet undiscovered – link to the Roane family. He saved Depriest from drowning.  There’s no known indication regarding how Depriest felt about this selflessness.  However, not long afterwards, Pleasant was sold and entered Robert C Steptoe’s household.

DATE:  Aug 1823 (proved 25 Aug 1823)

PARTIES:  Pleasant HAYTHE, Cornelius CRENSHAW and RandolphDEPRIEST, of Campbell County to Robert C. STEPTOE of Bedford County

DOCUMENT TYPE:  Bill of Sale

SOURCE:  Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 18, p363

SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT:    “a male slave named Pleasant,otherwise Pleasant Rowan”

COMMENTS:  Pleasant Rowan was sold to Robert C. Steptoe for $390.

Steptoe was resident in Bedford County, and closely allied with the slave owning Roane family, which provides some initial and interesting indications of how Pleasant was related to the Roane family.

I don’t know whether it was Pleasant or Steptoe who had the idea of freeing Pleasant from slavery. What is known is that a suit for Pleasant’s freedom was filed in Campbell County, the county where Lynchburg is situated, in 1824.

DATE:  1 April 1824

PARTIES:  Robert C. STEPTOE to Pleasant ROWAN

DOCUMENT TYPE:  Deed of Emancipation

SOURCE:  Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 19, p43

SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT: Pleasant ROWAN

COMMENTS:  “for and in consideration of the general good character and conduct of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life-time of his former master and owner John Depriest, late of the County of Campbell, in endeavoring to secure and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril and hazard of his own:

Wherefore I the said Robert C. Steptoe for and in consideration of the premises & especially the act last mentioned:  Have liberated, emancipated & from the shackles of slavery set free, and by these presents do liberate, emancipate and from the shackles of slavery forever set free the said Pleasant Roane alias Pleasant Rowan.”

James Hendrick and Nathan Read were witness to this deed.

Lynchburg

lynchburg-litho-2

An image of the  view of the Old Marketplace in Lynchburg, dated 1875. Image from King’s The Great South, published in 1875.

It appears that Pleasant, a skilled carpenter, was already resident in Lynchburg shortly before he was freed in 1824. Reviewing records, he seemed to have a great deal of liberty within the confines of enslavement under Stepoe. He hired himself out, an arrangement that Steptoe seems to have encouraged. He also appears to have had his own household, again, apparently with the blessing of Steptoe. While not free, he certainly moved with a great deal of freedom within Lynchburg.

Another suite was brought in 1826 for Pleasant to remain in Virginia, near his wife, Nancy Stewart, and the four children who were born prior to 1826.  Nancy and Pleasant’s 4 children remained enslaved. His wife and children were free by 1830 census.  I’m assuming at this point that, he had saved enough money, through his hard work and industry, to buy their freedom. His children who were born after 1830 were all born free.

There are a few things that stand out in his 1826 suit to remain in Virginia. The first is the number of European-descended people who vouched for his good character and industry. It’s a slight exaggeration, yet, it seems as though half the European-descended population of Lynchburg came out in defense of Pleasant to remain as part of their community. Beloved may be over-egging the pudding.  Nonetheless, their testimony paints a picture of a man who was indeed respected, admired, and valued by many within his community.

I don’t know what prompted Robert Steptoe from taking this course of action. Perhaps, one day, one of his descendants can fill in this part of the story.  I, for one, thank the cosmos that he did. It was far, far from being a straightforward endeavour.

Pleasant’s children and descendants would become part of the African American bourgeoisie, as well as leaders within the religious and Civic spheres of Lynchburg.

As you read through the court records (with transcripts) that follow below, I’d ask you to keep this thought at the back of your mind:  this is what a African-descended person of good, sober, and unblemished conduct had to endure in order to remain in the state of his or her birth once freed from slavery.

Manumission document

I haven’t been able to access the original records in order to make better copies than those which appear below. You will find the original filings and court papers along with an accompanying transcriptions for each image. The original images are small and difficult to read (hence the transcriptions). However, I am mightily indebted to the Library of Virginia for digitizing these records and making them available for free online via http://www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/13404/40948.

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Robert Steptoe’s Manumission Petition for Pleasant Roane

Transcription:

To the Honorable the Speakers and members of the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia – The petition of Pleasant Rowan a freeman of Color respectfully sheweth [sic] – That on the first day of April in the year 1825, your petitioner was in due form of law emancipated by Robert E. [Steploe?] Esqr of the county of Bedford (in Virginia). As will fully appear by reference to the original deed of emancipation herewith exhibited and marked – From an inspection of that document, it will be found that in addition to his general good character and conduct an act of extraordinary merit was likewise one of the inducements to his emancipation, and from this Your Honorable bodies might with some plausibility conclude that his present application should in strict [propriety?] have been addressed to the court of the county in which he was emancipated, and not to the Legislature. Upon this point your petitioner begs leave to be indulged with a few words of explanation. Your petitioner in common with a majority of the people of his condition has never been blessed with the [lights?] and advantages of learning and education, and savoring the little information he has picked up in his unequal intercourse with the enlightened part of society, he is yet in the condition of native ignorance. In such circumstances prudence seems to dictate the propriety of relying upon the counsels of the better informed. By these he had been advised that the provisions of the law which conferd [sic] on the county courts power & jurisdiction to hear and determine applications like the present are so [illegible] limited & restricted as to promise nothing but defeat and [discon?], results which are rendered infinitely more intolerable by the reflection, that the same law especially inhibits a second application, no matter from what cause the first failure may have proceeded – For the [illegible] of these remarks your petitioner begs leave to refer generally to the 62nd Section of the act” concerning Slaves, free negroes [sic] and mulattoes” 1.Vol.Rev:Code of 1819.h43b, but more especially
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Leave to remain in Virginia Court affidavits

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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
to that part of the section quoted which requires the presence of a majority of the acting magistrates of the county whenever such application shall be acted upon – Your petitioner is advised that in almost every other instance in which the laws require the presence of a majority of the justices to act upon a specified subject, they at the same time provide for the contingency of their failure to [illegible], by declaring that a summons duly executed requiring their attendance for the contemplated [illegible], shall be held to be a [illegible] compliance with the law, and that the justices attending the [illegible] that a majority may proceed in the discharge of the prescribed duty – But in a case like the present, when an application is made in behalf of a manumitted slave for leave of residence; no matter how [illegible] all the forms of law may [illegible] been complied with, no matter what [illegible] may have been made to procure their attendance, yet if the required majority be not actually present, the court have no authority to proceed – Your petitioner need I [casualy?] remind your honorable body of the degraded condition of most of that unfortunate race of people with which it is his misfortune to be connected – Denied the use and enjoyment of many of the most valuable rights and priveleges [sic] of free men: Subjected in all cases of offences to the most [illegible] as actions of penal law; and sunk by long settled and inveterate opinion into a state of contempt & degradation the most deplorable, their personal influence, unaided by legal coercion, [illegible] hope to do but like towards convencing [sic] a majority of the justices of a county, even when the most interesting publick [sic] sessions, much less where such convention concerned their own personal interest – Yet not withstanding these appalling difficulties your petitioner was prompted in order to afford a more complete foundation for his present application, to attempt the [illegible] prescribed by law of applying to the county court for relief, he accordingly at the last March [illegible] of the county court of Campbell applied to the said court for an
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[written on right side of page]
order directing the magistrates of said county to be summoned to take into consideration his petition for leave to reside in said county – as well fully appear by reference to a copy of said order herewith exhibited [illegible]
they were accordingly summoned but failed to attend and thus the anticipation of your petitioners advisers were fully [illegible] – From hence if evidently appears that all hope of bringing his application before the county court is utterly vain unless [illegible] some occasion of publick [sic] interest should call together majority of the justices, a contingency not to be relied upon [illegible] any safety, especially by one whose liberty is every moment [illegible] to for future under the existing laws – Your petitioner trusts that in the considerations thus suggested our honorable body discern a reasonable excuse for his present application – He is well aware of the strong prejudices, almost universally prevalent against people of his condition, insomuch that they are generally regarded as a nuisance rather than a benefit to society. Yet he [illegible] that however [illegible] this opinion may [illegible] in General. The respectable testimonials herewith exhibited [illegible] be sufficient in your minds to make him an Honorable [illegible].
Your petitioner in conclusion would respectfully state that many years prior to his emancipation, he intermarried with a slave the property of Mr. Richard Walker of Bedford, by and with the consent of her master, that he has by her four small children for whom he cherishes a fond & [illegible] affection and this connection it is hoped will have its due weight in and of the present application; should it fail, he will be reduced to one of two dire alternatives, either he must forfeit his freedom [continued in the next image and transcription below].
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Transcript:

so likely acquired or preserve it by removeing [sic] to a distant state and at once burst [assunder?] those tender ties of affection & feelings which are most deeply implanted in the Human heart –

In [illegible] consideration of the premises your petitioner prays that a law may be passed by the legislature authoriseing [sic] him to reside in the county of Campbell, Virginia, under such conditions the [illegible] [at?] to the legislature may seem [illegible] And as in duly bound your petitioner will ever pray [illegible]
Pleasant Rowan [his mark]

]written in meddle of page]
Petition of Pleasant Rowan for Leave to reside in the County of Campbell
Decr[sic] 28th 1826 ref’d to Ct of J
Wm M Rives
1827 Jany [sic] 2. Reasonable
Bill drawn
[written on right side of page]
[Pleasant] on P Rowan [illegible][illegible] for several years [illegible][illegible] of [illegible][illegible] by whom he had several children. The [illegible] has [illegible] [illegible] to [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] attention to his conduct, with [illegible] him to be [illegible] [illegible] as a likable carpenter. I have [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] of a [illegible]. Rich’d Walker [illegible]
I add my testimony to that of Mr. Walker in stating that the character of Pleasant stands uncommonly fair as a peaceable, sober, industrious and honest man – His [illegible] in [receiving?] matters is as good as that of any white person of moderate circumstances. He is entirely humble in his deportment nor have I ever heard a vice of any kind alleged against him. He has a wife, the slave of Mr. Richard Walker, in my immediate neighbourhood [sic], and I believe five young children from whom he will be separated unless he be permitted to remain in the State of Virginia.
Wm Radford

Bedford County
November 15th 1825
I have been acquainted with the above named Pleasant for several years and have employed at [illegible] times to [illegible] work for me in his line of business, and always considered him an honest respectable man, and have never heard anything to his prejudice and thinks he deserves the character given him by the Gentlemen above named. Given under my hand this [illegible] of November 1825. John Waltz
The above [illegible] on P Rowan, (some years ago) did some Carpentry work for me and he appear’d while doing it, a very Sober, Industrious, honest man. Given this 16th Nov. 1825. Harlan Reid
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Pleasant or Pleasant Rowan, a free Man of Colour [sic], has worked for me for some years past as a Carpenter – I consider him a Man of uncommon worth. Js. Steploe Nov. 17. 1825
Pleasant or Pleasant Roan a free man of Colour [sic] I have known from his Infancy first as a slave and him as a free man in both capacitys [sic] he has always supported a good character. I have even considered him a remarkable well behaved honest Industrious sober man. I believe him to be a valuable carpenter. I know of no coloured [sic] man more deserving a residence in the State – William Clements Campbell County November 21st 1823
Certificates J. Steploe & others

[written on right side of page]
Pleasant is a colour’d [sic] man that I have long known, first as a slave & hence, as free man in both capacitys [sic] he has at all times supported a good character as a well behaved, honest, Industrious Man, he is a good mechanic as a Carpenter, & presume he whould [sic] be a loss to the neighbourhood [sic] in which he resides if remov’d [sic] therefrom – given in Campbell County – 12 Novr 1825 M Lambeth ~ Jacob White
I have been acquainted with Pleasant [illegible] numbers of years and think he deserves the characters given him by the gentlemen above named. John [illegible] 15. Nov. 1825
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Transcript:

[written on right side of page]
Campbell County Va November 2nd 1825
I have Rec’d the [illegible] Certificates obtained by Pleasant a free man of colour [sic] and I can only add that he is deserving the character given him by the Gentlemen that [has?] given him their certificates of his character and have long known him both as a slave and [since?] he has been emancipated and never knew or heard anything to his prejudice. Given November 1825 John [Alexander?]
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Certificates
M Lambeth [illegible]
[written on right side of page]
Campbell April Court 1826
On the petition of Pleasant Rowan It is ordered that the Justices of this County be summoned to appear at the next Term of this court to take into consideration the petition of said Rowan for leave to reside within this commonwealth it appearing to the Court that such notice of his petition has been given as the law required. Teste John Alexander Clk [sic]
Upon which order the Sheriff made the following return “Executed on William C. McAllister, Edward B Withers, John E Woodson, Adam Clement, Thomas Harvey, Richard Harvey, Richard Perkins, James Bullock, Meredith Lambert, Thomas Callaway, Henry T Early, Joseph McAllister, Alexander Austin, Samuel Pannill – Rich’d Morgan DS for [illegible] West Shff” [illegible] Teste Jno Alexander Clk
I James Hendrick to hereby certify that I was the counsel of Pleasant Rowan in his application to the county court for leave to reside in the State of Virginia – I do further state that I was present at Campbell May Court 1826 & that a majority of the court did not attend at that term according to the summons as annexed & furthermore I do certify that from my experience in such matters it is exclusively difficult if not impossible to get a competent court in such cases – J. Hendrick 13 Decem. 1836
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Order for Pleasant Rowan ~~
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[written on right side of page]
I have know Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan a free man of color for several years, which times, I have had many opportunities to observe his general conduct and deportment. The result of my observation is a belief that he is an honest, industrious, sober, and discreet man – I know him to be a useful mechanic – and as far as concerns myself I should regret his being compelled to leave the neighborhood – Given under my hand this 26th Novr 1825 J. Hendrick
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
J. Hendricks Certificate
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[written on right side of page]
To all & singular persons to whom these [illegible] shall [illegible] by [illegible] – Know ye That I Robert C Steploe of the County of Bedford & State of Virginia for & in consideration of the general good conduct and character of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave, and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life time of his former master and [illegible] John Depriest late of the county of Campbell, in endeavoring to reserve and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril & hazard of his own, Therefore, I the said Robert C Steploe for and in consideration of the promise especially the act last mentioned have Liberated, Emancipated from the shackles of Slavery forever set free the said Slave, Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan – In testimony whereof I the said Robert C Steploe have hereunto set my hand & seal this the first day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & twenty four Signed, sealed & delivered In presence of J. Hendrick
Robt C Steploe seal
N. Reid
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page at bottom]
At a Court held for Bedford County at the Courthouse the 27th day of December 1824. This [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] was exhibited in Court proved by the oaths of James Hendrick and Nathan Read subscribing witnesses & ordered to be recorded – Teste [illegible] Steploe C.B.C.
Robert C. Steploe to Pleasant Rowan
Disp of Emancipation
1824 December 27th
Rec’d & Ord to be rec’d
Recorded Page 43 Book L & Ex’d

[written on right side of page]
I hereby certify that I have been acquainted with Pleasant Roan free man of colour [sic] and a carpenter by trade for several years and do now consider him an honest, industrious, and good conditioned man and have heard many persons speak highly of him and never heard any thing otherwise. Rich’d [illegible] Bedford [illegible] Nov 1825
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Court ruling on Pleasant’s leave to remain in Virginia

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Excerpt from Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia
By Virginia. General Assembly. Published by House of Delegates. Courtesy of Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=HVhNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=%22pleasant+rowan%22,+petition&source=bl&ots=BvHIV0znuv&sig=Jk23k-MV5Z1b-OFTP3ot2kqfICA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuu7vAoOXRAhVF5YMKHYIpCusQ6AEIOzAG#v=onepage&q&f=false

Transcript:

Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, That the petition of Pleasant Rowan, a man of colour, of the county of Campbell, who has been lately emancipated, praying that he may be allowed by law to remain as a free man in the said county, where he has a wife and children who are slaves, is reasonable.

 

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From Northampton County, NC to Roberts Settlement, Indiana: the hidden history of fpoc

Timing seems to be everything when it comes to genealogy. You can search and search for clues to mysteries for ages.  And then *BOOM*, out of the blue, something amazing can happen.

I’ve been engaged in deep research on ancestors who lived in early 19th Century Northampton, Warren, and Halifax Counties in North Carolina. Out of the blue, Fontaine, a Sheffey cousin, forwarded a video to me. He’d had no idea I’d returned to researching these North Carolina counties. He’d forwarded it to me in the hopes it might have some answers when it came to his father’s maternal lineage. At that point, we had no idea that we were related in any other way besides the Sheffey family of Wythe County, Virginia. It turns out, we share some North Carolina lineages too.

The video below is the one he brought to my attention. The video didn’t specifically, help me in my research with his father’s maternal line.  However, it certainly answered some questions about what became of some of my own maternal ancestors who had seemingly vanished into the ether. The families involved were: Bass, Byrd, Scott, Stuart/Stewart, and Walden/Waldron.

The answer to what happened to them was pretty simple in the end. They had removed themselves from North Carolina to settle in Indiana. I won’t spoil the video. Their journey is a remarkable story.

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Ann St. Clair of Wytheville, VA: Finding my lost connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair family

Actually, the title of this post should have been finding my father’s and my sister’s connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair / Sinkler family. Their DNA tests have proved a long-held suspicion of mine. It doesn’t look like I inherited enough St. Clair DNA from my DNA test to prove it. That’s the autosomal DNA inheritance roll of the dice for you. If you’re also using DNA tests to confirm and/or discovery family connections, this is another reason to have a number of people from your immediate family do the old spit or swab in tube thing.

In my decade-plus long ancestral journey, DNA testing has unlocked some surprising discoveries. It’s confirmed some things my family knew. It’s also disproved other theories. One thing it’s proven so far is that my African-descended family didn’t take the names of enslavers they liked or who may have treated them ‘well’ within the American chattel slavery system.  Nope, they took the surnames that were theirs through birthright. All of them.

My link to the St. Clair family is via my father’s paternal grandmother, Jane Ann White.

ann-st-clair

I was confident that my paternal St. Clair ancestors from Wytheville, Virginia were somehow connected to the European-descended St. Clair family who were spread throughout Virginia.  This family also includes the Sinclairs and Sinklers.  I will collectively refer to them as the St. Clair family.

The challenge was finding the European-descended man who fathered my ancestral line.

The St. Clair family was fairly straight-forward to research. It’s a well-documented family. It all begins with Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair. Alexander was born in 1666 in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s the one thing genealogists and St. Clair family historians can agree upon. Some claim he was related to the St. Clair family of Rosslyn – you know, the family made famous in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  The family who owns that marvelous and one-of-a-kind chapel.   I’m a bit doubtful about that connection.  However, I’m keeping an open mind. Some of Alexander’s direct male descendants have formed a DNA project to prove or disprove this claim (for more information about this project, please visit the St Clair family DNA Research project via http://www.stclairresearch.com)

What is known is that Alexander arrived in Virginia from Scotland in 1698.  He sailed aboard the ship The Loyalty. He arrived as an indentured servant, serving a term of 4 years.

Alexander married Mary Wyman in 1706 in Stafford County, Virginia. Together, they raised a family of 10 children in Stafford County. The detective work would begin with tracing the male descendants of their 4 sons: Wayman, John, Robert and George.

Around two-thirds of the Virginia St. Clair family had moved to Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky by the time Ann St. Clair, my 2x great grandmother, was born in 1830.  I had a drastically reduced pool of candidates to research. In the end, I had a baker’s dozen of St. Clair men who could have been Ann’s father.  This was based on their ages. There was a problem.  All of these men lived in the wrong part of Virginia. When it came to triangulation, they were a match. However, the team felt they were a generation or two distant from where Ann’s St. Clair father ought to have been in terms of shared DNA with my father and sister.

We began researching St. Clairs who lived a reasonable distance away from Wythe County. This search encompassed Grayson, Roanoke, and Augusta. I struck gold in the form of Alexander Robert St. Clair who was a resident of Staunton, Virginia. His children and their descendants were residents of Staunton and Roanoke. His sons were born within a few years of Ann, which automatically ruled them out. We struck pay dirt when the team triangulated the DNA tests from me, my father and my sister against Alexander Robert St. Clair. When it came to my father’s and sister’s DNA tests, there was no doubt that he was Ann’s father. Shared St. Clair DNA matches began to pop up all over the place for my father and my sister (see the screen grabs at the end of this article).  In terms of generational distance and shared DNA, they were as close to a perfect match as we could have wished for. That was one mystery solved.

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Now, because this is me and my direct line, there were bound to be some wrinkles. When it comes to my genealogy, few things are 100% straightforward. It’s a good thing I thrive on puzzles, mysteries, and challenges.

The mystery of Alexander Robert St. Clair

Alexander Robert St. Clair has been a longstanding mystery for St. Clair family researchers. It didn’t help that he switched it up between using the names Alexander/Alex and Robert. It took us a while to confirm that Robert St. Clair of Staunton and Alexander/Alex St. Clair of Staunton were the same man. While there has been a general consensus that he was a direct descendant of Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair from Glasgow, no one had any idea of how these two men were related. Alexander and Robert were very popular names in the family, which was one clue. However, this was far from being a definitive clue. Nor was it the best clue.

So it was back to the drawing board to determine who his father was. The team had accounted for 98% of the St. Clair men of Virginia and their descendants. Through a process of elimination, we arrived at George St. Clair I (1775-1831) of Botetourt County, Virginia. Triangulation and research pointed to George as the most likely man to be Alexander Robert St. Clair’s father.

alexander-robert-st-clair

Again, once the connection was made, shared DNA hints began to pop up for my father and my sister with other members of George’s family. His immediate family had connections with Botetourt and Smyth Counties (St. Clair Bottom) in Virginia.  This group of St. Clairs in southwestern Virginia were displaced as a result of fierce engagements with Native Americans.  Later incursions with Native Americans could explain why Alexander Robert resided at such a distance from so many of his family. Most of his brothers removed themselves to Jackson County, Missouri as well as Kanawha County, West Virginia. Two of his brothers left for Roanoke with Alexander Robert.

While I would still love to discover a paper document to confirm Alexander Robert’s connection to George, DNA will have to do for now. Too many documents have been lost or destroyed over time for us to ever be certain that any written document will ever be found.

Solving the conundrum of where Ann St. Clair was born

Another wrinkle was my 2x great-grandmother Ann’s cited place or birth.  Her daughter, Jane (White) Sheffey (my great-grandmother ), cited Tennessee as her mother’s place of birth in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 Census returns. Now, there is a St. Clair County in Tennessee.  However, extensive research didn’t provide any connections between St. Clairs/Sinclairs who lived in that county and the St. Clairs of Virginia.  To date, we haven’t found any St. Clairs who left Virginia for Tennessee between 1690 and 1820. To be honest, we’re not sure who that county was named for.

In the end, the team believes that Ann was born in Virginia, either in Staunton, Roanoke, or St. Clair Bottom in Smyth County. Perhaps St. Clair Bottom became confused with St. Clair County in Tennessee when it came to Ann’s birthplace.  Closer inspection of the same information provided by Ann’s siblings (Robert and Phoebe) cite Virginia as their birthplace.  To add an extra wrinkle, I can’t find Ann or her husband Cornelius in the 1870 Census. Ann had passed by 1880.  There are no known death or marriage certificates for her. Her name only appears on her children’s marriage and death certificates. Why Tennessee was cited as her place of birth will remain a mystery.

Determining how I’m connected to the St. Clair family solved the mystery of why I was matching European and African descended members of the Snodgrass, Feazel(l), Shirley, and Patterson families. These families were intertwined the St. Clair family.

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My sister’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry

There is one caveat with Ancesty’s Shared DNA hints. The accuracy / usefulness / reliability of these hints lay in how well researched online family trees are.  In the instances provided below, I will say that I’ve only used screen grabs from matches with well-documented source materials and citations. On the whole, these individuals and my research team, used the same historical texts and published family history materials that have been scoured over for decades. The St. Clair branches of our family trees are perfectly aligned.

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My father’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry

Ann St. Clair was my father’s great grandmother.  As such, he is one generation closer to her than me or my siblings. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that he would have a far greater number of St. Clair-related DNA cousin matches than either me or my sister.

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The screen grab below is an important one. It not only illustrates Ann St. Clair’s connection to Alexander Robert St. Clair, it also illustrates Alexander Robert’s connection to George St. Clair I, and George’s connection back to Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair via Alexander “The Immigrant”‘s son, Wayman (Mary Shirley was Wayman’s wife)..

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Moses Byrd: A Revolutionary War musician

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Illustrative open source image

I’ve been making one discovery after another when it comes to my ancestral kin who were both people of colour and American Revolutionary War veterans. I’ve found records for hundreds of kinsmen who were fpoc within my extensive ancestral extended family who served in many different capacities during the American Revolution.

Moses Byrd, born around 1745, is another interesting discovery. Moses was a musician in Lewis’ Company of the North Carolina Continental Line in Halifax County, North Carolina, in 1776. He seems to have disappeared from active duty in January 1778.

He mustered again in Taylor’s Company for 2-1/2 years in January 1779. [Clark, The State Records of North Carolina, XVI:1012, 1024, XVII: 192]. As a fpoc, he was legally obliged to register in his home county. He was a “Mulatto” taxable in Southampton County in 1802 [PPTL 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615]. There is usually a brief physical description fo the free person of colour in question included in the registration records. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find such a description for Moses.

He was taxable in Southampton County from 1782 to 1803: taxable on a horse and 4 cattle from 1782 to 1787, taxable on Asa Byrd [believed to be Moses’s nephew] in 1788, taxable on Thomas Byrd [Moses’s son] in 1795, called a “Mulatto” in 1802 [PPTL 1782-92; frames 508, 544, 634, 655, 705, 755, 812, 869; 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615].

He was living in Northampton County, North Carolina, before 2 January 1807 when he made his Northampton County will, proved March 1808 [WB 2:362]. He left most of his estate to his wife, whose name remains unknown.

This is his life, as it’s currently known, in a nutshell.

Musicians in the Revolutionary War

I was curious about the exact nature of his war service. Naturally, I did some digging.  I know he was a musician. However, the records don’t specify what instrument or instruments he played. I did, however, manage to unearth accounts of what army musicians did during the war.

It turns out that Moses was probably a part of the Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps. 18th Century Army musicians had a dual role.  The first was as a communication channel.  There were no walkie talkies, radios, or quick forms of mass communication on the 18th Century battlefield. Musicians were a practical means of long distance communication. Anyone who lives within a mile of a sports arena today can attest to how far the sounds of drums, fifes (think flutes), and horns can carry!

The second apart of a musician’s service during the was was providing entertainment for the army camps. In other words, morale boosters.

According to the website The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps:

The fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be heard from great distances and even through the sounds of a battlefield. Fifers and drummers would provide the music for all of the things that soldiers would need to do throughout the day. They would play tunes in the camp, on the battlefield, or for a march…

On the battlefield, musicians had the responsibility of helping keep order in battle and make sure the soldiers functioned well as a unit. Drummers would play beatings telling the soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called Cease Fire that fifers and drummers would play to tell the soldiers to stop firing at the end of a battle while a tune called Parley was used to signal to the enemy that a surrender or peace talk was desired.

More information about the service of Army musicians in the American Revolution is available on the same website via http://www.fifeanddrum.army.mil/kids_fife_drum.html

Now that I had a very basic understanding of the service Moses provided during the war, I wanted to find out more about the battles he would have been a part of.  It turns out, he was involved in a quite a few.

Micajah Lewis, Captain of the 1st and 4th North Carolina Regiments

The first half of Moses’s war service was under Capt. Micajah Lewis (yep, another kinsman from my extended family) as part of the 4th North Carolina Regiment. This speaks to an important historical fact where Moses’s genealogy is concerned: he had already left Southampton, Virginia for North Carolina when he joined Maj Lewis’s regiment. Established on 15 April 1776, this means Moses was resident in North Carolina by 1776.

What’s interesting to me is that he was taxable in two states during an over-lapping period between 1790 and 1802: Halifax and Northampton Counties in North Carolina and Southampton County in Virginia. While he would ultimately come to permanently reside in Northampton, North Carolina…he was clearly going back and forth from North Carolina to Virginia.  He is far from being alone. I have swathes of ancestral kin who were fpoc moving back and forth from North Carolina and Virginia before permanently residing in North Carolina. I remain mystified as to why. What was happening in the early decade of the American Republic that caused thousands of fpoc to ping pong between these two states for two to three decades? I digress, but only in the name of genealogy!

The website The American Revolution in North Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_nc_fourth_regiment.html) has an excellent overview about the Regiment and its war activities. In its early stages, the Regiment was moved from place to place. In the Fall of 1778, the 4th NC Regiment was re-organized at Halifax, NC. This fits perfectly with when Moses enlisted. Halifax, NC was one of the ancestral centres for the extensive fpoc Bird/Byrds.

At this point, judging by the battle lists for 1778 in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, it appears that Moses may have been involved in skirmishes in South Carolina and Georgia…but saw no major action.

Capt Lewis, who attained the rank of Major by the time of his death in 1779, would die after being shot either during the course of, or directly after, a battle.  Which battle is unclear.  The website The American Revolution in South Carolina cites he died as a result of being shot at the Battle of Stono Ferry in South Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_stono_ferry.html). Some Lewis family history books cite the Battle of King’s Mountain in North Carolina as his final battle (https://books.google.com/books?id=-rn7DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA13&dq=captain+micajah+lewis&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiThK_NluzPAhVKID4KHbztDxwQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=captain%20micajah%20lewis&f=false). His death in 1779 is not in dispute.

Moses would serve at the Battle of Stono Ferry on 20 June 1779.

stono_ferry

Image Courtesy of http://www.carolana.com/

After the death of Capt. Lewis, Moses would go on to serve under Capt. Philip Taylor’s 5th North Carolina Regiment.

Philip Taylor, Captain of the 5th North Carolina Regiments

As part of Capt. Taylor’s regiment, Moses would serve in the Battle of Stono Ferry (1779, http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_stono_ferry.html )

british_map_battle_of_stono_ferry_june_20_1779

British Map Showing Battle of Stono Ferry – 20 June 20 1779. Image Courtesy of http://www.carolana.com/

and,

the Siege of Charleston in South Carolina (1781, http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_siege_of_charleston.html).

After the War

Moses was granted a land patent for his war service. The patent included a 274 acre land warrant granted in 1783 for his service in the American Revolution; evidently the tract of land was never claimed. It was returned to the State in 1821.

Roll #4, Book B-2, pg. 112-113, TN State Library & Archives State of North Carolina, No. 2332,…..granted unto John Gray Blount and Thomas Blount assignees of Moses Byrd a private in the Continental Line of said state 274 acres of land in County of Davidson on the South side of the Harpeth River…..the upper part of Millers Bend?…..James Robertson’s West boundary… dated 20 May 1793. (The rest of the deed is very difficult to make out)

For whatever reason, this land grant doesn’t appear to have been claimed by Moses, or his wife, or his children. I have no record of him or his direct family members having any connection to Davidson County. To-date, they are associated with only two North Carolina Counties: Halifax and Northampton.

This land grant, however, is beginning to paint a picture of how some of my ancestral kin who were either poor whites or free people of colour came by medium-sized tracts of land after the Revolutionary War ended. Land that would have been out of their reach to purchase, was a form of payment and/or reward for services rendered. Even better, some of these land grants are still held by these families to this very day.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, South Carolina

A peculiar inheritance: slavery and the case for reparations in the US

The draft journal paper below was produced in answer to a general call for papers on the subject of Reparations in the US. Myself, and my cousin, Donya Williams, address the subject through the lens of genealogy.

The draft version of our paper is provided in two formats: an embedded PDF document and widget that you can either read online, or download. A text version follows beneath the embedded PDF widget.

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Text Version

Introduction

Since the beginning of man’s life on earth, the family has served as the cornerstone of society.  The integrity of the family set the standard for society from the beginning of time as the underpinning of our civilization, reflecting the beneficial differences between men and women and the complementarity of their hearts, minds, and bodies.  Aristotle argued that the natural progression of human beings flowed from the family via small communities out to the polis.  The state itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution.”[i] [ii]

And:

The family is the entity that gives real meaning to life and to existence. The family is the cornerstone of the social system. The family is not a casual or spontaneous organization of people but a divinely ordained group. Marriage is noble and sacred, a social contract that confers mutual obligations on the couple and society. The progress and welfare of society, or its breakdown, can be traced to the strengths and unity, or the lack of it, in the family. This also applies to civilization…

The family has an important role in providing socialization and values for children and in providing social and economic security as well. Being part of a family motivates individuals, motivates us all, to work hard, sacrifice our well-being, and work for the welfare of the family.

In all faiths and religions, the family is the foundation of society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and considered central for the spiritual growth of its members, society, and humanity. The harmonious social order is created by the families and extended families in which all children are treasured, valued, and nurtured.[iii]

There are established arguments in support of, and against, descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States receiving reparations[iv]. The arguments in favor of reparations are based upon the economic advantage slavery provided the United States[v]; the brutal conditions of slavery[vi]; and the social, political, judicial, and economic disenfranchisement of African Americans. [vii]

A common argument against reparations cites the indigenous practice of slavery within the African continent. We acknowledge that the practice of slavery in Africa was ancient and well established by the Europeans began to export human beings from that continent. However, it differed greatly from the form of chattel slavery that existed with America with the arrival of Europeans.

In Africa, many societies recognized slaves merely as property, but others saw them as dependents who eventually might be integrated into the families of slave owners. Still other societies allowed slaves to attain positions of military or administrative power. Most often, both slave owners and slaves were black Africans, although they were frequently of different ethnic groups.[viii]

In the American system, slavery was a condition that was not only held for life, it was passed down through the generations via the status of the mother, codified by the laws of the individual states. It was a brutal birthright. This paper illustrates the profound and destructive force this peculiar form of slavery would have on the authors’ enslaved ancestors in Edgefield County, South Carolina. The authors will demonstrate the effects the American slavery system had upon the most fundamental aspect of the human experience – an attack on the fundamental building block of society – the family.

Lewis Matthews by Brian Sheffey

lewis-matthews

Image courtesy of Mr T. Dabney

My maternal 3x great grandfather, Lewis Matthews, was born in 1824 in the Blocker region of Edgefield County, South Carolina. He was the son of an unknown slave woman and her owner, Drury Cook Matthews (1760-1830). Born to a slave, he inherited his mother’s slave status from the moment he first drew breath. Despite being sired by his owner, he maintained the status of a slave until freed through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

 

Apart from an oral tradition among the Matthews (including Mathis family members) still residing in Edgefield, little is known about Lewis’s life. What kind of man was he? What was his nature? What were the quirks and foibles that made him individual? These questions are part and parcel for any genealogist. When it comes to researching ancestors who were born into a lifetime of bondage and servitude, forbidden from learning how to read and write, each discovery made is akin to finding a sacred precious object. Each discovery for an enslaved ancestor is a hard fought for success. Something as basic as discovering even a first name for an enslaved ancestor is cause for celebration. This dynamic makes African American genealogy something unique. A people stripped of history, customs, traditions, family and ancestry have precious few clues to find their ancestors. This was by design. American slavery was designed and developed with this in mind to better control a people who chaffed at the slavery system. It also laid the foundations for the American expression of white supremacy.

Lewis Matthews was illiterate, born in a time when it was illegal for slaves to learn how to read and write. He was incapable of leaving any words to his descendants. Nor were his children capable of leaving a written account.  All of his known 22 children were illiterate. What I have gleaned of his life has largely come from vital records and slave records. He was human property. He was first owned by his father, and then by his half-sister, Susannah Pope Matthews. Like a chair, a horse, a parcel of land, or a table; he had a dollar value. US$ 450 in 1831 ($US 12,500.00 in 2016 currency) and US$ 500 in 1847 (US$ 14,705.88 in 2016 currency). Where there is property, there are accounts.

There are no words that can describe first seeing a Dollar value placed against an ancestor’s name on a Deed of Sale. No matter how prepared I was to see such a thing, it nevertheless broke my heart.  It was a visceral and raw experience. One I will never forget.

I cannot visit, much less share, Lewis’s history without touching upon the history of the place where he was enslaved. The history of Edgefield, South Carolina.

An overview of Edgefield’s history, including ITS founding families

Prior to its formation in 1785, Edgefield County was a part of Ninety-Six District.

Ninety-Six was divided into new counties, afterwards called districts, which included:  Edgefield, Abbeville, Newberry, Laurens, Union, and Spartanburg. Augusta, now in Georgia, also formed part of this county.

Old Ninety-Six, as it’s now called, was an active and critical trading post since the 1690s. The trade was mainly in furs. Prior to the arrival of European settlers and African-descended slaves, these lands were part of the dominion of the Cherokee Nation and the Creek. It was, and remains, an isolated, rural, and wild part of South Carolina.

Families such as Abney, Brooks, Cloud, Park, Sim(p)kins, and Stuart/Stewart, all slave owning families, were among the earliest settlers. DNA tests taken by the authors reveal a genetic connection to these families.  A latter wave of 18th Century arrivals from Virginia to Edgefield would include additional slave owning families such as Adams, Brunson, Dorn, Harlan/Harling, Ma(t)thews/Mathis, Ouzts, Peterson, Settles, Timmerman, Thurman, Utterback, Yeldell and White – all of whom are the authors’ ancestors. The link between their African American descendants and their white descendants has been confirmed through DNA.

A shattered family tree through 300 years of Matthews family enslavement

Traditional genealogy enabled me to glimpse key moments in Lewis Matthews’ history.

Researching post-Emancipation marriage and death certificates identified thirteen children born to Lewis and the woman he would come to marry once freed, Martha Bottom, also of Blocker, Edgefield, South Carolina. It is worth remembering that prior to Emancipation, the births, deaths and marriages of slaves were rarely recorded. This is one of the most fundamental voids in African American genealogical research.

An additional death record produced another child, a daughter, born to Lewis and a woman only identified as Janie.

Social Security Application records and death records produced a further eight children born to Lewis during the period of his enslavement. The mother, or mothers, of these children were cited as ‘not known’ by the respective informants.  DNA testing through AncestryDNA, along with DNA matching through Gedmatch, strongly suggests he fathered at least a further nine children prior to the end of the Civil War. All of his known and suspected children resided throughout the area formerly known as Ninety-Six.

Numerous conversations with African American Matthews-descended family members in the Old Ninety-Six area boiled down to one hypothesis when it came to the sheer number of children Lewis sired. He was used by his owner-father and owner-half-sister as a breeding stud.  In short, he sired a steady stream of slave children for the benefit of their slave owners either to increase that owner’s workforce or as the human equivalent of a cash crop. A young, healthy, handsome young man with a light complexion, and seemingly potent when it came to impregnating women, Lewis had the perfect attributes to produce a steady stream of children with a fair complexion and robust health – attributes which would have made these children valuable property with a significant dollar value.

While Lewis had what we, in this day and age, would class as a paternal relationship with the children he had with Martha Bottom, he had no involvement with the children he fathered with other enslaved women. Those other children were either formally or informally adopted by the men those other women married when they were freed at the close of the Civil War. To date, until they heard from me, the descendants of those unions had no idea of their Matthews origins. The reason for this is telling. This second group of children took the names of their step fathers, bar two who took the name Mathes, a seemingly deliberate corruption of the original Matthews/Mathis name.

A broken family tree

edgefield-slaves

The arrows in the image above mark entries for my 3x great grandfather, Lewis Matthews. The peculiarities of how male slaves were classed as an adult or ‘boy’ varied widely. Although both entries are for my 3x great grandfather. The asterisks mark confirmed members of Lewis’s enslaved African American family. Sampson, Primus and Matthew were Lewis’s brothers. The stars in the image above note how Primus and Sampson were deeded to other white Matthews family members, who were also their relations. DNA testing will confirm how many others from the same image will prove to be members of Lewis’s immediate and extended family. Click for larger image

As you read Drury Cook Matthews’s Last Will and Testament below, remember that this is my 4x great grandfather discussing the disposal of his property, which included his son, my 3x great grandfather, Lewis Matthews.  I include the disposal of his other enslaved sons, Lewis’s brothers, who were my great uncles. Many of the ‘negroes’ cited in this Will were members of Lewis’s immediate family.  All of the whites who inherited these black human beings were also their blood relations. American slavery was indeed a singularly peculiar institution.

Please click each image below for the larger image version.

drury-matthews-will-1drury-matthews-will-2drury-matthews-will-3drury-matthews-will-4drury-matthews-will-5drury-matthews-will-6

My prevailing question is a fairly simple one. If Drury Matthews didn’t overtly recognize his own bi-racial flesh and blood as a human being, as a man, what impact did that have on Lewis’s sense of self and his sense of worth as a human being? What did this teach him about the duties of a father for his children? For certainly some of the other slaves referenced in this Will were Lewis’s siblings and equally children of Drury Cook Matthews. And how would this dynamic play out and echo down the generations on the African American side of the Matthews/Mathis family?

That Lewis was a loving and dutiful father to the children he raised with Martha Bottom is not in doubt. There are a handful of family stories to testify to this. What of his other thirteen known children? Did their step-fathers make up for Lewis’s absence? And how did Lewis reconcile himself with their existence? My hypothesis is that he learned a fundamental lesson from his father, Drury. Perhaps he compartmentalized his life in a manner many men can relate to. There were his children by Martha who he had a duty of care to provide for. Just like his father-owner did with his white children. And then there were those he merely sired for other’s benefit – much like Drury’s actions towards his mulatto children borne by enslaved women: they were not his concern and, as such, were of no concern.

Magnify the ramifications of this dynamic by working back through time. The story, the legacy, and the history between my mulatto Matthews ancestors and their white owners-family members stretches back in time to my 9th great grandfather, Anthony Matthews (1611-1682), a slave owning immigrant from Kent, England who settled in Isle of Wight, Virginia. Anthony was the founding father, the scion, of a large slave owning family who passed slaves and enslaved family members down its various lines into the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

240 years of one family splitting its slave family apart generation after generation after generation; to the extent that their African American family had no notion of who they were as a people, they had no knowledge of their history, no knowledge of their kin or their kin’s whereabouts. It was the annihilation of their family. My family. It was a form of brutal ethnic cleansing at its most fundamental level.

Only now, through advances in DNA testing, can we, their descendants, begin the task of finding the broken branches from a slavery shattered family tree. Finding these lost branches is the easy part. Determining their rightful and correct place in the family tree is a painstaking process with no guarantee of success. It is a painstaking process. Each familial line has varying degrees of knowledge about their immediate ancestral line. Some can trace their ancestry back only 4 generations while others have traced their line of descent through 5 or more generations. Progress has largely been steered by the tireless efforts of a dozen or so dedicated family genealogists who have made it their life’s work to reunite a family dispersed through, and torn apart by, slavery. Their efforts require a combination of traditional genealogy alongside genetic genealogy and DNA triangulation. The task is herculean.

That is the legacy of slavery. This is the reason why the argument around reparations is a valid one.

In terms of non-Native American peoples who arrived in America, no other people in the history of the continental United States has ever experienced anything remotely like this. Not in scale. Not in duration.

Implications and reparations

Nienstedt makes the argument that “The State itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution”. If the State was the cause of the destruction of enslaved African American families during the slavery epoch, does it not have a duty, a duty of care, to redress the wrongs done to enslaved families through restitution?

If, in Nienstedt’s argument, the progress and welfare of society, or its breakdown, can be traced to the strengths and unity, or the lack of it, in the family – should we not argue that the State has a moral imperative to recompense African Americans for the lack of progress; the lack of physical, mental and spiritual welfare; and the lack of unity wrought upon the descendants of slaves?

Reparations has the capacity to not only acknowledge the impact that slavery has had on the African American descendants of slavery, it can inform how best the State can serve those that slavery harmed. It addresses the legacies of slavery in the aftermath of slavery cemented in the Jim Crow Era, and the forms of socio-economic subjugation used against African Americans which followed the Jim Crow Era up to, and including, the present day. This latter point forms the central part of Ms William’s argument.

The civil unrest that smolders in modern America doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Its roots lay in slavery. Its roots lay in Andrew Johnson’s refusal to provide reparations when the America of Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party was ready to provide it.

Any conversation on the subject of reparations requires a national conversation. However, by the very nature of the subject, it must be directed and led by those most affected by slavery – African Americans. For me, reparations would take a multitude of forms:

  • Financial: A national, minority-owned and managed, banking system with branches in urban areas as well as rural areas with large minority populations. Such a banking network would supply micro loans to support entrepreneurship and innovation, land ownership, and subsidized home ownership (e.g. housing co-ownership); and
  • Education: A national history curriculum would include truthful and accurate teaching about slavery as well as its impact – tracing the effects of the slavery to the presents day. Recent news commentary shows a complete ignorance about America and its history of slavery, as well as its’ aftermath that resonates to the present day[ix]; and
  • Land theft compensation: Where land was stolen from African Americans by coercion, threats of violence or actual violence (as was the case in Edgefield[x] [xi] in the 1920s, of which my own Matthews family was a victim) – there should be financial restitution in line with established precedents with Native American tribes;
  • Remembrance: A day with an official moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of slavery, and its legacy.

Martha Brooks by Donya Williams

The topic of this paper is to give our point of view on why African Americans should receive reparations from slavery. As an African American myself, of course my first initial thought is yes I should receive reparations for what my ancestors endured. I should because it is the only right thing to do. That is the short answer for one who is not fully educated on the topic of slavery.

For example, history didn’t teach me that those who were enslaved had the option to 1) keep the surnames of those that enslaved them after Emancipation; or 2) simply choose another surname if they wanted to. In fact, the only thing that history taught me was that whites enslaved blacks and that it was bad. It wasn’t until I started to research my family that I understood the magnitude of this question which, in turn, allowed me to give a more informed answer.

Martha Brooks was born into slavery in or about 1834 in South Carolina. The 1880 census says her parents were born in Virginia, however, who they were and where they originated from remains unknown. Before I started my research, my uncle researched the family in the 1950s. All that I know of his research is by word of mouth. His research found that we were from Haiti and that we were direct descendants of Alexandre Dumas. I have yet to prove his theories. This prompted me to look at other options for researching and DNA testing was at the top of my list. When I decided to do DNA testing I did so because I was stalled at where I was with regular researching and I felt DNA testing would give me more. I already knew other researchers who had tested and were getting results. Because my mother was the baby of 14 children, and her parents were born in the late 1890s, she was just one generation removed from slavery. This made her a prime person to test even though I wouldn’t be able to get much DNA pertaining to her father.

That is where Autosomal DNA testing stepped in. Autosomal DNA is a term used in genetic genealogy to describe DNA which is inherited from the autosomal chromosomes. An autosome is any of the numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. Humans have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X chromosome and the Y chromosome). Autosomes are numbered roughly in relation to their sizes. That is, Chromosome 1 has approximately 2,800 genes, while chromosome 22 has approximately 750 genes.[xii] This meant that taking this test for my mom would get info from her mother and father. DNA taken from my mother has shown that in short she is 86.6% Sub-Saharan African, 11.9% European, .6% East Asian & Native American, .3% Middle Eastern & North African, .1% South Asian and .5% Unassigned. The picture below gives a bigger breakdown:

I uploaded my mother’s raw data to Gedmatch, a company that allows you to compare your DNA with other people who have tested with other companies such as AncestryDNA.com and FTDNA.com, and found there were even larger breakdowns. Those breakdowns connected her to the Mediterranean, North-AmerIndian and several other demographics (see picture below):

donya-dna

This DNA analysis result from Gedmatch is just one of many different DNA analysis tools that can be used to learn one’s DNA breakdown. These analytical tools enable a person to understand how he or she is connected to several different demographics. Testing my mother felt like I had just tested Eve herself. My mother’s DNA was extremely revealing. She was genetically connected to every well-known name in the Edgefield area.

Martha was enslaved by one of the first families of Edgefield, South Carolina. The Brooks family. Like those that take DNA test to prove paternity, or find birth parents, DNA for genealogical research does the same thing. My mother’s results proved she was related to the Brooks family. This family was not just active in the settling of Edgefield; they were also active in the settling of America. Zachariah, Whitfield, and Preston Brooks (respectively Grandfather, Son, and Grandson) were involved in at least two American wars prior to the Civil War.

The American Revolutionary War and the Mexican War both seemed to have family members of the Brooks involved. Zachariah was enlisted in Newberry District, S.C. shortly after the evacuation of Cambridge by Gen. Greene, and served six months as a private in Capt. John Wallace’s Company of S.C. Troops. He fought in several skirmishes against the British. He served in 1781 and 1782 in Capt. Joseph Towles, company, Col. Samuel Hammond’s S.C. regiment, was in a skirmish on the Edisto River, and was stationed about six weeks on the frontier guarding the incursions of the Indians. He was also enlisted as one of a corps called the Life Guard of Pickens, serving a six month’s term of service. He was afterwards appointed Col. of State Calvary, and was always known as Col. Brooks[xiii].  Whitfield and Preston were both lawyers, and involved in both state as well as national politics. Preston fought in the Mexican War with his brother Whitfield, Jr.

Both men were a part of the Palmetto Regiment of the South Carolina Volunteers where Preston served as Captain. Whitfield Brooks, Sr. carried the title of Colonel however, I don’t see what service branch he fought with or what war he fought in. My research shows that he may have been mistaken as his son. However, Both Whitfield and Preston were planters and strong supporters of slavery. Preston Brooks was probably the most outspoken of the three – he is certainly the most well-known – when it came to slavery. It is he who committed the horrendous crime against the abolitionist Charles Sumner; what historians know as ‘the caning’. Simply put, Senator Brooks walked up to Mr. Sumner, who was sitting at his desk on the senate floor, and said “You’ve libeled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, and I’ve come to punish you for it.[xiv]  This to Mr. Preston was a legitimate reason to beat a man so badly that it took three years for Senator Sumner to return to some semblance of physical normalcy.

Preston believed, supported, and encouraged the succession of South Carolina. On 1 November 1856, the Meeting of the Secessionists of South Carolina at Ninety-Six held an event to honor Mr. Brooks for what he did to Mr. Sumner. The south supported his choice to brutally beat Mr. Sumner. This event was not the only event held in his honor.  Directly after the beating, Mr. Brooks resigned his position from the Senate. In response to this, his fellow countrymen voted him back into his seat and sent him over 300 canes to show their support. This particular event presented the Honorable Preston S. Brooks with goblets of silver and gold, and replicas of the same cane he used to beat Mr. Charles Sumner.  As a part of his acceptance speech he wrote the following:

I tell you, fellow citizens, from the bottom of my heart, that the only mode, which I think available for meeting it is just to tear the Constitution of the United States, trample it under foot, and form a southern confederacy, every state of which will be a slaveholding State. I believe it, as I stand in the face of my maker—I believe it on my responsibility you as your honored representative that the only available means of making that hope effective is to cut asunder the bonds that tie us together, and take our separate positions in the family of nations. These are my opinions. They have always been my opinions. I have been a disunionist from the time I could think.[xv]

Martha was sold for $1,205 dollars in 1857 when Preston died. This information was found in the Edgefield Archives as well as in the book Slave Records of Edgefield County by Gloria Lucas.[xvi] I found a chart explaining the worth of a slave during 1857, the same year Martha was sold to Lemuel Brooks. This chart compared the cost of a slave in 1857 to what a slave would cost if slavery still existed in 1998:[xvii]

Class Value in Dollars, 1857 Value in Dollars, 1998
Number 1 men 1250-1450 20,800-24,100
Fair/Ordinary Men 1000-1150 16,700-19,200
Best Boys (Age 15-18) 1100-1200 18,300-20,000
Best Boys (Age 10-14) 500-575 8,300-17,900
Number 1 Women 1050-1225 17,500-20,400
Fair/Ordinary Women 1050-1225 14,200-17,100
Best Girls 500-1000 8,300-16,700
Families “Sell in their usual proportions”

Being sold for that amount, and finding the chart above, gave proof that Martha was in fact considered a prime breeding woman. Martha went through every atrocity that was heard of when it came to slavery for black women.

  • miscegenation – The interbreeding of individuals considered to be of different racial backgrounds;
  • fancy trade – Female slaves called “fancy maids” were sold at auction into concubinage or prostitution, which was termed the “fancy trade”; and
  • slave breeding – Slave breeding in the United States was a practice of slave ownership that aimed to encourage the reproduction of slaves in order to increase a slaveholder’s property and wealth.[xviii]

With my mother’s DNA showing that she was related to the Brooks family, I began to get a better understanding of things. I am politically knowledgeable and acutely aware of the things that are still happening to African Americans today. In some moments I can, and have, recited speeches similar to friends and family similar to the one you read above by Mr. Brooks himself. By reading and understanding his stance when it came to slavery, as well as finding the chart above, it was clear to me who I was. My mindset, my attitude and even how I can sometimes be hot-headed. It was like a light bulb was turned on and who I really am became clear to me. I was the product of my family; all of my family white and black and its surroundings. I am an American to the fullest extent of that word.

Defending the Case of Reparations

Genealogy has become very popular and the case of reparation is becoming more and more prevalent. Due to the use of DNA being added to genealogical research, it is becoming known that 151 years later, the descendants of slaves are still looking for their families.

I am a direct descendant of Martha Brooks. This topic raises the question of do I deserve reparations for everything that my 2nd great-grandmother, and her parents before her, went through? Answering honestly, I will say that reparations doesn’t entirely address the history of slavery and its aftermath in the United States.

I believe that I should have reparations on top of the acknowledgment of slavery. I believe that just like those who survived the Holocaust received monetary payments, and the recognition of an act that didn’t even happen on American soil, I should receive the same thing. European Jewry endured the horrific and the unimaginable during a 12-year period. Enslaved Africans, and their enslaved descendants, endured the horrific and the unimaginable for approximately 20 generations; nearly 400 years. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The law won congressional approval only after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community.[xix]

David Horowitz makes the claim that those asked to pay reparations have no liability because they didn’t do the enslaving, that their ancestors did. When truth be told, there were several different genocidal crimes committed against African Americans that could be attributed to the suppression of African Americans after slavery:

  • The bombing and burning of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma 1921;
  • The burning and lynching of Rosewood, FL 1923;
  • Moore’s Ford Bridge Massacre 1947;
  • Church burnings that took place from 1954-2015;
  • Illegal and unconstitutional arrests of Blacks during the Civil Rights movement;
  • Jim Crow laws enacted at the state and local levels and ignored at the federal level;
  • The implications of the CIA linked crack epidemic in Black communities; and
  • Disenfranchised Hurricane Katrina victims living below the poverty line.

I cite these examples to address an argument often used against the American government making reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans: the people who committed the crimes against the enslaved, and those who immediately survived the crime of slavery, are no longer alive, therefore, money being paid out is unnecessary. Boiled down, it is a statute of limitations argument. At its heart lays the profound denial that the cumulative psychological trauma of slavery had an end date. That the trauma that affected those who were enslaved wasn’t passed down the generations. An inheritance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. [xx]

A disorder further heightened during the Jim Crow Era and the trauma endured during the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also said that federally funded programs such as affirmative action, the welfare program, and similar initiatives were ways that reparations have been paid.

To state that the federally funded programs are the way reparations have been paid is a slap in the face. Why? Because not all African Americans have accessed, or utilized, the welfare program. It is a proven fact that more Caucasian Americans have utilized this program than African Americans. According to Statistics Brain, 38.8% of welfare recipients are white, while 39.8% of recipients are black. The remaining 21.4% is a combination of Hispanics, Asians and other nationalities.  But when you look at the percentage of those receiving food stamps, White Americans receive a whopping 40.2% while African Americans are 25.7% the remaining makes up the other nationalities.

The bottom line is, however, the fact that a promise was made 151 years ago to give over 400,000 acres of land stretching from South Carolina to Florida to the freed slaves. This was a promise retracted by the then President of the United States, Andrew Johnson. Honoring this promise should make America at least want to keep its word. National honor should be reason enough.

End Notes

[i] Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Ethicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Lib. I, lect. 1. “Man is by nature a social animal, since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort (Avicenna). Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well. He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”

[ii] Rev. John Nienstedt. “Family as the foundation of culture,” Legatus. 2 September 2013. Last accessed 17 June 2016 via http://legatus.org/family-as-the-foundation-of-culture/#_ftn1.

[iii] A.A. Mohamad. “Address to Symposium Commemorating the International Day of Families,” United Nations, New York, 18 May 2009.

[iv] “Reparations for Slavery”, Constitutional Rights Foundation. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via http://www.crf-usa.org/brown-v-board-50th-anniversary/reparations-for-slavery-reading.html.

[v] Edward E. Baptist. “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Basic Books, New York. 2014.

[vi] Octavia Victoria Rogers. “The house of bondage, or, Charlotte Brooks and other slaves, original and life like, as they appeared in their old plantation and city slave life: together with pen-pictures of the peculiar institution, with sights and insights into their new relations as freedmen, freemen, and citizens,” Hunt & Eaton, New York. 1890. Last accessed 17 June 2016 via http://digital.cincinnatilibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16998coll17/id/9976.

[vii] “United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Reports”. Last accessed 17 June 2016 via http://ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/CountryVisits.aspx ;

The Freedmen’s Bureau Bank Records via https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1417695 ; and

The Freedmen’s Bureau Office Reports https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/African_American_Freedmen’s_Bureau_Records .

[viii] Dr Donald R. Wright. “Slavery in Africa,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. 2000. Last accessed 17 Jun2 2016 via http://autocww.colorado.edu/~toldy3/E64ContentFiles/AfricanHistory/SlaveryInAfrica.html.

[ix] James Wilkinson. “Michigan high schoolers caught on video wanting to bring back slavery,” The Daily Mail. 2 June 2016. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3622080/Appalling-moment-white-Michigan-high-school-students-talk-bringing-slavery-BRANDING-worthless-black-people-2040-presidential-campaign.html.

[x] J. D. Allen-Taylor. “Tracking the ghosts of Edgefield County,” South Carolina Progressive Network. 1996. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via
. http://www.scpronet.com/point/9606/p10.html.

[xi] Todd Lewan, Dolores Barclay and Allen G. Breed. “Land ownership made blacks targets of violence and murder,” Authentic Voice. 2001. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via

http://theauthenticvoice.org/mainstories/tornfromtheland/torn_part2 .

[xii] International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, Last accessed 26 June 2016 http://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA .

[xiii] Rootsweb, Last accessed 26 June 2016 via http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=wgbrooks&id=I6325 .

[xiv] “Canefight! Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner,” U.S. Online History Textbook.  Last accessed 7 August 2013 via http://www.ushistory.org/us/31a.asp.

[xv] Marius R. Robinson. Anti-Slavery Bugle. 1 Nov. 1856 (via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers). Last accessed 25 January 2014 via http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83035487/1856-11-01/ed-1/seq-1/ .

[xvi] Gloria R. Lucas. “Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina. Edgefield County Historical Society, Edgefield County, South Carolina. 2010, p. 55-56.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Boundless. “Women and Slavery.” Boundless U.S. History. Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/slavery-in-the-antebellum-u-s-1820-1840-16/slavery-in-the-u-s-122/women-and-slavery-657-9221/

 

[xix] NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/09/210138278/japanese-internment-redress last accessed 26 June 2016

[xx] Joy Angela DeGruy.  “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, Joy DeGruy Publications, Inc. 2009.

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