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.

Lucretia “Creasy” Williams: Finding another daughter of Moses Williams, Sr

Sometimes the universe takes pity on genealogists and places a gift right in our laps. This is one of those times.

The Moses Williams project team took a short hiatus from the project to work on other parts of our respective family trees. This is an enormous and intensive project. Naturally, we’ll be taking breaks from it to catch our breath and clear our heads…and think of new ways to tackle the formidable research obstacles. So it was kind of nice landing a major find on the second day back on the project.

The message below is what led to the discovery we’ve just made today:

Christopher Williams

There was just enough information provided for me to decide to take a look. I thought I’d give it 15 or so minutes just to see what I could find.  I know, I know, every genealogist says that…and 12 hours later, you find yourself still working through your research. Not this time.

In no time at all, I was able to trace Christopher’s life journey from Greenwood County, South Carolina (which was actually still part of Edgefield County when Christopher was born) to Ohio. Working backwards in Greenwood County, I had his parents and his siblings.

Christopher was the son of Frank Williams (1883 – ?) and Eula (maiden name unknown) of Kirksey, Greenwood, South Carolina. Frank Williams. in turn, was the son of John Williams (1847 – ?) and Amanda Susanna Ross, also of Kirksey, Greenwood, South Carolina

Now Frank has been in my tree for a long time. He caused me all manner of confusion. I had two Frank Williams born abt 1847 – one married to an Amanda Ross and one married to a Susannah Ross. I treated these two Franks as two different men, even though I strongly suspected they were one in the same person.  It was the different given names for his wife or wives that threw me.  After some further digging and searching through additional records, both Franks are indeed the same man.  Now, whether Susannah Ross and Amanda Ross are the some woman, or sisters, I don’t know. For now, I’m treating them as one in the same person until more death certificates are found for their children.

Frank’s mother was Lucretia “Creasy” Williams (abt 1820 – ?). And then I truly hit a nugget of gold.  I found her in the 1880 Census with her mother, Mariah Stallworth. Lucretia, it turns out, was born and lived in apart of Edgefield that become Greenwood County when the district boundaries changed.

To see that name Stallworth was simply everything. It gives us a specific name to search on for additional children. We can also begin to identify the family who enslaved her, and trace her life through various slave deeds and probate records.

Taking a look at where Mariah and Lucretia were living in 1880, I immediately knew who Lucretia’s father was. We knew the name of his second wife already, which was Mariah (maiden name unknown). 10 minutes later and everything came together. The Mariah Stallworth who was Lucretia’s mother was one in the same as the Mariah who was Moses’s wife.

Here was another of Moses Williams’ missing 40 daughters.

There’s still a basic mystery with Lucretia. Who was the father of her mulatto son, John Williams?

To-date, the team has found 8 of Moses Williams 45 enslaved children:

  1. Ellick/Aleck Williams, born abt. 1780, and living in Laurens County by 1870;
  2. An unknown daughter, born in Edgefield County around 1790, who had at least one child by an unknown McKie.  that child was Moses McKie, Sr, born abt 1825 in Edgefield County. He is living in the midst of his extended Williams family in Edgefield in the 1870 Census;
  3. Moses Williams, Jr, born abt. 1791 in Edgefield, and died in the 1880s in Barnwell County;
  4. Violet Williams, born abt. 1809 in Edgefield County. She was the wife of Peter Peterson of Edgefield County (my 4x great grandparents);
  5. Lewis Williams, born abt. 1815 in Edgefield County. Presumed to have died in Edgefield County before 1880;
  6. Henry Williams, born abt. 1818 in Edgefield County. Presumed to have died in Edgefield or Greenwood Counties by 1880;
  7. Elizabeth Williams, born abt. 1840 in Edgefield County, and living in Barnwell County by 1880; and
  8. Lucretia Williams, born abt. 1820 and living in Greenwood County by 1880.

At present, we’re missing 1 son and 33 daughters – as well as the name of his first wife, who was the mother of 21 of his 45 children.

 

1 Comment

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

Media Appeal: The Moses Williams Project

Hello

In an atmosphere of division and rising tensions, especially around the issue of race, Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Project is a project that encourages people to talk to another. More importantly, it’s aim is getting people who wouldn’t normally talk to one another, namely people from different races, to talk. And to realize that there is more to unite Americans from different backgrounds than divides us. You never know who you’re related to.  Chances are, unknown cousins will look very different from the family you already know.

We are bringing this topic to you in the hopes that we can get a platform discussing how important this research is, and the impact that it has on America today.  The Genealogy Adventures team believes this research – and bringing Americans from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds together through genetic genealogy – has the makings of a riveting show segment.

Genealogy challenge: Researching the 45 enslaved children of Moses Williams

https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/genealogy-challenge-researching-the-43-enslaved-children-of-moses-williams-old-ninety-six-sc

Knowledge is power.   It’s through that concept that the Genealogy Adventures team presents to you a project worth getting behind. The Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Genetic Genealogy Project began with two strangers who found each other through genealogical research…and discovered they were cousins via DNA. In fact, these two cousins share several common ancestors. It was in that find we realized that the place our ancestors came from (Edgefield, South Carolina) was not just another small town, but a place when, in its hay-day, had an enormous impact on American history.

Edgefield, South Carolina connects to well-known people such as Strom Thurmond, Senator Andrew Butler, the infamous Preston Brooks, 50 Cent and L.L. Cool J.

Our research has shown that in one way or another we are related to all of them. More than this, we’re related to pretty much everyone in the greater Edgefield area: white, black, and native Americans. When we learned that our 4x great-grandfather Moses Williams, who lived to be 115 years old, in his lifetime had 45 children it all started to make sense. Having that many children connects his descendants to a staggering number of Americans – white, black, and native Americans. Moses children were born in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with the majority of them being born in Edgefield and its surrounding counties.  When we first found him, he was listed as a slave of an American Revolutionary Patriot John Williams. It was through a series of legal deeds we learned that Moses was passed to his son Daniel. DNA analysis points to Daniel Williams II as the father of Moses.

Myself and Donya Papoose Williams set out to uncover this historic story along with four of our black and white DNA cousins: Loretta Bellamy, Sharon Rowe, Hammad Settles Asad and Sheila Hightower-Allen. The task this research group set itself was to find these 45 children, born in the depths of the slavery era, as well as Moses’s siblings, extended family, as well as the descendants from this family. It is a task that will connect millions of Americans to one another at the most basic level – genetic.

The challenge in finding these kids?

  • They are estimated as being born between 1786 and 1836. That is deep into the colonial days and the heart of slavery;
  • 40 of them are girls – This makes them even tougher to find due to marriage at an early age and the changing of the last name after marriage;
  • Moses Williams was having children at the same time as his eldest children were also having children, adding a multi-gernatoinal challenge in identifying correct parents for the descendants we find; and
  • Records for African Americans are extremely difficult to find

These six cousins have not only found the various enslavers of Moses (who were also his blood relations), we have found 7 of his 45 children, and a host of grandchildren, from deeds, probate records, census records, newspaper articles, and DNA triangulation.

We are hoping that having a discussion with you, and sharing that discussion with your audience, will provide a controlled question and answer period on the largest elephant in the room slavery and its effect on the American People. It is time to address this problem and Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Project is the way to get started to do it.

We are currently in the process of booking interviews. We’d like to extend our thanks to Scott Fisher, host of the nationally syndicated Extreme Genealogy Show (http://www.wrko.com/shows/show-schedule/extreme-genes-family-history-radio) for being the first to invite us to share our project with his audience.

These interviews are to shed light on this project and the importance of tracing your ancestors, discovering American history through genealogy research, and building bridges through conversation.

We would love to include you as part of our line-up.

Below are bios for both Brian and Donya and where to donate to this cause. We are constantly updating our progress on our Genealogy Adventures Facebook  page and we appreciate your time and look forward to speaking with you both privately and publicly on this issue.

This project is historic – in scope as well as subject. Thank you in advance for your support!

Our Go Fund Me fund raising link is https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

Thank you so much for your kind consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

The Genealogy Adventures Team

BIOS

Brian Sheffey (Boston, MA)

briansheffey@gmail.com

My genealogy adventures began in 2010. My father was turning 78 and I wanted to give him a more personal birthday gift. I mean, what do you give a 78 year who literally has everything, right? We knew very little about his family history… Genealogy Adventures was born. My own genealogy primarily encompasses trans-African, European, Jewish, and Native American ancestry.  Each requires a different skill set, which I have focused on and developed over the years.

My adventure has had its ups and downs with each ancestral story that I have discovered. What I can say, with my hand on my heart, is that the adventure and the journey has been one of the most profoundly empowering, awakening, and grounding experiences of my life. I have learned more about myself, my people, and American history through genealogy than I have through any other means.

I discovered my American identity through genealogy. That sounds odd for an American who was born on a large Naval base in Groton, with a father who was career Navy, and plenty of uncles who served in the armed forces. Yet, as a person of color, I was made to feel that America was my not country. Discovering that I am the direct descendant of American Presidents (and related to many other presidents), the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution – as well as a whole host of governors, congressmen, and senators – changed all that.

Donya Williams (Washington DC)

donya20746@gmail.com

-I can honestly say that Genealogy has been requesting my attention since a little girl, but it wasn’t until 1996 that I finally began to answer the call. Since then I have been placed on a journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

My genealogical make up is African, European, East Asian and Native American. Researching has opened my eyes to what I didn’t learn in school. I learn something new every day and it is the best thing I have ever done in my life outside of having my children.

Because of Genealogy I have submitted articles to the oldest running newspaper in South Carolina. I have been the leader for bringing all branches of my family together. But the most important thing that Genealogy has done for me is the ability to educate those on who they are and where they come from.

 

 

2 Comments

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

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project: Update #1

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project has been going full steam ahead since I last wrote about it Genealogy challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams (Old Ninety-Six, SC) https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/genealogy-challenge-researching-the-43-enslaved-children-of-moses-williams-old-ninety-six-sc ). Some 500 enslaved souls in North Carolina and South Carolina have been added to this unique family tree on Ancestry.com.

Reconstructing a full, slavery-era family tree

The project team has already struck gold. We have traced a handful of the enslaved people’s lines to the 1870 Census. These lines are connected to Edgefield, Newberry, Barnwell, and Laurens Counties in South Carolina. In one instance, we have traced an enslaved Williams line from 1750 to 1910. We are still in the midst of identifying members of this one line’s extended family in South Carolina.  Words fail to describe the feeling of following one direct line of enslaved Williams from its oldest known enslaved ancestor down through subsequent generations past the Civil War and into the turn of the 20th Century. It’s been hard work. It’s worked that has taxed our patience at times. We persisted – and found that this approach to documenting and researching enslaved families, as developed by the Beyond Kin Project, does work. The approach that Beyond Kin developed, the one which we’ve adapted for our purposes, isn’t easy. Nor is it straightforward (Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/why-diversity-matters-for-online-genealogy-service-providers). However, the effort is absolutely worth it.

This approach is reveling something beyond the nature of kinship between enslaved people. Our project group has gained insight into how the Williams family approached the enslavement of African-descended people from about 1720, in York County, Virginia, to the dawn of the Civil War in South Carolina.

The first 3 generations of the family, which spanned Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, had a markedly different sense of slavery than the following generations (at least the latter generations in South Carolina). Earlier generations of the Williams seem to have had two groups of enslaved people. The first group was held within the family. We know that one individual, my 4x great grandfather Moses Williams, Sr, was a blood relation through the DNA test results of his descendants. We suspect there was also a blood connection between other enslaved people who were continuously held within the family, or freed. Effort was taken not to break immediate family members apart.  By this, I mean parents were not separated from young children. In a handful of instances, elderly enslaved people were given the choice of which Williams family member they wished to live the remainder of their days with.

The second group of enslaved people was treated in a more historically familiar manner when it comes to American chattel slavery. They were sold to enslavers outside of the family.

Great care too was taken in the first three generations of the family over the provisions for those they enslaved in preparation for the handling of their estate once they died. For instance, before he fought in the Revolutionary War battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, Maj. James Henderson Williams instituted a series of provisional Deeds which stipulated how his enslaved population was to be dispersed amongst his heirs. Nor did these early Williams men want their wives to keep whatever property, including enslaved people, from their husband’s estate, if they remarried. Williams men wanted their wealth and property to remain within the family. If one of their widows remarried, she forfeited everything.

The recording keeping among the earlier generations of the family were meticulous and thorough.

Things begin to change with the fourth generation of the family in South Carolina. Suddenly, Williams begin dying intestate.  In other words, they died without a Will. More often than not, an estate sale followed. I can only imagine that news of an estate sale must have terrified those who were enslaved. They would have known all too well what that could mean for them and their loved ones. Anyone could buy them and take them away from everyone and everything they had ever known. Worse still, slave traders, who would resell them to the highest bidder without care or consideration, always attended such sales. Slaver traders were one of the means by which enslaved families were split apart and sent to all points throughout the south.

Estate Sale

We have  noticed one dynamic with these estate sales. Older members of the members seem to have gone out of their way to purchase specific enslaved people and/or specific enslaved family groups. These were individuals and family groups with known, or strongly suspected, kinship ties to the Williams family. Others, who we know were purchased from outside of the family, shared a different fate. They were simply sold to whoever had the inclination to purchase them.

We are also beginning to see the wider connections between the black and white Williams families and their inter-connectedness to the wider Edgefield community. When two children from slave owning families married, the groom would have his slaves, and the bride hers, in the form of a dowry. Thus two different slave populations were brought together through such a union. Unless, of course, two cousins married. In this latter scenario, they could very well be bringing two groups of related enslaved people together, with the addition of whatever new slaves they would buy over time. Sticking with the first scenario, imagine the enslaved who had been part of the groom’s family identified themselves as Williams, Henderson, Richardson, Griffins, and Martins. And then the enslaved families who were part of the bride’s family who would identify themselves as Jones, Peterson, Sibley, Mobley, Sheppard, and Sims. One enslaved group would marry into the other group. Over time, their descendants would form one exceedingly large family with a myriad of different surnames.  Add the fact that their white enslaving family members were connected to a myriad of white Edgefield families –  you have an extensive county-level interconnectedness between the white side of the family, the black side of the family – and then again between the black and white population within the county. Basically, everyone is related to everyone else. This is how it happens. At least this is how it happened in Edgefield.

The project’s research team has always known this. This project, however, is showing the proof of it. It’s the subject of some pretty interesting conversations.

Finding Moses’s Lost Children

The team believes it has found two of Moses William, Sr’s enslaved daughters. The first discovery, Elizabeth, we found her living next door to him in Red Oak Township in Barnwell County, South Carolina in the 1870 Census.

Moses Williams and daughter Elizabeth

The first box, in red, shows Moses Williams, Sr with his second wife, Maria. The exciting piece of information for him is this Census record proves he was born in Virginia, most likely York County, Virginia if he was born into the Colonial Era Williams household.  The blue box shows his daughter, Elizabeth Williams, and her children. Please click the picture for a larger image.

We see her here with one son named for his grandfather.

It was the second daughter who turned out to be a remarkable discovery. My 4x great grandmother, Violet, has been a decade-long mystery. We knew she was born around 1809 in Edgefield, South Carolina. She was the wife of Peter Peterson. The main mystery about Violet was her maiden name. Simply put, there are no documents to provided her maiden name. We had some thoughts about which of the large Edgefield families she would have been a daughter of. However, this was merely conjecture.

I had spent a good part of one day researching Williams’ family Wills and probate records in Edgefield and Newberry when the names Peter and Violet (Vilet) appeared out of nowhere. The document that cited her name was the 1829 Will of Washington Williams of Newberyy, South Carolina.

007649570_00582

This page is exciting for a few reasons. However, you have to understand how the Will was written to ferret out the key points. The enslaved in this Will are in family groups. Not only do we have Violet, we have members of her family: from Humphrey (Umphrey) to Jacob. I believe the majority of the names grouped with hers were her siblings. Secondly, there’s a man named Ceasar. He too is a Williams. Along with Violet, Ceasar and his family are found in Edgefield in the 1870 Census. At present, it is unclear whether Ceasar was Moses William, Sr’s son or nephew. Presumably Ceasar, his family, as well as Violet and Peter, left Newberry for Edgefield to live among their Williams family relations.

007649570_00583

we believe Peter Peterson above is listed with his siblings on this page. Squire Peterson appears in Edgefield, along with Peter, in the 1870 Census. 

007649570_00584

007649570_00585I should mention that Violet was a very rare name in Edgefield at the time. It wasn’t a common name among the enslaved population (using the Gloria Lucas book, The Slave Deeds of Edgefield County as a guide). We verified the rarity of this name among the white population in the county in the census records and genealogy/family history books  for Edgefield spanning from 1790 to 1880. Seeing a Violet in a slave-related record was enough to pique my interest.  In and of itself, it was not enough to provide her with a maiden name. Paired with a Peter, this was an entirely different deal. Returning to the 1870 Census ,in order to see who her neighbours were, and re-examining  the names of the children she and Peter had, the pieces began to fall into place. There was every indication that Violet was a Williams. And, not just any Williams, she was very likely a daughter of Moses Williams, Sr.  We’re still doing DNA work to finally clinch this.

capture-20170516-113210capture-20170516-113040

Considering we made this discovery in the midst of working on the Moses Williams Family Tree project, this discovery seems almost providential. We were meant to make this discovery. However, there is more to it than that. We were meant to make this discovery during the course of this very specific research project.

Through her, we could also begin to answer some basic questions about her husband, Peter Peterson.  There have been all manner of conflicting family stories where he is concerned. First, there’s the uncertainty about his surname. Was he Peter Peterson or Peter Bagley/Bangley? Where did those two surnames associated with him come from? Was one parent a Peterson and the other a Bagley/Bangley? Family lore stated that Peter was either a white man, or a mulatto man who was born free in West Virginia. I, and the other members of the team, have spent years going down the proverbial genealogy rabbit hole chasing all of these family stories about Peter; all to no avail. Over the years,  Peter refused to give up his secrets.

The above record confirms what I have long suspected:  Peter Peterson was enslaved. He was a part of the slave-owning Peterson clan who were residents of Newberry, South Carolina. It would appear that Peter and Violet met one another in Newberry, both of them part of Washington Williams’ household.

The final find to-date has been the discovery of another of Moses’s five sons:  Ellick (or Aleck) Williams.

As it stands, we have found two of Moses’s five sons: Moses Williams, Jr and Ellick/Aleck Williams. We have also found one daughter, Elizabeth, with Violet increasingly looking like a second daughter.

So… only three more sons and thirty-eight more daughters to find!

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

The time has come for us to hit the road and begin to research undigitized documents in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina that are related to this project. Part of this project’s output will be making these newly digitized documents publicly available…and buy around 200 or so DNA test kits. Towards that end, we’ve set up a Go Fund Me campaign to the raise the $10,000 we need: Stronger Together:  The Moses Williams Family Project https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

All donations will be gratefully received. And your support, no matter what form it takes (likes and shares on social media), will mean so much to the team.

2 Comments

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

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.

5 Comments

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 unsurprisingly, 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. Millennials 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 unknown. 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

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

The time has come for us to hit the road and begin to research undigitized documents in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina that are related to this project. Part of this project’s output will be making these newly digitized documents publicly available…and buy around 200 or so DNA test kits. Towards that end, we’ve set up a Go Fund Me campaign to the raise the $10,000 we need: Stronger Together:  The Moses Williams Family Project https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

All donations will be gratefully received. And your support, no matter what form it takes (likes and shares on social media), will mean so much to the team.

6 Comments

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.

 

5 Comments

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

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, virginia

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, Sheffey family, virginia, wythe

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.

pleasant-roane-manumission-suit-1

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
Db-1

Leave to remain in Virginia Court affidavits

leave-to-remain-1

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
Db-2
[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].
Db-3

pleasant-roane-manumission-suit-2

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
Db-5

pleasant-roane-manumission-suit-3

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
Db-7
Db-9
Db-15

leave-to-remain-2

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?]
Db-9

leave-to-remain-3

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
Db-11
Db-15

leave-to-remain-4

Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Order for Pleasant Rowan ~~
Db-12
[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
Db-13

leave-to-remain-5

Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
J. Hendricks Certificate
Db-14

[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
Db-15

leave-to-remain-6

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
Db-17

Court ruling on Pleasant’s leave to remain in Virginia

court-ruling

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.

 

2 Comments

Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Roane family, Uncategorized, virginia

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.

Leave a comment

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