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 mulatto 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 my enslaved 5x great grandmother, Jemima George. 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 ( ), 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 ( : 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 ( ). 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 ( : 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.

My working practice for my African American genealogy research

This post is a glimpse into my working practices when it comes to researching black ancestors who were enslaved. On the one hand, it will probably look like Olympic standard mental gymnastics. On the other, I hope it gives a good framework for other African Americans researching their own enslaved ancestors.

In this post, I’m going to concentrate solely on my Sheffey ancestors in Wythe County, Virginia.

A tale of a very tight knit family

Part and parcel of researching ancestors who were enslaved is acquiring knowledge about the family who owned them. Any chance of discovering such ancestors can only be accomplished through the records kept by slave owners. Our enslaved ancestors’ lives were inextricably linked to their owner’s family. Obvious, I know. Still, I’m stating this for a specific purpose. My enslaved Sheffey ancestors were kept together within the extended Sheffey family. I have no overall understanding of how usual or unusual a practice this was. The fact that the black and white sides of the Sheffey family were related may have had a part to play in this. With an increasing knowledge of the beliefs and quirks of the slave owning Sheffeys, I wouldn’t be surprised if this kinship was behind keeping my black Sheffey ancestors and relations together.

Not only was the family structure of my enslaved Sheffey ancestors and relations kept intact, it definitely seems as though the extended black Sheffeys were in regular contact with one other. It makes sense. My white Sheffey ancestors and kin were a close knit and very sociable bunch of people. Going from family home to family home, with slaves in tow, seems the most obvious way my black Sheffey cousins kept in regular contact with one another and maintained their closeness.

How do I know the black Sheffeys were every bit as tight knit as their white counterparts? The 1870 Census. Whether it’s Wythe County towns like Wytheville, Cripple Creek, Ivanhoe or Black Lick (and Marion in neighbouring Smyth County) – there they all are, my black ancestors, all living near to one another. And through numerous marriage records showing second and third cousins from the different Wythe County towns (and Marion) marrying one another.

In other words, it wasn’t the habit of Sheffey slave owners to split the families of their black relations apart. Which has made researching my black ancestors an easier task than if they had been sold all over the southern states. Research is showing that my black Sheffey ancestors and kin were passed, intact, by my white  Sheffey kin to other Sheffey family members in their Wills.

An example of how I identify which Wills and probate records I'll need for my research. Click for larger image.

An example of how I identify which Wills and probate records I’ll need for my research. Click for larger image.

Now all I need is to find the Wills to actually prove this. Which segues quite nicely back to my opening sentences.

Enter genealogy: Focusing on the oldest known generation of back & mulatto Sheffeys

Let’s take a look at the oldest known members of my earliest known black Sheffey ancestors.

Snapshot putting my oldest known black Sheffey ancestors into context. Click for larger image.

Snapshot putting my oldest known black Sheffey ancestors into context. Click for larger image.

I’m going to focus on three people: Jemimah, her son Jacob Sheffey and his wife, Elsey George.

Once you’ve identified an owner for an enslaved ancestor, it’s a good idea to do a rough work-up of that owner’s family tree. Slaves were usually passed from generation to generation. Doing a genealogical work-up of a slave owner and his family can provide clues about your enslaved ancestor’s genealogy – identifying siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins to additional children they may have had.

Once you have done an outline of a slave owner’s family tree, the next step is to find any Wills, estate records, estate inventories (usually done as part of the probate period), tax records, letters and journals – anything that might make reference to slaves by name.  I have uncovered previously unknown family lines through this practice.

If an enslaved ancestor lived to an advanced age (say, seventy or older), and appears on the 1870 Census, you stand a good chance of tracing who owned them when they were born and then all the subsequent family members who owned them and their family. The caveat is this works so long as they were kept within the same family.

I find that it helps my research if I draw some outlines of inter-connections and relationships between enslaved ancestors and how they connect to various owners. Visual aides always help my research. Like the working example below:

Outline of black and white family connections. Includes avenues to investigate to identify Godfrey Taylor Sheffey's parents. Click for larger image.

Outline of black and white family connections. Includes questions to answer and avenues to investigate to identify Godfrey Taylor Sheffey’s parents. Click for larger image.

The image above is a working outline I’ve shared with some Sheffey DNA cousins trying to place their ancestor, Godfrey Taylor Sheffey, into my overall Sheffey family tree. We know there is a connection. The men in their line bear an uncanny resemblance to me and many of the men who are descendants of Jacob Sheffey and Elsey George. Seriously! It’s like the men in Jacob’s line were cloned!

Through plotting the image above, it’s my hunch that Godfrey Sheffey’s parents were Jacob Sheffey and Elsey George. Laying out all the known, pertinent facts – as they have been in the image above – just makes that hunch even stronger.

However, the image above serves a few purposes. There is more within it than meets the eye at first.

Jemimah’s origins remain a mystery. By that I mean I have no clue who owned her when she was born in 1770. This void means I have no clue about who her parents were, or the identity of any siblings – or what family name her family would have used. Her early life requires a lot more work. She was born before the second generation German-American Sheffey’s (e.g. Daniel Sheffey and his brother Henry Sheffey) arrived in Virginia and became save owners. Daniel and Henry were still children themselves in Frederick County, Maryland. So she couldn’t have originally been owned by them. I’m hoping a trail of Virginia Slave Deeds of Sales will lead me back to her first owner.

Some Deductive Reasoning and Critical Thinking

Now the next bit requires deductive reasoning and critical thinking. These are not ideal tools of the genealogist. However, my previous critical thinking and deductive reasoning has led to some remarkable genealogy breakthroughs.

Our enslaved ancestors’ stories are inextricably linked to the story of the families who owned them. This includes their Properties and Places of residence – I refer to this as P&P.

Here’s a working example:  In order for Jacob and Elsey to have a ‘union’ and produce children, they were more than likely resident within the same Sheffey household. So which one? My thinking is that Jacob and Elsey were owned by Henry Sheffey. And here’s how I came to that deductive conclusion:

  • Elsey’s first child was by James Lowry White, Henry Sheffey’s brother-in-law. Elsey and James were both teenagers when that child was born. So it makes sense that she was owned by James’s father, William White, and not by James. Carrying this deductive reasoning further, it seems highly probable that Elsey was born into William White’s household. William White more than likely also owned her parents and siblings – I’ll come back to this in a bit**.
  • Elsey more than likely became a part of Henry Sheffey’s household through his wife, Margaret White. I’m guessing that Elsey was part of an inheritance. And she came with her first born, the son she had with James White. In order for Elsey to meet and be courted by Jacob, I can only see this if he was already established in Henry Sheffey’s household.
  • If Jacob was already part of Henry Sheffey’s household, there is a strong likelihood that Jemimah, his mother, was also part of this household.

Now deductive reasoning requires a paper trail in order to convert reasoning and deduction into fact. Henry Sheffey has stymied me in this. He died fairly young. Some of his sons were raised by his brother, Daniel Sheffey, while others were raised by his brother-in-law, James White. If Henry left a Will, I haven’t been able to find a copy of it. Nor have I been able to find any reference to a Will. Nor have I been able to find any probate or estate inventory papers. This means I have no idea what happened to my ancestors when he died. Did his sons inherit them? Were they held in trust by the boys’ guardians? I don’t know. In short, there is no paper trail to follow…yet.

Jacob and Elsey had their first child while Henry was still alive (this was my 2nd Great Grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, Sr). Jacob and Elsey’s remaining 5 children were born after Henry Sheffey’s death. Jacob and Elsey were clearly together. But where? In whose household? That remains a mystery.

What I do know is the trail picks up in the Wythe and Smyth Cohabitation Records that were compiled in February of 1866. The Cohabitation Records cite the last slave owner for each formerly enslaved person cited within it. And many of my Sheffey ancestors and relations are listed within these documents. By and large, all were owned by members of the extended Sheffey family.

In this image, I'm focussing on the central figures in this specific research exercise. The diagram shows inter-relationships between the black and white sides of the family, with contextual notes and questions. Click for larger image.

In this image, I’m focussing on the central figures in this specific research exercise. The diagram shows inter-relationships between the black and white sides of the family, with contextual notes and questions. Click for larger image.

Intricately Connected Lives

Last Wills and Testaments would answer so many of the questions that I have. And these are proving stubbornly elusive. Wills for Henry and his brother Daniel would answer quite a few. Their children’s Wills won’t provide any answers.  They all died after the end of the Civil War. There were simply no slaves for them to bequeath. Added to this, not all of their children, notably the Reverend Robert Sayers Sheffey, owned slaves.

The two Wills I have mentioned, however, would shed some light on:

  • Which of Henry and Daniel’s children inherited family slaves before the onset of the Civil War
  • How my family members came to be with extended family members like the Morrisons, Spillers, Robertsons, Sanders and Porters.

Knowing this would better enable me to understand how formerly enslaved Sheffeys came to reside where they did within Wythe and Smyth Counties. In other words, this knowledge adds missing context to their lives and their histories.

**Now, back to Elsey George, her family, and how their lives were so closely entwined with that of the White family (let’s not forget I’m related to this family too through my mother’s Harlan lineage!).

William White owned extensive land holdings and enterprises throughout Virginia as well as Kentucky (Harlan County) and Alabama (Hunstville, Madison County). His son, James White, expanded upon his father’s business and became one of the wealthiest men in the southern states. William and James moved slaves throughout their various estate holdings in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. And in all the places they owned property, I find members of the George family.

Every. Single. Place.

It’s going to be quite the adventure to stitch the George family story back together. I have yet to find a copy of William White’s Will. James White died intestate. However, his billion dollar estate (in today’s money) resulted in a long and protracted lawsuit between his heirs. His estate holdings, if reports are accurate, were well documented as part of this lawsuit. And I’ve found where all of his estate and personal papers are kept: The University of Virginia Library This collection will be a goldmine of information when it comes to piecing together the George family tree. I’m also hoping it will shed some light on Henry Sheffey’s estate, including which family members inherited Henry Sheffey’s slaves.

 So, let’s recap.

There’s no getting around it. You have to do some genealogy work on the family or families that owned your enslaved ancestors. Yes, it’s extra work. Rather a lot of extra work, if the truth be told. In my case, it was part and parcel of my family genealogy research because the people who owned my enslaved Sheffey ancestors are blood relations.

Once you’ve done a genealogical outline of the family who owned your ancestors, the next thing on your list is to track down any existing Wills or probate estate inventories that will cite and list the slaves. Provided your enslaved ancestors were kept within the same family for generation after generation, you can trace them from place to place, and by    generation after generation.


Finding Jefferson Crockett Sheffey – a surprising link to Hampton University

My cousin Fontaine and I have spent the past four years trying to track down our great grand uncles – the sons of Daniel Henry Sheffey, Sr. Looking at the family tree below, I’m descended from Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr. Fontaine is descended from Daniel Adam Sheffey. Fontaine and I connected online a few years ago and, to-date, he’s the closest living relative I’ve met from my branch of the Sheffey family. It’s been great having such an enthusiastic researching co-pilot.

image showing The sons of Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr and Margaret Clark of Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia

The sons of Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr and Margaret Clark of Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia. Click to enlarge the image.

Our missing great grand uncles were: Wade Sheffey, Jefferson C Sheffey and John Sheffey. We just couldn’t find them after 1866.

We think we found John Sheffeylast year. If we have indeed find the right John Sheffey, his end was pretty tragic. However, we still need to confirm if the person we found is indeed our great grand uncle. Wade Sheffey still remains elusive.

Thanks to a random hint via two days ago, I found the missing Jefferson Sheffey. What a pleasant detour that turned out to be.

Here’s Jefferson and his family in the 1860 Slave Schedule (I haven’t been able to identify the other two female slaves). Julia Ann Crockett Morrison is their mistress . Interestingly, Daniel Sheffey Sr appears both here and in the 1860 slave schedule of Julia’s sister, Susanna Crockett Spiller.

image for Jefferson Sheffey and his family in the 1860 Slave Census

Jefferson Sheffey and his family in the 1860 Slave Census Click to enlarge the image


Here he is in the Wythe County (VA.) Register of Colored Persons cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866

Jefferson Sheffey in the 1866 Cohabitation Register.   Wythe County (Va.) Register of Colored Persons of Wythe County, State of Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, [register page #]. Cohabitation Registers Digital Collection. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, 23219.

Jefferson Sheffey in the 1866 Cohabitation Register – click to enlarge the image. Wythe County (Va.) Register of Colored Persons of Wythe County, State of Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, [register page #]. Cohabitation Registers Digital Collection. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, 23219.

All trace of Jefferson seemed to simply vanish after 1866. Fontaine and I began to presume he had died between the 1866 and the 1870 Census.

Far from it.

So I get this hint from Ancestry for a Jefferson C Sheffey. Of course it got my immediate interest. I know that a staggering amount of new records have been added to the database, so I was hoping to discover something good: a birth certificate, perhaps a death certificate or, better still, a marriage certificate.

The hint from turned out to be a series of records for Jefferson from the Freedmen’s Bureau. The reason why he seemed to disappear was the fact that he stopped using his first name, Jefferson. He was known by his middle name, Crockett, which was quite the revelation.

I had come across a Crockett Sheffey years ago in a Civil War Pension Record.  I knew he couldn’t be the Crockett Sheffey I’ve already written about – the buffalo soldier who left the US for the Philippines. The Crockett in the Civil War Record clearly belonged to the generation before Crockett the Buffalo Soldier. Without a race being cited in the record, I put this new Crockett Sheffey on the back burner of my research. There simply wasn’t anything that connected him with anyone I was familiar with in the family tree.

However, the record below, one of the hints from, is the one that sealed the deal in terms of who this new Crockett was (I’m going to keep referring to him as Jefferson to avoid confusion about which Crockett Sheffey I’m referring to). Living in Wythe County (my line of the Sheffey  family’s stronghold), with Daniel Sheffey as a father, there was only one person it could be…Jefferson. As you’ll see below, he was a very young soldier during the Civil War:

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey's Civil War Pension Record. National Archives and Records Administration. U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 546 rolls.

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey’s Civil War Pension Record. National Archives and Records Administration. U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.
Original data: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 546 rolls.

I was happy enough finding out that Jefferson hadn’t died as a child. The remaining hints were pure gold dust.

It turns out that in 1869 Jefferson was a day teacher in Cripple Creek, Wythe County, VA. His name appears quite often in the school’s administrative papers. I’ve included the more interesting ones on the gallery below. They’re great for academics curious about late 19th Century educational administration.

crocket sheffey teacher Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 2 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 3 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 5 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 5 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 6










By 1870, Jefferson was teaching at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia:

Lithograph of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in the 1870-71 school year.

Lithograph of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in the 1870-71 school year. Source Information: U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

The above image is how  the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute looked when Jefferson began teaching there.

This institution would later become the illustrious Hampton University that we know today. I’m pretty proud of Jefferson. To be a school teacher in this era was a big deal. It was a position that came with respect and prestige. To be an African American education was a very big deal. Not only did you have to be an educator, you also had to be a role model for the African American community. Fontaine and I are speculating as to whether this is why Jefferson’s older brother Daniel Henry Sheffey gave his firstborn son the name Crockett.


Jefferson Crockett Sheffey in the 1870-71 Hampton Institute Yearbook. Source Information: U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data:

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey in the 1870-71 Hampton Institute Yearbook. Source Information: U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

Naturally, I was curious if there were any actual pictures of Hampton that dated to this period. It was a prestigious school from its beginning. It was as strong a candidate for pictorial prosperity as any other learning institution – all the more so as it was among the first such higher education institutions for African Americans. I found a veritable treasure trove.

Hampton Institute, VA. – pupils studying Whittier, circa 1899. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

There are a number of contemporary Hampton pictures via:!=coll&sg=true&st=gallery

And here Jefferson’s story ends…for now. I haven’t found a death certificate for him. I don’t know if he married, had children or how long he taught at at Hampton. What I did finds is a great nugget of story…and a family connection to a superb (and historically significant) university.

It’s kind of nice to know I continue the long tradition of carrying the university lecturer’s torch for the family. DNA test answers one fundamental question

In my previous post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question ( ) I cover the importance of being clear about what you want to achieve through DNA testing.

For me, I have persistent gaps in my genealogy.’s DNA test is the second DNA I’ve taken. I did it in the hopes that it would help solve some of these persistent gaps in my family’s genealogy.

Well…my DNA test results came in the other day! And to say it answered one fundamental question is a bit of an understatement. That question was whether or not my family were Sheffeys by blood or by close ties with their former slave masters. I am going to put my hand up and say that over the past three years I had my doubts that we were Sheffeys by blood. It wouldn’t change my outlook on being a Sheffey if we weren’t. It’s just a thing that would be nice to know.

Jemimah Sheffey, born around 1770 in Virginia, is my earliest discovered African-descended ancestor on the Sheffey side of the family. I knew she wasn’t a Sheffey by blood. It all came down to the identity of the father of her children. It’s still not 100% clear which German-descended Sheffey owned her. The German-American Sheffey family history in Virginia made it very easy to narrow down the possible candidate for the potential father of her children – born between 1800 and 1815 – if indeed any of them were. It could only be one of three second generation German-American Sheffey brothers: Daniel Henry Sheffey, Major Henry Lawrence Sheffey and John Sheffey.

image of Johann Adam Sheffey family group

Johann Adam Sheffey family group

Daniel Henry Sheffey seemed the most likely candidate at first. He was a slave-owner. And, after all, my 2 x great grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, was named for him by his father, Jacob Sheffey (Jemimah’s son). He was also a slave owner. Daniel was my strongest contender. His brother Henry, also a slave-owner, was just as viable a candidate. I always discounted Henry, however. I can’t explain it. For whatever reason, in my mind and in my gut, he was out of the frame.

Last up was their younger brother John. I always discounted John. While he’d been (and remains) difficult to track through digitized records, he never owned slaves. That much I did know. Other than that, I knew that John just up and left either Frederick, Maryland (the home of his) or Virginia (the home of his brothers) for Greene County, Tennessee. I can’t even tell you when, exactly, he left for TN. All I can say with any certainty is that he left MD or VA for TN sometime between 1820 and 1828, the year he married Margaret O. Thompson in Greene County, TN.

There was another problem with John…his date of birth. In innumerable family trees, his marriage certificate and on his tombstone, his year of birth is given as 1804. Jacob Sheffey, my 3xgreat-grandfather, was born in 1800. So you can see the problem. However, I always knew John’s attributed year of birth was incorrect.

imageof John Sheffey's resting place in Greene County, TN

I’d already found him in the 1790 census as a minor living with his parents and two of his sisters.

image of ohann Adam Sheffey household in Frederick, Maryland in 1790

Johann Adam Sheffey household in Frederick, Maryland in 1790

His father, Johann Adam Sheffey, died in 1793. His mother, Maria Magdalena Loehr Sheffey, would have been 65 years old in 1804. Basic math and the laws of time and biology makes the year of 1804 impossible as the year of his birth. Yep, another mystery on how that year became his ‘official’ year of birth!

I don’t know how close John was to his brothers. The deep, brotherly affection shared between Daniel and Henry is well-documented. The letters, public accounts and biographies I’ve read for both men never mention John. Never. Their three sisters – Catherina Sheffey Brengle, Elisabeth Sheffey Geyer and Mary Sheffey Guyton – also have easily discoverable profiles online. They were written about and their family histories and genealogies are covered in great detail. John? It’s as though he simply didn’t exist from the family’s perspective.

So, I always discounted John. Well, I shouldn’t have. As it turns out, he is my 4 x great-grandfather. breaks down your cousin matches by generation. As it turns out, I have 30 or so 4th to 6th cousins who have also taken the same DNA test. Out of that number, 18 or so have made their family trees publicly accessible. After the first dozen or so glimpses at these distantly-related cousins and their family trees, I came across a small group of people who had ancestors from the Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany. This is the same region where Johann Adam Sheffey (Scheffe) – the father of John, Henry and Daniel – left to come to America. However, I didn’t recognize any of the surnames in these cousins’ trees (I’ll have to work that out later!)

Nonetheless, I started to get excited. That specific region of Germany was indicating that there was indeed a blood-link to the German-American Sheffeys. However, I needed more proof to seal the deal.

That proof I needed came with cousin matches 23, 24 and 25. I saw the names Cochran, Susong and Thompson in these family trees. And there’s only one Sheffey lineage where those names appear: John Sheffey’s. These were his descendants. Indeed, among all of my many branches on both sides of my family, there is only one place where these names converge – in association with John.

The combination of factors that led to this discovery are mind-blowing to me. For one, it relied on John’s descendants joining and building comprehensive family trees. Secondly, that they made those family trees public (too many people don’t!). Lastly, that a handful of these descendants went on to take the DNA test. The combination of these three random factors was so perfect that they easily could have never happened.

It was a jaw-hitting-the-floor moment.

It figures that my 4x great-grandfather would be the one son of Johann Adam Sheffey that I knew the least about. His public profile was on a different scale from his brothers. His life isn’t that well document. I also haven’t met many of his descendants online…although I hope that will change. I’d love to know more about his life. And hopefully answer the question of why he so abruptly departed for TN. Although I now have a pretty strong suspicion. 😉

Interestingly, James Frank Sheffey Sr, an African American Sheffey born in Virginia around 1840, was resident in District 1 of Greene County in 1880 with his family. A coincidence? Or did he know? Of all the counties in Tennessee, why Greene County? James stubbornly refuses to find his place in the Sheffey family tree. I can’t find his parents’ names for love nor money. It does raise the interesting prospect that my Sheffey ancestors had full knowledge of their Sheffey roots. Knowledge that somehow got lost over time.

I’d love to know if there are any images of John. The African-descended Sheffey men tend to all bear a remarkable similarity with one another. I mean it’s uncanny how much we look alike. No matter which branch of the family that descends from Jacob Sheffey…there is an instant recognition and we and our families end up saying the same thing: “Yep, you’re a Sheffey”. Will we see ourselves in John?

For now, I’m basking in the afterglow of discovery and confirmation. And I am SO grateful that the year’s I’ve spent researching the Scheffe family in Germany wasn’t for nowt!


Hugh White Sheffey: a study in Northern ideals & Southern sensibilities

Hugh White Sheffey in the Sheffey family tree

Hugh White Sheffey in the Sheffey family tree – click for larger image

Hugh White Sheffey was a name I already knew and had become somewhat familiar with in the course of doing the usual family history research thing. That is to say I knew where he fell on the greater family tree. I knew he was a judge. I also knew he served in Virginia’s State Congress. I also knew that, like many of his Sheffey contemporaries, he was an educated and deeply religious man. That being said, I’d put him on the proverbial back burner – yet another Virginia-born Sheffey who was respected legal practitioner and a political servant as well as steadfast American Constitutionalist. I shouldn’t have been so quick to by-pass his story.

As with my more interesting finds, Hugh White Sheffey re-emerged on my radar due to an unexpected research result. I had spent an afternoon doing some casual research trying to track down portraits of 18th and early 19th Century Sheffeys in Virginia. Google gave me an intriguing result for dear old Hugh in an obscure book entitled Twelve Virginia Counties: Where the Western Migration Began written in 1937 by John Hastings Gwathmey:

There’s an entry for Hugh Sheffey. In writing about the various portraits of judges which hang in the Staunton Court House in Augusta County, Virginia, which reads: “The other portraits in the courtroom are likenesses of the following men, all judges and lawyers who practiced at the Augusta bar: …Hugh W. Sheffey (1815-1889)…”

This was pretty cool to find. As far as I know – and as far as many of my extended family members know – there were no known images or photos of this man. There wasn’t a single image of him online. No one on had one. And a flurry of conversations on Facebook yielded no results. Simply put, no one in the length and breadth of the Sheffey family knew what this man looked like.  So I sent an exceedingly polite email to the Clerk of the Staunton Court House asking, if at all possible, could he or she take a photo of the portrait of Hugh and email it to me. The Clerk not only took a picture of Hugh’s portrait…he emailed it to me the very next day (again, a huge thank you for that!) And here it is:

Portrait of Judge Hugh White Sheffey

The portrait of Judge Hugh White Sheffey which hangs in the courtroom of the Staunton Courthouse in Virginia. Image courtesy of the Court Clerk, who kindly took a picture of the portrait for me.

This image of him sent me down the rabbit hole. I wanted to find out more about the man behind the portrait. To say I hit pay-dirt is an understatement. I came across a self-penned biography he provided for his Alma Mater, Yale University.

Hugh Sheffey’s Autobiography

Hugh White Sheffey autobiographyin Yale Alumnus Magazine

The impression which struck me as I read the history that he relayed was one of a humble, modest and diligent man. Hugh was the grandson of German immigrants Johann Adam Scheffe (John Adam Sheffey) and Maria Magdalena Loehr (Madeleine Lohr Sheffey). Born in 1815, he was one of five children born to Henry Lawrence Sheffey and Margaret White. He was orphaned at a young age and, went to live with one of his uncles, Major Daniel Henry Sheffey and his wife, Maria Hanson at Kalorama, the name of Daniel Sheffey’s home in Staunton, Virginia. His siblings were sent to live with other aunts and uncles.

Kalorama - Daniel Henry Sheff's home

Kalorama (upper left in the picture) – Daniel Henry Sheffey’s home in Satunton, Virginia. This was Hugh’s adopted childhood home. Maria Hanson Sheffey, Daniel’s widow, founded The Virginia Female Institute here in 1831. The property was destroyed in 1870.

What emerges is a story of a loving and profoundly nurturing childhood household reflected in the terms of endearment he uses for his father-uncle and mother-aunt. The parents of daughters, Daniel and Maria treated Hugh literally like the son they never had.

This was a deeply political household. Daniel Sheffey was an old fashioned Federalist and had served in Congress from 1816 to 1817. He’d been an outspoken opponent of the War of 1812. Roughly speaking, as a federalist Daniel believed in a decentralized form of central government which he felt was necessary in order to safeguard the liberty and independence that the American Revolution had created and the American Constitution would enshrine (an interesting historical factoid: it took YEARS for the American Constitution to be ratified. It was largely ratified due to the ceaseless campaigning efforts of the Federalist Party). For more information about Federalism, see

Daniel was also a highly respected lawyer.

I believe the measure of regard Hugh had his for his Uncle Daniel is easily witnessed throughout his life; how he conducted it, his ideals and the concepts he fought for. He too became a legal practitioner, eventually becoming a respected Judge. He too became a politician. By his time, the Federalist political party had dissolved. Hugh was an American Whig. Let’s think of the Whig party as the son of the former Federalist Party. They fundamentally shared the same concerns, goals, causes and philosophies. Both parties tended to support protectionist tariffs, development of infrastructure, particularly canals, and tended to favor northern business interests over farming interests. William Blair’s book Virginia’s Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865 gives a small insight into Hugh’s Whig beliefs:

William Blair’s book Virginia's Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865,+slave+schedule&source=bl&ots=wSbMWBHZug&sig=3xg_tl5jZlEqI9zofJJsBVRsGKU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=s1A7U4qXG_DgsATRo4BI&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=sheffey&f=false

New England & The Civil War

Daniel attended Yale University where, by all accounts, he excelled academically. Indeed, he returned to lecture in law for a number of years. And here lays the basis of a fundamental question I would love to go back in time to ask Hugh.

Hugh was a southerner – and not just any old southerner but a Virginian – living in the New England heartland. He came from a family of modest wealth…but a slave owning family nonetheless. Now New England was never the bastion of freedom for free blacks that we’ve been led to believe from American history classes. Far from it. Slavery persisted in New England far longer than I was ever led to believe. And a system of apartheid existed between the end of the Revolutionary War and the commencement of the American Civil War. Yet, when Hugh attended Yale, there was a slow-growing abolitionist movement. There isn’t anything in his writing to indicate the subject of slavery troubled his mind while a student at Yale. What I do find interesting is there is no mention of slavery, or his own ownership of slaves in his short autobiography. It is a glaring omission and, I believe, hints at his own unease.

Hugh White Sheffey 1860 Slave Schedule

Hugh White Sheffey 1860 Slave Schedule – click for larger image

New England left an indelible mark on Hugh. When Civil war eventually broke out he was torn between his Old Dominion roots and his own family’s standing within that society, and his loyalty to the Union. I have no doubt that he understood and appreciated the southern complaint and perhaps supported parts of that complaint. He did not, however, agree or support succession. He was an outspoken opponent against southern succession. He went so far as to move from his beloved Virginia to West Virginia (Wakelyn, Jon L. 2002. Confederates Against the Confederacy: Essays on Leadership and Loyalty ) to illustrate his belief in the ideal of Union, which his grandfather and his uncles had fought to establish in the American Revolution. I don’t envy his predicament.

This doesn’t appear to have gone against him within Virginian society when the Civil war ended. Indeed, he fashioned himself something of a diplomat between the old Commonwealth of Virginia and the Union. He remained a resident of Staunton and Wythe in Virginia and was a prominent Virginian. He covers this with candour in his autobiography.

I keep coming back to the issue of slavery and how the institution of slavery was at odds with many of his fundamental beliefs and life experiences. I don’t know how he came by his slaves. My gut instinct – which, of course, requires verification – is that he inherited them. Given how much of his history I’ve read, I am surprised he didn’t free them before the close of the Civil War. I’d love to ask him why he didn’t– not in an accusatory way. This was a highly intelligent man of conscience, sense and sensibility. He possessed those classic Sheffey family traits: a free thinker who wasn’t afraid to swim against the populist tide. No, I’d much rather ask to understand his thinking. He had a reason.

My thoughts on this are pretty simple. I think that understanding Hugh’s conundrum will help me finally understand the reason behind the depths of the bonds which linked the African and European descended sides of this family over the two generations of its slave owning history. What was the bond which saw African descended and mulatto Sheffeys risk their lives to save European descended Sheffey family members and their property? And what was behind the custom of so many within the extended European descended Sheffey family bending over backwards to ensure that the slaves they owned (kinsmen or not) were kept together as a family generation after generation? What was the nature of that bond that would tie these two family groups together well into the 1940s?

I can’t help but feel that Hugh White Sheffey is a key to this enigma.

In the meantime, Hugh has introduced me to facets of American history I previously didn’t know anything about. I’m currently doing some extensive reading on the Federalist and Whig parties, as well as other American political parties that existed in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Did you know that at the close of the American Revolution there were over 100 political parties in the thirteen states? No? Me neither. Even more interesting is understanding that the issues, challenges, problems and ideals which were fought over amongst this myriad of parties at the dawn of the birth of the USA were never resolved and echoes down to us in the here and now.

What a rabbit hole.

More information about Hugh White Sheffey:

Waddell, Joseph Addison. 1866. Annals of Augusta County, Virginia: With Reminiscences Illustrative of the Vicissitudes of Its Pioneer Settlers ; Biographical Sketches of Citizens Locally Prominent, and of Those who Have Founded Families in the Southern and Western States ; a Diary of the War, 1861-‘5, and a Chapter on Reconstruction

Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr: An unsung hero of the Battle of Wytheville

The Sheffey clan produced a number of Civil War heroes. Captain John Preston Sheffey (who could give Jane Austin’s Darcy a run for his money if contemporary accounts are correct), Lawrence Brengler Sheffey, Hugh Trigg Sheffey figure largely among them.  This isn’t exactly a newsflash given the Sheffey family’s standing in the Antebellum South.

I didn’t expect to stumble across a documented account of the wartime actions from a member of the black side of the family during the Battle of Wytheville.  I certainly didn’t expect to find an account for my great-grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr.

Gary C. Walker documents this account in his book The War in Southwest Virginia: 1861-1865,+fire,+wytheville&source=bl&ots=YhGS44kgsW&sig=shsb4mnipm0Lwgbcs233IFMhOq8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jPJGUcTmCKiZ0QX1kYH4BQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=daniel%20sheffey%2C%20fire%2C%20wytheville&f=false

When describing the approach of Union soldiers to this small Virginia town, strategically important because of its salt and lead mines, Walker writes:

If it wasn’t for the women, children, and slaves who had been hiding in the cellar during the battle, more houses would have been burned.  For example, Mrs. Haller was hiding in the basement when she heard the Federal soldiers break into her house (now the Rock House Museum).  She arrived in time to see them set fire to the beds. The soldier told her he had orders to set the house on fire, but he didn’t stay and watch them burn. Hi lit the bed and left. Mrs. Haller, with the help of slaves, threw the mattress and burning materials out of the window.  The floor in one room still bears the scorch marks of that night. A hotel on Main Street (may be the Kincannon) and the [Julia] Morrison house were saved by Daniel Sheffey, a slave of the Morrisons. (p.53)

OK, so it’s only a sentence…but what a sentence! Given that Walker’s book was first printed 120+ years after this event, Daniel’s deeds that evening must have been significant enough for the tale to be passed down and still readily known in modern times. When it comes to researching Antebellum African American history, such finds are like priceless gold dust.

As a side note, the Hallers, Morrisons and Sheffeys were kin through marriage as well as through blood. The Haller and the Morrison families both inherited Sheffey slaves through a succession of Sheffey wills. I’m guessing that some of the slaves hiding in Mrs. Hallers basements were Daniel’s relations. If possible, I’ll be searching through the records and the accounts of this battle to see which of his relations also made contributions.