Free black families in Colonial America: The Bugg (Doss) family

Every genealogist, regardless of experience levels, has a family line that makes him or her want to rip their hair out. Seeing as how I cropped mine, I don’t have that luxury. I have to content myself with double face palms.  The Bugg family of Halifax and Mecklenburg Counties in Virginia – as well as its descendant lines in the former Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina (including the present day North Atlanta, Georgia), plus Warren, Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina – is just that kind of family for me. ‘Difficult to research’ doesn’t even begin to describe the trials and tribulations this family has presented me with.

It all began with Rebecca Bugg, born around 1798, in Edgefield, South Carolina. Rebecca is on my mother’s side of the family tree. The earliest record I have for her is the 1850 Census when she is about 56 years of age:

rebecca-bugg-1850

Rebeca Bugg’s household in 1850.  Click for larger image.                                                                      Source: Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The image above shows her as a free woman of colour…and the head of a household that was comprised of her dependent children.  Her husband, and the father of her children, was George Quarles. George was an enslaved blacksmith who lived not too far from his wife and his children. What initially interested me about Rebecca was a pretty remarkable accomplishment. She, along with the aid of her daughter Clarissa, and Edward Settles, bought George Quarles’s freedom from one Ralsa M Fuller, also of Edgefield.

george quarles

The sale that would lead to George Quarles’s freedom. Click for larger image. Source: Lucas, Gloria Ramsey. Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina. Digitized book and electronic index. Edgefield, South Carolina: Edgefield County Historical Society, 2010.

No value is given against George’s name.  As a man in the most productive and able-bodied part of his life, I can only imagine that the sum of money Rebecca and Clarissa had to gather in order to purchase his freedom would have been considerable. Nevertheless, George was a free man around 1851. I have to admit that I gave Rebecca and Clarissa a “You go girls!”

The family is all together in the 1860 census:

george quarles 2

George Quarles as head of household in 1860. Click for larger image. Source: Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

Rebecca had me intrigued.  Who were her people? Where were her ancestral roots?

The magical mystery tour began. It’s a tour that remains magical…and mysterious.

Research is showing that the Buggs were an old free family of colour with roots in Halifax County, Virginia. And this is where the hair pulling – or in my case, double face palms – comes into play.

For starters, I cannot find any details regarding the names of Rebecca’s parents. So…while I know that she is a descendant of the Halifax Bugg family, I have no idea which line she descends from. The names of some of her children provide tantalizing clues. However, at this stage, that’s all they are…clues.

A compiled list of Buggs in the 1850 Census for South Carolina has 3 pages of Bug(g) family members. Any one of them en born around 1778 and earlier could be her father. The 3 pages below are courtesy of Ancestry.com: Free Blacks and Mulattos in South Carolina 1850 Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006 and Original data: Motes, Margaret Peckham. Free Blacks and Mulattos in South Carolina 1850 Census. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002.

free-buggs1free-buggs2free-buggs3

All of the Bug(g)s listed in the pages above are related to one another.  I’ve pieced together how roughly a third of the Bugg family groups cited in the 1850 Census are related to one another.  The other two-thirds are anybody’s guess. From there, it was a matter of tracing various lines back to the 1790 Census. 1790 seems to have been a pivotal year. It was just prior to this that a number of Buggs quit Virginia for Newberry and Edgefield in South Carolina.

The problem with earlier census records is a simple one: only the head of the household is listed by name. At this stage I can only trace male heads of households back to the 1790 Census. The names of their wives and children aren’t given. Exasperating is pretty close to what I’ve been feeling when working with these early census records. However, a handful of Wills for some of these men have provided the clues I needed regarding the identity of some of the Bugg family wives and children.  I’m hoping that other Wills still exist that cover this family in Newberry and Edgefield, South Carolina. These will be my last, best hope for compiling a more complete family tree for this family in South Carolina.

I struck a bit of gold dust while doing a general online search on this family.  I came across a Silvester Bugg, a man who will be my key to solving some of the fundamental mysteries regarding this family’s origins.

Silvester Bugg was free born in Halifax, Virginia around 1743. Born an illegitimate child, Robert Turner (the man Silvester’s free born mother was indentured to) sold him to a George Hoomes Gwinn (Gwyn). Silvester sued to extricate himself from his indenture to George Gwinn in 1769 (Virginia General Court, October 1769. He won his suit but lost when Gwinn appealed. Silvester was forced to serve 5 years of indenture before he was finally freed.

silvester bugg

Excerpt of Silvester Bugg’s first court case against George Gwinn. A full account can be read via https://books.google.com/books?id=snktAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA48&dq=Jefferson’s%20Reports%20of%20cases%2C%2087%20(1769)&pg=PA48#v=onepage&q=bugg&f=false. Source: Google Books. Original: Virginia Reports, Jefferson–33 Grattan: 1730-1880 … Annotated Under the Supervision of Thomas Johnson Michie, Volume 1, Michie Company, 1903

I’ve read a few of the case summaries.  They provide some very interesting details: namely the name and the history of his mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Bugg (who also went by the surname Doss). They also provide a tantalizing clue about his maternal grandmother. This clue is excruciating. Betty Bugg’s mother, it transpires, was a “white Christian woman”. That’s all any of the summaries will say about his maternal grandmother. None name her. Was she a member of the Halifax, Virginia Bugg family?  Was she a Doss? I have European-descended DNA matches for bother Doss and Buggs on AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and Gedmatch.

Silvester’s case was an important one. Important enough for Thomas Jefferson to write about. Silvester’s case was heard during a time when Virginia was doubling down on its slave laws, further codifying its system of chattel slavery. Nor was colonial Virginia happy about the increasing number of free people of colour within its borders. The background to all of this is too lengthy to cover here.  An excellent legal overview of this is covered in the book Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court of Virginia: From 1730, to 1740; and from 1768, to 1772, Virginia. General Court by Thomas Jefferson, published by F. Carr, and Company in 1829 (from Page 87 onwards): https://books.google.com/books?id=YipEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA88&dq=betty+bugg+indenture&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjglPGXtOzOAhWFWx4KHVTlDYYQ6AEIJzAC#v=onepage&q=betty%20bugg%20indenture&f=false )

https://books.google.com/books?id=YipEAAAAYAAJ&dq=betty%20bugg%20indenture&pg=PA87&output=embed

My hope of hopes is that there is some colonial record that still survives that will name my unknown ‘white Christian woman” ancestor. Her daughter Betty was born from a union with an unidentified enslaved man. I very much doubt his name will appear anywhere.  An enslaved man who was either African or of African descent, he would have been a non-entity. And yes, there is more than a little bit of cynicism in those words. A handful of my family lines that were free people of colour were the result of a white indentured woman having children with an enslaved man.  While these women have been named, and I could read about their respective fates and/or punishments, I have never – not once –seen the name of the man who was the father of their children. Apparently, these fathers were worthy of mention. Each one remains the most stubborn kind of brick wall.

Additionally, where there are court cases, there are affidavits and witness testimonies. Silvester had two court cases.  If said affidavits and witness statements still survive, it is my hope that his white grandmother is actually mentioned by name. A bonus would be confirming the name of his father.

Betty’s mother is a first for me when it comes to colonial women giving birth to mulatto children.  She remains unnamed.

I have searched for her name in all of the usual places: Church Warden Records, Bastardy Bonds, and Burgess Records from Halifax, Virginia. If it still exists, an account in one of these records should have Betty’s mother’s name. As the record below shows, Betty, a natural born child herself, was indentured to Robert Turner, presumably in Halifax County, where Silvester was born. Which begs the question, was Robert Turner the father of Silvester? Another mystery.

betty-bugg

Excerpt taken from Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the Colonial Period to about 1820, Volume 1. Paul Heinegg, Genealogical Publishing Com, 2005 via https://books.google.com/books?id=JcF6E75ZAeUC&lpg=PA218&dq=betty%20bugg%20indenture&pg=PA218#v=onepage&q&f=false

The other mystery is around the Doss-Bugg surname.  Betty used both before settling on Bugg. Why she ultimately chose Bugg remains unanswered. It was the surname her descendants would use. So how the Doss surname come into the picture? How am I related to my Doss DNA cousins? It’s mystery after mystery after mystery with this line.

I’m curious about the Bugg family for a few reasons. They were a family of landowners as well as skilled tradesmen and craftsmen. From what I have seen so far, most were literate and could write. In a time when quite a few non-elite and non-middle class colonials weren’t either of these things, well, this makes this family something special. Naturally, I’d like to learn more about them.

And, of course, this is a family that married into other branches of my mother’s and father’s families. Among others, they married into the following free families of colour who are in my family’s tree in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina: Chavis, Gowens/Goings/Goines, Barbour, and Drew.

This is a mystery I will continue to return to from time to time. Yes, I am that stubborn 😉

In the meantime, below is the family tree for the oldest generation I’ve been able to research thus far.  One of Betty’s children will be Rebecca’s parent:

betty bugg family tree

The known children of Betty Doss-Bugg. So far, only Samuel Bugg’s line has been traced to any great extent. The other lines remain a complete mystery. Nothing further is known of Betty’s brother, Frank Bugg.

 

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1667: The year America was divided by race

Genealogical research has sent me down an American history rabbit hole once again.  I don’t mind. Being schooled on American history by genealogy is one of the reasons I Iove to do the research.  It brings my ancestors’ lives to life. History provides the backdrop against which their lives were lived and provides a vital context.

So what if I were to tell you that blacks and whites in the American colonies lived together harmoniously? Even better…what if I were to tell you that whites and blacks saw each other as equals?

You’d think I was trying to sell you a mountain of pixie dust or a unicorn. Or telling you a bedtime story.

Nevertheless, it’s true. There was a time in this country’s history when black and white were united.  Okay, to be precise, I’m going to have to come clean. I’m talking about poor whites: indentured European immigrants and European immigrants who had finished their term of servitude. I am also talking about free people of colour and enslaved people of colour.

This is the story of 2 American colonies: the one that existed before 1676 and the one that existed after 1676.  So what’s so important about that year?  Bacon’s Rebellion.

Bacon’s what? I hear you asking yourself. I know.  I hadn’t heard of it either.  It’s certainly nothing that was taught in school. Yet, it happened. I’d even go as far as to say that this rebellion defined America; more so than the American Revolution that would follow a century later.

I kept coming across references to Bacon’s Rebellion during some intensive 17th century era family research over the past few months.  I was curious about it   Was it a strange reference to some form of 17th Century acid reflux caused by excessive bacon eating?  But in all seriousness, it was an episode in our country’s history that involved many of my ancestral lines. The sons of numerous family lines fought on both sides of this conflict. On the white side of my family tree, names like Ball, Berkeley, Byrd, Carter, Lewis, Mottrom, Page, Pugh, Randolph, Roane, Spottswood, Washington, and West figure largely within this conflict. All of them were resident in the Tidewater region of Virginia (Jamestown, Charles City County and Henrico County) at the onset of the rebellion. However, when I spotted names from the African-descended/mulatto lines of my tree – Christian, Cumbee/Cumbo, Drew, Goins/Gowen, and Thomas – I had to check it out. Like the white side of the family, these ancestors were also resident in Virginia’s Tidewater region.

tidewater_region_1x

Map of Virginia’s Tidewater region.  Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

My ancestral links to this rebellion

My ancestors who were loyalists and adjudicators of the rebels:

Col. Augustine Warner – 1st Cousin
Major Robert Beverley – 2nd Cousin
Col. Mathew Kemp – 2nd Cousin
Col. William Claiborne – 1st Cousin
Col. Southy Littleton – 2nd Cousin
Lt. Col. John West – 1st Cousin
Major Law. Smith – cousin by marriage
Capt. Anthony Armistead – 1st Cousin

Ancestors who were part of the rebellion:

Henry West – 1st Cousin (banished from the colonies for 7 years)
John Sanders – 2nd Cousin (fined 2,000 lbs in tobacco)
Giles Bland – 2nd cousin (hanged)

William Hatcher – 1st Cousin (fined 8,000 lbs of pork , to be supplied to Virginia’s soldiers)

Sands Knowles – 2nd Cousin (Imprisonment and total forfeiture of all estates, lands, goods and slaves)

Henry Gee – Cousin by marriage (fined 1,000 lbs of pork)
Thomas Warr – 1st Cousin (banishment)
Col Henry Good – cousin by marriage (fined 6,000 lbs of pork)

And those who were a bit further down the colonial pecking order:

Henry Page – 1st Cousin (hanged)
William West – 1st cousin (hanged)

My curiosity was piqued. It was time to do some heavy reading.

A racial laissez faire  among the lower classes in the American colonies

Before 1676, poor whites, blacks, and mulattoes worked side by side. They lived together and caroused together.  And, they loved together. They recognised shared bonds of servitude and the sameness of their respective life situation.  So much so that they even ran away together to escape their bonds of servitude. They established communities in the mountains and the wilderness areas of Virginia, far from the reach of the colonial Establishment. These men and women formed unions/marriages and blended.

Modern American DNA results via the major DNA testing services has proven this. Are you a white-identified American with trace amounts of African DNA? If your working class ancestors were in Virginia in the 17th Century, I offer the paragraph above as a partial-explanation. The same holds true for African Americans with trace amounts of European ancestry. The paragraph above is a partial explanation of how that may have happened within your ancestry.

There was no ‘racial purity’.  That’s a modern myth. The Establishment certainly wanted to keep its bloodlines pure.  Not even the poorest white could even dream of entering that world. Purity in the 17th Century  Establishment’s mind was all about protecting its status, its privilege, its control, and its power. It’s the reason why the colonial elite only married other members of the elite. Racial purity as it’s espoused today?  Sorry, it didn’t exist.  It wasn’t even in its nascent stages.  All of that would come in the latter part of the 18th Century. When there was serious money to be made from an artificial concept and an excuse to double down on slavery.

In his work entitled People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn writes that 17th Century black and white servants were “remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences.”

Edmund Morgan, an important historian of colonial America, has this to say:

“There are hints that the two despised [by the colonial Establishment] groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together.”

And let’s not forget the Native Americans whose lands blacks and poor whites set up homes and communities within. They too married into this mix of black and white.

475881-make-america-white-again

America was never a white nation. Don’t ever believe that it was. Not even for a millisecond. While I am focusing on the relationship between whites and blacks, 17th Century immigrants came from far and wide to the American colonies: Chinese, Jews, sub-Continental Indians, and Moors (Muslims from North Africa) were also here.

A colonial elite gripped by class fear and paranoia

The elite of colonial 17th Century Virginia was comprised of wealthy plantation owners, rich merchants, manufacturers, traders, their Burgesses (local government) and their governors.  Yes, I know, quite a few of my British colonial ancestors were Establishment figures. Collectively, they were at the apex of colonial society. The colonial Establishment had two primary fears. The first was the hostile Indian population who controlled the nearby lands that surrounded the lands settled by European colonials.  They also feared their indenture workforce and enslaved workforce. They had to contend with the class anger of poor whites – in other words, the property-less European immigrants – and the resentment of Africans who had been stolen from their homelands and trapped in a world as foreign to them as a trip to Mars would be for us.

Historian Edmund Morgan also wrote:

Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order.

Just like the spice which had to flow on Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune science-fiction novels…the cultivation of tobacco in Maryland and Virginia, the cultivation of rice in South Carolina and the production of cotton in the lower South had to continue. At any price. Tell you what, the next time you watch Dune (or read the books), substitute the words tobacco, rice and cotton every time the word ‘spice’ is mentioned…it’s a mind-bender.  Herbert was so on point that it almost hurts.

The Establishment’s fear wasn’t entirely groundless either. Life in the early years of the colonies was far from harmonious. There were quite a few instances of servants organizing rebellions. Resistance to the colonial status quo by the English, Irish, Scottish, and German poor can be seen in wholesale desertions and work rebellions. Work slowdowns were fairly common. There were strikes by coopers, butchers, bakers, porters, truckers, and carriers. And there was the other major dread of a hierarchy obsessed elite: mutinies at sea. Our colonial ancestors were an unruly and feisty bunch.

A colonial rebellion plot was recorded as early as 1663.  The details of this plot show how white indentured servants and enslaved blacks plotted to rebel and gain their freedom. This plot was betrayed and all the conspirators were executed as an example.

The colonial Establishment in Virginia feared that class conflict would undermine their tobacco plantation holdings. My English ancestors in particular were perhaps most troubled by this. Between 1381 and 1549, four large peasant revolts played out in England. Each were the result of deep socio-economic and political tensions. The first rebellion, Wat Tyler’s Rebellion (1381), saw parts of London fall to the peasant army.  The then king (a young Richard II) fled to the Tower of London where he took refuge. While this rebellion ultimately failed, its leaders meeting some pretty grisly ends, it scarred the psyche of the English ruling elite. The lower classes in England would never be entirely trusted again. Even to this day.

The Jack Cade Rebellion (1450) was the result of local grievances focused on the corruption and abuses of power by King Henry VI’s closest advisors. The rebels were incensed by the national debt that had been caused by years of warfare against the French, and the recent loss of the king’s Norman territory.  Jack Cade led an army of men from Kent, to the south of London, and the surrounding counties. His army marched on London in order to force the government to end the corruption and remove the traitors surrounding the king’s person. Remember this revolt in particular. It’s comparison to Bacon’s Rebellion is almost a textbook case of history repeating itself.

The last English rebellion I’ll mention is Kett’s Rebellion (Norfolk, 1549). This too had a cause that is uncannily similar to Bacon’s Rebellion. Kett’s Rebellion was largely in response to the enclosure of land. Land was (and remains) a source of power in England. Privilege came with land.  If you didn’t own land, you didn’t have a voice. Without a voice, you had no economic or political power.

When the lower classes united in England, they challenged the status quo, and the way in which power was centrally controlled. To counter-act any further uprisings, the English Establishment kept its poor on a back foot to ensure they wouldn’t pose a threat to its power.

As the younger sons and/or nephews of the British aristocracy and elite, Virginia’s colonial establishment would have been well versed on class warfare and the perils presented by a united lower class.

So let’s fast-forward 120 or so years and return to the lead-up to Bacon’s Rebellion.

The seeds of a rebellion

1676backsrebel

Map of Virginia at the time of Bacon’s Rebellion. Source: http://quotesgram.com

The colonial elite had a monopoly on the land. The best land, of course. Demand for the best land drove up the cost of acquisition. Which meant that poor whites and free people of color were forced to remove themselves into Native American territory to the west of the Tidewater region of Virginia. They were effectively cut off from any access to support from the colonial government. They were on their own. Which meant fending off Native American attacks on their own.

An additional grievance against the elite had to do with revenues. Fur trapping and fur trading with Native Americans was a monopoly controlled by Virginia’s elite. It’s a bit of a simplification, but true enough to say, that the colonial hierarchy controlled the when, where, and with whom the frontiersmen could engage in fur trapping and trading with. The two parties began to butt heads over this. It was another source of rising tension.

Classed as ‘rabble’, ‘the mob’, ‘uncouth animals’, etc, the colonial elite were relieved to see the back of this large underclass of people.

You can see where I’m going with this.

The colonial government used the situation to its advantage. They thought of these black and white Virginian frontiers people as an early defence system. If you think that’s me being cynical, that’s exactly what they were. And that’s exactly how they felt. They were human shields. Every attack on their farms and settlements led to a few of their number racing back to Jamestown to plead for soldiers to protect them and their families. Which, of course, alerted the colonial Government to Native American attack activity and where that activity was occurring. Of course the Establishment didn’t send any re-enforcements in the form of troops. It sent nothing.

Which, in turn, led to burning resentment for the frontiers people.

The snippet above made me think of the classic novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Okay…and the eponymous movie too. While the book takes place after Bacon’s Rebellion, the tensions between the elite and the frontiers people figures largely in the first part of the story. Remember the conversations between Hawkeye and John Cameron (whose farm is later attacked) where John recites his list of grievances against local government and the governor? The resentment between frontiers people and their government overlords still flamed brightly over a hundred years after Bacon’s Rebellion.

The Establishment’s worst fears came to fruition soon enough.

howard_pyle_-_the_burning_of_jamestown

The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle. It depicts the burning of Jamestown, Virginia during Bacon’s Rebellion (A.D. 1676-77); used to illustrate the article “Jamestown” in Harper’s Encyclopaedia of United States History: from 458 A.D. to 1905 (1905). Note the multi-ethnic composition of the painting. Source: Wikipedia

Nathaniel Bacon was a young member of the elite. Nevertheless, he formed a movement that was the Establishment’s worst nightmare. At first his movement was based on anti-Native American sentiment. It quickly evolved into an anti-aristocratic movement; a movement that came to symbolize the mass resentment of the poor against Virginia’s elite. Hundreds (some accounts claim up to a thousand) of white freedmen, white bond-servants, free people of colour, and enslaved blacks staged an armed insurrection against the Virginia colonial elite.

The rebellion ultimately led to the burning of Jamestown.

the_burning_of_jamestown

Engraver F.A.C. (signed lower right) of Whitney-Jocelyn, N.Y. – From p. 117 of Ilustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America. From a digital scan at the Internet Archive
Engraving captioned The Burning of Jamestown showing the burning of Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). From Illustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America: from the Earliest Discoveries to the Present Time (1857). Source: Wikipedia

Garrisons and forts were taken by the rebels. Governor Council member Richard Lee (yet another ancestral cousin of mine) recorded that the rebellion had the overwhelming support of Virginia’s population.  This support cut across class-lines, which must have been anathema to the Establishment.

So what was Bacon’s hope for the rebellion? A general “leveling”.  In other words, the equalization of wealth, opportunity – and land.

Ultimately, despite its early successes, the rebellion failed. Nathaniel Bacon’s premature death from dysentery left a leadership vacuum which was filled by less capable men. The rebellion fell apart.  The Establishment’s reprisals were swift and harsh. Some of  the rebels who came from the working classes were executed. The elite who formed the rebellion’s leadership faced varying fates: deportation back to England to face trial, forfeiture of estates and land holdings, or stiff fines.

The suppression of the Bacon revolt was critical for the colonial rulers. Suppressing it would enable the ruling elite to (from Zinn):

  • develop an Indian policy which would divide Indians and pit them against one another;
  • underscore to poor whites that rebellion did not pay through a show of superior force (English troops and mass hangings);
  • develop a practice of dividing poor white immigrants;
  • drive a wedge between free people of color and enslaved blacks;
  • isolate people of colour and enslaved blacks from poor whites; and
  • develop a practice of dividing slaves based on occupation (field worker, skilled artisan/crafts person, house worker, etc) and complexion.

Bacon’s Rebellion was followed by a series of tobacco revolts.  Once these smaller revolts were suppressed, the Establishment instigated a series of progroms to ensure social control.  Front and centre were policies and codes that controlled poor whites and black servants, and slaves.

The Establishment learned from their English ancestors that the only way to survive, and maintain power and control, was the division of its common enemy. Developing a system of inequality between black and white servants, they could fashion the allegiance of the English poor to that of their masters.

This is the genesis of the slave codes that were passed in the decades after the rebellion. These slave codes codified the system of slavery. In doing so, the codes made the status of ‘slave’ a life sentence. It was a system that saved the worst penalties and punishments for blacks. This dichotomy in how people were treated, built an unequal structure of racial slavery where black labor were slaves while white laborers were not slaves, was bound to cause resentment amongst blacks with regards to the lighter punishments meted out to their former comrades and allies. It instilled a fear amongst the poor whites that they could suffer the same fate of harsh treatment that was meted out to blacks.

This was the beginnings of institutionalized racism: a system based on the unequal treatment of whites and blacks who shared very similar circumstances.

It did not end there.  Once whites and blacks were divided, the next item on the agenda was dividing the non-English poor whites who largely came from Irish, Scottish and German backgrounds. The Establishment picked the Irish off first; re-igniting prejudices against them for their Catholicism. Anti-Irish propaganda portrayed them as unthinking brutes, animals, and rutting primates.

white-slave65a

Both a reality and propaganda. Images like the one above were used to divide whites and blacks…and to depict the Irish as ‘not one of us’.  

This approach was so successful that, once the Irish were isolated from other poor whites, the same memes were used against people of color. The wedge of religion and ‘foreignness’ was used to divide the Germans and the Scottish. Lutheranism and Calvinism were largely the religious denominations of the Germans. With preference being shown to Scottish Anglicism (The Church of Scotland), it was an effective wedge to use to split these two groups apart.   The English began to treat the poor Scots in a manner like a wealthy cousin would treat a poor relation – with a thin and meagre kind of tolerance.

How effective was this practice of divide and conquer?  Just tune in to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Read a newspaper.  Or look at the race memes that flood social media. Virginia’s colonial elite would be quite pleased to see the systems they put into play in the 17th Century didn’t merely survive – they have flourished. Take a look at how these memes have been adapted for every new immigrant culture that arrives on America’s shores.

Now I understand why Bacon’s Rebellion isn’t part of the history curriculum in the majority of America’s schools. I’ve counted only a meagre few that do cover this as part of their curriculum. No wonder most Americans have never heard of it.

Knowing what I know now, I have two fundamental questions.  The first is what would America look like today had Nathaniel Bacon lived and succeeded in his aim?  That question can’t be answered.  I can see his vision, however.

The second is whether or not America can still achieve that vision, through non-violent means of course.   In order for a nation of people to see that they have been played, in the most cynical and vicious way possible, they first have to recognize that they have been played. They have to grasp how they have been played, and why they have been played.

Then, and only then, can a system used to divide and conquer finally be dismantled.

Was your ancestor one of Bacon’s rebels?

While it isn’t a complete list of the rebels, this is the largest list of combatants that I have found online:  Frazier, Kevin (2016). Bacon’s Rebels: A List of the Names and some of the Residences of the Rebel Participants in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 in Colonial Virginia, Rootsweb. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fraz/BaconsRebels

Sources

Allen, Theodore W. (1997). The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 2: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. London: Verso.

https://books.google.com/books?id=OxwCQkCq4f0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Bacon’s Rebellion, Africans in America, Part 1, PBS.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p274.html

Bailyn, Bernard, Politics and Social Structure in Virginia. Seventeenth-Century America.

British National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Colonial State Papers, The British National Archives.  http://colonial.chadwyck.com/marketing.do

Gardner, Andrew G. (2015). Nathaniel Bacon, Saint or Sinner?, Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2015. https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Spring15/bacon.cfm

Gormilie, Frank (2015). The Origins of Institutionalized Racism – a System to Control Blacks … and Whites, San Diego Free Press. (27 February 2015). http://sandiegofreepress.org/2015/02/the-origins-of-institutionalized-racism-a-system-to-control-blacks-and-whites

Library of Virginia.

http://www.lva.virginia.gov/search.htm?cx=003101711403383086340%3Axhathpp67to&cof=FORID%3A11&q=bacon%27s+rebellion&sa=

Matthew, Thomas. The Beginning of Progress and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion in the Years 1675 & 1676. Reprint Manuscript. P. Force, 1835. Original manuscript, 1675. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/tm.html 

McCarter, William Matthew (2012). Homo Redneckus: On Being Not Qwhite in America, Algora Publishing.

Morgan, Edmund S. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Rice, James D. (2012). Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America. Oxford University Press.

Rothbard, Murray N. (1979) Conceived in Liberty, Miles Institute.  https://mises.org/library/conceived-liberty-2

Sainsbury, W. N. Virginia in 1676-77. Bacon’s Rebellion (Continued),
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul., 1913), pp. 234-248

https://www.jstor.org/stable/4243280?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Salviati-Marambaud, Yvette. Nathaniel Bacon: A Frontrunner of the Revolution?. Vol. 19. Cycnos, 2008. http://revel.unice.fr/cycnos/?id=1268

Schilling, Vincent (2013). 6 Shocking Facts About Slavery, Natives and African Americans, Indian Country Today Media Network. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/09/5-little-known-facts-about-african-americans-natives-and-slavery-17th-century-151664

Tarter, Brent. (2011). Bacon’s Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia, Virginia Magazine of History & Biography.

Thandeka (1998) The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy, World: The Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Vol. XII No: 4 (July/August 1998), pp. 14 –20 https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/spl/thandekawhiting.html

Thompson, Peter. (2006). The Thief, the Householder, and the Commons: Languages of Class in Seventeenth-Century Virginia, William and Mary Quarterly.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877353

Webb, Stephen Saunders (1995). 1676: The End of American Independence. Syracuse University Presshttps://books.google.com/books?id=P1etgd8yjfkC&pg=PA87

Wyatt, David (2010). Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature, JHU Press.

Zinn, Howard. (1997). A People’s History Of The United States. New York, NY: The New York Press.

 

 

Discovering Pocahontas: A family surprise

I never get tired of saying that it’s been the women in my family tree who have revealed my most profound and memorable genealogy surprises.  This shows no signs of abating. Yet another lady in my tree has revealed something remarkable.

Fugate-Clark

I discovered a new Martin family line when I began triangulating my DNA results in order to identify the father of my 2x great grandmother, Margaret Clark (please see the image above). Mary Martin is part of Margaret’s enormous white Fugate-Clark family.

As soon as I saw the surname Martin, I was all excited. I have a sizeable group of Quaker Martins in my family tree. While they were largely based in Chester and Delaware Counties in Pennsylvania, there were members of this Quaker family who migrated to Baltimore County, Maryland. They also spread out throughout Virginia. Naturally, I was keen to connect Mary Martin to the other known Martin branches in my family tree.

The problem was, I keep coming across a Mary Martin, born in Baltimore County, Maryland, who was always described as being ‘part-Indian’. There were no references to this Anglo-Native American Mary  being a Quaker. Nor were there any indications that her father’s Martin family were Quakers. If anything, her family were Anglicans. So, I dismissed her.  And began to get more than a little annoyed because this Mary that I kept coming across wasn’t the Mary I was seeking.  At one point, I just looked at my laptop and said “Enough already.  You’re someone’s ancestor to be sure. But you’re not my ancestor! Please get out of my way!”

Silly me.

I became so frustrated that I made the decision to put Mary Martin on the back burner.

Two days after I made that decision, a DNA cousin, whom I will call Mike, reached out to me on Ancestry.com. He said he had some family history information about my Fugates and Clarks – and would I like to chat on the phone about them?  Like I ever need an invitation to talk about family history stuff.

I phoned him in due course and he picked my brains about what I had uncovered at that point in my research.  Naturally, I relayed my frustration about the difficulty I was having in researching Mary Martin.  He laughed out loud.

“You mean you don’t know about Mary?”

I told him that I knew about the Mary who was part Native American…and that I knew nothing about my Mary, who would have been a Quaker.

Mike laughed out loud again. And then proceeded to tell me that I had already found the right Mary Martin. The Mary Martin who was the ancestor of Margaret Clark wasn’t a Quaker. The Mary Martin in my tree was the grand-daughter of Pocahontas.

My reply was classic, and worthy of Larry Wilmore: Whaaaaaat? Wait, what!?!  Can you say that again, one more time?

Mike thought that was hilarious. He then sent me some links to some essential reading just to seal the deal.

d0cbb8fe93e980e219420671e75df73a

Pocahontas

To put this into perspective, my Sheffey line is the one family line I have that never, and I mean never, laid any claims to Native American ancestry. No quiet whispers. Not even a murmur. No family rumours. No family myths or legends. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Turns out, it’s the one family line with a verified, bona fide, Native American Ancestor. And it’s Pocahontas to boot. She’s my 12x great grandmother via Ka Oke “Jane” Powhatan, her daughter by her first husband, Kocoum.

One source was the Patawomeck Tides, a newsletter that tribe sends its members (https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/upload/Patawomeck-Tides-2009.pdf). Once I began reading, the pieces rapidly fell into place.  Mike was right (not that I had any doubts, Mike!).

I had to phone up my genetic genealogists in the UK. My question was pretty straightforward. I have such a negligible amount of Native American results in my DNA, it’s pretty much non-existent. Naturally, I wanted to know how this was possible.  Could this mean that maybe some of the family stories about Native Americans in the other branches of my family weren’t bedtime stories after all?

The team explained a fairly complex theory about Native American DNA inheritance. Basically, whatever Native American ancestry I have was so far back in time that only a minuscule amount is present in my autosomal DNA results. It’s called the “Wash Out” theory. Apparently, it doesn’t take very long for Native American DNA to wash out of DNA results when it comes to non Native Americans. That’s the grossly simplified version. The article NATIVE AMERICAN DNA Is Just Not That Into You (http://www.rootsandrecombinantdna.com/2015/03/native-american-dna-is-just-not-that.html) delves into this in far greater detail.

The second strand of my conversation with the genetic genealogists had to do with DNA sampling from Native American tribes. They weren’t sure what percentage of Native Americans have undergone DNA testing. Which meant that were unsure about the size of DNA population data sets the big DNA testing services use to determine a person’s admixtures. Put another way, AncestryDNA, for instance, may not have a large Native American DNA data set to match DNA test results against. If it doesn’t then there really isn’t much Native American DNA to compare test results with. The American Indian and Alaska Native Genetics Resource Center website (http://genetics.ncai.org/tribal-enrollment-and-genetic-testing.cfm)  is an excellent place to learn more about this subject.

Pocahontas

This part of the tree takes us from Mary Martin (Margaret Clark’s 4x great grandmother) back to Pocahontas. Click for a larger image.

As soon as I connected Pocahontas to Margaret Clark on my Ancestry.com hosted family tree – the AncestryDNA shared matches shaky leaf hints started popping up – seemingly all over the place.  All of a sudden, family names like Bolling, Rolfe, Pugh, Lewis, Powhatan, and Pettus made sense. I could see who our common ancestor was.  All roads lead back to Pocahontas. And to Varina in Henrico County, Virginia, where a number of Pocahontas’s Anglo-Native American descendants resided.

My father’s enslaved maternal Roane family was also based in Varina. My 3x grandfather, George Henry Roane, married Susan Price, who is beginning to look like a Price by blood. The white Price family in Varina claimed descent from Pocahontas via Thomas Rolfe, the son she had with her husband, John Rolfe. If true, this would also make Susan Price her descendant.

So it looks like Pocahontas isn’t done with me just yet.

That’ll teach me about making assumptions when I’m looking for ancestors.

My head is still spinning a bit. Taking three of my ethnic groups into account – African, European, and now Native American – I have DEEP roots in America. My Goins/Gowing and Cumbo ancestors are believed to have been among the “Twenty and Odd” Africans who were taken from a Portuguese slave ship and indentured in Virginia in 1619. My West family were among the European founders of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. And Pocahontas puts my ancestry in America before the arrival of Europeans.

As I mentioned to my nephew, our family is about as American as it gets.

The 1926 Lynching of Raymond Byrd Part II

The August 1926 lynching of my second cousin twice removed, Raymond Arthur Byrd, remains one of my most read posts. Every week. Thanks to Google Analytics, I’ve been able to monitor the reach with posts relating to Raymond’s story. It doesn’t surprise me that Black History/Studies academics have read it. I can gauge this from all of the readers accessing the original post from university computers (e.g. IPs associated with accounts like .edu and .ac.uk). The NAACP has certainly read it. As have journalists from CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC the UK’s Channel 4, Italy’s La Repubblica and the French newspaper Le Monde. It’s also been read by people at Twentieth Century Fox. It’s reach led to a British PhD student to get in touch with myself and one of Raymond’s descendants as part of her research into race issues in America.

This is a widely read story.

I’ve published one chapter of the story. That post covered  the circumstances which led up to Raymond’s lynching (Love and Lynching in Wytheville: Raymond Arthur Byrd https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/love-and-lynching-in-wytheville-raymond-arthur-byrd).

I’d drafted a second chapter which discussed the immediate aftermath and the effect it had on his wife and children. I’ve never been able to bring myself to publish it. However, the poem written by Raymond’s widow, Tennessee “Tennie” Hawkins speaks to this far more eloquently and poignantly than I ever could:

In the cemetery at Murphysville where the flowers gently wave
Lies the one I love so dear in a cold shallow grave.
Folks may think I have forgotten and may think the wound has healed,
but they do not know the sorrow that is in my heart concealed.
I do not know the pain he bore
I did not see him die,
but this I know,
he had to go and did not say goodbye.
Sleep on, Sleep on, early fallen in your green narrow bed.
I will see you in eternity where no more goodbyes are said.

picture of WWI veteran Raymond Arthur Byrd with his wife, Tennesse "Tennie" Hawkins. Image courtesy of Anthony Q.

WWI veteran Raymond Arthur Byrd with his wife, Tennesse “Tennie” Hawkins. Image courtesy of Hayes family and Anthony Quinn. This image is subject to copyright protection. Permission is required for use.

With a story as horrific and tragic as this, there is always more to be told. This is a painful story. Raymond’s descendants still feel the pain of his loss and the circumstances behind that loss. So needless to say they are not always up to the task of discussing it. No one wants their family defined by personal events like this. His descendants have been. And that is a hard past to live with.  I write this update mindful that thousands perished in the southern states due to lynching:  African Americans, Irish, Italians, Hispanics and Chinese. The pain of Raymond’s family is one that too many families will be all too familiar with.

Raymond’s lynching was big news in America in 1926. Time Magazine and several newspapers around the country wrote several articles about it. I’ve embedded a number of contemporary articles at the bottom of this post.

My cousin Anthony Q recently provided more information about the aftermath of Raymond’s lynching.  Anthony’s wife is Raymond’s direct descendant. Anthony has provided a glimpse into an aspect that I’ve never really thought about: how did those who did the lynching live with themselves afterwards? 90 years later people are still uptight speaking about it.

I’ve seen pictures of lynch mobs. All those proud and smiling faces. Seemingly righteous and congratulatory  in their actions. I’m now asking myself if this was always the case. I’ll let Anthony’s own words do the talking:

Raymond Byrd, Wythe County, Virginia, was lynched (shot in the head, beaten about his head, dragged from his jail cell and taken about 9 miles and hung from a tree near a church) in 1926. He was a married man, age 31, veteran of WW1, of 3 daughters. He became involved with a young white woman (employer’s daughter) and she was impregnated by him. They hid the pregnancy but tried to find a home for the baby. They eventually found one.  However, by then, the walls were caving in.

The white woman’s [Minnie Gubb] father and locals found out about the affair. They tried to coerce the young woman to lie and say he raped her. She wouldn’t do it. They then made her 12-year-old sister lie and say he ‘came after’ her. This statement in hand, locals arrested him on these charges. After threats, and people warning to move him to a jail where he would be better protected were ignored, 50 white men in masks came in the jailhouse that night (sheriff/deputies somehow were nowhere to be found) got the keys and brutalized and killed him in a manner to warn other African Americans who thought about stepping out of what was deemed acceptable in that town.

Minnie never got along with her father after the killing and had as little as possible to do with him.

Floyd Willard was the only man indicted by a Grand Jury for the lynching bragged about being involved. He was acquitted after only ten minutes of deliberation during the trial on July 19, 1927. His family lied and said he was home during the whole time of the killing.

Walter White, later head of the NAACP, helped the family to investigate the murder.


Click for larger image.

It’s the next piece of the story that Anthony recently shared that really hit me.

Talking to descendants and others, most of the men involved [in the lynching] all died terrible deaths. There was a case where a man was on his death bed saying, “Raymond Bird! Leave me alone. Leave me alone! Help me someone. Get him out.” I’m not sure how true this is, but many people I spoke to who don’t know one another told similar stories about how some of these men died. Many of them seemed to be haunted by [Raymond].

Haunted. In its rightful context, it’s a powerful word. And apt. The more I learn about this part of my family’s history, the more the facts reveal themselves, the more I realize that no one came out of this unscathed.

While a social and legal justice did not serve Raymond or his family, another form of justice seems to have prevailed on those who killed him.  That’s where I’m going to leave this post.

Note: I expect there will be a number of comments for this post. Please note that I read and approve every comment before it’s published. I also check each and every backlink to Genealogy Adventures posts. There will be a short time lag (usually an hour or two) before comments are published and/or backlinks approved. It’s a very sad commentary of our times that just because something can be said – no matter how incorrect, faulty or just plain nasty – doesn’t mean that it should be. So I take these measures to ensure that this blog remains respectful and, well, a safe place for conversations to be had and viewpoints shared.

I’ve provided clips below to indicate the scale of this story in Virginia and the rest of the country. The clippings are courtesy of https://www.newspapers.com. Please click on each to see a larger image. Raymond’s surname was changed from Byrd to Bird. It’s a guess, but I’m of the mind that this was done to disassociate Raymond from then Virginia Governor, Harry F Byrd, who may or may not have been a distant relation.

Clippings

The first article below shows how quickly misinformation spread. The 3 children mentioned in this article were most likely the daughters he had with his wife, Tennie Hawkins. He only had one child with Minnie Grubb, also a daughter. Despite claims made at the time, Minnie was the only other woman Raymond had relations with.

Isaiah Francis Grubb & Melinda Straw: a tale of love across 19th Century colour lines

I’ve been spending some time researching my distant Sheffey relations in Wythe County, Virginia. Specifically, I’ve been researching the free families of colour these relations married into. My research gave me a genuine ‘wait, what?’ moment the other day.

This moment came via an 1870 Census return for Isaiah Francis Grubb and Melinda Straw, which you can see below:

1870 census image showing Isaiah Francis Grubb, Melinda Straw and their family in 1870

Isaiah Francis Grubb, & Melinda Straw with some of their children and grandchildren in 1870.  Source Citation:
Year: 1870; Census Place: Black Lick, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M593_1682; Page: 406B; Image: 192; Family History Library Film: 553181 |  Source Information:
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line].

I did a double take when I saw Isaiah’s race listed as ‘white’. Everyone else in this household is listed as mulatto. While I can’t find a marriage certificate for Isaiah and Melinda, they were clearly openly living as man and wife. This was illegal in the State of Virginia of 1870.

If they weren’t legally married, Isaiah clearly acknowledged his children by Melinda. All bear the name of Grubb. To date, I’ve found very little about Melinda Straw in the official records prior to 1860. Most bearing the Straw surname in Wythe County between 1800 and 1870 were white. How she is related to the handful of other mulatto Straws in the same county remains unclear.

A union that broke long-standing state laws.

I won’t go into the history of anti-miscegenation laws in the US. There’s a great Wikipedia article that covers this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-miscegenation_laws_in_the_United_States . Suffice to say that from the 1660s onwards, it didn’t matter whether two people from different races were officially married or not – unions between two people of different races was illegal. It was punishable by flogging, fines, imprisonment or a combination of all 3.

I recall Henry Louis Gates, Jr covering his own family tree in his TV series Finding Your Roots. He shared the story of a white male ancestor with a black wife and mulatto children in a census return. This wasn’t as uncommon as it sounds. Like others in similar circumstances, white men and women living with spouses of colour most likely adopted a false mulatto identity to live peaceably and without threat of prosecution from the authorities.

Isaiah Grubb, then, would be appear to be openly defiant in this regard. And that was no small feat for a man breaking the law in the Wythe County of the early to mid 1800s. It was a very rural community. Everyone knew everyone else. And no matter how fair his mulatto common law wife may have been, she was still not white. They were breaking the law. And everyone in this community would have been aware of this.

image of Isaiah Francis Grubb family treeGoing back in time, his tale grew even more interesting. The first known child of Isaiah and Melinda was Alfred Grubb, born in 1836. This gives an indication of just how long Isaiah and Melinda had been together. However, in 1860, Isaiah isn’t living with Melinda, although all 11 of their children had been born by this point. Instead, Isaiah is living in his father Lewis’s household. Interestingly, there is a James Jackson, a free mulatto, also living in this household. James Jackson would go on to father at least one child with one of Isaiah and Melinda’s daughters, Frances “Fanny” Grubb.

James Jackson is a mystery. How he came to be in Lewis Grubb’s household is a mystery. Was he related to the Grubbs or did he work for them? The census return provides no answers. Lewis Grubb and his family, it would seem, were pretty relaxed when it come to race relations. It’s pretty remarkable.

The 1850 census also shows Isaiah in his father’s household, cited by his middle name, Francis. He resides with his father all the way back to 1820.

I ask myself what changed between 1860 and 1870 for Isaiah to leave his father’s house to set up house with Melinda. Channeling my inner romantic, I figure he was a man getting on in his years who simply wanted to live with the woman he had loved all his adult life. He wanted to finally live with the mother of his children. His father Lewis died in 1861. Perhaps he waited until the passing of his father to live the life he wanted.  I’m guessing that not hiding his race in the 1870 Census was an act of quiet defiance.

If anyone didn’t like it, that was just their tough luck. That’s my guess. Right or wrong, I like him for it.

Trying to put American miscegenation laws into an overall context

an illustrative image showing an American interacial cople in the mid 1880s

This is an illustrative image. The picture shows James William Evans (1814-1883), his wife Mary Eliza Hoggard, and their children William, John and Mary Evans. Mary Eliza Hoggard was a descendant of the free African American Cobb and Bazemore families of Bertie County, North Carolina. James William Evans was from Dorchester County, Maryland. Source: http://www.beyondblackwhite.com

I’ve tried, in vain, to find a ball-park figure for the number of couples in America charged with marrying someone from a different race or living as common law man and wife from the mid- to late 1600s (the period when universal passage of miscegenation laws were passed in all 13 colonies) until the landmark Lovings vs Virginia Supreme Court case in 1967. I haven’t been able to unearth a number. I haven’t been able to even find a ballpark figure – or an educated guess. That’s not to say that I haven’t found plenty of cases and instances. I just haven’t been able to find a definitive figure that says between 1690 and 1967 ‘X’ number of people were charged and indicted under American miscegenation laws. Without a figure, I can’t gauge how widespread or commonplace miscegenation prosecutions were.

So I’m struggling to put Isaiah and Melinda into an overall context. They weren’t unique. The degree of their lack of uniqueness, however, remains elusive and unquantifiable.

So to round things off, I’ve compiled a couple of factoids about miscegenation laws in the US:

  • Maryland was the first colony to pass a miscegenation law in 1664. It was pretty draconian. Any white woman who married a man of colour faced being enslaved herself. The children of such a union were also to be enslaved. The law failed to state what would happen to white men who married black women.
  • Virginia banned interracial marriages in 1691. Those charged under its law face banishment, death and heavy fines.
  • Pennsylvania becomes the first state to repeal its miscegenation laws in 1780
  • Massachusetts becomes the second state to repeal its miscegenation laws in 1843.
  • 1871: Missouri Representative Andrew King proposes a Constitutional Amendment banning all interracial marriages. It’s the first of 3 attempts. Georgia Representative Seaborn Roddenbery would try in 1912 and South Carolina Representative Coleman Blease would try in 1928. All 3 Representatives were Democrats. This must be the ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ rule. Blease’s attempt was the last attempt at a miscegenation Constitutional Amendment.
  • 1998: South Carolina officially removes its state constitutional ban on interracial marriage.
  • Alabama is the last state to officially remove its miscegenation laws…in 2000.
  • An April 2011 poll of Mississippi Republican primary voters asked “Do you think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal?”. The responses were “Legal” 40%, “Illegal” 46%, and “Not Sure” 14%

Martha Ann Fowler Hill: Smashing genealogy walls with the correct maiden name

Martha Fowler Hill is an important linchpin in my black Wythe Sheffey family story in the township of Speedwell, Wythe County, Virginia. And while this post is really about her daughter, Martha Ann, Martha certainly had her role to play in this interesting discovery.

Image of map location for Speedwell Township, Wythe County, Virginia

The red pointer marks the location of Speedwell, Wythe County, Virginia. It is a very, rural and sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia.

Two of her daughters had children by two of my 2x great grand uncles. Mary Ellen Hill married Iazwell Sheffey. And her sister, Martha Ann, had William Royal Sheffey Hill with Iazwell’s brother, James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey.

Martha Fowler Hill’s son, John Joseph Hill, also married a Sheffey cousin, Laura Elizabeth Carpenter.

Suffice to say that roughly half of Martha Fowler Hill’s children married Sheffey family relations in Speedwell. Discovering her ancestry shed some interesting light on the Sheffey story in that part of Wythe County,

When it came to researching one Martha Ann Hill, I kept coming up against one very formidable wall. I just couldn’t find any information about her. Not for love nor money. And there was a very good reason for that. Her maiden name wasn’t Hill. It was Fowler. That Fowler name was like a sledgehammer, no, more of a battering ram, which obliterated that wall of silence…and allowed me to sprint past 1849 (the year of Martha Ann Hill’s birth) back to 1760, the year her grandfather, Granville Fowler, was born.

So why had I spent years looking for a Martha Hill? That was how she was listed on two of her children’s marriage certificates. And a child’s death certificate. Her children weren’t wrong. Far from it.

image of William Royal Sheffey Hill's marriage index record

William Royal Sheffey Hill’s marriage index record. His mother is listed as Martha Ann Hill. Source Information
Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.
Original data: Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

And this is pretty much where I remained with her for the past five years. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Angela, a distant cousin of mine, she uncovered additional marriage certificates which shed some light on Martha Ann. It all had to do with her mother, who was another Martha (just to make things that touch more confusing).

Martha Fowler gave Martha Ann her rightful maiden name – Fowler.

I had long suspected, but had no proof, that Martha Ann Fowler was a free woman of color. Armed with her correct maiden name, there she was in the 1860 census (although the name is spelled incorrectly) with her mother, her siblings, an aunt and two cousins.

An image of the 1860 Census with Mary Ann Fowler

Mary Ann Fowler in the 1860 Census. Source Citation Year: 1860; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M653_1385; Page: 968; Image: 327; Family History Library Film: 805385 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Mary Ann most definitely started life as a Fowler. And a child of a free woman.

While Martha Ann is absent in the 1850 census (which leads me to question her actual year of birth), her mother, Martha Fowler, is certainly accounted for.

An image of Martha Fowler in the 1850 Census

Martha Fowler in the 1850 Census.
Source Citation Year: 1850; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M432_982; Page: 251B;      Image: 99 | Source Information
Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

The image above shows Martha Fowler (Martha Ann’s mother), with her mother Rosanah Dicy Fowler, as well as her siblings (Martha Ann’s aunts and uncles) and her oldest children.

Martha Fowler’s mother, Rosanah Fowler, born around 1792, had also been born free.

Martha Fowler would come to marry Joseph James Hill from Cripple Creek, Wythe County, Virginia. Whether they were married or we common law husband and wife is unclear. I can’t find a marriage certificate for them. However, with African American genealogy, that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t married. It only means that if they were officially married, it wasn’t registered. Or the record simply became lost over time. or hasn’t been digitized. This presents an issue.

All of Martha Fowler’s children were born with the surname of Fowler. However, at some point after 1860 and before 1870, all of her children took the Hill name.  Was Joseph Hill their biological father? Or did he unofficially (or even officially) adopt them?

He appears on more than one marriage certificate for Martha Fowler’s children. Below is the marriage record for daughter Malvina Hill:

Marriage details for Malvina Fowler-Hill.  Source Information Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014. Original data: Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Marriage details for Malvina Fowler-Hill.
Source Information
Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.
Original data: Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

If he wasn’t the biological father of Martha Fowler’s children – or at least the father of all of them – her children certainly thought of him as their father. Only a DNA test from this family line can confirm a biological link.

So now I have Martha Ann’s family tree:

Martha Ann Fowler Hill's family tree

Martha Ann Fowler Hill’s family tree

I had to laugh at this point. Black American genealogy is difficult enough. Name -swapping to this degree made a challenging task even more challenging. I’m happy I stuck with it. And I’m even happier that I have cousins just as keen as I am in unraveling family history…and sharing their discoveries. I owe Angela quite a bit for this stunning lead.

The story of these women didn’t end there.

What I soon discovered was a history of generations of free mulatto women who, while not married to them, raised children with white men. It’s been kind of interesting to see these men listed in one census return with their wives and children – and then listed again in another census return for the same year with their mistress and the children they had by them.

Uncovering Martha Fowler’s correct maiden name is also shedding light on the community of free people of colour in and around Speedwell, Wythe, VA. At this stage in my research, it looks as though this community had been long established by the 1790s. Within it were names from other branches of my Sheffey family tree that I knew very well: Carpenter, Brown, Robinson, and Gannaway. All of these families were free people of color and had been since at least the 1750s (for the Browns and Carpenters) and the 1680s (for the Gannaways).

At this stage in researching this line, I do have one fundamental question. How did a relationship between a free woman of color and enslaved men work?  Iazwell and his brother James were both enslaved. Mary Ellen Hill and Iazwell Sheffey married in 1870, a few years after the close of the Civil War. However, there are hints that they had a relationship before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Her sister Martha Ann Hill had one child with James ZM Sheffey before the end of the Civil War – William Royal Sheffey Hill (born 1864). With a free-born mother, William would not have been born a slave, unlike the majority of his half-siblings. James ZM Sheffey had a number of children with women who were also slaves. All of these children were born enslaved.

It was a situation that must have made for a challenging family dynamic. And this was by no means a unique situation. It was a family dynamic repeated throughout the southern states.

How would a relationship between a free woman of colour and an enslaved male work? Did they have visitation rights? Probably so, if the years of birth of their children are anything to go by. I also suppose it was completely at the enslaved person’s owner whether or not these visits could happen, as well as their frequency and duration. How much access to their fathers did the children of such unions have? And what did they think of the situation? Did it shape how they viewed their fathers?

Did it really matter? Given the number of mulatto children with absentee white fathers, would it have been materially any different to have had a father who was absent due to his slave status?

I have a lot of social as well as practical questions where this arrangement is concerned. As if you couldn’t guess. 😉

My take-away is this: Finding women’s (true and correct) maiden names can be tricky but essential. It’s worth bearing in mind that the name you see for a female relation on a child’s marriage or death certificate may be a name by a new marriage – and not her maiden name. Ultimately, a woman’s death certificate and/or marriage certificate will (hopefully!) provide the necessary details about her parents.

When writing about an ancestor ‘outs’ their race: can there ever be an etiquette for this?

I’m sitting on the horns of dilemma. As you’d suspect, it’s not a comfortable place to sit. It all has to do with two late 18th Century marriages on my maternal line between white men and free women of colour in one of America’s southern states. And the the years that followed these marriages; which is to say their children and descendants claiming, and then having, a white identity.

Writing about these two couples would mean disclosing that the racial identity of these two mulatto women. So where’s the dilemma?

  1. There is a chance that the descendants of these 2 couples have no idea that (however many) great grandma Jane Doe wasn’t white;
  2. Continuing on from Point #1, this may cause upset; and
  3. Some descendants many know this but not want it publicly disclosed.

Publicly writing about family ancestry and history carries certain burdens. This is one of them. Well, okay, this specific burden largely applies  if you’re writing about American genealogy and family history and your audience is, not unsurprisingly, American.

Which brings me to my question. What is the etiquette in writing about inter-racial marriages in America in general and the Antebellum South in particular?

I know my motivations. There are 2 stories that I would like to share because they offer a very interesting glimpse into an aspect of American history that really isn’t discussed. Why interesting? Well, is the standard view that such marriages were as poorly received by society as we’ve been taught/led to believe? Were they as uncommon as we’ve been led to believe?

Then there is the legal side with inter-racial marriages up to and including the early 1960s. I’m still not certain when inter-racial marriages became illegal in the US. The second marriage in my wider family tree certainly happened when such marriages were illegal. This second couple didn’t hide it – their marriage certificate is proof enough of that. Nor did they immediately leave the town they were born and raised in to get married either – so everyone knew the racial identity of the woman, including the groom’s family (so what on earth did they think and feel about it?).

I’d also like to write about these women simply because their respective families have very interesting histories. Both come from mid 17th Century African American lineages that were indentured servants (and not enslaved) and then free thereafter.

I’m also a professional marketer. And I diligently measure the analytics for this site. I know what stories and themes are  popular and which ones aren’t. My all-time top two posts cover inter-racial relationships and ‘passing’ (Beyond the Pale: Interracial Relations in Colonial America https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/beyond-the-pale-interracial-relations-in-colonial-america/ and Passing for white: ancestors who jumped the colour line https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/passing-for-white-ancestors-who-jumped-the-colour-line/) . To quantify ‘popular, each of the posts cited above get read around 350 times a week. Combined, that’s a lot of reading on these two subjects.

So there’s an obvious interest in both topics. I have two stories that cover both. Naturally, I’d like to add these to the canon of posts I’ve already written on the subjects. Both would provide deeper insights and a new take on both subjects.

Now if I were back home in the UK, and this involved black British ancestors, I’d write these stories in a heartbeat. Believe it or not, there is a healthy segment of British society that would wear black ancestry as a badge of honour. Amongst Millennial, it’s something that would give them ‘street cred’. In short, they’d embrace it. Not everyone. I know that.  However, on the whole, the British are far more chilled on the subject of diversity than Americans.

But I’m in the US. And in the 16 months since I’ve been on this side of The Pond, a ceaseless flow of news stories involving race has stayed my virtual pen when it comes to publishing these two stories. My experience with a few white relations from my maternal family lines  on Ancestry.com and Gedmatch have definitely stayed my hand . To be fair, a small handful of newly discovered white relations from my maternal lines have been superb, stellar human beings; accepting, fun and helpful with my family history questions. The majority, however, have not. They were not pleased to discover a blood connection with African Americans. Could you imagine what others from the another branch of the same family would feel if they were to discover that they were actually descended from a person of colour? These are the things I have to be mindful of.

And before this looks like bashing southern people, I’m merely relaying my own experience. The numerous white relations I’ve met from my paternal Virginian lines have all been incredibly positive and brilliant people.

I suppose if those from my maternal lines had been as overwhelming positive as those from my father’s lines, I’d have my answer. I’d just go ahead and write and publish what I think would be two more interesting and positive stories that provide a glimpse into America’s past.

So what do you think? When sharing family history stories in America, what is the etiquette in outing an ancestor’s race? Leave a comment below.

Note:  We have to screen comments before approving & publishing them. Sadly, suffice to say it’s a necessary policy. So don’t panic if you submit a comment and there’s a delay in it appearing.

John Newton Sheffey: Scandalous adultery in 1860s Wytheville

This isn’t the funny story I promised in my previous post. That one involved Stuart Sheffey and his “scandalous” living arrangements with a black wife and a white wife in the same household. The language used in that report is, well, priceless. I can’t remember where I saved that record I found via the Freedmen’s Bureau database, so that story will have to wait. I can’t publish it with that document.

This story, however, is a worthy runner-up. It’s not so much the situation which makes me smile, it’s the language. Words are priceless. One short sentence paints a very vivid picture.

It’s worth pointing out the Freedmen’s Bureau officer who wrote this account isn’t using his own words. No, he’s using the words of the person who reported the situation.

image of Freedmen Bureau's note regarding John Newton Sheffey and Evelyn F Mills, 1867.

Freedmen Bureau’s note regarding John Newton Sheffey and Evelyn F Mills, 1867.

Transcription: John Newton Sheffey (c.) and Evelyn F Mills (note: it was spelled as Miles, which was crossed out and replaced with Mills) living at [I can’t decipher the place name] are said to be living in scandalous adultery.

Scandalous. That is one loaded word. It’s one of those 19th Century words you can just hear being spoken. You can almost picture the man or woman’s face when they said it. In 1867, “scandalous” had a depth that the modern over-use of the word lacks. We’ve used it too much and too erroneously for it to maintain the packed punch it had nearly 150 years ago.

What was the scandal? Records indicate that John Newton Sheffey wasn’t married or involved with anyone prior to this adulterous relationship. All of the children attributed to him were born to him and Evelyn. Evelyn, on the other hand, was married. Oh yeah, and she was white. Quite clearly, this couple was rather open about their relationship. To be that open, they couldn’t have really cared what anyone thought of it. It’s an honesty and openness – and some might say brazenness – which seems to be a family characteristic in more than a few Sheffey family lines.

Whenever the Freedmen’s Bureau cited a person of color, that person was always denoted with either a “(c.)” or “(colored)” after their name. Whites were not. Between Evelyn not having this kind of denotation after her name – and her marriage certificate and her husband’s divorce petition – she was most certainly white. Hence the “scandalous” adultery as opposed to just plain old adultery.

Words – I love them.  Again, a simple sentence in a random document tells quite a story.

 

George Henry Roane: Ancestry.com DNA test throws me a curve ball

While Ancestry.com’s DNA test answered a fundamental question about which second generation German-American Sheffey was the father of my Sheffey family line…it threw me one heck of a curve ball regarding the Roane side of the family tree.

The Usual Suspects: The English Descended Roanes in Virginia

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how my  enslaved 3 x paternal great-grandfather George Henry Roane was acknowledged as a member of the Virginian Roane’s ‘colored family’. Ah yes, that family bible that I’m still trying to contact the current owner about!  Well, I have had a few English-descended Roanes in the frame (I’ll call them the English Roanes). For various reasons too long to go into, I focused my attention on  the English-descended Roanes associated with King & Queen, Essex and Westmoreland Counties in Virginia.

This shortlist of paternal candidates was based on simple math: the men’s year of birth along with when he would have realistically produced children.

Building A Paternity Shortlist for George Henry Roane

George Henry Roane was born around 1800. I narrowed the list of potential Roane fathers down to a handful of English Roanes born between 1750 to 1780. The thinking behind this was George’s father’s age would have ranged from 50 at the top end of the viable paternity scale to around 20 years of age at the younger age range. It was – and I think it still is – a good, solid, ball-park estimate for an age range. Thankfully, it narrowed the list of possible candidates quite successfully. The English descended Roanes were a, how can I say it, prolific family. So I needed a means to whittle the candidates list down. I had a list of 8 men. I had researched their respective descendants and I was completely familiar with the surnames associated with each of their lines. There were some names each line shared in common. Thankfully, this was the exception rather than the rule.

The method above was how I learned the name of the Sheffey who sired my ancestral line. The name Susong was the breakthrough moment – a name that is associated with only one Sheffey line. I was hoping that one unusual name would pop out at me when looking at these Roane cousin DNA matches.

Ancestry’s DNA Test & Cousin Matches

Ancestry’s DNA test gave me two cousin match hits on the Roane name, specifically. The two individuals were ranked as 5th – 8th cousins. Yes, yes, I hear you shouting from the gallery like Staedler & Waldorf from the Muppets: What the heck does that mean?

A 5th cousin and I would share two 4x great grandparents. In other words, we would share George’s father in common.

A 6th cousin takes it back one generation. We would share a pair of 5 x great grandparents..and so on and so forth. Each level of cousin takes the identity of a shared ancestor back one further generation.

The Curveball

So I was pretty happy to see a likely match on a 5th cousin, give or take a generation or two. What I didn’t expect was the name of the Roane ancestor the match was returned for: The Honorable Archibald Roane. Yes, that one – the second Governor of Tennessee.  Archibald, the uncle of Arkansas governor, John Seldon Roane. The one who comes from a Scotts-Irish Roane family line.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Archibald Roane was George’s father. All I can say, at this point, is that I share a DNA connection with Archibald and his descendants. One of Archibald’s cousins could also easily be the father of George.

Now dear old Archibald’s side of the Roane family presents some formidable challenges. I have never researched their lineage – either their ancestors or their descendants. All of my efforts in researching the Roane family has been focused on the English Roane lineage. Family anecdotes strongly suggested it was the English Roanes who held the answers to our Roane paternity. That’s the sole Roane line I’ve ever focused on. In doing so, I completely ignored the Scotts-Irish Roanes.

I’ve previously written about what a mess most of the English Roane family trees  are…and my herculean efforts to get my own English Roane family tree absolutely correct and accurate.

I’m faced once again with the same herculean task. The family trees for Archibald’s Roane ancestry are just as incorrect as those for Charles Roane.

Getting Things Straight With These Two Different Roane Lineages

To kick things off, most Roane family researchers – and their family trees illustrate this – insist that Archibald Roane is a descendant of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. He is not. Archibald descends from a Scottish-Irish family of Roanes, who may or may not be related to the English Roane family.

Let me start with the basics. Have a look at the basic family lines I’ve given in the image below:

image of An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

 So time to debunk some myths:

  • There is a myth that Robert Roane (Charles Roane’s father) was the father of Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr. Robert was dead for a few years before Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr was born.
  • Archibald Roane, Jr was not the son of Charles Roane. Charles had been dead for decades before Archibald, Jr was born.
  • Neither Andrew Roane (Archibald, Jr’s father) nor Andrew’s brother William (the father of Spencer Roane), were the sons of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. The marriage records for both William and Andrew clearly indicate that their parents were Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr and his wife, Jeannet.

All I can say about Charles Roane and Archibald Gilbert Roane, with any certainty, is:

  • Both men bore the same surname;
  • Both men used a similar Roane family crest;
  • Both men were alive at the same time for a period of almost two decades; and
  • They were both resident in the UK before arriving in the American colonies – although they resided in two completely different parts of the United Kingdom before they did so.

Now the Scots-Irish Roanes and the English Roanes very well may have a shared ancestor somewhere in the mist of medieval English history. The English Roane’s ancestral heartlands appear to be Yorkshire and Northumberland – two quite northerly parts of England. In other words, spitting distance from the Scottish borderlands. It’s not unfathomable that one branch of the family went south (to London and Surrey) while another went north to Scotland, and then on to Ireland.

So The Research on Archibald Roane Begins…

So the joys of researching Archibald Roane’s line has now begun. This means researching every single descendant line stemming from Archibald Gilbert Roane. It’s the only way I can discover the unique surname matches within one specific descendant line that will indicate who, exactly, the shared common ancestor is between me and the Scots-Irish side of the family. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack – but the payoff is always worth it. I like to think of it as CSI Genealogy. It just takes a lot of diligence, time and patience.

I am ignoring all family trees in the process. I’ve learned from painful experience when it comes to researching the Roanes. This time, I’m tracing the family lines solely through the official records.

While I’m on the topic of his descendants, it’s worth noting that the celebrated Virginian judge, Spencer Roane, belongs to the Scots-Irish Roane family…and not the English descended Roane family. Spencer and Archibald were first cousins.

I get the confusion between the English Roanes and the Scots-Irish Roanes. It doesn’t help that some of the Scots-Irish Roanes not only settled in Virginia – they settled in the same counties as the English Roanes. Essex County is a primary example.

So…while I don’t have a definitive name for the man who fathered my 3x great-grandfather George Henry Roane – I at least know I’m now looking within the right Roane lineage. I’m on the right path. Time, as they say, will indeed tell.

Yet again, I’m glad to say that a simple DNA test was worth every single penny.

Ancestry.com DNA test answers one fundamental question

In my previous post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/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. Ancestry.com’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 Ancestry.com 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.

Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 ancestry.com 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!