Pleasant Roane Part II: An unexpected link to Thomas Jefferson and Monticello

There are times when my adventures in genealogy blow my mind.  This is one of them.

I wrote about my visit to Monticello last week (Visiting Monticello via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/visiting-monticello )  What I didn’t say in that post is that the day after my visit to Monticello, I received an email from a Steven D. Now, Steven had no idea that I had visited Monticello the day before he sent his email.  No one did.  My phone battery had died by the time we reached the estate, so I had no way of sharing that adventure on social media.

So imagine my surprise when I received the email from Steven regarding the remarkable story of Pleasant Roane (Pleasant Roane (Rowan) and the road to manumission in Lynchburg via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/pleasant-roane-rowan-and-the-road-to-manumision-in-lynchburg):

His [Pleasant’s] father was Peter. Peter was owned by [John] DePriest, but Peter, his wife and a son were purchased from Thomas Jefferson in 1791. I have copies of John Sr and Jr, wills regarding the slaves they kept and sold.

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Thomas Jefferson

Monticello and Thomas Jefferson…again.

I also now have the name of one of Pleasant’s parents, which I didn’t have previously: his father, Peter. This short email has opened a new line of research for Pleasant and his family. 

To clarify, Steven is a DePriest family descendant. I literally had goose bumps when I read Steven’s email. I was just there. I had just stood on the ground where Peter, Pleasant and their family had lived and toiled until they went to John DePriest. Take away the modern developments, and the trees that were planted by the subsequent owners of the estate…I had just seen the same vista that they would have seen. That’s some powerful mojo.

This is the perfect reason why genealogy is a powerful actor in my life. I never know what discovery is on the horizon.

Needless to say I’m in touch with the people at Monticello to see what records exists for Pleasant, his parents, and his siblings.

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Visiting Monticello

I had the opportunity to visit Monticello the other day. Considering my recent trip where I visited some of my Roane family relations on another plantation in Louisiana, I knew It was going to be a day of mixed emotions.

While I knew Monticello sat atop a mountain, it never occurred to me exactly what went into its actual construction. Enter our (amazing) tour guide, Mary. One of the first things she told our tour group was that it had taken hundreds of enslaved people to literally level the uppermost part of the mountain in order to create the flat plateau visitors to Monticello see today. It didn’t occur to me until long after our tour had finished to ask how much earth had been removed as part of that human engineering feat. It was an exceedingly hot and humid day when we visited. I couldn’t image the physical toll that endeavor must have taken. While the view from the house and the surrounding gardens and terraces are stunning…they came at a real human price.

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The land surrounding Monticello is what remains of the top of a mountain which was cleared away through the labour of enslaved people

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The image above gives you some idea of the view of the surrounding area from Monticello.  You can literally see the surrounding countryside for miles in every direction.

Thomas Jefferson, the man behind the building of Monticello, was a practical man. The tons of earth his enslaved population removed, in order to clear the land for the estate, were used to make the very bricks which built the house. It was also used to daub the gaps of the cabins built for his enslaved population. Very little, it seems, went to waste.

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The bricks used in the construction of the house and the surrounding terraces and outbuildings were made with the distinctive red soil that was removed in the creation of the flat plateau.

At the start of the tour, Mary asked people in our group where we’d come from. I mentioned that I was from London and Boston. I can’t remember the exact question that prompted my next answer. It had something to do with was I excited about being there. I laughed as I told her I was, but for a reason she probably would find very hard to believe. She countered with “Try me.” So I mentioned that Thomas Jefferson was an ancestral cousin via one set of known common ancestors – Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, and his wife, Margaret Wolton. Mary didn’t blink and answered with something of a cheeky grin: “Why on earth would I find that hard to believe?” There are other common ancestors via my Randolph line, however, I need to do much more work on that family to find the relatively more recent common ancestors via that line. My sister mentioned that Sally Hemmings was also a cousin and a Sheffey family relation via her Woodson descendants.

It was at that point that I clocked her surname…and spent the rest of the tour impatiently waiting for a chance to ask her a question about some of her ancestors. Mary’s surname is one that I know very, very well from years of researching my Virginia family. Because I haven’t had an opportunity to ask her if she’d be fine with me using her full name (I’m positive she would be. However, it’s always good to have that permission), I’m not going to publish her surname.

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My brother (left) and I chatting to our newfound cousin Mary (centre). The small building in the background is where Thomas Jefferson and his family lived during the construction of Monticello.  Picture courtesy of Khoncepts

So, as we moved to one of the terraces, I asked her if she was a descendant of a famous Jamestown family. She readily answered ‘yes’. I explained how I was a descendant of the same family via a labyrinth of Ball-Mottrom marriages on my father’s maternal line through his Roane line, as well as Poythress-Strother marriages on his paternal side of his family through his Clark line. She laughed out loud. That was it. We were cousins. I had to laugh myself. I joked with her that she couldn’t have expected that as she got ready for work that morning. She couldn’t resist sharing that piece of news with the rest of the tour group.

Which just goes to prove one of the central premises behind Genealogy Adventures: Americans are connected to each other in amazing, surprising, and long forgotten ways – regardless of race, ethnicity, or other measures used to divide us from one another.

Things took a decidedly deeper, more contemplative, and spiritual turn as my siblings and I made our way to where Sally Hemmings had her rooms.

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My brother and I standing in front of Sally hemming’s rooms. Picture courtesy of Khoncepts

Where she lived is currently an active archaeological dig site, so we were not able to actually go in and see. Nevertheless, in the moments before the above snap was taken, I spent some time contemplating the life of this familial relation. The range of emotions was wide and varied.

Next came Mulberry Row.  It was here that I stood inside a cabin for enslaved people for the first time in my life. The Hemmings cabin, as it’s called, is a reproduction – and by no means your typical slave cabin. From what our second tour guide told us, it reflected the status of the Hemmings family – well, as much ‘status’ as any enslaved person could attain  Just to put that into a realistic context.

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Exterior shot of the Hemmings cabin

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Interior shot of the Hemmings cabin

Too many thoughts went through my head to share here. Everywhere I looked, I returned to the thought than an entire family would have shared this humble space. I went pretty quiet as I contemplated that existence.  Suffice to say it was a powerful and stark experience. My only comment was to my brother as I said that, while I knew there were many African-descended Americans who couldn’t make the same claim – that our family had come a long, long way from the days this cabin represented. That’s all that needed to be said.

Our final stop before we left was the cemetery for the enslaved people. That space hit me the hardest.

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There are 400 known enslaved souls who toiled at Monticello. To-date, only 40 of their burials are known. No one knows who any of these 40 individuals were. They are nameless. The area of the demarcated cemetery is small. It would take a minute to walk across its width, and about a minute to walk across its length. It’s small. As for headstones or engraved markers? There are none. Just a few rocks.

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The image above is a plaque with a list containing the names of only a fraction of the enslaved souls who died at Monticello.  It is not an indication of any of the 40 known graves in the fenced off portion of the cemetery.

To say this hit me hard would be an understatement. It was like being sucker punched. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Nor was I alone. A friendly, middle-aged European-descended couple arrived just as my siblings and I were leaving. The wife asked us if we knew where the slave cemetery was. My siblings and I pointed to the space in front of us , and said, almost in unison: “This is it.”

Both of them looked perplexed. And the wife asked us another question: “But where are the headstones?” My voice was pretty flat as I spoke. “Those handful of rocks. That’s it.” Both of them were horrified, and visibly upset. All I could offer them was, “It is what it is.”  Really, that’s all I could say.  In that instance they got it.  I knew they got it. I could see it on their faces. And, I suppose, that is the unspoken power of places like Monticello.

That’s the full circle of my experience at Monticello.  At the start, it was visiting the ancestral home of a distant cousin.  The latter, the stark reminder of why I am related to Thomas Jefferson at all….through slavery. It’s quite the thing to wrap my head around at times and face.  However, as I said to the couple at the cemetery for the enslaved, it is what it is.

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

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

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

PDF Reader/Download Widget version

Text Version

Introduction

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis Matthews by Brian Sheffey

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Image courtesy of Mr T. Dabney

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A shattered family tree through 300 years of Matthews family enslavement

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

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

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

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

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

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

A broken family tree

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

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

Please click each image below for the larger image version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications and reparations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martha Brooks by Donya Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending the Case of Reparations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xvii] Ibid.

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

 

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

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

Genetic Genealogy & Endogamy: Identifying the father of Cornelius White using DNA Triangulation

The paternity of my 2x great grandfather, Cornelius White, has been a mystery ever since I began my ancestral journey in 2010. All I had was the usual information that could be gleaned from online record sources. He was born about 1829 in Virginia, either in Wythe, Smyth or Augusta County. He married Ann St Clair, who was born in Tennessee. Together, they raised a small family in Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia.

The only census return I could positively associate with him was the 1880 Census, where he, Ann, and their small family is listed. I had hoped to find him in the 1865 Cohabitation Records for Wythe County. Neither he nor anyone else from his immediate family were listed in this invaluable African American genealogy resource. Nor could I find them in Smyth County, another central location for my extensive extended family. Frustratingly, similar records for Pulaski and Augusta, additional counties that feature largely in my southwest Virginia family’s history, have either been lost, destroyed or undiscovered. So I put Cornelius on the back burner. I’d return to him from time to time – only to put him back on the back burner. I just couldn’t make any headway with him.

I continued my overall genealogy research, on a county-wide level, adding more extended families into my tree. At this point, I have most of late 18th Century to late 19th Century Wythe, Smyth, Pulaski and Augusta county family groups in my tree.

Thanks to endogamy (where groups of people marry amongst themselves, creating one large extended family group over time), I’m related to most of the people in these counties – black, white and Native American – with pre-1900 roots in these counties through a succession of cousin marriages from the early 1700s onwards.

This beautiful region of Virginia is nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s sparsely populated even to this day. Before the automobile, it would take a day or more to walk from town to town in this region. So you tended to marry who you knew, which was going to be someone in the same community. Which meant you either married a cousin of some description. Or you didn’t marry at all. I’d imagine that newcomers, who mixed the gene pool up a bit, were feted.  I went through something very similar when I moved to a fairly isolated part of Cornwall in southwest England. I was single at the time and invited to every manner of dinner party, church gathering, local dances, parties and saint festival days you could imagine…with single daughters, grand-daughters and nieces being introduced to me left, right, and centre for the first two years I lived there.

Around 18 months ago, an interesting picture was beginning to emerge where Cornelius was concerned.

Both Cornelius and his wife Ann had something to do with Colonel James Lowry White (1770 – 1838) of Staunton, Virginia. Ann, I believe, was owned by James White. James was the Rockerfeller or Vanderbilt of his day. He was one of the richest men in America with vast business enterprises, land holdings and slaves in Tennessee (Knox County, Ann’s place of birth), Alabama (Huntsville, Madison County), West Virginia and Virginia. For now, Ann’s trail has gone cold. A trip to Tennessee will hopefully reveal more information about her and her immediate family in Tennessee.

Cornelius was a different prospect. I just kept returning to the notion that Cornelius and James were blood relations.  James White fathered one known child by my enslaved 3x grandmother, Elsey George (wife of Jacob Sheffey).  Could he also be the father of Cornelius? I wouldn’t have been surprised. I kept looking at the year Cornelius was born (1829) and the year James was born (1770)…and a father-son relationship just didn’t seem likely. I shouldn’t assume that, I know.  I have distant relations who were still fathering children in their 60s, 70s and 80s. And looking at his family tree below, he was clearly still having children by his wife at the time Cornelius was born.

Could these two men be a grandfather and a grandson? That seemed the most likely prospect. I can’t explain it.  It felt right.

It was time to delve in to the DNA matches I had on Ancesty, FamilyTree DNA and Gedmatch.

Endogamy, endogamy, you will be the end of me!

The first hurdle I was face with was this:  a descendant of the old Quaker White family who had originally settled in Cumberland, Pennsylvania, James Lowry White was already my blood relation 3 different ways:

  1. My mother was a descendant of the same family via her Quaker Harlan lineage;
  2. My father’s maternal Roane ancestors shared common Parke, Dandridge, Henry and Carter ancestors with the James’s maternal Lowry ancestors; and
  3. A marriage between James’s half-sister Margaret and my 5x great uncle, Major Henry Lawrence Sheffey, meant an entire Sheffey line were also shared blood relations between us.

So, in his own right, James was already a cousin twice over – as well as my great uncle. He was also a relation through marriage. Let that one sink in for a minute. That is the joy of endogamy. So, no matter how I looked at it, all of his descendants were going to be my cousins. So how was I going to crack finding Cornelius’s father if James and all of his son were already my cousins?

All of their lines were going to be genetic matches to me.

DNA triangulation was going to be the key

DNA triangulation. So what’s that? In autosomal DNA testing, triangulation is the term used to describe the process of reviewing the pedigree charts of people who match on the same autosomal DNA segment(s) to see if a common ancestor can be found. The technique is best used in conjunction with chromosome mapping. It is a long, long process requiring meticulous attention to detail, care and copious notes.

Triangulation has helped me identify a number of white men who had children – and indeed whole second families- with enslaved as well as free women of colour in my family.

This time around, I knew I couldn’t look at any of the men in James’s tree because they were all already related to me.  I had to look at the women who married them and research their families.

First generation descendants of Colonel James Lowry White of Staunton, Virginia

First generation descendants of Colonel James Lowry White. Click for a larger image.

Looking at the abridged family tree above…there were quite a few sons with wives who required researching.  Triangulation was going to take some time. In this instance…18 months!

The reason why it has taken so long is I had to go back anywhere from 5 to 8 generations for each woman who married into the family in order to be certain that I wasn’t genetically connected to any of them. If I was related to any of these women, triangulation wouldn’t produce the result I needed. In other words, I’d get a false positive as a result.

So let’s start with James Lowry White II’s mother, Ann Marie Lowry.

I wanted to start with Ann Lowry to see if I had any matches on her maternal line. I couldn’t look at her paternal Lowrys. I already knew I shared their DNA.  I had to look at her maternal Boggs line.  As far as I am aware, I only have 1 line of Bloggs.  Sure enough, there they were in my DNA matches: Boggs from her mother’s side of the family. This put all of Ann Lowry’s sons, including James Lowry White, in the frame. The only way I could have a combination of White, Lowry and Boggs matches would be via a son, who would have passed DNA from both parents down to Cornelius, who passed enough of this DNA down to me for me to have strong autosomal DNA matches.

However, just to be certain that I should only be looking at the sons of James, I researched the families of Colonel James White’s sisters in law (James II’s aunts) and came up empty handed. I didn’t share any matches with the names in their trees. Now, that could be because none of their descendants have taken DNA tests – or at least not with AncestryDNA. That’s always an option. Or they haven’t uploaded their results to Gedmatch or FamilyTree DNA. Or not enough of this DNA has been inherited for a positive result.

However, thanks to being active on numerous Virginia genealogy-based Facebook groups, I know of descendants from these allied families who have taken DNA tests. Armed with Gedmatch kit numbers to compare, we quickly confirmed that we didn’t share any DNA. I feel safe to say that while I would be a distant relation to these people via marriage, we are not blood relations. Not through their maternal lines, at any rate.

At this stage, I was confident that I had eliminated Colonel James White’s nephews from the list of paternal candidates for Cornelius.

Next, I began looking at Colonel James White’s sons. One of them would be the strongest candidate to be the father of Cornelius.

I eliminated half of them almost immediately. William Young Conn White I died in infancy, so it wasn’t going to be him.

James Lowry White II was a strong candidate, as were his brothers William Young Conn White II, and Francis Smith White. All of the remaining brothers would have been too young to father a child in 1828/29.  Out of 9 brothers, I had whittled the list of candidates down to 3.

As soon as I began researching James Lowry White II, my heart sank. It was my worst nightmare. His wife, Margaret Rhea Preston, wasn’t just a cousin to me…she was a double cousin. I’m related to her on both her Rhea and her Preston lines.

Undaunted, I continued.

I began working on William Young Conn White II’s wife’s family. It wasn’t long before I hit shared families with her paternal and maternal lines in Pennsylvania, Ireland and Scotland. She was another double cousin. I remember looking out my window and muttering “Are you kidding me?” I was seriously ready to walk away from the whole thing at this point.

I turned to Francis Smith White. He presented another kind of difficulty.  I found very little information about him in the official records or the Virginia genealogy books that form the core of my trusted genealogy research resources. I wasn’t overly dismayed about a lack of results for Francis. Born in 1814, I felt that he to would have been quite young to have fathered a child in 1829. Not unheard of, but quite young nonetheless.

With two White family wives turning out to be my double cousins, I was going to have to tackle this from a different direction. I was going to have to compare degrees of genetic separation between me and the descendants of James White II and his brothers.

I began comparing degrees of estimated relatedness and the amounts and lengths of DNA segments that I shared between the descendants of James II and the descendants of his brothers. My matches are between 1 to 2 generations closer when it comes to James II’s descendants when compared to my matches with his brothers’ descendants.  I share more, and longer, DNA segments with James II’s descendants.

The long and short of it is that James Lowry White II is my prime candidate. However, I have to acknowledge that his brothers William and Francis could also be Cornelius’s father.

I know, it seems an awful amount of work to do to not arrive at a definitive answer.  Sometimes in genealogy – and especially genetic genealogy – there isn’t a clear cut answer.  Not when you have endogamy in just about every corner of your family tree.  All you can do is eliminate the impossible and/or improbable and keep chipping away at the probable until you arrive at what will be the most likely result.

That’s all I can do until a death certificate surfaces for Cornelius. That is, if one exists. If he died before the turn of the 20th Century, there most likely won’t be one. The other possibility is that if a death certificate does exist for him, it won’t necessarily follow that the names of his parents were provided. I could be facing my even older nemesis: ‘parents name unknown’. It’s always worth remembering that such records are only as insightful as the information an informant provided at the time.

At least AncestryDNA offered a kind of consolation prize: 2 shaky leaf hints related to Cornelius. These appeared 48 hours after I placed James White II as his father. One hint shows that James II is a common ancestor between me and another of his descendants. The second showing James II’s father, Colonel James Lowry White, is the shared ancestor between me and one of his daughter’s descendants.

That’s about as good as it’s going to get for now!

This exercise is adding more information about the names freed slaves took after Emancipation. So far, the majority of my formerly enslaved ancestors took the name of their  blood relations. They didn’t just adopt a name they liked. Or pull one from the galactic ether. Which, of course, makes we wonder about the handed down notion that freed slaves chose family names of owners they liked or felt had been kind to them. Or merely because they liked a name. If only a handful of my ancestors had randomly chosen names like that, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. My DNA results are suggesting something fundamentally different.

Interesting too are the minority of my ancestors who could have taken a surname based on a blood connection to a family who owned them – and didn’t. A small percentage of those we’re aware of didn’t simply because they either didn’t like, or didn’t want to be associated with, the paternal European-descended side of their family. Instead, they opted for another kinship-based surname.

It’s an interesting area of research.

 

 

Mapping my father’s mtDNA to African tribes

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a conceptual thinker. And few things aid my understanding of concepts better than visuals. Especially when I create visual materials. As I create things I begin to see inter-relationships in a tangible way. It’s the way my mind rolls, and I’ve learned to embrace it.

It’s like baking a cake. Ok, I get what a cake is. However, when I combine the different ingredients, and know their individual properties and how they interact with each another, I get how a cake is actually made. You don’t see the egg or the butter or the milk in the final product, but you know they’re there and how they contributed to the overall cake.

With this in mind, I’ve been making maps of the African tribes my father and I are descended from.

I’ve made 3 maps that cover:

  1. My Y-DNA (haplogroup subclade  E1b1a1a1f1a1) – the DNA that is passed down from fathers to sonsdna-reunion-y
  2. My mtDNA (haplogroup subclade L2a1c4a) – the DNA that is passed down from mothers to daughters. Mothers also pass this on to their sons. Sons, however, do not pass this on to their children.dna-reunion-m
  3. My father’s mtDNA (Haplogroup L3). I am so grateful that he took this test. He is the only living link I directly had to his mother’s mtDNA.dna-reunion-m

This project helped me to better understand:

  1. How each of these 3 sets of African DNA travelled within the African Continent; and
  2. Which tribes I’m directly descended from, and which tribes are genetic cousins.

The second point will have a role to play when the time comes to start pinpointing specific African ancestors who were captured and sent to the American colonies as slaves. In other words, it saves me from trying to look for a needle in a haystack. Instead, I can look for that needed in a specific part of the haystack.

Some interesting possibilities revealed

MY Y-DNA and the 2 mtDNA tests were done via Genebase and form the basis of this mapping project.

My Y-DNA and mtDNA tests connect me to a staggering number of African tribes. Thinking logically, I knew I couldn’t be a direct descendant of all of them. As I mentioned above, only a handful were going to be the tribes of my direct ancestors. All of the others would be like second or third cousins, etc.

It turns out that once I made a map, some interesting possibilities presented themselves. I’m going to do an individual post for each of the 3 maps. It makes it easier to convey the story each map is beginning to reveal.

My father’ maternal mtDNA mapping results

I’m going to start with my father’s maternal mtDNA, the mtDNA he inherited from his mother, Susan Julia Roane (remember, I didn’t inherit any of this mtDNA):

Susan Roane mtDNA outlined

Plotting the direct female mtDNA African lineage of my grandmother, Susan Roane. This map illustrates how her mtDNA was carried from east to west within Africa (Organe-brown arrow). The blue and green arrows show how this mtDNA was carried into southern Africa through her female DNA cousins. Click for larger image.

 

A few things to keep in mind before I delve into how I’ve interpreted this map:

  1. The number of African tribes that have been tested is relatively small compared to non-African populations; and
  2. For the tribes that have had their DNA tested and sequenced, the number of people tested can be quite small (like the 27 Somalians who were tested and whose results from part of Genebase’s research and indigenous peoples’ results).

So what does this map tell me?

Well, like every human being on the plant, the journey begins in the Horn of Africa. So no surprises there.

Susan Roane’s direct maternal ancestor’s DNA travelled into the heart of the African continent. I’ve illustrated this with the big orange-brown arrow. Her ancient female cousins (e.g. not her direct ancestral line), carried the same mtDNA into southern Africa – both along the east and west coasts.

Her direct, African female ancestors appear to have settled in and around the Greater Lake Chad region, including northern Cameroon. You can see this in the cluster of tribes formed by the Fali, Fulbe, Kanuri, Kotoko, Mafa and Masa.

I’m thinking that the Fulbe in Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal are genetic Fulbe cousin lines. Too much of her mtDNA is clustered in northwest Cameroon and southwestern Chad. It’s here that I think the woman who was the mother of Susan Roane’s American female line came from. My father shares only a small number of mtDNA markers with the Fulbe outside of this Lake Chad zone.  His strongest Fulbe mtDNA results specifically point to Lake Chad and its environs.

So what’s the story with the Fulbe?

I’m doing quite a bit of research on these tribes. However, an interesting picture has begun to emerge.

While they are rarely discussed, Africa had ancient kingdoms. The central African kingdom that encompassed my grandmother’s mtDNA was the Fulani Empire. You can see this empire in the picture below:

fulani-presence-in-west-africa

Fulani Empire in western  Africa

There’s quite a bit of Fulbe in my grandmother’s mtDNA. The Fulbe were part of the Fulani tribe. It turns out that the Fulani have quite the history.

The Fulani are an ancient tribe. By ‘ancient’ I mean the ancient Greeks (Herodotus, to be specific), Egyptians and Assyrians wrote about them. I’m finding it difficult to get a handle about the origins of the Fulani. There’s quite a bit of positive and negative propaganda about them. Depending on the author, there’s a vested interest in saying that the Fulani either came from this place, or that place or some other place. So I’m taking what I’ve read so far with a pinch of salt. I’m still searching for a respected, credible source with verifiable information.

Some sources say they came from India. Others claim they came from northern Africa. Yet others claim the Fulani came from eastern Africa. There is one point pretty much all the authors I’ve read so far agree on: the Fulani were not indigenous to the Lake Chad and western African region.  Anthropology has shown that this region had been previously settled by tribes with a far older history in the region.

There are claims that the Fulani introduced Islam to Africa. I don’t know if this is true or not. I do believe, however, they were early adopters of the Islamic faith. In turn, they made it the official religion of their empire. You can read a bit about the Fulani and Islam here: The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century,  http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century

The other tribes I’ve pinpointed in the Fulani-controlled area in map above were also largely Muslim. Like other Fulani-related tribes, they were active traders and I can easily imagine marriages between them. Which would explain their genetic markers in my paternal grandmother’s mtDNA.

The Fulani were also slavers. Large scale slavers – selling Africans into slavery within Africa and to Europeans. This is covered in the Wikipedia article below.

Some articles about the Fulani:

  1. Wikipedia (It’s Wikipedia – so by no means a definitive authority on the subject):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fula_people#Timeline_of_Fulani_history
  2. Who are the Fulani People & Their Origins:  https://tariganter.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/who-are-the-fulani-people-their-origins/

Back to the Fulbe

The Fulbe were also largely Muslim. They had the designation of being free men within the Fulani. I need to do a lot more reading about this to understand what that term actually meant. I’m wondering if the Fulani had a caste system with various designations between free men and slaves. I’m definitely curious. I’m curious because I’m willing to bet, based on the map I’ve created, that my paternal grandmother’s enslaved mtDNA ancestor was Fulbe. And, if she was Fulbe, she would have been a free woman within this society. In all likelihood she would have also been Muslim. So how did her story end as a slave in the American colonies (presumably colonial Virginia)?

Looking at my father’s mtDNA connections in America, 85% are at an 8th generation level. That means the common female ancestor he shares with them lived centuries ago. Generational computation is a tricky thing. Lifespans vary from century to century and from region to region. Nor do I have any idea what the average lifespan of an African slave in America was. It’s always worth remembering this.

This being said, at an 8th generation level, I’m going to take an educated guess that the female Fulbe ancestor he shares with this 85% would have arrived in America sometime between the 1680s and the 1710s.

Genealogy – you get some definitive and probable answers…and a bunch of new questions.

The answer that’s emerging from this map project is that one of the ancestors who made that voyage from Africa to the American colonies was a woman from the Fulbe people. While this doesn’t tell me her name, or exactly when she was abducted and sold, it narrows my search. For instance, I can narrow down the number of African ports from which Fulbes were shipped to America between 1680 and 1720. From there, I can gather a list of slave ships that left western African slave ports for Virginia. And from there, I can see if any have Fulbe women were listed.

 

 

 

 

Quakers & Slavery: 50 shades of grey and then some

Researching my earliest African-descended ancestors and family in America has taken a decidedly left-field turn. Once again a foray into genealogy research has made me revise my knowledge of another aspect of American history. The subject matter? Quakers and slavery in the Colonial period and pre Civil war period.

I’m fairly certain that my high school history lessons mirrored those taught in any American high school in the 1980’s. We were given facts. Those facts were presented as facts without an invitation for critical thinking. The facts, in and of themselves, were never presented as right or wrong, good or bad. There was rarely any context. And there certainly weren’t any grey areas. History is a human affair. It’s not the pristine and sanitized subject that can be found in any classroom. It’s human, which is as nice a way as I can say that history is a dirty and messy affair.

If I’ve learned anything from studying the historical context of my ancestors, I know that history is rife with grey areas – a notion that sits uncomfortably with the American psyche. Since my return to these shores, I have re-learned that my fellow countrymen and women like things to be simple and straightforward. Black and white. Right or wrong. History is anything but. In this I hold an unapologetically non-American world view. Other regions around the globe thrive on tackling grey areas. It is the stuff of proper debates, whether political, in pubs, working men’s clubs or around the dinner table. And yes, I miss it.

There are at least 50 shades of grey when it comes to the history of slavery in America. It’s part and parcel of why Americans doggedly refuse to discuss it. There’s no established framework for having these conversations. Slavery only happened in the southern states? Wrong. The New England and Mid-Atlantic States abolished slavery after winning the American Revolutionary War? You might think that, but would actually be wrong (slavery in some of these states didn’t entirely cease until 1848). Free people of color had an easy time of it in the north before the Civil War? Wrong! Quakers didn’t own slaves and they were all abolitionists? Nul points there, my friend.

It turns out that understanding real American history, the unvarnished stuff, can provide new access routes to making genealogy discoveries. I’ll explain.

My link to the Quakers

A number of my mother’s enslaved ancestors in North Carolina and South Carolina were owned by – and the children of  – practising Quakers, or those who, while no longer practising Quakers, came from very old English Quaker families. Understanding the history and American origins of these enslaved ancestors requires an understanding of the histories of the families who sired them…and owned them.

For instance, in Edgefield County, South Carolina (including Old Ninety-Six, Abbeville and Greenwood Counties, which were created from parts of Edgefield), my ancestors were sired and owned by a few families with Quaker roots: Brooks, Edwards, Harling (originally, Harlan before moving to South Carolina), Holloway, Hollingsworth, Scott, and Stewart.

In Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina, the Quaker families whose history is intertwined my enslaved ancestors, include: Bailey, Edwards (again), Harlan (again), Jones, Mendenhall, Moore, Peel(le), Pool(e), Price, Scott (again), Starr, Stewart (again), and Webb.

Many of my Quaker ancestors fled England and settled in Quaker communities in the English-controlled northern Irish provinces (i.e. Ulster and Antrim). From there, they settled in the following Pennsylvania counties when they arrived in the American colonies in the early 18th Century: Bucks, Chester, Cumberland and New Castle (now in Delaware).

Out of sheer curiosity, I Googled the phrase ‘slavery in Cumberland County, PA’ and a chapter of American history in Pennsylvania revealed itself. So much history, in fact, that I’m still working through a staggering reading list.

It’s a chapter of American history that puts my Quaker ancestors front and centre in the debate around slavery.

A little bit of historical context

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the first corporate body in Britain and North America to fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances. That’s what most of the history books tell us.

While admirable, this leaves out a nugget of overlooked history and back story. The Quakers were among the most prominent slave traders during the early days of the Pennsylvania colony. They bought slaves from British-controlled Barbados and Jamaica.  While the Quakers were also among the first denominations to protest slavery, their internal battle over slavery took over a century to resolve. The fight began in Pennsylvania. There, in April 1688, four Dutch Quakers sent a short petition “against the traffick of men-body” to their meeting in Germantown, PA:

image of the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery

The two sides of the The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery. It was written in iron gall ink and has substantially faded. The document was the first public protest against the institution of slavery, and represents the first written public declaration of universal human rights. Image courtesy of The Germantown Quakers – Photos taken by conservators of the original document for Germantown Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends.

When the Quakers arrived in what’s now Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland in 1684, they arrived in a territory previously controlled by the Dutch (New Netherlands) and the Swedes (New Sweden). The Dutch and Swedes had an established practice of enslaving those of African descent for use in fur trapping. Yeah, I didn’t know that either. It’s all the more interesting for another reason. My mother’s mtDNA is approximately 20% Swedish. She has a direct Swedish female ancestor who was alive somewhere between 7 to 9 generations ago. Old Quaker bloodlines make up a substantial part of her family’s history in the Carolinas. While I have no idea of who this woman was, 7 to 9 generations ago fits this time period perfectly – when English Quakers met Swedes in the Colonial Mid-Atlantic states.

One form of punishment for European women who had children by black and mulatto men was the indenture of their children until the age of 28 (early Colonial period) or the enslavement of their children (later Colonial period). Did one of my Quaker ancestors purchase a female child from such a union? It’s certainly a line of inquiry to investigate. Critical Thinking would suggest this is the most likely explanation.

The 1688 petition had little traction or impact. For the next 50 years, similar scattered protests against slavery were published and spoken of to an indifferent or actively hostile North American public. Early opponents of slavery often paid a high price for their outspokenness. They were disowned by family and fellow congregants, and faced public ostracization.

William Penn flooded his “Holy Experiment” with Quakers whose descendants would later find their faith incompatible with slaveholding. The original Quakers, however,  had no qualms about it. Penn himself owned a dozen slaves, and used them to work his estate, Pennsbury. He wrote that he preferred them to white indentured servants, “for then a man has them while they live.” Benjamin Franklin too owned slaves (no, I didn’t know that either). In Penn’s new city of Philadelphia, African slaves were at work by 1684, and in rural Chester County by 1687. Between 1729 and 1758, Chester County had 104 slaves on 58 farms, with 70 percent of the slave owners likely Quakers. By 1693, Africans were so numerous in the colony’s capital that the Philadelphia Council complained of “the tumultuous gatherings of the Negroes in the town of Philadelphia.”

The Harlans: A Quaker family divided by slavery

My Harlan ancestors don’t appear to have owned slaves while they were in Pennsylvania.  Those who remained in Pennsylvania became outspoken abolitionists. Their cousins in North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky, on the other hand, who were no longer practising Quakers, did become slave holders. Alongside Quaker Harlan relations in Virginia and Maryland.  This one family shows 2 sides of the then contemporary slavery issue in America.

First up is my ancestral cousin, James Harlan (26 Aug 1820 – 5 Oct 1899) who was an attorney and a US Senator (1855-1865), (1867-1873) and a U.S. Cabinet Secretary at the United States Department of Interior (1865-1866) under President Andrew Johnson. He was as outspoken an opponent to slavery as one can find: https://archive.org/stream/legaltitletoprop00harl#page/n3/mode/2up .

Image for 'Legal title to property in slaves'

Image for ‘Legal title to property in slaves’: the speech of Hon. James Harlan, of Iowa, on the amendment to the constitution. Delivered in the Senate of the United States, April 6, 1864. The full speech can be accessed via: https://archive.org/details/legaltitletoprop00harl

John Marshall Harlan, Supreme Court collection,

John Marshall Harlan, Supreme Court collection, photograph by Handy Studios

For the opposing view, another ancestral cousin, John Marshall Harlan (1 Jun 1833 – 14 Oct 1911) who was a lawyer and politician from Kentucky who served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was Secretary of State of Kentucky (1840–1844) and state legislator (1845–1851).

John is a study in contradictions. When the American Civil War broke out, he strongly supported the Union, yet vociferously opposed the Emancipation Proclamation and supported slavery. However, after the election of Ulysses S. Grant as President in 1868, he reversed his views and became a strong supporter of civil rights. His close relationship with his formerly enslaved, beloved mulatto half-brother, Robert James Harlan, might be credited for this change in his views. He is best known for his role as the lone dissenter in the Civil Rights Cases (1883, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Cases), and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson), which, respectively, struck down as unconstitutional federal anti-discrimination legislation and upheld southern segregation statutes. These dissents, among others, led to his nickname of “The Great Dissenter”.

John is an interesting study in contradictions when it came to race relations in America. He was also something of a poster boy for the conflicting attitudes of the slave owners of the day. The journal article Plessy v. Ferguson: Harlan’s Great Dissent provides an excellent insight into these contradictory beliefs: https://louisville.edu/law/library/special-collections/the-john-marshall-harlan-collection/harlans-great-dissent

This is just one glimpse into how the issue of slavery impacted one of my ancestral families in the Civil War Era. It’s worth remembering that both of these men were contemporaries and were cousins from the same Quaker family. Meanwhile, in the south, they had numerous slave owning Harlan and Harling cousins fighting to preserve the Confederacy. In terms of family relations, it was a hot mess. A red hot mess. The kind of hot mess that isn’t covered in history classes.

So… what does this have to do with my genealogy research?

Plenty, as it turns out. I’ve stumbled across records that show some of my Quaker ancestors owned slaves in Colonial Pennsylvania. This could – or probably does – mean that they owned members of my mother’s family for far longer than I ever could have imagined. The roots for some of my mother’s African-descended lines probably stretch back to Pennsylvania in the 1660s onwards. That’s the first genealogy revelation I’m wrapping my head around.

an image for Negro Servant Returns, 1788-1821, Cumberland County, PA

Negro Servant Returns, 1788-1821, Chester County, PA. This is one page from this return, which lists owners and slaves. This page shows my slave owning Moore cousins, as well as the slaves they owned. I’m very interested in Silas (Moore, possibly) and Casia (Jones, possibly), two names that appear in my Northampton County, North Carolina genealogy research. The full return can be accessed via: http://www.chesco.org/1724/Negro-Servant-Returns-1788-1821

Slave Manumissions in Cumberland county, PA.

Slave Manumissions in Cumberland county, PA. Records of slaves manumitted (set free) by their masters that were filed with the Recorder of Deed’s Office. Staying with my Moore cousins, I’ve highlighted the slaves that were freed by the same family. The full record can be accessed via http://www.chesco.org/1725/Slave-Manumissions

The second point is that this earlier group of enslaved ancestors most likely came from, or had roots in, Bermuda or Jamaica or both – and not directly from Africa. A few may even have been present in the US long before the arrival of the Quakers, purchased by the Dutch and Swedish colonists who were in the region long before Britain claimed the territory as its own. That’s quite another thing to try and wrap my head around. It’s another layer of research complexity.

The third is that not all of my African American DNA matches will share common ancestors with me in the southern states. There are a handful of African American DNA cousins who are biologically connected to the same Quaker families as I am. However, they live in areas of Pennsylvania and Delaware settled by Quakers. They have no direction connection with southern states. Our common ancestors won’t be found south of the old Mason-Dixon line. Our connection will be with people who never left those old Quaker communities in the north. It helps us narrow the genealogy research field to find our common ancestors. It also gives us a more specific time frame to investigate within. Instead of looking over 250 years of family ancestry, we can cut this down to a 100 year window. I’ll take a time window of 100 years over one that’s 250 years any day of the week!

This history of my mother’s African-descended ancestors is largely entwined with the history of the Quaker families who owned them. Without individual histories of their own, I will only be able to trace them through various Quaker records and Last Wills and Testaments. This means following the trail from Pennsylvania to Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas – to the places where the descendants of these families settled and owned slaves. Added to this are the number of slaves freed by my Quaker relations over a 150 year period before the outbreak of the Civil War. These freed slaves received financial aid enough to relocate to Ohio, Illinois and Liberia – which is another subject for another post.

I’ve had my Quaker-related genealogy research epiphany. I don’t underestimate the time and effort it will take to follow the trail of documents back to Pennsylvania, or from Pennsylvania to the other states. I hope that by tackling the trail from both ends (from the beginning to the end, and vice versa) I can connect both trails in the middle to build an unbroken line of slaves owned by my Quaker ancestors.

The end of slavery in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s break with slavery was not a straightforward process. It didn’t end on a certain date. By 1790, the number of slaves in the state had fallen to 3,760. By 1810, it had fallen to 795. Slavery withered more rapidly in Philadelphia than in surrounding areas, in part because slaves did not live as long, nor have as many children, as they did on farms. In 1810, 94 percent of the slaves in Pennsylvania were in seven rural counties.

In 1779, Pennsylvania passed the first abolition law in America (http://slavenorth.com/penna.htm). The measure was praised for embodying the spirit of enlightenment at the time, but its gradual terms were far from being a godsend.

The law did not emancipate a single slave. Not. One. Anyone who was a slave the last day before it went into effect on 1 March 1780, remained a slave until death; unless freed by his or her owner. All children born of slaves after the law took effect could be kept enslaved until age 28. So it would have been possible for a slave girl, born on the last day of February 1780, to live out her life in slavery. And for her children, theoretically born as late as 1820, to remain slaves until 1848.

Total abolition didn’t come to Pennsylvania until 1847.

Here are some online resources for researching Pennsylvania slaves:

  1. Chester County, PA Slave Records (Negro Servant Returns, Indentured Servants, Runaway Slaves and Slave Manumissions): http://www.chesco.org/1724/Negro-Servant-Returns-1788-1821
  2. Cumberland County, PA:

    3.The Slaves of Bucks County, PA:
    http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=mead

    4. Slavery in Delaware (for New Castle County):
    http://archives.delaware.gov/exhibits/document/slavery/toc.shtml

Sources

  1. Gary B. Nash & Jean R. Soderlund, Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and its Aftermath, Oxford Univ. Press, 1991.
  2. Edgar J. McManus, Black Bondage in the North, Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1973.
  3. John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time, Philadelphia, 1850.

 

50 years a slave: the Findley family’s battle for freedom in Virginia

Update 1 May 2014: More information about how Rachel’s story came to light can be found here: 50 Years a slave: Rachel Findley’s story continues to receive media coverage http://wp.me/p1fqOP-jR

UPDATE 16 April 2014:  A search in Google Books yielded some possible answers as to how Henry Clay came to possess the two Choctaw children, Chance and James. Basically, the likelihood of finding one definitive answer is exceedingly remote. The book Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty by Katherine R. Bateman covers this subject (http://books.google.com/books?id=ZxScKF_nkyUC&pg=PT45&lpg=PT45&dq=henry+clay+kidnaps+choctaw+children&source=bl&ots=p-0KypKNMf&sig=DzN1ZQLf8I2yTXJt899KMwK5qUs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_oxNU_C5GOrNsQSkz4D4Dg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=henry%20clay%20kidnaps%20choctaw%20children&f=false from Page 28 onwards) . The possible answers to this mystery the book provides have been compiled from witness testimonies and depositions in the various Findley court cases. Taken decades after the actual kidnappings of Chance and James, no two explanations as to how Henry Clay came to acquire the children are the same. Given this was a time before the Choctaws wrote their history down, it is unlikely there is an oral story that has been passed down through the centuries within that tribe. We would first need to know which Choctaw group the children belonged to and what part of the Choctaw territory they lived in. We’d also need to know their Choctaw names, which would not have been Chance or James  those were the names given to them by Henry Clay. Given this pivotal period of Choctaw history (the tribe’s dealing with Europeans) the story of two stolen children would have easily been lost.

Once again it’s the ladies in my family’s tree who provide an incredible detour and a truly remarkable, if not disturbing, tale. The story of Chance Findley and her descendants in Wythe County, Virginia is a multi-generational saga of the fight for freedom from an illegally imposed enslavement.

An email from Rob F, a distant relation through marriage, sent me down another rabbit hole of discovery. His email introduced me to the story of Rachel Findley, an ancestor of Mary Drew, my great-grandfather Daniel Henry Sheffey’s first wife (I’m a descendant of his second marriage to Jane White).

The family tree below charts my line’s connection to the Findley family. Please note, the Findley (aka Findlay) family is too large to include a full family tree featuring all of Chance Findley’s descendants. I’ve traced the direct line of descent for Mary Drew, noting the other children born within each generation of the Findley family for illustrative purposes.

Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew's family tree

Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew’s family tree – click for larger image

 

Rachel Findley: 12 years a slave – and then some.

So how did I come to learn about Rachel Findley?

Mary Drew’s great grandmother, Rachel Findlay, was recently honored by the Library of Virginia as part of their “Women in History” programmes. This is what Rob F wrote to me about in his email. Each year the Library of Virginia develops and distributes educational resources for Women’s History Month. The Library uses this occasion to honor women who have made significant contributions to Virginia’s history and culture. The Library honored Rachel Findley this month as one of those women. Rob F was kind enough to share the award ceremony information with me as well as particulars about the award evening.

Virginia's Women in History 2014

Why did Rachel Findley warrant such recognition? She was among a number of Findley’s descended from an illegally enslaved Choctaw Native American woman, Chance Findley, who successfully sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for their freedom.

Virginia's Women in History 2014

The hows and whys of Chance Fielding’s enslavement remain a mystery. All is known is that in the early 18th Century, one Henry Clay of Virginia brought back a Choctaw girl he called Chance and a Choctaw boy he named Frank. He enslaved both regardless of the laws of the land which prohibited the enslavement of Native Americans.

While other Findley’s legal fights for freedom were more or less straightforward – they sued the Commonwealth of Virginia, they won their cases and they were freed – Rachel’s road to freedom was a bitter one.

Rachel Findlay was born into slavery in the early 1750s in Virginia in an area that would later become Powhatan County. Her maternal grandmother Chance was an illegally enslaved Indian woman. Which meant that Rachel’s mother, Judea Findley, was also illegally enslaved. It’s presumed that Rachel’s father was an African descended slave. His name is not known. Virginia law dictated that the children of enslaved women were also slaves, so Judy Findlay and her children were born enslaved. Rachel Findlay, her brother Samuel, and her young daughter Judy sued their owner, Thomas Clay, on the grounds that because their grandmother’s enslavement was illegal, they were also illegally enslaved.

This suggest to me that Chance remembered who she was and where she’d come from in her early childhood in order to convey the injustice of what had been done to her, and her children, and her ever-increasing family. How her children and grandchildren arrived at the decision to sue for their freedom is unknown. Nor do I know what legal advice they were given or who counselled them. The General Court ruled in May 1773 that they were free. In a turn of events worthy of a Hollywood movie, the Clay family sent Rachel and her daughter Judy west before the court reached its verdict in 1774. The Clay family cynically sold them to John Draper. Draper and his family held Rachel and Judy in slavery in Wythe County.

Bill of sale for Rachel Findley and Judy Findley

Image

Rachel Findlay again filed suit in the Wythe County Court in 1813. Her suit was to obtain the freedom to which she had been legally entitled but had never known much less enjoyed. After seven years of delays and difficulties – and the transfer of the case to the Powhatan County Court- Rachel once again won freedom for herself on 13 May 1820.

Powhatan court verdict for Rachel Findely

The decades of the injustice of illegal enslavement was undone with a simple sentence. This single sentence freed Rachel Findley and Judy Findley. Image courtesy of Rob F.

Chance Findlay’s approximately forty descendants- which included her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – were therefore legally entitled to become free too. Freedom was not automatically granted to them even in the face of the illegality of their enslavement. Several of Chance Findlay’s descendants successfully sued for their freedom. Others may have never known about the suit and its outcome, or were prevented from also suing for their freedom; regardless, they remained enslaved.

Summaries of the numerous Findley suits against the Commonwealth of Virginia can be found here:

Image

http://books.google.com/books?id=JcF6E75ZAeUC&pg=PA487&dq=rachel+findlay,+indian,+virginia&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ml9FU9D7D8O-sQS58YGwBw&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew: 19th Century Virginia adds insult to injury

There is another side of Virginia’s history of slavery, one that further impacts on the Findley family’s history. According to Virginia law, slaves freed after May 1806 were required to leave the state within one year or face re-enslavement. Newly emancipated slaves could petition the State to remain, however, approval for such petitions was by no means guaranteed. Virginia simply did not want a large population of free blacks.

And so it came to pass that Malinda Findlay Cleaver, the grand-daughter of Rachel Findlay’s daughter Judy, was sued by Virginia for not leaving the state upon the attainment of her freedom. It’s worth noting at this point that many from the extended Findley family had left Virginia for the mid-West when they won their individual freedoms from the courts. Rachel, Judy and Malinda chose to remain. Malinda’s full case paper is available for review here:

Image

http://books.google.com/books?id=VvGRAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA238&dq=malinda+cleaver,+virginia&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NFtFU7jZDNWwsQTSy4GwDg&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=malinda%20cleaver%2C%20virginia&f=false

In the end it wasn’t the illegality of her childhood enslavement that saved Malinda from either imprisonment, re-enslavement or a fine. It was the fact that the 1806 Act, which decreed that freed slaves must leave Virginia within a year of their freedom, wasn’t ratified until many years after she’d already been freed. In other words, it wasn’t ratified until after she had been freed. Therefore, she was not bound by its conventions. She remained in Virginia where she would marry Lewis Drew, son of an old, established family of free blacks, and presided over her family.

The court proceedings didn’t serve to further enlighten me on the nature of slavery nor the injustices or corruption that were rife within it. Nor its fundamental inhumanity. I’ve been well schooled on such things already. These court proceedings, as unfortunate and as unnecessary as they were, provided invaluable genealogical information. I would go as far as to say I wouldn’t have been able to construct the Findley family tree without them. I would have known by the family name that various Findley’s were connected to one another. These papers and proceedings told me exactly how the various family groups were related to one another.

More interestingly still is the emphasis on the women. Nowhere have I been able to find information about them men who fathered four generations of Findlay women’s children. It’s not surprising if my assumption that they were enslaved men of African descended slaves is correct. These men, the sons of enslaved African women, could never have their status as slaves overturned and, as such, would be irrelevant to any court proceedings. So their existence is as much a void in the court papers as they are in the Findley family tree I’ve researched.

My first African ancestor discovered

When it comes to African American genealogy, finding an African ancestor seems like a pipe-dream. It’s like winning the lottery jackpot. It’s the holy grail. The idea of it seems so impossible, it brings to mind an image of Don Quixote fighting windmills – well, it does to my literary mind at any rate.

Thanks to three Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina Josey family cousins…I have my ancestral lottery mega millions win. I have my first direct ancestor who was born in Africa.

I have found African progenitors for other ancestral lines like Goins/Gowen, Christian, Cumbo, Barbour and Munzingo. I was pretty excited to find them too. However, these were families that my various ancestral lines married into. Finding my own African ancestor…well, I’m still somewhere circling Cloud 9.

So who is this ancestor? One of my maternal 4x great grandmothers, Venus. Venus “The Elder” would go on to take the last name Josey, the name of family who owned her. It’s also the surname of James Henry Josey, the man who fathered the four children of her daughter, Venus Josey “The Younger”. To distinguish between the two Venuses, I’ll refer to the elder Venus as “Venus” and the younger Venus as Venus Josey.

I’ve spent a few hours chatting with 3 newly discovered cousins from the wider Josey family. While they didn’t have many stories about Venus, what they did tell me shed some interesting light on her life.

Born around 1806, Venus arrived in South Carolina around the age of 13. That is a very useful, seemingly insignificant factoid. It will (hopefully!) help me identify the slave ship she arrived on. I can start researching slave ships that left the west coast of Africa for the southern states between 1817 and 1822. This 5 year spread takes into account her age – she might not have been 13 when she made that Trans-Atlantic slave ship voyage. And 1806 is only an estimated year of birth, given in 1870. Her first child was born in Rich Square, Northampton, NC in 1825. 1824, the year her daughter Venus Josey was conceived, would be the uppermost limit for the slave voyage search range.

mtDNA tests suggest Venus either came from Gabon or Cameroon.

Now that all seems rather straightforward in terms of research parameters. However, looks can be deceiving. The US Congress passed the Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves on 2 March 1807. Thomas Jefferson promptly signed it and it came into effect on 1 January 1808. This was about a decade before Venus’s transportation from Africa to South Carolina. And this is where things will get murky. This means she was illegally transported across the Atlantic and sold. Like any illegal activity, the chances of any documentation is slim. Very slim.

Trans-Atlantic slave trade map

Then there’s the question of what port this ship arrived in. Wilmington was an established slave port before the importation of slaves was outlawed. South Carolina, particularly Charleston, seems a more likely port prospect. Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana are just as likely in terms of ports of arrival. However, my instinct tells me that she arrived somewhere in South Carolina, where many of the North Carolina slave owning Joseys had purchased slaves previously.

illustration of a slave ship hold

That’s the historical aspect of this discovery. There is a human element too. I try to think of that 13 year old child crammed into the dark, dank hull of a slave ship for approximately a month with all the foul smells and filth that journey entailed. I can’t. I try to touch upon the fear she felt. I can’t do that either. It’s unimaginable. There are no family stories of any family members accompanying her on that journey. Presumably, she made that journey alone, leaving everything and everyone she knew behind. That she survived is a testament to her fortitude. There’s a glimpse into that fortitude in one last story about her.

Another family tale is that Venus was a princess or, at the very least, a younger daughter of an African chieftain.  While it would be a sensational find, I’m remaining sceptical. Like the many tales in my family of Native American ancestry – which DNA testing has over-ruled – I’m not going to get too excited by this claim 😉

There is one history sliver that my white and black Josey cousins have relayed to me. James Henry Josey freed Venus “The Younger” and her mother when Venus “The Younger” gave birth to the first of their four children. He freed their children too. James’s mother was, by all accounts, very fond of her mulatto grandchildren. She paid for their education and ensured that the money her husband had bequeathed to their grandchildren and Venus “The Younger” was safeguarded and duly handed over. In short, she ensured her grandchildren’s future prospects.

There is one story that I absolutely love. Venus came to understand English. However, she refused to speak it. Nothing could compel her to do it. That snippet of her history speaks volumes to me.

Typical Actions in Probate of a Slaveholding Estate with David E. Paterson [podcast]

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Podcast host Bernice Bennett and special guest David Paterson discuss the most fruitful probate records for slavery research in most states, for the period about 1800 to 1865.

The discussion may be less useful for the colonial period, or for the records of Louisiana or Spanish colonial Florida whose laws and processes derived from different legal traditions.

David also describes the process flow from one record to the next – the purpoe of each record – and what kinds of slavery-related information maybe found in each kind of record. Particular attention focuses on records that are sometimes overlooked in guides or how-to books; especially annual returns and vouchers.

You can listen to the podcast by visiting the Blog Talk Radio website: 
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett/2015/11/20/typical-actions-in-probate-of-a-slaveholding-estate-with-david-e-paterson

Charlotte Brooks: A poignant & powerful firsthand history of slavery

I had the pleasure of a long chat last week with one of my newly found cousins, Donya. She and I share a myriad of ancestors and relations in Edgefield County, South Carolina.

And no conversation with Donya is complete without touching base about one of our shared ancestors, Martha Ann Brooks, who was born in Virginia and lived out the rest of her life in Edgefield. Martha Ann’s is quite the story, one that I’m leaving to Donya to tell when she’s ready.

So, while Martha Ann Brooks isn’t the subject of this post, a conversation about her lead to a book that is the subject of this post. As difficult a read as this book has been, I am eternally grateful to Donya for putting this book on my radar.

So…what book is this?

Cover image for The House of Bondage by Octavia Albert

The House of Bondage, or, Charlotte Brooks and Other Slaves, Original and Life Like, As They Appeared in Their Old Plantation and City Slave Life; Together with Pen-Pictures of the Peculiar Institution, with Sights and Insights into Their New Relations as Freedmen, Freemen, and Citizens written by Octavia V. Rogers Albert (Octavia Victoria Rogers, 1853-1889). Aye, that is quite some title! I’m shortening it to The House of Bondage.  The Book was published in 1890 by Hunt & Eaton (New York).

This book is powerful and poignant in equal measures. It is filled with equally beautiful and brutal life experiences.

What I love about this book is its simplicity. At its heart is a conversation between two women, the author, Octavia Albert, and former slave, Charlotte Brooks. This isn’t fiction. It’s non-fiction relayed in the form of conversations had during various interview sessions. The language is simple enough for a 12 year old to understand – and grasp the significance of the world being discussed.

Charlotte’s fortitude is formidable. The word ‘unbreakable’ springs to mind. Charlotte’s collective life experience during her enslavement – and the experiences of those she knew – is unflinchingly relayed. It is honest. It is stark. And at times, the experiences she relays are brutal. Charlotte doesn’t use overblown language. It’s the homespun delivery of the world she knew that is the real power behind the story of Charlotte’s life and the world she reveals.

One completely unexpected historical nugget came to light. It touches on the religious tensions that existed between slaves who were raised as Christians in Virginia, sold and sent down to Louisiana – and their Catholic Louisiana slave owners. I’ll let Charlotte’s words speak for themselves.

She never asks for sympathy. I have the feeling that even if she had, she wouldn’t have expected to receive any. Nothing in her life, or the lives of those she knew, would have authored that expectation. Two short paragraphs about the fate of all her children is evidence enough of that. I’ll be honest, this is one of two points in the book when I had to stop reading and set it aside for a while.

Yes, there are plenty of short first hand slave narratives that were gathered as part of the WPA effort. Where Octavia Albert’s book differs is Albert’s decision to focus on one former slave’s story. In doing so, the author struck a rich seam of every day slave life. Charlotte pulls no punches in talking about her life and the lives of those she knew. And Albert pays her the ultimate respect any author can give his or her subject – she pulls no punches in relaying Charlotte’s story.

This book is even more special to Donya and I. We’re in the midst of trying to determine if Charlotte Brooks was related to our ancestor Martha Ann Brooks. We’re trying to determine if Charlotte was owned by the same Virginia Brooks family that owned (and were relations of) our ancestor Martha Ann. Was Martha Ann one of the siblings Charlotte left behind in Virginia when she was sold and taken to Louisiana? Or could she and Martha Ann be cousins? We’re sifting through the available records to determine one way or another if there was a blood connection between the two women.

I’ve said it before and I will repeat it once more: American’s aren’t taught the true, unbiased, unvarnished history of the United States. We’re only taught the ‘best’ parts. The bits and selective pieces that are the easiest to be proud of. We never get taught the other side of the coin, those dark chapters, the ones that any nation ought to have seared into its collective memory in order to never make such mistakes again. And to learn from them. I know this because my genealogical research has unearthed all manner of historical truths that I was never taught in school – and I was blessed to attend one of the best schools in my state. From the history of the Quakers and their contribution to Colonial America, to the importation of Southeast Asians and Chinese in the early colonial era (and use as indentured servants), to the fact that Maryland was established as the only Catholic colony, to the practice of slavery being entrenched in all 13 colonies… I have learned more about American history through genealogy than I have through any other means.

I highly recommend this book.

The House of Bondage is available from all major online book sellers.

It is also available to read online for free via:
http://digilib.nypl.org/dynaweb/digs/wwm972/@Generic__BookView