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

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

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

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

ann-st-clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ann-st-clair2

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

The mystery of Alexander Robert St. Clair

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

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

alexander-robert-st-clair

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

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

Solving the conundrum of where Ann St. Clair was born

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

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

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

alexander-robert-st-clair

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

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

st-clair-dna

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

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

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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:

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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:

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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 working practice for my African American genealogy research

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

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

A tale of a very tight knit family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Deductive Reasoning and Critical Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intricately Connected Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every. Single. Place.

It’s going to be quite the adventure to stitch the George family story back together. I have yet to find a copy of William White’s Will. James White died intestate. However, his billion dollar estate (in today’s money) resulted in a long and protracted lawsuit between his heirs. His estate holdings, if reports are accurate, were well documented as part of this lawsuit. And I’ve found where all of his estate and personal papers are kept: The University of Virginia Library http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=uva-sc/viu00730.xml This collection will be a goldmine of information when it comes to piecing together the George family tree. I’m also hoping it will shed some light on Henry Sheffey’s estate, including which family members inherited Henry Sheffey’s slaves.

 So, let’s recap.

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

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

 

Finding Jefferson Crockett Sheffey – a surprising link to Hampton University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Far from it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1870, Jefferson was teaching at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia: http://www.hamptonu.edu/about/history.cfm

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

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

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

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

32761_1020704762_0591-00002

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

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

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

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

There are a number of contemporary Hampton pictures via: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=LOT%2011051&fi=number&op=PHRASE&va=exact&co!=coll&sg=true&st=gallery

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

It’s kind of nice to know I continue the long tradition of carrying the university lecturer’s torch for the family.

John Newton Sheffey: Scandalous adultery in 1860s Wytheville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

50 Years a slave: Rachel Findley’s story continues to receive media coverage

Thomas Nast's portrayal of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War

Thomas Nast’s portrayal of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War

Journalist Catherine Komp at Radio station 88.9 WCVE in Virginia, an NPR affiliate, did a short piece on Rachel Findley’s fight to free herself and her children from an illegal enslavement.

The segment provides more information about how Rachel Findley’s story came to light and the ceaseless (and probably thankless) efforts of Wytheville resident Mary Kegley to bring such stories to light. you can catch the segment here (transcript available on the site): http://ideastations.org/radio/news/virginia-currents-50-years-slave-hidden-history-rachel-findlay

Family mystery: African American Wards of Wythe County, VA. (republished with an update)

Post updated 15 December 2013

update follows at the bottom of this post

This is a wee mystery that’s been simmering on the proverbial back burner for the past few years.  The mystery involves three women with the surname of Ward who married into the Sheffey family. Every blue moon, I trot this mystery out and spend a week or so attempting to solve it. It’s one heck of a stubborn mystery.  While I usually avoid giving inanimate things human characteristics…this mystery is definitely reluctant to give up its secrets.

First up is Angeline Ward who was born around 1832.  Her birthplace is cited as Selma, Alabama. She was the wife of Godfrey Sheffey, born around 1836 in Virginia (he’s another mystery). There is a small group of us working on the Angeline and Godfrey family group. The working assumption was Angeline and Godfrey were the slaves of Dr Lawrence Brengle Sheffey (26 Nov 1818 , Wythe, VA – 1866, Huntsville, AL) . He’s the only slave owning Sheffey we’ve found who moved from Virginia to Alabama.  This assertion is given further credence in the 1860 Slave Schedule for Huntsville, Madison Co, AL. Angeline and all her children born before 1860 are found in this document. There is a question mark over whether the 41 year old slave male in this census is Godfrey Sheffey.

imageshowing Angeline Ward, Godfrey Sheffey and their children

Angeline Ward, Godfrey Sheffey and their children

Descendants of Angeline Ward and Godfrey Sheffey

Descendants of Angeline Ward and Godfrey Sheffey

At some point between 1870 and 1880, Angeline returned to Wytheville with most of her children.  She did so without her husband Godfrey who presumably died between the census of 1860 and the census of 1870. Her son Lewis returned to Wytheville with his mother, however, made the trip back to Huntsville, AL where he died in 1919. What’s interesting is her grand-son William T Turner of Wytheville married my great-aunt, Callie Sheffey (daughter of Daniel Henry Sheffey III and Jane A White). In previous posts I noted that Angeline returned to Wytheville, one of the Sheffey’s Virginia strongholds, as part of a post-slavery Sheffey family reunion process. What I hadn’t considered is this homecoming could have been twofold. There are a handful of black and mulatto Ward families with a long history in Wythe County too. As yet, I have been unable to connect her to any of the Wythe-based Ward families I’ve found. In my opinion, it’s more than mere coincidence.

Dicey Ward (21 Dec 1847, Wythe Co, VA – ?) was the wife of James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey and resided in Marion, Smyth Co., VA.

image showing Dicey Ward and James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey and son Charles Sheffey

Dicey Ward and James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey

Sarah Ward (1845, VA – ?) was the wife of Perry Cloud (1840, VA – ?) and was resident in Fort Chiswell, Wythe Co., VA.  Their daughter Mary (1860, Fort Chiswell, Wythe, VA – ?) married Godfrey Sheffey, Jr. (1852, Huntsville, Madison Co., AL – ?), the son of Angeline Ward and Godfrey Sheffey, Sr.

Image showing Sarah Ward, Peter Cloud and their descendants

Sarah Ward, Peter Cloud and their descendants

Angeline Ward, Dicey Ward and Sarah Ward were contemporaries.  Whilst older, Angeline is of the same generation as Dicey and Sarah.

If our educated hunch is correct, and Angeline is indeed connected by blood to Dicey Ward and Sarah Ward, this provides an interesting insight into the wider family relations. It would mean that one of Angeline’s sons married one of her Wards relation while one of her grandsons married one of her husband’s Sheffey relations. In other words, her descendants re-connected with both sides of their family through marriage, strengthening those bonds.

Is there an association among these 3 women and the slave owning Ward family of Wythe County, VA? Some initially intriguing results may yet shed some light on this. One of the names which keeps cropping up is Ballard Ephraim Ward, born on 1 Dec 1828 in Cripple Creek, Wythe. The Wards of Wythe County are connected to various branches of the white Sheffey family through marriages with the Edwards, Stewarts, Dobyns and Bland families. Ballard himself was directly connected to the Sheffeys through his marriage to Amelia Gwyn Nuckolls, a relation of Cena Nuckolls, Lawrence Brengle Sheffey’s step-mother and the mother of Lawrence’s half-brother, Ezra Nuckolls Sheffey.

One question which has us thinking hard is this one: did marriages between their slaves further cement familial ties between slave owning families also united through marriage? Naturally, I asked THE awkward question:  If slave families mirrored the marriage aspirations of their owners, and there were blood ties between slaves and white masters, did this influence the treatment slave families received from their owners?  In other words, how deep did these blood ties go? Unravelling this particular mystery might go some way towards shedding some light on this subject.

Just like some of the other family mysteries, the answer to this particular mystery is tantalizingly close. Cracking it will illustrate the close ties between the African American Ward and Sheffey families living in Wythe and Smyth Counties, Virginia.

15 December 2013 update

Jane Ward

Isaac Taylor Sheffey & Laura Ann Woodson family tree

Isaac Taylor Sheffey & Laura Ann Woodson family tree- click for larger image

I stumbled across yet another Ward lady while doing some additional research on Taylor Sheffey (son of Angeline Ward and her husband, Godfrey Taylor Sheffey). Taylor has been a bit frustrating to research as all traces of him cease after the 1880 Census. I had a feeling that this had something to do with him using a different name – and I was right…kind of.  I knew that his widow, Laura Ann Woodson Sheffey, had moved to Washington DC with their daughters. So I concentrated on trying to find any evidence of Taylor Sheffey residing in Washington DC. This included finding a death certificate. It seemed the most sensible and logical thing to do.

What I found was death certificate for his widow, Laura Ann:

Transcription of Laura Ann Woodson Sheffey's death certificate, courtesy of FamilySearch.org

Transcription of Laura Ann Woodson Sheffey’s death certificate, courtesy of FamilySearch.org – click for larger image

original record: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F7B7-2QX

And there it was. Taylor’s full name was Isaac Taylor Sheffey. I got excited. I thought I’d found the vital key to unlocking more of Taylor’s story. As with all things genealogy-related, it did and it didn’t. What it did yield was more evidence that his first name was Isaac.  This came in the form of his daughter Stella’s marriage record:

Stella Sheffey's marriage certificate

Stella Sheffey’s marriage certificate – click for larger image

And here the trail for Isaac Taylor Sheffey runs cold. despite extensive searching I’m unable to find further documents for him.

I’m going to take a wee step back and return to his wife, Laura Ann Woodson. Her death certificate threw up a nugget of gold in the form of her mother’s name. Her name had been unknown until this point: Jane Ward of Wythe County, VA. She is another member of the African American Ward family. All I know of her history is that she was born around 1834, died on 20 October 1869 and was the first wife of Frederick M. Woodson. It’s not much, perhaps, but is more than I knew two days ago. So for now, she is another member of the Wythe County based Ward family clan with a Sheffey family connection who warrants further research.

Love and lynching in Wytheville: Raymond Arthur Byrd

1926 New York Times Raymond Byrd headline

1926 New York Times Raymond Byrd headline

Hands down, this is the most painful and challenging post I’ve written. If you’re easily upset, it’s perhaps best if you skip over this one.

I’m well versed in the horrors of lynching in the United States. It’s not a subject that was ever broached in school. However, it’s a subject that I imagine every African American is familiar with. Much in the same manner that the Irish are well versed in the inhumane treatment they were subjected to through English colonialism and the horrors of The Troubles. While I may have been familiar with lynching I never thought in a million years that it would have a direct impact on my family. A message received through Ancestry.com changed that.

Raymond Arthur Byrd was born in Speedville, Wythe County, Virginia on 2 April 1895 to Stephen C. Byrd (a Sheffey himself through his mother Lenah M. Sheffey, origins unknown) and Josephine V. Sheffey, a descendant of Jacob Sheffey and Elsey George. Raymond spent his life working as a farm labourer from his early teens. By the time he was 24, he had met and married Tennessee “Tennie” Hawkins in 1919. The pair quickly established a small family in Rural Retreat, Wythe Co. before moving to Wytheville. Daughter Edith M Byrd was born in 1919.  Edith was followed by Lillian Josephine Byrd in 1921 and Hazel Beatrice Byrd in 1924.

While the exact date is unknown, Raymond worked for the white Grubb family in Wytheville, VA in 1925. It’s here that his story takes a dark and barbaric turn. He fell in love with Minnie Grubb, the daughter of his employer. It’s worth remembering that inter-racial relationships were actively discouraged in the 1920s.  Marriage between the races was illegal. It was an anathema not solely restricted to the southern states.

Rumour and legend has it that Minnie kept a diary which, unfortunately, hasn’t been found. If it ever existed, her diary would shed a light on the progression of the relationship she had with Raymond: from first meeting him as an employee of her family through to the acknowledgement of feelings and the progression to an initiate relationship. Their relationship would have been problematic on two fronts: the first being Raymond’s colour, the second the fact that he was married man with a family. Despite being in love, the relationship was doomed from the outset. I can’t help but wonder what both of them must have felt about this.

In 1925, Minnie fell pregnant with Raymond’s child. I can only imagine the range of emotions both must have felt. Biology, being what it is, could grant them only so much time before her condition would become apparent, leading to Minnie inevitably telling her family. She must have informed her family at some point as the wheels that were set in motion afterwards would have consequences for Raymond and Minnie’s respective families and the State of Virginia itself.

Raymond was jailed in Wytheville, accused of forcibly attacking Minnie, a charge she strenuously denied at the time. Whilst in jail, a mob formed with the knowledge of the authorities and ‘stormed’ the jail on 15 August 1926, shooting Raymond in the head multiple times.  The men mutilated his remains before dragging his body behind a truck and hanging it in a tree near to the Grubb property. The body would be discovered by 16 year-old John Henry Davis who was on his way to milking his father’s cow.

Raymond would officially be the last person to be lynched in Virginia.  The crime against him was so horrific, so brutal and evil that it made the national news in the US. Along with a series of Virginian lynchings between 1920 and 1925, the nature of Raymond’s lynching prompted the Virginia State Senate to pass The Virginia Anti-Lynching Law of 1928. He and his family received a full posthumous pardon from the Governor of Virginia.

The tale of Minnie and Raymond didn’t end there.

Minnie gave birth to a daughter on 23 July 1926 whose name is believed to be Geraldine Johnson. Geraldine was born in Abingdon, VA. Originally named Willie, the child was sent to live with the Johnson family elsewhere in Virginia.  From there, she was taken by persons unknown. It’s believed that she was taken to Ohio. Ohio isn’t that much of a stretch of the imagination. Raymond had African American Sheffey and Byrd kin living in Ohio. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, the blood connection within the Sheffey family ran deep. To me, it seems entirely probable that either the Ohio-based Sheffeys or Byrds (or both, as these two families were related to one another) could have taken the child out of a hostile Virginia to a secure life in the more moderate Ohio. To-date, this child of Minnie Grubb and Raymond Byrd remains a mystery. She has never been found.

One things really drives Raymond’s story home to me. My first marriage was to a classic ‘English rose’. My second to a woman of Brazilian and Israeli heritage. Neither raised any eyebrows in 1990s UK. I’ve dated the daughter of an earl and a daughter of a viscount, again, without any eyebrows being raised within that august British entity known as ‘The Establishment’. I took something for granted that directly led to the death of Raymond, my second cousin twice removed. I was congratulated and my marriages celebrated. His love relationship led to an unforgiving and brutal death.

Alongside the family successes I’ve uncovered along the way, this is a tale that will remain with me always.

As I read in the press how the states of Texas and Tennessee want to whitewash slavery and the eras that followed, stories like the one above – no matter how uncomfortable they may be – should never be forgotten. I remain firm in the belief that the only way the country of my birth can address where it has fallen short of the ideals upon which it was founded is through open and honest dialogue. If the English can actively engage in this process with its former colonies and with the Irish, the US can do it too with the different ethnic peoples which bore the brunt of its shortcomings. From this lays the roots of healing and moving forward as a collective people.

In loving memory of Raymond Arthur Byrd, 1895 – 1926

For more information:

Beers, Paul G. 1994. The Wythe County Lynching of Raymond Birdhttp://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40934963?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21102453700747

Ottney ,Ryan Scott. 2009. In Search Of Geraldine, Portsmouth Daily Times. http://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/pages/full_story/push?article-In+Search+Of+Geraldine%20&id=6789146&instance=secondary_stories_left_column

Smith, Douglas. Anti-Lynching Law of 1928, The Encyclopedia Virginia. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Antilynching_Law_of_1928#start_entry

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

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

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

Gary C. Walker documents this account in his book The War in Southwest Virginia: 1861-1865 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dwGoe9z3RooC&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53&dq=daniel+sheffey,+fire,+wytheville&source=bl&ots=YhGS44kgsW&sig=shsb4mnipm0Lwgbcs233IFMhOq8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jPJGUcTmCKiZ0QX1kYH4BQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=daniel%20sheffey%2C%20fire%2C%20wytheville&f=false

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

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

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

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