Friday, December 21, 2012

“Y’all Are As Free As I Am”

Honoring the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

The old plantation home of Lemuel Reid near Abbeville, South Carolina as it stood in 2009.

On September 22, 1862, five days after the Union won the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, "all persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."  The finalized proclamation also authorized the recruitment of African Americans as Union soldiers in the Civil War.  We are approaching 150 years from the day that proclamation went into effect. 

However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free most enslaved African Americans in the South immediately.  Freedom came for most two years later after the Union won the Civil War.  Since I started researching my family history, I often wondered about the day my enslaved ancestors were told that they were free.  Undoubtedly, this was a dream come true for many!  Luckily, an elderly cousin, the late Cousin Isaac “Ike” Deberry, Sr. (1914-2009), recalled a special story that his maternal grandfather – my great-grandfather William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) – had shared with him about that day.  Cousin Ike had a very close relationship with Grandpa Bill Reed and remembered many things my great-grandfather had shared with him. Although he was a reserved man I’m told, Grandpa Bill was not tight-lipped about his experiences during slavery in South Carolina.  Cousin Ike remembered so much, and he relayed so many mouth-dropping stories to me that Grandpa Bill had told him, that this vast amount of valuable oral history served as the solid foundation of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.

With excitement, I listened as Cousin Ike remembered Grandpa Bill Reed’s story about “Freedom Day”.  He shared, “Grandpa told me that on the day they got freed, Lem Reid came out on his porch and called all the slaves up to the house and said to them, ‘Y’all are as free as I am.’  He asked them to stay on the place to help him bring in the crop and he promised to pay them.  Grandpa said that they stayed for a lil while and then they decided to follow this man to Mississippi to make a better living for themselves.”  In an earlier recollection, Cousin Ike had shared that an unknown man from Mississippi came to Abbeville, South Carolina and told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.”  Cousin Ike further shared, “Hearing that there were fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths got them all excited.” Grandpa Bill, a younger sister Mary, and others moved to near Senatobia, Mississippi around January 1866.

Envisioning the happiness Grandpa Bill Reed and all of my enslaved ancestors probably displayed when they heard “Y’all are now free”, I deem the Emancipation Proclamation as a great turning point, not only in Black History but American history. I echo the following sentiments of President Barack Obama: “The Emancipation Proclamation stands among the documents of human freedom. As we commemorate this 150th anniversary, let us rededicate ourselves to the timeless principles it championed and celebrate the millions of Americans who have fought for liberty and equality in the generations since.”

My cousins, Armintha Reed Puryear and the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry of Senatobia, Mississippi, both listened to their grandfather Bill Reed talk about that life-changing day in 1865 when Lemuel Reid stood on this very porch they are standing and announced to all who were enslaved on the Reid Place that they were free. The Reed Family visited the Reid Place for the first time on July 8, 2004. The amazing accounts of that phenomenal day are told in Chapter 11 of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended

Some of Grandpa Bill Reed’s descendants, along with several descendants of Lemuel Reid, standing in the foreground observing the plantation home of Lemuel Reid where Grandpa Bill was last enslaved.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Proverbial Clue?

 In this newspaper ad, a New Orleans merchant proudly boasted that he was selling fruit from John Hebron's orchards at Vicksburg, Mississippi. New Orleans Daily Creole, July 31, 1856

Who was the last slave-owner of my great-great-great-grandmother, Caroline Morris, and her children?  Last year, I finally solved that big, long-time mystery.  She was born around 1815 in Virginia and brought to Warren County, Mississippi during slavery.  To read how that mystery was solved by paying attention to clues, see this blog post, “Boom! The Brick Wall Came Crumbling Down!”  This new blog post “A Proverbial Clue?” is a follow-up.

In a nutshell, I had masterfully determined and proven that Grandma Caroline Morris was last enslaved on LaGrange Plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The owner was named John Hebron, who had died in 1862.  I then learned that John Hebron and his wife, Julia Sills, had relocated to Warren County, Mississippi from Greensville County, Virginia in 1834.  It was very important to know the maiden name of the last slave-owner’s wife. 

Additionally, the following statement about John Hebron, which served as another clue, was found in the book entitled The Lost Mansions of Mississippi by Mary C. Miller: Rural Warren County was home to dozens of prosperous antebellum plantations…..John Hebron, using his wife’s inheritance to establish himself in Mississippi in 1834, acquired land east of Vicksburg and cultivated it with the usual cotton.

Well, who was Julia Sills Hebron’s father? What did she and John Hebron inherit from her father? When did they inherit this? Did the inheritance contain slaves?  If so, was Grandma Caroline Morris among that inheritance?  I immediately pondered these questions.  Luckily, I was able to determine from online Sills family trees that Julia was the daughter of John Sills, who had died on August 8, 1827 in Greensville County, Virginia. Grandma Caroline would have been around 12 years old.  The 1820 census verified that John Sills owned 10 slaves that year.  Were some of them my ancestors?

To answer these questions, I knew that I had to dig into Virginia records.  A trip to Richmond, Virginia or Emporia, Virginia, the county seat of Greensville County, may be in order.  However, after browsing the Library of Virginia’s website, I opted to order a copy of John Sills’ estate record instead. The service fee was $30.00. Yes, genealogy research can be expensive!  The Library of Virginia sent me a copy in a week.  Luckily, the following slave inventory was in the estate record:

 The slave inventory from the estate of John Sills,
November 17, 1827, Greensville County, Virginia

As you can see, Grandma Caroline was not on the inventory.  However, the name of one of the Sills slaves leaped out at me. ANGELINE. This name was given to my great-grandmother, Angeline Bass Belton, who was Grandma Caroline’s granddaughter.  In fact, Grandma Caroline was living with her son-in-law and daughter, Jack & Frances Bass (Angeline’s parents), in 1880, the year Angeline was born.  Why did they name her “Angeline”? 

The other missing part in this research is the name of Frances’ father – the man who fathered some or all of Grandma Caroline’s children. Unfortunately, I have not been able to determine my great-great-great-grandfather’s name.  One thing that I know is that he was likely born in Virginia, since Virginia is noted as the birthplace of Frances’ father in the 1880 census.  Another thing that I ascertained is that he may have chosen “Morris” as his surname during slavery.  In the 1880 census, Grandma Caroline was noted as being widowed, and she was the head of her household in 1870.  Could it be that one of the slaves on the Sills inventory above was my great-great-great-grandfather?  Perhaps, great-grandma Angeline Bass was named after “Angeline” on the Sill’s inventory?  Perhaps, “Angeline” was her paternal relative – aunt or grandmother?  Could this be a proverbial clue? Hmmmm…..

As you can see, I have more research to do in Virginia.  Stay tuned…

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Unearthing Hidden Jewels

Photo by Dennis Cox

Let me be frank. I cannot imagine going through life without having vast knowledge about the accomplishments of my own ancestors, the people whose blood flows through my veins.  In addition to having knowledge about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and many other noted African Americans who are often commemorated during Black History Month, I want to know as much as I can about my past family members who made a difference in their communities in their own ways. I’ve been researching since 1993, and I realize that (1) I still have a lot to learn about their accomplishments, and (2) researching to unearth those hidden and untold “jewels” will be a life-long journey.  Recently, Angela Walton-Raji made these facts very evident!

While attending the AAHGS conference in Little Rock, Arkansas in October 2011, Angela, a renowned genealogist, historian, and my “genealogy buddy” for nearly 20 years, became fascinated by the buried accomplishments and life of Madam Martha “Mattie” E. Danner Hockenhull. Angela also happens to be the great-great-granddaughter of my great-great-grandfather Pleasant Barr’s second wife Amanda Young.  She had no idea that Mattie Hockenhull was my maternal grandmother’s aunt, my great-grandmother’s sister.  Instead of me sharing how researching Mattie Hockenhull led Cousin Angela back to me, check out her blog post, The Search For and Discovery of Madam Martha Danner Hockenhull.”

I first learned about Aunt Mattie from my late and dear cousin, Vivian Ivory Jones, when I moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1996. Cousin Vivian shared how Aunt Mattie had owned a beauty shop in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the 1910’s and 1920’s. Aunt Mattie’s only child, Isaac Hockenhull, married the late great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, in Chicago, IL.  That was all that was basically shared with me about her. Then, Cousin Vivian, whose grandmother Frances Danner Howard was also my great-grandmother’s sister, pulled out the following picture of her.  Aunt Mattie was obviously a lady of style and elegance.

Madam Martha “Mattie” Ella Danner Hockenhull
(1873 – 1937)

Yesterday, I got a Facebook message from Cousin Angela. In addition to her findings that she revealed in her blog post, she recently found more about Aunt Mattie!  Not only did Aunt Mattie run her own beauty shop in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the early 1900’s, not only did she publish a series of publications about beauty techniques in 1917 (see Angela’s blog post for pictures), not only was she the former mother-in-law of Mahalia Jackson, but this elegant lady, who was born just eight years after slavery near Como, Mississippi, also ran a correspondence school!  This additional fact was discovered in a 1917 edition of the Muskogee Cimeter, a black newspaper published in Oklahoma.  Excitingly, Angela also expressed the following, “Note that in 1917, she had a telephone! Most families did not get phones till the 1950’s! She was ahead of her time!” I am so proud to claim this lady as my great-grand-aunt!  One can only imagine what else will be unearthed, not only about Aunt Mattie, but about others with whom I share DNA. The same goes for you, too!

 1917 article from the Muskogee Cimeter newspaper; shared by Angela Walton-Raji
Many Thanks to Angela!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Unusual and Unexpected Research Findings: The Great Stuff We Stumble Upon!

Panola County, Mississippi Courthouse (northern), Sardis, Mississippi
Sometime ago, I called out sick from work (again!) and drove down to the northern Panola County, Mississippi courthouse in Sardis to conduct some research. I’d uncovered that my great-great-grandmother Polly Partee’s likely last enslaver was Squire Boone Partee, who had died in 1864. I used and underlined the word “likely” because I had found a preponderance of evidence that pointed to him which included the following:

(1)   Grandma Polly (born circa 1833 in North Carolina) and her children took the Partee name, and a white Partee family owned slaves in Panola County per the slave schedules: Squire B. Partee, 43 slaves (1850) and 71 slaves (1860);
(2)   Oral history from my late cousin Isaac Deberry, who remembered his mother telling him that Grandma Polly came off the “ole Partee place” where she had been a great cook during and after slavery;
(3)   In 1870, just five years after slavery ended, Grandma Polly was living adjacent to Squire’s widow, Martha Partee, per the 1870 Panola County census;
(4)   Grandma Polly named one of her sons “Squire”, but the family called him “Uncle Square”.

As you can see, I had very strong evidence, but I wanted documented proof. I wanted to find Grandma Polly's name in a pre-1865 document. Since Squire Boone Partee had died during slavery in 1864, my goal was to find his estate papers and hopefully find a slave inventory that recorded her and her children, including her daughter Sarah Partee Reed, my great-grandmother who was born around 1852.  Thankfully, I found his estate record, but a slave inventory was not found. I was terribly disappointed. However, as I browsed the papers in his estate record, I found something quite interesting!  Doctor visits to his plantation were recorded, and the entries included the names of some of the enslaved. 

This finding was quite revealing to me because I had assumed that nearly all enslaved African Americans on plantations throughout the South had their root doctors who used their own remedies to care for the sick.  As I discussed in the last chapter of Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery, when Africans were forcibly extracted from Africa, they brought with them their experience working with roots and herbs as healing agents.  Principally due to slavery and the unavailability of some traditional African plants, the remedies of root doctors, who were also called conjurers, root workers, and herb doctors, were a combination of some Native American and European folk remedies and the extensive African knowledge of medicinal root use.  In many cases, midwives were often the root doctors of the slave communities. 

Well, from 1860 to 1864, doctor visits to the white Partee family and their slaves were recorded, and the cost of each visit was charged to the estate. Visits to Grandma Polly were recorded numerous times!  Like Grandma Polly, some of the slaves were named, while a number of entries were “medicine for four negroes”, or “visit to Patsy and three negroes”, or “visit to Negro woman". One entry even stated, “Visit at night, woman in abortion”, who was apparently an enslaved woman who was losing her unborn child, a common occurrence. The doctor’s name was noted as Dr. H. B. Dandridge, who was recorded as a physician in the 1860 Panola County, Mississippi census.

The following are just 3 scanned pages of over 15 pages of recorded doctor visits. Slave names are underlined in red.  One should never wonder why people become quickly addicted to genealogy research when many of us encounter unusual and unexpected findings that add to the thrill of the search!

From March 2 to March 10, 1860, daily visits to Grandma Polly were made.