Photo of Lou Gossett by Luke Ford. Used by permission.
The NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are, has heightened the curiosity of many concerning their own ancestral history by highlighting the ancestral hunt of seven celebrities. Because of the show, I decided to rehash my celebrity connection – a historical connection that I revealed in Mississippi to Africa. Hence, this second blog post was entitled Who Do You Think You Are – the Lou Gossett Blog-Episode. In this short blog story, which is actually a piggyback from my first blog post “The Blog Picture”, you will follow the journey of how a historical link to award-winning actor Lou Gossett was discovered simply because I was curious about something. I don’t know if Lou Gossett is even aware of this history. (Update: I received a surprise phone call from Lou Gossett on March 18. He was thrilled to learn this history!)
As mentioned in my first post, I discovered that my great-great-grandfather, Edward “Ed” Danner, was born into slavery around 1832 on Thomas Danner Junior’s farm in Union County, South Carolina. Shortly before 1860, Grandpa Ed was sold to Dr. William J. Bobo, who transported him to Como, Mississippi. I have researched the Danners at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) in Columbia. I have also been able to acquire much information from Stephenville, Texas librarian Glenda Stone and from David Getzendanner. Both are direct descendants of Thomas Jr. Compiling data on the slave-holding family is absolutely imperative for pre-1865 research, as you will see.
Glenda revealed to me that Thomas Jr. was the son of Thomas Danner Sr. (aka Thomas Getzendanner) and Milly Stokes Danner, who established a plantation on the banks of the Enoree River in Union County, where he died in 1844. A name change to Danner took place after Thomas Sr. migrated to South Carolina from Frederick, Maryland in 1788. Learning Thomas Senior’s death date was vitally important because it enabled me to obtain his estate record from the SCDAH. On New Year’s Day in 1845, 22 slaves were recorded in the estate inventory by their first names and their values, since enslaved African Americans were considered property – very valuable property. Interestingly, one of the two appraisers was Dr. William Bobo. Those 22 enslaved people were the following:
The slave inventory from the estate of Thomas G. Danner Sr., taken Jan. 1, 1845, Union County, South Carolina
Interestingly, Thomas’ sons, Levi, John, and Thomas Jr., did not inherit any of the 22 slaves, according to his estate record. They were dispersed among his widow Milly, daughter Catherine Bates, and two sons-in-law. One of the two sons-in-law was James GOSSETT, who married his daughter, Rachel Danner, in 1841. Gossett received 4 of the 22 slaves from the estate. Seeing that name, I immediately thought of actor Lou Gossett Jr. By chance, could there somehow be a historical connection to him? I was curious, indeed. However, I needed to know more about his family history. Was his family from South Carolina?
Luckily, I had one common resource to possibly find more information – the Internet. According to the History Makers website, he was born Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York. They interviewed Gossett in 2005. This site also stated that his father, Louis Gossett Sr., was from Bennettsville, South Carolina. He had been a hardworking porter who eventually became the head of a local gas company in New York. Although Bennettsville is in Marlboro County, which is over 100 miles east of Union County, I still decided to do some census research on Ancestry.com to see what I could find out about his father’s family. This is what I found in 1930:
In 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, an 18-year-old Louis Gossett, whose birthplace was South Carolina, was living with a white Kurtz family on Neptune Avenue. He was the only Louis Gossett in New York. Was this the actor's father, Louis Sr.? Hmmm….. What else did I see for 1930?
Also in 1930, as shown above, other African-American Gossetts from South Carolina resided in Brooklyn. Lacy Gossett, age 41, and his wife and son, Timothy Gossett, age 14, resided on Dean Street. Woodrow and Helen Gossett, ages 11 and 16, respectively, lived with an African-American McDonald family on Warehouse Avenue. Were they Louis Senior’s parents and siblings? Hmmm…. My next step was to check the 1920 census to see what I find.
I could not locate any Gossetts in Marlboro County. However, to my surprise, I found the same Lacy Gossett who was in Brooklyn, New York in 1930. In 1920, as shown above, he was living in the Jonesville district of UNION COUNTY! His household contained his wife Ada and children, Louis (8), Helen (6), Timothy (4), granddaughter Ethelene (5), Woodroe (1), and his mother, Louise Gossett (50). Eight-year-old Louis Gossett was undoubtedly the actor's father, Louis Gossett Sr. Actor Lou Gossett was the grandson of Lacy Gossett from Union County. I became excited! Following the genealogy rule of thumb of going backwards – working from the known to the unknown – I was now curious how far I could go back in the census records. Thus, the family was located in the 1910 and the 1900 censuses. This is what was found in the 1900 Union County, South Carolina census:
The 1900 Union County census revealed that the actor’s grandfather was Lacy Gossett Junior, who was a 12-year-old teenager in the household of his parents, Lacy Sr. and Louise Gossett. According to that census, Lacy Sr., the actor’s great-grandfather, was born in September 1866 in South Carolina. Who was his father? My curiosity level was rising. So I checked the 1880 Union County census and found the following possible match:
In 1880, no one named Lacy Gossett was found in that census. However, I noticed that a 60-year-old man named Green Gossett had a 13-year-old son named “Latha” in his household. Now, scroll back up to the Danner slave inventory, and you will see that a “Negro man Green, $500” was inherited by James Gossett in 1845. Was he Green Gossett? The answer is a resounding YES! How did I know? Well, I looked on the next census page – investigating Green’s neighborhood – and who did I find? James and Rachel Gossett were just several residences away from Green. This was a major find! But, was Green’s son “Latha” and Lacy Gossett Sr. one and the same person? Hmmm…..
Luckily, I soon found more concrete clues. Curiosity had gotten the best of me one night, so I decided to “google” the name “Lacy Gossett” on the Internet just to see what comes up. Low and behold, the search results led me to an archived New York Times article, published May 23, 1921, that contained the names Lacy and Green Gossett. Newspapers are indeed great genealogical sources. Putting it nicely, the actor’s grandfather and great-grandfather were rather “lively” in New York during the Harlem Renaissance era, but not in the artistic sense. Well, let’s see exactly what I mean by that statement.
Turns out, the actor’s grandfather, Lacy Gossett Jr., was arrested in New York in 1921 for assaulting a man named George Talbot with a crowbar. After Lacy was arrested, the whereabouts of his father were revealed. His father, a preacher, had been wanted by federal officials for sending obscene letters through the mail. Yes, you read the article correctly. However, despite the humor of his offense, I immediately noticed that this father was noted as “Green Gossett”, not Lacy Gossett Sr. The father had recently moved to New York from Detroit, running from the law. So, will I find him in the 1920 Michigan census and will this clear up the name confusion? Here’s what I found in the 1920 Wayne County, Michigan (Detroit Ward 3) census:
A 50-year-old Green Gossett was found living on Montcalm Street in Detroit, Michigan in 1920. His birthplace was South Carolina and his reported occupation was janitor. This Green was obviously not the 60-year-old Green Gossett in Union County, South Carolina in 1880. However, quite plausibly, Lacy Sr. decided to go by his father’s name and thus became Green Gossett when he left South Carolina. Also, one can plausibly surmise that while he may have been called “Lacy”, his official name may have always been Green. Despite the name confusion, actor Lou Gossett’s great-grandfather, Lacy Sr. (aka Green Jr.), was undoubtedly the son of Green Gossett or “Negro man Green, $500” in 1845 and was likely “Latha” in Green’s household in 1880 in Union County.
David Getzendanner informed me that Thomas Danner Jr. resided on his father’s plantation. No land records were ever located indicating that Thomas Jr. had purchased his own land. Of course, the 1000-acre plantation that Thomas Sr. owned was sufficient enough to accommodate the farming business of his second youngest son, a business that included slave labor, the work and sweat of my ancestors. Therefore, my historical connection to Lou Gossett was found to be this – his great-great-grandfather, Green Gossett (born around 1820), and my great-great-grandfather, Edward Danner (born around 1832), hailed from the same father-and-son plantation in Union County, South Carolina. Whether or not there was a familial connection between the two has yet to be answered. Stay tuned.
I snapped this picture of the Union County, South Carolina Courthouse in the town of Union during my visit there in 2007.