With relative ease, I traced one of my paternal lineages back to my great-great-grandfather, Peter Belton of Vicksburg, Warren County, Mississippi. He was found living alone in the 1870 census. That year, his reported age was 23 (born around 1847), and he was the only Belton in the county. His reported birthplace was South Carolina. I found him again in the 1900 Warren County census and his reported birth date and birth place were January 1840 in Mississippi Because of these findings and no oral history about him, I ascertained that tracing him back even further would be quite a challenge. Unfortunately, I was right. A number of clues were unearthed, but I have been longing to find something that I consider concrete.
Before I go into a few details about my research of Peter Belton’s history, let me present a brief synopsis about a very interesting and notable figure in Mississippi history. His name is Capt. Isaac Ross of Jefferson County, Mississippi. I believe Peter’s history is directly connected to this man. Maybe one day soon, instead of using the terms “I believe”, I’ll be able to say, “The facts are.” On the other hand, the circumstantial evidence that I will present just may be preponderantly adequate for some people to positively tie Peter to Capt. Ross. I’ll love your personal feedback and opinion about the weight of this evidence.
In a nutshell, Capt. Isaac Ross left Camden, South Carolina in 1808 and established a large plantation in Jefferson County that was known as Prospect Hill. When he died in January 1836, his will stipulated that his plantation be liquidated and the proceeds be used to provide safe passage for his 200+ slaves to be freed and transported to Liberia in West Africa through the American Colonization Society (ACS). His will also stipulated that his slaves be allowed to vote whether or not they wanted to go to Africa as free men and women. It further stated, “Should the slaves refuse to go there, they (except those that have been specially named) are to be sold, and the proceeds paid over to the ACS, to be invested at 6 per cent, the interest to be employed for 100 years, in maintaining an institution of learning in Liberia, in Africa. If there shall be no government in Liberia, the said fund to be transferred to the State of Mississippi for a similar institution.”
Not surprising, his heirs contested his will and battled it in state courts for nearly ten years. Well, the enslaved Prospect Hill laborers grew very frustrated, and they orchestrated a revolt that burned the Ross mansion to the ground in April 1845. Luckily, Capt. Ross’s will was finally upheld by law, and on January 7, 1848, the first group of 35 former Ross slaves left New Orleans on the Nehemiah Rich. A second group of 141 sailed out of New Orleans in 1849 on the Laura. Both groups settled near the towns of Sinoe and Greenville in Liberia. Their saga is told in Alan Huffman’s Mississippi in Africa: The Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy in Liberia Today.
Let me now present the circumstantial evidence of why I believe one or both parents and/or a grandparent of Peter Belton may have been on Prospect Hill plantation.
EVIDENCE A: The estate of Mary Allison Belton, Jefferson County, Mississippi, 1823 & 1827
In my quest to determine who Peter Belton’s last enslaver may have been, I quickly determined from census research that no white Belton families ever resided in Warren County. I could not even find any white Beltons in the neighboring counties of southwest Mississippi, although a number of African-American Belton families were found living in those counties – Jefferson, Franklin, Claiborne, and Adams County. This seemed odd. However, an explanation was soon found. Turns out, there was indeed one white Belton who resided in Jefferson County up until 1823. Her name was Mary Allison Belton; someone had placed a transcription of her will online which named 16 slaves. Dated April 12, 1823, it also named two nephews, Isaac & Arthur Ross.
Very interestingly, Internet contacts revealed that Mary Allison Belton, the childless widow of John Belton of Camden, South Carolina, had moved to Jefferson County with Capt. Isaac Ross and his family. Capt. Ross’s wife Jane Allison was her sister. The nephews she mentioned in her will were their sons. I soon found her estate record at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and an inventory dated Dec. 6, 1827 listed 20 slaves by name, age, and value. Capt. Ross was the executor of her estate. This was a major find, but unfortunately I have not been able to determine the names of Peter Belton’s parents. Perhaps, someone on this inventory was his parent? I look at this inventory in wonderment.
1- Bridget very old wench nothing
2- Harry ditto ditto ditto (ditto means same as above)
3- Fanny 54 years of age $100
4- Hector 52 years old Stepney 34 years old 800
6- Sam 31 years old Esaw 29 years old 1200
8- Jacob 29 years old Hector 27 years of age 1200
10- Jefferson 25 years old Ben 24 years old 1200
12- Dinah 43 Mathew 7 450
14- Mary 26 years old Laura 4 years old 500
16- Risse (?) 24 Irn alia worth nothing
17- Henderson 5 years of age Peggy 24 years of age 500
19- Thornton 6 years old Adam 4 years of age 400
EVIDENCE B: Peter Ross and Hector Belton of Liberia
Twenty-four letters were written by “Ross Negroes” in Liberia to ACS officials in the United States. A man named Peter Ross wrote the most letters before he died after 1859, and many of them expressed his grievance over the Ross estate administrators’ failure to submit funds in accordance with the provisions of Capt. Ross’s will. Seeing the name “Peter” among the “Ross Negroes” raised my eyebrows.
On October 12, 1849, a man named Hector Belton wrote a letter to John Kerr of the A.C.S. He stated, “….Now my dear sir, knowing you were always kindly and friendly disposed towards me, even when Capt. Ross were alive, and I now am old and helpless, can’t work, let me intrude upon you, notwithstanding past events…” Hector Belton was undoubtedly the 52-year-old Hector in the slave inventory of Mary Allison Belton’s estate, 1827 (see above).
EVIDENCE C: Location
As I mentioned earlier, Peter was the only Belton in Warren County in 1870. However, considering Warren County’s close proximity to Jefferson County, one can plausibly surmise that a connection to Capt. Isaac Ross’s slaves seems very possible. Perhaps, Peter decided to migrate up to near Vicksburg when he became a free man?
EVIDENCE D: Peter Belton’s Marriage Record
In 1880, Peter married Mrs. Martha Wilkins (nee Miller) in Warren County. On his marriage record, a man named Jack Ross was his bondsman. Bondsmen on marriage records are often relatives or long-time friends. In fact, a bondsman named Wesley Johnson was part of my great-grandfather John Hector Davis’s marriage record. I later learned from an elder family member that Wesley was a first cousin to John’s father. Seeing Jack Ross’s name on Peter’s marriage record was quite an eye-opener.
EVIDENCE E: James Belton’s Accounts
An online contact encouraged me to get into contact with James Belton of McComb, Mississippi. He descends from the Beltons who lived in Franklin County (see map above for its location). Luckily, his contact information was in the phonebook and I called him up. As a lover of family history, he was very happy to talk to me. James didn’t know anything about Peter Belton of Vicksburg, but he shared the following interesting tidbits based on oral history told to him by his father, Julius Belton, who was born in 1888.
(1) His father had two great-uncles named Wade & Edmond Belton who were part of the Prospect Hill uprising in 1845. Edmond escaped to Louisiana.
(2) Most of the slaves that Capt. Isaac Ross owned and transported to Mississippi in 1808 were obtained from the Belton Family of South Carolina. Many of them were mulattoes and were known as the “Ross-Beltons”.
These oral accounts have not been proven with documentation. However, it establishes that the African-American Belton families in southwest Mississippi in 1870 are likely linked to the enslaved people on Prospect Hill plantation. Yet, in my personal opinion, the circumstantial evidence have not been enough to positively prove that Peter Belton is linked to the “Ross-Belton” slaves of Prospect Hill as well. Or is it?? What are your thoughts? More research will be done to try to determine Peter's parentage, which has been the major brick wall in this research. I can’t let it go! Stay tuned.