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.



  1. Wow! That is inspirational. I really need to get back to Montgomery and do some research.

  2. Congratulations! You found your documents.

  3. Wow! Melvin, this is amazing. I thought our ancestors mostly took care of themselves only seeing a Doc for major ailments or injuries. I'm getting a different image of the workings of a plantation. I'm not sure, but you may be on to something here.

    1. We need to go to Waco, Texas and lay claim to the city!


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