Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Family Picture: A Black History Month Treat

The Cannon Beckley Family, Pontotoc County (College Hill), Mississippi, taken in 1900
Shared by Diane Beckley

On February 7, 2013, my cousin, Diane Beckley of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, posted this wonderful picture on Facebook. This picture was of her great-grandfather, Cannon Beckley of Pontotoc County, Mississippi, with his young wife, children, and grandchildren. Immediately, Cousin Francis Bailey, another great-granddaughter, dated the photograph when she stated, "That's the photo where my grandmother, Lillian Beckley Wheeler, was still in vitro -- her mother was expecting her, and Aunt Eugenia, the absolute last of the clan, hadn't even been thought about." Lillian was born on July 6, 1900, and Eugenia was born in 1902.

Cannon Beckley was born into slavery near Abbeville, South Carolina in 1840 on Rev. William H. Barr’s farm. Barr’s son, William Barr Jr., later took Cannon, as well as his parents, siblings, grandmother, and others, to Pontotoc County in 1859. There in Mississippi, Cannon married twice, to Lucy Black and later to Eliza Weatherall, who collectively gave him a total of 20 children, born from 1865 to 1902. Taken in the year 1900, this picture is him with most of the 20 children, as well as several grandchildren. Cannon died in the College Hill community of Pontotoc County three years later in 1903.

Before 1999, I knew absolutely nothing about Cannon and the Beckleys. I did not have the slightest clue that these people were my relatives.  However, I had knowledge that my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed of Senatobia, Mississippi, was born into slavery in 1846 in Abbeville County, South Carolina. I also knew that he was separated from a number of family members during slavery, including his father, Pleasant, a name he gave to his youngest son, my great-uncle Pleasant "Pleas" Reed.  The oral history that Grandpa Bill Reed passed down was that he was born a Barr, as he was born on a farm owned by a Barr Family in South Carolina, but he was later sold to a Reed, hence the reason why his last name became Reed.  These important tidbits of history about Grandpa Bill was known throughout the family, especially by family elders who had the fortune of knowing Grandpa Bill personally before he died in 1937 at the old age of 91. He would love to tell stories about his early life in South Carolina underneath his sycamore tree.

However, 1999 was the pivotal year. That was when I figured out that William Barr Jr. and his mother Rebecca Reid Barr of Abbeville, South Carolina had first "owned" Grandpa Bill during slavery, before selling him to her nephew, Lemuel Reid, in 1859.  I obtained a copy of the will and estate records of Rebecca’s late husband, Rev. William H. Barr, from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in Columbia. The estate record contained a slave inventory, dated March 14, 1843, three years before Grandpa Bill was born (see below). However, not only did the inventory contained my great-great-grandfather, Pleasant Barr, but my late cousin Isaac Deberry Sr. (1914-2009), a grandson of Bill, immediately recognized the name Cannon on the inventory. He exclaimed, "Cannon was his brother! Grandpa talked about him all the time! They were close when Grandpa was on the Barr place" (paraphrasing).

The Slave Inventory from Rev. William H. Barr’s estate, March 14, 1843, Abbeville County, S.C.
Abbeville County Probate Court Records. The Probate Records of William H. Barr, 1843. Box 14, Package 291, Frames 322-330, Roll #AB.6.

Turns out, Cannon was actually his first cousin, not brother, whom he was forever separated from in 1859 and never saw again. Grandpa Bill Reed never knew that Cannon and other family members, including their grandmother Fanny Barr, were living just 75 miles east of him near Pontotoc, Mississippi when he, his younger sister Mary, and others were enticed to migrate to near Senatobia, Mississippi around January 1866, shortly after becoming free. As oral history stated, an unknown man told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths!”

So I continue to look at this picture with fascination. I am still in awe. Grandpa Bill’s long-lost, brother-like first cousin Cannon, whom he never forgot, planted the roots of a large family in Pontotoc County, as well as Cannon’s brothers, Edmond, Jacob Jr., Clay, and Lewis Beckley, who was named after their maternal grandfather, Lewis Barr. These five Beckley brothers became known as “The Beckley Five,” who were the sons of Grandpa Bill’s father’s sister, Sue Barr Beckley. Aunt Sue had a total of 12 children. I never thought in a million years that I’d be able to see a grand picture like this of Cannon and his big family. 

This discovery story of family separation, triumph, and reunion is told in 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.


  1. What a great story. I am so happy that you found the picture and your additional family members.


  2. Parts of this story reminds me of things my Grandfather told me about, Pontotoc -Tupelo- Shannon Mississippi.

  3. What a beautiful photo and family!

  4. This is a great story. Grandpa Bill and Cannon can be reunited through their descendants, by recognizing a picture. That's really something! Which one is Cannon -- I'm guessing the one in the middle?

  5. What a amazing story and a treasured photo to hand down throughout your families' generations.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. My Grandfather Robert Lewis (Rob) Harden was the Grandson of Grandpa Cannon, he has told many stories about Pleasent, something about walking to St. Louis.
    He lived in Pontotoc across the street from the National Cemertary(sp). in the early 1930's next door the Elvis's grandmother. (I wish I could remember)


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