Monday, May 5, 2014

Finding Weird Stuff in Slave Ancestral Research

Two years ago, I hit the jackpot. I found a bill of sale at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History that showed Edward Warren of Marshall County, Mississippi selling his six slaves to his cousin, James Warren Briscoe, on August 14, 1839. One of the six enslaved people was a 10-year-old girl named Margaret. A preponderance of evidence has led me to strongly believe with a high degree of certainty that this young girl was my great-great-great-grandmother, Margaret (Peggy) Milam of nearby Tate County, Mississippi. I wrote this April 2012 blog post about that discovery: “Name Discrepancies Can Often Lead to More.”

However, last week I discovered something rather peculiar. Those six people were still counted as Ed Warren’s slaves in the 1840 census. How do I know that for sure when the 1840 census doesn’t report the names of enslaved African Americans? Well, check this out.

Ed Warren fell on hard times and decided to sell his slaves to pay off some debt. This is that 1839 bill of sale:

. . . the party of the first part (Edward Warren) do hereby bargain sell and confirm to the party of the second part (James W. Briscoe) all the following described property to wit: six negroes viz; Adam aged about 55 years, Sarah aged about 40 years, Sam aged about 14 years, MARGARET aged about 10 years, Calidonia aged about 8 years, Random aged about 23 years and one half of the growing crop of cotton in cultivation by the party of the first party, also three heads of horses, 6 head of cattle, fifty head of sheep, 46 hogs, also all one bureau with all the household and kitchen furniture to have and to hold all the before mentioned property . . .

Several months later in 1840, Ed Warren was counted with six slaves who closely matched the six in the 1839 bill of sale (except for Calidonia but close).  

I learned that Ed Warren died two years later in 1842. He died intestate (without having made a will), but I fortunately found his estate record on last week. Documents in his estate record confirmed that Ed was still in possession of those six people in 1840 because his estate record included four of them in 1842 – Adam, Sarah (also recorded as San), who was identified as Adam’s wife, Random, and Calidonia. Adam and Sarah were later sold from the estate in 1846.

Inventory of Edward Warren’s estate, Nov. 3, 1842
Negro girl Caladonia, $350”, “Negro man Random, $500”, “Adam & his wife San, $200”.

The following transaction recorded in Edward Warren’s estate on June 18, 1846: “Amt of sales of slaves Adam and Sarah . . . $120.50”

However, check this out; there’s more. Eighteen years later, Random was recorded in the will and the estate inventory of James Warren Briscoe’s brother, Notley Warren Briscoe. The inventory was taken on January 4, 1861, Marshall County, Mississippi. Notley had died in 1860. By that time, Random had a family who were identified in Notley’s will as the following among the 27 slaves appraised in the inventory: wife, Mariah (with infant boy), and their children, Sarah Ann, Bill, Caladonia, Parmeous, Parthenia, and Rufus. I found the family in the 1870 Marshall County census; they retained the Briscoe surname.

Inventory of Notley W. Briscoe’s estate; Random & his family were the first nine slaves recorded in the appraisement of 27 slaves, Jan. 4, 1861, Marshall County, Mississippi
Negro man slave, Random, $600
woman, Maria and infant boy, $800
girl, Sarah Ann, $1000
boy, Bill, $1000
girl, Caladonia, $800
boy, Parmeous, $700
girl, Parthenia, $350
boy, Rufus, $250

Margaret and Sam were sold to Joseph Milam, whose farm was about ten miles away in present-day Tate County (then DeSoto), Mississippi. I have yet to find a bill of sale showing this slave purchase. However, Grandma Margaret had 11 children, born from 1846 to 1869 on the Milam farm. Like Random, she too named one of her daughters Sarah Ann. Sam Milam also had a family, and elderly relatives identified his descendants as cousins to Margaret’s descendants. About 10 years ago, my maternal grandmother’s first cousin relayed a funny story to me. Cousin Sammie Lee Hayes jovially shared how Ben Dean, a grandson of Sam Milam, had started courting my grandmother. This was some years before she married my grandfather Simpson Reed. When my great-grandfather John Hector Davis found out that they were courting, he put a stop to it. Quick! He educated them about their kinship and didn’t approve of “kissing cousins”. All of these pieces of the puzzle added to the preponderance of evidence that those six enslaved people in that 1839 deed were my family.

But now I wonder. Did Ed Warren decide to keep them after that 1839 bill of sale was written? Perhaps he later decided to only sell Grandma Margaret and Uncle Sam to help pay off his debts before he died in 1842?  If you know of other possible scenarios, feel free to comment. This just shows how “hair-pulling” slave ancestral research can be. Nonetheless, it is always a welcomed challenge accompanied by extreme happiness when discoveries are made.


  1. perhaps they were sold but returned? I have seen cases where the buyer was not pleased with his purchase and returned the slave to the original owner.

  2. Great post! Hair pulling absolutely, but your supposition that he decided not to sell seems the most likely.

  3. Maybe it was done on paper only, in order to keep creditors away. Maybe the new owner never took possession of them with the understanding it was just for show?

  4. Another great blog. Maybe his financial situation changed and he kept the slaves.

  5. I agree with Georgia. A slave owner on my paternal line for tax purposes transferred the slaves to his son and then took them back on paper.

  6. Possibly, after the show on paper, he loaned them for a while to work off the debt.

  7. Thanks for the feedback everyone!

  8. Perhaps it was actually a deed in trust. I found a similar deed in 1841 Granville Co. NC, for my ancestors where some 25 slaves were deeded by their slaveowner to a neighbor. I originally thought that they had been sold, however, later entries in the slaveowners family bible where he kept his slave births, indicated entries for those same slaves up through 1854, when the owner had moved to Henderson, KY. And in addition, I also found record of a bill of sale in 1848 Granville where the slaveowner sold my 2nd gr-grandmother and her younger children at the time, as well as several other slaves, to the slaveowners son, and they remained in NC.
    The slaveowner may have been having money problems and he had arranged some sort of transaction to rent out the slaves for the the neighbors use for a certain amount of time. In estate records I have seen those types of transactions more particularly spelled out, where an administrator would rent out slaves usually for a particular length of time, or the record would say that the slaves had been in the hands of such and such for X amount of time, at X rate of charges. Wording seem to have varied.

    1. Hmmmmmmm!!! That could be the case! Thank You!


Thanks for visiting and commenting on Roots Revealed!