Sunday, April 10, 2016

Losing a Sibling

There on the Barr farm, just a mile north of Abbeville, South Carolina, Sue and her brothers, Pleasant and Glasgow, labored together, laughed together, played together, prayed together, and always looked out for each other. When Sue was allowed to come back to the slave cabin at night, after working all day in the big house, she couldn't wait to tell her brothers and their parents, Lewis and Fanny, what the "white folks" talk about. She was good at mimicking them, that it usually had everyone rolling on the floor laughing out loud.

Glasgow and Pleasant looked after their only sister Sue. When a white-looking, mulatto young man named Jacob, who was enslaved on the neighboring Leslie Plantation, wanted her hand in marriage, he had to go through her brothers first. Glasgow and Pleasant didn't make it easy for Jacob, either. Pleasant would often taunt him jokingly, often making Jacob nervous. Nonetheless, the brothers soon realized that Jacob was deeply in love with their beautiful sister, and they approved of the marriage. They felt that their late father Lewis would have approved. With every child that Sue was having (Sina, John, Luther, Edmond, Cannon, Louvenia, Clay, Jacob Jr., Lewis, Joseph, Patsy, and Susie), Glasgow and Pleasant waited with nervous Jacob as Momma Fanny delivered another grandchild into the world.

In the midst of bearing and raising children and being a wife to Jacob, Sue was Mrs. Rebecca's prized possession, her trusted house servant. One night in 1859, after a long day of helping Ms. Rebecca polish the silver, Sue ran back to her mother's cabin in tears. Her heart was torn apart. Crying uncontrollably, she was barely able to talk, but she managed these words, “They gonna sell Pleas!”

She had overheard her "massa" William Barr Jr. tell his mother Rebecca that a man named James Giles offered him $1,400 for his slave, Pleasant, her brother. Giles was preparing for a move to Ripley, Mississippi and wanted extra laborious hands to help him build his new farm in Mississippi. William was planning to take his offer. He explained to his mother, “Mom, I really need the money to help me buy the Wilson place in Pontotoc County (Mississippi).” William Jr. was also looking to move to Mississippi. Rebecca nodded her head in approval of the transaction.

The next morning, Momma Fanny received a knock on her cabin door. William Jr. shouted, “Fanny, open the door!” She nervously went to the door and opened it.

“Where’s Pleas,” asked William Jr.

Fanny responded, “He and Isabella is out in the barn milking the cows, massa.”

Babysitting her grandson Bill, he looked up at Momma Fanny and asked, “Grandma, what does Massa want with Daddy?” She immediately grabs Bill and hugs him tightly, too hurt to tell him what was about to happen.

Entering the barn, William Jr. hollered out, “Pleas, come here boy!”

Pleas responded, “Please, massa, Please! Don’t sell me to Mr. Giles. I has a wife and two young chil’ren. Isabella, Bill, and Mary needs me! My sister needs me! Momma Fanny is getting up in age, and she needs me, massa! This is gonna break their hearts!”

William commanded, “Shut up, boy! Jim Giles just need to take care of some business in Mississippi and needs your help. He will bring you back to Abbeville!”

Pleas appeared somewhat comforted by his words, not realizing that William had just told him a bold-faced lie.

As Pleas was being placed on Giles’ wagon, Fanny, Isabella, and Sue run to the wagon! Fanny yelled, “Nooooo!! Please don’t take my Pleas! Please, massa! His young family needs him!”

Fighting back tears, Sue grabbed her brother Pleas’ hand and held it tightly. With tears streaming down her face, she looked up at Pleas and said, “Don’t worry my dear brother. We will see after Momma. I’ll help Isabella with the chil’rens. I will see you again. Yes, we all will. I love you, dear brother.”

As the wagon exited off the Barr farm, loud crying can be heard in the air. Momma Fanny’s heart was too broken, as her crying got louder and louder. Her boy was being taken way, likely forever. His two young children were standing there, in complete shock at what was happening, as they held on to their mother Isabella’s long skirt. She herself was near fainting. This was reminding Fanny of when she was taken from her own family in Virginia and brought down to Abbeville, South Carolina in chains, where the late Rev. William Barr had purchased her at an auction in downtown Abbeville in 1809. She was only 17 years old. She knew the pain of permanent family separation. She also knew that she’ll never see Pleas again.

Today, as many celebrate National Siblings Day, I was compelled to write this fictional story that is based on facts. It wasn’t even a plan. Just a sudden urge and I started typing.

My great-great-grandfather, Pleasant "Pleas" Barr, was in fact sold to a man named James Giles in 1859, and Giles transported him to Tippah County, Mississippi. His son, my mother’s paternal grandfather Bill Reed, relayed to his family years later that Pleas was never seen again. Later the same year, in 1859, Pleas’ sister Sue Barr Beckley, her husband Jacob and their children, and their mother Fanny were taken to William Barr’s new farm in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Glasgow Barr was left back in Abbeville.

Like Pleas, many of our enslaved ancestors were sold away from their siblings, never to see them again. I can’t even imagine the pain they endured. So on this National Siblings Day, I want to pay homage to our enslaved ancestors who suffered that pain. May DNA and genealogy research bring more of the descendants back together! Factual details of this family saga can be read in “150 Years Later” at

One of my Barr/Beckley DNA Matches in AncestryDNA! She shares 15.1 cM with me!

Pictured above are three of Pleas Barr’s grandchildren that he never laid eyes on, Jimmy Reed (1871-1959), John Ella Reed Bobo (1882-1974), and his namesake, Pleasant “Pleas” Reed (1889-1966), of Tate County, Mississippi.