When I stumbled across the marriage certificate for Louis Roane (1848 – 1912, Gloucester County, VA) and Lucretia Giddings (1849 – ?, Northampton County, VA), I had no idea what a fascinating detour it would provide. On the one hand it introduced me to the Giddings/Giddens family of Northampton County, VA. On the other hand, it also introduced me to Ibby Roane (born in 1778), a free women of colour and a distant relation on my paternal grandmother’s Roane side of the family.
Ibby (an abbreviation of Elizabeth) is yet another person proving tricky to find in the records. However, I did stumble across an 1860 census which lists her:
1860 United States Federal Census
To put this above into context, the 35 year old Ibby Giddings (nee Church), is the daughter of Ibby Roane and a Mr Church (I haven’t been able to find his first name). It’s interesting to note that Ibby Roane kept her maiden name and not the name of her husband, yet passed on his name to their daughter. Looking at the census above, as a live-in mother-on-law, I get the feeling she was the matriarchal of the household. I’d dearly love to know more about her origins as she is among the oldest generations of free black Roanes I’ve found. It is unclear if she was born free or was emancipated by a slave owner. What is clear is that by the time her daughter Ibby Church is born, both were free.
The story picks up with Lucretia Giddings, the daughter of Ibby Church and Henry T Giddings. Which makes her the grand-daughter of Ibby Roane. She, in turn, would marry Louis Roane – who was no doubt a relation to Ibby Roane, Lucretia’s grand-mother. Lucretia and Louis would also go on to set up house in Northampton County.
It quickly became apparent that Lucretia’s father, Henry Giddings, came from a family of free African Americans. I cursory bit of research took me by surprise. His family had been free since the 1790s. Not only did his family have a long history of freedom in Virginia, this family was well documented in Northampton County records. And what a fascinating history it was too!
Taking a look at the family tree above, Henry’s mother, Comfort Giddens, was the child of slave owning John Giddens and Sarah, a slave. John Giddens freed Sarah and their children in his will of 1790. It’s not known why he chose to free them. However, what makes his will an absolutely amazing read is a condition he put in his will. Should any white member of his family try to re-enslave Comfort, her children or their descendants, they were to be fined $100. I’ve never seen this in any manumission papers or wills where slave owners set slaves free. It was clearly John Giddens desire for his slaves to have their freedom to the point of actively protecting their freedom after his death.
At the moment, it’s unclear how Benjamin Giddings/Giddens, Sr. came by his last name or if he was a blood relation to the white Giddens family.
I have, however, found two books in the Library of Virginia in Richmond which have information on the Giddens / Giddings family of Northampton County:
- THE REGISTER OF FREE NEGROES, NORTHAMPTON COUNTY VIRGINIA 1853 TO 1861 (Frances Bibbins Latimer, Heritage Books, 1992); and
- INSTRUMENTS OF FREEDOM, DEEDS AND WILLS OF EMANCIPATION, NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, VIRGINIA, 1782 TO 1864 (Frances Bibbins Latimer, Heritage Books, 1994).
Both are invaluable sources of information about the family. Not the least of which is the carefully noted physical descriptions. With a distinct lack of photographs, this is the closest I can come to getting a sense of their appearance. The image blow is a perfect example:
As with other free black families I’ve covered, the Giddings/Giddens were largely a rural farming family. Collectively, they owned an impressive amount of land which stayed in the family for a considerable period of time. Indeed, Giddings and Giddens can still be found in their native Northampton County. The family’s connection with the county runs deep.
It always puts a smile on my face when I stumble across an African American family with such a history. I’m looking forward to delving more deeply into the family’s history to uncover more Roane-Giddings/Giddens unions.