An essential aspect of genealogy is the acceptance, more than understanding, that the ancestors will not let us be. It is as though the very act of researching the ancestors is akin to approaching a still lake with a serene and undisturbed surface which provides no inkling or clues to its depth.
Diving into that pool, and disrupting that flat surface, sends ripples and rings that flow outward in all directions. That act of disruption, and the tandem ripping rings, act as calling cards to the ancestors. Once you begin the research, and the names, histories, and stories of unknown or long-forgotten ancestors are re-remembered (I say re-remembered for they were known and loved before their names were lost to us), that act of discovery shoots out like those ripples across a pond. They are a calling card, an invitation to ancestors and kin keen to have their names spoken once more; keen to have their stories told.
You never know which ancestor or kinsperson will answer that call.
Julia Ella Bates Roane of Varina, Henrico County, Virginia
Julia Ella Bates Roane, my paternal grandmother’s mother, pulled me in to researching my Varina, Henrico County, Virginia roots. This research now encompasses the part of Henrico County along the James River, as well as neighboring Charles City and Goochland Conties.
Julia’s Bates ancestry is inextricably entwined and connected to the major estates dotted along the James River: from Chatsworth in the northwest quadrant; down to Curles Neck, Varina, Bermuda Hundred, Flowerdew Hundred and Bremo in the centre quadrant; over to Turkey Island in the eastern quadrant; and finally down Shirley and Westover to the south.
Julia’s Bates line, it would seem, were always in Varina – going all the way back to Piersey’s Flowerdew Hundred and John Rolfe’s Varina in the 1620s. A combination of records and DNA matches confirm this. This is the part of her history I am currently tackling.
Enslaved, her family’s history is linked to that of their enslavers: a complex, multi-layered succession of marriages between the enslaving Quaker Bates, Price, Jordan, Fleming, Woodson, and Pleasants families. The Bolling, Tarl(e)ton, and Crump family also feature in her Bates family history. Her ancestors and kin were passed between these closely inter-related families up and down the James River, into Goochland County, Charles City County, Prince Edward County, and Chesterfield County. DNA has provided ambulance evidence these families were not just the enslavers of Julia’s family. They were also her family’s blood relations. However, as the saying goes, that’s another story for another day.
My embarkment into this odyssey of discovery led me to a rather poignant discovery.
I had traced one of Julia’s kinsmen’s group to John Pleasants III (1698-1772) – the Quaker convert whose Will rocked Virginia’s elite. He freed nearly 1,000 enslaved people in a Will due to an act of religious conscience. To be clear, only those enslaved people who were 30 years old, or older, were immediately freed from the bondage of slavery. All those under the age of thirty had to wait until they were of that age to be freed. I have no idea, at this point in my research, why thirty years of age was the magic number. It was, and that’s kind of that.
Researching some of the newly liberated people brought me to Cuffy, a man whose descendants I share DNA with on a number of chromosomes. His line was one of the first I have successfully traced down to the present day.
Freeing so many enslaved people, many of whom were in the possession of John Pleasants’ immediate family, was bound to be problematic. In this case, his dying wish led to a court case: Pleasants vs Pleasants (https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/VIRGINIA_In_the_High_Court_of_Chancery_MARCH_16_1798) This court case has been the only place where I learned the names of the enslaved people held by John Pleasants, as well as their age and/or year of birth.
It is where I found Cuffy:
Cuffy Pleasants, listed with some of his known siblings and extended family members. Aged 26 in 1799, we can determine his year of birth was around 1769. Since he was over the age of 30, at the time of John Pleasants’ death, he was freezing immediately. The lawsuit also states where he was at the time of John’s death: with John’s son, Samuel Pleasants, in Henrico County, Virginia. Click for larger image
I can’t explain what it was about Cuffy that called out to me. Was it because he was the only Cuffy in a staggering list of enslaved people’s names? Perhaps. Something did call out to me…and I followed.
I had a distinctive name to research. I knew where he was around 1799/1800: with Samuel Pleasants in Henrico County. I also had an approximate year of birth for him: 1769. Let’s face it, for those of you who have followed my work over the years, I’ve had far less information to work with than this, and made some remarkable discoveries. I didn’t just jump into the proverbial lake: I did a cannonball.
Armed with what I knew, it didn’t take me long to find Cuffy.
The natural place to start were the 1790s and early 1800s tax lists for Henrico County. It was the logical place to begin my search. It was the county of his birth. It was the place he knew intimately. It was where his roots were – as well as his family.
In the image above, Cuffy (Cuff) was counted as a tithable (taxable, in other words) adult in 1783.
In 1801, Cuffy is once again a free landholder, and paying taxes in his own right. At this stage of my research, his one tithable is his son, Cuffy Pleasants, Jr.
As of 1801, Cuffy is now known as Cuffy Peasants. DNA strongly suggests he was a Pleasant by blood. By which he didn’t take the name because he was enslaved by the Pleasants family, or liked the name. He took the name he was biologically entitled to take.
He is also living near some of his siblings and their children.
In 1803, Cuffy’s taxable estate includes a horse. Cuffy, Jr was the head of his own household at this point. The other Pleasants listed in the image above were his brothers.
1813 is the last time I see Cuffy in the Henrico tax list. However, this isn’t the last record for him.
The 1810 US Federal Census for Henrico County. Cuffy is the third name up from the bottom of the list. Click for a larger image
Cuffy’s online record turns cold in 1813. It will take a trip to Virginia to access the records for the Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865 Henrico County (Va.) records. As a free person of color, Cuffy would have been legally obligated to formally register as such. These records will (hopefully!) have more information about him, his children, and his extended family.
My “go to” resource for researching free people of color, Paul Heinegg’s superb Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina: From the Colonial Period to About 1820 is quiet on the Pleasants family. They are a family he either hasn’t researched, or hasn’t published information about.
I’m not going to lie. I became more than a little emotional with Cuffy’s journey. Tears started to well up when I saw that 1803 tax list. He was taxable on a horse…but it was his horse, which he had on his land. Which was more than he would have ever had had he remained enslaved.
He toiled on his land, and reaped the benefits of his own labor – rewards which wouldn’t automatically go to anyone else. He could put his hands into the rich earth and know that it was his, and would be the land of his descendants. He could have been as poor as a church mouse financially, but he was rich in ways I won’t be able to fully, really grasp. He was free – something that he couldn’t have ever envisioned or for seen for himself throughout his life, until a Will probated in 1772 said he was.
In this regard, he must have felt as rich as the ancient king, Croesus.
I’ve been researching my paternal Hale family in Wythe and Grayson Counties for the past three or so years. This hasn’t been a particularly easy family to research. They are one of the few families comprised of free people of color (fpoc) who haven’t been extensively researched. Like my Hill, Carpenter, Clark, Kenny/Kinney, and Robertson kin, who were also fpoc in the same region of southwest Virginia, very little has been written about them.
When you factor in the majority European and Native American Hale family branches…it is one enormous and sprawling family that encompasses the four corners of America.
I had a pretty good foundation for this specific ancestral line via census returns. However, I knew there were large gaps that included plenty of missing people. Nor did I have a clue about how my direct Hale lines connected with the wider Hale family in Lancaster, Bedford, and Essex Counties in Virginia. Much less the older branches of the family in New England.
A message from ‘GingerGirl’, a Hale family relation, via Ancestry.com changed all of that. She suggested I take a look at Eastern Cherokee Applications (ECAs) on Fold3. The existence of ECAs came as news to me. Turns out, this tip was quite the revelation. The myriad of Hale family ECAs on Fold 3 enabled me to finally tackle my Hales. Not only tackle them…but connect the dots between different Hale family groups scattered across Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.
I have one suggestion, before I continue. I recommend checking this resource out if you have ancestors who were fpoc. I have found missing fpoc ancestors and kin from the Bird/Byrd, Drew, Findley, Hathcock/Haithcock/Heathcock, and Walden families, among others, through their ECA applications.
So what kinds of genealogy information do these applications have?
Plenty. I’m going to use cousin Jerome Hale’s EPA as an example.
The image above is a pretty standard application cover page. It has the applicant’s name, as well as the application roll number assigned to their case. In the case of Jerome, his ECA number was 41355. You can also use this number to search for any other EPA attached to an applicant’s file. As you can probably imagine, entire families submitted individual applications. Making a note of each ECA roll number enables you to cross-reference and cross-check information. There’s also a date stamp. I use this date when updating the then-current residency information on an individual’s page on Ancestry.com .
The page above has a wealth of basic genealogy-related information:
The applicant’s full name, including any Native American name they might have had
Current residency information
Age at the time of application, and the birth date the applicant used
Place of birth
Marital status, including the name of a spouse
Tribal affiliation. OK, we’re talking abuot Eastern Cherokee aplications, so it’s no surprise that the tribal affililation is going to be Cherokee. However, I have seen a handful of references to a parent who was Choctaw, Shawnee, or Powhatan
The names, ages, and dates of birth for the applicant’s children
Parents’ names, as well as their place of birth
There’s a bit of a mystery around Jerome’s father, William. William vacillated between the surnames Clark, Hale (Haile), and Kinney (Kinney) when he was younger.Frankly, his habit of chopping and changing between 3 different surnames has made him a nightmare to research. Part of the problem is the identity of his father is unknown. His mother, Phyllis, used the surname Kenney/Kinney; whether this name was through birth or marriage is also uncertain.
I’m left wondering where these surnames came from. And, more importantly, what these surnames meant to them. Names are a fundamental part of anyone’s identity. These surnames clearly meant something to Phyllis and William. What they meant to them, however, remains unclear.
This also raises a question about the relationship between my Clarks who were free and my Clarks who were enslaved. Both groups have origins in Grayson County before a removal to Wythe County. Both groups share a tri-racial – European, African, and Native American – ancestry. The two groups, including descendants, also married each other in Wythe County. DNA matches suggest both Clark family groups shared a common Clark ancestor. Who that person was remains unknown.
What this page tells me is that Jerome’s father, William, finally settled on Clark as his family name, which matches later Census returns for him. His wife, Selia/Celia, and their children also chopped and changed between using the names Kinney/Kenney and Hale; finally settling upon Hale as their family name.
The page above also has basic, yet crucial information:
Parents’ place of residence in 1851. Seemingly innocuous, this is an important piece of information to have. There are times when I can’t locate ancestors or kin on the 1850 Census. It’s simply due to not knowing where a person was living, especially if they had a common name. Even more so if they moved around frequently. and my Hales moved around quite a bit. I couldn’t find Jerome’s parents in the 1850 Census, for instance. Once I knew where they were in 1851, I went back and finally found them in the 1850 Census.
The names and residences of siblings. Again, this is pure gold dust. With other family ECAs, I discovered the applicant had siblings that I hadn’t discovered in my other research efforts. Or, I could finally make a connection between a few different family groups. Even better, depending on the thoroughness of the applicant, I also discovered if an applicant’s mother remarried, thus having a different surname – as well as discovering the married names for sisters. Having a woman’s correct surname at a certain date point enabled me to find them in vital records, etc.
Last, but by no means least, you can have 3 generations’ worth of family lineages provided, as in the case above.
There are a few things to unpack regarding the dates used in the ECAs
The dates of 1834-5 and 1851 were important due to various treaties signed between the Eastern Cherokee and the US government. Basically, the US government wanted confirmation that an application has been a member of the Eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties of 1835 (Treaty of New Echota, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_New_Echota ), or 1836 (Treaty of Bowles Village with the Republic of Texas), or 1843 (Treaty of Bird’s Fort with the Republic of Texas, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Bird’s_Fort ) between the United States and the Eastern Cherokee.
These dates don’t seem to be hard and fast excluders if an ancestor wasn’t a recognized as an Eastern Cherokee tribe member at those date points. I’m still researching this to determine what tripwire/minefield these 3 date points represent for a prospective applicant. Bureaucracy is a demanding mistress. Those year dates are far from arbitrary. They are there for a multitude of reasons. Treaty years is but one.
The year 1851 has to do with the Drennen Roll. This roll was a post Trail of Tears. This roll logged payments made to Cherokees living to the west of the Mississippi River. These Cherokees were removed from the eastern United States to the west of the Mississippi River as a result of an 1835. The roll was prepared by John Drennen, and contains the name of the person to be paid, their Cherokee district, and information about their family group.
Back to the genealogy nuggets of gold
I’ve included the image above just to illustrate the affidavit part of the process. Like any other legal matter, affidavits were part and parcel of this process.
Other Hale family ECA’s contain additional genealogy nuggets that are pure gold. Like the letter below, which is part of Silas Hale’s ECA. Silas was Jerome’s cousin. Below is a letter written by Silas to the US Court of Claims regarding his own application.
This is a very simple letter. Yet, I love this for so many reasons. The first is that Silas could clearly read and write. Given that this was 1907, it’s something that can’t be take for granted. It’s also pretty cool to see an ancestor’s 100+ year old writing. The vocabulary and penmanship tells me something about Silas. Considering this was a chasing letter, it’s pretty polite.
Appl. #37721 | May 15, 1908
Relative to your application for participation in the Eastern Cherokee Fund, please state whether you, your parents, or grandparents ever resided with the Cherokee tribe. If so, state when and where. Were you, your parents, or grandparents recognized as white people, Indians or negroes in the communities in which you and they have resided?
Why was the parent through whom you claim not enrolled in 1851, and where was he or she residing in 1834-5, if living at the time? Where were your grandparents on the side through which you claim residing in 1834-5?
If your parents or grandparents were slaves, state whether slaves of Indians or white people.
The vast majority of Hale ECAs were rejected. The usual reason cited was a lack of documentary evidence to prove their Cherokee ancestry. There were other factors at play. The letter below, from Charles Hale (another cousin), is a not so subtle hint that family members knew the forces that were at play regarding their applications.
The sentence “under misapprehension in having this application filled out” speaks volumes. He clearly knew exactly what was at stake.
Silas’s response to the letter he received follows below. He too knew what was at stake. I include it to illustrate some of the key genealogical information that can be gleaned through these applications.
I apologize for not transcribing it. I’ll readily admit that I struggled with the cursive writing. However, the parts I could easily read again had important genealogy information:
Silas stated that his grandparents and parents were recognized as Cherokee, although not formally enrolled in the tribe;
His mother was Cherokee and European
He believed the reason why his father hadn’t enrolled in 1851 was due to his leaving Cherokee territory for Virginia. Which, as it turned out, was true. His mother had already died by 1851; and;
That his grandparents were resident in Cherokee territory in 1834-5. In fact, all of them had died in Cherokee territory.
Again, it provides a concise little genealogy covering his parents and grandparents: their names and where they were living at key dates.
Like the majority of other Hale ECAs, Silas’s was rejected.
I love these ECAs for the information they contain. They equally frustrate me. I keep asking myself how the Court of Claims could expect people living in remote areas in the early to mid-1800s to have gathered – much less think about –legal/official proof of Cherokee affiliation. You’re busy just trying to deal with the hurly burly of everyday life and providing for your family. Time is an issue. Do you take the one or two days necessary to ride into town to enroll as a member of a Native American tribe or do you tend to whatever your source of income and/or subsistence was? Many of my Hales were farmers. A day or two away from the farm was simply out of the question.
Enrollment and/or documentary proof may, or may not, have required money. If so, where was that money to come from? These were not rich people. I know I probably wouldn’t have spent the money or time to prove something that my family, and others who knew my family, already knew to be true.
I also can’t take literacy for granted. Regardless of race. If multiple generations of a family were illiterate, there would be no one to write such proofs down for posterity.
These were also people who moved about. Frequently. Even if they had the inclination, time, and money, to register – it’s an easy thing to lose or misplace papers with each move you make. There’s one Hale family group who went from North Carolina, to Virginia, then on to Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and were ultimately removed to Oklahoma. That’s a whole lot of moving. Considering they only had access to horses and wagons, this is actually quite impressive. However, there were a whole lot of opportunities to lose important papers, should those papers have existed in the first place.
This is the other aspect of ECAs that I find interesting. The historical context, the backdrop as it were, that impacted upon the lives of these applicants. History and genealogy do indeed go hand in hand. These applications provide us with real glimpses into both.
I’ve been meaning to write about Pleasant Roane for quite a while. I’ve always felt badly that other research and other stories commanded my attention more, and overshadowed his tale. Well, as much of his tale as I’m aware of. It’s quite the interesting tale.
I’ve also been surprised that I see to be the only Roane family descendant researching Pleasant. Mine is the only family tree in which he appears. This, in part, probably has to do with the obscurity of his origins. Any Roane would be proud to claim him.
So what prompted my interest? He is one of a handful of my enslaved ancestors who sued for his freedom…and then sued the State of Virginia to be allowed to remain in the state once he was freed.
Virginia had a statute on the books that slaves freed after 1806 had to leave the state or suffer re-enslavement (see http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/_An_ACT_to_amend_the_several_laws_concerning_slaves_1806). The only means by which a person freed from slavery after 1806 had to remain in-state was to sue the state and hope the state would find in their favour. This was by no means guaranteed. The reason why they would wish to remain is pretty simple: while they were free, other members of their family (i.e. spouse, children, siblings, etc) remained in slavery.
Access to the court wasn’t simple and straightforward for African-descended people. A 19th Century person of colour, by law, could not sue the state or a person of European heritage. Not at the State or Federal level. A person of colour needed a European-descended person to bring a suite on their behalf, or act as their guardian and act as a proxy in order for a suit to be heard in court. In the eyes of the law, people of colour had a legal status similar to a minor. That’s the short form backdrop to Pleasant’s story.
I know little about Pleasant’s origins. He’s believed to have been born in Bedford County, Virginia. An approximate year of birth remains elusive. His first child with a known birth year, Charles, was born around 1815. Estimating that Pleasant was around 20 years old when Charles was born, a plausible birth year for Pleasant would be somewhere between 1780 and 1795.
His court papers provide some of his history. He was enslaved by John Depriest, his first verified enslaver, in Campbell, Virginia. There will be an earlier – and as of yet undiscovered – link to the Roane family. He saved Depriest from drowning. There’s no known indication regarding how Depriest felt about this selflessness. However, not long afterwards, Pleasant was sold and entered Robert C Steptoe’s household.
DATE: Aug 1823 (proved 25 Aug 1823)
PARTIES: Pleasant HAYTHE, Cornelius CRENSHAW and RandolphDEPRIEST, of Campbell County to Robert C. STEPTOE of Bedford County
DOCUMENT TYPE: Bill of Sale
SOURCE: Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 18, p363
SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT: “a male slave named Pleasant,otherwise Pleasant Rowan”
COMMENTS: Pleasant Rowan was sold to Robert C. Steptoe for $390.
Steptoe was resident in Bedford County, and closely allied with the slave owning Roane family, which provides some initial and interesting indications of how Pleasant was related to the Roane family.
I don’t know whether it was Pleasant or Steptoe who had the idea of freeing Pleasant from slavery. What is known is that a suit for Pleasant’s freedom was filed in Campbell County, the county where Lynchburg is situated, in 1824.
DATE: 1 April 1824
PARTIES: Robert C. STEPTOE to Pleasant ROWAN
DOCUMENT TYPE: Deed of Emancipation
SOURCE: Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 19, p43
SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT: Pleasant ROWAN
COMMENTS: “for and in consideration of the general good character and conduct of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life-time of his former master and owner John Depriest, late of the County of Campbell, in endeavoring to secure and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril and hazard of his own:
Wherefore I the said Robert C. Steptoe for and in consideration of the premises & especially the act last mentioned: Have liberated, emancipated & from the shackles of slavery set free, and by these presents do liberate, emancipate and from the shackles of slavery forever set free the said Pleasant Roane alias Pleasant Rowan.”
James Hendrick and Nathan Read were witness to this deed.
An image of the view of the Old Marketplace in Lynchburg, dated 1875. Image from King’s The Great South, published in 1875.
It appears that Pleasant, a skilled carpenter, was already resident in Lynchburg shortly before he was freed in 1824. Reviewing records, he seemed to have a great deal of liberty within the confines of enslavement under Stepoe. He hired himself out, an arrangement that Steptoe seems to have encouraged. He also appears to have had his own household, again, apparently with the blessing of Steptoe. While not free, he certainly moved with a great deal of freedom within Lynchburg.
Another suite was brought in 1826 for Pleasant to remain in Virginia, near his wife, Nancy Stewart, and the four children who were born prior to 1826. Nancy and Pleasant’s 4 children remained enslaved. His wife and children were free by 1830 census. I’m assuming at this point that, he had saved enough money, through his hard work and industry, to buy their freedom. His children who were born after 1830 were all born free.
There are a few things that stand out in his 1826 suit to remain in Virginia. The first is the number of European-descended people who vouched for his good character and industry. It’s a slight exaggeration, yet, it seems as though half the European-descended population of Lynchburg came out in defense of Pleasant to remain as part of their community. Beloved may be over-egging the pudding. Nonetheless, their testimony paints a picture of a man who was indeed respected, admired, and valued by many within his community.
I don’t know what prompted Robert Steptoe from taking this course of action. Perhaps, one day, one of his descendants can fill in this part of the story. I, for one, thank the cosmos that he did. It was far, far from being a straightforward endeavour.
Pleasant’s children and descendants would become part of the African American bourgeoisie, as well as leaders within the religious and Civic spheres of Lynchburg.
As you read through the court records (with transcripts) that follow below, I’d ask you to keep this thought at the back of your mind: this is what a African-descended person of good, sober, and unblemished conduct had to endure in order to remain in the state of his or her birth once freed from slavery.
I haven’t been able to access the original records in order to make better copies than those which appear below. You will find the original filings and court papers along with an accompanying transcriptions for each image. The original images are small and difficult to read (hence the transcriptions). However, I am mightily indebted to the Library of Virginia for digitizing these records and making them available for free online via http://www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/13404/40948.
Robert Steptoe’s Manumission Petition for Pleasant Roane
To the Honorable the Speakers and members of the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia – The petition of Pleasant Rowan a freeman of Color respectfully sheweth [sic] – That on the first day of April in the year 1825, your petitioner was in due form of law emancipated by Robert E. [Steploe?] Esqr of the county of Bedford (in Virginia). As will fully appear by reference to the original deed of emancipation herewith exhibited and marked – From an inspection of that document, it will be found that in addition to his general good character and conduct an act of extraordinary merit was likewise one of the inducements to his emancipation, and from this Your Honorable bodies might with some plausibility conclude that his present application should in strict [propriety?] have been addressed to the court of the county in which he was emancipated, and not to the Legislature. Upon this point your petitioner begs leave to be indulged with a few words of explanation. Your petitioner in common with a majority of the people of his condition has never been blessed with the [lights?] and advantages of learning and education, and savoring the little information he has picked up in his unequal intercourse with the enlightened part of society, he is yet in the condition of native ignorance. In such circumstances prudence seems to dictate the propriety of relying upon the counsels of the better informed. By these he had been advised that the provisions of the law which conferd [sic] on the county courts power & jurisdiction to hear and determine applications like the present are so [illegible] limited & restricted as to promise nothing but defeat and [discon?], results which are rendered infinitely more intolerable by the reflection, that the same law especially inhibits a second application, no matter from what cause the first failure may have proceeded – For the [illegible] of these remarks your petitioner begs leave to refer generally to the 62nd Section of the act” concerning Slaves, free negroes [sic] and mulattoes” 1.Vol.Rev:Code of 1819.h43b, but more especially
Leave to remain in Virginia Court affidavits
[written on left side of page]
to that part of the section quoted which requires the presence of a majority of the acting magistrates of the county whenever such application shall be acted upon – Your petitioner is advised that in almost every other instance in which the laws require the presence of a majority of the justices to act upon a specified subject, they at the same time provide for the contingency of their failure to [illegible], by declaring that a summons duly executed requiring their attendance for the contemplated [illegible], shall be held to be a [illegible] compliance with the law, and that the justices attending the [illegible] that a majority may proceed in the discharge of the prescribed duty – But in a case like the present, when an application is made in behalf of a manumitted slave for leave of residence; no matter how [illegible] all the forms of law may [illegible] been complied with, no matter what [illegible] may have been made to procure their attendance, yet if the required majority be not actually present, the court have no authority to proceed – Your petitioner need I [casualy?] remind your honorable body of the degraded condition of most of that unfortunate race of people with which it is his misfortune to be connected – Denied the use and enjoyment of many of the most valuable rights and priveleges [sic] of free men: Subjected in all cases of offences to the most [illegible] as actions of penal law; and sunk by long settled and inveterate opinion into a state of contempt & degradation the most deplorable, their personal influence, unaided by legal coercion, [illegible] hope to do but like towards convencing [sic] a majority of the justices of a county, even when the most interesting publick [sic] sessions, much less where such convention concerned their own personal interest – Yet not withstanding these appalling difficulties your petitioner was prompted in order to afford a more complete foundation for his present application, to attempt the [illegible] prescribed by law of applying to the county court for relief, he accordingly at the last March [illegible] of the county court of Campbell applied to the said court for an
[written on right side of page]
order directing the magistrates of said county to be summoned to take into consideration his petition for leave to reside in said county – as well fully appear by reference to a copy of said order herewith exhibited [illegible]
they were accordingly summoned but failed to attend and thus the anticipation of your petitioners advisers were fully [illegible] – From hence if evidently appears that all hope of bringing his application before the county court is utterly vain unless [illegible] some occasion of publick [sic] interest should call together majority of the justices, a contingency not to be relied upon [illegible] any safety, especially by one whose liberty is every moment [illegible] to for future under the existing laws – Your petitioner trusts that in the considerations thus suggested our honorable body discern a reasonable excuse for his present application – He is well aware of the strong prejudices, almost universally prevalent against people of his condition, insomuch that they are generally regarded as a nuisance rather than a benefit to society. Yet he [illegible] that however [illegible] this opinion may [illegible] in General. The respectable testimonials herewith exhibited [illegible] be sufficient in your minds to make him an Honorable [illegible].
Your petitioner in conclusion would respectfully state that many years prior to his emancipation, he intermarried with a slave the property of Mr. Richard Walker of Bedford, by and with the consent of her master, that he has by her four small children for whom he cherishes a fond & [illegible] affection and this connection it is hoped will have its due weight in and of the present application; should it fail, he will be reduced to one of two dire alternatives, either he must forfeit his freedom [continued in the next image and transcription below].
so likely acquired or preserve it by removeing [sic] to a distant state and at once burst [assunder?] those tender ties of affection & feelings which are most deeply implanted in the Human heart –
In [illegible] consideration of the premises your petitioner prays that a law may be passed by the legislature authoriseing [sic] him to reside in the county of Campbell, Virginia, under such conditions the [illegible] [at?] to the legislature may seem [illegible] And as in duly bound your petitioner will ever pray [illegible]
Pleasant Rowan [his mark]
]written in meddle of page]
Petition of Pleasant Rowan for Leave to reside in the County of Campbell
Decr[sic] 28th 1826 ref’d to Ct of J
Wm M Rives
1827 Jany [sic] 2. Reasonable
[written on right side of page]
[Pleasant] on P Rowan [illegible][illegible] for several years [illegible][illegible] of [illegible][illegible] by whom he had several children. The [illegible] has [illegible] [illegible] to [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] attention to his conduct, with [illegible] him to be [illegible] [illegible] as a likable carpenter. I have [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] of a [illegible]. Rich’d Walker [illegible]
I add my testimony to that of Mr. Walker in stating that the character of Pleasant stands uncommonly fair as a peaceable, sober, industrious and honest man – His [illegible] in [receiving?] matters is as good as that of any white person of moderate circumstances. He is entirely humble in his deportment nor have I ever heard a vice of any kind alleged against him. He has a wife, the slave of Mr. Richard Walker, in my immediate neighbourhood [sic], and I believe five young children from whom he will be separated unless he be permitted to remain in the State of Virginia.
November 15th 1825
I have been acquainted with the above named Pleasant for several years and have employed at [illegible] times to [illegible] work for me in his line of business, and always considered him an honest respectable man, and have never heard anything to his prejudice and thinks he deserves the character given him by the Gentlemen above named. Given under my hand this [illegible] of November 1825. John Waltz
The above [illegible] on P Rowan, (some years ago) did some Carpentry work for me and he appear’d while doing it, a very Sober, Industrious, honest man. Given this 16th Nov. 1825. Harlan Reid
[written on left side of page]
Pleasant or Pleasant Rowan, a free Man of Colour [sic], has worked for me for some years past as a Carpenter – I consider him a Man of uncommon worth. Js. Steploe Nov. 17. 1825
Pleasant or Pleasant Roan a free man of Colour [sic] I have known from his Infancy first as a slave and him as a free man in both capacitys [sic] he has always supported a good character. I have even considered him a remarkable well behaved honest Industrious sober man. I believe him to be a valuable carpenter. I know of no coloured [sic] man more deserving a residence in the State – William Clements Campbell County November 21st 1823
Certificates J. Steploe & others
[written on right side of page]
Pleasant is a colour’d [sic] man that I have long known, first as a slave & hence, as free man in both capacitys [sic] he has at all times supported a good character as a well behaved, honest, Industrious Man, he is a good mechanic as a Carpenter, & presume he whould [sic] be a loss to the neighbourhood [sic] in which he resides if remov’d [sic] therefrom – given in Campbell County – 12 Novr 1825 M Lambeth ~ Jacob White
I have been acquainted with Pleasant [illegible] numbers of years and think he deserves the characters given him by the gentlemen above named. John [illegible] 15. Nov. 1825
[written on right side of page]
Campbell County Va November 2nd 1825
I have Rec’d the [illegible] Certificates obtained by Pleasant a free man of colour [sic] and I can only add that he is deserving the character given him by the Gentlemen that [has?] given him their certificates of his character and have long known him both as a slave and [since?] he has been emancipated and never knew or heard anything to his prejudice. Given November 1825 John [Alexander?]
[written on left side of page]
M Lambeth [illegible]
[written on right side of page]
Campbell April Court 1826
On the petition of Pleasant Rowan It is ordered that the Justices of this County be summoned to appear at the next Term of this court to take into consideration the petition of said Rowan for leave to reside within this commonwealth it appearing to the Court that such notice of his petition has been given as the law required. Teste John Alexander Clk [sic]
Upon which order the Sheriff made the following return “Executed on William C. McAllister, Edward B Withers, John E Woodson, Adam Clement, Thomas Harvey, Richard Harvey, Richard Perkins, James Bullock, Meredith Lambert, Thomas Callaway, Henry T Early, Joseph McAllister, Alexander Austin, Samuel Pannill – Rich’d Morgan DS for [illegible] West Shff” [illegible] Teste Jno Alexander Clk
I James Hendrick to hereby certify that I was the counsel of Pleasant Rowan in his application to the county court for leave to reside in the State of Virginia – I do further state that I was present at Campbell May Court 1826 & that a majority of the court did not attend at that term according to the summons as annexed & furthermore I do certify that from my experience in such matters it is exclusively difficult if not impossible to get a competent court in such cases – J. Hendrick 13 Decem. 1836
[written on left side of page]
Order for Pleasant Rowan ~~
[written on right side of page]
I have know Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan a free man of color for several years, which times, I have had many opportunities to observe his general conduct and deportment. The result of my observation is a belief that he is an honest, industrious, sober, and discreet man – I know him to be a useful mechanic – and as far as concerns myself I should regret his being compelled to leave the neighborhood – Given under my hand this 26th Novr 1825 J. Hendrick
[written on left side of page]
J. Hendricks Certificate
[written on right side of page]
To all & singular persons to whom these [illegible] shall [illegible] by [illegible] – Know ye That I Robert C Steploe of the County of Bedford & State of Virginia for & in consideration of the general good conduct and character of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave, and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life time of his former master and [illegible] John Depriest late of the county of Campbell, in endeavoring to reserve and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril & hazard of his own, Therefore, I the said Robert C Steploe for and in consideration of the promise especially the act last mentioned have Liberated, Emancipated from the shackles of Slavery forever set free the said Slave, Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan – In testimony whereof I the said Robert C Steploe have hereunto set my hand & seal this the first day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & twenty four Signed, sealed & delivered In presence of J. Hendrick
Robt C Steploe seal
[written on left side of page at bottom]
At a Court held for Bedford County at the Courthouse the 27th day of December 1824. This [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] was exhibited in Court proved by the oaths of James Hendrick and Nathan Read subscribing witnesses & ordered to be recorded – Teste [illegible] Steploe C.B.C.
Robert C. Steploe to Pleasant Rowan
Disp of Emancipation
1824 December 27th
Rec’d & Ord to be rec’d
Recorded Page 43 Book L & Ex’d
[written on right side of page]
I hereby certify that I have been acquainted with Pleasant Roan free man of colour [sic] and a carpenter by trade for several years and do now consider him an honest, industrious, and good conditioned man and have heard many persons speak highly of him and never heard any thing otherwise. Rich’d [illegible] Bedford [illegible] Nov 1825
Court ruling on Pleasant’s leave to remain in Virginia
Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, That the petition of Pleasant Rowan, a man of colour, of the county of Campbell, who has been lately emancipated, praying that he may be allowed by law to remain as a free man in the said county, where he has a wife and children who are slaves, is reasonable.
Timing seems to be everything when it comes to genealogy. You can search and search for clues to mysteries for ages. And then *BOOM*, out of the blue, something amazing can happen.
I’ve been engaged in deep research on ancestors who lived in early 19th Century Northampton, Warren, and Halifax Counties in North Carolina. Out of the blue, Fontaine, a Sheffey cousin, forwarded a video to me. He’d had no idea I’d returned to researching these North Carolina counties. He’d forwarded it to me in the hopes it might have some answers when it came to his father’s maternal lineage. At that point, we had no idea that we were related in any other way besides the Sheffey family of Wythe County, Virginia. It turns out, we share some North Carolina lineages too.
The video below is the one he brought to my attention. The video didn’t specifically, help me in my research with his father’s maternal line. However, it certainly answered some questions about what became of some of my own maternal ancestors who had seemingly vanished into the ether. The families involved were: Bass, Byrd, Scott, Stuart/Stewart, and Walden/Waldron.
The answer to what happened to them was pretty simple in the end. They had removed themselves from North Carolina to settle in Indiana. I won’t spoil the video. Their journey is a remarkable story.
I’ve been making one discovery after another when it comes to my ancestral kin who were both people of colour and American Revolutionary War veterans. I’ve found records for hundreds of kinsmen who were fpoc within my extensive ancestral extended family who served in many different capacities during the American Revolution.
Moses Byrd, born around 1745, is another interesting discovery. Moses was a musician in Lewis’ Company of the North Carolina Continental Line in Halifax County, North Carolina, in 1776. He seems to have disappeared from active duty in January 1778.
He mustered again in Taylor’s Company for 2-1/2 years in January 1779. [Clark, The State Records of North Carolina, XVI:1012, 1024, XVII: 192]. As a fpoc, he was legally obliged to register in his home county. He was a “Mulatto” taxable in Southampton County in 1802 [PPTL 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615]. There is usually a brief physical description fo the free person of colour in question included in the registration records. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find such a description for Moses.
He was taxable in Southampton County from 1782 to 1803: taxable on a horse and 4 cattle from 1782 to 1787, taxable on Asa Byrd [believed to be Moses’s nephew] in 1788, taxable on Thomas Byrd [Moses’s son] in 1795, called a “Mulatto” in 1802 [PPTL 1782-92; frames 508, 544, 634, 655, 705, 755, 812, 869; 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615].
He was living in Northampton County, North Carolina, before 2 January 1807 when he made his Northampton County will, proved March 1808 [WB 2:362]. He left most of his estate to his wife, whose name remains unknown.
This is his life, as it’s currently known, in a nutshell.
Musicians in the Revolutionary War
I was curious about the exact nature of his war service. Naturally, I did some digging. I know he was a musician. However, the records don’t specify what instrument or instruments he played. I did, however, manage to unearth accounts of what army musicians did during the war.
It turns out that Moses was probably a part of the Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps. 18th Century Army musicians had a dual role. The first was as a communication channel. There were no walkie talkies, radios, or quick forms of mass communication on the 18th Century battlefield. Musicians were a practical means of long distance communication. Anyone who lives within a mile of a sports arena today can attest to how far the sounds of drums, fifes (think flutes), and horns can carry!
The second apart of a musician’s service during the was was providing entertainment for the army camps. In other words, morale boosters.
The fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be heard from great distances and even through the sounds of a battlefield. Fifers and drummers would provide the music for all of the things that soldiers would need to do throughout the day. They would play tunes in the camp, on the battlefield, or for a march…
On the battlefield, musicians had the responsibility of helping keep order in battle and make sure the soldiers functioned well as a unit. Drummers would play beatings telling the soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called Cease Fire that fifers and drummers would play to tell the soldiers to stop firing at the end of a battle while a tune called Parley was used to signal to the enemy that a surrender or peace talk was desired.
Now that I had a very basic understanding of the service Moses provided during the war, I wanted to find out more about the battles he would have been a part of. It turns out, he was involved in a quite a few.
Micajah Lewis, Captain of the 1st and 4th North Carolina Regiments
The first half of Moses’s war service was under Capt. Micajah Lewis (yep, another kinsman from my extended family) as part of the 4th North Carolina Regiment. This speaks to an important historical fact where Moses’s genealogy is concerned: he had already left Southampton, Virginia for North Carolina when he joined Maj Lewis’s regiment. Established on 15 April 1776, this means Moses was resident in North Carolina by 1776.
What’s interesting to me is that he was taxable in two states during an over-lapping period between 1790 and 1802: Halifax and Northampton Counties in North Carolina and Southampton County in Virginia. While he would ultimately come to permanently reside in Northampton, North Carolina…he was clearly going back and forth from North Carolina to Virginia. He is far from being alone. I have swathes of ancestral kin who were fpoc moving back and forth from North Carolina and Virginia before permanently residing in North Carolina. I remain mystified as to why. What was happening in the early decade of the American Republic that caused thousands of fpoc to ping pong between these two states for two to three decades? I digress, but only in the name of genealogy!
The website The American Revolution in North Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_nc_fourth_regiment.html) has an excellent overview about the Regiment and its war activities. In its early stages, the Regiment was moved from place to place. In the Fall of 1778, the 4th NC Regiment was re-organized at Halifax, NC. This fits perfectly with when Moses enlisted. Halifax, NC was one of the ancestral centres for the extensive fpoc Bird/Byrds.
At this point, judging by the battle lists for 1778 in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, it appears that Moses may have been involved in skirmishes in South Carolina and Georgia…but saw no major action.
Moses was granted a land patent for his war service. The patent included a 274 acre land warrant granted in 1783 for his service in the American Revolution; evidently the tract of land was never claimed. It was returned to the State in 1821.
Roll #4, Book B-2, pg. 112-113, TN State Library & Archives State of North Carolina, No. 2332,…..granted unto John Gray Blount and Thomas Blount assignees of Moses Byrd a private in the Continental Line of said state 274 acres of land in County of Davidson on the South side of the Harpeth River…..the upper part of Millers Bend?…..James Robertson’s West boundary… dated 20 May 1793. (The rest of the deed is very difficult to make out)
For whatever reason, this land grant doesn’t appear to have been claimed by Moses, or his wife, or his children. I have no record of him or his direct family members having any connection to Davidson County. To-date, they are associated with only two North Carolina Counties: Halifax and Northampton.
This land grant, however, is beginning to paint a picture of how some of my ancestral kin who were either poor whites or free people of colour came by medium-sized tracts of land after the Revolutionary War ended. Land that would have been out of their reach to purchase, was a form of payment and/or reward for services rendered. Even better, some of these land grants are still held by these families to this very day.
Updated 23 Sep 2016 with additional Bird/Byrd family groups
Reuben Byrd of Petersburg, Virginia and Orange County, North Carolina isn’t the first Colonial-era black ancestral family member I’ve found who served in the American Revolutionary War. However, he is the first black kinsman whose war records I’ve been able to access.
Finding those records was exhilarating, empowering, and bittersweet.
I’ve been researching four different Colonial-era Virginia Byrd families for quite a while in an effort to see if they were different branches of the same family, or unrelated families who shared the same surname. Just a note that this surname is also spelt Bird. However, I’m using Byrd, the variant most seem to have adopted. Each of these groups are my kinsmen and women via both of my parents’ ancestral lines in Virginia and the Carolinas.
The first group of Byrds are the descendants of Col William Evelyn “The Immigrant” Byrd I and Maria Horsmanden. This family group (relations through a nexus of marriages with Carters, Braxtons, Baylors, and Claiborn(e)s, in Virginia’s Tidewater region) are my kin via my paternal Roane line. They resided at the very apex of Virginia society.
The second group of Byrds are descendants of John Byrd and Margaret Dean of Augusta County – whose descendants were also resident in Wythe County and Grayson County in Virginia. This line is a combination of European, African and Native American. They are kinsmen via my paternal Sheffey line.
The 3rd group of Byrds are descendants of a white (presumably English) indentured servant, Margaret Bird, and an unknown enslaved African man. Margaret’s story begins in York County. Her descendants would come to reside in Petersburg, Essex County, and Southampton County in Virginia – as well as Northampton County, Halifax County, and Orange County in North Carolina. Reuben is a descendant of this line. This line connects to my maternal Lassiters, Joseys, Outlands, Peel(e)s, and Smallwoods in the same North Carolina counties.
The 4th group of Byrds were resident in Wythe County, Virginia. They were descendants of John Dennis Byrd and Senah Rachel Porter. It was previously assumed that Dennis and Senah were enslaved. This is an assumption that is now being reviewed and researched. This line of Byrds has connections via marriage with Byrd Group #2 and also shows Native American results in their DNA analysis.
The 5th group of Byrds were resident in Hillsborough, Virginia.Dr James Henry Byrd (a member of Byrd family group #2) married Alice Fravell Byrd of Hillsborough, Virginia. Alice was the daughter of John Henry Byrd I (of North Carolina and Indiana) and Rebekah Ann Hamilton White. Alice and a number of her siblings would settle in Hillsborough.
There is a much smaller group of Byrds in Colonial Powhatan, Virginia. Again, a combination of European, African, and Native American. To-date, my research for this ends around 1715. They simply seem to disappear from all official records.
So back to Reuben.
Like all free people of color in Antebellum Virginia (including the Colonial period), Reuben was required to register with his local court house. These registration records are a goldmine. They provide crucial family and vital records information, such as place of birth and place of residence. They also provide descriptions of the individual who was registering. Without paintings or sketches to go by, these descriptions are, in so many cases, the only means to catching a glimpse into what an ancestor looked like. In Reuben’s case, he was an Essex-County born head of a Petersburg household of 5 “other free” in 1810 [VA:121b]. He registered in Petersburg on 9 June 1810: a brown Mulatto man, five feet seven inches high, forty seven years old, born free in Essex County, a stone mason [Register of Free Negroes 1794-1819, no. 576]. He’s alternately cited as being a carpenter. Either way, he was a skilled craftsman.
In the course of researching Reuben, I came across two petitions he made for a pensions due to his service in the American Revolutionary War. In summary, he applied for a pension in Powhatan County on 15 June 1820 at the age of fifty-six years. He testified that he enlisted in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and served in Captain James Gunn’s regiment of dragoons under the direct command of Lieutenant William Gray.
Both battles were pivotal in the southern theatre of the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina was a contributing factor to the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Benjamin Sublett testified that he met Reuben, a sixteen or seventeen-year-old “Mulatto boy,” while serving in the Revolution in May 1780. Gabriel Gray testified that Reuben served as “Boman” (military slang for valet) to his brother Lieutenant William Gray [NARA, S.37776, M804-243, frame 0362].
Transcription of the Pension Application of Reuben Bird S37776 NC Virginia, Powhatan County
(Scans of the original appear after the transcription):
On this 15th day of June 1820 personally appeared in open court in the county court of Powhatan, in the state aforesaid, being a court of record Reuben Bird aged about fifty six years, according to the best estimate that can be made, who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the provision made by the acts of Congress of the 18th March 1818 and the 1st May 1820. that he, the said Reuben Bird enlisted for and during the war of the American Revolution in April or May in the year 1780 in Hillsborough in North Carolina in the Company commanded by Captain James Guinn in the Regiment of Dragoons commanded by Col. [Anthony Walton] White of Virginia; that he continued to serve in the said Corps until the peace came, when he was discharged from service in Culpepper [sic: Culpeper] county in the state of Virginia; That he was in no battle, he being a colored man, and kept as a Bowman, although he was very near the ground where several [battles] were fought, and that he has no other evidence now in his power of his said services except the certificates of Benjamin Sublett and Larkin Self [pension application S38363] herewith exhibited.
And in pursuance of the act of the 1st of May 1820 the said Reuben Bird solemnly made oath that he was a resident citizen of the United States on the 18th of March one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, and that he has not since that time, by gift, sale, or in any manner disposed of his property, or any part thereof, with intent thereby so to diminish it as to bring himself within the provisions of an act of Congress, entitled “An act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary war”, passed on the 18th day of March one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, and that he has not, nor has any person in trust for him any property or securities, contracts, or debts due to him, nor has he any income other than what is contained in the Schedule hereto annexed, and by him subscribed, to wit; Real and personal property none; he is by trade a Brick layer, and is not very able to pursue his trade in consequence of a Rupture, which obliges him to wear a Truss of Steel; his family consists of his wife, who is about 37 years old, and one child, a female about seven years old; his wife is healthy, and by her industry somewhat contributes to support the family.
(signed) Reuben Bird (his X mark)
16th October 1819. Powhatan County, to wit,
I was a Serjant in Captain William Mayo’s Company at the time of General Gates’ defeat at Campden in South Carolina [sic: Battle of Camden (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Camden) where Gen. Horatio Gates was defeated, 16 Aug 1780], and in the same company a mulatto boy appeared to be about the age of 16 or 17 years, by the name of Reuben Bird, who I believe enlisted under Captain James Gun [sic], in the town of Hilsbury, as we were on the way of our march to the South, and that for during the war; which I think was in the year
1780 sometime in May. (signed) Benjamin Sublett
Map of the Battle of Camden courtesy of http://www.britishbattles.com
Octo. 2nd 1818
I do herby surtyfy that Rubin Bird did inlist at the same time that I did at Hilsburrow in North Carlina before Gates defeat in the the month of April about the 15th 1780.
(Signed) Larkin Self
Virginia, to wit;
At a Court of Monthly Sessions holden for the county of Powhatan, in the state of Virginia aforesaid, at the Courthouse of the said County (being a Court of Record) on the 21st day of September 1820 Reuben Bird, a soldier of the Revolution, who made a declaration of his services in the Revolutionary War, in this court, on the 15th day of June last, under the acts of Congress of the 18th of March 1818 and of the first of May 1820, providing for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary war, in order to obtain a pension under the said acts of Congress, and a transcript of whose declaration, and of the evidence in support thereof, has been forwarded to the department of War of the United States, and returned for want of sufficient proof, this day again appeared in Court, and together with the said transcript, produced in Court an affidavit of Gabriel Gray [S8590], given before the Justice of the peace for the county of Culpepper, which affidavit was ordered to be entered of record, and is as follows, to wit; “I do hereby certify that the bearer Reuben Bird was Boman for my brother William Gray [BLWt1486-200] while he was Lieutenant in the horse service under the command of Col. White in the Southern Campaign of 1780 and 1781. Given under my
hand this 26th day of July 1820. Gab. Gray”
Click each image below for a larger image (each courtesy of the National Archives, Washington D.C.):
The last image in the sequence was my bittersweet moment. His petition was denied at first. I’m still working through my feelings on that. It does explain, however, why his name doesn’t appear in either the Daughters of the American Revolution database nor the Sons of the American Revolution Database. However, that first image, with Dollar amounts, seems to suggest that, in the end, he won the argument. I’ll need to track down the last parts of his file to know for certain.
So what did a wartime valet do?
I was curious about what a wartime valet actually did during this period. So I asked Tony, a war historian who specializes in 18th Century warfare (I love my British mates and contacts).
He would have been a jack of all trades. His duties apparently would have been quite varied:
Attending to the care of his officer’s uniform and non-military wardrobe;
Ensuring his officer’s firearm(s) and other weaponry were in good working order;
Ensuring the safekeeping of his officer’s personal and battle-related correspondence;
Coordinating his officer’s meals;
Running crowd control in his officer’s tent;
Occasionally delivering important messages;
Attending to his officer’s horse(s);
Attending to his officer during battle;
Ensuring that his officer’s belongings were packed, secure, and ready for removal to wherever his officer needed to be;
Attending to his officer’s privy (a very nice way of saying emptying Lieut. Gray’s chamber pot);
Any other duties his officer saw fit.
Tony went on to say that a valet wasn’t as easily as dismiss-able a position as I initially thought. As Tony put it, no one had closer access to a commanding officer than his valet.It was a position of unquestioned trust. Everyone in camp would have known exactly who Reuben was and the officer he served. Those seeking to advance themselves through Lieut. Gray, or seek his favour, or arrange appointments with him would have tried to get on Reuben’s good side in order to gain access to Lieut. Gray. Reuben would have been right in the thick of things, privy to planned activities by dint of close proximity to Gray. He would have also been Gray’s eyes and ears in camp.
All the while remember this: he was a teenager at the time.
He may not have received the recognition he deserved by his peers. I, for one, couldn’t be prouder of an ancestral kinsman.
Every genealogist, regardless of experience levels, has a family line that makes him or her want to rip their hair out. Seeing as how I cropped mine, I don’t have that luxury. I have to content myself with double face palms. The Bugg family of Halifax and Mecklenburg Counties in Virginia – as well as its descendant lines in the former Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina (including the present day North Atlanta, Georgia), plus Warren, Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina – is just that kind of family for me. ‘Difficult to research’ doesn’t even begin to describe the trials and tribulations this family has presented me with.
It all began with Rebecca Bugg, born around 1798, in Edgefield, South Carolina. Rebecca is on my mother’s side of the family tree. The earliest record I have for her is the 1850 Census when she is about 56 years of age:
Rebeca Bugg’s household in 1850. Click for larger image. Source:Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
The image above shows her as a free woman of colour…and the head of a household that was comprised of her dependent children. Her husband, and the father of her children, was George Quarles. George was an enslaved blacksmith who lived not too far from his wife and his children. What initially interested me about Rebecca was a pretty remarkable accomplishment. She, along with the aid of her daughter Clarissa, and Edward Settles, bought George Quarles’s freedom from one Ralsa M Fuller, also of Edgefield.
The sale that would lead to George Quarles’s freedom. Click for larger image. Source: Lucas, Gloria Ramsey. Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina. Digitized book and electronic index. Edgefield, South Carolina: Edgefield County Historical Society, 2010.
No value is given against George’s name. As a man in the most productive and able-bodied part of his life, I can only imagine that the sum of money Rebecca and Clarissa had to gather in order to purchase his freedom would have been considerable. Nevertheless, George was a free man around 1851. I have to admit that I gave Rebecca and Clarissa a “You go girls!”
The family is all together in the 1860 census:
George Quarles as head of household in 1860. Click for larger image. Source:Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
Rebecca had me intrigued. Who were her people? Where were her ancestral roots?
The magical mystery tour began. It’s atour that remains magical…and mysterious.
Research is showing that the Buggs were an old free family of colour with roots in Halifax County, Virginia. And this is where the hair pulling – or in my case, double face palms – comes into play.
For starters, I cannot find any details regarding the names of Rebecca’s parents. So…while I know that she is a descendant of the Halifax Bugg family, I have no idea which line she descends from. The names of some of her children provide tantalizing clues. However, at this stage, that’s all they are…clues.
A compiled list of Buggs in the 1850 Census for South Carolina has 3 pages of Bug(g) family members. Any one of them en born around 1778 and earlier could be her father. The 3 pages below are courtesy of Ancestry.com: Free Blacks and Mulattos in South Carolina 1850 Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006 and Original data: Motes, Margaret Peckham. Free Blacks and Mulattos in South Carolina 1850 Census. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002.
All of the Bug(g)s listed in the pages above are related to one another. I’ve pieced together how roughly a third of the Bugg family groups cited in the 1850 Census are related to one another. The other two-thirds are anybody’s guess. From there, it was a matter of tracing various lines back to the 1790 Census. 1790 seems to have been a pivotal year. It was just prior to this that a number of Buggs quit Virginia for Newberry and Edgefield in South Carolina.
The problem with earlier census records is a simple one: only the head of the household is listed by name. At this stage I can only trace male heads of households back to the 1790 Census. The names of their wives and children aren’t given. Exasperating is pretty close to what I’ve been feeling when working with these early census records. However, a handful of Wills for some of these men have provided the clues I needed regarding the identity of some of the Bugg family wives and children. I’m hoping that other Wills still exist that cover this family in Newberry and Edgefield, South Carolina. These will be my last, best hope for compiling a more complete family tree for this family in South Carolina.
I struck a bit of gold dust while doing a general online search on this family. I came across a Silvester Bugg, a man who will be my key to solving some of the fundamental mysteries regarding this family’s origins.
Silvester Bugg was free born in Halifax, Virginia around 1743. Born an illegitimate child, Robert Turner (the man Silvester’s free born mother was indentured to) sold him to a George Hoomes Gwinn (Gwyn). Silvester sued to extricate himself from his indenture to George Gwinn in 1769 (Virginia General Court, October 1769. He won his suit but lost when Gwinn appealed. Silvester was forced to serve 5 years of indenture before he was finally freed.
I’ve read a few of the case summaries. They provide some very interesting details: namely the name and the history of his mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Bugg (who also went by the surname Doss). They also provide a tantalizing clue about his maternal grandmother. This clue is excruciating. Betty Bugg’s mother, it transpires, was a “white Christian woman”. That’s all any of the summaries will say about his maternal grandmother. None name her. Was she a member of the Halifax, Virginia Bugg family? Was she a Doss? I have European-descended DNA matches for bother Doss and Buggs on AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and Gedmatch.
My hope of hopes is that there is some colonial record that still survives that will name my unknown ‘white Christian woman” ancestor. Her daughter Betty was born from a union with an unidentified enslaved man. I very much doubt his name will appear anywhere. An enslaved man who was either African or of African descent, he would have been a non-entity. And yes, there is more than a little bit of cynicism in those words. A handful of my family lines that were free people of colour were the result of a white indentured woman having children with an enslaved man. While these women have been named, and I could read about their respective fates and/or punishments, I have never – not once –seen the name of the man who was the father of their children. Apparently, these fathers were worthy of mention. Each one remains the most stubborn kind of brick wall.
Additionally, where there are court cases, there are affidavits and witness testimonies. Silvester had two court cases. If said affidavits and witness statements still survive, it is my hope that his white grandmother is actually mentioned by name. A bonus would be confirming the name of his father.
Betty’s mother is a first for me when it comes to colonial women giving birth to mulatto children. She remains unnamed.
I have searched for her name in all of the usual places: Church Warden Records, Bastardy Bonds, and Burgess Records from Halifax, Virginia. If it still exists, an account in one of these records should have Betty’s mother’s name. As the record below shows, Betty, a natural born child herself, was indentured to Robert Turner, presumably in Halifax County, where Silvester was born. Which begs the question, was Robert Turner the father of Silvester? Another mystery.
The other mystery is around the Doss-Bugg surname. Betty used both before settling on Bugg. Why she ultimately chose Bugg remains unanswered. It was the surname her descendants would use. So how the Doss surname come into the picture? How am I related to my Doss DNA cousins? It’s mystery after mystery after mystery with this line.
I’m curious about the Bugg family for a few reasons. They were a family of landowners as well as skilled tradesmen and craftsmen. From what I have seen so far, most were literate and could write. In a time when quite a few non-elite and non-middle class colonials weren’t either of these things, well, this makes this family something special. Naturally, I’d like to learn more about them.
And, of course, this is a family that married into other branches of my mother’s and father’s families. Among others, they married into the following free families of colour who are in my family’s tree in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina: Chavis, Gowens/Goings/Goines, Barbour, and Drew.
This is a mystery I will continue to return to from time to time. Yes, I am that stubborn 😉
In the meantime, below is the family tree for the oldest generation I’ve been able to research thus far. One of Betty’s children will be Rebecca’s parent:
The known children of Betty Doss-Bugg. So far, only Samuel Bugg’s line has been traced to any great extent. The other lines remain a complete mystery. Nothing further is known of Betty’s brother, Frank Bugg.
Genealogical research has sent me down an American history rabbit hole once again. I don’t mind. Being schooled on American history by genealogy is one of the reasons I Iove to do the research. It brings my ancestors’ lives to life. History provides the backdrop against which their lives were lived and provides a vital context.
So what if I were to tell you that blacks and whites in the American colonies lived together harmoniously? Even better…what if I were to tell you that whites and blacks saw each other as equals?
You’d think I was trying to sell you a mountain of pixie dust or a unicorn. Or telling you a bedtime story.
Nevertheless, it’s true. There was a time in this country’s history when black and white were united. Okay, to be precise, I’m going to have to come clean. I’m talking about poor whites: indentured European immigrants and European immigrants who had finished their term of servitude. I am also talking about free people of colour and enslaved people of colour.
This is the story of 2 American colonies: the one that existed before 1676 and the one that existed after 1676. So what’s so important about that year? Bacon’s Rebellion.
Bacon’s what? I hear you asking yourself. I know. I hadn’t heard of it either. It’s certainly nothing that was taught in school. Yet, it happened. I’d even go as far as to say that this rebellion defined America; more so than the American Revolution that would follow a century later.
I kept coming across references to Bacon’s Rebellion during some intensive 17th century era family research over the past few months. I was curious about it Was it a strange reference to some form of 17th Century acid reflux caused by excessive bacon eating? But in all seriousness, it was an episode in our country’s history that involved many of my ancestral lines. The sons of numerous family lines fought on both sides of this conflict. On the white side of my family tree, names like Ball, Berkeley, Byrd, Carter, Lewis, Mottrom, Page, Pugh, Randolph, Roane, Spotswood, Washington, and West figure largely within this conflict. All of them were resident in the Northern Neck and Tidewater regions of Virginia (Jamestown, Charles City County and Henrico County) at the onset of the rebellion. However, when I spotted names from the African-descended/mulatto lines of my tree – Christian, Cumbee/Cumbo, Drew, Goins/Gowen, and Thomas – I had to check it out. Like the white side of the family, these ancestors were also resident in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Tidewater regions.
Map of Virginia’s Tidewater region. Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources
My ancestral links to this rebellion
My ancestors who were loyalists and adjudicators of the rebels:
Col. Augustine Warner – 1st Cousin
Major Robert Beverley – 2nd Cousin
Col. Mathew Kemp – 2nd Cousin
Col. William Claiborne – 1st Cousin
Col. Southy Littleton – 2nd Cousin
Lt. Col. John West – 1st Cousin
Major Law. Smith – cousin by marriage
Capt. Anthony Armistead – 1st Cousin
Ancestors who were part of the rebellion:
Henry West – 1st Cousin (banished from the colonies for 7 years)
John Sanders – 2nd Cousin (fined 2,000 lbs in tobacco)
Giles Bland – 2nd cousin (hanged)
William Hatcher – 1st Cousin (fined 8,000 lbs of pork , to be supplied to Virginia’s soldiers)
Sands Knowles – 2nd Cousin (Imprisonment and total forfeiture of all estates, lands, goods and slaves)
Henry Gee – Cousin by marriage (fined 1,000 lbs of pork)
Thomas Warr – 1st Cousin (banishment)
Col Henry Good – cousin by marriage (fined 6,000 lbs of pork)
And those who were a bit further down the colonial pecking order:
Henry Page – 1st Cousin (hanged)
William West – 1st cousin (hanged)
My curiosity was piqued. It was time to do some heavy reading.
A racial laissez faire among the lower classes in the American colonies
Before 1676, poor whites, blacks, and mulattoes worked side by side. They lived together and caroused together. And, they loved together. They recognised shared bonds of servitude and the sameness of their respective life situation. So much so that they even ran away together to escape their bonds of servitude. They established communities in the mountains and the wilderness areas of Virginia, far from the reach of the colonial Establishment. These men and women formed unions/marriages and blended.
Modern American DNA results via the major DNA testing services has proven this. Are you a white-identified American with trace amounts of African DNA? If your working class ancestors were in Virginia in the 17th Century, I offer the paragraph above as a partial-explanation. The same holds true for African Americans with trace amounts of European ancestry. The paragraph above is a partial explanation of how that may have happened within your ancestry.
There was no ‘racial purity’. That’s a modern myth.The Establishment certainly wanted to keep its bloodlines pure. Not even the poorest white could even dream of entering that world. Purity in the 17th Century Establishment’s mind was all about protecting its status, its privilege, its control, and its power. It’s the reason why the colonial elite only married other members of the elite. Racial purity as it’s espoused today? Sorry, it didn’t exist. It wasn’t even in its nascent stages. All of that would come in the latter part of the 18th Century. When there was serious money to be made from an artificial concept and an excuse to double down on slavery.
In his work entitled People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn writes that 17th Century black and white servants were “remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences.”
Edmund Morgan, an important historian of colonial America, has this to say:
“There are hints that the two despised [by the colonial Establishment] groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together.”
And let’s not forget the Native Americans whose lands blacks and poor whites set up homes and communities within. They too married into this mix of black and white.
America was never a white nation. Don’t ever believe that it was. Not even for a millisecond. While I am focusing on the relationship between whites and blacks, 17th Century immigrants came from far and wide to the American colonies: Chinese, Jews, sub-Continental Indians, and Moors (Muslims from North Africa) were also here.
A colonial elite gripped by class fear and paranoia
The elite of colonial 17th Century Virginia was comprised of wealthy plantation owners, rich merchants, manufacturers, traders, their Burgesses (local government) and their governors. Yes, I know, quite a few of my British colonial ancestors were Establishment figures. Collectively, they were at the apex of colonial society. The colonial Establishment had two primary fears. The first was the hostile Indian population who controlled the nearby lands that surrounded the lands settled by European colonials. They also feared their indentured workforce and enslaved workforce. They had to contend with the class anger of poor whites – in other words, the property-less European immigrants – and the resentment of Africans who had been stolen from their homelands and trapped in a world as foreign to them as a trip to Mars would be for us.
Historian Edmund Morgan also wrote:
“Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order.”
Just like the spice which had to flow on Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune science-fiction novels…the cultivation of tobacco in Maryland and Virginia, the cultivation of rice in South Carolina, and the production of cotton in the lower South had to continue. At any price. Tell you what, the next time you watch Dune (or read the books), substitute the words tobacco, rice, and cotton every time the word ‘spice’ is mentioned…it’s a mind-bender. Herbert was so on point that it almost hurts.
The Establishment’s fear wasn’t entirely groundless either. Life in the early years of the colonies was far from harmonious. There were quite a few instances of servants organizing rebellions. Resistance to the colonial status quo by the English, Irish, Scottish, and German poor can be seen in wholesale desertions and work rebellions. Work slowdowns were fairly common. There were strikes by coopers, butchers, bakers, porters, truckers, and carriers. And there was the other major dread of a hierarchy obsessed elite: mutinies at sea. Our colonial ancestors were an unruly and feisty bunch.
A colonial rebellion plot was recorded as early as 1663. The details of this plot show how white indentured servants and enslaved blacks plotted to rebel and gain their freedom. This plot was betrayed and all the conspirators were executed as an example.
The colonial Establishment in Virginia feared that class conflict would undermine their tobacco plantation holdings.My English ancestors in particular were perhaps most troubled by this. Between 1381 and 1549, four large peasant revolts played out in England. Each were the result of deep socio-economic and political tensions. The first rebellion, Wat Tyler’s Rebellion (1381), saw parts of London fall to the peasant army. The then king (a young Richard II) fled to the Tower of London where he took refuge. While this rebellion ultimately failed, its leaders meeting some pretty grisly ends, it scarred the psyche of the English ruling elite. The lower classes in England would never be entirely trusted again. Even to this day.
The Jack Cade Rebellion (1450) was the result of local grievances focused on the corruption and abuses of power by King Henry VI’s closest advisors. The rebels were incensed by the national debt that had been caused by years of warfare against the French, and the recent loss of the king’s Norman territory. Jack Cade led an army of men from Kent, to the south of London, and the surrounding counties. His army marched on London in order to force the government to end the corruption and remove the traitors surrounding the king’s person. Remember this revolt in particular. It’s comparison to Bacon’s Rebellion is almost a textbook case of history repeating itself.
The last English rebellion I’ll mention is Kett’s Rebellion (Norfolk, 1549). This too had a cause that is uncannily similar to Bacon’s Rebellion. Kett’s Rebellion was largely in response to the enclosure of land. Land was (and remains) a source of power in England. Privilege came with land. If you didn’t own land, you didn’t have a voice. Without a voice, you had no economic or political power.
When the lower classes united in England, they challenged the status quo, and the way in which power was centrally controlled. To counter-act any further uprisings, the English Establishment kept its poor on a back foot to ensure they wouldn’t pose a threat to its power.
As the younger sons and/or nephews of the British aristocracy and elite, Virginia’s colonial establishment would have been well versed on class warfare and the perils presented by a united lower class.
So let’s fast-forward 120 or so years and return to the lead-up to Bacon’s Rebellion.
The colonial elite had a monopoly on the land. The best land, of course. Demand for the best land drove up the cost of acquisition. Which meant that poor whites and free people of color were forced to remove themselves into Native American territory to the west of the Northern Neck and Tidewater regions of Virginia. They were effectively cut off from any access to support from the colonial government. They were on their own. Which meant fending off Native American attacks on their own.
An additional grievance against the elite had to do with revenues. Fur trapping and fur trading with Native Americans was a monopoly controlled by Virginia’s elite. It’s a bit of a simplification, but true enough to say, that the colonial hierarchy controlled the when, where, and with whom the frontiersmen could engage in fur trapping and trading with. The two parties began to butt heads over this. It was another source of rising tension.
Classed as ‘rabble’, ‘the mob’, ‘uncouth animals’, etc, the colonial elite were relieved to see the back of this large underclass of people.
You can see where I’m going with this.
The colonial government used the situation to its advantage. They thought of these black, white, and mulatto Virginian frontiers people as an early defencesystem. If you think that’s me being cynical, that’s exactly what they were. And that’s exactly how they felt. They were human shields. Every attack on their farms and settlements led to a few of their number racing back to Jamestown to plead for soldiers to protect them and their families. Which, of course, alerted the colonial government to Native American attack activity and where that activity was occurring. Of course the Establishment didn’t send any re-enforcements in the form of troops. It sent nothing.
Which, in turn, led to burning resentment for the frontiers people.
The snippet above made me think of the classic novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Okay…and the eponymous movie too. While the book takes place after Bacon’s Rebellion, the tensions between the elite and the frontiers people figures largely in the first part of the story. Remember the conversations between Hawkeye and John Cameron (whose farm is later attacked) where John recites his list of grievances against local government and the governor? The resentment between frontiers people and their government overlords still flamed brightly over a hundred years after Bacon’s Rebellion.
The Establishment’s worst fears came to fruition soon enough.
The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle. It depicts the burning of Jamestown, Virginia during Bacon’s Rebellion (A.D. 1676-77); used to illustrate the article “Jamestown” in Harper’s Encyclopaedia of United States History: from 458 A.D. to 1905 (1905). Note the multi-ethnic composition of the painting. Source: Wikipedia
Nathaniel Bacon was a young member of the elite. Nevertheless, he formed a movement that was the Establishment’s worst nightmare. At first his movement was based on anti-Native American sentiment. It quickly evolved into an anti-aristocratic movement; a movement that came to symbolize the mass resentment of the poor against Virginia’s elite. Hundreds (some accounts claim up to a thousand) of white freedmen, white bond-servants, free people of colour, and enslaved blacks staged an armed insurrection against the Virginia colonial elite.
The rebellion ultimately led to the burning of Jamestown.
Engraver F.A.C. (signed lower right) of Whitney-Jocelyn, N.Y. – From p. 117 of Ilustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America. From a digital scan at the Internet Archive Engraving captioned The Burning of Jamestown showing the burning of Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). From Illustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America: from the Earliest Discoveries to the Present Time (1857). Source: Wikipedia
Garrisons and forts were taken by the rebels. Governor Council member Richard Lee (yet another ancestral cousin of mine) recorded that the rebellion had the overwhelming support of Virginia’s population. This support cut across class-lines, which must have been anathema to the Establishment.
So what was Bacon’s hope for the rebellion? A general “leveling”. In other words, the equalization of wealth, opportunity – and land.
Ultimately, despite its early successes, the rebellion failed. Nathaniel Bacon’s premature death from dysentery left a leadership vacuum which was filled by less capable men. The rebellion fell apart. The Establishment’s reprisals were swift and harsh. Some of the rebels who came from the working classes were executed. The elite who formed the rebellion’s leadership faced varying fates: deportation back to England to face trial, forfeiture of estates and land holdings, or stiff fines.
The suppression of the Bacon revolt was critical for the colonial rulers. Suppressing it would enable the ruling elite to (from Zinn):
develop an Indian policy which would divide Indians and pit them against one another;
underscore to poor whites that rebellion did not pay through a show of superior force (English troops and mass hangings);
develop a practice of dividing poor white immigrants;
drive a wedge between free people of color and enslaved blacks;
isolate people of colour and enslaved blacks from poor whites; and
develop a practice of dividing slaves based on occupation (field worker, skilled artisan/crafts person, house worker, etc) and complexion.
Bacon’s Rebellion was followed by a series of tobacco revolts. Once these smaller revolts were suppressed, the Establishment instigated a series of progroms to ensure social control. Front and centre were policies and codes that controlled poor whites and black servants, and slaves.
The Establishment learned from their English ancestors that the only way to survive, and maintain power and control, was the division of its common enemy. Developing a system of inequality between black and white servants, they could fashion the allegiance of the English poor to that of their masters.
This is the genesis of the slave codes that were passed in the decades after the rebellion. These slave codes codified the system of slavery. In doing so, the codes made the status of ‘slave’ a life sentence. It was a system that saved the worst penalties and punishments for blacks. This dichotomy in how people were treated, built an unequal structure of racial slavery where black labor were slaves while white laborers were not slaves, was bound to cause resentment amongst blacks with regards to the lighter punishments meted out to their former comrades and allies. It instilled a fear amongst the poor whites that they could suffer the same fate of harsh treatment that was meted out to blacks.
This was the beginnings of institutionalized racism: a system based on the unequal treatment of whites and blacks who shared very similar circumstances.
It did not end there. Once whites and blacks were divided, the next item on the agenda was dividing the non-English poor whites who largely came from Irish, Scottish, and German backgrounds.The Establishment picked the Irish off first; re-igniting prejudices against them for their Catholicism. Anti-Irish propaganda portrayed them as unthinking brutes, animals, and rutting primates.
Both a reality and propaganda. Images like the one above were used to divide whites and blacks…and to depict the Irish as ‘not one of us’.
This approach was so successful that, once the Irish were isolated from other poor whites, the same memes were used against people of color. The wedge of religion and ‘foreignness’ was used to divide the Germans and the Scottish. Lutheranism and Calvinism were largely the religious denominations of the Germans. With preference being shown to Scottish Anglicism (The Church of Scotland), it was an effective wedge to use to split these two groups apart. The English began to treat the poor Scots in a manner like a wealthy cousin would treat a poor relation – with a thin and meagre kind of tolerance.
How effective was this practice of divide and conquer? Just tune in to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Read a newspaper. Or look at the race memes that flood social media. Virginia’s colonial elite would be quite pleased to see the systems they put into play in the 17th Century didn’t merely survive – they have flourished. Take a look at how these memes have been adapted for every new immigrant culture that arrives on America’s shores.
Now I understand why Bacon’s Rebellion isn’t part of the history curriculum in the majority of America’s schools. I’ve counted only a meagre few that do cover this as part of their curriculum. No wonder most Americans have never heard of it.
Knowing what I know now, I have two fundamental questions. The first is what would America look like today had Nathaniel Bacon lived and succeeded in his aim? That question can’t be answered. I can see his vision, however.
The second is whether or not America can still achieve that vision, through non-violent means of course. In order for a nation of people to see that they have been played, in the most cynical and vicious way possible, they first have to recognize that they have been played. They have to grasp how they have been played, and why they have been played.
Then, and only then, can a system used to divide and conquer finally be dismantled.
Was your ancestor one of Bacon’s rebels?
While it isn’t a complete list of the rebels, this is the largest list of combatants that I have found online: Frazier, Kevin (2016). Bacon’s Rebels: A List of the Names and some of the Residences of the Rebel Participants in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 in Colonial Virginia, Rootsweb. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fraz/BaconsRebels
Allen, Theodore W. (1997). The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 2: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. London: Verso.
Update 1 May 2014: More information about how Rachel’s story came to light can be found here: 50 Years a slave: Rachel Findley’s story continues to receive media coveragehttp://wp.me/p1fqOP-jR
UPDATE 16 April 2014: A search in Google Books yielded some possible answers as to how Henry Clay came to possess the two Choctaw children, Chance and James. Basically, the likelihood of finding one definitive answer is exceedingly remote. The book Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty by Katherine R. Bateman covers this subject (http://books.google.com/books?id=ZxScKF_nkyUC&pg=PT45&lpg=PT45&dq=henry+clay+kidnaps+choctaw+children&source=bl&ots=p-0KypKNMf&sig=DzN1ZQLf8I2yTXJt899KMwK5qUs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_oxNU_C5GOrNsQSkz4D4Dg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=henry%20clay%20kidnaps%20choctaw%20children&f=false from Page 28 onwards) . The possible answers to this mystery the book provides have been compiled from witness testimonies and depositions in the various Findley court cases. Taken decades after the actual kidnappings of Chance and James, no two explanations as to how Henry Clay came to acquire the children are the same. Given this was a time before the Choctaws wrote their history down, it is unlikely there is an oral story that has been passed down through the centuries within that tribe. We would first need to know which Choctaw group the children belonged to and what part of the Choctaw territory they lived in. We’d also need to know their Choctaw names, which would not have been Chance or James those were the names given to them by Henry Clay. Given this pivotal period of Choctaw history (the tribe’s dealing with Europeans) the story of two stolen children would have easily been lost.
Once again it’s the ladies in my family’s tree who provide an incredible detour and a truly remarkable, if not disturbing, tale. The story of Chance Findley and her descendants in Wythe County, Virginia is a multi-generational saga of the fight for freedom from an illegally imposed enslavement.
An email from Rob F, a distant relation through marriage, sent me down another rabbit hole of discovery. His email introduced me to the story of Rachel Findley, an ancestor of Mary Drew, my great-grandfather Daniel Henry Sheffey’s first wife (I’m a descendant of his second marriage to Jane White).
The family tree below charts my line’s connection to the Findley family. Please note, the Findley (aka Findlay) family is too large to include a full family tree featuring all of Chance Findley’s descendants. I’ve traced the direct line of descent for Mary Drew, noting the other children born within each generation of the Findley family for illustrative purposes.
Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew’s family tree – click for larger image
Rachel Findley: 12 years a slave – and then some.
So how did I come to learn about Rachel Findley?
Mary Drew’s great grandmother, Rachel Findlay, was recently honored by the Library of Virginia as part of their “Women in History” programmes. This is what Rob F wrote to me about in his email. Each year the Library of Virginia develops and distributes educational resources for Women’s History Month. The Library uses this occasion to honor women who have made significant contributions to Virginia’s history and culture. The Library honored Rachel Findley this month as one of those women. Rob F was kind enough to share the award ceremony information with me as well as particulars about the award evening.
Why did Rachel Findley warrant such recognition? She was among a number of Findley’s descended from an illegally enslaved Choctaw Native American woman, Chance Findley, who successfully sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for their freedom.
The hows and whys of Chance Fielding’s enslavement remain a mystery. All is known is that in the early 18th Century, one Henry Clay of Virginia brought back a Choctaw girl he called Chance and a Choctaw boy he named Frank. He enslaved both regardless of the laws of the land which prohibited the enslavement of Native Americans.
While other Findley’s legal fights for freedom were more or less straightforward – they sued the Commonwealth of Virginia, they won their cases and they were freed – Rachel’s road to freedom was a bitter one.
Rachel Findlay was born into slavery in the early 1750s in Virginia in an area that would later become Powhatan County. Her maternal grandmother Chance was an illegally enslaved Indian woman. Which meant that Rachel’s mother, Judea Findley, was also illegally enslaved. It’s presumed that Rachel’s father was an African descended slave. His name is not known. Virginia law dictated that the children of enslaved women were also slaves, so Judy Findlay and her children were born enslaved. Rachel Findlay, her brother Samuel, and her young daughter Judy sued their owner, Thomas Clay, on the grounds that because their grandmother’s enslavement was illegal, they were also illegally enslaved.
This suggest to me that Chance remembered who she was and where she’d come from in her early childhood in order to convey the injustice of what had been done to her, and her children, and her ever-increasing family. How her children and grandchildren arrived at the decision to sue for their freedom is unknown. Nor do I know what legal advice they were given or who counselled them. The General Court ruled in May 1773 that they were free. In a turn of events worthy of a Hollywood movie, the Clay family sent Rachel and her daughter Judy west before the court reached its verdict in 1774. The Clay family cynically sold them to John Draper. Draper and his family held Rachel and Judy in slavery in Wythe County.
Rachel Findlay again filed suit in the Wythe County Court in 1813. Her suit was to obtain the freedom to which she had been legally entitled but had never known much less enjoyed. After seven years of delays and difficulties – and the transfer of the case to the Powhatan County Court- Rachel once again won freedom for herself on 13 May 1820.
The decades of the injustice of illegal enslavement was undone with a simple sentence. This single sentence freed Rachel Findley and Judy Findley. Image courtesy of Rob F.
Chance Findlay’s approximately forty descendants- which included her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – were therefore legally entitled to become free too. Freedom was not automatically granted to them even in the face of the illegality of their enslavement. Several of Chance Findlay’s descendants successfully sued for their freedom. Others may have never known about the suit and its outcome, or were prevented from also suing for their freedom; regardless, they remained enslaved.
Summaries of the numerous Findley suits against the Commonwealth of Virginia can be found here:
Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew: 19th Century Virginia adds insult to injury
There is another side of Virginia’s history of slavery, one that further impacts on the Findley family’s history. According to Virginia law, slaves freed after May 1806 were required to leave the state within one year or face re-enslavement. Newly emancipated slaves could petition the State to remain, however, approval for such petitions was by no means guaranteed. Virginia simply did not want a large population of free blacks.
And so it came to pass that Malinda Findlay Cleaver, the grand-daughter of Rachel Findlay’s daughter Judy, was sued by Virginia for not leaving the state upon the attainment of her freedom. It’s worth noting at this point that many from the extended Findley family had left Virginia for the mid-West when they won their individual freedoms from the courts. Rachel, Judy and Malinda chose to remain. Malinda’s full case paper is available for review here:
In the end it wasn’t the illegality of her childhood enslavement that saved Malinda from either imprisonment, re-enslavement or a fine. It was the fact that the 1806 Act, which decreed that freed slaves must leave Virginia within a year of their freedom, wasn’t ratified until many years after she’d already been freed. In other words, it wasn’t ratified until aftershe had been freed. Therefore, she was not bound by its conventions. She remained in Virginia where she would marry Lewis Drew, son of an old, established family of free blacks, and presided over her family.
The court proceedings didn’t serve to further enlighten me on the nature of slavery nor the injustices or corruption that were rife within it. Nor its fundamental inhumanity. I’ve been well schooled on such things already. These court proceedings, as unfortunate and as unnecessary as they were, provided invaluable genealogical information. I would go as far as to say I wouldn’t have been able to construct the Findley family tree without them. I would have known by the family name that various Findley’s were connected to one another. These papers and proceedings told me exactly how the various family groups were related to one another.
More interestingly still is the emphasis on the women. Nowhere have I been able to find information about them men who fathered four generations of Findlay women’s children. It’s not surprising if my assumption that they were enslaved men of African descended slaves is correct. These men, the sons of enslaved African women, could never have their status as slaves overturned and, as such, would be irrelevant to any court proceedings. So their existence is as much a void in the court papers as they are in the Findley family tree I’ve researched.
Martha Fowler Hill is an important linchpin in my black Wythe Sheffey family story in the township of Speedwell, Wythe County, Virginia. And while this post is really about her daughter, Martha Ann, Martha certainly had her role to play in this interesting discovery.
The red pointer marks the location of Speedwell, Wythe County, Virginia. It is a very, rural and sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia.
Two of her daughters had children by two of my 2x great grand uncles. Mary Ellen Hill married Iazwell Sheffey. And her sister, Martha Ann, had William Royal Sheffey Hill with Iazwell’s brother, James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey.
Martha Fowler Hill’s son, John Joseph Hill, also married a Sheffey cousin, Laura Elizabeth Carpenter.
Suffice to say that roughly half of Martha Fowler Hill’s children married Sheffey family relations in Speedwell. Discovering her ancestry shed some interesting light on the Sheffey story in that part of Wythe County,
When it came to researching one Martha Ann Hill, I kept coming up against one very formidable wall. I just couldn’t find any information about her. Not for love nor money. And there was a very good reason for that. Her maiden name wasn’t Hill. It was Fowler. That Fowler name was like a sledgehammer, no, more of a battering ram, which obliterated that wall of silence…and allowed me to sprint past 1849 (the year of Martha Ann Hill’s birth) back to 1760, the year her grandfather, Granville Fowler, was born.
So why had I spent years looking for a Martha Hill? That was how she was listed on two of her children’s marriage certificates. And a child’s death certificate. Her children weren’t wrong. Far from it.
William Royal Sheffey Hill’s marriage index record. His mother is listed as Martha Ann Hill. Source Information Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014. Original data: Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.
And this is pretty much where I remained with her for the past five years. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Angela, a distant cousin of mine, she uncovered additional marriage certificates which shed some light on Martha Ann. It all had to do with her mother, who was another Martha (just to make things that touch more confusing).
Martha Fowler gave Martha Ann her rightful maiden name – Fowler.
I had long suspected, but had no proof, that Martha Ann Fowler was a free woman of color. Armed with her correct maiden name, there she was in the 1860 census (although the name is spelled incorrectly) with her mother, her siblings, an aunt and two cousins.
Mary Ann Fowler in the 1860 Census. Source Citation Year: 1860; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M653_1385; Page: 968; Image: 327; Family History Library Film: 805385 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Mary Ann most definitely started life as a Fowler. And a child of a free woman.
While Martha Ann is absent in the 1850 census (which leads me to question her actual year of birth), her mother, Martha Fowler, is certainly accounted for.
Martha Fowler in the 1850 Census. Source CitationYear: 1850; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M432_982; Page: 251B; Image: 99 | Source Information Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
The image above shows Martha Fowler (Martha Ann’s mother), with her mother Rosanah Dicy Fowler, as well as her siblings (Martha Ann’s aunts and uncles) and her oldest children.
Martha Fowler’s mother, Rosanah Fowler, born around 1792, had also been born free.
Martha Fowler would come to marry Joseph James Hill from Cripple Creek, Wythe County, Virginia. Whether they were married or we common law husband and wife is unclear. I can’t find a marriage certificate for them. However, with African American genealogy, that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t married. It only means that if they were officially married, it wasn’t registered. Or the record simply became lost over time. or hasn’t been digitized. This presents an issue.
All of Martha Fowler’s children were born with the surname of Fowler. However, at some point after 1860 and before 1870, all of her children took the Hill name. Was Joseph Hill their biological father? Or did he unofficially (or even officially) adopt them?
He appears on more than one marriage certificate for Martha Fowler’s children. Below is the marriage record for daughter Malvina Hill:
Marriage details for Malvina Fowler-Hill. Source Information Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014. Original data: Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.
If he wasn’t the biological father of Martha Fowler’s children – or at least the father of all of them – her children certainly thought of him as their father. Only a DNA test from this family line can confirm a biological link.
So now I have Martha Ann’s family tree:
Martha Ann Fowler Hill’s family tree
I had to laugh at this point. Black American genealogy is difficult enough. Name -swapping to this degree made a challenging task even more challenging. I’m happy I stuck with it. And I’m even happier that I have cousins just as keen as I am in unraveling family history…and sharing their discoveries. I owe Angela quite a bit for this stunning lead.
The story of these women didn’t end there.
What I soon discovered was a history of generations of free mulatto women who, while not married to them, raised children with white men. It’s been kind of interesting to see these men listed in one census return with their wives and children – and then listed again in another census return for the same year with their mistress and the children they had by them.
Uncovering Martha Fowler’s correct maiden name is also shedding light on the community of free people of colour in and around Speedwell, Wythe, VA. At this stage in my research, it looks as though this community had been long established by the 1790s. Within it were names from other branches of my Sheffey family tree that I knew very well: Carpenter, Brown, Robinson, and Gannaway. All of these families were free people of color and had been since at least the 1750s (for the Browns and Carpenters) and the 1680s (for the Gannaways).
At this stage in researching this line, I do have one fundamental question. How did a relationship between a free woman of color and enslaved men work? Iazwell and his brother James were both enslaved. Mary Ellen Hill and Iazwell Sheffey married in 1870, a few years after the close of the Civil War. However, there are hints that they had a relationship before the outbreak of the Civil War.
Her sister Martha Ann Hill had one child with James ZM Sheffey before the end of the Civil War – William Royal Sheffey Hill (born 1864). With a free-born mother, William would not have been born a slave, unlike the majority of his half-siblings. James ZM Sheffey had a number of children with women who were also slaves. All of these children were born enslaved.
It was a situation that must have made for a challenging family dynamic. And this was by no means a unique situation. It was a family dynamic repeated throughout the southern states.
How would a relationship between a free woman of colour and an enslaved male work? Did they have visitation rights? Probably so, if the years of birth of their children are anything to go by. I also suppose it was completely at the enslaved person’s owner whether or not these visits could happen, as well as their frequency and duration. How much access to their fathers did the children of such unions have? And what did they think of the situation? Did it shape how they viewed their fathers?
Did it really matter? Given the number of mulatto children with absentee white fathers, would it have been materially any different to have had a father who was absent due to his slave status?
I have a lot of social as well as practical questions where this arrangement is concerned. As if you couldn’t guess. 😉
My take-away is this: Finding women’s (true and correct) maiden names can be tricky but essential. It’s worth bearing in mind that the name you see for a female relation on a child’s marriage or death certificate may be a name by a new marriage – and not her maiden name. Ultimately, a woman’s death certificate and/or marriage certificate will (hopefully!) provide the necessary details about her parents.