For Valentine’s Day: A History of Love

UntitledMy great-grandparents, Josephine Burton and Rev. James Ford most likely met through their affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  I know from my great-grandmother Josephine’s frequent editorials in “The Southwestern Christian Advocate” newspaper that she regularly attended ME sunday school, church and camp meetings in and around Ocean Springs as early as 1890 when she was sixteen years-old. The same newspaper also has frequent mentions of my great-grandfather, James Ford preaching at the camp meetings, Sunday schools or churches in the area. He was an itinerant minister and appears on the rolls of the Methodist Episcopal Church  Mississippi Conference book as early as 1879.  One of my favorite things published in the “Southwestern Christian Advocate” is my great-grandparents’ May 3, 1894 marriage announcement (pictured to the left).  It’s simple and sweet the way love should be.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

What history of love have you uncovered about your ancestors?

 

My African American History: A Lynching

Signature of Warren Stewart aka Warren Matthew, my second great-uncle. The signature was taken from his

Signature of Warren Stewart aka Warren Matthews, my second great-uncle. The signature was taken from an 1892 pension file.

Long time no blog!

I’ve been working hard to finish a book about researching my family’s history which hasn’t left much time for anything let alone blogging. But African American history month is here, so I had to post something about my family’s story.   I’ve posted on this before, but it’s worth the repeat. (I don’t want to forget that this month isn’t just about the triumphs of black people but also what our ancestors suffered.) What follows is an excerpt from the Feb. 2nd, 1901 issue of the “Daily Herald” newspaper of Mississippi about the lynching of Warren Stewart who I’m pretty sure was my second great-uncle:

PRISONER LYNCHED

When the prisoner, Warren Stewart, was conveyed to Ocean Springs, a great wave of indignation spread over the place, and the mutterings were ominous.  It was concluded to give him a trial, and while the examination was in progress a mob of about 300 persons took him from the officers, carried him across the bayou, and hanged him, after which his body was riddled with bullets about 100 being fired into it.

According to the paper, Warren was lynched for the alleged assault of a white girl and the story was covered in at least eight newspapers from Ohio to Idaho. (My cousin, Monique has posted some of the newspapers on the Our Black Ancestry page on Facebook, so join to have a look and to read her post on this painful part of our past.)

The age and the story of the Warren Stewart in the article match up with my information about my second great-uncle, but I still need to confirm that this is my ancestor, the son of my great, great-grandparents, Colonel Stuart and Tempy Burton. Unfortunately, vital records like death certificates weren’t recorded in Mississippi before 1912.  So, I’m checking funeral and court records from Ocean Springs in hopes of finding a case on file that might include information about Warren’s family and the details of the crime he was accused of. Whether he was innocent or guilty of the attempted assault, his lynching was a murder, an act of domestic terror and it served its purpose. It scared one whole line of my family right out of the south. My Smith cousins left Mississippi for good in the 1920s, and the lynching, my cousin, Sylvia  told me, was an impetus.

Are there lynchings in your family history?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Emancipation Day, 2013!

My grandmother, Louise Walton and our family's dog, Sheffy.

“On January 1, 1892, Miss Josephine Burton, Ocean Springs’ charming belle gave a very nice surprise party for her pastor, Rev. I. C. Rucker, assisted by Mrs. A.B. Stuart and Miss Violet Matthews.  A collection of $6.05 was taken, after which cake and lemonade were served.”

So, 119 years ago today, my great grandmother was throwing a party with her sister, Violet and her brother Alfred’s wife.  When I first read this notice in the personal section of the Southwestern Christian Advocate’s January 14, 1892 edition, I assumed it was a regular New Year’s Day party.  But after reading the next week’s issue, I noticed how another writer, Ada Smith of Sturgis, Mississippi, referred to January 1st as Emancipation Day.  During her church’s evening service, Ms. Smith stated that a professor read and explained the Emancipation Proclamation. On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all slaves. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the historic document.

Since her mother and brother were born into slavery, I have a feeling that my great-grandmother, Josephine was celebrating the signing of that monumental document as much as she was the beginning of a new year and her beloved pastor. Josephine was also a devout Christian, her husband, James was a Methodist Episcopal minister, so perhaps the party was also an extension of Watch Night.

Methodism founder John Wesley originated Watch Night services in the mid-18th century, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal services, according to the United Methodist website. But Watch Night has a  special significance in in the African-American community dating back to the days of slavery.
At the end of the year, owners tallied their property and often sold slaves to pay debts, the website said. New Year’s Eve was often the last night a family of slaves would be together.  Then, when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 1863, slaves sat up the night before, waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight.

Even though I grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal church and went to church on New Year’s Eve with my parents, I never knew the history behind Watch Night connected to slavery.  I only learned of that part last night because some friends at Coming to the Table mentioned how they would be participating in Watch Night as well as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder why the slavery piece of the Watch Night tradition was never addressed in my AME congregation? Was it deliberate or simply never passed down from one generation to the next and, like a faulty link, broke the chain of this history?

This can easily happen.

I thought I knew all there was to know about my grandmother.  I lived just a few miles from her growing up and spent most summer days with her until I was 11.  She was like a second mother. So, I was shocked to learn several new things about her while she was visiting with me this holiday season – things that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for my new dog.

On the first night of Kwanzaa while eating dinner, Granny commented that our new dog was so big, he reminded her of the pony she had as a girl.  I never knew she had a pony.  It was a Shetland pony she said, which is funny since my dog’s name begins with the same “she” sound. Her pony was her transportation to school. She hated when she had to miss school because first off, she liked school and second, it usually meant she had to stay home and slaughter the pigs on her family’s farm.  She thought of them as pets, not food.  In solidarity with her condemned bovine friends,  she swore she’d never eat chitterlings the way her school pals did, but  eventually, she caved.  Indeed it was my grandmother who gave me my first (and last) taste of pig intestine.

I also never knew that my grandma could handle a gun.  She learned how to use a winchester rifle when she was about seven she said for hunting rabbits.  My grandma was a regular Laura Ingalls Wilder, just black and from Oklahoma.  Had my dog not cozied up to her during dinner, these details about my grandma’s first decade of life, the time she refers to most often now that she is nearing 100, would have been entirely lost.  And to think, I didn’t even want a new dog.

How are you celebrating Emancipation Day?

Sources: The Southwestern Christian Advocate, January 14, 1892 and January 21, 1892.

Motivational Monday: Genealogy Gems

Lately, I’ve felt too overwhelmed to focus on digging up any more of my roots.  Instead, I’ve been digging through my present, trying to unpack the last boxes in our house from our move last year,  get my youngest daughter to part with clothes crammed into her closet that are too small, and  be a good example by parting with things in my closet I haven’t worn since the 90s. This week, I started wading through my overstuffed inbox (I didn’t realize gmail would let you store 3,500 messages).  In the process, I discovered a few genealogy gems sent as email notifications from sites like Our Black Ancestry, and Coming to the Table that brought me back from the brink of giving up.

There was a link to an article about Oliver Cromwell, not the English one, but a free black man who fought in the American Revolution and received a belated honor for it over a hundred years later. He was from the same rural county in New Jersey where I grew up.   There was another posting about grave dowsing, a possible method of detecting the sex and age of the occupant of an unmarked grave.  That’s good to know for the next time I visit Ocean Springs, Mississippi where my great, great-grandmother is buried. There was an unmarked grave next to hers that I suspect may be my great-grandmother, Josephine.  Then, on Bernice Bennett’s genealogy radio show, her guest, an expert on Louisiana records gave a great tip for trying to locate enslaved people in that state – check church records.  The Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has even compiled a volume of these records called “Individuals Without Surnames.”  I’m going to try this to help locate my enslaved third great, grandmother Eliza Burton.

Truthfully, it is Eliza as much as my chores that’s had me overwhelmed.  I know it was pure luck to even find out her name, but I want more.  I’m afraid that her name is all I might ever get. But with these church records, I have renewed hope.

Is there a brick wall you’ve run into recently that has stopped you in your tracks? What will it take for you to try to climb it?

Wordless Wednesday: 96 and Still Swinging!

My 96 year-old grandmother, Louise Walton, having a swing in my backyard on Memorial Day. Granny said that her favorite thing to do at her granddad's house in Oklahoma was hop on the swing he made for her and see if she could get her feet to touch the tree branches. It's nice that she can share these memories with us as well as the swinging itself.

Photo Friday: My ancestors and me at the Maryland Historical Society

My third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart and me at the Maryland Historical Society. Photo by Flannery Silva. Fuzziness courtesy of my iphone.

Yesterday, on my way down to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I’m working on my family history project, I stopped in Baltimore to see some relatives – some living, some dead.  The living one is my niece, Flannery, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art.  She accompanied me to see my ancestors whose portraits are housed at the Maryland Historical Society, just blocks from her school. Funny the way things work.

Flanny was kind enough to take photos of me with the portraits of my second great uncle, Alexander Stuart, his wife, Matilda (who was sporting an amazing ermine robe), my third great uncle, Andrew Stuart, and my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart pictured above. See any family resemblance?

Friend of Friend Friday: Slaves of Alexander Stirling

I found the above will in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at the Louisiana State University.  The Stirling family, wealthy Louisiana planters, owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton.  I’ve been scrolling through the microfilmed documents hoping that they will include some information about her.   The Stirlings kept receipts for everything  from purchases at their favorite New Orleans clothing store to  ferry trips across the bayou. So far, Eliza hasn’t turned up in their voluminous records but scores of other enslaved people have.  Here are slave names included in Alexander Stirling’s 1808 will:

Lucy, 15

Nan, 7

Old Kitty

Hercules

Tennance

Betsy, mulatto child of my negro woman Sarah

Lucy and Nan were to be left to Alexander’s daughter, Anne.  Old Kitty was to be freed upon Alexander’s death and Hercules and Tennance would be freed when Alexander’s son, John turned 21.  For “(his) own reasons,” Alexander puts the mulatto child, Betsy and her mother, Sarah under his son, Henry’s care. (Sarah could also be under her son John’s care if she wants, but her daughter, Betsey will have to be under John’s will).  I can’t help but wonder what that’s all about.  But more importantly, I can’t help but hope that this information can be helfpful to someone searching for their ancestors.

I’ll keep posting any slave names I come across as I go.

Motivation Monday: My Third Great-Grandfather’s Role in History?

I’m happy to report that I actually accomplished all of my genealogy goals last week set in my inaugural “Motivation Monday” post.

I contacted the Maryland State Archives for direction on Maryland laws passed on absconding slaves and also checked out Blackpast.org, a resource  new to me that has interesting historical tidbits.  I also followed up on the Stirling Papers. Good thing I did.  My initial request somehow was never processed, so I’m still waiting for those papers which could have information on my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton and her life as a slave to the Stirling family.

Transcribing my third great-grandfather’s letters was by far my favorite genealogy chore last week.  In January, 1826 he wrote a letter to the President of the Senate of New Jersey introducing a few delegates from Maryland’s State Senate and requesting a meeting so that they could discuss “the measures best calculated to prevent the absconding of slaves from Maryland and to facilitate their recovery by their owners…” I still can’t find out what if anything became of that meeting like  actual legislation, but I’ve got plenty of leads to follow to find out what my ancestor’s role was in this part of history.  Meanwhile, I’m getting a kick out of reading his less official letters. Stuart had a way with words and was even a little bit gossipy:

“Richard, you know is a ladies man and takes great pleasure in their company,” he writes to Maryland’s Governor Thomas in an 1842 letter.  In a previous letter, Governor Thomas had reported that a mutual friend was jealous of this flirty Richard.  Transcribing my third great-grandfather’s letters is definitely on my Motivation Monday list for this week.

Since I’ll be out of town for a few days, I think I’ll keep my goals to just that one task.  I’m sure I’ll still be surfing the net trying to find any information on any bills introduced in the Maryland State Senate in the 1840s regarding slavery.

What are you working on this week?

Monday Madness (the good kind): Freedom's Child

I’ve just finished reading, Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Black Daughter by Carrie Allen McCray.  It tells the story of McCray’s remarkable mother, the child of a former slave and Confederate general who goes on to become a lifelong activist for what she calls “full freedom” for black people.

Anyone following my blog knows that my great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton was a slave and had several children with her former owner, Col. W.R. Stuart, a confederate like McCray’s grandfather.  (Stuart wasn’t a colonel in the Confederate Army, however.  This honorary title probably came from his association with a fraternal order).

Our parallel ancestries are crazy on their own (the hypocrisy of fighting to preserve slavery while fathering children with slaves still makes my eyes cross), but the places where our own lives connect is really wild:

  • The author spent most of her life in the same town that I live in now. I pass her family home just about every day.
  • Before moving to New Jersey, she lived in Lynchburg, Va. I’ve been traveling to a town just outside of Lynchburg annually for the past four years as part of a writing retreat.
  • The person who lent me the book was my minister.  It was a present to him from the writer. While McCray did not belong to my congregation,  research for her book brought her there.  Her mother collaborated on many anti-segregation causes with former ministers in my congregation.

I’m sorry I didn’t know about Ms. McCray before she died two years ago.  How wonderful it would have been to meet her, perhaps here in our own town or down in Lynchburg during one of my writing retreats. I would have liked to thank her for her book.  It’s both a moving tribute to her mother whose tireless efforts I continue to benefit from, (among other things, she helped integrate our town’s movie theaters) as well as  an important addition to our country’s history.

You can read her obituary which includes a summary of her book here:

S.C. author Carrie Allen McCray Nickens, 94, dies | The Herald – Rock Hill, SC.

Sentimental Sunday – How My Great-Grandfather escaped the Ku Klux Klan.

My maternal great grandparents, Melissa and Sam Jones in Bakersfield, California probably in the late 1960s.

As part of celebrating  Mother’s day with my mom last week, we went through her box of old photos and reminisced.

We rediscovered a bunch of treasures that I’d forgotten about, including the one above, a picture of my maternal great-grandfather, Sam Jones and mom recounted my favorite story about him.

Born July 18, 1882 in Alma, Arkansas, the Rev. Sam Jones lived a good part of his life in Oklahoma.  But an incident there with the local Ku Klux Klan chased him out of town. No one can remember now what the incident was, but everyone recalls that when Sam learned that the Klan was after him, he had himself nailed into a pine box, placed on a wagon and driven out of town like he was already dead.  He would settle in Bakersfield, California where he was known as an entrepreneur and mentor to many young black men.

I don’t know how long Sam had to stay nailed up in that box, and even though I’ve heard the story plenty of times, it still makes me shake my head in awe. I never met my maternal great-grandfather. He died on December 16, 1976 when I was just seven years-old. But because of this story and all the good things I’ve heard about him over the years, he has always seemed heroic to me and loomed large in my mind.   Indeed he was large, almost 7 feet tall!  Only my brother, at 6′ 4″  inherited any of great-grandpa’s height, but I hope if need be we descendants have somehow garnered even an iota of his courage.

So what’s your favorite family tale?

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