After spending all day amongst friends to begin the new year, my family and I sat down at our dinner table to celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa. This African-American holiday helps restore and root us in our African culture lost in the Middle Passage. It seemed fitting to end this restorative holiday and begin a new year by listing the names of about 100 slaves I came across while researching my family tree. Hopefully by listing these names found in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at Louisiana State University, some family researcher will be connected with their ancestors. All of the following people were enslaved to Lewis Stirling of West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana and were listed in a mortgage as collateral. These names and any other of enslaved people I come across in Louisiana will be listed on the page, “Enslaved Communities of Louisiana.”
Yesterday, Christmas showed up a little early and in my email. That seems to be the way I get all of my best genealogy-related surprises.
First, a third cousin, once removed shows up in my ancestry.com email a year and a half ago and jump-starts my ancestry research with her common obsession and appreciation for all things “relative.” A year later, a complete stranger emails said cousin and me information about a third great-grandmother we didn’t even know existed, helping us reclaim another generation of our family’s tree. Then last night, a fellow geneablogger I haven’t “met” yet named Yvonne posted a comment on my blog, congratulating me on the nomination which then showed up in my email.
“What nomination?” I wondered. Between my daughters’ swim practices and meets, Holiday Pageant rehearsals, PTA meetings, a book proposal that I’m writing, and Christmas shopping that mocks me from my ever-increasing list of things to do, I’m a little out of the loop.
Then I remembered. Last month, my cousin, Monique sent me an email saying she’d nominated Finding Josephine for Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs.
Family. Gotta love em!
And I love finding out whatever I can about them, discovering new members of my extended tribe, and sharing what I find and how I find it with all of you.
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:
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.
This morning, I woke up feeling really blue and not just because of the weather. I spent several hours in the library yesterday with my cousin, Monique pouring through the Stirling Family Papers. The Stirlings owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton and I hope to find some information about her and other ancestors among the vast collection of the Louisiana based family that owned her. But wading through these reams of documents about the Stirling’s endless acres of land, the hundreds if not thousands of slaves they held in bondage to work their land, and a free person of color who sold other blacks to the Stirlings is really bringing me down. This morning I was feeling like why bother researching this stuff when it’s so depressing.
But then, I opened up the arts section of the New York Times, headline “SCHOMBURG CENTER IN HARLEM ACQUIRES MAYA ANGELOU ARCHIVE” and read this:
“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: `I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.’” – Maya Angelou
I can’t do anything about the degradations of the past, but I can help protect that history and honor it by telling my family’s part in it. Thanks Maya Angelou for donating your work so that future generations can learn from it and also for helping me today to keep on keeping on!
Finally, the Stirling Family papers have arrived on five rolls of microfilm at my local library!
The Stirling Family papers are a collection of deeds, wills, diaries of slave life, and letters that belonged to the Lewis Sterling family, owner of several plantations in Louisiana. I learned this summer that the Stirlings owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton, her children, Nancy and Albert Burton, and her sisters Peggie Manrow and Bettie Matthews. They all lived on the Stirling’s Attakapas plantation. Now, all I have to do is carefully comb through the microfilm reels to see if they contain any information about my enslaved ancestors. It took me four hours to get through just one roll, so this could take awhile. For the foreseeable future, scouring and transcribing these papers will be my number one genealogy goal.
In just one sitting on Friday, I found over 100 names of slaves owned by Lewis Stirling in these papers, and I only minimally diminished my eyesight squinting at my library’s out-of-focus microfilm screen in the process. Too bad none of the listed slaves were my relatives. But on the bright side, those slaves could be related to some other family genealogist who’s looking for their people the way I’m looking for Eliza. So, on Friday, I’ll put as many of the names that I can transcribe along with the source information on this site under the tab “Stirling Family Slaves.” I’ll try to update this page as often as possible to coincide with the Geneabloggers Friday theme, Friend of Friends. A Friend of Friends was the password used along the Underground Railroad to signal those assisting runaway slaves on their journey North to freedom. (See Sandra Taliaferro’s inspiring essay and the A Friend of Friends site she helped create with Luckie Daniels.)
The other good news about transcribing these papers is that they’ll give me a chance to visit with my cousin, Monique, since she’s offered to risk her eyesight to help me.
Not only is this newspaper article about my talented great-aunt Tempe Stuart a point of pride for this woman who would go on to make her living teaching and performing music, but it’s also full of information that I didn’t know about my paternal family’s ancestral home, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I want to thank my friend, Shannon, for bringing the article to my attention.*
The article states that Tempe Stuart’s dad, Alfred was among the wealthiest colored men in the town, supplying its residents with milk. (Not bad for a man born a slave at the end of the Civil War). At also says that this small Gulf Coast town had about 120 “colored” families and over two-thirds of them owned their homes. That number has to break some kind of record for black homeowners in the south during that time, just a little over 30 years after the end of slavery. Oceanspringsarchives.net contends that the number of black residents was even higher than the article suggests with 331 compared with 925 white residents, citing the federal census as the source. So, in 190o, roughly one-quarter of Ocean Springs residents were blacks and 2/3 of those blacks owned their homes. According to US Census data from 2000, Ocean Springs now has a population of about 17,000 people and about 1200 of its residents are black. About 72 percent of all residents own their homes.
I wonder what made Ocean Springs so conducive to property ownership for former slaves and their families?
(*I’ve gotten so used to Shannon forwarding me amazing newspaper articles about my family, that I neglected to thank her in my original post, so the asterisk refers to updated information.)
Today, my family and I are celebrating Columbus Day by taking advantage of the day off and going to a beautiful farm-lined part of our state to do some apple picking. But back in 1893, the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America on a grand scale with the World Columbian Exposition . Chicago beat out New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. for the honor of hosting this world fair which took three years to organize, pushing back the celebration a year later than planned. Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame designed the grounds visited by over 25 million people including my second great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart. His Stuart pecans exhibit was one of tens of thousands on display at the fair.
Happy Columbus Day!
Only my third week of Motivation Monday and already, I’ve fallen down on the job. I blame my stuffed nose for not posting my goals yesterday as part of this weekly theme I instituted only three weeks ago. That’s also my excuse for not fulfilling the genealogy goal I set last week to transcribe one of my third great-grandfather’s letters. The letters are still sitting in their big manilla envelope where I left them the week before.
But last night as my sinuses were finally starting to clear, I couldn’t resist googling and found something unexpected on the MSGenWeb site, the online source of Mississippi genealogical resources and branch of the larger US GenWeb. In the late 1930s, writers from the federal Works Project Administration (WPA) recorded the life stories of more than 10,000 men and women including ex-slaves and MSGenWeb transcribed as many of the Mississippi slave narratives as they could and have them available at their site. I didn’t expect to see my enslaved ancestor, Tempy Burton listed since she died in 1925 before the project began, but there were two narrations for Jackson County where she lived. I read them out of curiosity. In Nat Plummer’s narrative, this ex-slave makes no reference to Tempy, but he does refer to Tempy’s master, my great, great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart. It’s just a reference to his house and the last name is misspelled Stewart, but it was exciting nonetheless, that his house could be mentioned as a point of historical reference in a context broader than just my family’s history.
My goal for next week is to fulfill the one from last week: transcribe another letter from my third great-grandfather’s collection of papers. Also, I plan to get rid of this cold.
It was a year ago today that I first introduced my family to the blogosphere and began sharing about my search for my roots. So, it was a nice little anniversary surprise to receive a message from the Historic Society in Kent County, Maryland with more information about my family.
A few weeks back, I sent an email to the Historic Society inquiring about a piece of property that used to belong to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart. Stuart lived most of his life in Kent County and wrote about his property, Denbeigh or Denby (he spells it both ways) several times in his voluminous letters. In them, he states that his wife and several sons are buried at Denbeigh. From his letters, it seems he lost the property because he could no longer afford it. At one point, he even asks my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart to buy it back for him. From subsequent letters, it’s clear that his son never fulfills this wish.
Since learning about this property earlier this year, I’ve tried to locate it. I think the Historic Society of Kent may have found it. According to the voice mail their staffer, Joan left for me, they found a place called Denbeigh in Queen Anne County mentioned in a book written by someone named Emory. The book cites the property being owned in Centerville in 1806. The book also mentions a William R. Stuart owning a packet business in 1805, describes him as a noted horse breeder in 1822 and as an elected representative to the legislature as well as an officer of the public lottery.
Horses come up several times in Stuart’s letter as does his public service as both a legislator and President of Maryland’s State Senate. I think this is my William Stuart referred to in the book. But I’ll have to wait until Monday when Joan is back at work before I can find out how to get my hands on that book and pinpoint the location of Denbeigh.
What a great anniversary present. And what a great year of discoveries. I thought it couldn’t get much better than finding out that my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton went from slave to property owner. But I’m realizing each new discovery is sweet in its own way. Thanks to all of you geneabloggers for sharing your stories. It inspires me to share mine too and thanks for the anniversary wishes!
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