Happy Summer! Mine has been speeding by at a breakneck pace which is why it’s taken me until the dog days to post. But I’m not complaining. Amid driving kids to summer camp, packing and unpacking for family trips and trying to stay submerged in water to fight the heatwave in our state, the genealogy gods still managed to throw me a bone.
Right before we took our annual family vacation to Hilton Head in late June, I tried to follow up on some things in my research I’d been neglecting. Namely, the Thomas Burton papers.
Thomas W. Burton and his wife Nancy lived in Yanceyville, North Carolina, from about 1850 to 1908. His collection of papers, archived at North Carolina State University at Chapel Hill, include correspondence between Burton and family members in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama as well as missives on everything from their health to the price of slaves. Since the people first documented as owning my great, great-grandmother were also from North Carolina, and she ended up in Mississippi with a possible tie to Alabama, I figured I should check out these papers, long shot or not. I hoped they would help me discover how my great, great grandmother Tempy Burton got her last name.
But instead, they bored me to tears. Except for a few interesting exchanges from a relative to Mr. Burton, pestering him for never writing, some mentions of a slave, and how the Civil War was dragging ong, the collection was mostly receipts and ledgers. Worried that I might miss a clue pertaining to my family buried in the receipts, I tried to drum up the courage to wade through the ledgers once more stored on my laptop. As often happens, my ennui lured me to Google. I typed “Burton, slave owners” and “Burton slaves” into the search engine, (so similar to the search words I used to find the picture of my family in the header above). The search returned a bunch of links like the slave narratives of Annie Burton and a doctor, William Burton (whose mom’s name was Eliza like my third great grandmother). There was also a link for the Digital Library of American Slavery. Compiled by the Race and Slavery Petitions Project and libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, this digital collection encompasses 15,000 petitions to Southern courts pertaining to enslaved people, their owners and free people of color in the slave owning states. In one such petition a woman, “Tempey” is listed as Allen Burton’s slave. (I’ve seen my great, great-grandmother’s name spelled with and without the “e”). Among Burton’s other slaves listed were Polly, Nancy and Albert – the names of Tempy’s siblings. (Tempy had another sister, Liberia but she was freed as a child.) Of the 50 or so other petitions I looked through on the database, this was the only one with a slave named Tempy. The petition was made in 1839 to Allen Burton’s estate in Alabama, two points of fact that intrigue me. In the 1910 census Tempy lists Alabama as her father’s birth place. The filing year of the petition, 1839, was seven years before Hill Jones’ 1846 will where Tempy first shows up in a public document. I still have more work to do, but what if I’ve found the original owner of Tempy?