Friend of Friend Friday: Slave Burial Ground in Virginia

View from the Slave Burial Ground, Sweet Briar College, Amherst, VA.

While at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’ve had the chance to visit the slave burial grounds at nearby Sweet Briar College. Over the years that I’ve been coming to the VCCA to write, I became aware of the grounds and was happy to learn that they were being preserved. Sweet Briar College was once a plantation and dozens of enslaved people are buried there.  Thanks to the work of a team of preservationists headed by Dr. Lynn Rainville, these grounds are safe from disappearing and another descendant is closer to finding their ancestor.

Rainville, a research anthropologist and historian at Sweet Briar College, received a grant earlier this year from the National Endowment for  the Humanities to develop the African American Family Database.   The project is a model for researching African-American families from antebellum to post-bellum times and when completed will  help descendants find their enslaved ancestors.

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.

Wisdom Wednesday: Maya Angelou’s inspiration

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!

Talented Tuesday on Wordy Wednesday: My talented, prosperous ancestors

Article about the pianist, Tempe Stuart (my great-aunt) and her wealthy father, Alfred Stuart (my great, great-uncle) in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1901.

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.)

Motivation Monday on Tombstone Tuesday: My Ancestor in a Slave Narrative?

My grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford's tomb at Lake Lawn Cemetery, New Orleans. She's at the top of the end row. I'm standing beneath.

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.

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?

Wordy Wednesday: Mystery Relatives’ Obituary?

Back in June, I was introduced to a turn-of-the century Methodist Episcopal newspaper,  the Southwestern Christian Advocate when a good Samaritan alerted me to one of its ads placed by my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.  Tempy was looking for her family who she’d been separated from by slavery.  You can read her ad and how I found it here.

Turns out my relatives show up in the Southwestern quite often. My great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford frequently wrote into their column, “Uncle Cephas” and her wedding announcement was featured in the paper as well.  This obituary also appeared in the Southwestern’s February 9, 1888 edition with several familiar names and locations:

Sister Martha Burton departed this life Dec. 22, 1887, aged forty-six, at Ocean Springs, Miss.  She was a native of North Carolina, lived several years in New Orleans, and finally moved here in 1885, whence she left for heaven in triumph.  She shouted the harvest home.  -J. Ford, P.C.

Tempy Burton’s original slave owners were from North Carolina.  Like Martha, Tempy also lived in New Orleans for a time. My great-grandfather, who married Tempy’s daughter, Josephine was James Ford, a local minister in the Ocean Springs area.  Could J. Ford, P.C. be my great-grandfather?  Could Martha Burton be a relation to Tempy?

Unfortunately, Mississippi did not keep death records in 1887.  According to their Vital Records department, Mississippi was not required to keep them until November 1, 1912.

Any suggestions on what I should do to find out if the woman in the obituary is one of my relatives?

Monday Madness: Ancestral Property Found, Lost & Found Again

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-nrPgD3LIc&feature=channel]

Ever since my cousin, Monique and I returned from our trip down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to do some ancestry research, I’ve been thinking about all the property my ancestors accumulated and then lost.

It was a source of inspiration to me that my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton who had been a slave and could not read or write purchased an acre of land in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1887.  It never even occurred to us that she had owned her own property.  We always assumed that she lived with her former masters, Col. W.R. Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart after she was emancipated until she died in 1925 at the age of 104.  Indeed, Tempy was listed living with Elizabeth on the 1900 census.  But turns out she bought property of her own. The way we found what was known as “Tempy Burton’s Lot” in the Jackson County Archives was as surprising as the fact that she was a homeowner.

Archive Assistant, Linda Cooper was helping me look through the massive deed books for Josephine Ford’s property.  (The books are so big, Linda needed another person to hold the book whenever she made a copy of a page).   Monique was trying to keep her mind off her hunger (it was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet) so she was randomly browsing through indexes, looking for any familiar names. That’s when she yelled to me from across the office.  She’d found Tempy Burton in an index for land owners in 1889.

With a trip to the Jackson County Chancery Court office around the corner from the Archives, we found that Tempy paid $60 for her acre of property. (Deed Book 9, p. 395)  She would later convey some of this land to my great-grandmother, Josephine and another daughter, Violet Matthews Battle for a dollar each.(Deed Book 45, p. 304 & 305)   Not only was Tempy a landowner, but she made sure her daughters were too.  As we continued digging through the land rolls in the Jackson County Archives, we found that all of these properties were lost to tax debt decades later.  It bummed me out that a later generation of my family had lost something so precious, land acquired by their slave ancestor.

Driving around town earlier in the day, we’d come across a lot owned by Monique’s great-grandmother, Tempy Elizabeth Stuart.  The lot was for sale. At the time, we didn’t know about Tempy’s lot and how her younger generations had lost it.  Can’t help but wonder if it’s still for sale…

Treasure Chest Thursday: Stirling Family Papers

Google is the gift that keeps on giving.

After finding out that a Dr. Stirling owned some of my great, great-grandmother Tempy’s relatives, I punched his name and a few other facts into the search engine  and was thrilled when a collection of papers popped up.

According to the inventory of this  special collection at the Louisiana State University, the Lewis Stirling family papers have a plethora of information on the family’s slaves including everything from a register of slaves to itemized lists of clothing and shoes handed out to those in bondage.

This weekend, I spent a day at Princeton University’s Firestone library where a copy of the papers is also stored and after many hours, I had barely scratched the surface of the five microfilm reels archiving this family’s antebellum years.  Even though I haven’t gotten to the info I’m looking for, the Stirling papers make for fascinating reading.  All of the wills I’ve read so far stipulate that slave families are not to be separated (which makes me wonder why my great, great-grandmother got separated from her mother, siblings and aunt).  And in a three page contract with an overseer, one Stirling slave owner goes to pains to explain exactly how slaves should be disciplined (never with more than a dozen stripes and never with the butt end of the whip) and that the owner should be called if the overseer thinks they’ve done something to merit harsher treatment.

Can’t wait to see what other insights the Stirling Family Papers hold.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Another Stuart Paternity Proved

For just $5 bucks to the Louisiana Vital Records department, another piece of my family’s lore has gone from hearsay to verified heredity.

My cousins Monique and Renee learned about their slave and master ancestors, Tempy Burton and Col. W.R. Stuart, the same way I did – through family stories. The above death certificate confirms their oral history.  It documents that Tempy Burton and William R. Stuart are the parents of Alfred Burton Stuart, my great-uncle.   Tempy was a slave to Col. Stuart and his wife Elizabeth  when Alfred was born in 1860.  This made the colonel’s first child with Tempy his property as well. His last child with Tempy, my great-grandmother Josephine would escape this fate since she was born after the Civil War and the official abolition of slavery.

Monique and I, Tempy and the colonel’s descendants from their oldest and youngest children, were actually chilling on Monique’s deck while our daughters splashed in her pool when this proof arrived in the mail.  But we were having such a good time soaking up the summer day that we never bothered to check the mailbox.

Vital records (and family stories) are a beautiful thing.

What family lore are you trying to back up with documentation?  One of these days I’ll try to see if there is any truth to our royal Stuart blood rumor.

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