My friend Aaron has made an incredible find that I wanted to share here because it is such a rarity. Many enslaved African-American women had children with white men, men whose names are sometimes passed down through oral history in the black family. But many times, only the knowledge of an “unknown white man” survives in the history.
Aaron’s ancestor in Texas was a man named Henry Dorsey, and Henry had 2 brothers named Texas and Richard Dorsey. The oral history gave their white father’s name as John Dorsey, and John was living with the three brothers and their wives in the 1880 census for Smith County, Texas:
The amazing thing is that in John Dorsey’s will, probated in 1888, he named his three black sons and used strong language showing that he clearly had a close relationship with them:
“It is my will …that whatever may remain [of my estate]…be equally and fairly divided between my beloved sons Henry Dorsey, Richard Dorsey, better known as Dick Dorsey, and Texas Dorsey, better known as Tex, these are three (colored) but bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and my rightful heirs.”
It is rare indeed to find direct evidence of a white man naming and claiming black children, and in Texas no less, in the 1880s! John apparently never married or had any white children, and he named his “best friend” as executor to carry out his wishes. His estate was valued at around $1000, and the fact that the brothers later pay the taxes on his land imply that the land was indeed passed to the three sons. Here is one of the son’s death certificate where he names his father:
A later examination of the will of John Dorsey’s father, Benjamin Dorsey, reveals that the name of the enslaved mother of Henry (and his brothers) was the enslaved woman “Ann.” Aaron just added a 4th great grandparent to his tree, and is now tracing back through John’s roots in Georgia.
There are always surprises in store for us in this genealogical journey!