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Archive for the ‘Reconstruction Era’ Category

Emancipation Celebration

Emancipation Celebration

Familysearch quietly released three more sets of Freedmens Bureau Field Office records: Kentucky, Georgia, and this month Louisiana. Now, all southern state’s FB records are online, free for viewing! That is : Alabama, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Sign in at Familysearch.org, click on “Browse the records,” and then type in the word “Freedmen” in the search box and the links for each state will appear. I cannot state enough how valuable these records are for African-American research during the period of Reconstruction. Alot could and did happen in the chaos of those 5 years between the end of the war and 1870.

Because they are mostly unpaged and unindexed, these records are one of the few large collections that remain mostly untapped by genealogists. The fact that you can now sit home, in the comfort of your pajamas, at midnight, and walk page by page through these records is astounding. I urge everyone to read some of the material about how to use these records and to get started. I did a post in 2012 on getting started, Angela Walton-Raji has set up a new website with resources here, and one of my favorite National Archives finding aids on the records can be viewed here.

They are still what I call “needle in the haystack” records, but when you do find something on your family, it tends to be a very big needle. Just as important as information on individuals, are the many letters and reports that detail what is going on in the community. The building of churches and schools, crimes, and descriptions of the economic and racial climate provide the important social history that can add meat to the bones of our family research. For example, the Superintendent of the Rockville Freedmens Bureau, where my relatives lived,  had this to say about the community in 1867:

The difficulties encountered in obtaining justice for the Freedmen are those incident to the opposition of a large majority of the community as well as to that of all the civil officers of the county (with the exception of two magistrates) who will do no more for the Freedmen than they are forced to, and that with a very bad grace, they also use their influence to dissuade Freedmen from prosecuting cases against white men and endeavor to counteract my influence with them—intimidation and misrepresentation are resorted to by the people to prevent Freedmen from bringing their complaints to this office, and where complaints have already been entered, to prevent them from testifying.

Here are a few more samples of the riches waiting for use in these records:

In the Washington, D.C. marriage records, which is Roll 12, you find beautifully written registers of marriage, many from Virginia and Maryland couples. D.C. was inundated with escaped slaves during the war. The registers contain lots of information on each couple.

Register Clipping

Register Clipping

In addition to noting where the couple had come from, what year they were married and by whom, and number of children, this registrar wrote interesting little notes such as,

“Grantlin is very intelligent and industrious, and his children can read well.”
“Smith is a Baptist minister, Is intelligent and industrious. Owns house and lot.”
“Roswell is a Plasterer. Has steady employment and good wages.”

Some of the comments weren’t very flattering, such as:

“This man is sad to be very abusive to his wife.”

One couple was described as “A rather worthless couple.” That really makes you wonder about what behavior elicited that comment!

Another amazing notation was this one: “Scott was separated from his first wife 22 years ago, and having heard from her lately, wishes to leave the present one and live with the first, by whom he has several grown children, but none by the last.”

First wife

First wife

This cold weather gives us the perfect excuse to start digging through these records! Please write back here in the comments and tell me if you’re found any interesting information on your ancestors in the Freedmen’s Bureau records.

On another note, my “Advanced African-American Genealogy” class at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD starts on February 17 and runs for 4 weeks, one night a week, from 7-9pm. The class is $89. I hope those in the local metro area who are at least “intermediate” level researchers will come and join us. I discuss primarily how to evaluate the evidence you’ve collected, how to ease into source citations, and I discuss research techniques such as Cluster Research. I also talk about slave research. You can find out more information about how to register at their website. The class is listed on page 45 and is class number: XE 131 6554, #3651. Please register immediately if you can, as they tend to cancel these classes quickly if they don’t have their minimum numbers! I look forward to meeting you and hope I can help you get further along in your research.

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Figure11Familysearch is rolling with Freedmen’s Bureau Records. They now have Field Office Records digitized for Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia! I have been looking at Alabama, which is one of my research states, and I am struck by several things.

Labor Contracts are one of the first categories of records that researchers should browse within Freedmen’s Bureau records, if they exist for that particular location. I posted awhile ago a suggested process to follow while searching these exasperating records. I have been searching through contracts in the city of Tuscumbia, Alabama. Most were for the calendar year of 1866. Contracts are very valuable because they were most often made between slaveowners and their former enslaved laborers.

After reviewing about a hundred of these agreements, I realize they tell us something more about the experiences of our enslaved ancestors.

There was no standard labor agreement; some were short where others went into great detail. What is apparent is that white planters were most interested in returning if not to slavery, than as close to slavery as possible. These agreements illuminate why it was so difficult for former slaves to achieve anything close to economic independence. Social equality was of course, off the table. What’s also clear is the devastation of freeing 4 million slaves who for the most part had no property of their own, were illiterate, and had no land when farming was the only skill most of them had. It was a recipe for disaster.

Slavery studies tell us also that freedmen wanted to get their wives out of the fields and refused to work as long and hard as they did during  slavery. Most agreements spell out that planters would provide the land, tools, animals, and seed, while freedmen would cultivate and gin the crops. Some planters paid the freedmen in cash, but most paid freedmen by giving them ½ or 1/3 of the crop. Agreements vary on who would provide clothing, medicine, and food. The restrictions on their behavior was what struck me most, as well as the ability of the planter to unilaterally cancel the agreement for supposed bad behavior.

Most added that freedmen were not allowed to either leave the plantation or have visitors without consent of their employer. What kind of freedom was that about? While freedmen tried to get more flexibility, planters all but forced them into year-long agreements instead of shorter timeframes. The language used in the agreements show the lengths some planters went to maintain not only their workforce but their absolute power and supremacy over that workforce:

  • Fred Sherrod, in addition to providing land, tools, animals, feed, cabins, meat and meal required the freedmen to  “commence work at daylight and work the entire day except for half hour for breakfast and dinner, to work six days out the week, and to work at night if necessary.”
  • D.W. Hicks added that freedmen would “abstain from all impudence, swearing or indecent and profane language to or in the presence of employer or his family.” Other planters added that freedmen had to be “respectful, obedient and submissive at all times.” That is a very interesting word choice…..submissive.
  • Kirk and Drake demanded in their contracts that there be “no general conversation to be carried on during work hours.”
  • Joseph Thompson wasn’t leaving any detail to chance. His lengthy agreements spelled out that freedmen would “do fair and faithful mowing, patching, hauling, plowing, howing, reaping, chopping, making rails, & boards, making and repairing fences, gates, houses, cribs, barns, shops, sheds, gin houses and all labor necessary for successful cultivation & management of plantation…Commence work at sunrise and stop at sunset reserving one hour in spring, fall and winter months and one and a half hours in summer for dinner…freedmen are not to leave the plantation w/o permission and they labor for Thompson at all times except the afternoon of  Saturday which is reserved to them for working their own patches…but…when the crop is behind or when any extraordinary occasions occur which requires their services on the afternoon of Saturdays it is to be rendered faithfully and cheerfully.” Thompson’s view of the freedmen is evident when he further states “anyone failing to work for any cause will be charged 50 cents/day and if any freedmen shall become habitually idle, worthless and troublesome then he or she will be discharged and sent from the plantation never to return.” He also noted that a journal would be kept of all start and finish times, quality and quality of work.
  • William Hooks may have been more progressive than other planters as he added in his agreements that he would see to it that “peace, harmony and good feelings prevail and equal rights are given.’ That was a rarity.

My guess is that these agreements reflect what the former slaves’ lives were like with that particular owner. By 1870, many of these former slaves would be still living near their former owners. They had few choices. William Ricks is shown below, from the 1870 Colbert County, AL census. His high real estate value suggests prior slaveownership:

1870 Wm Ricks

1870 Wm Ricks

Here is a portion of his labor agreement with several freedmen:

Ricks Contract

Many of his contracted freedmen (Jack Ricks and William Fort) are still living near him in 1870:

Freedmen

Freedmen

This was about the control of labor, plain and simple. It was also about trying to enforce dependence, and continued racial subjugation. That the US Government choose to perpetuate servitude and dependence at that moment in time is one of the greatest, in my mind, tragedies of U.S. History. Let’s not forget that many of the planters broke these agreements: Bureau Complaints are filled with refusals to pay the freedmen when the crop came in, violence against them, or just plain kicking them off the plantation after the crops were in.

Take a look at these valuable records. Seeing original historical documents still has a powerful impact on me, a strong emotional impact. They tell us much about our ancestor’s plight and the hardships that “freedom” brought.

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black-voting-rights
I attended the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference last week in Richmond, and had a wonderful time catching up with old friends, making new ones, taking classes and eating out every night for dinner which I haven’t done in years! For those of you who haven’t attended an NGS (or FGS) annual conference, I hope you will do so in the future. Now on to my post:

The challenge to find the last slaveowner for those researching African-American ancestry can be daunting. We need to trace our lines back as close to emancipation as possible and the 1870 population census becomes a critical document. If you can’t locate your ancestors in 1870, you can use other documents to record their presence in a particular time and place. Voter registration records are a widely untapped source, and although in most cases they are incomplete, they should always be searched.

For my friend Carole Hyman, we traced her ancestor Arden Hyman to the 1880 census in Edgecombe County, NC, but could not find him in 1870.  However, searching the 1867 voter registration record for Edgecombe County showed us that our Arden was in fact there:

ArdenVoter

It also showed another Hyman—Zion Hyman—noted as living in the same district. Finding those names together uncovered an important link to Arden’s enslaved roots. That “Zion” was likely Arden’s father Zion who was named in one of Arden’s marriage records. That connection helped us identify his likely slaveowner:

Arden mrg

By the end of 1866, Radical Republicans were in control of Congress and wanted to ensure some civil rights for blacks in the defeated south, but the now- President Andrew Johnson (who came to power after Lincoln’s assassination) wanted to deal with the South more leniently, and firmly believed in white supremacist notions of black people’s inferiority. He also wanted little to no retribution for former Confederates, and this clash set the scenes for what would be very familiar to most of us watching Congress today.

Important bills were constantly vetoed by Johnson (like the Freedmen’s Bureau bill and the Civil Rights bill); but the strength of the numbers of Radical Republicans enabled them to override those vetoes. Finally, the Congress decided to impeach Johnson and just get him out of the picture altogether. The House voted to impeach Johnson, but impeachment lost in the Senate by one vote. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (and later 1875) and 4 Military Reconstruction Acts. This divided the South into 5 Military districts each run by a Union General (see map below-click to enlarge). Notice that Tennessee did not go through Congressional Reconstruction and had rejoined the Union prior to enactment of these laws:

image001
As a condition of re-joining the Union, the Southern States were required to ratify the 14th amendment, conferring citizenship to former slaves, and after 1870, also the 15th amendment. Reconstruction, the name given to the period between the end of the war in 1865 and about 1877 (although the opinion varies) was a volatile time period that I’ve discussed here before.

Take a walk around the web and read about the battles between the Congress and President Johnson.  There’s much more to the story that deserves a post of its own.

The brief taste of voting rights for blacks, which beginning in 1870 ushered in the first wave of blacks to serve in the U.S. Congress would not last. Violence and intimidation increased against blacks who dared to vote. The Ku Klux Klan was born. After 1877, Democrats start to take back state legislatures and later re-wrote their constitutions with laws designed to circumvent the 15th amendment, but designed to strip blacks of the right to vote using grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics. Supreme Court cases like Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and the 1883 cases that overturned the Civil Rights Acts of 1875  all closed the door to black voting and led to the resurgence of white dominance over black lives. By 1900, southern blacks were almost completely wiped out of the electorate.

Some of the voting records created during Reconstruction survive.  Here are some of the voting records that I am aware of for the various states (not available for all counties):

Tennessee, 1891 Voter’s List. Available on Ancestry, gives election district, name, sometimes race, and age.

Alabama: 1867 Voter Registration. searchable online at the AL archives. Some of these include length of time in county. (also check Alabama’s 1866 state census)

http://www.archives.alabama.gov/voterreg/index.cfm

South Carolina: 1867-68 Voter Registrations available for some counties, Clarendon County is online (also check South Carolina’s 1869 state census and militia enrollment)

Georgia: 1867-69 Returns of Qualified Voters and Reconstruction Oath Books. Available on Ancestry.

Texas: 1867-1869 Voter Registration Lists. One of the best resources of its kind, these list how long the person has been in that county, in the state and what state they migrated from. Available on Ancestry. Someone posted a PDF of these records for Tyler County.

North Carolina: A book entitled “North Carolina Extant Voter Registrations of 1867,” by Frances Wynne lists records from 17 counties. This book is what led me to the Hyman discovery. Originals should be at the State Archives in Raleigh.

Louisiana: I find references to records available for New Orleans, but no info for other counties in Louisiana.

Mississippi: their records are strangely missing (?).

Virginia: Search by county in the Library of Virginia’s catalog, and search under the heading “Election records.” Some records exist, although many seem to be from the 1880s, 1890s.

Arkansas: The Arkansas Genealogical Society offers a “1867 Voter’s List” on CD for 25 counties.

Related to these records are the Poll Taxes that many southern states created to try to disenfranchise blacks. If they are available, they are also an excellent source to locate your ancestor between censuses. In one of my research counties, Hardin County, Tennessee, the tax collector wrote valuable notes beside each name like “dead,” too old,” or “gone.” These were found in county court minutes.

Some of these counties have voter registers through the 1880s and 1890s—be sure to check those as well. In various state archives, voting records are often “hiding” under Secretary of State Records. Also, check the online Family History Catalog for your state and county. They have a category called “Voting Registers.”

Please post a comment if you can add to the list above or have a story about how a voting record helped your research.

Note: Some of the richest records relating to the violence during Reconstruction, other than those found in Freedmens Bureau records, are the Congressional hearings that took place on the Ku Klux Klan the violence in places like Mississippi. You can read an excerpt here.

congressman

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Boy, that Familysearch.org is going to eventually crush the major paid genealogy websites. They have been uploading Freedmens Bureau records and this weekend I lost my mind when I found out that they had uploaded the Field Office records for Maryland. My entire week is shot. Look at what they have thus far:

On FamilySearch

I did a post on researching in Freedmens Bureau records sometime ago. NARA also has a page dedicated to links and resources about the Bureau records and they have a finding aid that an intern wrote from the Atlanta branch of NARA that is tremendously helpful for genealogists using these records. You will definitely want to download the descriptive pamphlet from the NARA website for your research state before diving into these records. Making these records accessible online is a major step forward: the records are notoriously complicated and mostly unindexed and unpaginated.

But the rewards are many, even if you find nothing for a specific ancestor. These records illuminate the post-war lives of former slaves and the struggles they faced like no other record set. I stayed up way too late last night paging through the records for Montgomery County, Maryland. Indeed, I did find a record on one of my ancestors, Nicholas Moccabee:

Nicholas Moccabee

Nicholas Moccabee

Nicholas faced one of the most common problems freedpeople had: trying to get paid for the work they did, many times for a former slaveowner. The records are also replete with the violence meted out on freedpeople during the period, a topic I discussed in my post about reconstruction.

The monthly and annual reports of conditions that the officers had to submit are invaluable. The ones I downloaded last night gave the most complete picture of what my ancestors dealt with in the community in 1866-188, and on the efforts of the freedpeople to create schools, and the Bureau in helping them secure their children back from whites who refused to “release” them, which was a particularly bad problem in Maryland. Maryland illegally “apprenticed” thousands of children, in a blatant effort to extend the reach of slavery.

Familysearch ROCKS! Stay tuned as I’m sure they will continue uploaded records from the other states.

 

 

 

Freedmens Bureau

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I’m continuing my tour through the voluminous information that can be discovered about our African-American ancestors in Freedman’s Bank Records. Last week was the first post in this series, and I’m suggesting that everyone take another look by *browsing* through these records. I’m giving examples in this series of all the things we can uncover.

Many of the African-American groups and institutions like churches and benevolent groups that existed during Reconstruction can be discovered by browsing. This information may not be available anywhere else. Here are a few examples:

The Beaufort, SC branch held several cards for the Sons and Daughters of St, Phillips Calvary Society. Several society leaders are named:

Calvary

Calvary

Mary Roach served as President of the Daughters of Zion No. 2 in Beaufort. Other officers are also named:

Zion

Zion

 

Howell Echolls is the preacher at Freedmans Colored Methodist Church in Huntsville, AL:

Church

Church

His card also shows he was literate as he signed his own name. You’ll want to look for this, because the vast majority of the account holders could not write.

You’ll find groups of people, couples and family members with cards, so don’t stop if you find one match. A close look will show that Howell Echols, pastor of the church above, as well as his wife Ann also held a separate accounts at the branch. Also, notice that Howell’s parents are given as Green and Sallie Buford, but he does not have that surname:

Howell

Howell

 

Ann

Ann

The 1870 census locates the couple, and Howell’s occupation is “Presiding Elder”:

Howell 1870

Howell 1870

Brothers Samuel and Henry Cartwright both had accounts in Huntsville. Samuel named the regiment he served with in the Civil War:

Cartwright

Cartwright

They are living right next to each other in 1870, and Henry’s birthplace of Virginia is matched on the census:

Cartwright 1870

Cartwright 1870

Notice the census left out the “w” in Cartwright.

Lafayette Robinson and wife Fannie had a joint account. The card reveals that his sister Frances is the wife of Sandy Bynum, and his niece Sisia and nephew John (children of Sandy and Frances) also had an account:

Lafayette

Lafayette

 

John

John

 

Sisia

Sisia

The two families lived right next door to one another:

1870 Census

1870 Census

The cards uncover that Frances is Lafayette’s sister. The cards also show something else. Children were encouraged to open accounts. John’s card calls him a “schoolboy” and the census shows he was only 5 years old and his sister was also 5 when an account was opened in their names. The census also shows us that the sistyer’s proper name is Mary, and that “Sisia” must have been a nickname.

Stay tuned next week, when I’ll continue my travels through these amazing records.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flier

Flier

The records of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, better known as the Freedman’s Bank, are among the most popular records for those researching African-American roots. Established by Congress in 1865, the Bank was primarily designed to be for the use of the nation’s recently freed four and a half million former slaves. It eventually grew to have 37 branches in 17 states and Washington, D.C. While a laudable effort, the Bank closed its doors after nine years due mainly to corruption and fraud.

The National Archives in College Park, MD, holds the original bank records, and their website contains both a general information sheet as well as a lengthier detailed article about their use. The records are comprised of three general types: Administrative Records, Registers of Signatures of Depositors, and Indexes to Deposit Ledgers. The Registers of Signatures of Depositors are the richest collection and have been digitized.

The availability of these records on Ancestry and Heritage Quest has greatly increased the ease of searching these records. However, most researchers type their ancestor’s names into the search template, and, finding nothing, move on to other records. I’d like to suggest taking a closer look at these records, whether a direct ancestor has been located or not. I think a lot of us are missing a potential match in this important set of records.

First, after searching for known ancestors (using different spellings), I want you to try putting just the county and state in the “birth location” search template; leave everything else blank. What will happen is that you will pull up people born in your target county who, were probably sold as slaves and ended up living somewhere else. Here we can see Lloyd Beckett, currently living in St, Thomas Parish, SC, was born in Montgomery County, MD:

Lloyd

Lloyd

Other than that location search, I want to suggest an alternate strategy of *browsing* these records instead. Find the bank branch nearest your ancestors. For example, if you have relatives in northern Georgia, browse the Atlanta and August branches. If you have relatives anywhere in Maryland or DC, check the DC branch and the Baltimore branch.

Browsing Freedman’s Bank records offers a glimpse into the difficult-to-reconstruct life of the enslaved. It also offers evidence and insight into other aspects of slavery, like the domestic slave trade and kinship networks. As you’ll see in the examples, the cards potentially include several other names of relatives; if you search for one of those names, the correct card may or may not display.

Of course, the content of the cards was largely determined by the person who was filling out the information. Some bank employees wrote sparse information about the depositor, while others filled every space on the card with as much detail as possible.

In all cases, substantial information can be drawn about not just individuals but the entire community by closer inspection. In the next series of posts, I want to highlight some of the information we can glean from Freedman’s Bank records, in the hopes of encouraging us all to look again by browsing this valuable resource. To browse, look to the right side of the screen on Ancestry (on Heritage Browse it is on the top) and choose the dropboxes for state and year: Ancestry screen For my first set of examples, we see enslaved people who were sold away from their families, often during the Domestic Slave Trade. That trade transported over 1 million slaves from the North and Upper South to the newly opened Deep South and western territories and states. Leah Calhome of Alabama, says she was born on the “Easter[n] Shore of Maryland” and laments the siblings she left there: Leah Henry Somers in Memphis, Tenn. Was born in Rappahannock, VA, “sold from Va when 5 years old.” He was “raised” in Fayette County, KY, then “was sold from Fayette Cty to Smith [Cty] when his youngest child was a baby”. His card also tells us his wife Rhody died in Kentucky “5 years before the war”. He could not recall the names of his siblings. Also, his parents full names are given–“Phil Shirley” and “Matilda Stencil.” Henry is not using either of those surnames:

Henry

Henry

Mingo Steele of Huntsville, AL was born in North Carolina. He was “removed to Huntsville” when a boy. His mother was “taken away from Huntsville” when he was a child and he had “not heard from her since”. He had “not heard from his father since he left North Carolina.” His parents names are given as “Ned” and “Hannah”:

Mingo

Mingo

Miller Featherston of Alabama was “took to Miss. ten years ago” and had made her way back to Alabama. She “was parted from her husband ten years ago”: MillerFeatherstone
Samuel Edwards of Alabama was born in West Virginia, and “had 4 brothers but don’t know if any of them are living and one sister but can’t say whether she is living or not”. He names his parents as “Bailey” and “Rachel”. He also served as a soldier in the war in the 42nd Regiment, Company E:

Samuel

Samuel

These cards, and thousands of other primary sources, illustrate the tragic consequences and frequency of slave sales, especially the fact that young children were often separated from parents at very young ages. Stay tuned as we continue to take a new look at the wonders of the Freedmans Bank records.

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In this third and final post, I’d like to share a few more items illustrating the riches that can be found in civil war pension records.

I was surprised at the number of former slaveowners (and whites in general) that supplied testimony to assist their former slaves to gain a pension. I would have thought there’d be more widespread anger at slaves who enlisted in the war. I’m not sure exactly what conclusion to draw from this; perhaps after the war was over, they decided to eventually “let bygones be bygones”.

  •  For the pension of Henry Davy, a request to find his birthdate was sent to the daughter of his former owner, who was now married and living in Atlanta, GA. In trying to confirm his age, Mrs. Smith responded that “the family bible has no record of the colored people.” However, another local white man named G.W. Bryant submitted: “I have seen several men that knowed the pensioner all the way from boyhood. One man is now ninety some odd years and one collard man that was raised with him is now 100 years old. These men will all testify that he is over 80 years old. I will ask you to further consider the old darkies case.”
  •  David G. Taylor, of Roane County, Tenn.,  testified for his former slave Frances Sevier. “I bought her at Kingston, Tenn., about 1862, can’t give the date, I bought her from Paul and McGuinn Traders. She had a former husband named Marsh Sevier, a slave on the Sevier farm just outside of Kingston…He asked me to let him have her for his wife and after talking with him on the subject I consented.” [Frances was 13 years old].
  •  Three children of the former owner of Martha Harbour testified as to her marriage and children with soldier Isaac Harbour. James G. and Elisha Harbour testified they were “sons of Elisha Harbour [her former owner] , who died in the year 1863…” They “do not know what record of birth was kept, but their sister Mrs. Gant was present at the births.” Mrs. Gant testified that she “was living at home with her father [and present] when the children were born and the dates of birth [provided] are correct.”

Finding details about family relationships among enslaved people is difficult to obtain. Civil war pensions do not disappoint in this area:

  •  Eleanor Waters testified during her pension application for husband Harrison Waters’ service. Her cousin Tom was living in her home & an accusation had been made that she had broken up Tom’s marriage and was having a love relationship with him. That claim could have derailed her application, so she tried to clarify the relationship. “My owner in slavery was Mr. James Lucas of Annapolis Pike…and my mother Maria Johnson was a sister of Tom’s mother, Emily Johnson and we are about all of the Johnson family left and we don’t like to separate.” Tom himself reiterated that both their “mothers are dead now. Eleanor and I…are from a family which is mighty nigh extinct as I have only one living brother, Nicholas Johnson and no sisters.”
  •  Martha Davy, during her deposition for her husband Henry’s service, revealed details of her family: “My maiden name was Martha Ann Doran. All my fellow slaves are dead or gone. I have no brothers or sisters living. I have a half sister Ellen Benton living here.
  • Lucinda Jones, testifying for a pension for her father Alfred Suggs stated: “[My] parents were Sallie Ann and Alfred Suggs. [They were] married before the war when no record of any kind was kept of the marriages of the colored people.” 
  •  Henny Rideout of Talbot County, MD, testified for a pension under her son John’s service. During her testimony, she provided names and birth dates of her husband, their 4 children, as well as her husband’s mother. She stated: “…these dates are taken from my bible. In 1864 my husband and I were both free. I was freed about 1850 and my husband in 1848. Our old master leaving in his will that we were to be freed at the age of 31 years.”
  •  Carpenter Eskridge, testifying on behalf of Frances Brown, stated: “The present husband[Winston Brown] of claimant is my nephew. His father was my brother, he was named Jesse Eskridge. The mother of Winston Brown was Malinda Brown.”

And finally, Carpenter Eskridge’s testimony also tells a story too good to leave out: “I was formerly a slave to Sam Eskridge who lived 4 miles below Kingston, Tenn. I was hired to James Sevier when the war broke out and continued to live on the Sevier Place…until General [Nathan Bedford] Forest came in here about Aug. or Sep. 1863 and carried me and some others off with him…we were put in the Confederate service. I cooked for a Capt. Higgins, Marsh drove a baggage wagon and Frank drove a forge wagon. We remained with the Confederates 2 or 3 months…we got a chance to run away together and did so. I got back to Kingston by Christmas in cold weather; said Marsh and I went back to the Sevier Place.” 

I hope these three posts on civil war pensions have suggested new ways to use the information they hold. Whether you find an ancestor who served or not, pulling these records for enslaved people from a specific county or community can open a door into lives of all the slaves living there. These records shed light on everything from post-civil war work, migrations, slaveowners, migrations, family relationships, births and deaths, marriages and children, military service and injuries, as well as the relationship with former owners and other whites after the war.

If you have amazing information you discovered inside a pension file, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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