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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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I hope everyone is returning from a wonderful holiday season and excited about a bright New Year.

In Part 1 of this post, we began looking at examples of the riches that can be found in civil war pension records. We’ll continue in this post looking at how the lives of enslaved people are illuminated, both before, during and after the war. The name of the ever-important slave-owner is often mentioned. The role of the “slave neighborhood” is illustrated, as slaves often married slaves living nearby and had neighboring slaves testify on their behalf.

Slave “marriages” were not legally recognized but were often encouraged by masters. Names of colored preachers and church affiliations when given in pensions can provide us with new research avenues. Previous marriages and children hint at the instability caused by slavery.

  • Rachel Orr testified in 1899 that she and Edward Orr were “…married long years before the war by Ephraim Brighton, a colored preacher, in my master William Orr’s house in Danville, Alabama.”
  • George Simpson’s widow Annie testified that she “was a slave of the Rev. Anspach who lived at West River, Anne Arundel County, MD. [Her husband] George was a slave of John Gale on an adjoining plantation and [they were] married by the Rev. in her cabin on his plantation, him reading the service from a book.”
  • Martha Harbour was married to Isac Harbour “…in the month of March 1848 by Matthew Broyles, a colored Methodist preacher, at the plantation of his late master Elisha Harbour in slave form by his consent.”
  •  Caroline Allen, of Memphis, testified that Betty and Jacob Bradley were married “…in my room in this city. Brother Martin, our pastor in charge of Collins Chapel performed the ceremony.” Betty herself added that she “had a husband in slave time in South Carolina. I belonged to Mr. Lewis M. Ayre near Sumpterville, SC and Elias Phoenix, a neighbor’s servant was my husband according to slave custom. We had been married only about a year when I was sold to a “nigger trader” and brought to West Tennessee and bought by Mr. Thomas Kilpatrick (now dead) of Tipton County, TN.  I was then given by him to his daughter Mrs. Cornelia Nelson and went to live with her in Bartlett Station.”

We can get valuable dates of death from the pension files, sometimes before deaths were recorded by the state. Often there are receipts or letters indicating the death of the pension applicant as well, usually the wife or child of the soldier. Applicants submitted these papers in the hopes of getting reimbursed for the costs. Deaths after the war sometimes show the dangerous nature of the jobs freedmen had available to them.

  •  Eliza King testified that her father Edward Hays “…died in July 1879, the year following the yellow fever epidemic.”
  •  Eleanor Waters, of Baltimore, testified that her husband William Harrison Waters died “…on or about the 4th day of April 1882 while working on a steam mill at the corner of Pratt & Fremont, the boiler of which exploded killing him instantly.”
  •  In Caroline Allen’s deposition of Jacob Bradley’s death she says, “I know he died because I sat up with the corpse and went with it to the graveyard and saw his body put in the ground. I think he had consumption, because he had an awful bad cough.” Caroline gave the date more specifically as “occurring “during the yellow fever epidemic about 1878.”
  • W.C. Woods, the white clerk of the county court, testified that soldier Isaac Bailey “…lived near [me] on a small tract of land he purchased [from me]. [I] furnished Isaac means during his last illness. The servants on my place all quit work to attend the burial of Isaac.”

As we can see from above, the files contain not just the dates and names we crave, but also tell us significant details about the slave community. Many files include copies of death certificates, marriage licenses and even pages from bibles. The death certificate below for Harry Brown of Kentucky, under the section for age says, ” an old slave no one knows exact age:”

Harry Brown death

Harry Brown death

I’ll do one more post on this topic in the future, showing a few more ways that pension records are the crown jewel of genealogy records.

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Black Civil War Soldiers

Black Civil War Soldiers

Civil War Pensions remain, in my opinion, the crown jewel of genealogy research for those with enslaved ancestors. The first-hand descriptions of their lives given in the testimonies, both before, during and after the war still take my breath away. I do not have any direct ancestors who served (although I have some collateral), but I have researched soldiers in the counties where my ancestors lived and gotten a rich sense of the times that no other source could come close to describing.

African-Americans from the start of the war clamored to join the Union effort, but were initially repelled in their efforts by the Lincoln administration. Not until the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 did formal recruitment of enslaved people begin in earnest. Even that went slowly, as many black men reacted to the blatant discrimination of having unequal pay and no black commissioned officers (a few were later commissioned). Frederick Douglass gave impassioned speeches for black men to join the war effort and demonstrate their manhood; two of his own sons would join. In the end, almost 200,000 black men fought in the Union Army & Navy.

The large numbers of escaping slaves, combined with the struggling Northern war effort forced Lincoln to eventually recruitment-broadsidehave to deal with the issue. However, Lincoln’s Republican Party had the destruction of slavery firmly in their party’s platform from at least the 1840s on. Lincoln’s rejection of the Crittenden Compromise before the war started, as well as his push to try to get slave states to abolish slavery on their own are just two of many points that place Lincoln on firm ground in his commitment to ending slavery. James Oakes has written a marvelous book called Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 if you are interested in reading more about the struggle. Ironically, it was the South’s secession that removed the legal protection the states had for slavery; the war opened the doors for Lincoln to use “military necessity” as a way to destroy slavery in the states.

Lincoln had initially tried to avoid freeing and enlisting slaves because he was  afraid that the four border states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky & Missouri), who were all slave states, would abandon the Union and join the Confederate war effort. He was in a very precarious position and it’s a nod to his political prowess that he read the national mood correctly. He famously stated, “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us.” I love that quote. Lincoln certainly had a way with words.

There are some wonderful places online to find out how to research the courageous black men who served our Nation. The National Archives is ground zero, and the various types of Civil War records they hold can be found here. Of course, the massive Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database lists the soldier’s names and regiment(s), but I absolutely recommend reading the 3 post series on Randy’s Genea-Musings blog about using this database. I learned quite a few things I didn’t know before.My friend Michael Hait also wrote a great post on researching black soldiers. And there is an excellent article on Black Sailors at Prologue Magazine.

I also like the website by Dr. Bronson which explains and describes the various Pension Acts that were passed and the provisions of those Acts. Typical pension files often include several different applications; those often occurred when the Pension law changed. Some files will include applications from the soldier and then after his death, applications from his wife or children.

Today, I am starting a series of posts where I discuss some of the amazing stories and interesting facts found in Civil War pension files. Today’s excerpts are from the pension file of Cap Ross, a former slave living in Colbert County, Alabama who served in the 101st USCT.

Various parts of his deposition give us his background:

 “I belonged to Walter Sherrod during slavery time… I was born near Courtland in Lawrence County, Alabama and was a farm laborer. I enlisted at Huntsville and the regiment stayed there about 2 weeks then went to Nashville where we were mustered in. Our company was guarding the railroad at Scottsboro when we had that little fight…I was slightly wounded in my right foot in a scrimmage…the ball did not go deep and our doctor…took his knife and picked the ball out.”

Cap added this about his service:

 “I was first a Private and promoted to Corporal while in Huntsville and then to a Sergeant for a short time…they reduced me down to Corporal again because I left camp without permission and went to the correll where there were a lot of women.”

Cap, like many former slaves, had no idea exactly how old he was, or exactly when he married, or even exactly the birthdates and ages of his children. Most slaves tried to approximate these dates, but since attaining a pension depended on these very things, a large number of black soldiers ended up with a Special Investigator whose role it was to do just that—to investigate the claim. Another common problem with former slaves was their enlistment under one name, and their later going by a different surname. The investigators had to ferret out false claims (which were rampant). When Cap Ross was asked why he enlisted under the surname “Ross” and not “Sherrod,” his answer was telling:

 “I enlisted under Ross because that was my father’s name. I am generally called Cap Sherrod but I was married under Cap Ross and have voted under the name Ross..A good many people call me Sherrod because I belonged to Sherrod but I calls myself Cap Ross.”

That last statement is pretty powerful; it illustrates the desire of former slaves to exercise their newfound rights as freedmen to identify themselves as they pleased.

The constant movement of former slaves to find work, often sharecropping or living as tenant farmers, is shown in Cap’s description of postwar life:

“I was in Mississippi a part of 1892 then I came back here [Alabama] and stayed the balance of that year [1892] and next. I went to Louisiana and lived on Dr. Gillespie’s plantation near Panola and lived there 3 years then came back here and lived on the Felton place 1 year with Mr. Stretcher, with Jim Houston 1 year, with Captain Kelly 1 year on the Abernathy place, and 2 years with Albert Eggleston last year.” 

Cap Ross’ Special Investigator, held the same prejudices of most white men of his era. He referred to Cap Ross as “an ignorant negro,” but also wrote that Cap had had a “stroke in about July 1902 entirely disabling his right side and he can’t get about at all…he owns absolutely nothing and without question suffers for want of food.” When interviewing Cap Ross’ wife Edith about their childrens’ birthdates, the Special Investigator noted that “she does not seem to be smart enough to know that the younger they are, the more pension they would get.” Notwithstanding his prejudices, the Special Investigator did ultimately assist in Cap and later his wife getting a pension.

I absolutely recommend looking at these records for enslaved people from your research county whether you have an ancestor who served or not. They provide invaluable insight into the lives of slaves. I’ll keep looking at the stories in pension records in future posts. Please share in the comments any stories you have found in this rich resource.

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Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

The image on left is a famous Thomas Nast drawing illustrating Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Freedmens Bureau in 1866. It shows him kicking the “Bureau” and has little black people falling out. The drawing may be a funny caricature, but what black people were experiencing was no laughing matter.

One of the things sometimes overlooked is the absolute terror of the Reconstruction period for our ancestors. Although they were no longer enslaved, the vast majority of former slaves were still in the South and living amidst a very angry populace that had lost the War. White Southerners lost a war that eventually added the destruction of slavery as a war objective, much to their disgust. Most whites (North and South) did not consider black people worthy of anything close to equal treatment. Even minor displays of independence by blacks could and did invite deadly responses. It is no coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan was founded during this period and that Confederate soldiers were often guilty of much of the violence.

Many Freedmens Bureau offices kept records of crimes that were committed in their districts, what they termed murders or “outrages.” Most take the form of registers or logs or were written as summaries in letters of the reporting officers. Although these records usually captured crimes against everyone, black and white, a quick read show the vast majority of crimes were committed against the newly freed black population. The Freedmens Bureau in many places replaced the law enforcement of the local area and had the power to arrest and charge individuals, and to hold trials.

I still remember the first time I read one of these documents, shortly after I started doing genealogy. The records show freedmen and their families working under labor contracts, then being beaten or otherwise forced off the farm without any pay when the crops came in. There were also lots of cases of black men and women being randomly beaten, whipped or raped. Many of the perpetrators in the documents are listed as “parties unknown,” which would become a familiar refrain used during the era of lynchings.

These poor people just went from terror to terror. Even filing a charge with the Bureau could expose one to more retribution, so I’m sure many more crimes probably happened than were reported to the Bureau. Union soldiers, teachers, preachers, landowners and those attempting to vote were especially targeted. Most Southern whites were intent upon keeping blacks in their socially inferior and economically dependent status.

When you read these outrages, what comes across is the widespread level of violence and the terror that the newly freed lived under. Surely, some areas were worse than others. But when I think about the joy that freedom bought, I also remember it must have been stunted by the violence and terror that was to come. So many of the people weren’t even named, just “colored man” or “colored woman.” I wonder how many are our ancestors that seem to “disappear” after the 1870 census? I just don’t know how they made it through.

Freedmens Bureau.com has some transcriptions of Outrages. Here are some selections from Alabama in the year 1866:

District of Alabama, 1866

March – Bradley killed freedwoman with an axe. Montgomery.

April 3 – Woman taken by three men out of her house in middle of night to swamp & badly whipped – beaten on head with pistol &c.

April 27 – Freedman shot by Confed. Soldier wantonly [killed] near Livingston, Sumter Co.

May 30 – Mulatto hung by grapevine near roadside between Tuscaloosa & Greensboro.

May 29 – Richard Dick’s wife beaten with club by her employer. Richard remonstrated – in the night was taken from his house and whipped nearly to death with a buggy trace by son of the employer & two others.

June 16 – Mr. Alexander, colored preacher, brutally beaten & forced to leave his house at Auburn, Ala.

July – Band of armed men came to house of Eliz. Adams, threatened to kill her & her sister if they did not leave the county, abused & beat them. (illegible) Franklin & (illegible) started to report outrage, not heard from afterward.

Sept. 14 – Black man picking fodder in a field shot dead — & another who had difficulty with a white man abducted & supposed to have been murdered near Tuscaloosa.

Sept. 3 – Murderous assault upon returned black Union soldier in Blount Co.

Dec. 17 – Enoch Hicks & party burned school house in Greenville in Sumner – assaulted Union soldier &c. Judge Bragg & son mercilessly beat wife & daughter of James, freedman & drew pistol on James. Kell Forrest beat wife of colored man George.

July 16 – Mrs. Prus beat Eve & her children. Henry Calloway beat freedwoman Nancy with buck, wounding her severely in the head. J. Howard & nephew beat & shot at Frank. Jno. Black attempted to kill Jim Sneethen with an axe. Jack McLeonard whipped his freedwoman mercilessly. Lee Davidson tied freedwoman up by wrists & beat her severely. Frank Pinkston cutting freedman Alfred with knife. Louisa’s husband murdered by unknown white man.

July 18 – One Yerby set fire to colored [church] Near Tuscaloosa, threatened to kill black man who saw him do it.

August – Gang of ruffians in Clarke Co. set fire to house & fired on family as they ran from it – one killed, two wounded.

February 1866 – Freedwoman beaten with club by her employer near Selma, head cut in most shocking manner.

June 1866 – Freedman shot while at his usual work by his employer for threatening to report his abusive conduct to the authorities of the Bureau – Mobile.

December 1866 – Freedman killed by parties unknown, brought to hospital in dying condition, shot through brain.

Here are a few reported from Murfreesboro, TN in 1866:

July 28th 1865 – Ben (col’d) Plaintiff vs. Beverly Randolph. Ben says ” on the 29th of June Randolph beat my wife with his fists then caught her by the chin threw back her head pulled out his knife swore he would cut her throat—His brother-in-law stopped him, he then went to his house got his pistol and swore he would kill some dam nigger—-fired of his pistol and went to Mr. Harris’s (the woman was large with child at the time).” Defendant admitted the charge—-was fined 50 Dolls. Which was paid to plaintiff.

Aug. 1st. Egbert (col’d) vs. J. Irvin. Egbert says “Irvin returned from the Reb. Army & found I had a crop growing (I staid on the place and took care of his family house and stock ever since the war begun). When I began to gather the crop (I was to have the 1/3) he drove me and my family off and would not give us a bit of anything to eat and said he did not care a dam for the Bureau.” Got 3 mounted men sent for & brought Irvin who was very penitent under bayonet force and secured by bond. The crop to plaintiff. Since, all paid.

Aug. 2nd. Sam Neal (col’d) vs. Andrew B. Payne. Sam says “Payne hired myself and family 10 altogether to work for the season, he has made several base attempts on my daughter, has ordered me off without pay or share of the crop & because I did not go he got his pistol & threatened to shoot me—-he got Miles Ferguson to beat me & the both together beat me badly.” Payne came by a summons & on proof of guilt offered to let them go back gather the crop & have their share & I fined him for beating and ordering Ferguson to beat him 25 Dolls. Paid to Sam—-

Aug. 4th. Anthony (col’d) vs. Bill Murray. Anthony says “Mr. Murray did on the 1st severely beat my wife and daughter with a stick because we were singing a union song.” Send an order to Murray to appear at this office but was taken with the appoplexy & it is said died from mortal fear of the being put in the Bureau.

These are a sad but informative set of records that paint a picture of what our ancestors endured. Of course, 99.9% of these records are not online, but they can be located by referring to the Freedmens Bureau pamphlets on the National Archives website.

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MC900433938I have posted before about the value of black newspapers and the goldmine of information they have. I think newspapers, like Freedmen’s Bureau records, are an important resource that haven’t yet been made widely accessible and easy to research. However, great strides have been made by various providers, including the Library of Congress, digitizing newspapers. They are still time-consuming to search, but I suppose anything worthwhile in genealogy is that way. I was even surprised to recently discover that the local newspaper of Montgomery County, MD where my ancestors lived was digitized bythe Maryland State Archives. That paper has been on my “to do” list for years. It was not a black newspaper, but I still want to search it for relevant news of the times.

The Chicago Defender was founded in 1905 by Robert Abbott and eventually became the largest and most popular black-owned newspaper in the nation. The paper was famous for detailing lynchings and racial oppression, to referring to blacks as “The Race” and for putting “(white)” after white people’s names in the paper the same way white papers did to black people. The Defender was  a driving force in convincing Southern blacks to migrate to the North. More than 100, 000 black people came to Chicago alone between 1916-1918.

What I didn’t realize until I read my friend Tim Pinnick’s book was that the small, rural towns many of our ancestors migrated from were often covered in these large urban papers. It made sense I suppose: people wanted news from their towns. But I would have never searched in a Northern paper looking for news of my family, especially if they didn’t live there. Tim’s book explains that the papers hired correspondents from those small towns who submitted news. There would be a page called “Tennessee News” and then perhaps 20 or 30 paragraphs, one for each community. The same for North Carolina and other states.

I have recently been searching the Chicago Defender through Proquest Historical Newspapers which is available from my local library (and able to be searched from home!). I was surprised to find that one of my Holt relatives, Annabelle Holt Crowder, who had lived in Chicago for a time, was actually one of the correspondents for her small town of Decaturville, TN! That meant she wrote a lot about her family. Her husband Dave was the principal of the black high school, a revered man for whom the school was later named for.

The tidbits of local history gleaned from these columns is simply priceless. In addition to marriages, births and deaths, they talked about who was sick, who was moving, the black schools and politics, the benevolent and lodge organizations, the teachers and farmers and of course, the ever-prominent black churches and ministers. The articles are filled with visits from out of town relatives and I thought to myself as I read that it looked tome like they spent all their free time socializing! But, because I pulled articles form mostly the late 20s and early 30s, I had to remember there was no television, and radios and cars were fairly new.

There is of course lots of juicy family history, especially because the articles often mentioned the town where people were visiting from, as well as specifically naming parents, siblings, grandkids, etc. Here are a couple of snippets I found from my local TN towns:

September 1928

September 1928

Richard Kendall was indeed a Civil War veteran, and this article gives the names and locations of his relatives from all over the place. Imagine if you were one of his descendants.

This next one names several of my Holt relatives (Lawson was my ggrandfather). I was most fascinated to discover that they enjoyed fox hunting! I would have never guessed that. Notice also how they say “motored to” instead of “drove to.”

November 1930

November 1930

Here’s one more:

April 1930

April 1930

I’ve had luck before with the Indianapolis Freeman newspaper, and I’ve got to believe similar articles may be found in the Pittsburgh Courier and other large black newspapers of the times.

Take a look and let me know if you have any luck finding any of your small towns. It’s important to mention that MOST newspapers are not online and are not digitized, but there were in fact hundreds of black newspapers.

P.S.-Tim has a truly wonderful lecture on researching black newspapers on YouTube. It’ll teach you almost everything you need to know to get started!

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There is a good probability that many of us researching our African-American lines will find at least one line that was freed before 1865. In 1860, there were over 400,000 freed blacks in the U.S.. I like this map from the Schomburg migrations website:

freed blacks

Although Northern cities like Philadelphia and Boston had large black populations, over half of all freed blacks lived in the South in cities like Charleston, New Orleans, Savannah, Baltimore and Petersburg. Escaping blacks would often aim for these cities, as they’d have a better chance of blending in with other freed blacks.

map by Columbia University

map by Columbia University

I had freed black ancestors living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland which was not surprising since Maryland had over 60,000 freed blacks by the time the Civil War began—the most of any state. More surprising was that I discovered a freed black ancestor living in south west Tennessee in Hardin County. She was one of only 37 freed blacks living there in 1850. That was truly unexpected.

berlinOne of the core texts about freed blacks is “Slaves Without Masters: the Free Negro in the Antebellum South” by Ira Berlin. Their lives were only a little bit better than the lives of enslaved people. They worked alongside and many times married enslaved people. They were widely perceived by the white community with suspicion and regarded as an enticement to insurrection among slaves. Some of the most famous slave revolts were planned by freed blacks such as Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner. There have been several very interesting books written about freed blacks who attained great success and wealth, such as in “Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the South” .

As the number of freed blacks grew in states like Virginia and Maryland, state laws also increased drastically limiting their movement and actions. Examples of some of the laws against freed blacks in various states include the inability to vote or testify against whites in court, the need to register movements in and out of state, the inability to own a dog or gun, and the inability to assemble in large numbers without a white person present. Eventually, several states simply legislated that if a black was freed, he or she had to leave the state.

How do you research freed blacks? First, you’d want to find them by looking for your ancestors on census records before 1870. Before that year, only freed blacks would have been included. Sometimes, we assume our ancestors were enslaved before 1870 without first actually checking.

If you discover an ancestor who was freed before 1865, next you’ll want to attempt to discover how they gained their freedom. Slaves could be freed in 5 general ways:

  1. Born Free (legal status came from the mother, so a freedwoman’s children would be free)
  2. Manumitted (freed by their slaveowner)
  3. Purchased their freedom (slaveowner must allow this possibility)
  4. Runaway
  5. Military Service (Revolutionary War or the Civil War)

It’s not always easy ascertaining the method by which an ancestor became free. Many states required freed blacks to register their freedom with the county court to prevent escaping slaves from claiming they were free. The Maryland Assembly put it this way in 1805:

“great mischiefs have arisen from  slaves coming into possession of certificates of free Negroes, by running away and passing as free  under the faith of such certificates”

Therefore, county court minutes are a good place in general to search. That is where I found a reference to my ancestor in Hardin County. The court would grant the person a “freedom certificate” that a freed black was expected to carry on their person at all times and submit it to any white when questioned. Some localities also kept separate sets of these “Freedom Certificates”. If you’re lucky, it will state how the person became free. Here’s an example of one from Anne Arundel County, MD:

Freedom Certificate

Freedom Certificate

Depending on the state and county, there may be separate books of Manumissions (the legal document through which a master frees a slave). A separate book will often contain an index of the slaves’ names. However, the manumission may also be mixed in with the Land Records, or could have been made through the owner’s Will, both records that can be harder to search in the beginning because they are typically  indexed by the name of the slaveowner. Here is a portion of a transcribed Manumission:

man
I haven’t mentioned the fact that in many of the records, there will just be a first name, such as “Negro Sarah”. That complicates the process by forcing us to make sure we are connecting the right “Sarah” with the “Sarah” that we’ve found in the census with a surname attached.

If  you have no luck in finding Freedom Certificates or Manumissions, check to see if your ancestor owned land and if so, from whom did he or she purchase that land? Check Indentures, as many freed black children were indentured to whites. They also may be living near the white person who freed them, so use Cluster Research principles. Freed blacks often had a white person who served as “protector”, someone to vouch for and support them when they were challenged or cheated by whites. You may be able to identify that person by evaluating enough documents. Also,  try to find out what the laws were regarding freed blacks, for example, this book about the black laws in Virginia. and this blog that discusses laws regarding freed blacks in North Carolina.

This was only the briefest introduction to yet another endlessly fascinating topic. There’s a good discussion of researching freed blacks on the University of South Florida’s website and I also recommend this more scholarly discussion of the topic by James Horton who is one of my favorite historians. If you found an ancestor living as a freed black before 1870, let me know in the comments.

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My maternal ancestors lived in Tennessee. How the state was formed was illustrative of the westward movement of white conquerors, as they removed the indigenous populations (notice I do not say white settlers). The Shomburg website is one of the most detailed, fact filled and visually beautifully black migration websites online today and I encourage you to take some time examining it. You could spend hours pouring over the histories, pictures and maps. I’m going to highlight just a few of my favorites.

This one shows the African-American enslaved population in the original 13 colonies and its rapid change in the late 17th and early 18th century. Not surprisingly, Virginia and Maryland had the highest numbers:

Slavery in the Colonies

Slavery in the Colonies

The next map reminds us that as this conquest was occurring, whites were bringing slaves they already owned and buying slaves via the domestic slave trade. With the official close of the African Slave Trade in 1808, enslaved families were torn apart as they were sold south and west, many of these people who were by now 2nd or 3rd generation American born. One shows relative numbers while the next shows the transportation routes used–notice that states in green had net gains while states in red had net losses in numbers of slaves:

Domestic Slave Trade

Domestic Slave Trade

Domestic Trade Routes

Domestic Trade Routes

We often focus on the southern states with regard to slavery and forget that it was in the Chesapeake that slavery was born in North America. It was old and tired there by the time of the rise of cotton and the newfound wealth that would later happen in the deeper South in the mid-1800s. It’s a point worth remembering: southern and western slave states and territories were filled primarily with slaves bought or sold from the Chesapeake.

Other maps of interest include this one illustrating concentrations of freed blacks:

Freed Blacks

Freed Blacks

And I really enjoyed seeing these maps of African Kingdoms:

African Kingdoms

African Kingdoms

And Africa before European domination:

Islamic Africa

Islamic Africa

Notice how almost the entire northern hemisphere is Islamic, which is what was shown in the TV series Roots with Kunte Kinta.

Lately, I’ve been reading books by Frank Snowden, Cheikh Anta Diop, John Henrik Clarke and others to gain a better understanding of Mother Africa herself. None of this information is taught in US schools.

I think it’s important for us as we research our ancestors, to place them into the broader context of these migratory experiences. As I mentioned above, many of our ancestors who in 1865 were living in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, etc. had their roots in Virginia or Maryland–we can see that by the 1870 census birthdates in many cases. We should also understand that the Domestic Slave Trade, which transported over 1 million people deeper South and west wrought devastating seperation of families as much as the African Slave Trade had a century earlier.

Check out the website and (if you can pull yourself away) let me know what you think.

PS: I also want to give you all a heads up that NARA has released a new Freedmens Bureau finding aid that is probably the most detailed I’ve seen, and also mention the roll-out some months ago of the online genealogy magazine, The In-Depth Genealogist. It’s got good articles and a sleek appearance. Take a look at them both.

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thecivilwarparlor.tumblr.com

thecivilwarparlor.tumblr.com

Everyone knows court records are my very favorite genealogical record, but a very close second are civil war pensions. The depositions from former slaves are one of the few places you’ll find first person accounts of their lives as enslaved people. So, anytime I go to the National Archives in DC, I spend most of my time pulling pension records. As we all know, applicants had to prove their marriages, children, birthdates, service, etc. and for many former slaves, this was a difficult task. Donald Shaffer’s excellent book Voices of Emancipation points out that black applicants had a higher rate of Special Investigations than did their white counterparts, which makes sense since they would not have had the types of “proof” that white and freed people had for many of these life events.

After surviving the process to get the much-needed pension money, some people had their good thing thwarted by those who “dropped dime” on them.

George Holt, later known as George Marsh served in Co. F, 14th Reg, USCT, and provided a deposition that would be solid gold for any of his descendants. Part of it says this:

“ When I was born, I was owned by Solomon Marsh of Dickson County, Tennessee. He also owned my father and mother and my seven brothers and seven sisters [wow!]. All my brothers and sisters are dead, except two: Abraham Marsh now living in Evansville, IN, and my sister Angeline Porter now living in Turnbull, Dickson County, Tenn. When I was a baby, I was given to Elias Holt of Dickson Cty, Tenn.…I was a slave of Elias Holt until the time I enlisted in the army…I served under the name George Holt because I was last owned by Elias Holt…most people now call me Marsh because my father’s name was Marsh.”

However, the local Postmaster Andrew Black attempted to “drop dime” as evidenced by two letters he wrote to the Pension Agent:

“..yesterday  I read to George Marsh alias George Holt his Pension Certificate..I was informed by several persons…that he never received the Gun shot wound in his left hip while in service to the U.S. …it could be proved that he received said gun shot wound at the hands of the husband of the wife with whom the said George Marsh was in criminal intimacy with. There is a fine respectable old colored lady in this vicinity who can tell of the circumstances. I considered it my duty as a Pensioner to give this information, and let the matter be investigated…As a favor, I wish my name not to be known in the matter, on account of personal and safety [sic] to property, at hands of either him or his colored friends.”

George Holt was receiving a pension as late as 1912, so it appears the Postmaster’s suspicions were uninformed, or at least, unproven. I think it’s funny how he stressed not to have his name used.

Reason Snowden served in Co. D, 30th Reg. of the USCT from Maryland. His wife Ann applied for a widow’s pension in 1878 and it was approved. Her application states that although she still had children at home under the age of 16 at the end of the war, that she never heard from her husband after 1864. The military determined that he had died.

But in 1894, Charles Sellman, of Poolesville, MD, “dropped dime” on Ann in his deposition:

“I am the person that informed a pension official about 3 or 4 weeks ago that there was a woman named Ann Snowden who was living in open adultery with a man by the name of Ewell, and still drawing a pension as Ann Snowden….she has been living with this man…for over 25 years. She has grown up children by this man. She has at least 8 children by this man Ewell. They have been living together as man and wife.”

C.V.  Morrison’s deposition supported these facts:

“I have known Mrs. Ann Snowden for about 7 years now. She lives with a person by the name of J. Wesley Ewell and has quite  number of children by said Ewell.”

Unfortunately, Ann Snowden’s pension status was revoked and the letter to her stated:

..you have violated the Act of Congress of August 7, 1882, having lived in open and notorious adulterous cohabitation with one Ewell since the passage of said law and since the death of your late husband…the penalty for which is the termination of your pension.”

It’s true that fraud was rampant in the pension system, and people had ample reason to manipulate the system for their benefit. Once again, more evidence that human nature essentially hasn’t changed, which is one of the reasons I love genealogy. There were always people ready and willing to snitch!

P.S. Check out Claire’s 2010 article on Civil War Pensions, and also see an article done by the author of Voices of Emancipation .
Dr. Bronson also has one of the best websites for understanding the various pension laws and their requirements–I especially like that he links to the actual statutes.

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