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Posts Tagged ‘Prather family’

Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Well, last week I tried to make the best of being furloughed (fortunately I’m back at work) by doing some genealogy. I’d been wanting to re-visit one of my Prather family’s historic cemeteries in Montgomery County, MD, not far from where I live. The church was historically called Brooke Grove Methodist Church, and is on Maryland’s Inventory of Historic Properties. I discussed how useful these types of databases can be in a previous post.

Brooke Grove was started after the Civil War by a group of former slaves, several of whom had been enslaved together. Some were my Prather ancestors. Generations of the black community in this area are buried at this church. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place, with large oak trees, only interrupted by modern development. I can only imagine what it was like then.

View 1

View 1

View 2

View 2

Heritage Montgomery published a wonderful PDF brochure recently on the African-American churches of Montgomery County; Brooke Grove is described on page 23.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery since about 2009. It was a gorgeous sunny day when I went last week, and I knew so much more now about the community and the people. I could search with brand new eyes and I saw connections everywhere. Years ago when I visited, the headstone for my ggrandparents Levi Prather and Martha Simpson had broken apart:

Old Headstone

Old Headstone

At our family reunion later that year, I suggested we collect donations for a new headstone. I finally got to see it and it looks great!

New Headstone

New Headstone

Part of the purpose of my visit is that I wanted to put into practice some of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ guidance in her quicksheet, “The Historical Researchers Guide to Cluster Research.” I have used the clustering technique many times in my research successfully, but Ms. Mills gave many more examples of its use that I’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to do. Her quicksheet suggests using it at cemeteries. It’s the technique of noticing who is buried near your ancestor, especially those with different surnames. They probably are relatives.

Martha Simpson , from the headstone above, had several siblings buried nearby. The surname “Simpson” made them easy to notice:

Simpson Sibs

Simpson Sibs

Right behind these Simpsons headstones, were the headstones of Nicholas McAbee and his wife “H.Leannah”:

McAbee Headstone

McAbee Headstone

At the time I didn’t know it, but “H. Leannah” was Harriet Leannah Simpson, the sister of my ancestor Martha and wife of Nicholas. It makes sense that they were buried right behind the other Simpsons; the cluster was here at work. There were several McAbee women buried near Nicholas and likely related to him:

Other McAbees

Other McAbees

Here are Howard Prather and his wife Rosie’s headstones:

Howard and Rosie

Howard and Rosie

Right next to Rosie’s headstone is that of Elijah Lancaster:

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah was Rosie’s father; if you didn’t know her maiden name, the cemetery held a big clue.

I began to map out the cemetery on a few sheets of paper and I got about halfway through before I ran out of energy. There are clearly hundreds more buried at the cemetery than have surviving headstones today.

What adventures have you had at the cemetery lately? The next time you go, study the “cluster”; write down the names of those buried nearest your ancestors. Those individuals could very easily be the parents or family of the wife, or sisters hidden under their married names.

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One line of my family has sadly lost three members within the past nine months. Stanley Prather passed away last year on July 16, 2011, at the age of 87.

He was a vibrant, generous and caring man, and he is actually shown in the “Reclaiming Kin” montage above, fourth from the left standing in the back. I love the picture of him below as a young man holding his trumpet:

Stanley Prather

Kevin Johnson (Stanley’s nephew) passed away on August 6, 2011, far too soon. He was remembered by all always with a smile on his face.

Kevin Johnson

Theodore

 

 

At 97, our oldest family member, Theodore Prather passed away this Monday, March 5, 2012. I was fortunate to have done a lengthy video interview with Theodore about five years ago (picture on left). His mind was sharp and he shared valuable family history and many memories of our family with me. I enjoyed the many conversations we had.

Below is a photo of Theodore and his lovely wife, Theresa, on their wedding day (taken by the famed Washington D.C. Scurlock photography studio):

 

 

Theodore and Theresa

 

 

Fortunately, we were able to gather together for a large Prather family reunion in 2009. All three were proud family men who left legacies of love and joy to their communities, wives, children, and siblings, and all are deeply missed. They have crossed over to the Ancestor world, and I honor their memories and thank God for their presence here on Earth.

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I’ve always known that maps are an underused but vital part of genealogy research. I think the difficulty in finding them and correlating them contributes to this for most people. Recently, I had an example where maps helped me to better understand connections between enslaved ancestors.

My Prather family is from Montgomery County, Maryland and I have been studying them alot recently, trying to make sense of the mountains of data I have acquired so I can finally write this line up properly. One thing I’ve learned (the hard way)and believe is that even though most of us spend years gathering data, the real rewards come when you spend MORE time analyzing and assessing what you have. That is a skill that improves the more you read case studies, especially the ones in peer-reviewed journals like NGS Quarterly which I’m a big fan of. I can’t tell you how many things I realized I already had the answers to, once I sit my tail down
and actually look at things. It also helps to have new and fresh eyes look at your research which is why it helps to have good genealogy buddies.

I went off on another tangent which I am prone to do, but back to maps & my Prather family. Montgomery County has a few unique records that help to uncover enslaved ancestors. Maryland ended slavery in 1864, and in 1867, slaveowners were hoping to be reimbursed for those slaves the way that D.C. paid slaveowners. That didn’t happen, but the counties compiled
a record of slaves that each slaveowner owned back in 1864. These are great records because they list surnames and ages of slaves, and also note which ones had “run off” to the military.

Two other records that were priceless were a series of tax records in Montgomery County that named slaves along with their ages from 1853-1864 (not every year), and the D.C. Emancipation records I mentioned above included many Montgomery County families who were hiring out their slaves in D.C. In the D.C. records, the slaveowner had to note how he got title to the slave and you can see all the many ways that happened. (Those records are now on Ancestry).

I said all that to say, I finally found slaveowners of several family members & related families, but I really couldn’t get a feel for why they were spread out amongst so many different people until I looked at an 1865 and an 1866 map of the area. My ancestor Levi and his probable brother Wesley were owned by Dorothy Williams. Dorothy was the former Dorothy Belt who married Walter Williams. When she became elderly, her son James Williams is shown as owner of her slaves.

I’ve spoken of Levi’s father Rezin Prather in another post, but he turned out to be owned by Nathan Cook. Nathan had inherited Rezin from his wife who was a member of the Magruder family. I’m still not exactly sure who owned Levi’s wife
Martha Simpson, but I am leaning towards the Griffith family. The Blunt family owned the wife and children of another Prather (probable) brother, Tobias. When I looked at the 1865/1866 maps shortly, you can see “James Williams” and “N Cook” (Cooke) live in close proximity. Also nearby are the Belt,Griffith and Magruder families, and the Blunts are to the far left of the map. Now it all made more sense.

1865 Map

This speaks to the prevalance of slaves living in “abroad” families, i.e., forming kinship relationships amongst slaves living on nearby farms. A great book about this is “Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South” by Anthony Kay.

After slavery, a deed showed the sale of land from former slave Vachel Duffy to a group of trustees to build Brooke Grove Methodist Church, where my ancestors worshipped and were buried for decades. Those trustees included Levi and Wesley Prather, Wesley Randolph, John Ross,and  later Rezin Prather & others. The 1880 census shows these men living in close proximity, and the 1879 map also shows Duffy, Resin Prather (“R. Prater”)and Wesley Randolph (“W. Randolph), along with the church (“Brooke Ch”). Vachel Duffy’s name is mistakenly rendered as “Rachel Duffy”.

1879 Map

 Two of the maps I purchased from the Montgomery County Historical Society and another I bought for $35 online at a historic map company because I wanted a large full size one. I see the Maryland State Archives map collection has several in the 20th century I’d like to look at to see if I can better locate the old family house, which is no longer standing.

Have you had any luck with maps in your research yet?

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Lately I have been reading a lot of published slave narratives. These are not to be confused with the WPA slave narratives from the 1930s that many of us are familiar with. I am referring to slave narratives that were written and published from the mid 1800’s through the mid 1900s by slaves and former slaves, many of which who had fled slavery. These are books that were were popular during that timeframe, especially as a part of the burgeoning anti-slavery movement. We probably know about the most popular, like Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. But I think we forget—I know I did—that this is primary information out of the mouths of slaves, and also that there were hundreds more like this published.

The University of North Carolina has a wonderful online collection entitled “North American Slave Narratives.”   It is apart of the collection entitled “Documenting the American South.” In the Slave Narratives, they have collected and displayed all the known existing slave narratives, including pamphlets and articles through 1920. I had seen this collection many times over the years, but never dove in and explored it further. The other day I started reading them, and got so engrossed in the stories I stayed online for 3 hours! They are very detailed, and I realized that these could be a terrific resource for part of the write-up of my family.

My Prather family was from Montgomery County, MD (they are shown above in the picture on this blog). I have mentioned here before that I am focusing on writing up the various lines of my research, fully and properly sourced, and getting them out to the relevant repositories. So, I went to UNC’s collection and found the story of a man named Josiah Henson who was enslaved in Montgomery County.

 

Josiah Henson, from Wikipedia

His claim to fame is that he is credited as being the prototype for the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s infamous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Josiah escaped from slavery and later became an abolitionist and a minister. I was able to utilize the following descriptions from his narrative, published in 1849, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself” :

[My master was] coarse and vulgar in his habits, unprincipled and cruel in his general deportment, and especially addicted to the vice of licentiousness. His slaves had little opportunity for relaxation from wearying labor, were supplied with the scantiest means of sustaining their toil by necessary food, and had no security for personal rights… The principal food of those upon my master’s plantation consisted of corn meal, and salt herrings; to which was added in summer a little buttermilk, and the few vegetables which each might raise for himself and his family, on the little piece of ground which was assigned to him for the purpose, called a truck patch. The meals were two, daily…”

He continues with his description. Doesn’t this first-hand account make the experiences of my ancestors come alive just a little bit more?

I cannot believe I have not made better use of this resource in the past 13 years. When you have some time, peruse the UNC website and read through some of the pages of the various narratives. Perhaps you can find someone who grew up in your ancestor’s state, or better yet, their same county.

UNC’s entire collection is extraordinarily valuable, and a separate collection that I found useful was the one entitled “First Person Narratives of the American South”. This collection encompasses all Southerners, white and black, and I found some of the diaries of slaveowners and their wives to be very eye-opening. For example, Elizabeth Pringle, daughter of a prominent South Carolina planter had a book published about her life growing up on a southern rice plantation called A Woman Rice Planter. Here’s a tip for this collection: Browse by subject, and under the heading African-Americans, you’ll find a sorting of the narratives by state.) Other standouts in the online UNC DocSouth collections include:

The Church in the Southern Black Community
Oral Histories of the American South
North Carolina Maps

I am always on the lookout for ways to enrich the story of my ancestor’s lives, as well as educate myself on the topic even further. These narratives are rich reading, even as they relayed horrific realities. Kudos to UNC, and I hope visit and do research one day, as I’ve heard their library/archives is one of the best in the South.

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I’ve been absent the last week because we had a huge Prather Reunion on Saturday that was 6 months in the planning. It was a booming success–but I was absolutely exhausted afterwards. I wrote the family history & we are now at almost 200 descendants. Phenomenal. It was great to meet everybody.

In preparation for this reunion, I’ve spent the last 8 months or so really diving deep into this branch. Beatrice Prather was my great-grandmother and her parents, Levi and Martha Prather, were the progenitors of this branch. They lived in Montgomery County, Maryland and I’ve enjoyed researching every aspect of African-American life there in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve spent lots of time at the Montgomery County Courthouse, the Montgomery County Historical Society & the Maryland State Archives.

I’ve posted here about Bible records previously, and in the middle of creating the book for the reunion some new Bible records appeared that I hadn’t seen before and really will help augment and support my research on this branch in serious ways. I wanted to share how information in these records served to support a thesis of mine. Every bit of evidence helps.

Levi and Martha Prather appear first on the 1870 census in Montgomery County.

1870 Census

1870 Census

Here is Levi Prather (the picture is very faint):

Levi Prather

Levi Prather

Here is his wife Martha (Simpson) Prather:

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

I had posited that the 70 year old Resin Prather found in the household was likely Levi’s father. His presence in their home in 1870 was one bit of evidence, but Levi also named a son Resin. My grandmother also wrote in her Bible that Resin was the father of Levi, but she was deceased when I saw this so I couldn’t ask her where this information came from.

Here is one of the three new Bible pages:

Bible Record

Bible Record

The first line says:
“Resin Prather departed this life on Jan 8, 1872″.

I was so excited about this. His presence in this Bible record strengthens my thesis that he was a relative (and likely his father). I don’t think its a stretch to assume that most Bible records would contain mainly records of relatives.

There were two other Bible pages in addition to this one, and there were several new names listed of people that I did not previously know were relatives, especially on Martha’s Simpson side. That’s a huge lead for me as the Simpsons had been somewhat of a brick wall.

Another listing helped me with identifying the last slaveowner. Right after Resin Prather, there is a line that says:

“Tobias Prather (departed this life) on July 28, 1873.

Here is a partial clip from an 1855 slave tax assessment in Montgomery County for Dorothy Williams:

Slaves Taxed

Slaves Taxed

This lists several of her slaves, including Levi, age 18, and Tobias, age 36. I knew Tobias used the surname Prather after slavery and there is another slave Dorothy owned, Wesley, age 30, who also used the name Prather. She also owns two slaves named Darius–my Levi named a son Darius and that name has survived down through the current generation today. I had previously discovered that Levi’s suspected father, Resin Prather, had a different owner living nearby, Nathan Cooke.

However, the somewhat uncommon names grouped together–Tobias, Levi, Vachel, Darius, Wesley–is what helped me be more confident that she is right owner. Tobias’ listing in the family Bible again strengthens the case that these are the same group of formerly enslaved individuals.

Next I discovered Dorothy Williams was the former Dorothy Belt (the family that is the namesake for Beltsville, MD) and that she married Walter Williams. I’m now tracking both of these families for any more insight into their slaves.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, good things drop down into your lap. I think the ancestors gave me this one, on the occasion of their descendants coming together 145 years later to remember them. Thank you, Levi and Martha!

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