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I am a family historian writing about my genealogy research and  communities of color primarily in the Southeast, especially North Carolina, as those of you who followed my previous blog on backintyme.biz (Margo Lee Williams’s Blog – currently not available for viewing) or  read my books (Miles Lassiter and From Hill Town to Strieby) know. I will be continuing to do the same here. In addition, I will post information about DNA and its place in genealogical research as well as other topics of historical and genealogical interest. So stay tuned! For a free copy of 10 Tips for African American Genealogy Research, go here

#52Ancestors (Cousins) – Found! How cousin DNA matches helped me break through my most persistent brick wall

I’ve written about and lamented what seemed like an unsolvable ancestry brick wall, the identity of my great grandfather Joshua W. Williams’s paternal line. I had researched his life from the first time he showed up in public records on marrying my great grandmother, Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson in 1868.[1] I’d been told some information by my aunt, Lute Williams Mann, his granddaughter, however, he died in 1893,[2] a year before she was born, thus she never knew him personally. I was able to confirm most of what my aunt told me through research and learn even more. However, with a name like Williams, I could never determine which, if any, of the many other Williamses living in Live Oak, Florida, were related to my great grandfather, especially since his widow and children (including my grandfather, William Gainer Williams) left Florida for the New York/New Jersey area about 1899. [3] With no information about extended Williams family members, I turned to DNA.

photo (6)
William Gainer Williams, my grandfather

Because I was looking for a paternal line, I knew Y-DNA would be very important to helping me solve the puzzle, along with autosomal DNA. However, I’m a female. I don’t have Y-DNA. Unfortunately, my father and grandfather are both dead. My paternal uncles are both dead. My male paternal cousin is dead. Alas, both my half-brothers (my father’s sons from his first marriage) are also dead. Fortunately, I still had two options, my nephews Keith Williams (KW) and Christopher Williams (CW). I asked KW if he would take the Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) Y-DNA test. It showed that he had a European haplotype, R-M269, and one that is common in the United Kingdom. That was not a surprise, the family had always said Joshua’s father was of European descent.

The results didn’t seem to yield anything useful. His close matches had a variety of surnames, not just Williams. There was Jackson, Scott, and Hope. I tried to figure out their ancestral information, but in the absence of family trees, it wasn’t going anywhere. I was eventually contacted by two of the closest matches at the 67-marker level, one a Williams, the other a Hope. They were the two closest matches. The Hope contact was from the Clan Hope of Craighall Society. They invited us to join and offered help with the genealogy. Unfortunately, they were unable to make any more progress than I had.

The Williams contact was also a close match at the 111-marker level. The account manager, the niece of the match, provided family tree information. That family had roots in Arkansas and had also moved to Florida. Tracing the family back led to Tennessee and a Jeremiah Williams, but then the trail ran cold. Although my great grandfather had lived out his life from 1868 until his death in Florida, he and our family had maintained that his roots were in South Carolina – York, South Carolina, specifically. He had never lived in Tennessee as far as anyone knew or I could find through research. I figured that our connection went back additional generations, either to South Carolina or perhaps further to somewhere like Virginia or even the UK itself. However, we couldn’t figure it out. We just couldn’t find a link.

I followed another Y-DNA match from a lower marker match back through his line. It led from Arkansas to Tennessee to Virginia. There was no evidence that the family had a South Carolina connection. I concluded that we might be related back in Virginia, but clearly our closer ancestors had taken different paths. I needed to find a Williams family that went to South Carolina – York, South Carolina. It was time to turn back to my autosomal results.

York County, South Carolina
York County, South Carolina [Red inset]. Retrieved from Ancestry.com
I have tried to maximize my autosomal information by testing multiple family members. I have personally tested at AncestryDNA, 23 and also got Family Finder results for my nephew KW. I tested other family members, including CW at 23 (and me); my daughter Turquoise Williams  and my niece, Melody

(MWM) at AncestryDNA. I uploaded my daughter’s and my niece’s results to Family Finder and Gedmatch. I uploaded KW’s results to MyHeritage and Gedmatch. I knew that our mutual matches should help identify our Williams family line. There was also a grandniece, Monica (MTM), who had tested with AncestryDNA. That meant there were four of us in AncestryDNA from the Williams line, two of us in 23 and me, three of us in Family Finder, and two of us in My Heritage. There were also three of us in Gedmatch. I was fortunate enough to know also that there were other family members who had tested and that their tests could help me further narrow my results.

Keith in uniform
Keith V. Williams, Sr., my nephew

The most helpful person who had tested in Family Finder was a half first cousin, once removed, NT. She was the granddaughter of my father’s half-brother, Willard Leroy Williams (WLW). Since WLW had a different mother than my father, any matches with his daughter had to be Williams-line matches. That could help separate those who might match us because of my father’s mother’s family.

Leroy
Willard Leroy Williams, my father’s half-brother

[My father’s mother’s surname was Farnell. Several of those cousins have also tested with AncestryDNA, 23 and me, and Family Finder. Some of them have also uploaded to Gedmatch. Thus, I had a way to separate matches that are my Williams line from my father’s Farnell line. Sounds like it should have been easy to figure out, right? No, not at all.

I was able to sort my matches on AncestryDNA using the “Shared Matches” feature. As anyone knows who uses this database, many people do not have family trees linked to their results, or their trees are private, or the few people on their trees are living and therefore marked private. In other words, there was little to help figure out how these matches were related to my Williams family.

As it happens, most of my close cousin matches are from my mother’s family. I could quickly mark off my second cousin match and most of my third cousins, including those related to my paternal grandfather’s mother’s family (Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson). I found a few fourth cousin matches that were shared among our family test group, but none of the trees seemed to be helpful. I went back to look at the Y-DNA matches. I decided to drop back to look at the 12 marker matches. I found a couple of matches who hadn’t tested at higher markers but who listed a George Williams as their farthest back ancestor with dates of birth and death. This George was born in Wales and died in Virginia.[4] I followed his family forward, but it didn’t lead to South Carolina.

At the same time, I decided to look more closely at my Ancestry matches. I found a 4th-6th cousin match who had a tree with Williams names in it. In fact, this match had two different Williams lines. I needed to determine to which Williams line I was most likely related. To a George Williams also in Virginia.[5] George was a common ancestor, but every indication was that we had a closer common ancestor. It appeared to be George’s son Fowler. George had lived in Virginia, but Fowler lived in South Carolina. However, he didn’t live in York County, but in neighboring Lancaster County.[6]

I had seven matches to descendants of Fowler that I had followed; four to his son Dr. James Jonathan Williams.[7] Thus, I thought it possible that I was descended from him. I attached him to my great grandfather to see how it might work out. However, I was still suspicious that I had the wrong son. My great grandfather, Joshua, had ended up in Florida. I noticed that none of Dr. Williams’s descendants went to Florida. Interestingly, the one whose tree I was following lived not far from me in Maryland. I decided I needed to look at my matches more carefully and the descendants of Fowler to see what else seemed plausible.

I had a third cousin match who didn’t have any tree. She was my closest shared match with my Williams test group and the other descendants of Fowler I was following. If I could figure out how she was related to the family, I might find the correct son who was my great-great grandfather. This effort was helped by the using Ancestry’s Thru-Lines. Thru-Lines uses your matches’ family trees to suggest (it’s only a suggestion) how you are related to each other. This was going to be challenging, however, because my third cousin match, MH, had no family tree information listed, not even an unlinked tree.

While working through the descendants of one of Fowler’s other sons, George Washington Williams, brother of Dr. James Jonathan, I noted that many of George’s descendants had moved to Florida sometime around the end of the Civil War. They were not living in the same county as my great grandfather, but that wasn’t particularly surprising. I’m sure everyone was in search of opportunity wherever it led them. Perhaps more importantly, George, unlike his siblings, had moved to York County![8]

In following the descendants down to my match, EW, I noticed something else important, her mother’s first name was M; her married name was H! She was almost certainly my third cousin match, MH. To try to verify this information, I ran a background report on the website, “Been Verified.” What I find helpful about this site is that it gives you not only most recent contact information, but also address histories, relatives and associates. In looking up both MH and EW, it showed them as relatives of each other. I felt certain I had the right brother this time.

I tried to find probate information, hoping that an inventory would list those enslaved as well as having information about descendants. Unfortunately, George died in 1868, after the Civil War was ended. I decided to look at the 1850 slave schedule for York County. George was listed. He only had 8 enslaved people. All were marked “B” for Black, except one: a male infant marked “M” for Mulatto.[9] Could this be my great grandfather. Joshua? He was reportedly born in 1850. He was the only infant listed. It certainly seems likely.

1850 slave schedule George W Williams
1850 Slave Schedule, York County, SC, George W. Williams, owner

I’m still hoping to find a document associated with George that names Joshua, my great grandfather, Joshua. It would be the icing on the cake. Nevertheless, based on the many matches whom I have been able to add to my tree by researching the suggested links from Thru-lines, and even going back to my match list and picking out individuals whose trees provide a basis for further research, I can confidently say that I am a descendant of Fowler Williams’s son, George Washington Williams of York County, South Carolina. At long last, a 43-year quest for the answer to the question of who my great-great grandfather was, the father of Joshua W. Williams, my great grandfather, has come to an end.

References

[1] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Marriage of Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 5 Nov 1868. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] Florida, Wills and Probate Records, 1810-1974 [database on-line]. Probate of Joshua W. Williams, 26 Jun 1893, Live Oak, Florida. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; William Williams, head; Ellen Williams, mother. NARA Roll: 1108; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0616; FHL microfilm: 1241108. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] George Williams Find A Grave Memorial, born circa 1727, Wales; died 5 April 1794, Fairfax County, Virginia. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[5] North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [Database on-line]. George Williams, 1732-1777, Virginia. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [Database on-line]. Fowler Williams, born 1778, Virginia; died 1841, Lancaster District, South Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [Database on-line]. Dr. James Jonathan Williams, born 21 Aug 1821, Lancaster District, South Carolina; died 15 Aug 1873, Union County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] 1850; Census Place: York, York, South Carolina; George Washington Williams, head. NARA Roll: M432-860; Page: 267B; Image: 309. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1850; Census Place: York, York, South Carolina, Slave Schedule; George W Williams, owner: Male, Mulatto, age: 3/12 yrs. (3 months). Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

 

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Racial Fluidity in Randolph County, North Carolina: Mary “Polly” Pope (Polk) and her multi-racial descendants

I first saw Mary “Polly” Polk/Pope’s name on the 1880 census. She was living in the home of Colier and Kate Lassiter, in the Lassiter Mill area of New Hope Township in Randolph County.[1] The area runs along the Uwharrie River on the edge of the Uwharrie Mountains in what is today the Uwharrie National Forest.[2] Mary was listed as “white,” the rest of the Lassiter family was listed as “black.” The census didn’t mention a relationship for Mary to the Lassiter family other than “boarder.” However, I already knew that Colier’s wife’s maiden name was “Polk.”

Figure 83-Granny Kate Polk Lassiter
Katherine Polk Lassiter

Colier and Katherine had married in 1854.[3] Unfortunately, the marriage records in that time period did not ask the names of parents. Nevertheless, I speculated that Mary was very possibly Katherine’s (Kate’s) mother. At that time, I thought the “w” for white might have been accidentally written instead of “m” for “mulatto.” (Census schedules were transcribed from field notes which could lead to errors.) Mary was not living with the family in either 1870 or 1860. I didn’t find either Katherine or Mary in 1850, at that time.

Colier Lassiter household 1880
Colier and Katherine (Polk), Mary Polk, and family, 1880 Census, Randolph County, NC

In 1853, the year before Colier and Kate married, Colier Lassiter posted bond for the marriage of Sarah Polk and Nathan Case (known as Nathan Hill in all census records). It seemed likely the two women were related.[4]  In 1860, Nathan, Sarah and their children were identified as black.[5] Like Katherine, I did not find Sarah Polk in earlier census records. Was it an oversight, part of an undercount?

Nathan & Sarah Polk Hill 1860
Nathan and Sarah (Polk) Hill, and family, 1860 Census, Randolph County, NC

Both Katherine and Sarah had married into large families that were founding members of the First Congregational Church of Randolph County, now called Strieby Congregational Church.[6] Another member of that church community was “Aunt Harriet” Cotton. Harriet had married Micajah McDuffie, also known as Micajah Cotton in 1854.[7] In 1860, Mary, called “Polly Pope,” was living with Micajah and Harriet.[8] They were all being called “mulatto” in 1860. Mary was also named as Harriet’s mother on her death certificate, where she was listed as “Polly Pope.”[9]

Micajah Cotton and Harriett Polk 1860
Micajah and Harriet (Polk/Pope) Cotton, and family, 1860 Census, Randolph County, NC

There was another Polk family in the area that seemed to be related, the Macam (Malcom) Polk/Pope family. Malcom married Nancy Jane Smitherman in 1865.[10] In 1870, Malcom was listed as mulatto, but Nancy was listed as black. Around 1881, Malcom and Nancy would leave North Carolina and move first to Mississippi, eventually settling in Arkansas. In 1900, Malcom and Nancy and some of their children were living next door to the family of her nephew-in-law, Thomas Julius Hill, son of Nathan and Sarah Polk Hill, in Jefferson County, Arkansas. [11]

Malcom Polk and Nancy Smitherman 1900
Malcom and Nancy J. (Smitherman) Polk/Pope, and family, 1900 Census, Jefferson County, Arkansas

I was still looking for more information on each of these Polk family members. The fact that Mary, “Polly,” was living in “Aunt” Harriet Polk Cotton’s home in 1860 and Katherine Polk Lassiter’s home in 1880, convinced me that Harriet and Katherine were likely sisters. Additional searches found Mary living in neighboring Montgomery County in 1850 with two children, Malcom and Lunda.[12] Mary was listed as white, but the children were listed as mulatto. They were living in the home of a John McLeod, just a few houses away from Micajah McDuffie, who was living in the home of Thomas L. Cotton.[13] It seemed from this that Mary was most likely white. It also confirmed that Katherine, Harriet and Malcom were most likely siblings. It also seemed likely that Sarah was a sibling, based on Colier Lassiter posting bond for her marriage. It seemed a reasonable conclusion since he would go on to marry Katherine Polk and Mary would live with them in her later years.

John McLeod-Mary Pope-Malcom Pope-Lunda 1850
Mary Polk/Pope, Malcom Polk/Pope, and Lunda Polk/Pope, in the home of John McLeod, 1850 Census, Montgomery County, NC

I also found Harriet in 1850.  Harriet Polk and Elizabeth Polk were living in the home of Levi Nichols. Harriet and Elizabeth were identified as white.[14] Levi Nichols would develop a relationship with Hannah McDuffie Cotton, sister of Micajah McDuffie Cotton who married Harriet. Levi and Hannah would have two children by 1860[15] and be charged with fornication[16] before they would eventually marry in 1867.[17] At that time, Levi adopted the identity of a man of color. Similarly, when Harriet married Micajah in 1854, she adopted the identity of a woman of color.[18] However, where were Katherine and Sarah in 1850?

Levi Nichols 1850 census
Levi Nichols, Harriet Polk, and Elizabeth Polk, 1850 Census, Montgomery County, NC. 

Looking over my research and the 1850 census again for the southern part of Randolph County, where these families lived, I realized that I had been looking at Katherine and Sarah all along. They were living in the home of an older couple, Jack and Charity Lassiter.[19] Jack was the half-brother of Colier’s father, Miles Lassiter.[20] Katherine and Sarah were being called Lassiter. At this point I was fairly certain that they were not related to Jack, but possibly were related to Charity. Charity was old enough to be their grandmother. Jack, Charity, Katherine and Sarah were all identified in this record as white. In 1860, Jack and Charity were identified as mulatto. By 1870, Jack had died, and Charity was living in the home of Colier and Katherine Polk Lassiter, who had a daughter named (Rhodemia) Charity.[21] The older Charity was identified as mulatto. Charity presumably died after 1870; she is not found again in the census.

Jack and Charity Lassiter 1850
Jack and Charity (Polk?) Lassiter, 1850 Census, Randolph County, NC. Katherine and Sarah Polk, are called “Lassiter” here.

Not everything about this family can be confirmed beyond a doubt. However, with the above information along with information from descendants (and DNA results), the following picture has emerged:

Mary “Polly” Polk/Pope was identified as white in 1850. Though identified as mulatto in 1860, she was identified again as white in 1880. She was not found in 1870. She is presumed to be the daughter of Charity (Polk?) Lassiter, identified as white in 1850, but mulatto in 1860. Mary is believed to have had the following children:

  • Katherine Polk, identified as white in 1850, who married Colier Lassiter, a man of color, in 1854 and was thereafter identified as a woman of color.
  • Sarah Polk, identified as white in 1850, who married Nathan Hill, a man of color, in 1853 and was thereafter identified as a woman of color.
  • Harriet Polk, identified as white in 1850, who married Micajah McDuffie Cotton, a man of color, in 1854 and was thereafter identified as a woman of color.
  • Elizabeth Polk, identified as white, but no further information is known at this time.
  • Malcom Polk/Pope, identified as mulatto in 1850. He married Nancy Jane Smitherman, a woman of color.
  • Lunda Polk, identified as mulatto in 1850. She was still living with John McLeod in 1860. No other information is known at this time.

It is difficult to know what prompted these women to choose men of color. Perhaps what is a better question is what about southwestern Randolph County made it a place where interracial marriages seemed to thrive with no obvious community opprobrium. I’m not suggesting that the surrounding white community was throwing these couples wedding celebrations. I am saying that unlike other areas in the South, these families were not being persecuted; the men were not being prosecuted or persecuted for having married these women. In fact, these families were landowners and leaders in their communities, reportedly respected by their neighbors, both white and black. What made Randolph County different?

Southwestern Randolph County was heavily Quaker and anti-slavery, but there was also a large Methodist population, some “Methodist Protestant,” some “Wesleyan.” There were also some enslavers, though very few had large numbers of enslaved people. Most people were family farmers with free laborer assistants. There was a significant number of free people of color, 92 in southwestern Randolph County alone in 1850. Many had been freed or born to those freed by their Quaker (primarily) enslavers in the 1790s or early 1800s as the Society of Friends began to require manumission of slaves as a prerequisite of membership.[22] Quaker influences were strong in this part of Randolph County, but that’s not all. Randolph County was not a typical southern community.

In her book, Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (1992), Victoria Bynum talked about Randolph County’s rebellious history.[23] Even today when talking to local historians they will tell you proudly that Randolph County was against secession. During the war, North Carolina had the greatest number of deserters from the Confederate army and Randolph County had the greatest number of these, 22%, compared with the state average of 12%.[24]

Unionism, as it was called, was heavy in the “Quaker Belt,” especially Randolph County, Bynum stated. This was not just a matter of politics, but also economics. There were growing textile and tobacco industries, she said, artisans and yeoman farmers who didn’t want the disadvantages of competing with slave labor, along with the religious objections to slavery of Quakers, Wesleyans, and Moravians .[25]

In discussing interracial relationships, Bynum said that counties such as Randolph’s neighbor to the south, Montgomery County, were more tolerant because they had only a small number of free blacks and a relatively homogeneous white population.[26] I’m not sure I agree with her. I think the larger population of free people of color and the more diverse white population made Randolph a more accepting community than Montgomery County. I notice that not only Mary Polk and her children moved into Randolph County, but Levi and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton Nichols and Micajah McDuffie/Cotton did as well.

It is notable that Levi Nichols (a white male) and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton (a free woman of color) had been brought into Montgomery County court on charges of fornication. However, on close examination it becomes apparent that the accusations weren’t only because they were in an illicit, interracial relationship as much as they were being targeted for revenge from an ongoing feud involving Levi’s brother and niece. It seems entirely likely that their move to Randolph County was an attempt to get away from what had become a round-robin of accusation and counter-accusation, leading to lawsuit and counter-lawsuit.[27]

Accusation of Fornication against Levi Nichols
Accusation of Fornication against Levi Nichols and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton, 1858, Montgomery County, NC (In Bynum, Unruly Women)

One might have expected greater outcry over the relationships of the Polk women who were reportedly white and married free men of color. Yet their relationships met no known violence or any legal obstacles in Randolph County. Martha Hodes in her book, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (1997), points out that these white-black sexual liaisons (with or without marriage) in the antebellum South were not met with the violence that accompanied the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow years, right into the Civil Rights era. She states,

“Scholars agree that the most virulent racist ideology about black male sexuality emerged in the decades that followed the Civil War, and some historians have recognized that the lynching of black men or the alleged rape of white women was comparatively rare in the South under slavery.”[28]

Hodes admits that statistics are difficult to gather in the ante-bellum period because these relationships were not found in historical records under one universal category. Rather they were gleaned from a variety of records covering such categories as domestic violence, murder, fornication, adultery, bastardy, assault, and others. She notes that even the word “miscegenation” was unknown before the Civil War era.[29]

Despite the lack of violence in the antebellum years, there was not necessarily acceptance or even tolerance, which she says implies a liberality of attitude. Rather, she says, these relationships were met with toleration, forbearance. She goes on to make the point that forbearance did not mean there wasn’t cruel gossip, or that individuals weren’t ostracized.[30] What changed after the Civil War?

Hodes said that Frederick Douglass explained that accusations of sexual transgressions against white women increased with black men’s new political power, with the conferring of citizenship and the right to vote. Ida B. Wells observed that lynching, often as a result of accusations of sexual assaults on white women, was intended to suppress the black vote by the threat of deatn.[31] By contrast, Hodes notes that these white-black relationships in the ante-bellum South did not threaten the overall social and political hierarchy.  She states that “[f]or whites to refrain from immediate legal action and public violence when confronted with liaisons between white women and black men helped them to mask some of the flaws of the antebellum Southern systems of race and gender.”[32] On the other hand, she notes that the children of these liaisons revealed those same flaws.[33] It was often the presence of children that forced the parents into court on charges of bastardy. It is interesting to note here, that Levi Nichols (white) and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton (of color), were accused only of fornication in 1858.[34] This despite the fact that by 1858, Levi and Hannah had two children, Elmina and Daniel. Nevertheless, they were not being charged with bastardy.[35]

Without further research, I can only conclude that the level of toleration seen in Randolph County was a function of both the Quaker values prominent in Randolph County and the overall southern ambivalence that meant the white majority did not feel threatened as long as the overall political control remained securely in their hands. Whatever the reason, these families thrived. They acquired property, education, and relative economic prosperity, providing a solid base for future opportunity for their children and grandchildren, even in the absence of political power.

References

[1] 1880; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Mary Polk, Boarder. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 184A; Enumeration District: 223; Image: 0659. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] Uwharrie National Forest – Birkhead Wilderness Area/Lassiter Mill. Visit NC. Retrieved from: VisitNC.com

[3] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Calier Lassiter and Catherine Polk, married: 26 Sep 1854, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Nathan Case and Sarey Poke, married: 11 Sep 1853, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1860; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Nathan Hill, head. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 213; Image: 431; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Williams, M. L. (2016). From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.).

[7] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Micajah McDuffee and Harriet Polk, married: 10 Sep 1854, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] 1860; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Micajah Cotton, head. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 211; Image: 426; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Harriet Cotton, died: 7 Oct 1920, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Macon Pope and Nancy Jane Smitherman, married: 23 Sep 1865, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:  Ancestry.com

[11] 1900; Census Place: Old River, Jefferson, Arkansas; Macon Polk, head. NARA Roll: 63; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from:  Ancestry.com

[12] 1850; Census Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; John McLeod, head; Mary Pope, Malcom Pope & Lunda Pope. NARA Roll: M432_637; Page: 127B; Image: 264. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[13] 1850; Census Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Thomas L. Cotton, head; Micajah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M432_637; Page: 127B; Image: 264. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[14] 1850; Census Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Harriet Polk, Elizabeth Polk. NARA Roll: M432_637; Page: 142A; Image: 293. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[15] 1860; Census Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653_905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[16] Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 99.

[17] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Levi Nichols and Hannah McDuffie, married: 28 Sep 1867, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[18] 1860; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Micajah Cotton, head; Harriet Cotton. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 211; Image: 426; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[19] 1850; Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Jack Lassiter, head; Charity Lassiter, Catherine Lassiter, Sarah Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136A; Image: 278. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[20] Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing).

[21] 1870; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Collier Lassiter, head; Catherine Lassiter, Charity Lassiter, age 75. NARA Roll: M593_1156; Page: 407B; Image: 264; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[22] Densmore, C. (n.d.). Quakers and the Underground Railroad: Myths and Realities. Quakers and Slavery. Retrieved from: Brynmawr.edu

[23] Bynum, V. (1992). The Women Is as Bad as the Men: Women’s Participation in the Inner Civil War. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 137-140.

[24] Bynum, V. (1992). The Women Is as Bad as the Men: Women’s Participation in the Inner Civil War. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 130.

[25] Bynum, V. (1992). The Women Is as Bad as the Men: Women’s Participation in the Inner Civil War. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), pp. 135-137.

[26] Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 99.

[27] Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), pp. 98-99.

[28] Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 1.

[29] Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 2.

[30] Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 3.

[31] Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 2.

[32] Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: Contradictions, Crises, Voices, Language. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 6-7.

[33] Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: Contradictions, Crises, Voices, Language. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 7.

[34] Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 99n38.

[35] 1860; Census Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653_905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

Against the Law: Hannah McDuffie, Levi Nichols, and Interracial Marriage in Reconstruction Randolph County, North Carolina

Recently, I was asked to research the ancestry of Elmina Nichols Spencer (1851-1928). It was around the time of the anniversary of the milestone Supreme Court ruling, Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia. That ruling struck down the anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia, and elsewhere, that forbade interracial marriage.[1]

The legal restrictions on interracial marriage were never universal, although social mores against it were found everywhere. There were nine states that never had such laws: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont & Wisconsin. Eleven states repealed their laws in 1887; fourteen more repealed theirs between 1948 and 1967. However, sixteen states still had laws in place in 1967 when the Supreme Court heard arguments against the practice in the Loving v. Virginia case. [2] Among those sixteen was North Carolina.[3]

 

Malcom + Almina Spencer 1870
Macam Spencer & Almina (Nichols) Spencer, 1870 census

It was not difficult finding Elmina Nichols Spencer with her husband, Malcolm Spencer, and their baby, son, James, in the 1870 census.[4] Elmina and Malcolm married in 1868.[5] The marriage record said that Elmina was the daughter of Levi Nichols, “of color.” I looked then for Levi Nichols. I was able to find Levi and his wife Hannah in the 1870 census as well.

Malcom Spencer + Almina Nichols MC 1868
Macom Spencer & Elmina Nicols Marriage Bond, 1868.

The 1870 census showed Levi, his wife Hannah, and their son Daniel.[6] They were all listed as “Mulattoes.” Since the 1870 census listed Levi and Hannah as people with a mixed racial background, I thought it was possible that they could be found on the 1860 census as free persons of color. I knew that if I did not find one or the other that whichever person was missing was likely enslaved. I found both of them on the 1860 census, in neighboring Montgomery County.[7] They were both free, but that was not all I found.

Levi Nichols + Hannah McDuffie 1860
Levi Nichols & Hannah McDuffie, 1860 Census

Apparently not married yet, Levi and Hannah were living in the same household. Hannah was listed under her presumed maiden name, “Hannah McDuffie.” There were also two young children, “Elinor” (Elmina) and “Daniel W.” Their last names were listed as McDuffie. Levi was listed as a farmer, with real property valued at $500 and personal property at $350. Hannah was not listed as employed. However, it was their racial designations that caught my eye. Levi was listed as “w” for white, but Hannah was listed as “m” for mulatto.  The 1870 census had called them both “m” or “mulatto.” Had the census-taker made a mistake and omitted marking Levi’s column “m” for mulatto? I decided to take a look at the 1850 census.

Levi Nichols 1850 census
Levi Nichols, 1850 census

In 1850, Levi was listed as a farmer in Montgomery County, with real property valued at $300.[8] In his household were children, Harriet Polk, Elizabeth Polk, and William Northcot. They were all listed as “white.” I found Hannah McDuffie as well. She was living in the home of Elizabeth Hancock.[9] Hannah she was listed as “mulatto,” just as she had been in the 1860 and 1870 census. She did not have any children living with her.

There is no evidence of another Levi Nichols who was a white landowner or a man of color owning land. So, how did Levi Nichols go from being a white man to a man of color? He was claiming to be married to Hannah, but that would be against the law. So, what was their relationship?

Levi Nichols + Hannah McDuffie MC 1867
Levi Nichols & Hannah McDuffie Marriage Bond, 1867.

Additional research uncovered Levi and Hannah’s legal marriage record from 1867.[10] Both Levi and Hannah were referred to as “of color.” Levi’s parents on his marriage certificate were listed as John and Zelpha Nichols. I looked for them, wondering, “Were they white, too?”

John Nichols+Hannah McDuffie 1850
John & Zilpha Nichols, 1850. Hannah McDuffie is also on this page in the home of Elizabeth Hancock.

Looking at the 1850 census, I found John Nichols, his wife, Zilphia, and children, Thany, Noah, Mary, Gilbert, Amy, and Alby, who were all listed as white.[11]  They were enumerated just a few homes away from where Hannah McDuffie was living.

So, Hannah McDuffie, a free woman of color, a “mulatto,” who lived in the same general vicinity of the John Nichols family, of European descent, in 1850, went to live with Levi Nichols sometime after 1850, and was found living in his home by 1860, along with two small children.[12] In 1867, Levi and Hannah marry. However, with the laws against interracial marriage, their marriage was illegal.[13] It is safe to assume that Hannah could not pass for a white woman, especially if she remained in the community, but Levi could be considered a “light-skinned” man of color, a “mulatto,” even in his own community. I don’t have any information about how Levi was treated, but I am confident that his change of identity was not met with universal approval, whether from the white community or the African American community. How unusual was such a decision? It’s hard to say; there are no statistics of which I am aware. However, there are other examples in fiction and real life.

In Roots: The Next Generations (a fictionalized version of the last few chapters of Alex Haley’s Roots), Jim Warner, son of a former Confederate Army officer, falls in love with the Henning, Tennessee, African American school-teacher, Carrie Barden.[14] When Jim refuses to give up the relationship, his father disowns him. Jim marries Carrie and they live their lives within the segregated African American community.  Likewise, in The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride tells how he discovered that his white mother left her Orthodox Jewish family and community in Virginia and married two African American men (including McBride’s father), identifying herself as a “light-skinned” African American woman.[15]

In a post-Civil Rights era, the need to change one’s identity to be able to marry and live with a spouse from a different racial background has faded away. However, in Reconstruction North Carolina, with its anti-miscegenation laws, there were only two choices if one wanted to stay in North Carolina, either live together without marrying, adopting whatever public stance was needed to avoid arrest, or change one’s racial designation, in order to be able to legally marry. All evidence available indicates that Levi chose the latter path.

References

[1] Loving v. Virginia. Oyez. Retrieved from: www.oyez.org.

[2] Miscegenation. (n.d.). Retrieved from: Miscegenation Laws.pdf

[3] Lee, Robert E. (1963, 10 Nov.). NC Prohibits Any Marriage between Races. The Rocky Mount, N. C. Telegram. p. 7A. Retrieved from: Miscegenation Laws.pdf

[4] 1870 US Federal Census. Place: Back Creek, Randolph, North Carolina; Macon Spencer, head; Almira [sic] Spencer, inferred wife. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 297A; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Randolph Marriage Bonds, 1800-1888]. Macam Spencer, of color, and Elmina Nicols, of color, 5 Mar 1868. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] 1870 US Federal Census. Place: Back Creek, Randolph, North Carolina; Levi Nicholds, head; Hannah Nicholds, inferred wife. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 298A; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] 1860 US Federal Census. Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653-905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] 1850 US Federal Census. Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 142A; Image: 293. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1850 US Federal Census. Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Elizabeth Hancock, head; Hannah McDuffie, age 28. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 142B; Image: 294. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Randolph Marriage Bonds, 1800-1888]. Levi Nichols and Hannah McDuffie, 28 Sep 1867. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] 1850 US Federal Census. Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; John Nichols, head; Zilpha Nichols. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 142B; Image: 294. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[12] 1860 US Federal Census. Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653-905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[13] Lee, Robert E. (1963, 10 November). NC Prohibits Any Marriage between Races. The Rocky Mount, N. C. Telegram. p. 7A. Retrieved from: Miscegenation Laws.pdf

[14] Margulies, S. and Volper, D. L., Producers. (1979). Roots: The Next Generations (TV Mini-Series 1979). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: Roots: The Next Generations (TV Mini-Series 1979) 

[15] McBride, J. (2006). The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother (New York: Penguin Books).

 

#52Ancestors – At worship: The Rev. Islay Walden and the founding of Strieby Congregational Church

One hundred fifty years ago, on 2 July, Islay Walden, after graduating from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was ordained in the Second Reformed Church of New Brunswick (Reformed Church of America). By the end of the week he had left New Brunswick and was on his way back to North Carolina as a Congregational minister under the auspices of the American Missionary Association (AMA).[1]  By November 1879, he was back in Randolph County, North Carolina, where he had grown, having moved in with his sister, Sarah, and her family.[2] The area where they lived was known as Hill Town, because so many Hill family members lived in the small community in the Uwharrie Mountain area of southwestern Randolph County.[3]

Islay Walden Oval

When Islay Walden returned to the Lassiter’s Mill postal area of southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, he established a Congregational church and “common school,” as AMA one or two teacher schools were called, in an area in the Uwharrie Mountains called “Hill Town.” It is likely that he ultimately decided to take this post because it was in the same community where his sister, Sarah (Callicutt/Walden) Hill, wife of Emsley Hill, lived.

The church reportedly was called first, “Promised Land Church.” According to Aveus “Ave” Lassiter Edmondson, in an article that appeared in Asheboro Magazine in 2011, Priscilla Hill (affectionately known as “Granny Prissy”), Emsley Hill’s mother, helped build the brush arbor that was used as this early meeting place.[4] Walden’s job as AMA missionary, however, was to plant a permanent Congregational church for the community. This church was called the First Congregational Church of Randolph County.[5] DeBoer (2015) noted that “If a church in the South is named First Congregational and was founded during Reconstruction, it is generally a predominantly black church started by the AMA.”[6]   Walden’s church would eventually be named Strieby Congregational Church and School, after the Rev. Dr. Strieby, the same prominent Congregational minister and Corresponding Secretary of the AMA who had attended his ordination.[7] Kate Lassiter Jones believed that it was Rev. Strieby who helped Walden found the church, but in fact it was the Rev. Joseph Roy, the Field Superintendent, who assisted.

In November 1879, Rev. Joseph Roy reported in The American Missionary, the magazine of the AMA, on Islay’s early efforts:

“The Field Superintendent assisted [Rev. Islay Walden] in organizing a Congregational Church of thirty members.”  Roy stated that a man in Hill Town offered “three acres of land and timber in the tree for all the lumber needed for a church school-house, and that man was an ex-slave.”[8]

It is not clear to whom he was referring since the Hill, Lassiter, Andy other families living in the area were primarily free families dating back before 1850.

In May 1880, Walden, as agent for the AMA, purchased a six-acre plot of land from a neighboring white family, Addison and Cornelia Lassiter, on which the church was built.[9] According to Kate Lassiter Jones, who grew up worshiping at Strieby:

“Men and women gathered from every direction to plan for the building. A two-wheeled ox cart hauled six huge rocks for the foundation. Logs, lumber and service were given. The weather boarding for the 60’x30’ building was finished by hand, mostly by our late Uncle Julius Hill.”[10]

Strieby Church original deed
Deed for Original First Congregational Church of Randolph County, North Carolina Property

Dr. Roy noted that he met with three committees, one from Hill Town, one from what would become Salem Church, in Concord Township about eight miles away, and one from Troy, in neighboring Montgomery County, where the AMA was in the process of establishing Peabody Academy. At this point the AMA did not have an ordained preacher for each location so it was decided there would be a circuit.

“So we organized a circuit for Brother Walden, one Sabbath at Troy and the other at Salem Church and Hill Town, with one sermon at each place. The Quakers promise a school at Salem. A public school will serve Hill Town for the present, and a competent teacher must be secured for the Academy.”[11]

Strieby Church tax plat
Strieby Church Tax Plat – Parcel 295967

The Church members at Hill Town quickly became involved in the wider life of the Congregational Church and the American Missionary Association. A report of the 1880 Conference held at Dudley, N.C., noted that representatives traveled 130 miles to attend. In describing the progress of the church at Hill Town, it said, “A gracious revival and a meeting-house under way are the fruits of the first six months of the life of this church.”[12]

old strieby church w people
Original Strieby Church Building, Randolph County, North Carolina

The following year, in 1881, the report again mentioned Islay and others from the congregation:[13]

“Rev. Islay Walden and his delegate, Deacon Potter, together with three others, came fifty miles in a one-horse wagon to attend the Conference. One of the party, Mrs. Hill, now a widow, has had twelve children, forty grand-children and twelve great-grand-children. She had never seen the (train) cars nor heard a railroad whistle till she came to the Conference. …The sermon Friday night was by Rev. Islay Walden; text, the first Psalm.”

The “Mrs. Hill,” referenced here was most likely “Granny Prissy,” Priscilla (Mahockly) Hill, the matriarch of the Hill family of Hill Town in southwestern Randolph County. “Deacon Potter” could have been Thomas Potter, her son-in-law, married to her daughter Mary Jane Hill, or Thomas’ brother, Ira Potter, married to daughter Charity Hill.

Priscilla Mahockley Hill
Priscilla Mahockley Hill, 1792-1911

Just three years later, on 2 February 1884, at the young age of 40, The American Missionary reported Islay’s death and eulogized him:[14]

“… He rallied the people, developed a village with school-house and church, secured a post-office and became postmaster. Here he labored four years, blessed with revivals, and was honored by the people, black and white. His wife an educated and judicious missionary teacher was of great assistance to him in all his work …”

Islay was buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery.

Islay Walden gravestone
Gravestone of the Rev. Islay Walden, 2 February 1884, Strieby Church Cemetery

For the next 120 years, Strieby Church has served as the spiritual and cultural center for the Hill families and other families of color living in southwestern Randolph County. As time went on and the older community members died, many descendants of those families, moved away from the Strieby community, whether to other parts of Randolph County, other parts of North Carolina, or other parts of the country. However, many also return to Randolph County on the fourth Sunday of August for the annual Homecoming Service. In addition, many descendants continue to bury their loved ones in the church cemetery next to their ancestors whose lives were shaped and nourished by their worship at Strieby.[15]

Strieby Church with sign and bell tower 07-05-2014
Current Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ, Randolph County, North Carolina

References

[1] This account is based on the chapter, “Return to Hill Town,” in my book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, 2016), pp. 81-92.

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union, Randolph, North Carolina; Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 196C; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0683. Emsley Hill, head; Islay Walden, boarder. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] Williams, M. L. (2016). Return to Hill Town. In, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), pp. 81-92.

[4] Grant, M. (2011). Strieby? Never Heard of It. Asheboro Magazine, 1(11), 56-58. Retrieved from: Asheboro Magazine On-line

[5] Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.

[6] DeBoer, C. M. (2015). Blacks and the American Missionary Association. Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ (Volume I). Retrieved from: UCC.org

[7] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[8] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[9] Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, Islay Walden, Agent. (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.

[10] Jones, K. L. (1972). History of the Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ. Souvenir Journal for the Dedication of the New Church Building: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ (Strieby, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ), p. 2.

[11] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[12] American Missionary Association. (1880). Conferences: North Carolina Conference. Annual Report of the American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 34(3), 72. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[13] American Missionary Association. (1881). Anniversary Reports. The American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 35(7), 211. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[14] American Missionary Association. (1884). Items from the Field. The American Missionary, Volume 38:51. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[15] Williams, M. L. (2016). Part V: Strieby Today. From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), 373-390.

#52Ancestors – My First Road Trip to Randolph County, North Carolina

Perhaps the most significant road trip I’ve taken was the one I took with my mother in 1982. I had been doing genealogy for several years when I made contact with Kate Lassiter Jones, my maternal cousin, a descendant of Miles Lassiter, my 4th great grandfather, from Randolph County, North Carolina. Neither she, nor my mother, nor I had ever heard of one another. When she learned of our relationship, she was as excited as we were and suggested that my mother and I “come on down” to meet our many cousins. It would be an important trip for both my mother and me. My mother spent her first four years of life in Greensboro, North Carolina in neighboring Guilford County. After her mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918, her grandmother, Louise, took my mother and her baby sister to live with family in New Jersey. When her own mother, affectionately known as “Grandma Ellen,” became ill and died a couple of years later, “Mama” Louise, my mother and her sister, Vern went to Asheboro, in Randolph County, to care for Grandma Ellen, but after she died, Louise decided to stay. They stayed another three years before Louise decided to return to New Jersey permanently. My mother was seven years old. She had not been back to North Carolina again until our road trip, 61 years later.[1]

Louse Smitherman Phillips and Elinora Phillips Lee circa 1915
Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram & Elinora Phillips Lee, circa 1916.

In September 1982, my mother and I made our pilgrimage to Asheboro and Randolph County. It had been 61 years since my mother had been in North Carolina. She marveled out loud that it was her daughter that was taking her back. She also lamented that my dad, who had   died in April, had not lived to make this trip—a trip he had often said he wanted to make. We had mapped out our route. We would travel south on I-95, past Richmond, Virginia, then south of Petersburg, we would take I-85 through southwestern Virginia, across the North Carolina border. I-85 would take us past the exits for Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Hillsboro, and Burlington. Once arriving in the Greensboro area, we would look for, and exit onto State 220, headed south. Finally, not far from the business district of Asheboro, we would exit onto State 49, going south toward Charlotte.

Margaret & Margo Williams 1982
Margaret Lee Williams and Margo Lee Williams, Christmas 1982. Photo by Elverna Lee Means.

We were very excited as we drove to meet our cousins, wondering if we would be welcome, if we would have things in common, if all would be congenial. We even made contingency plans – if we did not feel comfortable, we would stay a couple of days (instead of the planned week), make our excuses, and drive out to Asheville, in the Great Smokies.

Once on 49, we were to look for the second crossroads, where we would turn right and then left onto what is now called Lassiter Mill Road. As we made the turns, we passed Science Hill Friends Meeting. I recognized it from the book, Farmer, about the surrounding community known by that name. We were truly in the country as we rode along past farms and woodlands. We began to realize and be amused by the fact that we were now quite a few miles from the city of Asheboro, yet we knew that the postal address was still Asheboro. We would drive along these quiet, rolling country roads for almost half an hour before realizing that we were coming to the crossroads with what is now High Pine Church Road, the road on which Kate lived. As we approached the crossroads, I recognized a house to my left as being the one from the picture sent to me by Carolyn Hager, an historian at the Randolph County Historical Society, the one from the book, Farmer.

Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill Road - 1982
Lassiter Family Home Place, Lassiter Mill Road, Asheboro, R Phoandolph County, NC. Margaret Williams, my mother is standing to the right. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

Driving around the corner onto High Pine Church Road, we were now approaching Kate Jones’ home. As we drove up the driveway, Kate, her husband, George “Ikie” Jones, and a couple of dogs greeted us. “Do we look related?” she asked with a big smile. Then, with hugs and kisses she ushered her new cousins into the house. Actually, we did look related, especially my mom (I look more like my dad’s people). How amazing to see people who looked like my mom after a lifetime of only seeing two people that looked like my mom: her sister, Vern, and me.

Margaret Lee Williams and Kate Lassiter Jones - 1982
Margaret Lee Williams & Kate Lassiter Jones, Asheboro, NC, September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

Kate was a medium brown color, browner than my mother, her face was oval rather than round like my mother’s, but it was the eyes that surprised me. They had the same shaped eyes. Later, when I met Kate’s brothers and sisters, they were varying shades of brown, some round-faced, others with longer more oval-shaped faces, but they had the same shaped eyes.

Descendants of Miles and Healy Lassiter
Family members, descendants of Miles Lassiter, assembled for a dinner in honor of our visit to Asheboro, North Carolina, September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams.

.Kate  answered my questions enthusiastically, telling who married whom, the names of their children, where they lived. While she didn’t remember having ever heard of our family, or having met my mother, her brother, Will, claimed to have remembered my grandmother, my mother’s mother. Despite that, they knew many of the people and places my mother remembered from her early childhood, including her grandmother Louise’s sister, Adelaide, my 2nd great grandmother Ellen’s other daughter.

Margaret Williams, and Will Lassiter
Margaret Lee Williams & William Josiah Lassiter, “Will,” September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams.

Kate promised to take us to see these places, even to go up to Greensboro, in neighboring Guilford County, to visit the street where my mother had lived briefly as a little girl before her own mother died in the Flu epidemic of 1918, and before moving to New Jersey the first time. The house there was next to North Carolina A & T University, where from her yard, during World War I, she could watch the “Colored” soldiers train. In addition, Kate invited many other cousins to come by the house to meet us. Again, while many of these relatives knew some of my mother’s other cousins (most of whom, like “Grandma” Ellen, were now dead) they were unfamiliar with my mother.

Margaret Williams at A & T University, Greensboro -1982
Margaret Lee Williams at North Carolina A & T University, September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams.

During our stay with Kate, she took us out to see the land. She drove us around the Lassiter Mill area, (part of New Hope Township) along Lassiter Mill Road, pointing out the homes which had belonged to family members. She also drove us along High Pine Church Road, pointing out additional family homes, the fields that they farmed, and areas that they timbered. What I realized was that many of these homes were probably on the land that had been passed down to them by Colier Lassiter, Kate’s grandfather and brother of Nancy (Lassiter) Dunson, my 3rd great grandmother. Later, I asked Kate’s brother Will where the land was that he had bought from my 2nd great grandmother Ellen, daughter of Nancy. He said it was across the road (Lassiter Mill), going toward the Uwharrie River. He said he kept cows on the land.

Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo land
The pasture land that originally belonged to “Grandma Ellen,” Ellen (Dunson) Smitherman Mayo.

I was beginning to wish I had been able to be a part of this family during my growing up years. I realized I had missed something special, but I was grateful that I was now being embraced by my newly found cousins. I realized this was the most important road trip I had ever taken. I’m particularly grateful for the many visits we had after that. They are especially precious memories now because they are all gone now, Kate, all her siblings, including her brother Will, her husband “Ikie,” and my mother. I miss them all.

References

[1] This account is based on Chapter Two, “On the Road to Randolph County,” in my book: Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, 2011)

#52Ancestors – DNA– My Great Grandmother: Ellin Wilson

Ellin Wilson/Gainer Williams was my great grandmother. She was married to my great grandfather, Joshua W. Williams.[1] My Aunt Lutie, who was my father’s older sister and our family historian, about whom I have written before,[2] grew up around Ellin, her grandmother and her aunts and uncles, the sisters and brothers of her father, William G. Williams, my grandfather.[3] Aunt Lutie told me that Ellin was the daughter of Fannie Gainer,[4] whose husband was Alex Gainer,[5] but who was not the father of Ellin. However, Aunt Lutie said that she used Gainer as her maiden name and she even gave it as a middle name to my grandfather,[6] her oldest child, as his middle name. Clearly, she had great respect for Alex Gainer. I was also told that Ellin and her mother Fannie left South Carolina and went to Florida in search of Fannie’s other daughter and Ellin’s half-sister, Carry,[7] after the end of the Civil War. To date I have not located any South Carolina records that definitively identify Fannie or Ellin in South Carolina, even though both were reportedly free-born, but indentured. Of course, until now, I really wasn’t sure what family’s records to investigate.

Ellin Wilson
Ellin Wilson/Gainer Williams, 1854-1924

The Research

I found Fannie and Ellin for the first time in the 1870 census. Fannie was living with Alex Gainer.[8] Ellin was married to my great grandfather, Joshua, with my grandfather, Willie, who was one year old.[9] They were all living in Suwannee County, Florida. Carry was living with her husband, George Manker.[10] Going further, I was able to locate the marriage record of my great grandparents. According to the record, my great grandmother’s maiden name was “Wilson.”[11] That was great to learn, except that wasn’t one of the names I had identified from other documents.

Death certificates of Ellin and those of her children that identified her as their mother had various surnames associated with her. Her own death certificate said her father’s name was “George Johnson.”[12] My grandfather’s death certificate identified her maiden name as Ellen Gaynor.[13] Those of at least two of her children said her maiden name was Ellen Wilkinson.[14] So, what was it? Standard genealogical research never turned up any more than this. I hoped that DNA might be helpful.

DNA Evidence

I made the assumption that whoever Ellin’s father was, his first name was very likely George. I could also surmise that his last name ended in “son.” Maybe it was Wilson; maybe it was Johnson; maybe it was Wilkinson; regardless, it probably ended in “son.” I began searching my DNA results for the different surnames in the various databases where I had tested and on GEDmatch, where I had uploaded my results. Neither Wilson nor Johnson provided any cluster of matches. Wilkinson, on the other hand, was more promising.

I began noticing that there were matches who all seemed to have in common that they were descendants of Samuel Wilkinson and Esther McBride, or their son, William Wilkinson and his wife, Drucilla Hampton. William and Drucilla Wilkinson had a son, George.[15] While the family had roots in North Carolina, many family members, including George, had migrated to South Carolina, to the York, South Carolina area that Aunt Lutie claimed Ellin told her she was from (this despite some records stating she was born in Georgia).[16]. With this information, I began to develop a family tree branch for the Wilkinsons, but I did not attach them to Ellin. I left the branch free floating in my tree database.

Recently, Ancestry has created something called Thru-lines, where their algorithms identify potential common ancestors based on DNA matches as well as information from family trees. However, it must be reiterated that I had not attached any Wilkinson family members to anyone who was on my family tree as an actual genealogical family member. In other words, the place on the tree where Ellin’s father’s name should be listed was blank. Despite that, Thru-lines placed William Wilkinson as a possible third great grandfather.  With that, I decided to add George’s name as Ellin’s father. Consequently, I was able identify thirty-eight individuals as DNA matches. These individuals represented descendants from virtually every child of William and Drucilla (Hampton) Wilkinson, as well as the siblings of Drucilla Hampton and the siblings of William Wilkinson.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have a document yet that places my great grandmother in the home of George Wilkinson or any of his family members. What I do have is enough presumptive evidence to begin researching the various family members’ records to see how I can make the definitive connection. However, even without a document, the many DNA matches tell me that somehow they are my family; somehow I am their family.

References

[1] “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch, Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 05 Nov 1868; citing Marriage, Suwannee, Florida, United States, citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida; FHL microfilm 1,007,156. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[2] Williams, M. L. (2018, 6 Jan). Blogpost:  #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Start: Lute Odette Williams Mann, 1894-1985. Personal Prologue. Retrieved from: margoleewilliamsbooks.com

[3] New Jersey, State Census, 1905 [Database on-line]. Ellen Williams, head; Lute Williams, age 11. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch, Frances Gaynor in entry for Ellen Williams, 09 May 1924; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,031,493. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[5] “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch, Alex Gainer and Frances Gainer, 14 Jan 1874; citing Marriage, Suwannee, Florida, United States, citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida; FHL microfilm 1,007,156. Familysearch.org

[6] Death Certificate of William Gaynor Williams, 6 October 1953, New York, New York. Bureau of Records and Statistics, Department of Health, City of New York. Certificate #156-53-121719. Certified Copy in possession of author.

[7] “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch, Dwelling #52, Family #57 Alex Gainer, head, Frances Gainer, wife; Family #58 Carry Manker, head; Dwelling  #53, Family #59: Joshaway Williams, head; Ellen Williams, wife; citing enumeration district ED 145, sheet 286C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d), roll 0132; FHL microfilm 1,254,132. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[8] 1870 US Federal Census: Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; Alex Gainer, head; Francis Gainer. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 693B; Image: 522; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1870 US Federal Census: Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; Josh Williams, head; Ellen Williams, wife. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 686A; Image: 507; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] 1870 US Federal Census, Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida: George Manker, head; Carry Manker. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 693B; Image: 522; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch, Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 05 Nov 1868; citing Marriage, Suwannee, Florida, United States, citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida; FHL microfilm 1,007,156. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[12] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch, George Johnson in entry for Ellen Williams, 09 May 1924; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,031,493. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[13] Death Certificate of William Gaynor Williams, 6 October 1953, New York, New York. Bureau of Records and Statistics, Department of Health, City of New York. Certificate #156-53-121719. Certified Copy in possession of author.

[14] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch (, Ellen Wilkinson in entry for Edward Williams, 19 Jun 1939; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,109,537. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org; And “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch, Ellen Wilkinson in entry for Calvin Williams, 19 Apr 1933; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,070,580. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[15] 1850 US Federal Census: Prosperity, Mecklenburg, North Carolina; William Wilkinson, head; Drucilla Wilkinson; George Wilkinson, age 11. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 52B; Image: 112. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[16] 1870 US Federal Census: Fort Mill, York, South Carolina; George Wilkinson, head. NARA Roll: M593-1512; Page: 410B; Family History Library Film: 553011. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

 

#52Ancestors – In the Newspaper – An Interesting Ordination: The Rev. Islay Walden

The Rev. Islay Walden was a formerly enslaved poet from Randolph County, North Carolina. He had graduated from the Normal Department at Howard University in Washington, D. C. He then traveled to New Jersey where he was one of the two first African American students at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. The other young man was John Bergen. Interestingly, they were both vision impaired.

This article on Walden’s ordination appeared in the New York Evening Post, a paper of William Cullen Bryant. It detailed not only the events of the ordination itself, but also gave a substantial biographical sketch of Islay Walden’s life, most notably here, that Walden was the first African American to be ordained from the Seminary. A transcription of the article appears below.[1]

Figure 23-Islay Walden Ordination article Evening Post
An Interesting Ordination, Evening Post, 2 July 1879

 

An Interesting Ordination

How Islay Walden, a Young Colored Man Obtained His Education –

From Slavery to the Pulpit.

New Brunswick N. J., July 1, 1879

The ordination of Islay Walden, a young colored man, took place in this city this afternoon, the laying on of hands having performed by the classis of NJ in the Second Reformed Church. Considerable interest was manifested in the ordination in the fact that Mr. Walden was the first colored man who was ever graduated of the theological seminary of the Reformed church of America which is in this city, and from the fact that he is the first candidate from the colored race who has been ordained by the New Brunswick classis or any other classis in New Jersey.

Mr. Walden has had to struggle against apparently insurmountable difficulties to obtain an education. He was born in NC and he and his mother were several times sold as slaves. The price obtained for both when Walden was a babe in arms being $800. His father escaped from slavery by running away from his master and getting to Indiana on a forged passport. Young Walden was declared free when he was 22 years old and then he was ignorant of even the letters of the alphabet. At this age however, he formed a determination to become a teacher. He left home and traveled to Washington DC, where by force of his entreaties he was allowed to enter Howard University.  He remained there for more than six years and obtained a good education, notwithstanding that he was almost blind, defective vision being an infliction which came with his birth. After graduation at Howard University, he came north selling a small volume of poems of his own composition to obtain funds to pursue a theological education. He made applications to be admitted into the seminary at Princeton College, but Dr. McComb interposed some objection that very much disheartened Walden. He was more successful at New Brunswick, where Prof George W Atherton of Rutgers College interested himself in his behalf and introduced him to the faculty at the theological seminary. About the time Walden was knocking at Prof Atherton’s door, seeking an admission, the Rev. Dr. C. D. Hartranft, formerly of the Second Reformed Church of this city but now Professor of the Hartford Theological Seminary brought word that a member of the Rev. Dr. Coles’s Reformed Church at Yonkers N. Y. had just left a legacy of $8500 for the education of a colored man.  The Board of Education of the Reformed Church then took Mr. Walden under their care and he entered the theological seminary for three years course with another colored man named John R. Bergen. His innovation met with no opposition from the other students, but instead the utmost good feeling prevailed throughout the three years of his life there. The colored students although both suffered from defective vision kept their places in the classis and not infrequently distanced the white students in efficiency and aptness. They were both graduated last month and have been licensed to preach by the New Brunswick classis. Mr. Bergen will be ordained once his field of labor is decided upon. He has expressed a desire to go to Africa, but his physician thinks his constitution as not robust enough for that climate. Mr. Walden has been engaged by the American Missionary Society to go south and labor among the freedmen. The Reformed Church has no missionaries in the south or Mr. Walden would have gone there under its auspices.  At the ordination services this afternoon, the Rev. Dr. J. L. See, President of the Classis and Secretary of the Board of Education presided. The Rev J. M. Corwin, of Middlesex N. J., preached the services. The other clergymen who participated, were the Rev. Dr. W. H. Campbell, President of Rutgers College, the Rev. Dr. Lord of Metucheon NJ. The Rev. Messrs. Jacob Cooper and Doolittle of Rutgers College, the Rev. Dr.  D. D. Demarest, Professor of Pastoral Theology and the theological seminary, and the Rev. Dr. Van Dyke of Hertzog Hall of this city. The Rev. Dr. Strieby, Secretary of the American Board of Missions was also present.

Reference

[1] Evening Post. (2 July 1879). An Interesting Ordination. (New York, NY). Retrieved from: Fultonhistory.com