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Archive for December, 2010

Please read the preceding essay, “The One Drop Rule Revisited,” first!

 

NOTE FROM MODERATOR: Wallace Jarrell’s research on the descendants of Diza Ann Maness McQueen, identified in records as white, and her husband, Wilson Williams, identified as mulatto, reveals that many of our common understandings of “race” lack an objective scientific basis. Also revealed are some common characteristics of families defined by nineteenth-century law as “black” regardless of the color of their skin. Despite legal definitions imposed by society, most of Diza Ann and Wilson Williams’s children defined themselves as white and raised their children as such; yet, at least of two of those children identified as “black”.  DNA evidence, Wally shows, only complicates the question of the Williams’s racial identity. What we do know is that nineteenth-century notions of what constituted a “person of color” forced Wilson Williams to “pass” for black regardless of his DNA.
 
The Racially-Ambiguous Family of Diza Ann Maness McQueen and Wilson Williams
 
By Wallace E. “Wally” Jarrell  
 
 
I am a descendant of Diza Ann Williams, and probably Wilson Williams.  My great-grandfather, Sampson Williams, was the fifth known child of Diza Ann.  His daughter, Margie Reen Williams Jarrell, was my grandmother.  Her son, Herman Claude Jarrell, was my father.

           

Early in my genealogy research, which began in 1978, I ran into a brick wall in regard to my great-grandfather, Sampson Williams.  I found his 1879 marriage license from Montgomery County, NC, which listed him as the white son of Diza Williams and “unknown.”  I couldn’t seem to find him in the federal manuscript census before he was married, but I did find a black family that had similar names as his and his mother’s.  So I questioned my grandmother’s only remaining sibling, Aunt Ida, about Sampson’s family. She was evasive, telling me that she couldn’t remember her father having family.  Eventually she told me that he had “people” that lived near Worthville, NC.  Some locals who remembered Sampson called him “Samps Wilse” for short.  Ida told me not to call him Samps Wilse, because that would make him black.  This statement seemed strange, but eventually convinced me to look again at the black Williams family.  In various censuses, I noticed that the Diza/ Dicey/ Disey, lived with a son named Sampson and was sometimes listed as black, sometimes white, sometimes mulatto.  I decided to try to track down descendants of this Williams family.

             

I learned that Diza Ann was first married to Calvin McQueen, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1854.  Both parents were identified as white.  Beginning about 1855 and continuing through 1873, Diza gave birth to nine more children, all probably fathered by Wilson Williams (aka Wright), who was identified as her husband in the 1860 census.  The children born after Mary Ann were as follows:

                         

1. Daniel, born about 1855.  I know very little about him thus far.

                       

2. William M. Williams, a twin to Daniel.  He married in Montgomery County and gave his mother’s name as Diza Williams and his father as “unknown.”  His death certificate lists his father as Wilson Williams and mother as Eliza Manors.  There was a Diza Maners listed in the 1850 census.  He and his wife went as white and lived in Vance County, NC in later years.

                 

3. David D. Williams’ death certificate reported his birth date as 5 October 1854.  He first married a Montgomery County woman by whom he had children.  He and his brother Sampson were known to fight with one another, and were arrested at least once for doing so.  David divorced and moved to Robeson County, NC, where he remarried and had other children. By 1900, he and his second family were living in Cumberland County. Wilson was living with them, and was listed as David’s “step-father.”  David went as white and remained in that area, which is part of Lumbee Indian territory. Wilson Williams may have had Lumbee connections. Earlier, while living in Montgomery County, Wilson was deeded land together with a Shadrach Williams, who I have not identified.  Later, Shadrach was listed in the census as living with a man named Locklear, a common Lumbee surname.  It’s possible that Wilson was of Lumbee descent and that he may not have had African ancestry. In the nineteenth century, however, mixed people of Indian or African descent were generally identified by census enumerators as “black” or “mulatto”.

                       

4. Sampson Williams, my great-grandfather, was born in 1859.  He went as white, married a white woman, and appeared white for the most part.  I have seen a couple of descendants who had a slight amount of color in their complexion, but displayed no other traits indicating African descent.  Sampson apparently had little to do with his siblings.  He was ill-tempered, often in trouble with the law for fighting, drinking, etc.; he once cut a man, almost killing him. He fled to Florida to hide out for a time, then came home and served some time in jail.  I believe he saw a hard life because of his family history. Sampson registered to vote in 1902, giving his ancestor as James Maness.  Some of the Manors/Maners/Mainors family became known later as Maness.  Sampson Williams died in 1929.

                   

5. Sarah Williams, born about 1861, seems to have disappeared after the 1880 Census, where she was listed as white and boarding with a Freeman family.

 

6. Margaret Ellen Williams was born 7 August 1866. She never married, but had two children.  She stayed for a while with her half-sister, Mary Ann, then moved to the Worthville, NC, area.  She went as white, but appeared to have some African ancestry. Her descendants are all white in appearance.  She died in 1921.

 

7. John Williams was born about 1867.  I have nothing firm on him, although I am pursuing some leads at this time.

 

8. Moses Williams was born 22 June 1869, and was listed as mulatto in the 1880 Montgomery County Census.  He was married in 1892 in Richmond County, NC, to a black woman.  His marriage license identifies his parents as Wilson and Disey Williams.  His family later moved to Laurinburg, in Scotland County.  He lived as black, though his descendants say he had light skin and green eyes.  He died in 1949.

 

9. Marshall Williams was born in 1873 and remained in Montgomery County.  He married a black woman and is buried in a black cemetery.  He had one son who never married and died in Maryland.  Marshall went as black, but relatives remember that he was very light skinned.  His death certificate lists his father as Wilson Williams and his mother as Diza Williams.

 

A side note, I had my father take a DNA test a few years ago to determine his racial background.  I expected it to show either mostly white European heritage with a small amount of African, or mostly white with a small amount of American Indian.  I was surprised when the test came back showing mostly white European with a small amount of EAST ASIAN.  After further study, I learned that some Indians are descended from Asiatic people who migrated here centuries ago.  The granddaughter of Margaret Ellen Williams took the same test, and her results show mostly white European, with a small amount of American Indian.

 

One interesting occurrence during my research:  I have become good friends with Margaret Ellen Williams’s descendants, and once, while we were looking through their family photos, they showed me one person that they could not identify.  I immediately knew who it was, and when I turned it over, it had the name Ida Esco Williams written on the back. This was the same Great-Aunt Ida from whom I had tried to gain information about our Williams ancestry!

 

Sampson Williams Family, courtesy Wallace E. Jarrell

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

David Williams, courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sampson Williams, courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Margaret Ellen Williams, courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

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NOTE FROM MODERATOR: On March 17, 2009, Renegade South published the essay “Race and the ‘One Drop Rule’ in the Post-Reconstruction South,” which presented the story of Mary Ann McQueen of Montgomery County, North Carolina. Recently, that essay elicited a response from Wallace E. “Wally” Jarrell, who is a descendant of Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, and Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams. Wally generously shared his own research on the Williams family with me, and so I have decided to repost the original essay, followed by his expanded history of the family. Here, first, is the original post–now illustrated with photos!– that drew Wally’s attention:

 

Race and the “One Drop Rule” in the Post-Reconstruction South

by Vikki Bynum

Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!

So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?

Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground.

Despite Davis Knight’s legal victory, custom (and often the law) at times went even further than applying the “one drop rule.” After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of the races was legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), census enumerators in the segregated South of 1900 were instructed to list people’s race as either “black” or “white”; there were to be no “in-between” designations. Some enumerators went even further than that. To reinforce the image of a racially-segregated society, they categorized many formerly white-identified people as “black” simply because they lived in multiracial neighborhoods. Hence, Newt and Serena Knight, and their children who lived (and married) among Rachel and her children, were listed as “black” in the 1900 federal manuscript census.

Similar contradictions of racial identification may be found throughout Southern court records as segregation ordinances were written into law. An example of one absurd, yet utterly serious, effort to determine whether an individual was “white” or “black” (which I pieced together from North Carolina state and federal records) follows:

In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?

It all began before the Civil War, when Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, ended her marriage to Mary Ann’s father, Calvin McQueen. Almost immediately afterward, she married Wilson Williams (aka Wilson Wright). By 1861, when the Civil War began, Diza had given birth to four more children. Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s father, Calvin, enlisted in the Confederate Army in February 1862 and marched off to war. Barely five months later, in July 1862, he was dead from wounds suffered in the battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Calvin had lived and died as a white man.

The same was not true, however, of Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams, who was listed as a “mulatto” by census enumerators. This meant that Mary Ann McQueen grew up in a multiracial household with a stepfather and several siblings all classified as mulattos. By 1884, as segregation expanded and lines of race correspondingly hardened, many folks wondered how this white woman could have mixed-race kinfolk without being mixed herself.

With racially discriminatory laws a fundamental part of segregation, Mary Ann had a lot to lose in civil rights, as well as social standing, if she could not rid herself of the “one drop” taint. Perhaps because she lived in a small community with a long memory, her mother’s sworn statement, which reminded the court that Calvin McQueen and not Wilson Williams was Mary Ann’s biological father, seems to have won Mary Ann her whiteness, at least legally. By 1900, the federal manuscript census for Montgomery County, N.C., listed a Mary McQueen, born 1851, as “white.”

That does not mean however, that Mary Ann’s social status was restored. If this is our Mary Ann, she apparently never married, despite having given birth to a son, also listed as white. Were Mary Ann’s chances at marriage to a white man compromised by her mother’s interracial marriage? In the era of segregation, most certainly they were.

[UPDATE: In fact, as I've learned from Wally, Mary Ann McQueen did marry. She married John Milton Rich, a white man, and she married as a white woman. Below are photos of the couple:]

 
 

Mary Ann McQueen Rich, photo courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

Today, most scientists agree that there is no genetic basis for the idea of humans as separate “races,” or subspecies. But, as we see in the case of Mary Ann McQueen and the more recent trial of Davis Knight, societal beliefs about race were written into law and political policy, and reflected historical struggles of power over slavery, segregation, and civil rights.

John Milton Rich, Photo courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

NOTE:  The stories of Davis Knight and Mary Ann McQueen are discussed in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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by Vikki Bynum


Over the past few years, the following passage from the 1938 book, Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State, has prompted several folks to write me at Renegade South:

On February 2, 1864, [B.J.] Rushton was shot through the door of his cabin by Babe White, a member of the Newt Knight band. (p. 448)

So, who was Babe White? His name does not appear on any rosters of Newt Knight’s band of Confederate army deserters that I’ve ever seen. Did he nonetheless run with the Knight Company? To try and answer that question, I’ve been researching this alleged outlaw and the crowd of thieves and rustlers he hung out with.

In 1936, the White family of the Myrick region of Jones County was remembered by at least two residents of that area —B. A. Boutwell and Jim Bingham Walters— as having comprised the core of a post-Civil War band of outlaws well known for its wide-ranging horse thieving and cattle rustling.

In separate interviews conducted by employees of the Federal Writers’ Project.* Boutwell and Walters told essentially the same story. On September 21, 1936, in an essay entitled “Early Horse Thieves and Cattle Rustlers,” an unnamed  WPA interviewer wrote the following, based on what she or he had learned from Boutwell:

Jones County, like all other early settled counties of pioneer days, had its horse thieves and cattle rustlers. The most notorious and conspicuous of these and by far the most active in plying the nefarious traffic, were men by the name of Obe Lyons and Dorsen [Dawson] Holly, and also the White brothers, Bud and Babe, and a lady by the name of Sussie [Susie].

Boutwell’s memories open the door to historical verification. Both Obe Lyons (Lynes, Lines) and Dawson Holly appear in the federal manuscript censuses, and so also does the White family, though I have thus far been unable  to find members named either “Bud,” or  “Babe,” which were likely nicknames. Susie, however, appears in the 1860 census as the wife of Samuel W. White, identified in a WPA essay on the community of Myrick as a member of the same outlaw band.

In December, 1936, Jim Bingham Walters told interviewer Addie West that “the Dawson Holly ring was the most notorious in this section.” Holly’s “big swamp pasture in the Tallahalla Creek swamp” was used to “recondition” stolen stock before selling them off. Walters identified the “White brothers, Sam, Fate, and Van,  . . .  together with the wives of Sam and Van (Susie and Mandy, who were sisters)” as members of the Dawson Holly ring.

I was excited to discover both Susie and Mandy in the federal manuscript census of 1860, each one living with the brother they were reported as married to. Furthermore, the two White families lived in the same vicinity as B. J. Rushton, the man that “Babe” White allegedly murdered.  In 1860, Rushton was a 45-year farmer who claimed $1000 in real estate and $14,275 in personal estate (mostly slaves). Five households away was O.E. Rushton, a 25-year-old “jug maker” who was likely the son of the elder Rushton. Only seven households from that of the younger Rushton was that of W. H. White, age 60, and his wife Mary. Their son, Martin Van, and his apparent wife, Amanda (Mandy) lived with them.  Brother Sam, age 28, headed his own household, seventeen households away from B. J. Rushton’s. He lived with his 27-year-old wife, Susan (Susie), and their son, John C., age 8.

Given the proximity of the Rushton and White families, and the Whites’s reputation as outlaws, it’s not hard to imagine the circumstances in which the murder of B. J. Rushton probably occurred.  According to Boutwell, the outlaws lived east of where the city of Laurel is today, on Boguehoma Creek. Around 1870, he said,

these people would visit over the county and surrounding counties and gather up horses, and cattle and drive them to an isolated pasture on upper Boguehoma where they would keep them and fatten them up and hold them until such time as they could drive them off to some distant market where they would dispose of them for cash.

Then, as now, organized crime activity created dangerous social conditions for all who lived nearby. “This band of rustlers,” Boutwell told his interviewer, “had a president who directed other members of the gang and sent them out on searches for stock.” Jim Walters provided Addie West with a similar description of the same band’s mode of operation. Identifying the gang’s leader as Dawson Holly, Walters described him as “glib of tongue, fleet of foot and pretty sharp.” Holly, he said “served as sort of a counselor” among the thieves. “His big swamp pasture in the Tallahala Creek swamp was used to recondition poor stock” before selling it.

According to Boutwell, citizens organized to protect themselves against this type of robbery. He described how “more active members” of the gangs were watched by “vigilant citizens” determined to  protect themselves against the thieves. Perhaps the Rushtons were among those citizens who armed themselves for protection and struggled to bring down the rustlers by whatever means necessary.

It may have been during one such struggle that Babe White killed Bennet Rushton. Neither Boutwell not Walters mentions such a murder, but both claim that one of the outlaw sisters was killed, presumably by vigilantes. Boutwell’s words were vague; he commented only that “in a manner of which I am unable to ascertain, Sussie was killed.”  Walters was much more specific and identified the murdered sister as Mandy rather than Susie. And Mandy, he made clear, was herself a full-fledged outlaw:

The men would bunch the horses and Mandy would run them through the swamps to some market.

Walters further emphasized to West that there was no honor among the thieves:

One time Mandy carried Dave Blackledge’s mare to Newton and sold her and at the same time she took a fine horse that belonged to Daws Holly’s daughter, Elizabeth, and it was a great joke to everybody.

We get a clear image of post-Civil War outlaw gangs from these WPA narratives. Although the facts are not always accurate, the scenes of theft and mayhem probably are, at least in a general sense. Still, narratives such as these—which were often memories passed from one generation to another—easily result in a mangling of the truth. Boutwell, for example, thought Susie had been killed; Walters said it was her sister Mandy. And what about that sentence in the quotation above, that “Mandy carried Dave Blackledge’s mare to Newton”? I believe that Jim Walters and Addie West were referring to the TOWN of Newton, Mississippi, but might someone else reading that sentence have concluded that they were referring to Newton Knight? With Newt Knight’s reputation as a Civil War outlaw, it would be all too easy to then conflate his band of men with the Dawson Holly Ring. And might that be how Babe White came to be described as a member of Newt Knight’s band of men?

Memories—and narratives about others’ memories—provide a rich source of information about the past. But memories should not be confused with facts, of which historians often have far fewer than even they would like to admit. And so it is that much of what actually happened in the past remains in dispute and ever will. Ironically, if we remember that we only rarely know exactly what happened in a long passed event, and that one person’s eye-witness memory may differ radically from another’s, we can move much closer to understanding the truths of the past—as distinct from the “facts.”


* During the 1930s, old folks’ memories about slavery, the Civil War, and the era of Reconstruction were collected in interviews carried out by the Federal Writers’ Project, a component of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), created during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Many of those interviews have been published in various collections (most notably the ex-slave narratives), but most ended up as loose papers filed away in state archives. In Mississippi, these unpublished WPA records are organized by county and subdivided by topic.


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