Mississippi

Sondra Yvonne Bivins on the Family Line of Harriet Carter Ward

The following guest post by Sondra Yvonne Bivins presents her latest research on various Knight family lines of Piney Woods Mississippi. Thanks to Yvonne’s gathering of family stories and research into primary documents, we have a much deeper knowledge of the often hidden histories of  the multiracial South, and particularly the experiences of enslaved women. If you haven’t already, be sure and read her histories of Vernon Dahmer, Rachel Knight (in three parts),and the Ainsworth-Smith-Knight lines of Mississippi.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

The Family Origins of Harriet Carter Ward

By Sondra Y. Bivins

Introduction

For Black families, oral tradition has been a vital component of family history research.  In the tradition of the African Griot, stories about “the old days” were passed on to younger generations as forms of entertainment mostly in the evenings after supper.  These sessions could be quite entertaining, because normally children were not allowed to hang around when “grown folks talked.”

Alex Haley, author of the successful novel, Roots: Saga of an American Family, relied heavily on the family history of his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, as the basis for his research.  Like Alex Haley, the Knights of Soso, Mississippi, have passed on the story of their matriarch, Harriet Carter Ward and her children.  A few years ago, I discovered a pamphlet compiled for one of their family reunions that included the following about Harriet:

As a young girl, she was taken from her parents and sold to John “Jackie” Knight.  She had [taken] the name Carter from her previous owner. At a very early age, she gave birth to five children fathered by Daniel Knight.  Harriet and her five children remained on the plantation until after the War Between the States.

Photos From brochure of Ward and Knight Family Reunion, 1999

This pamphlet also listed the names of her children, so I used this as the basis for beginning my research.  Looking through this pamphlet, I remembered many of the names and places from stories that I heard when I was a child.

I have found that over the years, facts may be altered or embellished with each retelling of a family story. Given its retelling over the years, the family story about Harriet, as with most family stories, is not 100 percent accurate; however, it is rich in details.

To Be a Slave

I don’t need to pay anybody to tell me about where we came from. Our family tree ends in a bill of sale. Lester is the name of the family that owned us.

Julius Lester, To Be a Slave, 1968

Harriet’s story begins on the plantation of John “Jackie” Knight in Covington County, Mississippi, in the fall of 1846.  John “Jackie” Knight was a small time slave trader and planter whose land was located on both sides of the Leaf River in Covington and Jones County. At the time of his death in 1861, four months before the firing of guns at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, triggered the American Civil War, Jackie owned between 22 and 40 slaves.

Although Jackie Knight was considered to be a so-called “good master” who treated his slaves humanely, life for his slaves was nevertheless difficult.  He did not beat them without cause or work them half to death.  His former slave Martha Wheeler remembered him as kind and good.  Of course, she was just seven years old when he died, but she remembered her father’s and mother’s stories about him. * He was a typical white man who treated his slaves like children and honestly believed that they were better off enslaved because it was for “their own good.”

Between 1850 and 1860, Jackie Knight became one of the richest farmers in the Jones County area.  The 1860 federal manuscript slave schedule shows that he owned 22 slaves who lived in six slave houses (family traditions cite many more). Individuals were not named but were simply numbered and distinguished only by age, sex, and color.  Among these slaves were:

  • 1 black female, age 36 (Phyllis, Harriet’s mother)
  • 1 black female, age 17, female (possibly mother of Claiborne Graves)
  • 1 black female, age 14 (Harriet Carter)
  • 1 black male, age 7 (Claiborne Graves)

On September 4, 1860, John “Jackie” Knight made his “Last Will and Testament,” in which he disbursed the following slave property:

To my daughter Altimarah Brumfield I do will and bequeath a certain Negro girl named Harriet on her paying to the estate two hundred dollars . . . .

 Jackie Knight died on January 9, 1861. His estate was auctioned on March 18, 1861, and his heirs successfully kept his slaves in the family. According to Martha Wheeler, the last three slaves were bought by John Knight’s daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Coleman Knight.

Harriet Carter’s parents were Andy Carter and Phyllis Knight.  Phyllis was a field hand slave of Jackie Knight.  According to former librarian Kenneth Welch, co-author with Jan Sumrall of Knights and Related Families (1985), the Rev. E. L. Carter, a neighbor of John Knight, was the likely owner of Andy.  Andy Carter apparently died before 1870 as he is not listed on the 1870 and 1880 census records for either Covington or Jones County.

Like her mother, Harriet was a strong, powerfully built, heavyset woman with jet black skin and kinky hair. She never learned to read and write because it was against the law for slaves.  As soon as she reached the age of twelve, Harriet joined her parents and the rest of the slaves in the field.  They worked from sunrise to sunset, with an hour off during the hot summer months. During harvest time, they worked an eighteen-hour day. Field slaves were fed once a day with whatever Jackie Knight chose to give them. They supplemented their diet with whatever they could catch or grow, i.e. raccoons, catfish, and vegetables from a small garden near the cabin.

The summer before Harriet reached her thirteenth year, while she was working in Jackie Knight’s field, his 20-year-old grandson, Dan Knight, took an interest in her. Harriet was powerless to refuse his advances and soon became pregnant with a son who she named after her father, Andy. Slave women had no legal rights over their bodies; Dan could do with her what he pleased. For him, taking Harriet “to the woods” was a simple rite of passage. Although racial mixing was prohibited by law, such laws did nothing to deter the sexual abuse of slave women on plantations.

John Knight’s daughter, Altimarah Brumfield, inherited Harriet in March 1861, a month before Harriet gave birth.  George Brumfield, Altamarah’s husband, owned property located in Covington County, next door to Jackie Knight’s place. At her new home, Harriet worked in the field right up until she delivered Andy Knight in April 1861. After giving birth, she continued to work the in the field, during which time she would leave Andy with one of the old people on the farm.

While Dan Knight was away serving in the Confederacy, Harriet developed a relationship with one of the Brumfield’s slaves, which resulted in the birth of her second son, Joseph Samuel Broomfield, born in January 1865.  Meanwhile, according to family history, Dan Knight resumed his sexual exploitation of Harriet after being discharged from military service and returning to Jones County. Although he married his cousin, Lizzie Knight, around May 1864, he fathered several children by Harriet after the war had ended: Sam was born in September 1867, Joanne in August 1869, and Mary Lee in August 1871. Harriet also had a daughter, Cecile, whose name appears in a journal of births, deaths, and marriages kept by the late Sidney Knight (the journal is now in possession of Florence Knight Blaylock).

It should be noted here that Dan’s father, Jesse Davis Knight, was the father of three of Rachel Knight’s children, born while she was a slave on Jackie Knight’s plantation.

By 1870, Harriet and her children were living in the Soso area of Jones County, Mississippi.  The Jones County census of August 8, 1870, shows that Andy was nine, Joe was five, and Sam was three years old.  Samuel was the only one in the household described as a mulatto (bi-racial).  Harriet was listed without occupation, residing in the home of her mother, Phyllis Knight. At the time of this enumeration, Phyllis was 50 years old.  She was described as a black female whose occupation was “keeping house,” meaning that she did not work outside the home. She owned personal property valued at $200 (the equivalent of about $3400 in 2010) and real estate valued at $40 (the equivalent of about $640 in 2010).

Phyllis’s household was large. It included Harriet Carter, a black female, age 24, and several grandchildren ranging from age 11 to age 3. The children were Claiborne [Graves], age 11; Isaac [?], age 10; Andy [Knight], age 9; Lewis [Graves] age 7; Jackson [Graves], age 6; Joseph [Brumfield], age 5; and Samuel [Knight], age 3. According to Pearline Musgrove Knight, Claiborne, Lewis, and Jackson Graves were Harriet’s nephews.  Their father was a slave whose surname was Graves (possibly owned by Robert Graves whose grandson, Ben Graves, later bragged in an interview that his grandfather once paid $10 a pound for a slave.) All members of the household were listed as born in Mississippi.

In June 1880, Phyllis and her family still lived in Jones County, Mississippi, in the area of present-day Soso. Everyone in the household (dwelling #119) was using the surname Knight.  Apparently, Harriet was unsure of her age because she had only aged six years from the time of the last census.  This census shows a Fellis Nite [sic], a black female, age 56, living with her daughter, Harriet Nite, age 37, and using the Nite [sic] surname.  The following grandchildren lived in the household:  Clabe [Graves], age 20; Jackson, age 18; Lewis, age 17; Andy, age 16; Joseph, age 15; Joanne (Musgrove), age 10; Mary (Coleman), age 6; Emaline (?), age 4; and Bell (Ward), age 2.  Living next door were Isaac Jackson (Isaac Jackson is the same Isaac “Ike” Ward discussed below) age 26, born in Alabama, and Sam Knight, age 12.

In the same Jones County neighborhood was Celia Bruce (Andy Knight’s mother-in-law), who was born in South Carolina.  The Bruce’s had previously been enslaved by Simpson Bruce and still lived and worked on his place. The Bruce household included John, Cherry, Rose (Rose Ann), Jane (Jennie), and Bose.

Isaac “Ike” Ward

 After the births of Bell in 1878 and Matilda in about 1880, Harriet entered into a common-law marriage with Ike Ward around 1882. Back then, if a man and woman moved in together and identified themselves as husband and wife, by law the marriage was legal even though there had been no license or ceremony.

Family tradition says that Ike Ward was born a slave in Alabama to “an Irishman and an African.”  He was very handsome with straight black hair. Ike’s mother, Chanie Dean, is described by a family member as very dark-skinned, tiny woman with short kinky hair.

In the summer of 1870, 13-year-old Ike was living in the area that is now Soso, Mississippi, with his stepfather, Abraham “Abe” Dean, and his mother, Chanie.  The family lived next door to William Jackson, a 29-year-old white farmer from Alabama who owned their land and, before the war, had owned Abe Dean. The Dean household included the following:

  1. Abraham Deen – age 45 – b. in Alabama
  2. China Deen – age 35 – b. in Alabama
  3. Isaac Deen – age 13 – b. in Alabama (Ike Ward)

In June 1880, Abe and Chanie lived in the same area of Jones County in Beat 2. Near them was W. R. Jackson and, in fact, they were using the surname of Jackson.  The 1880 census records shows that Phyllis and Harriet Knight lived only two dwellings away.  As noted above, Ike Ward, (listed by the census enumerator as Isaac Jackson), age 26, and Sam Knight, a 12-year-old mulatto boy, lived together in a house located between those of the Deans and Knights.

In 1882, shortly before Ike and Harriet entered into a common law marriage, Ike fathered a child named Rushia by Rose Holifield. Rose was born a slave in January, 1845, in South Carolina. In 1880, she lived near Ike on a farm owned by John “Mat” Musgrove, the brother-in-law of her former slavemaster, Jonathan Holifield. Mat Musgrove was the father of Rose’s children: Sam, age 13; Frank, age 11; Jack, age 8; John, age 5; and Bija, age 3, although they had not yet begun using the surname Musgrove at the time the 1880 census was taken. (In 1887, Mat Musgrove was killed while breaking into a store in Sandersville. The Musgrove family says that he was accidentally shot by the owner, who mistook him for a burglar; others think that the murder was neither an accident nor a mistake.)

On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. This act granted 160 acres of surveyed public land to poor settlers after payment of a filing fee and five years of continuous residence. After Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson opposed freedmen participation in the Homestead program.  A strong believer in white superiority and black inferiority, President Johnson was dedicated to maintaining a white man’s government. His racial attitudes, shared by many whites, made it very difficult for blacks to obtain land. To become a landowner, former slaves generally needed the assistance and approval of white neighbors, former owners, or white relatives because few homesteads were granted to black claimants.

After hard work, Ike was able to take advantage of the Homestead Act.  On December 30, 1884, he purchased with cash 40.13 acres of land in Jones County, MS.  Six years later, he filed a homestead claim for 160.25 acres of land in the same county.  Several of his relatives followed his lead and became landowners, too.  Andy Knight homesteaded 165 acres in 1892; Jackson Graves, 123 acres in 1895; Lewis Graves, 164 acres in l895; William Dean, 159 acres in 1896; Sam Knight, 41 acres in 1897 and Frank Musgrove, 162 acres in 1901.

The 1900 federal manuscript census for Jones County, Mississippi, shows Ike and Harriet Ward having been married for 18 years and still living in Beat 2 of Soso. Ike gave his birthdate as December 1855; Harriet gave hers as October 1846. Harriet stated that she was the mother of 15 children with 13 still living as of June 1900.  Included in their household were Belle age 21; Frank age 12; Hettie age 14;  Jessie,  age 12; Phyllis age 11;and  Nellie Jane age 8.  Also in the household was William Barnes age 20.

In 1910, Ike and Harriet lived on the Laurel-Soso Road in Soso, Mississippi,  (census dwelling #401)  Ike could neither read nor write, and was a self-employed farmer. Still living with them were Jessie, male age 21; Phyllis, female, age 19; and Nellie, female, age 19.  Also living with them were two grandsons: John Knight, age 19 and Tim Knight, age 18.  Tim and John attended school.  Living next door to Ike and Harriet were Floyd and Lucy Ainsworth Knight and Frank and Leavy Smith Ward.

The marriage of Harriet Carter and Ike Ward endured some forty-five years, ended only by their deaths. In January, 1927, Harriet contracted pneumonia and passed away the following month, on February 6.  She was buried in the cemetery at the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Soso, Mississippi. Six years later, in 1933, Ike died and was buried next to Harriet.

_______________

*Martha Wheeler’s stories about the Knight family are contained in the published ex-slave narratives and the unpublished papers of the 1930s Works Projects Administration (WPA) for Mississippi.

17 replies »

  1. Yvonne,

    Congratulations! You did it again. I so enjoyed reading your story about Harriet Carter Ward and the oral family history passed on to you. And trust that I know the countless hours it takes to dig up old census records and collect photos from a by-gone era. Let me assure you that you do great justice in your telling of things past. Indeed, very interesting. Thank you!

  2. Yvonne,
    I thought you had forgotten about me. A lot of this history is the same that my father (Udell), aunts and uncles passed on to their children. I am now cruising through the middle years of my life which means it is time for me and others in my generation to keep the history updated. Because of your research, we now have an appropriate starting point. Thanks for your time and efforts. At some point, it would be an honor for the Robert “Bob” Knight family to have you as the keynote speaker for our family reuion. The invitation will be in the male soon.

    Dale M. Knight

    • Hello Dale,

      I would like information regarding the Knight-Ward family reunion. My grandmother, descendant of Rose Musgrove who according to the story also fathered children with Ike Ward told me that she received information in the mail about a reunion years ago. According to my grandmother’s stories, she is also kin to the Ward’s and Knights through her mother (McCullum) as well. My grandmother and I both live in New Jersey. Additionally, my third great-grandmother was Hettie Ward married to Ike Musgrove (grandson of Rose Musgrove).

      • Hello Eunice,

        It is always good to hear from my relatives. As far as I know, there is not a reunion of just Wards and Knights. However, there is a Biennial Knight Reunion where everybody and anybody who are related to the Knights, Wards and others attend. Normally it is held on the old stumping ground of SoSo, Mississippi in Jones County. A relative from another part of the Country has agreed to host the next reunion in his city/state . No matter the venue, you’ll wear yourself out hugging and shaking hands with so many kinfolk. Since I have not logged on in a while to the website, I am not prepared at this time to share any information about the reunion. I promise you, once I find out the particulars, I will share them with you.

        Don’t you find this information fasinating?

  3. Yvonne,

    I enjoyed reading your family history again. It’s the kind of gift that keeps on giving. This is very trivia. In fact, I hesitated posting the first time that I read about George Brumfield in your family history. I suspect that George Brumfield is a descendant of John Brumfield, who came to colonial VA as a young man c 1650. I have about 20 Brumfield entries in my database. And I suspect that they share a consanguineous relationship. I show them all living in either VA or the later ones in KY. With one exception, my entries are of Brumfields born before 1800.
    I now have a very large database (over 34,000 entries) with the vast majorty of people born before 1850. Work in progress with duck theories as my guildline.

    Always a pleasure to read anything that you post.

    Vikky Wilburn Anders in San Diego

  4. Thank you sooooooooooo much for sharing this story. Had it not been for locating this story while searching records for my fourth great-grandmother Rose Musgrove, I would have continued at a dead end to learn her birth name (Holified) and FINALLY fill the holes to learn the origin of my father’s mother M. Musgrove of Soso, MS. I would love to learn more and meet my relative of the Knight and Ward families of Jones County, MS. I am sincerely grateful that the unknown facts of who fathered Rose Musgroves children and the French/creole bloodline.

    Thank you,

    Eunice

  5. Yvonne,

    My name is Barry Knight. I am the Great Great grandson of Joanne, her son was who my family reffers to as “Papa Tim”, who’s son Major Knight is My Grandfather, who’s son Romeo was my Father. You, My brother Scot and I have communicated several years ago via E-mail. Thank you so much for clearing up a lot of the “Fog” surrounding questions that I had about Grandma Harriets children and where we all came from. Until now i was extremely confused about who was who and who my relative are. Here in Erie, Pa. where I reside the Knight Family has a Large presence! I’m 44 years old and i am still meeting people who claim to relatives of the Knight Family. So, without further adieu, thank you for your research and hard work and God Bless You!

    • Good Day Barry,

      I appreciate your comment and too and thankful for the information provided to bring clarity the family history. My grandmother, Marie Musgrove, grand-daughter of Hettie Ward-Musgrove (Harriet Ward’s daughter), told me there was a large family of Knight relatives living in the Erie, PA area. I would like to correspond with you to learn more about the Knight family, if of course that is ok with you. Currently, I live in the New Jersey/ Philadelphia area.

  6. Hello Eunice,

    Pleased to make your aquaintence. I am always glad to meet new relatives and likewise provide any info that i can to help. You can either email me personal or i will provide the info here if that is ok with whomever the moderater is in charge of this site. That way, everyone can be privy to the info and and make possible links or connections.

    • Barry, it’s fine with me if you exchange family information on this site. I agree; it makes the info accessible to even more family members.

      Vikki Bynum, Moderator

  7. Hello Barry, My name is Ezra Forte im from Bay Springs, Mississippi. I am the great great great grandson of Andy Knight which is Harriet Carter Ward first child. I was interested of how I was related to the famous Newt Knight that I had studied about in grade an high school, cause I knew my late great grandmother (Anne Mae Moffett) mother was a Knight an her name was Julieann Knight an I didnt to think to ask my great grandmother who her grandfather was while she was living, so I started doing connections of my own an google up Newt Knights black wife which is (Rachel Knight) cause I thought that how the Blacks side of the Knights started and came up with nothing…. So I called my grandmother (Eunice Payton) an ask her did she know Grandma Anne Mae grandfather name an at first she said no she didnt know, but she started to think an this is what she said ” yea I think mama said his name was Papa Andy” keep in mind my grandma Eunice never knew an saw her Great granddad an she was 14 years old when he died, not only that she lived no more than 10 to 15 miles away from him (Bay Springs to Soso) So I looked up all Rachels decendents an discover that one of her daughters which is (Martha Ann Knight) had a daughter name (Viola Ode Knight) who married (Luther Knight) son of (Andy and Rose ann Knight) so I immediatly call her an ask did she know Luther Knight an she said she know him well, Cause Grandma Anne Mae always talked about Uncle Luther which is her mother’s brother, but I was still confused of who Andy Mama an Daddy was…. so I kept seeing da name Harriet Carter Ward an slave owner John “Jackie Knight” the same slave owner of Rachel and this is where I put all the pieces to puzzled and for me to find out who my people are and for my grandmother makes me feel so great inside…. an she not only found out who her great grandfather was she got to see a picture of him for the very first time all because of my curosity of wanted to know if I was related to Newt Knight which I am, but it was his First Cousin Dan Knight that made possilble. I will love to come to da next reunion to see all my people!!!!

  8. Well I trying to check and see if I was restated to this knight family . My grand father was Dan knight sr and grand mother was Amelia frisher knight of Vicksburg mississippi.need help finding family members!!!

  9. Hello Sondra Yvonne Bivins and Vikki Bynum as host of the Knight Family Reunion 2013, Cincinnati, Ohio, I would like to invite you both as guests to attend and perhaps speak. Please inbox me for more details.

    • Thank you so much for the invitation, Alice! Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend. I have family visiting me from out of state during the same week. I know you all will have a wonderful reunion.

      Vikki

  10. As host of the 2013 Knight Family Reunion, I would like to invite all descendants of Harriett Carter Knight Ward to attend. Details and a registration packet can be found on our FB page which is “Knight Family Reunion 2013 Cincinnati, Ohio.” There are a lot of pictures and presently close to 600 family members on our Knight Family Reunion FB page.

    I am a descendant of Harriett through two of her children, her first born child Andy and her daughter Joann. My Knight connection is through my mother Adell (Knight) Nolcox who is the youngest child of John (mother Joann) and Elyan (father Andy) Knight of So So,

    I have attended Knight Family Reunions since they began in 1977 in Erie, PA founded by our dearly departed Ida Knight Hicks. The first two reunions were in 1977 and 1978 then they went to bi-annual. They have been hosted by different family members in various cities and states to include: So So, MS, Detroit, MI, Erie, PA, Tacoma/Seattle, WA, Cleveland, OH, Atlanta, GA, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

    Our reunions are always held the week following the 4th of July. The dates for 2013 is July 12-14. The festivities for this reunion include a family picnic, a visit and tour of the National Underground Rail Road Freedom Center and a dinner buffet river boat cruise on the Ohio River.

    We are expecting a large turn out and a “FANTABULOUS” time, We hope to see you there.

  11. What an impressive family reunion you have planned! I’m sure the turn out will be great. Afterward, I hope that you and others will discuss the highlights of the reunion here on Renegade South.

    Vikki

  12. Daniel T. Knight- b. Aug. 9, 1840- d. Mar. 16,1917, married my Great Grandmother, (India Alice Warren Knight 1854-1944), about 1873. Is this the same Daniel Knight that fathered children by Harriet Carter Ward?

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