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Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category

By Vikki Bynum

Here’s another region of the South with a fascinating history of mixed-race ancestry. I discovered the Chowan Discovery Group after Steven Riley, creator and moderator of Mixed Race Studies, introduced me via email to the Group’s Executive Director, Marvin T. Jones. The “Winton Triangle,” located in Hertford County, North Carolina, encompasses the three towns of Winton, Cofield, and Ahoskie. Here, people maintain a distinctive identity rooted in Native American, European, and African ancestry.

According to Marvin Jones, the Triangle traces its origins to before the 1584 arrival of the English to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where Chowanoke (Choanoac) Indian settlements were prominent along the Chowan River. After the English invasion, diseases (to which Native Americans lacked immunity) and territorial disputes decimated and disrupted the Chowanoke settlements of present-day Hertford County.*

Choanoac Village marker

During the early 1600s, England continued its relentless effort to gain a stronghold in North American, successfully planting settlements on the James River in Virginia.  Again, disease and war displaced native populations. Indians traveling down the Meherrin River eventually settled in the Chowanokes’ previous home of Hertford County, North Carolina. In the century that followed, interactions between these Native Americans and English and African immigrants would produce the mixed-ancestry people of today’s Winton Triangle.

The mixed-race people of the Winton Triangle did not live far from those of Gloucester County, Virginia, the subject of an earlier essay on this blog. In both these regions, outward migration by Europeans, funded by Crowns and merchants in search of new lands, precious metals, and cash crops, brought a collision of continents, especially those of Europe, the Americas, and Africa. Within each, there were winners and losers. Those with wealth and power benefited from expanding empires. Others, such as England’s “sturdy beggars,” were forced into indentured servitude, or, like Africa’s captured villagers, into slavery. Many Native Americans were also forced into various systems of bondage.

In the Winton Triangle, however, as in Gloucester County, a number of people designated non-white escaped slavery. Legally defined as “free people of color,” people of mixed ancestry (particularly before the American Revolution) often maintained “interdependent relations” with local whites, which enabled them to buy land and to learn marketable skills.  Equally important, they founded schools and churches and built communities of mutual support that endured the centuries.*

The Winton Triangle and Gloucester County share similar characteristics, yet each region has its own unique history. Their  common features, however, speak to the social and economic forces that shaped the Atlantic coastal history and eventually enabled England to lay claim to its Thirteen Original Colonies. Often overlooked in the panoramic history of empire and bondage in the Americas are the new peoples who emerged, and the mechanisms by which they survived, even prospered, by building tightly-knit communities amid eras of slavery, segregation, and white supremacist laws and customs imposed by the dominant society.

During the Civil War, Parker fought for the Union with the 2nd Cavalry of U.S. Colored Troops. Photo courtesy Benj. Gary Robbins and Marvin T. Jones

During the Civil War, Sgt. Parker D. Robbins fought for the Union with the 2nd Cavalry of U.S. Colored Troops. Photo courtesy Benj. Gary Robbins and Marvin T. Jones

Elf and Annie Jones Family, circa 1914. Photo courtesy of Alice Jones Nickens and Marvin T. Jones

Elf and Annie Jones Family, circa 1914. Photo courtesy of Alice Jones Nickens and Marvin T. Jones

The history of the Winton Triangle is too long and too complex to do it justice in a short essay such as this. Luckily, Marvin Jones and the Chowan Discovery Group’s Directors, Laverne Jones and Dr. Harold Mitchell (all of whom were born and raised in the Triangle), are dedicated to collecting, preserving, and presenting materials relevant to that history. They hope to coordinate their efforts with other individuals, community leaders, organizations, and institutions that share like interests. Check their organization out at Chowan Discovery Group!

*See Marvin T. Jones, “The Leading Edge of Edges: The Triracial People of the Winton Triangle,” in Carolina Genesis: Beyond the Color Lineedited by Scott Withrow (2010): 181-209.

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Littlefield Lecture poster

The Littlefield Lectures, UT Austin

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be delivering this year’s Littlefield Lectures for the History Department of the University of Texas, Austin.  The lectures are based on research from my last two books, The Free State of Jones, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War:
“The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi,” March 6, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

“Communities at War”: Men, Women, and the Legacies of Anti-Confederate Dissent,” March 7, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

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In two of my works on Southern Unionism, Unruly Women (1992), and Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010), I wrote extensively about the effects of the anti-slavery Wesleyan Methodist movement in creating an environment of fierce anti-Confederate sentiment in the Randolph-Montgomery County area of North Carolina during the Civil War. In Montgomery County, several Wesleyan families’ refusal to support the Confederacy tragically resulted in the vigilante  murder of three Hulin brothers by home guard soldiers.

The Hulins, Moores, and Hurleys became Wesleyans a full decade before the Civil War and were anti-slavery activists. A year before the war erupted, in March 1860,  Hiram Hulin, Jesse Hulin, Nelson Hulin (sons of Hiram), William Hurley Sr., William Hurley Jr., and Spencer Moore (son of Valentine Moore) were charged alongside Daniel Wilson, a well-known anti-slavery leader from Guilford County,  with circulating “seditious” anti-slavery materials.

Although I relied principally on court records, military records, newspapers, and memoirs to tell the story of Unionism in this region of North Carolina, I found two Wesleyan Methodist publications, Roy S. Nicholson’s Wesleyan Methodism in the South (1933), and Mrs. E.W. Crooks’ Life of Rev. Adam Crooks (1875), crucial to my ability to confirm the religious conversions of the above Montgomery County families.

In the following essay, I draw from both these works. As “in house” publications, they reflect the perspective of the Wesleyan Movement, yet, in combination with primary sources, they leave no doubt of the religious ideology that led the Hulins, Moores,  Hurleys, and others to oppose slavery and the Confederate Cause.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Southerners Against Slavery: Wesleyan Methodists in Montgomery County, North Carolina

Rev. Adam Crooks (1824-1874)

The man most responsible for bringing Wesleyan Methodism to the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina was Rev. Adam Crooks, who was originally from Leesville, Carroll County, Ohio, where he was born in 1824. According to Crooks’ biographer, his wife Elizabeth Willits Crooks, in 1841 he joined those northern Methodists who split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery. The following year, in December 1842, the splinter group produced a newspaper, the True Wesleyan, which heralded the establishment of Wesleyan Methodism in the United States. These Wesleyans claimed to embody the doctrinal standards of early Methodism as established under the guidance of Rev. John Wesley.  They opposed worldly habits such as the use of whiskey and tobacco and ostentatious dress and adornment. Most important to the history of Montgomery County, they opposed the ownership of human beings by other human beings.

Opposition to slavery, and specifically to the degrading and violent means by which it was maintained, was not limited to Methodists of the North. In 1847, during its Allegheny Conference in Mesopotamia, Ohio, the Wesleyan Church received an urgent letter from “Free Methodists” of Guilford County, North Carolina, who requested the services of a Wesleyan preacher. In this old Quaker stronghold of the South, anti-slavery principles had never completely died. “There is much more anti-slavery sentiment in this part of North Carolina than I had supposed,” Crooks later observed, “owing, in great measure, to the influence of the Society of Friends.” During his stay in North Carolina, he was amused to be “taken for a Quaker, go wherever I will,” even once after preaching in a Methodist Episcopal house. Crooks concluded that this assumption reflected the antislavery doctrine he preached and the “plain coat” that he wore.

The call from North Carolina had great appeal to Crooks. By age twenty, he had become a Wesleyan exhorter who preached against the evils of slavery.  In August 1845, he joined the Allegheny Conference as a junior preacher, and received a six-week assignment to the Erie circuit, where he ministered to a small Erie City church comprised of many fugitive slaves. Now, he agreed to travel to North Carolina. With the sectional crisis over slavery growing fiercer by the day, it took a great deal of courage to enter the slaveholding South with the express purpose of preaching against slavery. In preparation for his mission he was ordained an Elder.

Crooks encountered many Methodists in North Carolina who resented being forced to remain with the Methodist Episcopal Church in the wake of its national division into pro- and anti-slavery denominations. Finding it ”impracticable” to join the anti-slavery Northern Division of the church, they formed a third division, the “Free Methodist Church.” According to Crooks, “up to this time, they had no knowledge of the existence of the Wesleyan Methodist connection.” Once they learned of the Wesleyan persuasion, he said, they immediately sent for preachers, convened, and adopted the Wesleyan principles as their own.

Pro-slavery North Carolinians labeled Crooks a “nigger-thief,” an abolitionist, and an advocate of racial amalgamation (race mixing). Nevertheless, he preached before large and small congregations and regularly denounced slavery in the presence of slaveholders. In October, 1847, Crooks presided over the founding of Freedom’s Hill Church, located in the old Snow Camp community of present-day Alamance County, N.C., and the first Wesleyan Methodist Church in the South.

In 1850, despite violent opposition to Wesleyan preachers by pro-slavery mobs, Crooks prepared to preach in Montgomery County at the invitation of members of Lane’s Chapel and Lovejoy Chapel.  Twice, he was warned by letter to cancel those plans. The first letter, signed by “Many Citizens” from Montgomery and neighboring Stanly Counties, accused Crooks of

preying upon the minds of the weak and innocent, inducing them to believe that slave-holding is not only an oppression to the slaves, but to all those who do not hold slaves. The slaves hereabout are in much better condition than their masters or other citizens. Your doctrine, if carried out, would bring down vengeance upon the heads of your followers by amalgamation and otherwise.

Crooks was accused of being “worse than a traitor,” and threatened with expulsion if he dared to appear in Lane’s Chapel: “we are in hopes you will return from whence you came, or you will be dealt with according to the dictates of our consciences.”

A second letter from Montgomery County, dated 27 December 1850 and signed by eleven people, demanded again that Crooks leave the state. Crooks did not answer the letter, but traveled to Montgomery County as planned, where he stayed at the home of Valentine Moore and prepared, in February 1851, to preach at Lovejoy Chapel, located about a mile from Moore’s home.

A mob headed by a local justice of the peace and slaveholder met Crooks at the door of Lovejoy Chapel. Alluding to the Methodists’ national schism over slavery, the j.p. accused Crooks of “making interruptions in families, neighborhoods, and Churches” by preaching against slavery. He claimed that Crooks was “causing us to abuse our servants,” i.e. slaves, by telling them they deserved to be free, which “makes them unruly; so that they have to be abused.” Again, Crooks was ordered to leave the county.

Several other local slaveholders challenged Crooks as well. “Brother Crooks did you not preach to servants not to obey their masters?”  Crooks answered that he had not, but his accuser insisted that he had. Hiram Hulin then interceded on Crooks’ behalf. “Don’t you interrupt the man,” he told the slaveholder, who responded by shaking his fist and stamping the floor, declaring that he was on his own “premises.”  Hiram’s brother, Orrin Hulin, then called for order, reminding the men that they had entered the chapel to worship God.

Those opposed to Crooks’ right to preach moved to expel him from the chapel. They declared Crooks a traitor, no better than Aaron Burr,  sent to Montgomery County by anti-slavery radicals such as Daniel Wilson of Guilford County.  Likewise, Orrin Hulin was condemned for having written a letter to the True Wesleyan that described a Montgomery County slaveholder’s brutal torture and whipping of slave.

Then, the anti-Crooks faction rose to forcibly remove Crooks from Lovejoy Chapel, at which point Orrin Hulin cried out,

Men, take notice of who takes hold of that man by violence.

As the mob approached Crooks, William Hurley stepped before it and called out,

But stop, don’t you run over me. What are you going to do with the preacher?

According to author Elizabeth Crooks, chaos followed, as Crooks was

led or rather dragged from the pulpit into the yard. . . . Some are rushing for their horses, others are screaming, and still others prostrated, motionless and speechless.

Mrs. Crooks further described how several men forced Crooks into a buggy as Orrin Hulin once again called on Crooks’ supporters to “take notice of who forces that man into that buggy.” Several of Crooks’ supporters followed the buggy on foot to the home of one of the slaveholders. There, over dinner, pro- and anti-slavery factions, including Crooks, argued over slavery. Sheriff Aaron Sanders, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and part of the mob that accosted Crooks, was present. So also was William Hurley, Crooks’ defender, who proclaimed himself  “ever opposed” to slavery.

“Well, if you believe slavery to be wrong, you need not hold them; it does not hurt you,” a slaveholder challenged.

Hurley answered, not as an abolitionist, but as a citizen who defended his right to belong to an anti-slavery church:

Well, but for me to support a thing I do not believe in would not be right. And you can have your privileges and let us have ours.

When asked if his church, which refused membership to slaveholders, might yet receive a slave, Hurley said “yes”, provided the slave was a Christian. Those words provoked this angry response from an unnamed slaveholder:

What!—receive a nigger and not a white man? That is a grand insult depriving us of our rights.

“Not at all,” maintained Hurley. “We do not say that you shall not hold slaves; all we want is to keep clear of supporting it.”

“Well, if that is your principle you ought to leave the state,” advised the same man, advice to which Hurley strenuously objected:

I was born and raised here—pay for my privileges under the law, and it is a hard case if I am to be deprived of them.

As the argument heated up, another slaveholder advised the mob to “serve him [Hurley] as we do Crooks.” But William Hurley appeared to be forgotten after four magistrates ordered Sheriff Sanders to deliver Adam Crooks to the jail.

After being locked up, Crooks was lectured by his captors on the need to abandon his plan to preach in Montgomery County. Exhibiting the common social superiority that slaveholders felt toward nonslaveholders, they assured Crooks that the folks who had invited him to speak (members from the Moore, Hulin, and Hurley families) were the “very dregs of the county,” while “those who are against you,” (slaveholders), “are the best men of the county.”

Finally and reluctantly, Adam Crooks agreed to leave Montgomery County and was accordingly released from jail. He then returned to the home of Valentine Moore to say his goodbyes. While there, he reported, Valentine’s daughter Caroline (who would soon marry Hiram Hulin’s son, Jesse) announced to Crooks that she was leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and joining with the Wesleyans.

Caroline Moore Hulin

Slaveholders had prevented Adam Crooks from preaching in their county, but they had failed to prevent the successful birth of Wesleyan Methodism in their community. Battle lines would be redrawn during the Civil War, in a brutal inner war that would pit the same Sheriff Aaron Sanders against the same community of dissenters.

Vikki Bynum

For more on Adam Crooks and Southern Wesleyan Methodism, see:

  1. Roy S. Nicholson, Wesleyan Methodism in the South (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1933).
  2. Mrs. E.W. Crooks, Life of Rev. Adam Crooks, A.M. (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1875). A copy of this book is owned by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and may be accessed online at UNC’s Documenting the American South.  http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/crooks/crooks.html.
  3. An independent film company has recently produced the story of Adam Crooks. See The Courageous Love, Rubacam Productions,  http://www.thecourageouslove.com/home/About.html

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Guest columnist Gary B. Sanders, who is kin to the Sanders family of Montgomery and Randolph Counties of North Carolina, has ancestors on both sides of the U.S./Confederate divide.  Here, Gary tells the story of his great, great, grand uncle, Joseph Sanders of Jackson County, Alabama, who was murdered during the Civil War on account of his Unionist views.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Confederate-Unionist Conflict in Jackson County, Alabama: The Murder of “Uncle Joe” Sanders, 1863

By Gary B. Sanders

Jackson County, Alabama, lies in the northeast Alabama hill country, near the Tennessee border, a region of yeoman farmers who were only reluctantly persuaded to join the Confederacy in 1861. As the war progressed and the fortunes of the Confederacy waned, there was a breakdown in social control in such counties, often leading to guerrilla warfare, revenge killings, and general lawlessness. The story of the murder of the elderly Joseph Sanders on April 10, 1863 on his own farm in Jackson County was one such incident, briefly mentioned in newspapers of the time but long remembered by Joseph’s descendants as they passed down the family tradition of their ancestor who died a martyr to his loyalty to the Union. As always with such stories, embellishments along the way and varying renditions of the event may not reflect what actually happened. A closer look at the life and death of Joseph Sanders, however, may help us understand the disrupting impact of the Civil War on life in Jackson County.

Jackson Co., Alabama

Scene from Jackson County, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Joseph Sanders was born in 1793, in Randolph County, North Carolina, the son of Joseph and Rebecca Sanders. The elder Joseph, a Revolutionary War patriot, died in 1803 and made provision in his will that if any of his children became orphaned before they came or age or were married that they should be apprenticed to Quakers. This provision of the will never took effect, as all the children were married within six years of their father’s death. Five of senior Joseph’s seven children married children or grandchildren of Isaac Saunders of Randolph County, who, according to DNA tests of his descendants, was not related to Joseph at all. This close relationship between these two unrelated Sanders lines has baffled genealogical researchers among their descendants, but it helped to cement family ties and loyalties whenever descendants of Isaac and Joseph moved from North Carolina.

The younger Joseph was the last of his siblings to marry when he wed Martha Sanders on August 21, 1809 in Randolph County. In the late 1820s, Joseph and Martha, their large family of children, and many of their relatives moved to Jackson County, Alabama. As the Cherokee and other Indian groups were pushed further west, the northeast Alabama region along the Tennessee River became a prime destination for white settlement. Joseph bought land in Jackson County in 1831 and farmed there the rest of his life. Many of his Sanders cousins also moved to Jackson County as did his brother George and his brothers-in-law Francis Sanders and Benjamin Sanders, along with their numerous families.

During the late 1830s, Martha died, and Joseph began seeking a new wife. He re-married about 1838 to Deborah Saunders who was another granddaughter of Isaac Saunders of Randolph County. One of the descendants of Joseph’s second marriage, Lottie Kingery Hoge, later wrote of Deborah,

I don’t know how she first got acquainted with my Alabama grandfather, Mr. Joseph Sanders, but she went to Alabama and they were married. He was much older than her for he had been married before and had 12 children, most of them grown and married, probably at ages of 14-16. I don’t know when they [Joseph and Deborah] were married but probably about 1838 for their oldest son was born about 1840. That was Uncle Henry.

Joseph and Deborah had three children together before she died about 1854. Joseph married for the third time on November 11, 1860 to a widow, Mahala Harper Shelton of Jackson County. The 1860 census list Joseph as age sixty seven with personal property worth $1500 and real estate worth $1500. While he was not a wealthy man, these assets were enough to indicate his farm was prosperous by the standards of the time. Joseph Sanders, by 1860, was the acknowledged patriarch of the Jackson County Sanders. Nearly everyone called him “Uncle Joe,” regardless of whether he was actually an uncle, cousin, granduncle, or some other relative. In fact, nearly every Sanders in the county was related to him, in some cases as double cousins.

When the Civil War began, the citizens of Jackson County were split far more evenly in loyalty than in most southern counties. There were few large slave owners in the county and many residents were subsistence farmers who had little regard for the institution of slavery. In 1850 only one man named Sanders in the county owned slaves. Nevertheless, there was still substantial support for the Confederacy, and those who refused to accept secession were regarded as traitors by those who supported the Rebel cause. Although too old to serve as a soldier, Joseph Sanders remained loyal to the national government and his sons and many of his nephews and grand nephews joined the Union Army.

The conflicting loyalties in northeast Alabama created a very chaotic and lawless situation in which it is often difficult to determine the motivations of the people involved. Confederate and Union armies moved back and forth across the county, as did bands of deserters, often with no loyalty to either side. Murders, shootings, and acts of violence were commonplace toward the end of the war. “Uncle Joe” Sanders was killed in one of these incidents in 1863 while at his farm at Mud Creek.

The following letter by Louie Richard Davis of Texas was written to friends in Scottsboro, Alabama, July 24, 1974, and was published in Sanders Siftings, July 2000, p. 1:

I know you have some information on the Sanders that was killed by bushwhackers. I have heard a story here in Texas passed down through generations (may have changed some). One of the Sanders, close relation to Phoebe was caught off guard while plowing in a field by bushwhackers. They took him and his horse to the top of a hill and made the Sanders dig a grave. Then the bushwhackers killed both man and horse and buried both in the grave with the legs of the horse sticking up out of the grave. This is some tale and may not be exactly true but is what I have heard.  [This Phoebe was the daughter of Joseph’s sister Mary and her husband Benjamin Sanders. Louis Davis was a descendant of Phoebe.-gs]

Other accounts of the killing differ somewhat in the details. A second version was e-mailed to me in 2007 by Bob Dean, a descendant of Rebecca Sanders, Joseph’s niece:

Mud Creek is located north of Scottsboro, and there is a cave there, the one that we have always known as Blowing Cave. Joseph Sanders patented 80 acres of land in 1831 that contained this cave. I will tell you the story told [to] me as close as I can remember it.  It is not exactly like the story that we have heard before but close.

Bob’s informant, John Dolberry, owned the Mud Creek property that belonged to Joseph Sanders and he remembered listening to his grandmother talk about the murder many times when he was a child. His grandmother was the daughter of John Sanders, a son of Mary Sanders, Joseph’s sister, and her husband Benjamin Sanders. In his conversation with Bob Dean, John Dolberry pointed to the cove behind the house and said they hanged Joseph

back in the cove at the foot of the mountain on a big mulberry tree. It had a big limb that ran out and then turned up. His grandmother said that was the limb that they hung Joseph on. He was hanged by southerners who thought he was giving help to the Yankees. There were three of the rebels, one a neighbor by the name of Barbee. After killing him they left with a horse they were using as a pack mule to carry, I suppose, the things that they had taken. After they killed Joseph, they left, leading their horse. That evening, not long after the rebels left, a group of Yankees came down out of the mountain and went after the rebels. They caught up with them near the foot of the mountain close to the old Moody Brick. The Yankees killed the horse and made the men dig a grave for it. When the grave was dug, they killed the men, put them in the hole and rolled the horse in on top of them. This could be the story of putting Joseph in the grave with the horse on top of him and the horse with its legs sticking up.

They [Joseph’s family] buried Uncle Joe and there were four cedar posts put at the corners of his grave. These were moved after somebody in Texas had the marker put in. [This grave marker was erected in the 1990s.-gs]. The mulberry tree was there for a long time; it had a limb that stuck out and turned up. That was the limb upon which they hanged Uncle Joe.

His [great] grandmother sat over there with the body until someone came to help get him to the house.  So, apparently he was not killed where he was buried. But the fact that he was buried there would seem to indicate that he lived there.

Bob concludes, “It may be as close to eyewitness information as we can get even though his information did not come directly from someone that was there. It did come in a direct line from someone that was a witness to the events.  I’m sure that the story is not without flaws, mistakes, and bad memory but may be as close to the truth as we’ll ever get.”

More detail about the identity of the men who killed Joseph Sanders is found in a January 27, 2004 posting on the Sanders Ancestry.com forum by Don E. Schaefer, editor of Sanders Siftings, and a descendant of Benjamin Sanders who married Joseph Sanders’ sister Mary:

Here is some information about the Joseph Sanders (1793-1863) often referred to as Joseph, Jr.:
Concerning the murder of Joseph Sanders, this is what I have picked up from several sources. From notes in the Scottsboro library: “Joseph Sanders was taken from his home during the Civil War and was shot while on his knees by a rock because his boys were in the Union Army. Everyone called him Uncle Joe. He was shot by Jeff Barbee, Thomps Houston, and John Teeters on his farm near Mud Creek, these men were tories never served on either side during the Civil War.”  Ann Barbee Chambless of Scottsboro told me that she has been searching for the real story of what happened. A brother of her great-grandfather was one of the “whippersnappers” and she can find no record of a trial. Her ancestor had a record of an estate settlement about that time. Possibly some vigilante justice or Union troops took care of things, without leaving a record. With the lack of a trial or record, I guess many versions of what happened cropped up, slanted to whatever a person’s sympathies were during and after the war. Glenn (Chick) Sanders of Huntsville says that there was no marker for Joe Sanders and he and some other relatives had one put up on his grave. He also said he has been told that two of Joseph Sanders’ sons, Henry A. and John G., killed two of the men who murdered their father.

Don Schaefer’s account is based partly on the testimony of Carroll Jackson Brewer in 1876 to the Southern Claims Commission concerning the compensation claim of John Sanders, Joseph’s nephew: “James Hawkins and others searched for his uncle often and did take out him, J. Sanders who was seventy years old, they taken him out of the field when he was at work and shot him on the side of the mountain.” Carroll Jackson Brewer was married to John Sanders’ half-niece and therefore related by marriage to Joseph.

Don Schaefer also contributed some material he received from Ann Barbee Chambless who was related to one of the men who killed Joseph:

I keep hoping you will unearth the real story about the murder of Uncle Joe Sanders, even though my great grandfather’s brother was one of the three culprits. One of the older men in this county has told me the “hanging tree” still stands at the head of Mud Creek where justice was administered. I still do not know if it would be labeled “roadside justice” or as you suggested Federal troop intervention. I do know that a group of Federal troops stationed in this area took over the Barbee home for their winter quarters one year. My great-great uncle was a very young boy at the time. He lived until I was about six or seven years old, so I remember hearing him repeat stories from that time period. Of course, he never told about his brother being hung. His stories were about his father’s death just before the Civil War (died in 1860) and how another brother died of measles after enlisting in the CSA. That brother was buried at Corinth, MS. My own great grandfather was a CSA Scout and was in the Federal prison at Rock Island. Uncle Lewis told what a difficult winter he, his mother, and his older sisters had the winter they were forced to live in what had been slave quarters. That is one reason I have always been so interested in learning more about the murder of Uncle Joe Sanders and what happened to the culprits. If your Madison County contact provides you with any part of the story, please be sure to share with me.”  [From Ann Barbee Chambless, the Jackson County (Ala.) Historical Association].

Although John Dolberry’s family tradition was that Joseph was hanged, the only document contemporaneous with the murder, a brief newspaper article from the Huntsville Confederate for April 23, 1863, stated that Joseph was shot: “On the same day, we learn, an old man, named Saunders, who affiliated with the Abolition Army, when they occupied Jackson county, and went off with them, but returned to depredate on the neighborhood, was shot and killed by some unknown person, on Mud Creek in that county.”

Just as we do not know for certain whether Joseph Sanders was shot or hanged (or possibly both), we have no firm documentation on what happened to the men who killed Joseph Sanders. The family tradition from John Dolberry states that the killers were slain by federal troops shortly after the murder; another account mentioned by Don Schaefer is that “vigilante justice,” possibly by Joseph’s sons, took care of the killers. Whatever may have happened during the war as the aftermath to the incident, after the war the event lived on for the most part only in the tradition of the Sanders family and their relatives. There are no records of legal investigations and no suggestion of any enduring blood feuds. Probably, for whatever reason, the murderers did not live long after the killing.

The impact of the War, of course, endured for the rest of the lives of the participants. Joseph’s widow and her stepsons appear to have quarreled over his estate. In 1874, eleven years after his death, she was given as her dowry rights a one-quarter distribution from his estate.

Three of Joseph’s sons served in the Union Army and two of them were wounded at the Battle of Nashville. When Henry, one of the sons, returned home and discovered that his young wife was pregnant, he divorced her and had nothing to do with her or the baby. He married again and eventually had eight children. Joseph’s nephew, John Sanders, returned home after serving in an Ohio Regiment and later became a justice of the peace in Jackson County. In 1876 in testimony to the Southern Claims Commission,  John’s friend and relative by marriage, Carroll J. Brewer, stated that John had been a firm Union supporter even before the War:

I knew him about twenty-five years for all that time and live about three miles from him at Mainard cove, PO, Jackson county. I have heard him discuss that he could not sustain the secession principles…all of his talk with me was in the side of the union and he always voted in support… Claimant went into the Regular Federal Army and served nearly three years, and he caused nineteen men with him when he went.

The loyalty of the Sanders family of Jackson County to the Union probably had more to do with the unique political climate of the county rather than with any philosophy unique to this family. Close relatives of Joseph and his nephew John who lived outside the county often joined the Confederate Army. John Sanders himself recognized the influence of geographical location in his testimony to the Southern Claims Commission:

I have a brother said to be in the Confederate army. I did not see him [join?] Isaac Sanders, forty-four or five years of age on entering the Confederate army in Montgomery County, Arkansas. I have no influence on him. He lived in Arkansas when he joined the army. [He or I?] contributed nothing to his outfit. [He] would not of have been living here.

This may mean, possibly, that in John’s opinion Isaac would not have joined the Confederates if he had still been living in Jackson County.

In John’s testimony and in that of his neighbors, we can ascertain his intense national loyalty. We see much the same intensity in the affidavits filed in support of pension claims of the other Sanders men who fought for the Union or in testimony to the Southern Claims Commission concerning their claims for compensation for property losses during the war. With Joseph Sanders, however, the record is silent on any voiced expressions or writings he may have made in support of the Union cause. All we have as a record is his actions in encouraging his sons and neighbors to support the Union, efforts that ultimately led to his death.

John Dolberry, the descendant who still lived on Joseph Sanders’ farm as of 2007, stated that Joseph was not buried near the mulberry tree where he was killed. Instead, he was buried some distance away near where an infant child of Joseph and Deborah had been buried earlier. There may very well be other family members who are buried nearby, but no other markers are present today.

Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Originally four cedar posts were erected to mark Joseph’s grave. Later, in the early 1990s, someone erected a modern tombstone marker.  Unfortunately, the dates on the new tombstone are incorrect and the name is given as Joseph B. Sanders, although there are no records that give him a middle name or initial. His real birth and death dates are 1793 and March 10, 1863, according to census records and the testimony to the Southern Claims Commission of his friend Carroll Jackson Brewer.

Joseph Sanders gravestone, photo by Gary B. Sanders

The grave is located under a tree at the end of County Road 111 in Jackson County. Local people call this site “Dolberry Hollow.” My sister and I visited the resting place of our ancestor in 2007. Today, one sees only a pastoral view of thriving fields of corn and mountain scenery. It is difficult to imagine the strife that engulfed the area at the time of Joseph Sanders’ death.

Also located across the road is the “Blowing Cave,” which is something of a local tourist attraction. A strong breeze blows from the cave, hence the name by which it has been known since before the Civil War. In her book Sanders and Bean Families: Past and Present Virginia Retan describes the Blowing Cave as follows:

Mother Nature provided an air conditioner during the terribly hot season of summer, known as the Blowing Cave. The cave was named Blowing Cave because of the cool breeze that forever flowed from the entrance in the summer and the warm breeze which flowed in the cooler months. This cave was, and is today, quite an attraction.

Inside the cave, there are many rooms. People have used the Blowing Cave many times for shelter from tornadoes and other storms. Unfortunately, many of the rooms have been washed away by great gushes of water which are known to come unexpectedly from the cave. Some people say that the end of the cave comes out in Winchester, Tennessee. Some have said that they have traveled all through the cave and it took them three or four days to reach the other side.

Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Now (1986), many groups enjoy exploring the cave, with experienced guides, of course. Scouts enjoy staying overnight there, checking out the remaining rooms of the cave. The cave is now posted and people enter at their own risk. Young couples used to take walks there on Sunday afternoons; even now in 1986, it is said there is evidence of courtships of days long ago, in the names carved on trees or scraped in the rocks at the entrance of the cave.

Although the cave is no longer open to the public (as of 2007, the time of my visit), one can still stand about several yards away and get a good view of the cave opening, and sometimes even feel the cool breeze from the cave, just as Uncle Joe Sanders and his family and friends probably used to do on hot summer days before the Civil War.

–Gary B. Sanders

Great great-grand nephew of Joseph Sanders

December 2011

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The following is the latest online review of my recent book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. I especially appreciate the careful and thorough analysis provided by Laura Hepp Bradshaw, a PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf/bynum-the-long-shadow-of-the-civil-war-2010

Vikki Bynum

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The Long Shadow of the Civil War, by Victoria Bynum

The “one drop rule” of race refers to the belief that a mere drop of African ancestry makes one “black”—no matter how “white” one’s appearance. This pseudoscientific concept, still commonly believed throughout the United States and among people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, reinforces the idea that a white person who has even one African ancestor somehow is “passing” for white.  However, legal cases that involved race during an era in which being classified as a “Negro” severely circumscribed one’s civil rights reveal that questions about racial identity were anything but black and white. 

Historically, one of the many paradoxes of Southern race-based society was the co-existence of  the “one drop rule” alongside contradictory legal definitions of whiteness. In Mississippi and North Carolina, for example, a person with less than one-eighth African ancestry was legally defined as white. The legal criteria for determining one’s race sometimes—but certainly not always—prevailed over the one drop rule in cases involving the marital rights of mixed-race people.

For example, in 1949, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded Davis Knight’s 1948 conviction* for miscegenation (marrying across the color line) on grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove that Knight had at least one-eighth African ancestry. Challenged by Knight’s aggressive defense lawyer, Quitman Ross, the High Court agreed that the “one drop rule” could not be the determinant of a citizen’s legal status. Davis Knight was deemed legally white and therefore legally married.

Davis Knight’s courtroom victory proved that the disjuncture between social custom and state law might favorably impact a person’s fate. Conversely, in an 1888-1892 North Carolina case, Hopkins, et al, vs Boothe, et al,* Ann Bowers Boothe was deprived of her late husband’s property based on hearsay evidence that she was the daughter of a white woman and a former slave.  Even though her alleged father’s nickname, “Red,” indicated his own mixed-race background, and even though the one-eighth law was discussed, Ann’s degree of African ancestry (if indeed, she had any) did not determine the outcome of the case. Rather, the one drop rule prevailed.

An 1877 North Carolina divorce case, Long vs. Long,* reveals the grip of racialist thinking on judges who presided over the South’s transition from race-based slavery to race-based segregation. In a case seemingly not about interracial mixing at all, a white man, James C. Long, sued his white wife Teresa for divorce on grounds she had been pregnant by another man at the time of their marriage. Denied a divorce by the lower court, Long appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court and was again denied.

Justice William Blount Rodman, however, issued a lengthy dissent from the bench. Although Teresa Long had given birth to a white child, Justice Rodman raised the possibility that an adulterous woman such as she might have been carrying a black man’s child. Citing “scientific” evidence that makes our head swim today, Justice Rodman claimed that “physiologists tell us” that once a white woman has given birth to a mixed-race child, her blood “has been tainted by mingling with that of her first child, and she is incapable of bearing children that will not show mixture of African blood in appearance or character” (italics mine). The courts, argued Rodman, must therefore allow divorce in cases where the bride was already pregnant, or “man has lost the common right lawfully to continue his pure race.”

Such was the imputed power of one drop of African blood! Did this highly-educated Supreme Court judge truly believe that an interracial pregnancy had the power to “taint” the blood stream of a white woman? Given the racial theories of his time, he most likely did.  But Justice Rodman took the “one drop rule” a step further than most by arguing in essence that a white woman who crossed the color line risked turning herself “black,” since the “mingling” of her blood with that of her mixed-race child during pregnancy destroyed her “racial purity.” One wonders if Rodman would have required such a woman, then, to identify herself as “black,” or else face accusations that she was “passing” for white. 

Vikki Bynum

*I discuss the above court cases in The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

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Interview by Wisconsin Public Radio

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

This has been a busy week, and the upcoming week will be even more so! As part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s observation of the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War, I was interviewed on Friday, July 8, on the Veronica Rueckert Show.  The topic was my latest book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, and the discussion included Southern Unionists, participation by Southern women in anti-Confederate uprisings, Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, and Wesleyan Methodist Unionists in North Carolina. After the first half hour the show was opened to callers, whose questions and comments took us beyond a discussion of the book’s contents. If you’d like to hear the interview for yourself, click on the arrow below:


Upcoming presentation in Jones County

In a few days, Gregg and I will head out for Laurel, Mississippi, where I’m scheduled to present “Newt Knight, Southern Renegade: Patriot or Traitor?” at the Laurel-Jones Public Library. The Library is located at 530 Commerce St., Laurel, and my talk will take place on Friday, July 15, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, come on by!

My thanks to Dan Walters of Laurel for arranging this. 

Gregg’s and my day at the Laurel library will be followed by our attendance at the biennial Knight-Booth Family Reunion in Soso, where we’re looking forward to reconnecting with good friends like Florence Knight Blaylock and Olga Watts Nelson, pictured below.

Vikki Bynum

Florence Blaylock, Olga Watts Nelson, and Vikki Bynum, January 2011

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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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Note from Moderator: Phebe Crook belonged to the same North Carolina community of Unionist women that I’ve been researching and writing about for 25 years as did Martha Sheets and Caroline, Sarah, and Clarinda Hulin.  Thanks to exhaustive research by historians in local, state, and federal records, we now know that women were active participants in the American Civil War. Particularly in southern regions that displayed strong Unionist sentiment, ordinary farm women like Phebe engaged in inner civil wars that centered around protesting Confederate policies that claimed the lives of their fathers, sons, and husbands, and which threatened them with impoverishment and even starvation.


Phebe Crook and the Inner Civil War in North Carolina

By Vikki Bynum


On September 15, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, a young unmarried woman of the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina, wrote an unusually detailed and articulate letter of protest to Governor Zebulon Vance. Phebe Crook began her letter with a polite salutation:

Mr. Vance, Dear Sir,  I imbrace this opertunity of writing you a few lines in order to inform you of the conduct of our oficers and leading men of this county as you are appointed govenor of the state and [because] I Beleave that you are willing to Do all that you can in trying to protect the civil laws and writs of our county.

Then Phebe got down to business, providing the governor with her eye-witness account of Confederate militia sent to her community to enforce conscript laws and arrest deserters:

Whearas I believe you are a Man of high feelings and one that is willing to Do your duty in every respect, I will now inform you of some of the conduct of our Militia officers and Magistrats of this county. Thir imployment is hunting Deserters, they say, and the way they Manage to find them is taking up poore old grey headed fathers who has fought in the old War.

Seizing fathers and grandfathers was one means by which Confederate soldiers sought to learn the whereabouts of men who evaded or deserted Confederate service. But according to Phebe,

Some of them [men who evaded service] has done thir Duty in trying to support both the army and thir family, [but] these men [home guard and militia] that has remained at home ever since the War commenced are taking them up and keeping them under gard without a mouthful to eat for severl days.

Militia and home guard also tortured deserters’ wives, claimed Phebe, by

taking up the women and keeping them under gard and Boxing thir jaws and nocking them about as if they were bruts and keeping them from thir little children that they hav almost wore our thir lifes in trying to make surport for them. And some of thes women is in no fix to leav homes and others have little suckling infants not more than 2 months old.

Nor were children exempt from torture. According to Phebe, Confederate militia were

taking up little children and Hanging them until they turn black in the face trying to make them tell whear thir fathers is When the little children knows nothing atall about thir fathers. Thir plea is they hav orders from the Govenner to do this and they also say that they hav orders from the govner to Burn up thir Barns and houses.

It seemed to Phebe that the mission of the Confederacy was to

Destroy all that [families] hav got to live on Because they hav a poor wore out son or husband that has served in the army, some of them for 2 or 3 years and is almost wore out and starved to Death and has come home to try to take a little rest. [Deserters are] Doing no body any harm and are eating thir own Rations, [whereas the home guard] has Remained at home ever since the Ware commenced, [and] take thir guns and go in the woods and shoot them down without Halting them as if they war Bruts or murderers.  [They] also pilfer and plunder and steal on thir creadits.

Phebe Crook ended her letter by asserting her own credentials:

As for my self, I am a young Lady that has Neither Husband nor father no Brother in the woods, But I always like to [see] peple hav jestis and I think if thes Most powerfull fighting men that has always remained at home would go out and fight the enemy and let thes poore wor out soldiers Remain at [home] a little while and take a little rest that we would have Better times. But they [Confederate militia and home guard] say that if they are called they will Lie in the Woods until they Rot Before they will go to the war. And now why should thes men have the power to punish men for a crime [when] they would Be guilty of the same?

Although she began and ended her letter with a tone of politeness, Phebe now demanded that Governor Vance respond to her description of the desperate situation faced by the ordinary war-weary people of the North Carolina Piedmont:

So I will close By requesting you to answer this note if you pleas, and answer it imediately.

Yours Truly,

Phebe Crook

Direct to Phebe Crook, Salem Church, Randolph County, N.C.

NOTE: If there are descendants or kinfolk of Phebe Crook among readers of Renegade South, I would love to hear from you. I have not been able to trace Phebe’s whereabouts after the war. I do know that she was the daughter of William and Rachel Crook and the sister of Clarinda Crook Hulin. After the war, Clarinda and her husband, Nelson Hulin, moved to Kentucky.

Vikki Bynum

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