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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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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.

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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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