Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Mysterious Bob Sloan - His Journey from Slavery to Freedom and Beyond

I recently came across an obituary of a man named “Bob” Sloan.  It was surprising that this obituary was written by the editor of the Brenham Banner in 1916.  The contents of the obituary were even more surprising.

Bob Sloan, Lately of Stafford, Was Once Active in Local Colored Politics
   Bob Sloan, negro, for many years a resident of this city, died at his home in Stafford, Saturday, and the body was brought to Brenham for interment today.
   Sloan was active among his own people, and took a leading part in the colored politics of the county, voting the Democratic ticket straight.  He had the respect of all of the white citizenship.

The idea that an African American man would voluntarily support the Democratic ticket around the turn of the twentieth century in Texas was startling to me.  I had been working on Bob Sloan for my client, Gesenia Sloan.  She allowed me to become an editor on her Sloan Family Tree at Ancestry.com.  To view Bob’s profile on Ancestry.com, please go here.

 He was probably born in 1858 near the town of Washington on the Brazos River, known today as the “Birthplace of Texas”.  Washington on the Brazos was the site of the Convention of 1836 and the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  The town flourished and was the major city of Washington County during the steamboat era but it became a virtual ghost town after the railroad was routed to Brenham and most of the business followed. 

In 1870, Bob’s mother was known as Maria Dick, age 36.  She had two sons living with her, Bob, age 12 and Joe, age 7.  A few months later a marriage was recorded between Maria “Dickey” and Willis Jordan in Washington County, Texas.  Marriage record details are as follows: Certificate Number: 43992; Date of Application: 15 July 1870; Groom: Willis Jordan; Bride: Mariah Dickey; Date of Marriage: 20 August 1870.

As if this family was not confusing enough, it appears that the family may have been enumerated twice in the 1870 census.  I have written in a previous installment about the advice given by Franklin Carter Smith, author of “Discovering Your African American Ancestors”.  Mr. Smith recommends that we pay less attention to the surnames and more attention to the given names when researching African American families in the U.S. Census.  Maria Dick was enumerated on page 233B and her family number is 834.  The other enumeration of this family begins two pages back on 232A, family number 817 at the bottom of the page and continues on the top of page 232B.  

Here is the listing of the names and ages of the household members:  Willis Allen age 21, Marchie Allen age 42, Moses Jourdan age 70, Bob Jourdan 12, Sally Jourdan 1, Joe Jourdan, 6 or 7 and Andrew Jourdan 7.  Marchie Allen age 42 could be a variant name for Maria.  Willis Allen could be a variant name for Willis Jordan.  The fact that they are followed by family members named Jordan adds some credence to this as a matching record for the couple that shows up in the 1870 marriage record.  Willis and Maria could have been a couple for several years prior to the formalizing of the marriage in August of 1870. The only child that is unaccounted for in the 1880 census is Andrew “Jourdan.”

Bob Sloan was married to Mattie Knox in Washington County on 23 August 1877 at the approximate age of 19.  By 1880 Bob, age 23 or 28 and his wife Mattie, age 28 were living next door to his mother, Maria Jordan, age 40. Based on his age of 12 in the 1870 census, I have estimated his year of birth to be 1858.  So it is more likely that his age was closer to 23 than 28.  Maria’s age as enumerated in the census is also fluid.  Her 1870 age of 36 would put her birth year at about 1834 and her 1880 age of 40 would give us an approximate birth year of 1860.   I have used the earlier dates from the 1870 census for the ages on their Ancestry.com Family Tree profiles.

In Maria Jordan’s family in 1880 were Bob Sloan’s brothers, Joe Jordan, age 18, Jeff Jordan age 9, sisters, Sallie 12, Maria 6, and Roxana 5.  There are several documents that support the family relationships of Bob Sloan to his siblings named Jordan.  The fact that he chose a different surname than his siblings is hard to explain.  His death certificate lists the name of his parents as Sam Jordan and Maria Jordan.   

Perhaps Sam Jordan was the white man involved in the following Bill of Sale: Washington County Deed Book R, Record No. 113, Bill of Sale from Sam Jordan to P.W. McNeese, for sum of $1100 the Negro Woman Fanny 29 or 30 years old of yellow complexion date February 6, 1860.  Many records can be found on P.W. McNeese but there was no Sam Jordan in the 1860 census of Washington County, Texas.

Three death certificates have been found for the siblings of Bob Sloan.  Bob’s brother, Joe Jordan died in 1934.  The informant on his death certificate was his sister, “Miss Roxie Jordan.”  She states that Joe Jordan’s parents were Willis Jordan and “Mari Collins”.  So now we have another surname to associate with the mother, Maria.  So far we have found no other record of the surname Collins. 

Yet another name for Maria is on the 1936 death certificate of Jeff Jordan.  The informant on Jeff’s death certificate is his niece, Ella Givens.  Ella was the daughter of Sallie Jordan and Robert Moore.  Ella reported that Jeff was born in Washington County, Texas and that his father was “Willie Jordan”.  She states that Jeff’s mother was “Mariah Midcaff.”

The parents of Bob Sloan’s sister, Roxanna were reported as Willis Jordan and Maria Jordan in her 1953 death certificate.  The informant was Roxanna’s son, Robert R. Byrd. 

The Brenham newspapers available on the Portal to Texas History have enabled us to trace the activities of Bob Sloan in the 1880s and 1890s.

The Brenham Banner of February 17, 1884 mentions that the report submitted by Constable Robert Sloan was rejected because it was not in conformity with the law.

Sunday, August 24, 1884 Robert Sloan shot Charley Wilson, an ex-convict while resisting arrest in the neighborhood of Washington town.  Robert Sloan was the constable of Washington precinct at the time.

On Tuesday, October 14, 1884 it was reported that the murder case against Robert Sloan was continued.  "Sloan is constable in the Washington beat and killed a bad negro and escaped convict while resisting arrest".  The tone of this statement implies that the editor of the Brenham Banner had some sympathy for  Bob Sloan’s plight.

In November 1884 Bob Sloan was re-elected Constable of Washington County, Precinct No. 1.

Bob Sloan was still under indictment for murder in 1885 but the case was continued as reported in the following article.  As you will learn in the testimony of Steven A. Hackworth that appears later in this article, Bob Sloan was being manipulated by this indictment.

On August 27, 1886 it was reported that Bob Sloan was not guilty of disturbing the peace in association with a Republican meeting.

On October 5, 1886 it was reported that Robert Sloan, constable of Precinct No. 1, was tried for rudely displaying a six-shooter at a public meeting and fined $25 and costs.

During these events of 1886, Bob Sloan became embroiled in one of the most infamous incidents in Texas history.  The son of a prominent democrat was killed during the election of 1886 while allegedly trying to steal a ballot box. Several blacks were placed in jail for complicity in the murder.  A large mob stormed the county jail in Brenham and dragged three of the prisoners from their cells and lynched all three.  Protests by leaders of the African American community in Texas led to several trials and a U.S. Senate investigation.

‘The United States attorney in the Western District of Texas brought charges under federal civil rights laws against Democratic County Judge Lafayette Kirk and other prominent Washington County Democrats. Whites sat on the juries that tried these men in the federal court in Austin, however, and the prosecution resulted,
first, in a mistrial and, after a second trial, in an acquittal. “

SOURCE: (quoted from Donald G. Nieman, African Americans and the Meaning of Freedom: Washington County, Texas as a Case Study, 1865-1886 - Freedom: Politics, 70 Chi.-Kent. L. Rev. 541 (1994).

The lack of a prosecution in these cases tried in Texas led to a Senate investigation in Washington, D.C.

Testimony of Steven A. Hackworth
Regarding the Alleged Election Outrages in Texas

Testimony of the Alleged Election Outrages in Texas was originally published in the Congressional Serial Set.  The Portal to Texas History also contains a digital copy of that testimony.  The document on the Portal is searchable and contains many references to Bob Sloan.

SOURCE: Testimony on the alleged election outrages in Texas, Book, 1889; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth33012/ : accessed April 3, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Star of the Republic Museum, Washington, Texas.

According to testimony of Stephen A. Hackworth, Bob Sloan was compelled to become a Democrat by two county officials, H. M. Lewis, the county clerk, and Mr. Herbst, the district clerk to avoid prosecution for murder.  Hackworth stated that the man who paid Bob Sloan’s fine for brandishing a weapon was Judge Lafayette Kirk. Here is a transcript of portions of Mr. Hackworth’s testimony that mention Bob Sloan:


PAGE 658
STEPHEN A. HACKWORTH, having been duly sworn, was interrogated as follows:
By Senator SPOONER: 
Q. Were you present at the trial of this case of the United States against Kirk and others at Austin? Yes, sir.
Q. Who prosecuted that case? A. Rudolph Kleberg, the United States district attorney, and Mr. Franklin, who was employed by the United States to assist Kleberg.
Q. Is he the assistant district attorney? A. No, sir; he was specially employed for that case only.
Q. Who defended the case? A. Ex·Governor Ireland, ex·Congressman John Hancock, Seth Shepherd, 
W. W. Searcy, known as "Buck" Searcy and one or two Democratic lawyers around Austin whose 
names I do not remember.

PAGE 665
Q. There was a telegram introduced here in evidence, signed by Bob Sloan.  Who was Bob Sloan? Bob Sloan is a colored man.
Q. One of the men indicted with Judge Kirk? Yes, sir. He killed a colored man and was indicted three or four years ago for the offense.  Up to three or four months before the election he was an active Republican acting in good faith with me. He came to me one day and said that he was compelled to go over to the Democrats; that he had had a talk with H. M. Lewis, the county clerk, with Mr. Herbst, the district clerk, and they had notified him that unless he turned and went over to their side they would fix up a jury that would convict him. He said he was compelled to go over, and he did so, and became one of the best tools they had.
  Q. He was supporting the People's ticket, was he at that election? --
A. Yes, sir.  He was stationed at Graball to watch the vote and to report to the Democratic leaders in other parts of the county how the vote was going, so that in the event it was necessary to destroy ballot-boxes they could send Kuklux down there and destroy them, as was done...

PAGE 666
Q. Is Sloan a negro?-- A. Yes, sir.
Q. Was he ever a Republican?-- A. Yes, sir.
Q. Wasn't he chairman of the Republican party in beat No. 1. in Washington County?-- A. I think not. He might have been chairman of a local club of one of the election precincts perhaps, but be he was never chairman of the entire Washington justice's precinct No. 1.
Q. Do you remember appointing delegates and sending out to them word that you had appointed them to come there to a convention?- A. I remember that I helped organize the party, and that I sent out for the leading colored men in all parts of the county, and we held frequent meetings, and leading Germans and other whites attended. 
Q. You appointed the delegates yourself and notified them that you had appointed them, and told them when they must attend did you?
A. No sir. The delegates were elected at a mass meeting.
Q. Didn't this Sloan attack you in a convention there, in a meeting of the Republicans in his beat! Did not Sloan get up in that meeting and denounce you and some of your practices and dealings and acts as a Republican? What about that?--A. In the Republican convention Sloan and other Democratic bulldozers were sent up  there by JudgeKirk to break up the convention, and several colored men were struck over the head with six·shooters, and it compelled them to break up the convention.
Q. And he made use of some very unpleasant remarks about you didn't he?--A. Not that I remember. He made a very unpleasant use of his six·shooter.
Q. You and Sloan are very friendly, are you not?--A. We were very friendly and on good terms. I do not think Sloan ever said anything derogatory to me in any of the public meetings. He was arrested far carrying a sixshooter-he and another one-and Judge Kirk paid the fine. It was known everywhere that Judge Kirk sent those colored people up there armed to break up the convention and prevent Republican nominations--that he and Rogers and others sent them up there.
Q. You state that as a fact within your own knowledge?--A. From all the attendant circumstances it is very plain. They paid the fine for the colored people that they sent there with six-shooters.
Q. You were there when Judge Kirk arranged with those men to go and heard all about his instructions to them?--A. Of course I was not present.
Q. But still you are swearing to it as a fact.--A. I am just as well satisfied of it as I can be. He paid the fines of the colored men and it was directly to his interest.
Q. You saw him pay the fines?--A. Well, I got it from the officials.
Q. You heard the officials say that he paid them?--A. Yes, sir; there can be no doubt of that...”

In the words of Mr. Hackworth “[Bob Sloan] said he was compelled to go over [to the Democrats], and he did so, and became one of the best tools they had.”

In 1887 Bob was a victim of horse theft.

In 1888 Bob is mentioned twice in the newspaper as the leader of a band that participated in a parade.

In 1890, Bob’s sister, Malissa Jordan dies of consumption.  The article mentions that two other sisters had also died of consumption.   Malissa Jordan’s burial was at the Camptown Cemetery.

On October 29, 1892 Bob Sloan was a candidate for constable in Precinct #3.  The editor of the Banner states that "very near every man of his race is going to vote for him."  Mr. Boyd and Mr. Henderson both in the race will split the white vote.

A few days later it is reported that Mr. Henderson has withdrawn from the race for constable "but if work is not done Bob Sloan may be the next constable."

Friday, May 19, 1893 the newspaper account of the proceedings of the Washington County Court mentions that Robert Sloan was charged with pursuing an occupation without a license.  The case was dismissed when Bob and his partner Robert Kerr took out a license.  Sloan and Kerr were also charged with permitting gaming in their barroom and were fined $10.

One of the intriguing documents that tie Bob Sloan and Joe Jordan together as brothers is this article from the Brenham Daily Banner of September 23, 1893 describing the shooting of Joe Jordan in Bryan, Texas.

Just a week later, on October 1, 1893, Bob’s 11 year old son, Sam died from injuries sustained while trying to crawl under a box car.  The article mentions that the funeral was conducted by Elder Carmichael, of the African Methodist Episcopal church.

A Banner article on October 7, 1893 notes that the man that shot Joe Jordan was acquitted in the Bryan district court of assault with intent to kill.

On December 20, 1893 the Banner noted that Robert Sloan arrested John Hood.

In January 1894 Robert Sloan arrested Willis McIntyre.

Friday, July 20, 1894 Bob Sloan is described as a “colored Special Deputy Sheriff”.  He is given the credit for solving a case involving the burglary of a store. 

On September 6, 1894 it was noted that Bob Sloan was appointed policeman at a salary of $30 per month.

Bob Sloan's short career as a city policeman appears to have come to an end as reported on September 19, 1894. 

On Thursday, January 19, 1899 it was reported :  “The colored people of Brenham will be glad to know that Bob Sloan colored of this city has been reappointed to his position as an employee of the state senate. “  This appears to be the last article available regarding Bob Sloan in the online version of the Brenham Daily Banner until his obituary appears in 1912.

In the 1900 Census, Robert Sloan, 40 and his wife, Mattie, 39 and their son Ketchum, 19 are found in McGregor, McLennan County, Texas near Waco.  Bob is listed as “Ketchum Sloan”. Bob is either using an alias or the census taker mistakenly gave him the same name as his son.   His occupation is clergyman and he owned a mortgaged home.

In 1910 Robert S Sloan, age 52 is residing at 3614 Chenevert Street, Houston, Texas.  This address is around the corner from his mother's house at 1816 Holman.  The household consists of Robert S Sloan, 52; wife, Mattie M Sloan, 50; son, Ketchum A Sloan, 29 and daughters, Bessie Allen, 12; and Mabel Allen, 7.  Bob's occupation appears to be listed as manager of a farm but the word farm is not entirely clear.  It appears that the census taker wrote the word “Baptist” in the employer column and then crossed it out.  He was clearly listed as an employee while others on the page are working on their own account or as workers.  His son, Ketchum A. Sloan was employed as a Postal Clerk for a railroad.  It is curious that he has two daughters with the surname Allen especially when you recall the 1870 census listing for the Allen/Jordan family.   It is also curious that Bessie, age 12 does not show up with the family in the 1910 census.  There is more to this story.

The Reverend Robert S. “Bob” Sloan was murdered near Stafford, Texas on the 21st of October 1916.  His death certificate states that Bob died as a result of a gunshot wound.  His occupation was listed as “gospel minister.”  The informant was his son, Ketchum A. Sloan who was residing at 1417 Live Oak Street.  The undertaker was Jackson & Fairchild of Houston, Texas.  The body was removed to Brenham for burial on October 23, 1916.

A newspaper account of the murder of Bob Sloan from the Rosenberg Herald mistakenly gives his surname as Slavan.  Newspaper article from the Rosenburg Herald; October 27, 1916; Rosenburg, Texas; Transcription of text in document:

On Saturday night near Stafford while attending a negro supper and standing close to a dancing platform, Robert Slavan a negro preacher was assassinated by being shot through the heart by a 38 calibre bullet at close range. Although standing in a crowd when killed no one seems to know who fired the fatal shot-or if they knew, refused to tell. Judge Fenn and Deputy Sheriff, Collins, went down early Sunday morning and held the inquest, but gained little information which would throw much light on the assassin. However, Deputy Collins arrested on suspicion and brought to jail, Sherman Allen and summoned a large number of witnesses to appear before the grand jury Monday. Later- Grand jury returned a bill of murder against Sherman Allen whom Judge Fenn and Deputy Collins arrested on suspicion of murder of R. Slavan.

Robert S. Sloan was buried in the Camptown Cemetery in Brenham, Texas on October 23, 1916.  A picture of his gravestone is posted on FindaGrave.com.  I visited Camptown Cemetery last week in an attempt to locate the gravestone and take another picture.  I was unable to locate the marker.  Retired Muncipal Judge Eddie Harrison has been leading a campaign to clean up and preserve the Camptown Cemetery.   I contacted Judge Harrison in an attempt to locate the gravestone but he did not recall ever seeing the stone.  Perhaps the stone is buried or perhaps someone stole it.  Fortunately the person who posted Find A Grave Memorial# 122156500 had taken a picture so we know where Robert Sloan is buried.  Unfortunately there were no GPS coordinates attached to the memorial.

Gravestone transcription:
At rest in heaven

I wish the lives of my ancestors were as well documented as Bob Sloan.  There is an incredible amount of information on his life.  But many mysteries remain.  Was there a personal relationship between Bob Sloan and the editor of the Brenham Banner?  Bob Sloan was obviously very news worthy but why was he so well liked by some and hated by others?  What was Bob Sloan's job with the Texas State Senate?  How did Robert S. Sloan become a minister?  What churches did he serve?  Why was Sherman Allen accused with the murder of Robert S. Sloan?  Why can't we find any more articles in the Rosenberg paper about the murder of Robert S. Sloan?  What evidence did the prosecutors have to indict Sherman Allen?  Why does the Allen surname pop up so frequently in Bob Sloan’s life?  What was Bob Sloan’s relationship to the Allen family?  Why has the story of Bob Sloan not been written by historians and cast in a movie?

The story of Bob Sloan is one of my most intriguing Ancestor Puzzles.  There are more pieces of the puzzle yet to be found!

Source Information:

Ancestry.com. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982 [database on-line].  Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

1870 Census; Source Citation for Willis and Marchie Allen; Year: 1870; Census Place: My Subdivision Beat 1, Washington, Texas; Roll: M593_1608; Page: 232B; Image: 468; Family History Library Film: 553107

1870 Census;  Source Citation for the Jordan family including Moses, Bob, Sally, Joe and Andrew; Year: 1870; Census Place: My Subdivision Beat 1, Washington, Texas; Roll: M593_1608; Page: 233A; Image: 469; Family History Library Film: 553107

1870 Census;  Source Citation for Maria Dick; Year: 1870; Census Place: My Subdivision Beat 1, Washington, Texas; Roll: M593_1608; Page: 233B; Image: 470; Family History Library Film: 553107

1900 Census; Source Citation: Bob Sloan AKA Ketchum Sloan; Year: 1900; Census Place: McGregor, McLennan, Texas; Roll: 1658; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0087; FHL microfilm: 1241658

1910 Census Source Citation for Robert S. Sloan; Year: 1910; Census Place: Houston Ward 3, Harris, Texas; Roll: T624_1560; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0096; FHL microfilm: 1375573

A Southern Family in White and Black: The Cuneys of Texas; Douglas Hales; Texas A&M University Press, 2003 -  - 178 pages; The complex issues of race and politics in nineteenth-century Texas may be nowhere more dramatically embodied than in three generations of the family of Norris Wright Cuney, mulatto labor and political leader. Page 70 recounts the Brenham lynching of 1886 and Mr. Cuney's efforts to organize protests.

Brenham Daily Banner. (Brenham, Tex.), numerous articles as cited in the images above. University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu

Testimony on the alleged election outrages in Texas, Book, 1889; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth33012/ : accessed April 13, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Star of the Republic Museum, Washington, Texas.

Washington County Deed Book R, Record No. 113, Bill of Sale from Sam Jordan to P.W. McNeese, for sum of $1100 the Negro Woman Fanny 29 or 30 years old of yellow complexion date February 6, 1860.


  1. Thanks for the post. It was good to read a little more about the Sloan story. Hopefully there are some answers still out there waiting to be found.

    1. Thanks for your help in researching the murder case. There is definitely more to be found.

  2. UPDATE On Apr 17, 2015, at 5:41 PM, Charles Swenson wrote to me:
    Your recent visit to Camptown Cemetery and inability to find the R.S. Sloan marker had me a little worried, Nick! So when I was down there Wednesday I made a point of walking down with Eddie Harrison to see if it was still there. (Having spent so much time, sweat and blood helping clear the cemetery makes me feel more than a little protective of it, and I pretty well know it like the back of my hand.)

    The marker is indeed there. "

    Read more from Charles about Camptown Cemetery here: