Monday, April 25, 2016

Preserving and Sharing Our Records of Slave Ownership

 If you are looking for a challenge, try African American genealogy.  African Americans must collect all of the records for their own family members and then start collecting records of the employers and slave owners.  Those of us who are the descendants of slave owners need to do more to preserve and share those records.

Authors such as Edward Ball and Chris Tomlinson have modeled the way for the descendants of slave owners.   Each of these writers has traced the descendants of the slaves owned by their ancestors. Edward Ball published his epic book Slaves in the Family in 1999 and won a National Book Award for his efforts.  He traced his family back to the slave owners and then researched the descendants of their slaves.  To read the introduction to his book click here.  To read my article on the Tomlinson book click here.  Not everyone has the time or the resources to perform such  an exhaustive effort of preserving their families records of slavery but listen to these words from Edward Ball:

"When finally I chose to look into the slave past, I felt a remarkable calm, and the rest of the path seemed clear. To complete the legacy, I would try to find descendants of the slaves. The plantation heritage was not "ours," like a piece of family property, and not "theirs," belonging to black families, but a shared history. The progeny of slaves and the progeny of slave owners are forever linked. We have been in each other's lives. We have been in each other's dreams. We have been in each other's beds. As I prepared to go back to South Carolina, I thought we should meet, share our recollections, feelings, and dreams, and make the story whole."

 I recently received information from two of the members of the Bay Area Genealogical Society about slaves owned by their ancestors.  They were unsure of the best method to preserve and publish these slave records.  After reviewing the existing avenues for preserving slave records, I am still not sure which of these is the best long term preservation method.  Since I am still weighing the options for the best preservation methods, I will publish those records here so they will hopefully be indexed by Google, Bing and Yahoo.  Hopefully, this blog post will be the beginning of a dialogue on methods to preserve and share our records of slave ownership.

Current online methods for preserving the records of our families related to slave ownership include but are not limited to Rootsweb, US GenWeb, Digital Library on American Slavery, Afrigeneas, Sankofagen, Portal to Texas History, blogging, and society websites. Kudos to those that are preserving and sharing slave records at these websites.  This article is also a call to action on the part of all genealogists, societies, archives and libraries to make these records better preserved and more accessible.

Annette Bowen was the first to raise this issue with me.  Here is the information that she shared with me:

"Attached is my transcription of the slaves named in the divorce of John H. Crisp and Mary R. Bowles.  They married 3 Sept 1851 in Lafayette Co., Mississippi, and moved to Hardeman Co., Tennessee.  In Mississippi a married woman could own property but not in Tennessee.
She left Dr. Crisp and moved back to her plantation home in Mississippi in December 1854.  Mary sued Dr. Crisp to recover her dower in a law suit in Marshall County, Mississippi, referenced in the divorce.  Apparently Dr. Crisp transferred all the property which he had acquired by marriage to Mary's oldest son, James R. Bowles, and James immediately transferred it to his mother.  They agreed that neither would be responsible for the debts of the other.  
John Crisp moved to Colorado Co., Texas, and in 1859 filed for divorce from Mary.
The divorce was granted on 7 November 1861.  At some point Mary dropped the name Crisp and went back to calling herself Mary R. Bowles.  There is a biography, which does not include his marriage to Mary Bowles, and a photo of a painting of Dr. Crisp  at
Feel free to use these lists however you want.  His slaves likely were taken to Colorado Co., Texas. Hers stayed in Lafayette Co., Mississippi."
Slaves belonging to John H. Crisp at the time of his divorce from Mary R. Bowles, November 1861, Colorado County, Texas District Clerk, Volume C2 pp 323-327
Eda a negro woman born 1810 Daniel  Negro man born 1844 Lucinda 1817 Solomon 1844 Tamar 1810 Ephraim 1829 Susan 1828 Nathaniel 1844 Wiley 1830 Jenny 1844 Easter 1831 Robt. Son of R. 1845 America 1832 Louisa 1845 Betsy 1833 Jim Missouri 1845 John Man 1835 Dandridge 1820 Jane Woman 1836 Ellen Richard 1832 Pan 1837 Agnes 1845 Granderson 1820 Louisiana 1848 Charles J. 1813 George 1848 William 1821 Lavinia 1825 Eliza 1839 David son of G. 1845 Caswell 1839 Robt. Son of Peggy 1845 Sally S. 1806 Hiram 1846 Anderson 1836 Gilly 1846 Egbert 1840 Patience 1846 Isabella 1841 Sarah 1846 Jim C. 1841 Stephen 1846 Isaaih 1842 Susan Pugh 1846 Mary 1823 Temperance 1847 Minerva 1826 Frances 1847 Cary Ann 1825 Charles J. 1848 Betsy Pugh 1828 Dick 1848 Lavinia 1840 Judy 1848 Ellen Hemphill 1841 Sam Pugh 1848 Vini Tamar 1842 Sam Richard 1848 Rachel 1843 John Wiley 1848 Chloe 1833 Henry Smith 1826 Sandy 1835 Granderson Vincent 1826 Rose 1838 Nathan Pugh 1823 Mack 1840 Talbot 1823 Andrew 1842 Nancy Cannon 1849 Lucy 1843 David Ford 1823
( page 323)
Joseph Bull negro   born 1850 Cornelia  Negro born 1858 Henry 1850 Daphne 1858 Lewis 1850 Andrew Jackson 1858 Harriett 1850 Caressa 1858 Eda 1850 Prudence 1858 Allen 1850 Charity 1858 Kitty 1850 Eliza Jane 1858 Eliza Ann 1850 Franky 1858 Susan 1850 Andrew Gowan 1858 Nancy 1850 William Baird 1858 Ned 1851 Milly        Jany 24th 1857 Sally 1851 George June 10th 1857 Fabius 1829 Moses Sept 20th 1857 Charles Arkansas 1833 Susanna       Oct 6th  1857 Patience 1833 Cornelia       Jany 15th 1858 Jim 1850 Daphan      Jany 25th 1858 Caswell Smith 1827 Andrew      June 18th 1858 Mariah 1827 Clarissa      July 20th 1858 Florence 1847 Prudence     Augt 2nd 1858 Mary 1849 Charity      Sept 23rd 1858 John 1851 Eliza Jane     Sept 24th 1858 Ludretta 1852 Frankey     Oct 16th 1858 Fanny 1852 Andrew     Nov 2nd 1858Simon 1852 William     Jany 20th 1859 Frederick 1852 Wiley    March 28th 1859 Educia 1853 Patsy    April 1st 1859 Betsy 1853 Isam    July 11th 1859 Granville 1853 Julia    March 20th 1859 Harriett 1854 Henderson    August 14th 1859 Mary Ann 1854 Caesar    Augt 16th 1859 Bolivar 1854 Louisa    Jany 1860 Evalina 1854 Matilda   March 1860 Stephen 1854 Burton  Feby 1860 Willis 1854 Spencer  June 10th 1860 Manuel 1855 Pinkey    Augt 18th 1860 Sylva 1855 Adelaide Nov 1860 John Green 1855 Willis Feby 1st` 1861 Abel 1855 Amanda Feby 186 1Jane 1855 Bethunia “ 1861 Ben Bill 1855 America Augt 7th 1861 John Saml 1856 Jeff Davis  Augt 19th 1861 Bartly 1856 Henny Augt 31st 1861 Emily 1856 Patience 1856 Margaret 1856 Talbot 1857 George 1859 Texanna 1857 
 Making one hundred and forty-nine negros in all.
It is notable that many of  the names on this list appear to have surnames and full birth dates.  Dr. John H. Crisp went to Brazil after residing in Colorado County, Texas.  The biography at this link of a nephew mentions John H. Crisp moving to Brazil after the Civil War.  Is it possible that some of these slaves continued to live in Colorado County, Texas after the war?

A quick search of the 1870 census for African Americans named Crisp in Colorado County, Texas found what appears to be a potential match:

Name: Bolivar Crisp
Age in 1870: 16
Birth Year: abt 1854
Birthplace: Tennessee
Home in 1870: Precinct 1, Colorado, Texas
Race: Black
Gender: Male
Post Office: Columbus
Household Members: Name Age
Ephriam Crisp 32
Mary Crisp 35
Egbert Crisp 23
Frances Crisp 17
Emily Crisp 15
Jane Crisp 11
Alick Crisp 3
Bolivar Crisp 16
We see that the child named Bolivar born 1854 in the slave list matches with Bolivar Crisp born 1854 and residing in Colorado County, Texas in 1870.  He was the only young man named Bolivar in the 1870 census of Colorado County.

A fascinating bit of history on John H. Crisp was found online at the following address and is excerpted here:
Here is the link:
"Perhaps no plantation had more difficulty making the adjustment from slave to hired labor than that of John H. Crisp. On June 25, Crisp visited Nathaniel Axion, who had been his slave and his foreman for eighteen years, informed him that he had been freed, and asked him to stay and work for wages on the plantation. He also asked Axion to inform his other former slaves that they were free and to make them the same offer of employment. On July 4, 1865, Crisp held a barbecue on his plantation. In addition to his former slaves, many local people and two officers of the 23rd Iowa, including the commander, Major Leonard B. Houston, attended. At the barbecue, Crisp evidently urged the slaves to stay on his plantation as laborers until Christmas in return for food, clothing, and medical care. Some in attendance thought that the freedmen agreed to do so. But Axion and several other former slaves believed that they were to be paid as much as ten dollars a month. At the end of the year, Crisp refused to pay the freedmen anything other than the food, clothing, shelter, and medical care he had already provided. [Source Note 9]
Nonetheless, many if not most of the same freedmen agreed to work on the plantation again in 1866. This time, the terms of their employment were clear to everyone concerned: the freedmen would be compensated with 25% of the crop they produced. Crisp, however, had already begun looking for a way to continue the slave owning lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. At the end of the summer of 1865, he left for Brazil, where slavery was still legal, to evaluate the prospect of buying a plantation there and stocking it with slaves. He returned to Texas determined to relocate. Others considered following. On March 6, 1866, Crisp sold his plantation, complete with livestock and the 75% of the crop to which he was entitled to S. M. Baird, an attorney who had recently opened an office in Columbus, for $20,000. Baird was to pay Crisp on June 1, but evidently failed to do so. Crisp cast around for another buyer and finally found one, in Rufus King Gay and his wife, Bettie Munn Gay, who bought the plantation for $10,000 on April 15, 1867. On June 28, he sold his part of the growing crop, the livestock, and the farming implements to Thomas C. Hanford and Charles D. Willard for another $9165.[Source Note 10]."
Nathaniel born 1844 is found toward the top of the slave list.  No immediate results were found for him in the 1870 census.  A wildcard search was performed for all men with names beginning with "Nat" but nothing appeared to match to Nathaniel born 1844.

The source notes for the quoted history show that the library in Columbus has a fantastic historical archive: Barry A. Crouch Collection (Ms. 41), Archives of the Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus. This is an excellent example of local preservation. I forwarded a copy of this slave list to the director of the library to add to their archive.

This slave list could keep me busy for months trying to search all of the names and the descendants. Unfortunately this is about all I can do for now.  I would certainly be happy to accept inquiries and volunteers.  I will continue to publish these slave lists in future posts.  If you are interested in helping to uncover their stories, please contact me.

1 comment:

  1. Hello my husband is a Burford from Columbus and I am looking for his genealogy. I had him tested by Family Tree DNA and because hes african american its been a mess trying to find his people. So I know his Ydna is Burford,Connor,Campbell, and Collins. His mothers line is Axel, Perrino, and McDonald's which are also related to the Anderson, Williams, Harrison's. The one fact that remains a huge ? is his dna match came back to a John Edward Legrand and I havent been able to find him. If you could help me that would be great this something I enjoy doing because I am studying to be a History Teacher. Thank you my email is