DNA

DNAnigma: Autosomalgeddon; or, “Them’s that got shall have. Them’s that not shall lose.”

Day 2. Ancestry DNA has rolled out its better “mousetrap.” A new and “improved” way of identifying genetic relationships. I dropped from 80 pages of matches to 17. I lost a known 4th cousin (whom I match at 23andme, FTDNA and Gedmatch). I’ve lost nearly all the distant Euro-descended matches that lent credence to speculation about some of my white ancestors. I’ve lost all but three “shaky leaf” shared ancestor hints. I have no Circles. I’ve gained some new matches. Most have private trees or no tree at all. None have shaky leaves. None share my surnames.

This is not a win.

I knew the new analysis would disproportionately negatively impact non-whites, adoptees or those who otherwise have limited information about their ancestry, and I’m waiting vainly for an authoritative acknowledgment of that fact. All I’m seeing are cheery reassurances that this really is for the greater good, you’ll see. These comments seem blind to the realness of the loss of so-called “false negatives.”  This is privilege on display. For people whose genealogies descend in orderly, documented ranks, free from slavemaster paternity or undocumented marginalized others — onward and upward.

For the rest of us?  This is not a win.

 

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Civil War, Enslaved People, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Battle possibilities.

A few weeks ago, I ran across a reference to Joel Craig and Sharlene Baker’s As You May Never See Us Again: The Civil War Letters of George and Walter Battle, 4th North Carolina Infantry (2004). George and Walter were sons of Amos Johnston Battle, a prominent (and peripatetic) Baptist minister who spent his last years in Wilson County.  I wondered if the brothers mentioned any of the family’s slaves in their letters, so when I was at home I stopped by the Wilson County Public Library to skim their copy.

I found only a single reference to a Church, presumably enslaved, who was charged with delivering certain items to the letter writer. A footnote appended to the passage states: “The boy ‘Church’ has been referred to by some as one of the Battle’s [sic] slaves. Whether this is referring to the Raleigh Battle’s or the Wilson Battle’s is unclear. However, if the Rev. Battle did own slaves in the midst of the war it might mean that he was not the abolitionist as previously thought.”

Two things struck me: (1) given Hugh B. Johnston’s confident identification of Amos Battle as the owner of my ancestor Cherry, was his possession of slaves a question? (2) “abolitionist” is a mighty strong word to describe anybody coming out of Wilson County.

First, I did what I’ve apparently never bothered to do — check the 1850 and 1860 federal slave schedules for Amos J. Battle. He appears in neither, but his wife Margaret H. Battle is listed with 32 slaves in 1860. (Hugh Johnston noted that Amos Battle’s “wife owned a small farm north of Wilson not far from the Barnes plantation.”) She is not listed in the 1850 slave schedule, and the sudden acquisition of that many slaves suggested inheritance. After figuring out her maiden name (Margaret Hearne Parker) and father’s name (Weeks Parker) I went looking for estate records.

Sure enough, Weeks Parker died in January 1844 in Edgecombe County, leaving a widow and three children. (One predeceased him.) The 88 pages of his estate file span more than a decade, and Emancipation eventually intervened to prevent a final distribution. There was this, though, a listing of those slaves apportioned to daughter Margaret H. Battle and her children, apparently dating from the late 1850s:

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Old Ben, Old Seny, Big Hardy, Lucinda, Stephen, Turner, Hilliard, Mary, Adeline, William, Lena, Alice, William “usually called Reuben,” Little Ben, Harriet, Marina, Sally, Smith, Maria, Little Hardy, Betty, Jim, Moses, Syphax, Toney, Louis, Allen, George, Matilda, Lizzie. I was disappointed not to find a Cherry listed among them, but intrigued nonetheless. Would Weeks Parker’s will shed more light?

Yes. And no.

Weeks Parker executed his will on 31 July 1843. The document mentions his wife Sabra [Irwin Hearn]; son Simmons B. Parker; deceased son Dr. John H. Parker, who had migrated to Florida; and daughters Henrietta, wife of Benjamin Battle, and Margaret, wife of Amos J. Battle. [Benjamin Dossey Battle was Amos’ brother.]

Weeks designated son Simmons as his executor and trustee. He bequeathed certain slaves — Polly, Godwin, Old Ned, Winny, Hardy, Charlotte and her child Cintha, and Nelly —  to pass to Simmons after wife Sabra’s death, and mentioned that he had already given Simmons 14 slaves in a deed of gift. He also directed Simmons to sell the land and slaves in Florida inherited from son John’s estate. (And tweaked this last provision in a codicil.)

Weeks’ bequests to his daughters are curious though.  After Sabra’s death, Simmons was to hold in trust slaves Lucindy, Stephen, Turner, Lewis, George, Marina, Tony, Matilda, Caroline, William, Holly, Big Hardy, Ben, Cena, Moses, Syphax, Little Hardy, Jim, Lucy and Little Jim “for the sole and separate use and benefit of daughter Margaret H. Battle wife of Amos J. Battle during her natural life free from the management and control of her present or any future husband.”  Similarly, he directed that Simmons hold in trust after Sabra’s death slaves Barbara, Sarah, Luke, Ned, Sophia, Elick, Harrison, Milly, Jeffrey, Dorcas, Silas, Bill, Lou, Julia, Randal, Will and Abner for the benefit of daughter Henrietta Battle. Why the specific attempt to keep Amos Battle’s hands off his wife’s property? Was he in fact an abolitionist likely to try to free them? Or were Weeks’ concerns more prosaic?

Simmons and his mother went into court to have Weeks’ will admitted to probate, and the skirmishes began. The two sets of Battles teamed up to claim that they had not been notified prior to probate and that the will’s codicil had been made under undue influence. Simmons and the other trustees admitted that Battles may not have been given formal notice, but claimed that they knew anyway. They also charged Amos Battle with having taken a slave named Jim to Wilmington.  The Battles fired a second volley with a claim that Simmons was in “extreme bad health” and “great physical inability” and “utterly incapable of carrying out his duties” as a trustee. Simmons responded meekly, acknowledging that he had been shot in the chest many years before and had never recovered, a circumstance that sometimes completely debilitated him. He agreed to surrender his trusteeship. Nathan Matthewson, too, stepped down, and was replaced by Benjamin Oliver of Duplin County. In one of Oliver’s reports, he advised the court that he had sold for $600 a slave named Jim “in consequence of grossly bad behavior and general bad deportment.” The buyer was Wyatt Moye. With the funds received, Oliver then spent $500 to purchase Lilah from a Dr. Arrington. (She later gave birth to a son Charles.) In 1849, Oliver moved to Bladen County and resigned his trusteeship; Uriah Vaughan of Hertford County — where Margaret then lived — was appointed in his stead. In the mid-1850s, Margaret, Amos and their children moved to the town of Wilson, where Sabra Parker bought them a house and lot. In another plaintive petition for yet another trustee, submitted in September 1856, Margaret complained that she had no other property and that the family was “dependent on their own exertions for a support” as their trust fund was inadequate. The younger children were chiefly supported by Margaret’s “exertions” [she was an innkeeper], while the creditors of her husband Amos, “who is greatly embarrassed,” tried to take her earnings at every opportunity.

Another source shines light on the Battle family’s financial situation. In 1911, Amos and Margaret’s youngest son, Jesse Mercer Battle, published memoirs titled Tributes to my Father and Mother and Some Stories of My Life. In the chapter on his mother, he recalled that his “mother’s family lived in Wilson, N.C. We lived in a large house, and it was called ‘The Battle House.'” There, to her humiliation, his mother took in boarders and other passers-through to earn money for the family’s keep. His father, though “rich in lands and negroes,” gave away his wealth to the point that his younger sons’ educations were neglected. The chapter on Amos J. Battle goes further. Amid fifty hagiographic pages limning his father’s Christlike-ness, Jesse reveals that “his money, his lands, his negoes, his stocks, his bonds, his personal property of every description went as his free will offering to the Church as a whole, and to anyone of its members individually, or to those who were not members.” (This was not offered ironically, and there is no attempt to square Battle’s slaveholding with his Christian values.)

Ah. So. And therein lies the motive for Weeks Parker’s determined attempt to keep his wealth out of pious Amos Battle’s hands.

Jesse Battle’s memoir also provides a peek at the family’s slaves and demonstrates that the thirty or so inherited from Weeks did not define the extent of Margaret’s holdings. “Negroes were my companions,” he wrote. “I played with them, and spent my time with them all day, till I was about seven years old, when I was started to school. I knew my alphabet and how to read a little. This start on my way to an education was given to me by a good old colored woman I called Mammy. (Her name was Dinah.) … This good woman remained with our family till 1865, when the Civil War ended, when she left us and moved down to Greenville, N.C., where her husband, whose name was ‘Shade,’ lived. After the emancipation of the slaves she said that she could never enjoy her ‘freedom’ as long as she lived with her master and mistress.”  [Three cheers for Dinah!] Jesse elsewhere mentioned that Dinah had lived with the family at a farm called Walnut Hill, “about three miles from Wilson N.C., on the railroad toward Rocky Mount.”

In the end, I still don’t know if Hugh B. Johnston was correct about Cherry Battle Barnes’ ownership, but I have confirmed that Amos J. and Margaret Hearne Battle owned slaves and that some of those slaves worked on a farm just north of Wilson, not far from where Cherry lived at the time of the first post-Emancipation census.

Will Book F, Edgecombe County, North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970, familysearch.org; Estate of Weeks Parker (1844), Edgecombe County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, familysearch.org; other sources as named.

 

 

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Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

The life of Joseph R. Holmes, radical.

I’ve written of Joseph R. Holmesdeath. What of his life? The details are sketchy and poorly documented. Nonetheless, here is what I know.

  • Joseph R. Holmes was born circa 1838, probably in Charlotte County, Virginia. His parents are listed as Payton and Nancy Holmes on his death certificate. I don’t know what the “R” stood for.
  • According to Luther Porter Jackson, Joseph had a brother named Watt. According to my great-aunt Julia Allen Holmes, he also had a brother named Jasper Holmes, born circa 1841, who was her grandfather.
  • The “Inventory and Appraisal of the Personal Estate of Capt. John H. Marshall,” filed in Charlotte in June 1857, lists 20 “Negroes,” including Joe, $600; Peyton, $900; and Nancy, $1000. There’s no Jasper. Nor are there any children bearing the names of Nancy’s younger children, some of whom who were born before 1857. Thus, though I’m attempted, I can’t draw any conclusions about whether these enslaved people are Joseph R. Holmes and his parents.
  • Joseph probably was last owned by John H. Marshall’s son, judge Hunter Holmes Marshall, whose plantation “Roxabel” was (and still is) located about five miles west of Charlotte Court House.
  • Joseph learned to read and write most likely as a child, as he exhibited a well-formed penmanship when in his mid-20s.
  • He was trained as a shoemaker or cobbler.  L.P. Jackson asserted that brother Watt was also a shoemaker and that Joseph was “hired out by his master to engage in shoemaking by traveling from plantation to plantation.”
  • However, according to “Shooting in Charlotte Court House,” published in volume VIII, number 2, of The Southsider quarterly, Joseph served as a butler for Marshall, then became a cobbler and opened a shop on the Kings Highway (now U.S. Route 360) near Dupree’s old store.
  • Some time around 1865, Joseph married Mary Clark, born about 1849 to Simon and Jina Clark of Charlotte County. The couple had at least four children: Payton (1865), Louisa (1866), Joseph (1867) and William H. Holmes (August 1868).
  • Tax records filed in Charlotte Court House for 1866 list Joseph R. Holmes in District #2 (T.M. Jones, revenue commissioner), paying one black poll tax, as well as taxes on four hogs valued at $5 and $20 worth of real property. I have not found a deed for this property.
  • In 1867, Joseph R. Holmes was elected to represent Charlotte and Halifax Counties at Virginia’s Constitutional Convention. In A List of the Officers and Members of the Virginia Constitutional Convention, Holmes is
    described:  “… Jos. R. Holmes. Colored. Shoemaker. Can read and write a little. Ignorant. Bad character.” [This comes from an unfortunately unattributed photocopy of a page from a scholarly journal. I’ll hunt down the source.]
  • Charlotte County tax records for 1867 show Joseph R. Holmes living at A.J. Johnson’s in District #2, paying only a black poll tax. (This seems to indicate that he was landless and working as either a sharecropper or tenant farmer.)
  • In 1867, he registered to vote at Clements’ in Charlotte Court House. (So did Watt Carter, who may have been Joseph’s stepfather.)
  • On 2 May 1868, Joseph Holmes purchased 11 1/2 acres in Charlotte County from A.J. Johnson for $92. The metes and bounds: “beginning at a corner on John R. Baileys on the Roanoke Valley Extension Rail Road marked as the plat (A) and thence along the Road South 15 W 22 poles to a corner at B. thence off the Road a New line S 70 E 17 poles to corner chestnut oak S 25 E 46 poles to pointers on John P. Dickersons line, thence his line N 55 E 44 poles to pointers on William H. Fulkers line thence N 57 W 80 poles to the beginning.”
  • An entry for August 1868 in the Charlotte County birth register shows a son William H. born to Mary and Joe Holmes. Joe’s occupation was listed as “radicalism.”
  • A letter Joseph wrote on 22 August 1868 is preserved among Freedmen’s Bureau records. In it, he requested of Thomas Leahey, Assistant Subassistant Commissioner at the Bureau’s office in Farmville, Virginia, that a school be established in the Keysville area. The plea was effective, and there’s a 24 November letter in the records from Leahey to Holmes enclosing vouchers for rent for the school, as well as triplicate leases for “Mrs. Jenkins'” signature. “I send them in your charge (believing you call to the D.O. daily) in order there may be no delay.”
  • An anonymous article in the 23 November 1868 Richmond Whig, signed “Roanoke,” reported a visit to Charlotte County and, among comments about African-Americans and politics, stated: “They seem to be realizing the fact that politics won’t fill their empty stomachs nor clothe their naked bodies, and those who have been idle during the summer and did not make hay while the sun shone, meet with no sympathy and are left out ‘in the cold.’ I passed by the shop of our former representative, ‘Hon.’ Joseph Holmes, a few days ago; he was busily at work pegging away at a pair of boots. I told him I thought he was much better at making a boot than a constitution; and as he was anxious to make a pair for me, I believe, he agreed with me.”
  • On 3 May 1869, Joseph was shot and killed in front of Charlotte County Courthouse by a group of men that included John M. Marshall, Griffin S. Marshall, William Boyd and M.C. Morris. The Marshalls were sons of his former master.
  • In the 1870 census of Walton, Charlotte County: Wat Carter, 70, wife Nancy, 70, and children Mary, 23, Liza, 17, and Wat, 16; plus Payton, 4, Louisa, 3, and Joseph Homes, 2, and Fannie Clark, 60. I strongly suspect that Nancy Carter was Joseph Holmes’ mother and Wat, his stepfather. The young children are clearly Joseph’s. Mary may have been his half-sister, but more likely was his widow.) The younger Wat is likely the “Watt” referred to L.P. Jackson’s book.
  • Joseph Holmes, age 12, son of Joe and Mary Holmes, died 11 March 1880 in Charlotte County.
  • H.C. Williamson’s Memoirs of a Statesman: Being an Account of the Events in the Career of a Mississippi Journalist-Legislator were published by descendant Fred Thompson (actor and failed Republican presidential candidate) in 1964. In reminiscing about his youth, Williamson wrote: “Among the bolder of this presumptuous class of Negroes in my native county was one named Joe Holmes, a saddle-colored shoe cobbler, who occupied a small hut on the side of the public road a few miles from our home. Holmes aspired to the office of representative in the State Legislature and insolently asserted his equality ‘with any white man.’ Feeling that he was protected in his new-found rights by his white allies, he denounced, in public harangues throughout the county, the men who had so lately been the masters and believed themselves secure in control of that government which they had constructed and hitherto maintained. Such a condition prevailing over all the Southern States prompted the organization and active operations of that secret society of native, white southern men known as the Ku Klux Klan, which proved to be the salvation of the remnant left of southern homes and southern civilization. I remember passing Holmes’ shop one dae day and seeing nailed to the door the picture of crossbones and skull (the sign of the Ku Klux Klan, as I afterwards learned). But this did not deter him in the least. A short time thereafter, he fell in the Court House door, pierced with a leaden messenger of death from an unknown source, as he was entering to make an inflammatory speech to a horde of Negroes assembled.”

Birth, death, marriage and court records at Charlotte County Courthouse, Charlotte Court House, Virginia; other records as noted. Thanks, as always, for the incalculably valuable assistance of Kathy Liston.

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Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, North Carolina

Between mills.

I was on my way to posting this map when I stumbled across the Welch-Nicholson House application. Back to it:

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Historian and genealogist Margaret Miller created and holds the copyright on this map of early Iredell County settlers and landmarks. The county, taller than wide, stands on a narrow foot, and I’ve excerpted a section that covers roughly the top fifth of its territory. The world of my 19th-century Iredell County ancestors was largely contained within the borders of the superimposed red box. There, just south of the Yadkin County line, is the Nicholson Mill that anchored the farm that James Nicholson bought in 1826. His half-brother John Nicholson lived on adjoining land, and their children Thomas A. Nicholson and Rebecca C. Nicholson married in 1839. Thomas and Rebecca reared their children in the house James had owned, and their slaves worked both the mill and the farm. One enslaved woman, Lucinda, likely worked with Rebecca in the house and, in 1861, gave birth to a daughter, Harriet, whose father was Thomas and Rebecca’s son Lee. That same year, Lee married Martha Ann Olivia Colvert.

In the early 1870s, the adolescent Harriet Nicholson met John Walker Colvert, a 22 year-old farmhand still living on the farm at which he had been born a slave. That farm, which is also where Martha “Mattie” Colvert was reared, was near Eagle Mills, the ill-fated cotton mill on Hunting Creek due south of Nicholson Mill. Mattie’s father William I. Colvert, an early small-scale industrialist, had been a partner in the development of Eagle Mills in the 1850s. William’s father John A. Colvert had died just a few years after arriving in Iredell County, and William — still a child — had inherited a boy named Walker Colvert, later the father of John Walker Colvert.

Just a few miles apart as the crow flies, Nicholson Mill and Eagle Mills were the poles of the community in which Harriet Nicholson’s family and John Walker Colvert’s family lived for generations before merging in my great-grandfather, Lon W. Colvert.

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Agriculture, Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Other Documents, Photographs

The Welch-Nicholson House and Millsite.

How have I overlooked this?

The house in which Thomas A. Nicholson lived, in which J. Lee Nicholson grew up, in which Lucinda Cowles Nicholson toiled, and in or around which Harriet Nicholson spent her childhood in slavery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1980. And only today did I find the gloriously detailed nomination report — which includes a photo! And to think that I must have been within a few hundred feet of the place, if it’s still standing, when I nosed around the Nicholson cemetery in the rain last December.

Bear with me. Here’s the entire report, all 13 pages’ worth. I’ve only read it through once, but give me time.

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North Carolina, Photographs

Landscape, no. 1.

The first of a new series of posts, many drawn from my Tumblr, that attempt to evoke the settings of my family’s lives through photographs.

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Wilson, North Carolina, April 2011.

I was at home, prowling the streets on a limpid blue morning, when out of the corner of my eye, this window.  I wheeled around, parked and nosed about.  The house was a shotgun, one of hundreds built in East Wilson pre-World War I to house a flood of ex-farmers trading tobacco fields for tobacco factories.  The house had been abandoned as a regular home, but showed signs of fairly recent usage as a shelter for the homeless or perhaps those otherwise wanting to keep their business out of sight.  The door had been ripped from an interior room and laid against an empty window frame, which faced the street on the broadside of the house.  The door’s cool, lemony yellow was a calming contrast to the rough grayness of the house’s siding.  When I went home next, the house was gone.

© Lisa Y. Henderson

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