There’s a Mary Brown, age 20, listed in the 1870 census of Amelia County, Virginia. She worked as a laborer and shared her home with a 24 year-old man named Grief Bratcher. This is probably my great-great-grandmother.
Six years later, Mary Brown was in Charles City County, perhaps with a young daughter Nannie, and certainly pregnant. By a white man. A rape? A convenience? Love? We may never know. We do know, however, that just a few months into the pregnancy she married Graham Allen, a 24 year-old laborer from the other side of the James River in Prince George County. When she bore a son on Christmas, 1876, he was named John Christopher Allen. Over the next 40 years, Mary reared four children to adulthood (another four or five died), as well as some grandsons, while Graham farmed the small parcels of land he painstakingly accumulated and led a flock at New Vine Baptist Church. She never learned to read or write and left scant trace in the public record. Mary Brown Allen died April 1, 1916.
Photograph from the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.
[UPDATE, 27 July 2015: As detailed here and here, DNA testing has led to the discovery of the father of Mary’s oldest son, John C. Allen, Sr. He was Edward C. Harrison of Charles City County.]