Births Deaths Marriages, DNA, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Virginia

DNA Definites, no. 20: Harrison.

Edward Cunningham Harrison … was John C. Allen Sr.’s biological father.

A recap: my great-grandfather’s mother, Mary Brown, married Graham Allen in 1876 in Charles City County, Virginia, during her pregnancy. Except that he was a white man, we knew nothing of John’s birth father’s identity, and I didn’t really expect ever to.

However, a few months ago, I got an estimated 3rd cousin DNA match at Ancestry DNA. I was intrigued. I have only six matches at that level. Three are with known paternal cousins, and all are African-American. Except this one. A.B. is all Great Britain and Ireland and Scandinavia and Europe West.

I sent A.B. a message, and then a follow-up. She responded, and we briefly explored a dead-end or two. I examined A.B.’s family tree more closely. Two of her great-grandfathers were from Richmond, Virginia, which is just up the road from a couple of the counties in which my maternal grandfather’s forebears lived. One of A.B.’s great-grandfathers was Edward C. Harrison; the other, John S. Ellett. I inquired about both men, and she told me that her Harrisons had lived in Charles City County. We were getting warm. I asked A.B. to upload her raw data to Gedmatch, where I quickly determined that she is a solid second cousin match to my mother and maternal uncle. I told her that I believed that we were related through my great-grandfather and that Edward C. Harrison was the right age and in the right place at the right time to have been his father. A.B. immediately asked what she could do to help figure out the connection. I asked if she would test with 23andme, and she readily agreed. So did her sister.

A couple of weeks ago, their results posted. My mother, my uncle, my sister and all six of my first cousins have tested with 23andme. All of us match A.B. and her sister M.H. The closeness of the DNA matches confirm a recent common ancestor, and all signs pointed toward Harrison. I needed to eliminate Ellett though.


A.B. and my mother, 267 cM total match.

In reviewing my matches, I noticed that T.N., a long-time and fairly close match, also listed Harrison among his surnames.


From my mother’s 23andme matches — sisters M.H and A.B., T.N.’s mother, and T.N.

I also found that T.N. matches A.B. and her sister and, most importantly, they all share matching segments of the same chromosomes with my Allens. This “triangulation” proves that all of us descend from a common ancestor.


Partial screenshot of comparisons of chromosome matches of T.N. to my mother, A.B., M.H., and my uncle. (That Chromosome 7 segment gave me life. It’s the stuff of dreams.)

I sent T.N. a message and mentioned that, based on chromosome share, I thought that our common ancestor was William Mortimer Harrison, father of Edward C. Harrison.  T.N. responded, forwarding an old email from his uncle that detailed his family’s history. T.N., in fact, is descended from Edward C. Harrison’s sister Caroline and thus from William M. Harrison, as I’d guessed. He is a third cousin to A.B. and to my mother, and he has no Ellett ancestry. Thus, Edward C. Harrison is confirmed as A.B. and my mother’s direct ancestor. (T.N. is descended from a separate Harrison line through Caroline’s husband James P. Harrison, her distant cousin. Relative chromosome shares between A.B. and my line, however, eliminate James as our common ancestor.)

Through Edward, we are descended from or related to the oldest colonial families of Virginia — Harrisons, Randolphs, and Carters, among others. A signer of the Declaration of Independence. Two presidents. Pocahontas. (Yes.) These families were also owners of several of the large plantation houses still standing in Charles City County, including Westover and Berkeley. (At this time, however, I don’t think that any of my forebears were enslaved in the area.) I’m not sure how John Allen’s mother Mary Brown met Edward C. Harrison or what the nature of their relationship was. She was from Amelia County, and there was a Harrison branch there, but I don’t know if she knew them.

A.B. is ecstatic to learn that her grandfather had a half-brother. So is her sister M. My family, too, is amazed. I’m hoping that, with their help and some deep sleuthing, I will learn more about the circumstances of John Allen’s birth. And I may meet A.B. when she comes to Georgia next month.

The truth will out. DNA tells the tale.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Migration, Other Documents

Funeral Program Friday: Matilda Whirley.

Not exactly a funeral program, but close enough:

Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ/In Remembrance.

MATILDA WHIRLEY.  December 7, 1910-March 5, 1992.  Matilda “Tillie” Whirley, one of Stephen and Emma Whirley’s eight children, was born on December 7, 1910 in Charles County, Virginia. She was educated in the public schools of Charles County until moving to Baltimore, Maryland. There she completed her education by attending evening classes.  For nineteen years, Miss Whirley worked as a housekeeper in the Ashburton section of Baltimore. She subsequently obtained employment at the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry from which she retired after working there for seventeen years.  At an early age Tillie received Christ as her personal Savior and became an active member of the New Vine Baptist Church in Charles County, Virginia. She was guided in the work of the church by her God-fearing parents. Her mother instructed her in baking the bread for the Lord’s Supper each month and Tillie, believing this was her sacred duty, continued baking the bread until she left Charles County.  After relocating to Baltimore, Maryland, Miss Whirley became affiliated with the Morning Star Baptist Church, under the pastorate of the late Reverend George Jacob Garnett. Because of her strong background as a servant of God, she became a great servant of mankind. At Morning Star, Miss Whirley was a member of the Senior Usher Board, Missionary Society, Samuel Ray Revival Choir, Church School, Building Fund, Lottie Henry Nurses’ Unit, Flower Circle, Women’s Ministry and Board of Christian Education. She was also a member, and later president, of the Pastor’s Aid and a loyal supporter of the Girl Scouts, Fuel Fund, Elevator Fund and any other fund or organization which would benefit her church or community.  Miss Whirley was a devoted, loving, effectual, caring Christian woman and was a friend to all who needed her. She freely gave wise and timely counsel, based on her life experiences, as she sought to make life go a bit smoother for her family, friends, church members, neighbors and co-workers. Miss Whirley was counted upon to be an integral part of church and community activities and participated and served wherever she could. Her dedication and love of God was evident in all she did. Miss Whirley was a good example of one of God’s servants; because of that, we take time to remember her this month.


Births Deaths Marriages, Civil War, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Virginia

The Allens.

My cousin is the fourth man in this family to bear his name, and those four generations of Johns are the exact measure of my Allen lineage. When Graham Allen married Mary Brown in Charles City County, Virginia, on 22 June 1876, she was six months pregnant with a white man’s child. We know nothing of the circumstances of conception, and nothing of the man’s identity beyond the Y-haplotype — R1b1b2a1a1 — that my uncles and cousins carry. [Update: I have identified John C. Allen‘s father.] Graham adopted Mary’s baby boy at birth, gave him his name, and reared him, as far as we know, with no distinction from their later children. So. We are Allens.

Graham Allen was born about 1852 in Prince George County, Virginia. His first marriage records lists his parents as Mansfield and Susan Allen. His second, as Edmund and Susan Allen. I have found no other trace of Edmund/Mansfield. However, in the 1870 census of Brandon, Prince George County, laundress Susan Allen, 50, and sons Alexander, 20, and Graham Allen, 17, appear in #14, the household of Anthony Shackleford, 26, farmer; wife Fannie, 24; and son Willie, 1. Also living in the house was Mary Hill, 23. I don’t know if the Allens, Shacklefords and Hill were related, or if they were related to two households of Allens listed nearby: #16, Harry Allen, 47, wife Abba, 43, Richard, 19, Augustin, 17, Assia, 13, Robert, 9, and Mary, 6; and #20, Joseph Allen, 42, wife Lucy, 37, and children Mildred, 8, Joseph, 6, and Willie, 1. However, an intriguing Freedmen’s Bureau document links those Allens and the Shacklefords:

record-image-22 copy

record-image-23 copy

“I have the honor to request transportation for the following named persons to their former homes, and to find employment,” wrote Samuel C. Armstrong, Superintendent of the Freedmen’s Bureau 1st District (and founder of Hampton Institute, which educated a dozen Allens between 1927 and the present.) Among those to be transported, Harry and Abbie Allen and their children and Anthony and Fanny Shackleford. City Point, in Prince George County, had been headquarters of the Union Army during the siege of Petersburg in the Civil War. The Allens and Shacklefords likely were refugees, so-called “contraband,” who fled their owners during the war to join a large camp near Fort Monroe. (For recent news of archaeological digs at the former Grand Contraband Camp in Hampton, see here.) Though none has surfaced to date, I will continue to look for links between these families and Edmund or Susan Allen.

Other than Graham and Mary’s marriage license, I have no other record of the family in the 1870s. (An Alexander Allen married Mary Wallace on 15 February 1872 in Charles City County. This Alexander was 30 years old and the son of James and Sophia Allen. Thus, he is not Graham’s brother.)

In the 1880 census of Harrison, Charles City County, 26 year-old farm laborer Gram Allen’s household includes wife Mary and children Nannie, 5, John, 3, and Emma, 1. I suspect that Nannie was Mary’s child by a previous relationship, but I don’t know. In the next few years, Mary gave birth to a son Willie, who died of burns in October 1885. (Graham Allen, who provided information, is listed on the boy’s death certificate as father, but the mother’s name is given as Sarah. A misunderstanding? A mistranscription? And “outside” child?) A month later, Mary gave birth to Alexander Allen.  Two years later, in December 1887, Graham Allen reported the death of Mary Allen, age 30. Graham’s relationship to the deceased was not stated, but this was not his wife. In 1892,  Mary Brown Allen gave birth to her last child, son Edward Noble Allen.  In 1896 and 1899, daughter Emma Allen gave birth to sons Milton and Junius Allen in Charles City County. I do not know their fathers.

On 18 Aug 1898, at Charles City County Courthouse, Graham Allen filed a deed for the purchase of two parcels on Hyde Road, one 12 acres and the other 2 3/4 acres, from A.H. Drewry et ux.  A plat filed with the deed shows a roughly trapezoidal lot 2 1/2 miles from Rolands Mill, surrounded by the land of Sarah Jones, Edward Jones, Frank Martin, and Peter Jefferson.

In the 1900 census of Harrison, Charles City County, Graham Allen is listed with wife Mary, sons Alexander and Edward, and grandsons Milton and Junius.  (I believe they were Emma Allen’s sons.) Mary was illiterate, but Graham could read and write.  Mary reported 4 of 8 children living. (John, Emma, Alex and Ed, living; Nannie, Willie and who, dead?) As detailed here, John had moved to the city by the late 1890s and married Mary Agnes Holmes in 1899.

On 3 Apr 1901, Emma Allen, 22, married widowed laborer Stephen Whorley [Whirley], 32, son of Stephen and Patsy Whorley.  W.E. Carter performed the ceremony at Graham Allen’s residence.

On 11 March 1902, at Charles City County Courthouse, Graham Allen filed a deed (book 17, page 437) for the purchase for $16 of 2 3/4 acres in the Grafton tract from Mary Harrison Drewry. The sale was made 27 Feb 1902, and the tract was located 4 miles northwest of Drewry’s Mill. Two years later, he filed a deed or the purchase of 4 1/2 acres in Turkey Trot from M.E. and W.E. Stagg and in 1909 filed another (book 20, page 165) for the purchase for $12 of 2 1/4 acres in the Bishops tract, west of Old Hyde Road in Turkey Trot, bordered on the east by Graham ‘s own land and True Reformers and on west by Peter, James B. and Elvina Jefferson and M.E. Stagg.

In the 1910 census of Harrison, Charles City County, on River Road, farmer Graham Allen is listed with wife Mary and son Edward. (Where were Milton and Junius?)  Mary reported 4 of 9 children living. (Eight children, or nine?) Also on River Road, farmer Steaven Whirley, wife Emma, and children Royal, John, Samuel, and Graham.  Royal and John were Stephen’s children by a previous wife, and the family lived next to Samuel and Mary E. Whirley, Stephen’s brother and sister-in-law. (River Road is now State Route 5, or John Tyler Memorial Highway.)

Mary Brown Allen died 1 Apr 1916, aged 67 in Harrison township, Charles City County.  Her death certificate reports that she was born in Amelia County, Virginia, to James Brown and Catherine Booker, both born in Virginia. She was buried 2 Apr 1916, and Junius Allen of Roxbury was informant for the certificate.

On 22 Nov 1917, in Roxbury, the widower Graham Allen, 58, widow, born Prince George County, resident of Charles City County, son of Edmund and Susan Allen, married Lenner Charles, 32, born Charles City County to William and Lucy Charles. The couple appear in the 1920 census of Harrison, Charles City County on Kemmiges Road with a five year-old daughter named Sallie. (Was she Graham’s child?)

John, Edward, Milton and Junius Allen registered for the World War I draft:

  • JOHN CHRISTFUL ALLEN.  Born 25 Dec 1876.  Resided 2107 Marshall Avenue, Newport News VA.  Laborer, Hampton Roads Stev. Co.  Nearest relative, Mary Holmes Allen (wife).  Medium height, stout build.  Brown eyes, grey hair.  (Signed “John Christful Allen” in the same hand as rest of the card.  A duplicate card shows the signature in a different hand, presumably John’s, as “John Christopher Allen.”)
  • EDWARD NOBLE ALLEN.  Born 17 May 1888, Charles City County VA.  Resided 6724 1/2 – 24th Street, Newport News VA.  Laborer, C&O Railway, Newport News.  Supports father.  Medium height and weight.  Brown eyes, black hair.  “Three fingers missing on right hand.”
  • MILTON ALLEN. Born 22 Nov 1895, Roxboro, Charles City County VA. Resides 318 N. 18th Street, Richmond VA. Laborer for Clarence Cosby, Richmond VA. Single. Signed Milton Allen. Registered 5 June 1917. Also,
  • MILTON ALLEN.  Born 20 Aug 1896, Richmond VA.  Resides 1011 N. Lafountaine, Kokomo, Ind.  Employed by Willis White, Kokomo, Ind., USA.  Nearest relative, Ed Allen, address “don’t know.”  Tall and stout.  Black eyes and hair.  Signed with an X.  Registered 5 June 1918. (Is this the same man who registered in Richmond the year before? If not, which is the right Milton?)
  • JUNIUS ALLEN.  Born 22 Feb 1899.  Resides 1752 Ivy Ave., Newport News, Warwick VA.  Carpenter, Boyle-Robertson Co., Newport News VA.  Nearest relative, wife Margaret Allen.  Medium height and weight.  Black eyes and hair.  (He was barely literate and signed his name something like ‘Juily Allen.’)

I have not found a card for Alexander and assume he died before the war. Edward actually served; I don’t know about Milton and Junius.

In the 1920 census of Harrison, Charles City County, on Kemmiges Road, Stephen Whirley, farmer, is listed with wife Emma and children Samuel, Graham, Matilda and Susie. John and his family remained in Newport News, as did “Junnus” Allen and his wife Margaret, with brother-in-law Samuel Johnson, at 1752 Ivy Avenue. Junius worked as a transfer drayman; Samuel as a bricklayer at the shipyard. Edward may have been living and working in Washington County, New York. Milton was definitely gone. In the 1920 census of Kokomo, Howard County, Indiana, at 1011 North LaFontaine Street, there is a listing for Virginia-born Milton Allen, single, age 21, living as a roomer in a household headed by Myrtle Harston.  Milton worked as a laborer in a stove factory.

On 10 January 1928, Graham Allen died of cerebral hemorrhage at the age of about 74.  According to informant William Webb, Graham was born in Charles City County to unknown parents and left a widow, Lena Charles. He was buried at New Vine Church on 14 January 1928.

In the 1930 census of Harrison, Charles City County: Emma Whirley and daughter Susie were listed “cook-private family” in household of Eugene A. Dietrich, a German-American grocery merchant. I have not found Edward, though I believe he was living in Charles City County. Nor can I locate Milton and Junius. (There is a Junius Allen listed in Newport News city directories in the 1940s, but I am not certain they are the same man. There is also a Junius Allen listed in the 1902 directory, which definitely is not Emma’s son, so I am cautious.) At least one of Emma’s children had gone North by this time and is found with her daughter in the 1930 census of Baltimore, Maryland, living with her half-brother.  At 1314 Mulberry Street, rented for $40, are listed John W. Whirley, 31, wife Susie, 28, sister Matilda, 20, boarder Sam Bradley, 30, and niece Dorothy Whirley, 1.  John worked as a laborer in a car shop; Matilda as a laundress in a laundry; and Sam as a hospital waiter.  All were born in Virginia except Susie, who was born in South Carolina. On 24 Dec 1930, in Charles City County, Graham Whirley, 22, laborer, son of Stephen Whirley and Emma Allen, residing Roxbury, married Arnether A. Harris, 20, daughter of John A. Harris and Mary Jefferson, residing in Providence Forge. I have not found Samuel Whirley in 1930.

Edward N. Allen died 25 Jan 1933 at the Marine Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, of aortic aneurism and valvular heart disease.  Based on information he provided as a patient, Edward’s death certificate reported that he was born 17 May 1890 to Graham Allen and Mary Brown of Virginia and resided at RFD#2, Box 66, Roxbury, Virginia.  Edward was buried 30 Jan 1933 at Hampton National Cemetery, in section Fii, Site 6459-A.

In 1935, Samuel Whirley made a splash in Fredericksburg, Virginia, newspapers after being on the lam for a year on larceny and false pretense charges. It’s not clear whether this one-armed man was Emma Allen Whirley’s son, but an article noted that he had spent time in Baltimore while on the run.

In the 1940 census of Hopewell, Virginia, at 601 Maplewood Avenue, Graham Whirley, 25, a chemical plant laborer, is listed as a lodger with Andrew and Lena Joyner. There is no sign of his wife. On 21 January of that year, in Charles City County, his past behind him, Samuel Whirley, 37, born in Charles City County to Stephen Whirley and Emma Allen, residing Petersburg, married Alice Howard, 23, born Charles City County to Laura Howard. The rest of the Whirleys — Emma, Susan, Matilda — are nowhere to be found, though I know they were living. Similarly, of the Allens, I can only place John and his children.

I lose the thread of my great-grandfather’s extended family after 1940. I’ve written of my brief and unsatisfactory telephone conversation with Dorothy Whirley in 1996. She had no children, nor did Edward Allen, but it’s hard to believe that none of Graham’s sons, save John, or his grandchildren by his daughter Emma, have contemporary descendants.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Virginia

The case for the Carters.

Were Walter “Wat” and Nancy Carter the step-father and mother of Joseph and Jasper Holmes? Here is the evidence:

  • Per my great-aunt, Julia Allen Maclin, her grandfather Jasper Holmes and Joseph R. Holmes were brothers.
  • According to historian Luther Porter Jackson, Joseph had a brother “Watt,” who was a shoemaker like Joseph.
  • Jasper Holmes and Joseph Holmes were born in Charlotte County, Virginia, circa 1838 and 1841.
  • In 1867, Watt Carter registered to vote at Clements’ in Charlotte Court House, as did Joseph Holmes.
  • About 1867, Jasper Holmes named a son Walter. (Another son, born in 1874, was named Joseph. And both Jasper and Joseph had sons named William.)
  • Joseph’s death certificate, issued in 1869 in Charlotte County, lists his parents as Payton and Nancy Holmes. Neither Payton Holmes nor Nancy Holmes have been found in the 1870 census or any other record.
  • In the 1870 census, Joseph Holmes’ children Payton, Louisa and Joseph, and possibly his widow, appear in the household of Wat and Nancy Carter in Charlotte County. Wat and Nancy have a son also named Wat.
  • In the 1870 census, Jasper Holmes and family are listed in Charles City County, some 100 miles east of Charlotte County. (Why Charles City County? What was the pull to that particular place?)
  • On 14 June 1873 in Charles City County, Lotsey Carter, age 22, born in Charlotte County to Walter Carter and a mother whose name is illegible, married Claiborne Booker, born in Chesterfield County and residing in New York.
  • On 10 January 1874, Lettie Booker opened account #6605 at the New York branch of the Freedmen’s Bank. She stated that she was 22 years old; born in Richmond, Virginia; and resided at 28 Cornelia Street. She was light brown in complexion; worked washing and ironing; and was married to Claiborne Booker. Her father was Watt Carter of Keysville [Charlotte County], Virginia; her mother was named Nancy; and her siblings were Watt, Eliza and Louisa.
  • In the 1880 census of Queens, Queens County, New York: living on premises, Claiborne Booker, 39, headwaiter in a hotel; wife Lettie, 28, laundress in hotel; and Walter Holmes, 12, “nephew.” All were born in Virginia.
  • On 23 October 1883 in Charles City County, Walter Carter, age 28, shoemaker, born in Charlotte County to Walter and Nancy Carter, married Alice Christian, 22, of Charles City County, at Shirley.
  • Watt Carter died 3 May 1885 in Charles City County at age 72. His death certificate states (probably erroneously) that he was born in Charles City County.
  • Nancy Carter, age 75, died 18 June 1884 in Charles City County. Her death certificate states that she was born in Charlotte County and was single (widowed?)
  • And possibly: “Claiborne Booker has been appointed guardian for the estate of the late Louisa McKie and in his custody her children, Wm. McKie and Clarence McKie, have been placed by the surrogate court of New York county.”  New York Age, 16 March 1905.

My conjecture: Nancy [last name unknown] married first Payton Holmes in Charlotte County and had at least two children, Joseph and Jasper. Nancy then married Walter “Wat” Carter in Charlotte County. Their children included Louisa, Lettie, Walter Jr. and Eliza. Between 1867 and 1870, perhaps in response to his brother’s murder, Jasper moved his family to Charles City County. Between 1870 and 1873, Wat and Nancy Carter and family also moved to Charles City County. Lettie Carter Booker married and settled in Queens with her husband. For some period, her nephew Walter Holmes, son of Jasper, lived with them. The fortuitous capturing of this stay in the 1880 census cements these relationships for me, as it is a direct connection between Jasper and his half-sister.

Sources: federal census records; Charlotte County VA death records; Charlotte County voter register; Charles City County VA birth, marriage and death records; Freedman’s Bank records.

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin

Jasper Holmes.

All this (much-deserved) shine on Joseph R. Holmes, but he is not my direct ancestor.  What do I know about Jasper Holmes?

  • Jasper Holmes was born about 1841 in Charlotte County, Virginia. He was probably the son of Payton and Nancy Holmes, who are listed on his brother Joseph’s death certificate. His step-father may have been Walter “Wat” Clark.
  • Circa 1862, presumably in Charlotte County, Jasper married a woman named Matilda, who is nearly a complete enigma. Though she is consistently named in census records, her children’s birth certificates call her Matilda, Mary and Ellen. I have never found her and Jasper’s marriage license, nor is her maiden name listed elsewhere. She died 26 July 1885 in Charles City County, Virginia, and her death certificate lists her place of birth of Charles City County, but this is doubtful.
  • Jasper and Matilda’s first child, Robert Holmes, was born about 1863, probably in Charlotte County.
  • Tax records filed in Charlotte Court House for 1866 list Jasper Holmes in District #2 (T.M. Jones, revenue commissioner) and paying one black poll tax.
  • Charlotte County tax records for 1867 show that Jasper had moved to District #1, Charles W. Harver, commissioner, and was living at J.A. Selden’s. He paid one black poll tax.
  • Second child Walter Holmes was born about 1867, probably in Charlotte County. He presumably was named after his step-grandfather.
  • Third child Angelina “Lina” Holmes was born about 1869, probably in Charles City County.
  • On 3 May 1869, Jasper’s brother Joseph R. Holmes was shot dead at Charlotte Court House while asserting the rights of a freedman against a former slaveowner. Around this time, whether in direct response to this terrible crime or not, Jasper and his family, as well as his mother and stepfather’s family, moved more than 100 miles east to Charles City County.
  • In the 1870 census of Harrison, Charles City County, Virginia: in Wilsons Landing post office district, Jasper Holmes, wife Matilda, and children Robert, 7, Walter, 3, and Angeline, 1, plus William Jones. (Was Jones a relative, perhaps of Matilda? Thomas and Louisa Jones and family lived next door.)
  • Fourth child William Holmes was born in 1872 in Charles City County.
  • On 4 Apr 1873, Jasper Holmes filed a deed (book 12, page 483) at Charles City County Courthouse for the purchase for $5 of 10 acres in the Mill Quarter tract from A.H. Drewry et ux.  The sale took place 18 Feb 1873.
  • Fifth child Joseph Holmes was born in 1874 in Charles City County. He was named after his uncle, Joseph R. Holmes.
  • On January 20 and 21, 1875, William and Joseph Holmes died of whooping cough.
  • Sixth child Emma V. Holmes was born about 1876 in Charles City County.
  • Seventh child Mary Agnes Holmes, my great-grandmother, was born 15 October 1877 in Charles City County. Her birth certificate notes that the family lived at R.L. Adams’ place.
  • On 20 Jan 1879, Jasper Holmes filed a deed (book 12, page 332) at Charles City County Courthouse for the purchase on 16 Oct 1878 of 9 acres from Robert L. Adams et ux.  The tract was bordered by William Rolands, Robert L. Adams, the old breastworks or fortifications, and the old ditch.
  • Eighth child Martha “Mattie” Holmes was born about 1879.
  • In the 1880 census of Harrison, Charles City County: Jasper Holmes, wife Matilda, and children Robt., 19, Walter, 13, Lena, 10, Emma, 4, Agness, 2, and Mattie Holmes, 1.
  • A ninth child, an unnamed male, was born in 1880 in Charles City County. On 18 November 1880, that child died.
  • Tenth child Julia Ellen Holmes was born on 1 July 1882 in Charlotte County. [A second birth registration lists her year of birth as 1872, but she is not listed in the 1880 census.]
  • An eleventh child, unnamed, was born 26 July 1885 and died 2 September 1885.
  • On 26 July 1885, Jasper registered a death certificate for wife Matilda Holmes, who died in childbirth.
  • On 4 June 1886 (or 1887, there are conflicting duplicate records), son Walter died of consumption.
  • On 8 November 1886 (or 1887, there are conflicting duplicate records), daughter Angelina died of consumption.
  • On 30 Dec 1890, Alonzo P. Patterson filed a deed of transfer at Charles City County Courthouse for the transfer of 10 acres from Jasper Holmes to him.
  • On 7 Aug 1897, Jasper Holmes filed a deed at Charles City County Courthouse for the purchase of two lots, one 6 acres, the other 1 3/4 acres from A.H. Drewry et ux.
  • On 30 Dec 1899, at Charles City County Courthouse, the estate of Jasper Holmes, dec’d, filed a deed of transfer for 10 acres to Mary H. Allen and John C. Allen, her husband (my great-grandparents), and Martha H. Smith and Jesse Smith, her husband, all of Newport News VA; and Julia E. Holmes, unmarried, of Charles City County VA, heirs at law of Jasper Holmes.
  • On 10 Jan 1910, at Charles City County Courthouse, Mary Allen of Newport News VA and Julia Holmes of the City of New York, children and only heirs of Jasper Holmes, dec’d, filed a deed of sale for the sale of 10-acre and 6 3/4-acre parcels to James Clark for $300.
Births Deaths Marriages, Land, Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Virginia

Where we lived: ten acres near Westover Church.

In 1909, ten years after their father’s death, sole surviving heirs Mary Agnes Holmes Allen and Julia Holmes sold two parcels that Jasper Holmes had purchased in 1873 and 1879. “This figure represents a piece of land lying in Cha City Co, near Westover Church” wrote the surveyor who laid off the land and prepared this plat:

Pages from ALLEN -- Estate Litigation Docs

Westover, dating back nearly 400 years, is one of the oldest Episcopal parishes in Virginia. The current church was built in 1631 and remains active. Confederate breastworks running between the church and Evelynton plantation, on the south side of John Tyler Memorial Highway, are still visible.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Oral History, Photographs, Virginia

Mary Agnes Holmes Allen.

Her headstone is wrong. Mary Agnes Holmes was born October 15, 1877 — not October 22 — on the R.L. Adams’ plantation in Charles City County, Virginia. Her parents were tenant farmers there, and Agnes was one of a handful of Jasper and Matilda Holmes‘ children to survive to adulthood.

Agnes’ mother died when she was about 8 years old, and her father apparently did not remarry. Jasper Holmes was an ambitious man and managed to purchase several small plots of farmland upon which he supported his family in a degree of comfort. The Holmeses may have attended New Vine Baptist Church and, if so, that is likely where Agnes met John C. Allen.

There is an ugly story told about their marriage: John had quickly established himself as an eligible bachelor in Newport News’ East End, and his appeal was heightened — in the standards of the day — by his light skin and wavy hair. When he brought his new bride home shortly after Christmas 1900, his neighbors, peeking through curtains, were shocked to see a plain, broad-featured, brown-skinned woman step from the carriage. (Agnes herself was not immune to such prejudices, and her color-struck notions would reverberate among her offspring.)


During the early years of her marriage, Agnes did “day’s work” as a housemaid. I did not know this. I had assumed that she was always a housewife, which is a reflection of my failure to understand just how my great-grandparents were able to achieve the middle-class respectability that marked their lives by the middle of the 20th century. (Not to mention how they maintained their dignity on the climb.)

Me:  Now, his mama didn’t ever work, did she?

My grandmother:  Who?  Indeed, she did work.

Me:  Like, outside the home?

My grandmother:  Yeah, during the late years, she didn’t, but she worked outside the home ‘cause she told me one time she walked across the bridge, ‘cross 25th Street bridge, and said it was snowing and ice, and the ice froze on the front of her coat.  And I never shall forget, she worked for a lady, and this lady had a small child.  And she asked her would she wash the child’s sweaters.  Sweaters that the baby had.  And she took and said, “Asking me to do all kinds of extra work like that,” and said, “You know what I did?”  Said, “I washed the sweater in hot water, and then I put it in cold water.  When I got through with it, it was ‘bout big as my fist.”  I said, “How can [whispering, inaudible.]”  And she knew it –

Cousin N: Was gon shrink up.

My grandmother:  And I said, “Oh, my God, that is awful!”  And it was.  Anyway, she told me that.  She said, “I washed it all right for her, and I put it in hot water, as hot as I could find, and then put it in cold water.  When I got through with it, couldn’t nothing wear it.”

By the time my mother and her siblings were children, Mary Agnes Allen had assumed the domestic role I’d always imagined her in — at home on Marshall Avenue, among Tiffany lamps and lace antimacassars, preparing roast beef to serve on Blue Willow china to a husband just home from this board meeting or that union affair. Her grandchildren speak of her ambivalently, aware of the casually cruel distinctions she drew among them, but unable to name any particular misdeed.

Me:  Well, was Mary Agnes mean to y’all or what?

My mother:  She was not to me, that I remember.  I don’t know what this was about.  Ahh … maybe it was that she was not friendly.  Maybe she wont like Grandma Carrie, joking and saying little funny stuff.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what it was.

Her grandchildren — at least, her son John’s offspring — felt that lack of warmth acutely. Though their 35th Street home was only a mile away from hers, Mary Agnes Allen does not feature much in the stories of their childhood. (Nor, frankly, does John Allen Sr.)  In her later years, she left Newport News to live with her daughter Edith Allen Anderson in Jetersville, Amelia County, Virginia. The photo below, I’m guessing, was taken shortly before her move. And seems to reveal a softer side.


Mary Agnes Holmes Allen died March 15, 1961, just two months before my mother married in the sideyard at Marshall Avenue.  A brief obituary ran in the Daily Press on the 17th, noting that she was a member of Armenia Tent No. 104 and the Court of Calanthe. She was survived by three daughters, a son, a “foster son” (actually, her nephew), a sister, and, most curiously, “12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.” In fact, she had ten grands and no more than three great-grands.


Interviews by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.  Photographs in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Maternal Kin, Oral History, Virginia

Mystery sister.

In the early 1940s, my uncle recently said, a mysterious woman appeared at his grandparents’ house. My uncle alone was there because he stayed with them sometimes during the school year; his aunt Marion was his teacher. In the manner of the day, no one bothered to introduce a child to an adult, but he gathered that the woman was Papa Allen’s sister. This was a surprise to him, as he had not known his grandfather to have any such relatives. The woman looked much like Papa, with very light skin. He never saw her again, and whether she ever returned he cannot say.

Who was this woman? She was not Emma Allen Whirley, John Allen‘s younger half-sister, who was not light-skinned and probably was dead by 1940. Could she have been Nannie, the 5 year-old listed in Graham and Mary Allen‘s household in the 1880 census of Charles City County? Nannie’s birth predated Graham and Mary’s marriage, and it is not clear which is her parent. Her pale skin suggests that Mary was her mother, and her father was, perhaps, the same white man that begot John. No other record of her has been found.  She may have been the mother of Junius and Milton Allen, the grandsons recorded with Graham and Mary in the 1900 census, but I suspect that they were born to Emma before her marriage. Otherwise, if Nannie is the woman who appeared on Marshall Avenue just before the outbreak of World War II, she has eluded detection in the record.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Military, Other Documents, Photographs, Virginia

Edward N. Allen.

After John C. Allen‘s birth in 1876, Graham and Mary Brown Allen had four children together. Emma, their only daughter, was followed by Willie, Alexander and Edward Noble.

Edward N. Allen grew up in Charles City County, but followed his half-brother John to Newport News some time after 1910. He was working there as a laborer for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad when he registered for the draft at the outbreak of World War I. (And had had a tough life, as he reported missing three fingers on his right hand.)

ImageEdward survived the war, but his life over the next 15 years is hidden from history. He apparently never married or had children. Unless he is the Virginia-born Edward Allen that is listed as a farmhand in upstate New York in 1920, he appears in neither that nor the 1930 census. He was back in Charles City County by the early 1930s, though, and died in early 1933 at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Norfolk. He was only in his early 40’s, but beset with an old man’s diseases.


Edward Noble Allen is buried in Hampton National Cemetery.


Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Virginia

And then there were …

It’s beyond heartbreaking, even given the terrible infant mortality rates of times.  Of Jasper and Matilda Holmes’ 11 children, only three lived to see the 20th century. Matilda herself died giving birth to her last child, who lingered a few months before slipping away. Others died in clumps, compounding the family’s grief to unimaginable intensity.

Robert, the first child, was born in 1864. He lived long enough to be recorded in the 1880 census of Charles City County, but was dead before his father’s estate opened in 1899.

Walter and Angelina, born in 1868 and 1870, died within six months of each other in 1887, felled by tuberculosis.

William and Joseph, born in 1871 and 1874, died on consecutive days in January 1875, victims of whooping cough.

Emma, born in 1876, lived long enough to marry Cornelius Jefferson in November 1899 and to give birth to son, Jesse Holmes Jefferson, the following January. (Though, oddly, she is not listed in a transfer of property to Jasper’s heirs on 30 December 1899.) She died when Jesse was an infant, however, and the boy was reared in his aunt Agnes’ family.

My great-grandmother Mary Agnes, born in 1877, lived into her 80s. Her death in 1961 came more than 60 years after the death of all but one of her siblings.

Martha, called “Mattie,” born 1879, married Jesse E. Smith, in May 1899. She received a share of her father’s estate in 1899, but died during the next decade.

Julia Ellen, born in 1882, lived the longest of all the children. She was close to 90 in 1961 when she was listed in her sister’s obituary as the sole remaining Holmes.

The last babies, unnamed infants, died at or within months of birth.  The first, a boy, died in 1880 at the age of 2 days; the second, a boy, in 1884 at the age of 6 days; and the last in 1885, weeks after his mother gave birth to him.