Archive for July, 2009

Colonial Documents Reveal African Roots

Friday, July 24th, 2009
Court Orders, Southampton County, VA, 1749

Court Orders, Southampton County, VA, 1749

Nero a Negro boy slave belonging to Henry Cooker is by the court adjudged to fourteen years of age.

Zingo a Negro boy slave belonging to John Warren by the court adjudged to thirteen years of age.

Douglas a Negro boy slave belonging to Thomas Westbrooks by the court adjudged to ten years of age.

Anarcha a Negro boy slave belonging to Thomas Westbrooks by the court adjudged to nine years of age.

Juba a Negro boy slave belonging to David Edmunds by the court adjudged to ten years of age.

Tilla a Negro girl belonging to Thomas Gillum the court adjudged to fourteen years of age.

Pompey a Negro boy slave belonging to John Barrow the court adjudged to ten years of age.

During the Colonial period, slave owners were required to pay taxes on their slaves from ages twelve to fifty years old. When Africans were brought to the colonies and it was evident that they were adults they were simply added to tax rolls called tithables. When small children and teenagers arrived from Africa and their ages were uncertain, the slave owners would have to take them into court and a judge would assign an age for the slave, which was then recorded in minute or court order books. Most of the slaves were assigned English names, although some retained their true African names. Some of the court orders also list the names of the ships the Africans arrived in and the dates of arrival. Many of these individuals can be traced in later documents such as tax records, wills, and estate settlements. These records can prove to be a genealogical goldmine for African American researchers.

Using Colonial Records to Trace African American Genealogy

Friday, July 24th, 2009



Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg, December 24, 1772


Chesterfield, December 15, 1772. Run away from the Subscriber, on Sunday the 22d of November, a new Negro Fellow of small Stature, and pitted with the Smallpox; he calls himself BONNA, and says he came from a Place of that Name in the Ibo Country, in Africa, where he served in the Capacity of a Canoe Man; his Clothing is a new Felt Hat, new Cotton Waistcoat and Breeches, and new Shoes and Stockings; his Stockings were knit, and spotted black and white.  Whoever secures him so that I get him shall have TWENTY SHILLINGS  reward, besides what the Law allows.  

                                                                                                                                         Richard Booker


A great source of tracing early African and African American ancestors is the Virginia Gazette.   Slave owners ran ads describing in great detail their runaway slaves, apprentices and indentured servants.  Many of these ads list native Africans, their ethnicities, country of origins, their owners, how long they had been in the colonies, and the ships they came on.  These records are online at    

Terry Family to Tour Wessyngton Plantation for Bi-Annual Reunion

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

On Saturday August 8th the Terry family will tour Wessyngton Plantation as part of their bi-annual family reunion.  The group will tour the Wessyngton slave cemetery, the Washington family cemetery, the grounds around the mansion and a restored slave cabin.  Members of the National Black Arts Festival from Atlanta will also attend the reunion festivities.  Following the tour the group will dine at the Tennessee National Guard Armory.  I will also autograph copies of my new book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom.   The Terrys descend from Dick Terry 1818-1879 and Aggy Washington Terry born 1824.  Today there are more than 1,000 Terry family members.

Terry Family Tree

Terry Family Tree

Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation Featured on

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Check out my article on   It is an excellent resource for African American history and genealogy.

Enslaved African American Families on Wessyngton Plantation in 1860

Sunday, July 12th, 2009









In 1860 Wessyngton Plantation was the largest tobacco plantation in the United States.  The Washington family also held the largest number of enslaved African Americans (274) in the state of Tennessee.   187 of them were held on what was called the “Home Place” near the Wessyngton mansion.  Eighty-seven others were held on a part of the plantation known was the “Dortch Place.”