The entire Court Order book collection of the Southampton County, Virginia Court from 1749 through the early 1880s has been digitalized. This includes 57,000 pages, involving approximately one million names. This information is free online at: www.wiki.familysearch.org/en/Southampton_County,_Virginia. This collection is a goldmine for African Americans tracing their ancestors who once lived in Southampton County. Many of the books that have been digitized were 300 to 700 pages. Court Order books from the 1700s to the end of the slave trade lists the names of Africans when they were first brought to the area, their ages, owner’s names, and in a few cases the ships on which they were brought over. Wills and estate settlements lists the names of slaves, descriptions and family relationships. If your ancestors came from Southampton County, Virginia, you must check out this collection. Thanks go to Southampton Circuit Court Clerk, Richard Francis, and the volunteers of the Brantley Association of America who undertook this huge project in 2009 and 2010.
Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category
In August 2010 the Gardner family celebrated their 76th annual family reunion. The festivities included a tour of Wessyngton Plantation. Aaron Gardner born 1804, his wife Betty born 1814, and their three sons Daniel Gardner 1829-1911, George Gardner 1830-1906, and Jackson Gardner Washington born 1831 were enslaved on the plantation from 1839 to 1865. After emancipation George Gardner purchased 169 acres of land, which he willed to his nephew Will Gardner. Daniel Gardner and his wife Melissa Boisseau Gardner were the parents of eighteen children. Many of their descendants remain in the Robertson County area. There are more African Americans carrying the Gardner surname than any other surname in the county. Two original portraits of Daniel and Melissa Gardner were revealed to descendants at the 76th Gardner family reunion.
Washington Surname Most Common among African Americans in America—and in Robertson County, TennesseeWednesday, March 2nd, 2011
According to an interesting article by Jesse Washington of the Associated Press entitled “Washington Named the ‘Blackest Name’ in America,”
Based on the 2000 U. S. census, Washington is the most prominent surname among African Americans. 90% of 163,036 individuals with the Washington surname are African Americans, a far greater percentage than any other name.
The descendants of African Americans once enslaved on Wessyngton Plantation are part of this group. Before and after Emancipation, they chose to use the Washington surname—the surname of the slaveholding Washington family (were distant cousins of the president).
At the onset of the Civil War there were nearly 300 African Americans on Wessyngton Plantation. In 1870, 212 former slaves and their descendants from Wessyngton in Robertson County carried the Washington surname. This was nearly 5% of the total number of African Americans in the county.
In the years following the Civil War hundreds of Washingtons from Robertson County migrated out of the area. Today there are still African Americans in the area who carry the Washington surname (although far fewer than decades earlier), and some African American Washingtons throughout the country are descended from the Wessyngton Washingtons.
Elijah Smyth or Smith was originally owned by Joseph L. D. Smith on his plantation in Florence, Alabama. When Joseph Smith died in 1837, Elijah was inherited by Smith’s minor daughter Jane, who later married George Augustine Washington of Wessyngton Plantation.
Between 1850 and 1860, Elijah Smyth made his escape from slavery in Alabama most likely using the Underground Railroad. He made it to freedom in Buxton, Canada. Buxton, was established in 1849 by the abolitionist Reverend William King, and was one of four settlements in Canada which offered refuge for fugitive slaves. Buxton was located between Lake Erie and the Great Western railway, and consisted of approximately 9,000 acres of land. The logging industry provided an income for most of its residents.
Reverend King had strict guidelines for the settlers: land could not be leased, and could only be purchased by African Americans for $2.50 per acres. Once the land was purchased it had to be held for ten years. Houses had to be built that were at least 24 x 18 x 12 feet with a porch, and picket fence and flower garden in front. The town had four churches, three schools, a hotel and its own post office. In 1860, Buxton’s population was its largest with about 700 residents.
Elijah Smyth was literate. Since educating slaves was forbidden by law in Alabama, he probably was educated at the Buxton school.
Between 1850 and 1860, Elijah Smyth wrote a letter to Jane Smith’s aunt, Anne Pope. He sent the letter from Buxton, Canada.
Will you be so kind as I do not know who my young Mrs. is married to or where she lives. The least she will take for my papers of liberty as I am ready to pay a reasonable price. It is better for her to get a half loaf than no bread. If she will take a reasonable price write to me and then I will write to you and let you know what day to have a man in Detroit with my papers and will send the money by a friend to meet him. Be so kind as to write to me in haste.
No more but kindness,
Yours truly Elijah Smyth
[Washington Family Papers]
In the letter Elijah Smyth offered to purchase his freedom. It is unknown why he made the offer since he was already free. He might have wanted to purchase the freedom of other family members who were still enslaved. It also is not known whether Jane Smith responded to his letter or accepted his offer.
National Black Arts Festival Study Group Walks in Footsteps of Baker’s Ancestors on Wessyngton PlantationSunday, June 13th, 2010
In addition to touring the grounds surrounding the Wessyngton mansion, National Black Arts Festival members and guests walked in the footsteps of Baker’s ancestor in the slave cabin area of the plantation. The group went inside a restored slave cabin built ca. 1830. In 1860, there were 274 enslaved African Americans on the plantation, housed in forty log cabins. At the onset of the Civil War, Wessyngton held the largest African American population in the state of Tennessee and was the largest tobacco producer in America.
Today I had the honor of conducting a study group tour of Wessyngton Plantation for Dr. Collette Hopkins, Director of the National Black Arts Festival of Atlanta, along with a number of her colleagues and distinguished guest. The tour included a visit to the Wessyngton mansion, Washington family cemetery, and a former slave cabin. Participants were told about the lives of enslaved African Americans on the largest tobacco plantation in America and walked in their footsteps.
The above photo was taken at the entrance gate to Wessyngton Plantation where I was told as a small child by my grandfather that was where my ancestors came from. The interest in my family’s history led me on a thirty year journey of discovery and the writing of The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom.
The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation reviewed in Nashville City Paper by Todd Dills. Click here to see review.
Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom – Resource for Educators and TeachersTuesday, February 9th, 2010
The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom has been released in trade paperback and is an excellent resource for teachers and educators. The book chronicles the African American experience from slavery to freedom. It has more than 100 photographs and portraits of African Americans who were once enslaved. The book covers many aspects of plantation slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Genealogy, and DNA testing.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama Issue Statement on Passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon CooperSunday, January 31st, 2010
“Michelle and I wish to express our deepest condolences on the passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper. From her beginnings in Shelbyville and Nashville, Tennessee to her many years as a pillar of the Atlanta community, Ann lived a life of service. Whether it was helping to found the Girls Club for African American Youth, serving on the board of directors for the Gate City Nursery, working as a tutor at Ebenezer Baptist Church or registering voters, Ann had a broad and lasting impact on her community. I also understand that as a wife, mother and grandmother, Ann was a source of strength for her entire family, and that she always put them first.
Over the course of her extraordinary 107 years, Ann saw both the brightest lights of our nation’s history and some of its darkest hours as well. It is especially meaningful for me that she lived to cast a vote on Election Day 2008, and it was a deep honor for me to mark her life in the speech I delivered that night. It was a life that captured the spirit of community and change and progress that is at the heart of the American experience; a life that inspired – and will continue to inspire – me in the years to come. During this time of sadness, Michelle and I offer our deepest condolences to all who loved Ann Nixon Cooper. But even as we mourn her loss, we will also be rejoicing in all that she meant for her family, her community, and so many Americans.”
The history of the Alamo is an important part of American history and American lore. Joseph George Washington was a participant in the defense of the Alamo.
Joseph was the son of Andrew Washington, brother of Joseph Washington, who founded Wessyngton Plantation. He was born in 1808 and lived in Robertson County, Tennessee. Joseph was described as a striking, tall figure, about six feet high, tolerably stout build, tolerably dark complexion, dark eyes and dark hair.
In 1833, Joseph George sold his uncle a slave Joe. In December of 1835, he sold three more slaves to his brother Richard Washington for $830, before he travelled west to Texas. We do not know why Joseph joined in the fight for the Alamo. It could have been that the Republic of Texas offered land to men who helped win its independence from Mexico. Another reason could have been he was seeking an adventure as he went with other young men from Tennessee and nearby Kentucky.
In 1836, during the 12 day siege by Mexican troops under the command of Santa Anna, Joseph George Washington was killed. Within the Washington family and Alamo lore he became known as “Alamo Joe.”