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.
Archive for the ‘Genealogy & DNA’ Category
Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom - Resource for Educators and TeachersTuesday, February 9th, 2010
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.”
I was deeply saddened upon learning that my dear friend Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper had passed away at her home on Monday evening.
I first became acquainted with Mrs. Cooper in 1996, when she was 94 years young through my genealogical research on Wessyngton Plantation, which she also had family ties to.
Mrs. Cooper was a very beautiful person and I treasured our friendship over the years. She was always very loving and kind when I visited her and also very helpful in providing me with information.
Mrs. Cooper lived a very long, productive and interesting life. I loved to listen to stories about her childhood in Tennessee and her adult life in Atlanta. She was so sharp it was hard to believe that she was more than 100 years old.
Mrs. Cooper became known worldwide last year when CNN television news chronicled her voting early for then Senator Barack Obama.
Although Mrs. Cooper became well known for voting for President Obama, she led a very interesting life before then which is told in her forthcoming book A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name.
I will truly miss my dear friend.
In 1831, Nat Turner led the largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States. Turner, born in 1800 in Jerusalem, Southampton County, Virginia. Wessyngton Plantation’s founder Joseph Washington lived in Southampton County before he came to Tennessee. Many of the slaves on Wessyngton Plantation were brought by Joseph to Tennessee.
In Virginia, Turner, a self-proclaimed Baptist minister, was known as “The Prophet” to the enslaved African Americans and often conducted services for them. He claimed to be given visions by God, and that he was ordained to lead his people to freedom. Unlike most slaves and many whites, Turner was able to read and write.
Turner’s group of followers was composed of more than 50 fellow slaves and free blacks. During the insurrection of 1831, the group went through the countryside of Southampton County killing 55 men, women, and children. The insurrection lasted for two days before the local militia put it down. Turner and several of the leaders were executed; others were transported out of the area.
The Turner rebellion put fear in the hearts and minds of slave holders throughout the South, which led to laws further restricting the activities of enslaved African Americans and free blacks.
The revolt influenced the Tennessee legislature to pass laws in 1831 that prevented more free blacks from entering the state. Any person emancipating a slave had to send him out of the state. When the new constitution in Tennessee was written in 1834, free blacks were denied voting privileges.
Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation Presented to Gateview Elementary School Students in Portland, TennesseeMonday, November 30th, 2009
On November 20th I had the honor of delivering a presentation about my book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation to the entire fifth grade class at Gateview Elementary School in Portland, Tennessee. More than 100 students attended. Prior to my visit the students had studied the Civil War, which tied into my program. The students were very attentive and had many questions. Following the presentation many of the students expressed an interest in tracing their genealogy.
In 1847 an enslaved African American, Dred Scott, went to trial to sue for his freedom. This case, which later became known as Dred Scott v. Sanford, impacted the citizenship of all African Americans throughout the United States.
Dred Scott was born a slave in Southampton County, Virginia and was owned by Peter Blow. Peter Blow was the great-nephew of Colonel Michael Blow who owned my ancestors before they were brought to Wessyngton Plantation by Joseph Washington.
Scott was taken to Alabama by the Blow family and later to St. Louis. After Peter Blow’s death in 1832, Scott was bought by an army surgeon Dr. John Emerson who took him to Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory.
Scott’s stay in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited, gave him the legal standing to make a claim for his freedom. The abolitionists encouraged him to sue for his freedom. The case and appeals took ten years. In March 1857, the United States Supreme Court declared that all blacks, slaves as well as free blacks, were not, and could never become, citizens of the United States.
The decision was a victory for southern slaveholders, while northerners were outraged at its outcome. The Dred Scott case influenced the nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the Republican Party and his election that led to the South’s secession from the Union and ultimately the freedom of all African Americans.
Peter Blow’s sons, who had grown up with Dred Scott, helped him pay the legal fees for his lengthy case. After the Supreme Court’s decision, they purchased Scott and his wife and then emancipated them.
Dred Scott died nine months later—a free man.
Slaves were usually known by their first names, especially on small farms with few slaves. Plantation owners rarely recorded their slaves with surnames unless they had several individuals with the same first names. For that reason the use of surnames by slaves was far more common on large plantations where more people were likely to have the same given names.
Due to Wessyngton Plantation having such a large enslaved population many African Americans are listed with their previous owners’ surnames as early as the 1820s.
Slave bills of sale and other documents in the Washington Family Papers collection details the origins of many of these African American families.
The list above documents the names African Americans on Wessyngton Plantation who used surnames prior to emancipation and the date of their arrival on the plantation.
I just returned from a very exciting event—The first International Black Genealogy Summit held in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 29-31, 2009. Several hundred people participated. Throughout the conference I shared my research experience with genealogists. It was wonderful to speak with many people who had already read my book. The give and take of ideas illustrates that we are just at the beginning of a long and interesting journey to learn about our roots.
At the Meet the Authors event everyone could talk to the authors of books related to African American genealogy. The authors posed together for this photo. (L-R) Tony Burroughs who wrote Black Roots: A Beginners Guide To Tracing the African American Family Tree; myself; Tim Pinnick, author of Finding and Using African American Newspapers; and (Seated) Frazine Taylor, with her book Researching African American Genealogy in Alabama.
After the Civil War several former Wessyngton slaves remained on the plantation. Others moved to Nashville, to the north, surrounding counties and some purchased their own farms.
When the former slaves left the area many white farmers and African Americans came to Wessyngton Plantation and became sharecroppers and resided in the former slave cabins.
Under the sharecropping system, the landowner received two thirds of the crop and the tenant or sharecropper only received one third of the crop. The sharecropper was provided a house, mules, land, seed and fetilizer. They raised crops of tobacco, corn, wheat and rye.
African American and white sharecroppers continued farming on Wessyngton Plantation until the property was sold by the Washington family in 1983 nearly 200 years after the plantation was founded.
In 1991, I had an opportunity that few historians or genealogists ever have; to literally walk in your ancestors’ footsteps. In 1989 I was approached by the president of the Bloomington-Normal black history Project and director of the Midwestern archaeological research Center, about the potential investigations of the salve cabin area on Wessyngton Plantation to get an interpretation of slave life there. Similar digs have been conducted at the Hermitage, Mt. Vernon, and Monticello.
The actual digging at Wessyngton did not start until 1991. The thought of actually walking in my ancestors’ footsteps and holding objects they used in their everyday lives one hundred years earlier was surreal to me. Three sections of the slave cabin area were selected for exploration. One site was where the cabin of my great-great-grandparents Emanuel and Henny Washington once stood.
The dig yielded fragments of pottery and dishes used by my ancestors as well as coins and arrowheads made by Native Americans.
The photograph above shows the site of the archaeological dig on Wessyngton Plantation where my ancestors once lived.