Posts Tagged ‘African American History’
The African American Cemetery on Wessyngton Plantation was founded by Joseph Washington who came to Robertson County, Tennessee from Southampton County, Virginia in 1796. Joseph later returned to Virginia and brought African and African American slaves with him. The cemetery was used by the enslaved African American population of the plantation and their descendants from 1796 to 1928.
In 1995 a memorial monument at the African American Cemetery was erected by Mary Washington Holley, Thomas Blagden and Preston Frazer, direct descendants of Wessyngton’s founder Joseph Washington. It honors those buried there.
In 2012 a beautiful six-foot aluminum fence was erected to enclose and protect the cemetery. The fence adds charm and dignity to the cemetery. Special thanks go to Stanley Frazer Rose, a sixth generation descendant of Joseph Washington, for his generosity in funding this renovation.
The African American cemetery is located some distance from the Wessyngton mansion on a hill overlooking Caleb’s Creek. This is near where Joseph and his slaves first settled in 1796. The cemetery measures approximately 640 square feet and contains an estimated 200 graves. A geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar is planned to determine the actual number of graves in the cemetery. At that time, the original monument will be enlarged to honor all those who were buried in the cemetery. This monument will be funded in part by Mary Hotchkiss Gregg, Robina Gregg O’Rourke, Robert Etheridge Gregg, and Robert Hunnewell Gregg, sixth generation descendants of Joseph Washington.
Based on correspondence and plantation records from the Washington Family Papers collections, death certificates, oral history and eyewitnesses who attended burials at the cemetery, the following persons are known to be buried there:
Sampson Washington 1808 –1836
Caesar Washington 1826-before 1838
Elijah Washington 1823-before 1838
Matt Washington 1777-before 1838
Nicholas Washington 1822-before 1838
Noel Washington 1804-before 1838
Oscar Washington 1825-before1838
Peter Washington 1823-before 1838
Sam Washington 1770-before 1838
Sam Washington 1770-before 1838
Samuel Washington 1770-before 1838
Simon Washington 1783-1835-before 1838
Cherry Washington 1839-1839
Will Washington 1820-1841
Boyd Washington 1840-1846
Mariah Washington 1798-1846
Godfrey Washington 1787-1846-before 1850
Rosetta Washington 1827-1850
Camilla Lewis 1834-1852
Maria Washington 1853-1853
Wendy Washington 1853-1853
Westley Washington 1853-1853
Otho Lewis 1838-1854
Edward Washington 1834-before 1856
Al Washington ?-1838-before1856
Andrew Washington ?-1838-before 1856
Fowler Terry 1815-1838-before 1856
Simon Washington 1815-1838-before 1856
Toby Washington ?-1838-before 1856
Tony White 1820-1838-before 1856
Westley Washington 1822-1838-before 1856
Daniel Washington 1808-1841-before 1856
Wallis Washington 1822-1841-before 1856
Anthony Washington 1823-1843-before 1856
Archer Washington 1824-1843-before1856
Charles Washington 1809-1843-before 1856
George Lewis 1785-1843-before 1856
Jim Washington 1801-1844-before 1856
Aleck Washington 1795-1846-before 1856
Norfleet Washington 1846-before 1856
Tom Washington 1783-1846-before 1856
Gabriel Washington 1819-1850-before 1856
Dempry Washington 1837-1856
Ned Washington 1844-1856
Silvah Washington 1817-1823-before 1860
Charity Washington 1828-before 1860
Martha Ann Washington 1833-before 1860
Martha Washington 1835-before 1860
Sarah Washington 1840-before 1860
Arry Leavell Washington 1805-1841-before 1860
Sally Washington 1816-1829-before 1860
Mira Washington 1829-1842-before 1860
Sylvia Washington 1806-1842-before1860
Bena Washington 1770?-1844-before 1860
Tom Washington 1782-1846-before 1850
Easter Washington 1784-1850-before 1860
Henny Jackson Smith 1790-1850-before 1860
Jenny Washington 1760-1850-before1860
Unknown male 1785-1850-before 1860
Willie Washington 1820-1850-before 1860
Angelina Cheatham Washington 1814-1851-before 1860
Millie Washington 1851-before 1860
Allen Washington 1813-1856-before 1860
Mose Terry 1810-1856-before 1860
Westley Washington 1830-1856-before 1860
Hannah Washington 1780-1801-before 1860
Juda Washington 1775-1801-before 1860
Nanny Washington 1802-1804-before 1860
Rhoda Washington 1814-1819-before 1860
Fanny Washington 1815-1831-before 1860
Peggy Lewis 1795-1843-before 1860
Lettuce Washington 1857-before1860
Green Cheatham 1817-1860
Jack Washington 1849-1860
Marian Lewis ?-1843-1860
Temperance Washington 1795-1861
Amanda Washington 1837-1863
Aaron Gardner 1804-1860-before 1865
Esther Washington 1775-1860-before 1865
Jenny Washington 1785-1860-before 1865
Sarah Washington 1810-before 1865
Jack Washington 1859-1865
Moses Lewis 1857-1866
Vina Washington 1843-1869
America Washington 1815-1870-before 1880
Humphrey Washington 1797-1870-before 1880
Jenny Blow Washington 1792-1870-before 1880
Cornelia Washington 1859-1882
Axum Washington 1808-1880-before 1890
Britain Washington 1800-1880-before 1890
Hannah Washington 1808-1880-before 1890
Prudence Washington 1819-1893
Allen Washington 1825-1890-before 1895
Emanuel Washington 1824-1907
Jenny Washington 1830-1900-before 1910
Winnie Washington Long Biggers 1860-1900-before 1910
Henny Washington 1839-1913
Sarah Washington Cheatham 1810-1914
Hezekiah Tom Washington 1850-1918
Henry Drake 1868-1928
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.
On June 19th members of the Washington family visited Wessyngton Plantation as part of their family reunion. The tour included a visit to the mansion, Washington family cemetery, and a restored slave cabin. Family members descend from Temperance Washington born 1795, who was enslaved on the plantation along with her son Sam and daughter Jane in 1815. Sam Washington born 1812 married Jane Hadley 1835-1916. After emancipation the Washington family remained in the Cedar Hill, Tennessee area. Members of the family were instrumental in establishing the St. James Baptist Church in Cedar Hill. On June 20th the church celebrated its anniversary where numerous Washington descendants still worship. These members descend from Sam and Jane’s children: Nelson Washington, Irvin Washington, Temperance Washington Sherrod, and Betty Washington Smothers.
The following story sheds light on the impact of the Transatlantic slave trade on the lives of native Africans. Some of these slaves ended up on the plantations of the Blow families.
I found this story while searching through a Sussex County deed book looking for genealogical information and noticed the names of several slaves. What stood out most were the names of some of the slaves: August, September, June, April, Caesar, and Quaco. I then thought these were likely Africans. Some slave owners gave Africans the names of the months of the year or days of the week. Planters did not realize in some African cultures children were named for the days of the week they were born on, thereby continuing an African tradition. Names such as Samba, meaning born on Monday, which was later, corrupted to Sambo.
The plight of the Africans was revealed in detail in a Virginia court case that lasted eighteen years. The story began in 1781 during the Revolutionary War. John Wigfall owned a large plantation at Wambaw on St. Thomas Parish in South Carolina. During this time, Wigfall was a Loyalist to Britain and was banished from the colony and had his property confiscated which included his slaves. At the same time, Captain John Singletary was issued a commission as a privateer in his cutter Victory. His commission ordered him to take as prize any British property. Captain Singletary and a small crew set out in rowboats up the Santee River and landed at Wigfall’s plantation, where they captured thirty-four of his slaves: April, Will, August, Dolly, September, Wally, Philander, Philis, Caesar, Horah, Scipio, Cloey, Daniel, Santon, Will, Neppy, June, Dianah, Pegg, Binah, Jenny, Peter, Cyrus, Duke, Flora, Limbrick, Pharo, Toby, Nanny, Sabina, Rosanna, Carolina, Wallis, and Quashilla. The slaves at first were taken to Beaufort, North Carolina.
Although Wigfall was to be banished, he was granted leniency because he pleaded poor health and a large family to support and was allowed to remain in South Carolina. Thus, Wigfall made immediate application for the return of his slaves, as a Court of the Admiralty convened in New Bern and ruled that the slaves were a fair prize. They were declared property legally condemned by the court.
After discovering that Beaufort was threatened by the British, Singletary took the slaves to Virginia and sold them to four planters: Richard Blow of Sussex County, who was the nephew of Colonel Michael Blow, Colonel Benjamin Baker of Nanesmond County, Captain Sinclair in Smithfield, and William Hines of Southampton.
Wigfall was informed of the whereabouts of some of the slaves and managed to steal back a few of them, although some of their names had been altered to conceal their identities. Wigfall and his son and the plantation owners had several heated disputes over the ownership of the slaves.
In 1792, John Wigfall gave his friend James Warrington of Richmond power of attorney to recover his property, to no avail. In 1798 his son Joseph, who was the executor of his estate pursued the case. The judgment in all matters of the case except the ownership of the slaves was in favor of the defendants. However, each purchaser had to pay Wigfall for the use of the slaves during the time they were in Virginia.
Some forty years later some of the Africans were still living on Richard Blow’s plantation in Sussex County called Tower Hill. An 1830s register of slaves for Tower Hill lists August, Tember (September) and April, who was also called Joe, (possibly a shortened version of the African day name Cudjo) as being African Negroes. They died in 1832, 1826, and 1829 respectively, ranging in age from 60 to 80. Their names first appeared on tax lists for 1784 for Richard Blow when they were purchased.
August probably suffered the greatest loss of all the Africans. According to descendants of the Blows, after August learned English he and the other Africans related the story of their capture and voyage from Africa. August informed the Blow family that his father was an African king and he was next in line to succeed him to the throne but was betrayed by a jealous uncle who sold him to slave traders so he could rule as king. Instead of living the life of African nobility, August was condemned to a life of American servitude.
 Power of Attorney from John Wigfall to James Warrington 1792 to recover slaves taken from his Wambaw plantation in South Carolina, Sussex County Deed Book G pages 723-725. Federal District Court case, Richmond, VA Wigfall Vs Blow 1799, Virginia State Library and Archives.
 Register of slaves on the plantations of Richard Blow 1832. 1838 register of slaves of George Blow. Manuscripts Department of Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Register contains the slaves’ names, parents’ names, dates of birth and death, if the slave was acquired by inheritance, purchase or gift.
 1784 Tithables for Sussex County, VA for Richard Blow. Virginia State Library and Archives.
The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation reviewed in Nashville City Paper by Todd Dills. Click here to see review.
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.
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.
Slave owners kept detailed records of their slaves’ births, and deaths, and purchases; although many of them have not survived. They often recorded these events in their family bibles along with information on their own families.
The 1715 Blow family bible records the births of slaves owned by the Blows of Sussex, and Southampton counties in Virginia. Nineteen births of four mothers are recorded from 1737 to 1763 spanning three generations. This is a goldmine of information for African American research. Descendants of these slaves can be found searching other records in the Blow Family Papers in the Swem Library in Virginia.
Today divorce is very common, but in 1800s and early 1900s it was rarely heard of, especially among African Americans. In my research I found this extraordinary divorce case of two former slaves in Robertson County, Tennessee which detailed the history of their family.
Alford Pitt 1830-1900 and his wife Arry Fort Pitt 1836-1918 were married during slavery and had eleven children. Alford was a carpenter and later accumulated more than 500 acres of land. He had African American and white sharecroppers working his land.
In 1900, Arry filed for divorce from Alford stating that he had an affair with two black women and one white one. She stated that she had worked hard to help him amass everything they owned and she was entitled to half. Alford claimed that she had not helped him accumulate his wealth and felt since they married during slavery and never married after they were emancipated that she was not legally his wife and therefore not entitled to any of his property.
The divorce case put a great strain on the Pitt family, their friends and neighbors. Arry had more than fifty witnesses to prove her claims and Alford had nearly as many to support his. Half the children sided with their mother and the others their father.
Arry was represented in court by a family member of her former owners. In 1866, a law was passed in Tennessee which made all former slave marriages legal if the couple continued to live as man and wife.
The courts ordered Alford to give Arry 100 acres of land, $1,000, a horse and buggy and other livestock. Shortly after the verdict Alford died from complications of a cold that he caught from walking to court in bad weather.
Some of the Pitt property is still owned by their direct descendants. A street that runs through the property bears the family name.