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The slaves have names

They have names.

The young woman was Ana.

The young girl was Mary.

1860 slave census, Attala Co., MS

1860 slave census, Attala Co., MS

They are not merely tick marks in a census column.

As individuals and as people, they have names.

They were enslaved, yes.

But that just makes it all the more The Legal Genealogist‘s obligation to set out the full record.

To tell all of the family’s story.

To set out what we know about them.

To tell their names.

Because they were enslaved by my second great grandparents.

The census column in which these two first appear is on the 1860 slave schedule in Attala County, Mississippi. There, on page 25, in the right hand column, is the evidence:

Name of Slave Owner: Gustavus B. Robertson,
Number of slave: 1
Age: 25
Sex: F
Color: B
Number of slave houses: 11

Name of Slave Owner: Gustavus B. Robertson
Number of slave: 1
Age: 3
Sex: F
Color: B2

Now like many southern slaveholding families, mine has its feel-good story. That Gustavus’ father-in-law, Elijah Gentry, gave the slaves to his daughter, Isabella Gentry Robertson, to help her with her growing family because she had a withered arm. That the slaves stayed with the family even after emancipation, that they cared for Isabella’s children when they were young, that those children cared for the emancipated slaves in their old age.

Um… probably not.

Oh, I can document some of the story.

I can document that Elijah Gentry was himself a significant slaveholder. His entry on the 1850 slave schedule of Neshoba County, Mississippi, showed 14 slaves ranging in age from 40 years down to a baby of just a year old.3 By 1860, he owned 21 slaves with that same age range.4

I can document that Isabella did have a withered arm. Not only did that story pass down through the lines of several of her children, but her arm problem was referenced by Gustavus in a 1903 letter to a daughter.5

I can document that the Robertsons moved from Mississippi to Texas as the Civil War ended, and were living in Lamar County in 1870.6

And that enumerated right next door to the family in 1870 was another household. Headed by one Ana Robertson, aged 36, shown as black, born in Mississippi. With a 13-year-old female child, Mary Robertson, living in that household.7

And that’s all I can document. My Robertsons moved on to Delta County where they can be found in 1880.8 There’s no sign of Ana and Mary anywhere near my Robertsons in that census.

I believe Ana and Mary are the Annie Robertson and Mary Shirrell who were still recorded in Lamar County, Texas, in 1880.9 That household was headed by 25-year-old Alabama-born teamster Nathan Shirrell. Mary was recorded as his 23-year-old wife, born in Mississippi, there was a seven-year-old boy Amos Williams, whose father was born in Texas and mother in Mississippi, recorded as Nathan’s stepson (and, presumably, Mary’s son), and 45-year-old Annie Robertson, born in Mississippi, as his mother-in-law (and, presumably, Mary’s mother).

And that’s where I lose them. I can’t find any of this small family in 1900. And there’s certainly no evidence that any of them was cared for in their old age by any of my Robertsons.

I don’t know — and would love to learn — the rest of their story.

Because they are not merely tick marks in a census column.

Because, as individuals and as people, they have names.

Because they were enslaved.

Because I have an obligation to set out the full record.

To tell all of the family’s story.

To set out what we know about those we enslaved.

To tell their names.


SOURCES

  1. 1860 U.S. census, Attala County, Mississippi, Township 14, Range 8, slave schedule, p. 26 (penned), col. 2, line 14, Gustavus B. Robertson, slave owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 Oct 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 595.
  2. Ibid., line 15.
  3. 1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, slave schedule, p. 2 (in schedule order), col. 1, lines 19-32, Elijah Gentry, slave owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 Oct 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 387.
  4. 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, Township 12, Range 10, slave schedule, p. 30 (penned), col. 2, lines 8-28, Elijah Gentry, slave owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 Oct 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 601.
  5. See Judy G. Russell, “An ordinary letter,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 1 Oct 2016 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 7 Oct 2016).
  6. 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, TX, population schedule, Paris Post Office, p. 253(B) (stamped), dwelling 307, family 307, “Gustavis” B. Robertson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1594.
  7. Ibid. dwelling/family 308, Ana Robertson household.
  8. 1880 U.S. census, Delta County, TX, Precinct 3, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 502(D) (stamped), dwelling 117, family 118, Gustavus “Robetson” household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1300.
  9. 1880 U.S. census, Lamar County, Texas, Paris, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 81, p. 213C (stamped), dwelling 166, family 202, Nathan Shirrell household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1314.
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