A Little Piece of History

Very near to where I live right now is an old house with a historic marker out front. Next door is an old cemetery with some beautiful tombstones.  I’ve been driving by this house for months, always curious what the marker says and who is in the cemetery.  So, yesterday, Kalonji and I finally stopped.

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I did not take a picture of the main house, but as we drove around the house, we realized that yes, someone did live there and yes, we were probably trespassing! I felt so bad. But,  then I thought – they must get people doing that every now and then…   The cemetery next door was in fact the DeMoss family cemetery. I took some pictures just in case it was not on FindAGrave, but to my delight the whole cemetery was there.  There are several obelisks, one of which is Abraham DeMoss (1779 – 1849) himself

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I noticed that many of the men were masons, and only a few feet from the house is a Mason Lodge that I learned was built in 1855.  I’m sure the DeMoss family was involved in it’s founding.

Some Google searching revealed several sites with some information about the family – the Bellevue Harpeth Historical Association has recently restored Abraham’s father’s log cabin house and are working on a publication about the DeMoss family.  One tidbit about this family that I am particularly interested in was that I read that Abraham was killed in his dining room just after the Civil War by a former slave.  I must learn more about this….

Ancestry Family Beta

I am apparently late to the game, having just discovered a feature at Ancestry.com that has been available for almost two months now! But, I just discovered their Family Beta view.  This is exactly the kind of enhancement I’ve been looking for them to add! One of my biggest frustrations when working with trees on Ancestry was the lack of seeing a descendant tree.  I have come to rely on a descendant tree view quite heavily for my own tree and genealogy projects as it really helps to see that graphical represenatation of where people are in a tree.  With the Family Beta view,  they  have made that now possible. Wonderful!

In other genealogy happenings, the time I’ve had to spend on doing genealogy over the past week has pretty much been focused on the tree of James Carroll Napier, a prominent black man from Nashville and trying to connect the dots to a researcher who is of Napier’s from Alabama. I’ll post a much more extended story of that process later on, but you can read a little bit of it over on my Black Nashville History & Genealogy blog.

Life on the Battle Plantations

With Ancestry’s current focus on the African-American records they have in their collections, I’ve been taking another look through what is available. Tonight, I thought I would look and search through some of the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narratives. The full-text of the slave narratives are also available on the Library of Congress (LOC) website.

I found a slave narrative as told by a woman named Adaline Johnson. She was born near Jackson, Mississippi, but her mother was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. They were slaves of the Battle family – Jim, Joe, Hue, and Marmaduke Battle are mentioned. I’ve been keen to start tracing the Battle family tree, as I believe my 3rd great-grandmother’s parents were Della Battle & Allen Wimberly, and Della was a slave on the Battle plantation in Edgecombe County. Adaline mentions in her narrative that the Battles owned three plantations full of slaves (which I have learned on my own from census records), and were in Tarboro & Rocky Mount in that county.

Adaline’s accounts of the Battle men are mixed – some were kinder than others. What makes this slave narrative of particular interest to me is the description of the experience with the Battles. If I ever get around to writing any kind of “formal” document on the history on this branch of my family, this would help add some historical context to life as a slave on the Battle family plantations.

I also recognized something else in her narrative. She describes the happenings of a slave named Will (referred to as “Big Will”) who killed an overseer. Big Will was apparently a big and strong guy b/c he could “do as much as any two” other slaves and the family had for him a “big axe” and a “big hoe.” Well, the new overseer the Battle family had got into some kind of altercation with Big Will and Big Will killed the overseer. Marmaduke Battle had Will put in jail, but when his uncle, Jim Battle got back into town, he sold Big Will and Adaline reports that no one ever saw him again, but his family stayed and worked on the plantation. As I read this, I realized I had heard of this Will in an article I found about a year ago.

There were court proceedings for what happened and is reflected by the case North Carolina vs. Negro Will. An April 1920 article by George Gordon Battle from the Virginia Law Review goes into great detail about the case.

On January 22, 1834, Will killed the overseer, Richard Baxter. Another slave named Allen had gotten into an argument with Will about a hoe. Allen went and reported it to Baxter. Baxter went to go confront Will. They argued, but no one heard what was said. Will got mad and started to walk away and Baxter shot him in the back “the whole load lodged in the prisoner’s back, covering a space of twelve inches square”, but Will kept running and made it to the woods. Will was pursued by both Baxter and other slaves and in a scuffle with slaves and Baxter ended up wounding Baxter in the thigh, in addition to a puncture in his breast, a wound about four inches long and two inches deep on his right arm above his elbow. Among Baxter’s last words were a comment stating that he should have listened to his wife (who advised him not to get involved in the dispute between Will & Allen).

At trial, Will was found guilty of felony murder. But the case was appealed and taken to the NC Supreme Court as James Battle wanted the rights of his slaves protected and hired Bartholomew F. Moore for $1000 to lead the defense. The court found Will justified in resisting and defending himself and that what happened was not murder, but manslaughter. Gordon Battle states that the judge concedes,

“though with reluctance, the cruel rule of law that there is no limit of the authority of the master over the slave, so long as his life is spared. But the judge is determined that the law shall be so administered as to promote justice and not injustice, and so we see him invoke the principle that the master may so treat a slave, even though that treatment be not technically a crime, as to justify the slave in resisting the master even into death.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court would then go on to serve notice to all slaveholders in the state that while masters had the right to punish slaves “in order to maintain discipline,” slaves too had the right of self-defense if the punishment was exercised with unreasonable cruelty. These events happened three years after the Nat Turner uprising.

At the end of the article, George describes his relationship to the case. James Battle was his paternal grandfather, and one of the three presiding judges on the case, Joseph J. Daniel, was his maternal grandfather. George states that Will was sent to the a plantation in Mississippi (owned by Battle or Daniel – that is not clear), where Will killed another slave and was hung for that act. Will’s wife, Rose, came back to NC. Gordon remembers her often saying

“Will sho’ly had hard luck. He killed a white man in North Carolina and got off, and then was hung for killing a nigger in Mississippi.”

A slave narrative and a court case that intersect with my own family history.

Frances is a family name!

Okay — I cannot believe I am just making this association, but here goes…

In my last post, I recounted how I was helping someone I know research her maternal line so she could do a cross-stitch project called Mother’s Tree. The design (pictured below) is a list of mothers of mothers of mothers, etc.  I’ve had in the back of my mind too to possibly stitch this one day for Kaleya, but really wanted 8 generations of names on it instead of the seven I’d have if I did it now and started with Kaleya.  So, I thought, I may wait until Kaleya has children of her own, maybe she’d have a girl and I could stitch it then.  Of course, that day may never come, you never know what can happen. But anyway, I was looking at my maternal line and the last woman on mine is my 3rd great-grandmother, Frances Baker.  Kaleya’s middle name is Frances (chosen after Kalonji’s grandmother), but how cool would it be for the tree to have at the top Frances Baker and end at the bottom with Kaleya Frances! I think I will be doing this for Kaleya after all!

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Connections We Didn’t Know We Had

Before I discovered the wonderful world of genealogy a couple of years ago, my hobby of choice was cross-stitching. I still enjoy stitching, I just don’t do it as much (you can see all the projects I’ve completed here).  Back in 2003, while on a business trip out to San Diego and while there had dinner with a group of stitchers there – one of the ladies I met during that time was a woman I’ll call T.   Since then, we’ve exchanged emails, read each other’s blogs, etc.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, T emails me a genealogy related question.  There is a cross-stitch design called Mother’s Tree that she is wanting to stitch and she’d hit a road block with her 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Daw.   She didn’t know who Elizabeth’s mother had been, but she knew Elizabeth had married a man named John Wimberly. Well, she was internet searching the Wimberly name and up came my genealogy blog. My blog came up b/c I’ve been researching Wimberlys. I have previously posted this, but I have a 3rd great-grandmother named Mariah Wimberly, whom I believe was a slave of a very wealthy Robert Diggs Wimberly of Edgecombe County, North Carolina.

Today, I took about an hour to spend some time trying to help her and I think we made a breakthrough! As she’d given me enough information to start, I was able to find her ancestor in census records and from those, combined with burial records available online, I am at this point about 90% sure we’ve found Elizabeth’s mother. If we are right, her mother would be a Nancy Daw, and Nancy’s mother was Anne Wilson. This would add two more generations to T’s family tree and cross-stitch chart – how cool.

As I was looking further into Elizabeth’s husband John, I came up with a hypothesis on who his father was based on again,  census records and burial records – a Watford Wimberly, who is listed in the census as being from NC — ooh, was this a connection in any way to “my” Wimberly?

So, off I go to Google Watford and one of the pages that is returned is a genealogy from a very detailed an comprehensive Wimberley Family History.  Working my way through the site, according to this researcher, Watford was indeed John’s father as on this site, John is listed as having married a Mary Elizabeth Daw.

More interesting to me is that when I worked my way up through Watford’s ancestry, it appears he is a 8th great-grandson of a William Wimberly of England (1455-1510).  “My” Robert Diggs Wimberly is also listed on this site as a descendant of the same William Wimberly.  Through my own research, I had only identified up to Robert’s grandfather, a George Wimberly.

I have emailed the site owner to learn more about his sources. One thing I often lament when visiting other’s trees is the too frequent lack of sources. This is one reason I value the program that I use for my own genealogies and my website is b/c it makes it very easy to include and show sources.  I have emailed the site owner to find out more, but this is such a cool connection for me and T.   Over the next few weeks, we are going to try and further verify this information, but it is for reasons such as this that I absolutely love the internet!

Library of Congress Goes to Flickr

I haven’t seen this yet posted to any genealogy blogs I read, but perhaps I missed it. This has been circulating in my professional blogsphere for a little while now and I finally was able to spend a few minutes looking around.

The Library of Congress has added (and will continue to add) photos from their vast collection into Flickr for the general community to tag. Their original post is here, but then they followed up with some very interesting data.  They added over 3,000 pictures to Flickr and people have been tagging away! If you get a chance to look, the pictures are all very good quality and many are just gorgeous.

As I was looking, I decided to look for Honus Wagner (I’ve posted before about how my friend’s genealogy intersects with him).  Sure enough, they have a few pictures.  There is one picture of him with some fellow players that was taken about 1912, and another picture of him with the whole team.   Interestingly enough, Honus’ name is a tag on this second picture, so someone out there knew he was on this team and tagged the photo. That is the wonderful premise behind this project.

I can’t wait to see what else LOC continues to add!

I’m developing a book habit

Okay, so I know I’m a librarian, but honestly, I don’t really collect a lot of books. That is, until recently.  I seem to just have a drawing towards historical books now so once again, I picked up some books today at a relatively new used book store here in town. The books I picked up were:

  • Little Gloria…Happy at Last — since I work at Vanderbilt University and absolutely LOVE the Biltmore Estate, I’m developing an interest even more so in the Vanderbilt family. There was no way I could pass up getting this for $1.50. The inside front & back covers of the book have some genealogy charts too so you can keep track of the players all involved in Gloria’s case.
  • Dear Senator — A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond — Since this book came out, I was interested in it, so again, for $1.50 who can pass?
  • The Children – by David Halberstam — this book is about a handful of college students and their involvement in the Nashville Civil Rights movement back in the sixties. It’s a fairly thick book, so I know it will be awhile til I get through it, but it should help me further understand some of the history of this city in which I live. It may also serve as some inspiration for my black Nashville blog.

McClellan Cemetery

Last weekend we went to Talladega and I took pictures at the cemetery where Kalonji’s great-grandfather, Champ McClellan is buried.  The cemetery is across the street from the house that Champ’s mother lived in and where Kalonji’s uncle currently lives at now, just off McClellan street.  The cemetery, McClellan Cemetery, had no entries in FindAGrave, so I’ve gradually over the past week added pictures of what I took to the FindAGrave site. I did not get every headstone, but I’ll continue when we next go back.

Contributing to FindAGrave is a great way to give back! If ever at cemetery take a couple of extra pictures, someone may be looking for that gravesite!

William J. Koonce Sr. 1920 – 1976

My grandfather, William J.  Koonce Jr, pictured her with my grandmother Cora in the 1970′s, died 31 years ago on January 1, 1976. He died as a result of a car accident on the Major Deegan Expressway in NYC. I’d always known this growing up, and also always known that he had been drinking that night in celebration in New Year’s Eve, but because he always went to work to provide for his family, he then decided to drive himself to work early on the morning of the 1st. Bad decision.

Around 1997, I was talking family history with my grandmother and she gave me a folder of documents that she had. In them, was a hearing transcript “In the Matter of Edmond Alston -and- William Koonce (Dec’d).” Case No. 6-100016 in the State of New York Department of Motor Vehicles. This transcript was of the hearing held against the driver of the other car that my grandfather collided with to determine if there was any cause to revoke his license (which did not happen). What is so important to me about this document however is that Mr. Alston was the only eyewitness to the accident as it was his car that my grandfather hit, and describes it in detail. In the transcript, after he describes the accident, are these words:

  • Q: Did you have any conversation afterward with the other driver?
  • A: Conversation, no, he was unconscious at the time.
  • Q: Was he alone in the vehicle?
  • A: Yes. And they pronounced him, before they took him away, they pronounced him dead or deceased.

When I first read these words, I cried. Here in words in front of me was a description recounting the almost exact moments when my grandfather died. It still brings tears to my eyes now to read it, but I feel fortunate to have it.  My grandfather’s last words to my father was that my father better always treat me right and take care of me as he should. Or, my he (my grandfather) was going to come back from the grave and get him.  :-).   I was only six months old at the time.

I write this post because I have finally gotten around to scanning the transcript as a PDF, adding it to my online files, and filing it away in my print files.  Had my grandmother not had this to give to me, I can’t imagine that I would have ever located it on my own now as I work on the family tree.