Mystery of the McNairs

Tonight was an interesting night. I received an email yesterday through Ancestry from someone seeking more information about my 3rd great-grandfather, Rufus Tannahill McNair. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with her and she has a collateral relative that married a Rufus McNair and is trying to figure out who her Rufus McNair may be. I think I may have some ideas and in researching with her tonight I’ve been looking more closely at my McNair roots.

In the 1880 census for Lees Mills, Washington County, North Carolina, there is the following household [1]:

Harvey, Tamer – age 53, B, F, widowed
McNair, Rufus – age 21, B, M, son
McNair, Jane – age 21, B, F, daughter

The family lives next door to the following household [2]:

Thorp, Tom – age 20, black male
Thorp, Adeline – age 20, black female, wife
McNair, Christopher – age 21, black male, brother

Jane, wife of Rufus, was born Jane Harvey and Tamer is her mother. The lady I spoke to (we’ll call her G) knows this for certainty. So, her dilemma is trying to figure out who this Rufus is and she found my family information in her searches.

Prior to hearing from her, I had seen this Rufus & Jane as I reviewed census records but was not able to connect him to my family tree. My Rufus Tannahill McNair did have a son named Rufus, but my Rufus Jr. was too young to be this married Rufus. Besides, I can account for my Rufus and his family in 1880 – they were living in neighboring Edgcombe County. Intrigued, I then began looking for her Rufus in 1870.

As I’ve been working on my McNair line for a couple of years now, I know that the McNairAfrican-American name came from the white slaveholding MacNair family in Edgecombe County. The only Rufus McNairs (or variations thereof) that I could locate in 1870 were in Edgecombe County. There were 4 of them and two of them are “mine” that I just mentioned. So, that leaves two to look at:

#1 – this Rufus McNair is 12 years old in 1870, thus about the right age, and is a servant in the household of the white Colin McNair, brother to the man I’m targeting as possible slaveholder of my Rufus Tannahill McNair. Interestingly enough, five households away from Colin is a 52 year-old black man named Anthony McNair married to Penny, with three kids – Isabella, Jane and Luke. [2]

#2 – this 12 year old Rufus McNair is the son of a 38 year-old black man named Christopher McNair. Christopher is married to a woman named Isabella and in addition to Rufus has kids Flora, Joseph, Sophy Ann & Martha. Next to Christopher is a 53 year-old black man named David McNair married to a woman named Martha.

So, of these two, which one is G’s Rufus? Of course, it could be the case that neither one of them is, but I believe that one of them is and furthermore, I have a suspicion it is #2. This is why I think this:

  • the father of Rufus #2 is only 8 years younger than my Rufus Tannahill McNair and is thus a good candidate to be related, possibly a brother? Could of course be just another former slave that took on the same surname, but keep reading.
  • My Rufus Tannahill McNair had a son named Christopher as I just mentioned. He also had a daughter named Sophie. Rufus #2 had a father named Christopher and a sister named Sophy. names reappearing!
  • Rufus #2 lives next door to a David who is 8 years older than my Rufus Tannahill McNair. Well, Rufus Tannahill McNair also had a son named David. Could David be another brother? David’s wife’s name is Martha and Christopher has a daughter named Martha. Given the proximity to similar aged Christopher, I bet he and Christopher are brothers and given the name similarities between Christopher and my Rufus Tannahill, I am beginning to think this is the case — the three could be brothers – Rufus, Christopher & David
  • In 1880 G’s Rufus lives next door to a Christopher McNair that is the exact same age as the Christopher that I know to the be the son of my Rufus Tannahill McNair. In fact, I already had attached this census record to my tree at least a year ago. Can’t be certain, but he was the only Christopher McNair in the area that was even close to being a possibility.
  • Father of #2 in 1880 lives two households away from Dred Wimberly, whom I believe to be my Rufus Tannahill McNair’s brother-in-law.
  • In 1900, Rufus #2’s family were living over in Lees Mills where Rufus had been at in 1880.
  • When Jane & Rufus were married in 1880, their witnesses included a Christopher McNair. Can’t say for sure if this is the possible father Christopher or the possible cousin Christopher? But the fact that Rufus #2 was associated with a Christopher puts more likelihood in him for me.

The next step from here is to begin researching the descendants of Rufus & Jane as we can track them. G did speak to some McNairs in the Plymouth area (including some of my relatives!) but did not get much new info, other than being told there are at least two McNair families running through that area that as far as they know, are not related. Is that true? It seems that there is a possibility. That Anthony McNair is still unsure to me, so maybe he is a different family? There is also a Wiley McNair running around that I am not sure of either. Maybe time will help us connect the dots.

[1] 1880; Census Place: Lees Mills, Washington, North Carolina; Roll: T9_986; Family History Film: 1254986; Page: 244.2000; Enumeration District: 136; Image: 0063. [Link to Ancestry image]
[2] 1870; Census Place: Tarboro, Edgecombe, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1136; Page: 216; Image: 433. [Link to Ancestry image]
[3] 1870; Census Place: Tarboro, Edgecombe, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1136; Page: 219; Image: 438. [Link to Ancestry image].

4 thoughts on “Mystery of the McNairs

  1. Hi. This is really interesting.

    I am from the Geaorgia and/or Indiana McNairs. James Daniel McNair was my grandfather. I believe he was born in the late 1800s. Might you have any information on him or his line?

    Thanks so much!
    Toni McNair

  2. Hi my name is Benjamin Keith McNair. I am 35 and have been researching family for the past month. The oldest relative I know about was born on the early 1900s. Everyone called him Leo, McNair. It may be Wiley Leroy McNair. The only kids I know about are Benjamin and Stuart McNair. Not sure on the spelling of Stuart. I am a grandson of Benjamin. Any insight would be great. Thank you for your time.

  3. Hi Benjamin! Thanks for the comment. Is your McNair family from the Plymouth area? If not, I’d love to know where they are from?

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