Thursday, July 15, 2010

Old Newspapers Tell The Stories

Researching ancestors and their stories requires utilizing resources that come from the region where our ancestors lived. In other words----study the community.

Having ancestors who were slaves in Indian Territory has its challenges, since few books and texts even reflect the fact that black chattel slavery took place in Indian country.  Furthermore, can details be learned about the lives of the ancestors who were enslaved prior to the removal of the Five Tribes to the west?  

What were their lives like?  
Were they treated the same way other slaves in the deep south were treated?  
Did they flee from bondage?
Were they often sold from each other?  
Were there such things as slave auction blocks in Indian communities before removal?

And what about the slaves themselves? Did they practice the traditions of their slave holders? Did they speak the language and practice their customs?

Some of these answers might never be known---however, there are a few glimpses into the lives and the fate of those enslaved, that can be found in early newspapers.

In Georgia, the Cherokee Phoenix was the first American Indian newspaper, and it was published in the years prior to the removal of Cherokees to the west.  A few of those issues can be found, online, and I located several issues on the University of Georgia website, particularly for the years 1828-1833.

Glancing through each issue of the newspaper, one can learn a lot about the many issues facing the Cherokee citizens at that time.  While I was looking at the images I began to notice that a series of small announcements of local interest, on the pages of the Phoenix, that described estate sells, marriages, deaths and other announcements. It was in that section that I saw them. They were small announcements, but they were there, nevertheless -- notices pertaining to Africans within the Cherokee communities.

Some of the answers to the questions that I had, were found in those small announcements.
The one that was the most sobering----stood out:

Announcement for the sale of slaves of Thomas B. Adair

There they were, listed just above bushels of corn, and horses and cattle. The estate was being sold---and among the "items"---were three people, Joe, his wife Nelly and their child.  

More questions arose for me--with no answers to be found.  

Were they sold together as a family?  
Were they separated from each other?  
Did Nelly lose her child to a high bidder?  

One can only hope that they may have been fortunate to remain together as they had no choice in their fate.

Did some of those enslaved men and women ever resist enslavement by fleeing on their own? Or-- were there any abolitionists to assist them?  

Again, I found some answers by looking at other issues of the same publication.

In January 1832 an announcement appeared pertaining to a woman called Lucy.

Ad for runaway slave Lucy

It is noted that Lucy was raised in the Cherokee Nation, and she was spoke Cherokee better than she spoke English--which was described as being broken English

Some slaves were seized by others.  But---it is not clear if they were being assisted by abolitionists or by others seeking to take them into bondage elsewhere.

Jack, a slave was said to have been seized by Jesse Anderson  

Were Jesse Anderson's aliases part of a network to assist slaves fleeing from bondage?   Or was Jesse Anderson a slave trader?

Ad for the recapture of the slave Eliza and Michael Doudy, said to have assisted her escape.

Was Michael Doudy, who assisted Eliza, working with a network and if so, could that network have been possibly a southern branch of the Underground Railroad?  She too, was fluent in Cherokee. It is suggested however, that there was some willingness on her part in her leaving her master.

I noticed that some did runaway with a companion:

Ad for 2 runaway slaves in Cherokee Phoenix

Although the specific answers to my questions remain unclear--what can be learned in general about slaves in Indian communities before the Removal?

It is clear, that like all people---those enslaved, longed to be free. It is also evident that they resisted. 

Although these persons cited above are not people in my own family I still learned a great deal from reading these small announcements about slaves in Indian communities in the early 1830s.  Even though there were many who would never escape and never live to see freedom, one can definitely determine, that those who did not run away---still felt the same drive, the same passion for freedom, athough the opportunity was not there for them to leave. 

And some, it is known---would also feel the pain and sorrow, if any of these runaways been caught---for their punishment would probably be metered out in view of the other slaves. 

Most punishments for runaways consisted of public whippings and rubbing salt into lacerated skin. Few men or women survived such punishments. Those who remained behind would have the emotional scars of seeing these punishments, to captured runaways.  Reading these ads one can only hope that some were successful in their quest for freedom.

So through the newspapers that came from the regions where our ancestors lived---we can read and learn about the political and social climate that surrounded them.

As we seek to reconstruct the stories of what happened to the ancestors, some small glimpses of their lives can be found in the old newspapers such as the Cherokee Phoenix.  

We know, as genealogists to study the community, and I am humbled by the strength shown by my ancestors who survived the horrors of slavery, who who had endured so much.  

To them I owe great respect. 

In their honor, I shall continue to seek and to tell their stories 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Photo of Two Original Dawes Enrollees Found in Arizona

Thomas Stevenson with son Houston and Grandsons, Jessie & Sylvester
( The elder gentleman Thomas (2nd from Left and son Houston 2nd from Right are both
Chickasaw Freedmen Dawes Enrollees)

One of the lessons I have learned over the years is the value of interacting and sharing what you do with other researchers.  An example of this came from a conversation in one of the daily chats on AfriGeneas during the Lunch Bunch daily chat.  While sharing with each other, a fellow researcher who lives in Phoenix Arizona,  was aware that Oklahoma is one of my states. In that chat, she mentioned that she knew some people from Oklahoma and knew one man, now deceased who was a Stevenson. I remarked that I know that the Stevenson line was a very large family clan among Chickasaw Freedmen.  The man whom she knew was Leonard Stevenson who was deceased.  However,  she knew a member of the family who lived nearby.  As our online conversation continued she decided to phone her friend, and to ask a few questions.  The Stevenson family member said that there were a few old photos that she could look at if she wished. 

Well------that is all I needed to know----I urged my friend to please take advantage of the generous offer to look at whatever photo that she had to share.  She promised to do so, when she returned from an upcoming trip.  (Well---patience is important for those of us who pursue family history.)  However, I was able to convince her to take a look at the photos as soon as possible, since her friend was generously offering to allow her to see them.  

Last night---I received a phone call from my Phoenix friend, (Vicky Daviss-Mitchell)  This is the same Vicky who runs Mariah's Zepher blog. She called to let me know that she had sent me some email.  I was anxious to see what she had sent (hoping that a photo was in that email.)  Well----to my delight---a wonderful photograph of 4 handsome men---two of whom were original Dawes Enrollees--Thomas and Houston Stevenson.  The photo was a 3 generation image of this particular Stevenson family, and it was a wonderful image!!

Of course----I had to explore their history.  

This particular Stevenson line lived in Katie, I.T. in Pickens County. The old man in the photo above was Thomas Stevenson. At the time he enrolled, he was a young man 26 years old.

Thomas Stevenson was a young man, with a wife Alice and several children.  The youngest child in the household at that time, was Houston Stevenson, who was an infant of 3 months at the time the family applied for enrollment.

Thomas Stevenson's father was Dud Stevenson who was deceased at that time, but his mother Georgia Ann Stevenson was still living.

I decided to pull the Dawes packet and noticed that like many Chickasaw Freedmen---their interviews had been cut from their packet and replaced with summaries.  This practice was later noticed and addressed when it appeared that some on the Dawes Commission had been purging pertinent data on Freedmen and replacing them with summaries instead of the actual testimony. Such a "summary" was in the file of Thomas Stevenson.

However, the good news is that on this summarized interview---was a reference to the fact that Thomas's mother---Georgia Ann----there was an interview for her on another file---the previous file--Chickasas Freedman Card 422.

I decided to look at the records pertaining to Thomas's mother Georgia Ann Stevenson.

On her enrollment card I learned that she had been born a slave of Chickasaw Indians.By examining the card of his mother Georgia Ann, additional information was learned about the family of Thomas Stevenson, including the names of his siblings: Benjamin, Robin, Levy, Carrie (who married a Butler), Malsy, & Ida.  Thomas's sister Carrie married Charley Butler who was a Choctaw Freedman.

Front side of Enrollment card for Georgia Ann Stevenson, mother of Thomas Stevenson

It was noted that Georgia Ann, was at one time a slave of Chickasaw David Burney.   One the reverse side of  the card, her parents were listed:

Reverse side of enrollment card for Georgia Ann Stevenson, Chickasaw Freedwoman

Her parents were Ceasar and Leah James, both of whom were slaves of Chickasaws. Her father was enslaved by Holmes McLaughlin, and her mother was enslaved by Chickasaw David Burney.

Since Thomas's file mentioned the mother's testimony, I decided to examine her Dawes application packet.
She too had one of the summarized interviews, but a bit more information was provided there.

In her interview, she mentioned that Thomas's wife Alice was a daughter of Viney Stevenson, another former Chickasaw slave. She also provided the names of her own children, including some that had married.  These other children are actually the siblings of Thomas pictured in the photo above.

From the one photo and learning their names, I was able to obtain some interesting information on this branch of the Stevenson line.

Plus photos of two original Dawes enrollees--Thomas and his son Houston, are among the faces seldom seen when Freedmen are spoke of.

Close up of Thomas and son Houston Stevenson,Chickasaw Freedmen

Though the interview was summarized the packet there is a gem in the packet! In addition, to the info from the cards, in the packet of Thomas and Alice Stevenson, was a rare birth affidavit!  Note that Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907.  Thomas was born in 1901. So this is one of those precious birth certificates found in a Dawes application packet, that predated statehood. Not only is the infant child Houston presented on this certificate---but the attending midwife's name was included.  In this case, Georgia Ann, Thomas's mother was the midwife and listed as such.

A quick glance at Carrie's husband's file, from the Choctaw Nation, he was connected the Butlers to the powerful Pitchlynn family in the Choctaw Nation. Charley Butler's father Dove Butler was a slave of Thomas Pitchlynn, as were both of his parents.


The lesson here is two-fold----always tell others what interests you. 

In this case, mentioning Oklahoma as an area of research, and mentioning the Stevenson surname, led to the wonderful photo above, and the interesting history of this branch of a very large clan of Stevensons from Oklahoma to Arizona.  

The second lesson is to exhibit some curiosity about those who come from the area where you family lived.  I am not related to the Stevensons, but knowing that they were such a large family among Chickasaw Freedmen, interests me, and exploring this small piece of their history was a delightful experience

Thank you Vicky Daviss Mitchell for going to look at the  photo and a special thank you to your friend for sharing the image!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Earliest List of Slaves from Indian Territory Found in Rare Letter

Heading of letter written to the Ft. Smith, Arkansas Freedman's Bureau October 1865

Intro to Letter of October 1865, seeking help for loved ones still held in bondage in Indian Territory

In October 1865 a group of black men--once held in bondage in Indian Territory--wrote a series of letters to the Freedman's Bureau asking for help.  Their families were still being held in bondage by Indian slave holders, many months after the war had ended. The letters were sent to the Freedman's Bureau in Ft. Smith Arkansas, and they were seeking assistance in the release of their loved ones from the painful yoke of slavery.

These letters are poignant and sobering.  Any individual who appreciates the spirit of Freedom, will find these letters touching, sobering and a reminder that slavery---no matter where---was a horrific condition to impose upon others.

Following a tip shared by a colleague to look at Freedman's Bureau letters, I sought a reference to a letter from former slaves from Indian Territory.

One letter in particular stood out---it was written by former slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes in Indian Territory.   The men writing the letter spelled out in detail what was happening to their families still not freed--and this was in October of 1865 six months after the war had ended. Following their request for help was a list of names----the names of their particular loved ones.

Few lists of names of people exist that mention slaves by names WHILE they were held in bondage.  What followed the letters indeed was a list of the families of these particular men. This is quite possibly the very first list of names of enslaved people from Indian Territory---prior to their release from bondage.

(It should be mentioned here, that the Treaty of 1866 eventually abolished black chattel slavery in Indian Territory.)  

Therefore, considering that slavery was not yet abolished---this could possibly be the very first list of slaves by name to come from the Territory and considering that slavery had ended in the United States by this time---this letter is even more significant.

One page of the letter states:

"But to our sad disappointment, the war is now apparently ceased and a general peace among the white and red man is agreed upon, and generally adhered to, by those two races, and yet our dear ones are still held and tyrannized ever in a most cruel manner, by their former masters. Since the right of property in our race has been abolished by the US Government the masters have become brutal in their treatment of our color......."

The letters are heartfelt and reflect strong feelings for their loved ones still held in bondage.  Though the signers speak mostly of Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, but one of the names of the signers (Bushyhead) reflects some Cherokee heritage as well.  Several of these men had served in the Union Army, including the Indian Home Guards and the US Colored Troops.

Signers of the letter

The signers were: Buck Bushyhead, Watson Brown, Grundy Thompson, Wilson Thompson, Isaac Kemp, Andrew Chief Watkins, Ben Colbert, Randolph Gardner, Jerry Kemp, Henry Kemp, John Fisher

Remarkably the names of the families were also included in their appeal, and so this small collection of names represents possibly the very first list of names of enslaved families, still held in bondage in 1865.  Though small, this may also possibly be t:he earliest list that could be described as a  small "census" of black families from Indian Territory.

I have decided to share these names here:

Exhibit A
A List of Freedmen from Choctaw&Chickasaw Nations (October 1865)

Family of Buck Bushyhead (US Soldier) Nancy & Lucyann & Josephine & Margaret & Narciss Bushyhead.
Family of Charles Perry (A Discharged Soldier)  Agga & Simon & George & Sanders Perry
Family of Andrew Chief Watkins 3 sons James, Jacob & Charles Watkins.

Family of Watson Brown (Interpreter) Wife Harriet Brown, Child Minny(?) Brown
Family of Daniel Loman, (Farmer) Wife Sophia, 1 child Robert Loman. Also sister and four children:
 Sister's name Nancy Harrison children's names: Isaiah & Sary & Lisa & Buck
Family of Ben Colbert  Has mother and two brothers.  Mother's name Rachel Colbert. Bros names July & Mobeal Colbert. One sister Nancy Colbert.

Family of Grundy Thompson (Blacksmith)  Wife Rachael Thompson
Family of Hanson Thompson (Blacksmith) Five Children Mahaly, Henry, Angeline, James and Rachel.
Family of Willson Thompson (Farmer) Wife Elizabeth, one child (Infant) Mother Jane Thompson and two brothers William and Pompey Thompson

Family of Randolph Gardner (Boarding House Keeper)  Mother, 3 nieces 1 nephew. Mother's name Tennessee Gardner, Nieces names Laury, Missa & Jane Gardner. Nephew's name John Gardner
Family of Isaac Kemp Wife and one child. Wife's Name Susan Child's name Elizabeth. Also Mother Frances Kemp and her children 4 in number: Frances, Mary, Charles & Elijah
Family of Jerry Kemp, (Blacksmith)  Wife and 4 children. Wife's name Frances Kemp.  Children's names: Francis, Mary, Charles and Elijah

Family of Henry Kemp Wife and 3 children.  Wife's name Caledonia. Children's names Leroy & Leander & Infant.
Family of William Fisher  Wife Ellen and child names Alexander. One sister named Emily Fisher. Two nieces named Isabella & Prly(?) Fisher. Also Father and Mother names John & Nancy Kemp and their children Moses, Dickson Betty Adeline,  (?) and Francis Kemp. And a sister and her child Frances Kemp, and her children Mariah and Iverson and Ben (?) and Thomas and Johnny Kemp and infant.

It is not known when these families eventually got to breathe their first breath of freedom, but many of these persons remained in Indian Territory---which was their home, and 30 years later, many of them and their children were later enrolled by the Dawes Commission and received land allotments.

Buried in the hundreds of letters sent to the Freedman's Bureau was this wonderful piece of  history from Indian Territory and I was blessed with the opportunity to find their names and to share them here.