In trying to assemble a history of an organization from fragments, I’m grappling with slippage, the way that things unsaid haunt every space, how the unsaid is supposed to be gracious, but hides a different cruelty. It’s working with systems that require violence for its completion, a continuation of the machine of settler logics that seek to justify supremacy, enslavement, murder, and rape. Such details are often folded away until a familial connection is revealed.
Often the locations where such decisions are made are often comfortable offices or elaborate desert base locations for remote murder and assaults. It is an awareness that hovers over the question of what a Nation is. And societies aim to define and redefine the boundaries. Such colonizing systems also precede the formation of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) at the cusp of the twentieth century, with its familial connections to the Trail of Tears, multiple plantations and governance.
Knowing my Taino ancestry and the creole blends of various ancestors offers a grounding space when faced with the history of organizations. I’m of Native American descent, honor that and study the various diasporas that structure my family tree. I also descend from the enslaved (Juan Josef Carrillo b. Guinea, 1736-1811) and the enslaver (Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez 1749-1828) within a larger context of colonization, as my family is from Boriken (Puerto Rico). Gaining this knowledge took time, research and service.
The awareness of one’s history contrasts with the history of organizations, particularly those involved with issues such as eugenics, segregation and pushing the Lost Cause (an interpretation of the Civil War from the Confederate perspective). This is part of the National Genealogical Society’s early history. On the other side is the history of Federal employment, and the impact of segregationist policies in Washington DC and how James Dent Walker navigated this at NARA (National Archives and Records Association). Ultimately his knowledge and skills helped to broaden the institutional spaces for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to do their own genealogical research.
I have talked to several Black genealogists about the other part of genealogical research– the emotional labor of dealing with findings, of telling the stories of ancestors who passed through to emancipation. Of their encounters with people who made life difficult by blocking access to resources, often in a multiplicity of forms that reinforced segregation and at its essence denied a full humanity. This is the larger context of doing this work. This too is part of the genealogical journey. Change can feel glacial in its progress.
The Vote of 1960: Looking Back to Move Forward
Here I grapple with the silences and statements made by three white women who took it upon themselves in 1960 to mail over 700 members of the National Genealogical Society and encourage them to protest the changes to the language used to define membership. This happened sixty-two years ago, and it is worth a look back.
During the 1960s the clamor for change, like now, was loudly expressed in civic gatherings across the nation. In some locations, anger ripped across cities in the form of buildings lit aflame, people marched. The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 to work against racial segregation and discrimination across the south and grew into multiple forms. In the south of 1960, many people in power were believers in the Lost Cause and used force to keep people down. And when the Freedom Riders groups arrived in different locations across the South, the use of violence against them by locals and police exploded.
But back to this vote.
This NGS committee, Virginia D. Crim, Bessie P Pryor and Katie-Prince Esker, made the old membership policy explicit:
“the Referendum referred to was held on November  1960. The membership voted on the following:
SHOULD THE NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY SET ASIDE ITS GENERALLY RECOGNIZED PRACTICE, WHICH HAS BEEN IN FORCE SINCE ITS ORGANIZATION IN 1903, AND ADMIT MEMBERS OF THE NEGRO RACE.” 
Initially, the National Genealogical Society voted not to open their doors to Black genealogists, a policy held for over 50 years. The then new president, William H. Dumont realized this couldn’t last, and the language that defined who could be a member was changed after James Dent Walker, a NARA civil servant and genealogist applied for membership in 1960. He wasn’t specifically named in newspaper coverage, although the Washington Post’s description leaves no doubt it was Walker.  Walker himself never discussed the challenge he set by applying for membership to NGS. He continued to forge an incredible path forward.
Ultimately, Walker became part of NGS’ board, and a nationally recognized genealogist, researcher, lecturer and archivist in his own right, known for his work in African American genealogy. A little over a decade later, he founded the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Today the African American Historical and Genealogical Society), AAHGS.org that has chapters across the country.  This institution proved a necessary space for Black genealogical practice over the decades.
The Press & The Committee
The Washington Post’s article, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” of 4 November 1960 asked “Is a Negro to join the searchers for the Nation’s family trees? The National Genealogical Society is in a tizzy…about 50 members who felt “controversy threatened to engulf the NGS” proposed a racial restriction clause in their constitution.” Those opposed to admission said “Negroes…have nothing in common with us, genealogically speaking.” Those who favored change in policy “point out the Society is national, educational and scientific; that it is not to be confused with patriotic organizations; that in the pursuit of science there is no room for discrimination…” 
Looking beyond the fight over NGS membership, this was a time when nationally, thousands took part in multiple Civil Rights actions in former slave and free states pushing for change. The stakes were high, and some died while others were seriously injured in these actions that insisted on equality. Don’t forget that Black women finally got the right to vote five years later, in 1965.
While these NGS committee members didn’t go out and physically attack BIPOC [Black, Indigenous People Of Color], what actions did they take to maintain white supremacy beyond this administrative act, beyond the organization? Almost always, the families of those who owned forced labor camps from the founding to the third quarter of the nineteenth century are automatically absolved by the focus on the inhabitants of the big house, their genealogy. This telling of local histories goes together with gatekeeping and acts of genealogical segregation of the last century. How far did this committee take their views?
Virginia Crim was also a member of the DAR, where she served as a vice regent for the Columbia Chapter in 1956. She was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, established in 1894, and served as a chapter delegate at their convention, held 9 November 1960.
The UDC, a Neoconfederate organization, pursued fundraising for monuments, lobbied legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, denied the violence of slavery, and shaped the content of history textbooks. They insisted on a Lost Cause framework that buttressed Jim Crow laws. They were supportive of the KKK.  This contributed to the structural racism that constricted the opportunities and lives of many BIPOC. This too is a legacy of harm linked to NGS’ history in the twentieth century.
Why this history matters
How much does this history matter? In Richmond, Virginia, at 1:30AM on May 30, 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd and police violence, the anger of some protesters focused on the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, set the UDC facade on fire, and covered confederate monuments in graffiti. The process of removing these monuments across the South accelerated after the protests that erupted in so many locations in the wake of Floyd’s murder.
It shows that representation matters, that there was so much more than what those statues and laws attempted to assert. The implications of this event was global. The times had indeed changed, the demand for systemic change is beginning to be heard. It’s also here, with us, with the DEI Committee, to bring such connections forward, to heal. I have stepped down in order to finish my projects. In the meantime, i’ve joined AAHGS.
And this sea of data generated by institutional conditions washes upon us as we write our microhistories, family histories, genealogies and record the voices of those with ties to these events. Masinato (Peace)
 Virginia Crim, Bessie P. Pryor, Katie-Prince Esker, Committee Circular, November 30, 1961 [30 November 1960], NGS Archives. Thanks to Janet Bailey, NGS Board Member for locating this document and additional resources for research.
 Rasa Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” Washington Post, November 4, 1960.
 Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue.”
 Ned Oliver & Sarah Vogelsong, “Confederate memorial hall burned as second night of outrage erupts in Richmond, Virginia.” Virginia Mercury, 31 May 2020.
 Balthazar J Beckett, Salima K Hankins, “Until We Are First Recognized As Human: The Killing of George Floyd and the Case for Black Life at the United Nations.” International Journal of Human Rights Education, Vol 5:1. https://repository.usfca.edu/ijhre/vol5/iss1/4/
Oh, America. The labor, sweat and blood that went into the infrastructure of this country, into its buildings and roads is a history, that for 400 years was presented as someone else’s. All of this effort, excellence, and memory can’t be crammed into the shortest month of the year– nor can it be recounted on one day.
Regardless, we need to honor those that came before us, and one way I can think of is to find those ancestors embedded in the shadows of a suppressed history. It takes time and work to find the details , but it’s so worth it.
As I write this on Juneteenth, I see it as a very different day this year because so many decided to stand over the last month, right after the lynching of George Floyd. His death was a catalyst, a wake up call for the complacency with an investment in death. On Black ProGen, we have talked about the crushing effects of structural racism on BIPOC families, which in turns shapes the documentation that we can access to research the lives of our ancestors.
I was honored to speak the names of Leoncia Lasalle, Dionicia Rodriguez Lasalle, Juan Tomas Gandulla and Tomas Gandulla yesterday on the Juneteenth Celebration held by Black ProGen Live with host Nicka Smith, True A. Lewis, Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell and James Morgan III, all bringing knowledge to a lively discussion on different dimensions of what gets folded into Juneteenth, the effort, the freedom and the struggle. It makes one pause how much sitting on knowledge played into this all, how much hiding of violence, how much denial, how much disregard was surmounted in pressing for equality.
Come with me as I go through various documents in search of information on ancestors of Mr. Orlando Williams– his paternal Great-Great Grandparents. Several details led to new information and complications while looking for ancestral paths across several states: South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
I began this part of my search for more information on Anderson Williams with the 1880 census. Williams was born about 1830 in South Carolina; however his wife, Nellie (Nelly) Jones Williams was in the household for a Caleb Williams, a white farmer with several workers housed at his home. Nellie Williams worked as a domestic servant in the household, just doors away from the home of her husband, Anderson Williams, who worked as a servant for Herbert Lee, his wife and sister in law Clorsey Williams, a black family.
Just a decade earlier in 1870, they lived in the same household with their recently born daughter, Henrietta Williams. By 1880, Henrietta is not at home, and whether she was still alive, living with kin or succumbed to childhood illness is unknown at present. The earliest records for him so far are the 1866 Colored Census, his 1867 voting record and the couple’s 1869 marriage record, both for Marengo County, Alabama.
Caleb Williams (b.1850): Who dat?
To find more on Caleb Williams I searched trees on ancestry.com and learned he was the son of Ashley and Elizabeth Williams; Ashley Williams was a planter born in Darlington, South Carolina. In the hopes of finding more about Anderson and Nellie Williams before 1866- when the first independent documentation of their lives as free people began, searching this family line made sense.
What one notes is the rapidity with which most of the information on the slave owner’s tree could be put together, unlike the families I’m researching. Instead, Anderson & Nelly William’s kin and community may be embedded in legal documents such as wills, inventories and writs of partition, and perhaps, newspaper advertisements, or other extant documents in courthouses or special collections.
There is no one path or one collection of documents that will answer all the questions, even the most basic. This is a process of constant cross referencing, and of developing a system to handle the archival items, be able to reference those resources. A spreadsheet becomes a key organizational tool, (especially if you use it).
Since this Caleb was too young to run his own farm in 1865, I began looking for his father’s estate papers in the Call County Courthouse in Marengo County, Alabama- these records were microfilmed on FamilySearch.org. I went through them, looking for Ashley Williams’ probate papers and inventories, however, these documents were elusive.
There were lots of delays in the process because of the Civil War- Ashley Williams served in the Confederacy and died in 1865. Whether he took one of the enslaved men as a servant in the field is unknown at this time. His wife, Elizabeth Davis Williams continued to shepherd the probate through the courts for years after the war, but the inventories that would list the people he enslaved seemed elusive with each postponement of the case .
At last, in Volume K, I found this entry dated 7 Nov 1867: on p 701, it reads: “This day RH Clarke Admin. filed inventory ordered same be reconsidered same be recorded” … But… the additional paperwork for this wasn’t present, and Emancipation was a couple of years earlier. Now what?
Strategies to go back to a different place & time
My next tactic, if those prior papers were no longer extant, was to go back a generation. Basically, find who Ashley Williams’ parents were, and then look for any probate papers for them. One possibility was that Anderson and Nellie may have been part of an estate subdivision by an inheritance from his father. Maybe they’d be mentioned somewhere in them.
This meant the search moved north from Demopolis, Jefferson, Marengo County, Alabama to the place where Ashley Williams was born, Darlington South Carolina. Both Anderson and Nellie Williams’s census records record SC (and later, incorrectly as NC) as their original place of birth, so fingers crossed.
So, I began to search for previous inventories and appraisals for enslaved people held by William Williams (1754 – 22 Mar 1829) & Selah Fort (b. 1761) of Darlington South Carolina in anticipation that some subdivision of his estate occurred after his death and that those documents are extant. This may help solve the origin of relatives who are descendants of the enslaved that were forcibly marched or transported from South Carolina to Alabama in the early nineteenth century. As the family lines for the descendants of the enslaved also extend to Jackson County, Florida, the hope is that more clusters of relatives can be connected.
Subdividing the Estate, Subdividing Families & Kin
Among the beneficiaries of the Williams estate would be his wife and children. William Williams & Selah Fort’s son Ashley C Williams (1816-1865) was their third and last child born in Darlington, SC. After 1848, Ashley Williams moved south to Marengo County, AL after the birth of his first child, Amanda Jane. In 1853 he was named Justice of the Peace for Marengo County, Alabama. He died in 1865 while serving in the Confederate troops, leaving his wife Elizabeth and 6 young children.
Another of William & Selah’s children, Catherine Harriett Williams (1787-1821) died in Montgomery AL on 21 July 1821. Their son, David Williams (1784-1850) died in Darlington on 30 Oct 1850.
By building out a basic tree for the enslavers, I could then follow the marriages to see how enslaved families were subdivided, and follow their path southwards. But it doesn’t happen on its own, just because of family ties. There are larger forces at work that enable the situation.
Underpinning this activity is national expansion and Native dispossession, as during the first decades of 1800s, the US government instituted a policy of forcible removal of Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and their enslaved people out of the Alabama, Georgia and Florida territories, known as the Trail of Tears. Parcels were drawn up, the land subdivided and sold off. Like many families from the Middle Atlantic states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, members of the Williams family were early investors in the expansion of cotton plantations in the deep South, and arrived in Alabama in the early 1820s.
Darlington, South Carolina
I called the Call County Courthouse in Marengo, and they were surprised to learn of the films on FamilySearch. They mentioned a volume of inventories existed. From other Black ProGen members, I learned these films were not necessarily comprehensive. The clerk at the courthouse suggested I contact the Darlington County Historical & Genealogical Commission, as they had some of the older court papers there. This was a game changer.
There was indeed a packet of estate papers for William Williams, who died intestate. Ms. Anne Chapman, the Assistant Director searched and located the documents. What was interesting was the early subdivision of human and material property by Davis in-laws in the Equity Packets dated 1849. There are some 60 pages in two packets. About 4 pages includes the names of men, women and children apportioned to family members.
What I learned from one document was that the Andrew Davis of these pages with the recently widowed Martha Davis, were the parents of at least three Davis sisters– Elizabeth Davis Williams, wife of Ashley Williams being one of them. This family was not one researched broadly nor in any Ancestry trees, with Elizabeth’s 1829 birth date added without any parents listed. Also, a quick search reveals nothing about the family in local histories, making tracing them a bit more difficult. Just one probate document made these family relationships clear, showing just how important court documents can be for reconstructing family ties.
Enslavement as a Familial Affair: Understanding patterns of subdivision and generational trauma
One page I transcribed listed several people, and included was a Writ of Partition dated 13 July 1860 that names Elizabeth Davis Williams’ two sisters, Martha Davis Dalrymple and Susana Davis. There was also a separate page for “An Inventory and Appraisement of the Goods & Chattel” belonging to the Estate of Andrew Davis, dated 4 Nov 1845.
These documents show that slavery was very much a family affair, a familial process along which one family gains income from the lives of people deemed other. The valuation of the enslaved is coolly noted, and provides a trail to follow for where they wound up next.
Although you can read this document, it will not tell you of the emotional weight and profound stress of an impending split brought on by a Writ of Partition that subdivides family into Lots. There’s a contrast between the economic abstraction and what Daina Ramey Berry called ‘soul value’ that enslaved people held onto despite the dehumanizing conditions. For the sales, Walter Johnson’s Soul by Soul: Life in the Antebellum Slave Market offers a glimpse into the process of selling the enslaved at auctions.
These two Davis inventories were recorded over several years– the first taken in November 1845, the second in January 1860- fifteen years apart. It provides some key information- ages that will help in searching for them. While Anderson and Nelly do not appear here, there are the names of people who lived with Elizabeth Davis’ mother and sister. It will take time, and I’ll continue posting transcriptions as I wend my way through the documentation.
These weren’t the only persons involved. On p.42 of the Will Book vol 8-10 on Ancestry’s South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980 [database on-line] , for Andrew Davis’s estate in 1848, an order for the sale of Ned, household property, animals and crop was set for that December. Ned appears first on the list for the Writ of Partition of 1845, and next the offer of sale. What happened to Ned after December 1848?
I’m still in the process of piecing together the remainder of documents that overlap, some from the Darlington County Historical and Genealogical Commission, others from the Will Books on FamilySearch and Ancestry. While I didn’t find Anderson or Nellie Williams, what was gained is a better sense of the community of people split asunder by what we can read today as another family’s sense of white privilege, economic gain and a fundamental blindness to equality.
As part of Black ProGen Live’s project, Ep. 83b Stories from the National Institute for Peace and Justice, I’m researching the family history of Claude Neal (1911-1934), who died barbarically at the hands of a white lynch mob in Marianna, Florida in October 1934. Retaliation did not end there, as the event was also an excuse to burn down the homes in the black section of town. The goal here is not to revisit how Mr. Neal left this earth, but to help find his ancestors and extend the path back in time.
There are studies of the events that surrounded his torture and murder, but what I am trying to do here is to place his family against this larger, deeper history of Jackson County to make clear the outlines of the weight of living the transition from enslavement to a relative freedom. It was their labor that made places like the grand estates of Marianna and its wealth possible. My condolences to the family, as they have had to bear so much, without seeing justice, as theFBI closed the case in 2013, thanks to decade long silences among the perpetrators and their descendants.
If you do not know who Claude Neal was, Professor Carol Anderson of Emory University provides an overview of that tragedy, called ‘the last spectacle lynching’ in America.
This blog post is focused on building a context and tracing the lines further back. Part of this work benefitted from the work of descendants with family trees on Ancestry.com, such as Orlando Williams and others, whose efforts to illuminate what happened to his uncle continues. To them I give thanks.
A backdrop for racial terror
Understanding the context of Claude Neal’s family history is to engage the history of post-Civil War Jackson County in the Florida Panhandle, so one can also honor the resilience necessary to pass through these experiences. Florida, as recent research clearly shows, ranks fifth among the states with the highest rate and largest number of terror lynchings. Part of healing from these crimes is to call their names across time and space.
And this too is the history of the state I presently call home. By the time of Claude Neal’s murder, 1934, Jim Crow laws, eugenic ideals, an unacknowledged history of enslavement, intensive cotton cultivation with extractive sharecropping arrangements, shaped the state’s legal contours, honed further still by blind followers of the ‘Lost Cause’. In 1834 Andrew Jackson authorized the displacement of the Five Slaveholding Tribes, with the Seminole concentrated in the region. Despite the evacuation of many Native people, not everyone went to Oklahoma, and some managed to remain in the area. Within the decade, white planters moved thousands into the Florida panhandle and into the peninsula.
T. Thomas Fortune’s autobiographical newspaper series, “After War Times: A Boy’s Life in Reconstruction Days” published in the Philadelphia Tribune in 1927 speaks of his childhood in Marianna. The complexity of the family history he relates defies the binary categories of black and white, and points to deeper tri-racial ancestries that also resulted within Marianna, shoehorned and hidden under the designations of ‘W’ or ‘B’ or ‘M’:
Fortune’s female ancestor, Sarah Jane was sold south from Virginia, and “Emanuel, who begat us, was never a father but always a friend and companion. He was an extraordinary man, and played a conspicuous part in the Reconstruction politics of Florida. He served as a member of the Constitutional Convention and the first four sessions of the legislature. He was born of an Indian mother and an Irish father. His mother was the wife of Osceola, who was stolen from Micanopy and taken to West Florida by Thomas Fortune… after his mysterious death she was taken as a wife by John Pope, who was also of mixed Seminole blood…. The family picture I have drawn is a familiar one produced out of the loose morality of the system of slavery. In my family there was the African, the Indian and the Jewish women and the Irish and half breed Indian men, with the Jewish father guilty of selling his daughter by a black woman into slavery in the same village where he was a judge… 
“The people responsible for the cross of the black, white and red races in this country are in very interesting and questionable business when they draw the color line on the sisters and brothers whom their fathers and brothers mulattoized…” – T. Thomas Fortune, “After War Times”, 1927
Post-Reconstruction violence: a resistance to change
“Satan has his seat; he reigns in Jackson County.”
— Senator Rev. Charles H. Pearce, Founder of the AME church in Florida, testifying on the KKK in Florida 
The events of the Jackson County War (1869-1871) is a history untold until the 1960s, nearly a century after the events of the late 1860s. From early 1869 to the end of 1871, some one hundred to an estimated two hundred persons were killed, making Jackson County, Florida’s most violent county under Reconstruction. What was at stake was power, and the 1867 Florida Constitution aimed to repress African Americans with the Black Codes built into the document, which Congress rejected. They declared Florida had no government until they adopted the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to conform to the Constitution.
Jackson County was the second most populated county in the state, with some ten thousand inhabitants from 1851 to 1868. As the average rate of murder was two yearly, the sudden fifty-fold rise over three years meant much organizing work was needed to stem the violence.  The KKK rode hard in Florida in an attempt to maintain the old social order through racial terror after the Civil War. Even after Reconstruction, those who rallied behind the Myth of the Lost Cause were willing to do anything, including annihilating people in politics and in the field, destroying their homes and businesses in order for the defenders of the ‘Old South’ to maintain power.
In the early twentieth century, historians that retold the history of the Jackson County War diminished the focus on African American struggles by inventing details and dramatizing events that practically absolved the white conservatives who perpetrated the atmosphere of violence that permeated Reconstruction Florida. One study written from this perspective remained the authoritative text on this period for over fifty years.
By 1960s, historians finally delved into resources like the Freedmen’s Bureau Florida records, and by the 1970s a clearer picture of violence and mayhem “arising from organized white resistance determined to drive out black and white Republican leadership” finally came into view.  By the early 2000s, the role of the Klan, violence, intimidation and resistance were on the table. Curiously, a number of the books that focus on this history are not available within the Hillsborough County Library system today, but because of Henry Louis Gates’ recent documentary Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, a number of related titles are available. The Florida Freedmen’s Bureau records however, are in need of a transcription project as some 26 reels of microfilm hold the details for many families across the state before the bureau’s bank failed in 1873.
There’s a tight relationship between this past and its connections to the present- I want to bring attention to the issue of social control via voter suppression and the older history of disenfranchisement post Reconstruction. The Sentencing Project’s 2010 report noted that, “more people were disenfranchised in Florida than in any other state. All of the six states with the most disenfranchised felons are southern states with large black populations. There is a distinct relationship between race and voter disenfranchisement.” On 1 September 2016, The Miami Herald’s headline pointed to this longer history: “Florida has a History of Making it Harder for Black Citizens to Vote.”The poll tax has returned in another guise, and it’s pertinent that historically, Florida was the first state to adopt a $2 poll tax for voting in 1885 (legal until 1937) and by 1940, only 6% of blacks in Florida were registered to vote.. 
A Panhandle County
Jackson County lies near the borders of Alabama and Georgia on the panhandle, and its economy was based on short staple cotton, grown to the exclusion of other crops, worked by gangs of enslaved laborers. Before the Civil War, slaveowners comprised 38% of Jackson County households, and 16% held as many as ten enslaved people.
Non-slaveholding farmers arrived from South Carolina and Georgia and worked small pieces of land barely adequate for sustenance. Prosperous planters owned stately homes that lined the main street of Marianna and nearby Greenwood. Yet, transportation was the main disadvantage, as the county’s location on the Chipola River was unnavigable for the huge volume of cotton to transport, compounded by the lack of a railroad, which terminated a county away. This remoteness added to the difficulty of attempts by those in bondage to emancipate themselves.
Effects of the Recent War, 1863-1865
During the Civil war, many local white men served in the Confederacy, and late in the war, Jackson County was a breadbasket for the south, the Confederacy ruthlessly requisitioning livestock and crops for the war. By 1863 a military hospital opened and the following year, a Confederate military post with training grounds, storehouses and stables was established at Marianna. A blockade by the Union Navy prevented the transport of valuable cotton to European markets; Confederate troops from the area went to armies fighting in Virginia, leaving citizens at the mercy of deserters and guerrillas who preyed on the countryside. By the fall, war arrived as a column of 700 Union soldiers left Pensacola to march across the Panhandle. 
Union troops fought local men (old men and young boys) with fragments of Confederate units at Marianna, overwhelming them and suffering unexpected casualties. Before retreating to Pensacola, Union troops laid waste to the town, looting stores and setting fires, carrying off commissary and quartermaster stores and cattle. Locals blamed acts of violence on the USCT: “[u]nsubstantiated rumors spread of black soldiers from US Colored Troops units committing atrocities on Confederates found in the churchyard.” The raid also liberated some four hundred enslaved African Americans who accompanied the Union troops on their march west. Ninety-six prisoners that included 47 men and boys from Jackson County were sent north, most winding up in an infamous prison camp in Elmira, New York. 
With the announcement of the end of the war in April 1864, the Confederate supporting governor, John Milton, shot himself in the head on his Jackson County estate, and in May, came the formal surrender of all Confederate forces in Florida and the emancipation of the enslaved. Union troops were in the South, such as the fifty soldiers of the 161st NY Volunteers that occupied Marianna in July 1865. The captain of the New Yorkers, John F Little, found favor with residents of Marianna; they also established the first school for African American children in Jackson county. The Jackson County slaves that joined the Union army were in the Eighty-Second and Eighty-Sixth US Colored Troops regimen. Some departed with the withdrawing column. So far, I haven’t found a connection to the extended Neal families, however descendants may want to explore this further.
This commitment to the pursuit of rights continued after the war, with the establishment of the AME Church during the Reconstruction period, beginning in 1866. This consisted of multiple meetings to set up a constellation of parishes across the Florida panhandle. Churches were the engine of development for Black Floridians, making it possible to channel educational, political and spiritual opportunity in a community.  All of these factors- political, social and spiritual- shaped the lives of the Neals, Dickson, White and Pittman families.
Into this landscape, Claude Neal’s grandparents and great grandparents were brought as enslaved labor by planter families from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. As the war ended and with Reconstruction, we can see through documents how the older men gained suffrage and registered their marriages. The end of the war, and the arrival of troops that enforced Reconstruction brought a moment of possibility for the Neals and their collateral lines in Marianna, Florida.
Ancestors: Towards a History of the Neal Family
Paternal Ancestor: York Neal
Just weeks or months after the passage of the Reconstruction act of 23 March 1867, all male citizens age 21 or older. They had to swear a loyalty oath, “stating that he had never supported or participated in a rebellion against the United States government, that he had never committed a felony offense, that he had never served as an elected or appointed official of the United States and supported or participated in a rebellion against the United States government, and that he would remain loyal to the government of the United States (Ala. Code,  83-84)” Just as with the history of the Varner family in Wilcox, Alabama, after Reconstruction, newly free men went to register to vote to assert their belonging as citizens, a situation also made possible by the presence of Federal troops. .
York Neal, Claude Neal’s paternal grandfather, was born in 1830 in Alabama, as were some of other family members. In 1867 Neal registered to vote in Sumter, Alabama’s Election District 21, and part of his oath included a twelve month residency window; he was about 37 years old, This may be a clue to where he was before emancipation.  His voter registration is the earliest document for him as a free man.
The 1880 census offers more details for the life of York Neal. Precisely when he gets to Florida isn’t clear, but the census is a start. By the time he was 40 years of age, he was living in Jackson County, Florida by 1870; by 1880, now 50, he worked as a laborer in Bascom, Jackson County, and was a widower. Among the alternative spellings of his surname in records are Neal, Neel or Neele.
On 25 October 1880, Penny Bowls Dickson married York Neal in Jackson, Florida.  At 25 she was half his age, and boarded in Neal’s home along with her three young children, Lizzie 8, Ned 6 and Mattie Bowls, age 2. She worked as a servant. Earlier that year, on 15 June 1880, Jeff Neal was the first child born to York Neal and Penny Bowls and they married four months later. [ 14] Jeff Neal was Claude Neal’s father. Households combined and recombined in effort to maintain stability, with relationships extending beyond simple categories of a nuclear family.
Maternal Ancestor: Washington Dickson (bca.1815/17- aft 1885)
York Neal’s wife, Penny Bowls Dickson was the daughter of Willis Dickson (b. 1829, NC) and Caroline Barnes Dickson (b.1833); she was the first of seven children born to the couple between 1850 and 1864.
Willis and Caroline married 19 Aug 1866 in Jackson, Florida.  Willis Dickson was one of three known children of Washington Dickson (bca. 1815 North Carolina) and two unknown wives: Willis b. 1829, Jennie Dickson (b. Dec 1834) in North Carolina. Jennie Dickson married Anthony Barnes in 1856. Barnes (b.Sep 1834) was also from North Carolina, and their three daughters lived in Marianna County, Florida.  Charity Dickson b. 1873, was a late baby for Washington and his second partner. She married Jonas White (b. 1868) on 26 Oct 1892 in Jackson County, and the couple had a daughter, Emma.  I’ll return to Jonas White’s father in 1870, after discussing Washington Dickson’s time in bondage.
Before the Civil War: The Estate of James M. Long, 1858
Washington Dickson’s long life spanned pre Civil War to post-Reconstruction in Marianna; the last document he appears on is the 1885 Florida State Census. He is the individual mentioned in the estate division of planter James Madison Long of 2 January 1858. . No other Washington came up in search results and the additional 55 names included in the estate have other potential family members listed.
The slaveowners were members of the James M. Long family, who moved their business from Alabama to Washington County (also in Florida) and then to the outskirts of Marianna in Jackson County, Florida. Long, born in 1810, died in 1857 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Marianna. [ Briefly, Long was married twice (M1 Elizabeth Ann Russ of NC & M2 Harriet Rebecca Long) and had six children with Russ, who are named in the will. In between the lines of the will are judgements about values and subdivision of humans that denies familial ties and focuses instead on fractions of a dollar. For example, Matilda was valued at 950.50; the notation ‘Pays Oliver’ appears for three siblings, who paid their brother Oliver Long $100 on a share of a person, along with other amounts, $62.50, $37.50. Down to the half dollar.
The probate index for the Jackson County Courthouse on FamilySearch lists several entries for various family members involved in the subdivision of the property, human and material. The work of cotton production depended on a brutal enforced labor system, and Jackson County was among “the heaviest concentrations of plantations, slave populations and cotton production centered in Jackson, Gadsden, Leon and Jefferson and Madison counties” in the Panhandle.  This development of Florida’s own Black Belt for cotton cultivation began intensifying almost two decades earlier, in the 1840s. Long and his family was already in the area by 1850, as shown by the US Federal Census.
Apparently, Long did not die insolvent, as everyone they owned apparently were subdivided among the children rather than sold at market. Still, what this future meant for the persons in the document after January 1858 is unclear without additional details— at the moment the age of the Long children, from ages 20-9, and their locations in the census, show that they remained in Marianna, and while an overseer continued to manage the plantation in Jackson County.
Subdividing people in Marianna, January 1858
A summary of the petition appears in the Race and Slavery Petitions Project, transcribed in 1996 from documents in the Jackson County Courthouse, Marianna, Florida, Book D Record of Estates.  The abstract reads:
John P. Lockey, guardian of the children of James M. Long, deceased, asks the court to appoint commissioners to divide the slaves of the estate equally among the heirs. The plaintiff states that the deceased, during his lifetime, deeded his slaves and land to his children, reserving “the right of possession & enjoyment” but desired upon his death to have his estate “equally divided between his children share & share alike.”
I’ve transcribed the estate subdivision in full below:
To the Honorable Robert S Dickson Judge of Probate of Jackson County
The undersigned commissioner appointed to divide certain slaves between the children of James M Long by leave to expert That they appraised said slaves & having ascertained what each child was entitled, they placed them in lots which were Drawn with the following result
Lot one by Edwin Long, the following slaves viz Sara 600.00, William 800.00, Walter 675.00, London 625.00, Letitia 375, Daniel 325.00 [F72] Emily 200.00, Matilda 950.50 & pays Oliver 139.50
Lot two by Oscar Long the following slaves viz Letty 225.00, Louisa 850.00, Ben 700.00, Amanda 325.00 Susan & child Peter 950.00, Annette 325.00, Prince 200.00, Oscar 1000.00, Pays Oliver 100.00 & Laura 62.50
Lot three by Mary Long the following slaves viz Polly 350.00, Lewis 475.00, Mahala 300.00, Walker 225.00, Eliza & child Patsey 1100.00, Solomon 400.00 Josephine 250.00, Sally & child Palmyra 1050.00, Pays Oliver 100.00 & John 37.50
Lot four by John Long the following slaves viz Robin 500.00, Binkey 375.00, Charlotte 950.00, George 700.00, Harriet 375.00, Madison 500.00, Isaac 550.00, Rinah 200.00, Receives of Mary 37.50
Lot five by Laura Long the following slaves viz Argent & child June 1000.00, Vandy 225.00, Warren 500.00, Redding 1000.00, Levi 675.00 & Julia 950.00, and Receives of Oscar 62.50
Lot Six by Oliver Long the following slaves viz Washington 350.00, Mary Ann & child Beckey 850.00, William 900.00, Amy 550.00, Frank 375.00, Charity 300.00, Rose 250.00, Levi 675.00, Receives of Edwin 137.50, of Oscar 100.00 and of Mary 100.00
Respectfully submitted Jan’y 2/58
Jos B Roulhac
Florida Probate Records, 1784-1990 Jackson County Florida, Estates 1857-1860.
The total value of human beings was $26,025. The total comparative value of 26,025 has a relative value today of $819,000.00. In terms of a relative wage or income, an equivalent in unskilled wage is 5.840,000 or in terms of Production Worker Compensation, the number jumps to $11,100,000.00.  This one number for this group of people should give pause when considering the transformation of blood and sweat into the wealth of planters; it is the fulcrum of inequality in this country.
The three men who provided the values in 1858 listed above, later appear as agents of the Confederate Army. Isaac Widgeon served as the commissary Agent for the District of Florida, with Joseph Roulhac and John J White as sub-agents working for Widgeon.  At least one of the Long sons served in the Confederate Army.
Long’s second wife, Harriet R. Long eventually left Marianna and moved to Atlanta; her ancestry was registered with the DAR. Researching the group of people they sold to each other however, is not revealed so easily. From 1858 to the 1870s, we see the Dicksons, Pittmans, Whites and Barnes live in proximity as they go from numeric counts under enslavement in 1860 to named farmers and farm laborers in 1870 and after. Yet their value tied to their labor sits like a rock in my craw. One son, John Long, for instance, holds some $6,000 in Personal Estate, while the head of household has over $16K listed. To what can we ascribe the increase in value from $4150 to $6000? Compare this to Jonas White, who had a mere $50 in Personal Estate in 1870; we can’t find him before that because he himself was property.
A cursory look at the census shows that two years after the estate division in 1860, each of the Long siblings are living in different households, apart from their stepmother. Precisely how the arrangements impacted the families involved is unclear; Washington Dickson for example, who was in the lot assigned to Oliver Long, did not live in close proximity to the family by 1870. More questions remain.
The AME Church: a different space of possibility
The years after the war saw the expansion of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Florida Panhandle, with the establishment of the Marianna Station giving a foothold in the new political environment. This was a move towards self determination, as the church became a guiding force for civil rights and political activity in the state. Unlike the Methodist Church, the AME church offered opportunities unbridled by white control, along with the opportunity for education and literacy.
This excerpt from Jerold Shofner’s Jackson County Florida — A History offers a view of what the African Americans had to contend with to practice religion in nearby Greenwood. The church was itself a staging ground for various punishments. This was no space of refuge for Black people:
“The records of the Union Academy Church, which became Greenwood Baptist in 1855, have frequent references to its black membership, including punishments meted out for misbehavior on the plantation. Blacks were admitted to membership as soon as the church was organized in 1845. Winnie, belonging to Richard Long was the first slave to join the church. During the next nine years, however, at least 22 other blacks became members. Typical of them were Mary, the servant of Elijah Bryan, Charles, the servant of Nicholas Long, Austin, servant of Martha Pittman, and Sarah, the servant of Ethelred Philips, all of whom were “received by experience.” Apparently the blacks simply joined the whites in their Sunday worship until July, 1854. Then, M.T. Embry, “with as many white males as present, was authorized to hold conferences regularly for the benefit of the black members.” The blacks had church on the third Sunday of each month after that. Whether they were still allowed to attend other services is not clear, but the third Sundays were reserved for them with the supervision of Embry and the other “white males.”…. [ 21]
Jonas White, (Charity Dickson’s father in law) appears as James White in the 1870 census, with the occupation of AME Preacher. This meant White was a regarded member of the community, someone who was an important resource in the area. By the time of the next census however, times had become more difficult. In 1873, the Freedmen’s Bank failed, and by 1880, Jonas White Sr.’s occupation is listed as Laborer. Note that White’s value of his Personal Estate is only $50. Still, the occupation represents a link to many people and possibly the rise of black fraternal organizations in the region that would support local efforts.
Perhaps more light can be shed on the networks of connections across community that made survival possible. Despite the constant threat of erasure, family members knew that even though faced with threats and the need to suddenly flee their homes, they too seek justice. Neal’s death was not in vain, as the NAACP deployed his image as a fundamental moral and political question about the right to live in America, versus the postcards of his lynching sold in Greenwood & Marianna as a souvenir for 50 cents apiece.
In 1939, John and Ruby Lomax traveled the South recording songs and folklore. Tt the Women’s Dormitory of Raiford, Florida, Gussie Slater and Clifford Reed sang ‘Trouble is Hard.’ Listen to the unspoken pain that slips between words, a creation that comes from love, pain and survival of so many troubled times, that can lead to a way out of no way .
The struggle for equality continues. Listen to Bryan Stevenson’s observations on identity and the implications of a society with mass incarceration and its connection to the past. As he has said, “the opposite of poverty is justice.” May this country keep walking ahead towards this goal. Speak their names.
 T Thomas Fortune, After War Times: A Boy’s Life in Reconstruction Days. Philadelphia Tribune, 14 Jul 1927, 9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Black Newspaper Collection.
 Daniel R. Weinfeld, The Jackson County War: Reconstruction and Resistance in Post-Civil War Florida. University of Alabama Press, 2012.
 Seth Weitz. “Defending the Old South: The Myth of the Lost Cause and Political Immorality in Florida, 1885-1968,” 82-83.
 The recent changes to Amendment 4 is considered a modern version of the poll tax as a result of the Florida Senate’s changes to Amendment 4, in which Floridians voted to restore voting rights to 1.4 million felons, a group disproportionately POC. “Florida has a history of making it harder for black citizens to vote” Miami Herald, 1 Sept 2016. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article95105602.html
 Weinfeld, The Jackson County War.
 Weinfeld, The Jackson County War.
 Larry E Rivers and Canter Brown, Jr., Introduction, Laborers in the Vineyards of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895. University of Florida Press, 2001
 York Neal. Ancestry.com. Alabama, Voter Registration, 1867 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Alabama 1867 Voter Registration Records Database. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
 York Neal. Ancestry.com. 1880 US Federal Census, Jackson, FL.
 Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
 “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:23H6-3SG : 7 December 2017), Willis Dickson and Caroline Barnes, 19 Aug 1866; citing Marriage, Jackson, Florida, United States, Liberty County Clerk of Courts, Florida; FHL microfilm 931,954.; “Florida Marriages, 1837-1974,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V5CB-591 : 10 February 2018), Willis Dickson and Caroline Barnes, 19 Aug 1866; citing Jackson,Florida; FHL microfilm 0931954 V. A-C.
 Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data: Marriage Records. Florida Marriages. Various Florida County Courthouses and State Archive, Tallahassee, Florida.
 Year: 1900; Census Place: Precinct 13, Jackson, Florida; Page: 2; Enumeration District: 0060; FHL microfilm: 1240171 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data: Marriage Records. Florida Marriages. Various Florida County Courthouses and State Archive, Tallahassee, Florida.
 James M Long, 6 Oct 1810-16 Feb 1857. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. According to the 1891 Atlanta City Directory, his widow was living on 57 Marietta Street, Atlanta.
 Julia Floyd Smith, Slavery and Plantation Growth in Antebellum Florida. University of Florida Press, 2017, 10-11.
My career has differed materially from that of most women; and some things that I have done have shocked persons for whom I have every respect, however much my ideas of propriety may differ from theirs. Loreta Janeta Velazquez, (1876) The Woman in Battle.
On our recent Black ProGen episode on Civil War Pension files had me wondering about Caribbean ties to the Civil War. As I learned, there were some 3500 soldiers and officers in the Civil War who were Latino, 2500 of them served the Union, while 1000 served the Confederacy with the number rising to 10,000 by war’s end.
I came across a Puerto Rican born Union officer, and a Cuban born woman with a remarkable story… and a mustache and goatee.
My aim here is not to do a Civil War blow by blow of her military service, but to weigh in on genealogical details concerning her identity based on what I could find in various archival databases. I also want to express my thanks to Nicka Smith, Bernice Bennett, Shelley Murphy and Teresa Vega for discussions about the Civil War, pension files and the great city of New Orleans. This is excerpted from a longer work.
Loreta Janeta Velazquez published her exploits in her 1876 memoir, The Woman in Battle. She was known for crossing many lines, ultimately serving the Confederacy as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. The book’s title page and frontispiece are designed to first assure the reader that the author is indeed a female, while luring the reader with the excitement and experiences reserved for white men across the country and two continents. There is innuendo, as suggested by where she lived and who she loved by the end of the 118 word title. It has everything packed into it for 1876- spying, violence, money, and sex.
The full title reads like a film summary:
THE WOMAN IN BATTLE: A NARRATIVE OF THE Exploits, Adventures, and Travels OF MADAME LORETA JANETA VELAZQUEZ, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS LIEUTENANT HARRY T. BUFORD, CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY. IN WHICH IS GIVEN Full Descriptions of the numerous Battles in which she participated as a Confederate Officer; of her Perilous Performances as a Spy, as a Bearer of Despatches, as a Secret-Service Agent, and as a Blockade-Runner; of her Adventures Behind the Scenes at Washington, including the Bond Swindle; of her Career as a Bounty and Substitute Broker in New York; of her Travels in Europe and South America; her Mining Adventures on the Pacific Slope; her Residence among the Mormons; her Love Affairs, Courtships, Marriages, &c., &c.
C. J. WORTHINGTON,
The dedication lets you know right away what side she was rooting for:
Comrades of the Confederate Armies,
WHO, ALTHOUGH THEY FOUGHT IN A LOSING CAUSE,
SUCCEEDED BY THEIR VALOR IN WINNING
THE ADMIRATION OF THE WORLD,
OF MY ADVENTURES AS A SOLDIER, A SPY,
AND A SECRET-SERVICE AGENT,
WITH ALL HONOR, RESPECT, AND GOOD WILL.
Velazquez is very much the rolling stone, moving from one location to another across the United States, Caribbean and Europe between the time she was born throughout her adulthood. I’m working on a longer version of this essay, and wanted to share some of the aspects of her story that go well beyond oral histories and memoir. What’s also fascinating is that she is a self made woman who basically studied men; whose genealogical presence failed to produce a tree with descendants, but instead gives us an opportunity to weigh what it means to tell and retell her story in different contexts.
Narrative, genealogy and hidden stories
Reading this text as a genealogist, there’s a big red flag at the outset of Velazquez’ memoirs— the loss of notes paired with a pressing need for income (emphasis added) for a book 376 pages long:
“… The loss of my notes has compelled me to rely entirely upon my memory; and memory is apt to be very treacherous, especially when, after a number of years, one endeavors to relate in their proper sequence a long series of complicated transactions. Besides, I have been compelled to write hurriedly, and in the intervals of pressing business, the necessities I have been under of earning my daily bread being such as could not be disregarded, even for the purpose of winning the laurels of authorship. To speak plainly, however, I care little for laurels of any kind just now, and am much more anxious for the money that I hope this book will bring in to me than I am for the praises of either critics or public. The money I want badly, while praise, although it will not be ungratifying, I am sufficiently philosophical to get along very comfortably without.” [WIB 6]
She worked with an editor, CJ Worthington,, a Naval veteran, who ‘although during the war was on the other side… has shown a remarkable skill in detecting and correcting errors into which I had inadvertently fallen.”
For Worthington, however, the importance of the book is not her gender crossing but spy craft:
In the opinion of the editor, however, the most important part of the book is that in which a revelation is made, now for the first time, of the exact manner in which the Confederate secret-service system at the North was managed. There is no feature of the civil war that more needs to have light thrown on it than this; and, as the story which the heroine of the adventures herein set down recites, is an exceedingly curious one, it is deserving of the special consideration of the public, both North and South.
The South was mistaken, but one couldn’t ‘doubt their sincerity or honesty of purpose.’  He calls Velazquez ‘a typical Southern woman of the war period’. Oh, right.
Worthington says of the manuscript (emphasis added):
“The manuscript, when it was placed in his hands, was found to be very minute and particular in some places, and rather meagre in others, where particularity seemed desirable. Having undertaken to get this material into proper shape, correspondence was opened with Madame Velazquez, and a number of interviews with her were had. A general plan having been agreed upon, it was left entirely to the judgment of the editor what to omit or what to insert,–Madame Velazquez agreeing to supply such information as was needed to make the story complete, in a style suitable for publication. From her correspondence, and from notes of her conversations, a variety of very interesting details, not in the original manuscript, were obtained and incorporated in the narrative. The editor, also, in several places has corrected palpable errors of time and place, and has added a few facts not supplied by the author.” 
“Owing to the loss of her diary, Madame Velazquez was compelled to write her narrative entirely from memory, which will account for the errors to which allusion has been made. Indeed, considering the multiplicity of events, it is very remarkable that she has been able to relate her story with any degree of accuracy. It is possible that, despite the pains that have been taken to make the narrative exact in every particular with regard to its facts, a few errors may have been permitted to remain uncorrected. These errors, however, are not material, and do not in any way impair the interest of the story.” 
Velazquez herself admits to generating ‘alternative facts’ as needed, which was frequent while she served as a spy or officer in drag and for excuses to the young ladies who find themselves drawn to the ambiguously gendered officer:  “… I made up a story that I thought was suited to the occasion and the auditor; and, among other things, told her that I was the son of a millionnaire, that I had joined the army for the fun of the thing, and that I was paying my own expenses.”
Later in the book she takes on blockade running, purchasing supplies, donating money and scamming funds for the Confederate cause during and after the Civil War. Still, her argument for the national fight is the win, not the economic structure that locked so many in, and built the structure of inequality based on race. One could argue that she is an example of working with family histories that present a particular point of view that can bring into question ideas of self fashioning with a basis in forms of systemic inequality. It is the polar opposite of Abolitionist writings.
Velazquez’ book begins with two genealogies— one of women in war that culminates in her being the ideological heir of Joan of Arc, the other, is of a nobility clawed out of the Caribbean, belied by newspaper articles of mid-1863 that spoke of her exploits in the service.
According to her, she was born on 26th of June, 1842, the last of six children on Calle Vellagas, just outside the walls of Havana, Cuba, Loreta Janeta Velazquez states that her father was a Spanish Ambassador born in Cartagena, (implied) Spain, of noble descent. Her mother was from France, daughter of a French naval officer and an American heiress. Her mother’s only brother resided on St. Lucia, but this is not explained in more detail until much later in the book.
Her parents had three sons and two daughters born in Madrid before her birth in Cuba, but in between the time of his appointment to the time of her birth in 1842, the family moved across continents and oceans. Her father is an aristocrat, a learned ambassador who spoke at least three languages, and ultimately supported the Southern cause. The weight of his experience and wealth serve to anchor any charge regarding class in terms of Loreta’s social standing and wobbly gender identification in her memoir. She mentions her brother Josea and a family reunion in St Louis, but is careful not to name her parents in any detail beyond that of moral standing until 1891, when a New York newspaper article quotes her saying that father’s name is Joaquin Velazquez.
For her ancestral lineage, she invokes a conquistador of the New World, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, (1465-d. 1524, Santiago de Cuba), an interesting choice: Velazquez led the conquest of Cuba with 300 men in 1511, noted for being a particularly brutal episode. Just as with Columbus, those Indigenous people that resisted, if not killed or maimed, were sold into slavery across the Atlantic and to Mexico, Central and South America to work the mines. It did not go as planned, so he authorized the importation of enslaved Africans in 1513, and an expedition to the Yucatan. He lost his governorship in 1521 for the misuse of indigenous labor, facts that never ruffle the lineage.
The other Velazquez claimed as a great grandfather is Diego Velazquez, leading artist in the court of Philip IV, whose full name was Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660) born to Portuguese parents in Seville. Velazquez went to Madrid in 1622 and became the court painter. He had two daughters, one who survived to adulthood and married a painter. She married Juan Bautista Martinez de Mazo, and their children bore the Martinez surname.
As mentioned, she describes visiting various Caribbean islands, and at Saint Lucia, states that this is where her mother was born:
The connection to Saint Lucia, with its family cemetery and vault, a stone cottage that she describes, now owned by her cousin. The house itself, like the family, is a hybrid site, ‘a stone house built in the English fashion’ with ‘ancient furniture of Spanish make.’ Both her unseen sister and brother are entombed in the family burying-ground, together with other relatives in St. Lucia. No further details regarding which port she entered, what parish the family once lived in, is given for locations she mentions before 1868.[WIB 566]
The Many Names of Lorena Janeta Velazquez
Another flag in the text and in newspaper accounts are the various aliases she used over four decades (if not longer). It’s an unusually long and overlapping set of identifiers:
Loreta Janeta Velazquez
Mrs. Alice Williams
Mrs. Alice Tennent
Mrs. ST Williams
Mrs Major De Caulp
Mrs Loretta De Caulp
Mrs DeCaulp Buford
Mrs Loretta J. Beard
Mrs Sue Battle
Lieutenant HT Buford
She was married to:
ST Williams, army officer,
Major Jeruth DeCaulp
Major Wasson, confederate officer, married in New Orleans
‘Col.’ W Beard
Perhaps the person that can be confirmed in her account is DeCaulp. ‘Major’ Jeruth DeCaulp was born in Edinborough, arrived in 1857 with his brother, and they traveled the US until 1859, and signed up for the confederacy when the war broke out.“His father was of French descent, and his mother was a Derbyshirewoman. “He was very highly educated, having studied in England and France with the intention of becoming a physician. His fondness for roaming, however, induced him to abandon this design.. He was tall in stature, with a very imposing presence. His hair was auburn, and he had a large, full, dark, hazel eye.” It is unclear whether that referred to a pair, or the result of wartime injury.
His brother held the rank of Captain and died in Nashville at the close of the war; his wife died in New York. Despite the call to his standing, DeCaulp’s extant letters are full of spelling errors such as ‘cince’ for since, details that cast doubt on his education. Velazquez has elaborate backgrounds for her husbands and her parents, and if its too good to be true, it probably is.
Reviving Loreta Velazquez
Running into a historical figure like Velazquez is both exhilarating and troubling. There’s the fact of her intense, incredulous story that she tells and then there’s the reality of locating information. At first, I came across the image of the goateed Velazquez, and a broader history of the involvement of women in the military. Next, there is the documentary, Maria Angui Carter’s Rebel (2013) which establishes Velazquez’ existence, but does not really suss all the details regarding her ancestry. Instead, it’s presented as fact, because it was published, which has a circular, closed kind of reasoning. There’s no argument that Velazquez worked to further the aims of the Lost Cause. Then there is historian William C Davis’s book, Inventing Loreta Velasquez: Confederate Soldier impersonator, Media Celebrity and Con Artist. (SIU: 2016). Davis strains through newspaper accounts and establishes that it is likely you couldn’t trust what Velazquez has to say about family, lineage or history.
Whose side are you on?
One of the things I found disturbing was no real engagement with what it meant to identify with a supposedly light skinned Latina who fought for the Confederacy, without really unpacking the weight of that affiliation. What Loreta discovered was that her ‘possessive investment in whiteness’ had a pay off. People could deal with a Cuban better than say, a mixed race child from New Orleans or Mississippi, instead a Cuban with alleged ties to minor nobility and foreign governments was much more appealing. Ultimately, nostalgia is what Velazquez supplies, full of the dream of the South’s ‘hotel civilization’, where dirt, mess and disorder were disavowed and left for the enslaved help to deal with. What of 18 year old Bob, the young man she bought and enslaved to serve her in the field, who ultimately ran off to the North to claim his freedom? Why the silence on the enslaved help who would have served her family?
This newspaper featured an article on Velazquez, and note the date: 1875. The masthead is rather telling, and perhaps a little startling given where the US is today:
But look more closely at the central image:
The image reads: “White Men Must Rule America: The Constitution of Our Fathers” Ultimately, this image of white femininity upholding white masculinity as the ultimate arbiter of order in the world is what Velazquez puts her faith in. Regardless of her crossing gender, her allegedly West Indian origins, to not acknowledge the fundamental bias at the heart of her project is to ignore the weight and moral failing of justifying enslavement.
She either died in Austin, Nevada in 1897, her grave conveniently destroyed by development, if it ever existed, or, according to Davis, the author of Inventing Loreta Velazquez, she died in 1923 in an insane asylum in Washington DC.
In case you’re wondering about ‘hotel civilization’: It’s a great term that Cornell West coined in the 1990s. “We live in a hotel civilization,” said West. “A hotel civilization is a civilization in which people are obsessed with comfort, contentment, and convenience, where the lights are always on. [We] don’t have time for questions. We don’t have time for such interrogations.”
Frankly, America always has been a hotel civilization. This is no joke. West continues: “To escape the pull of the American culture of denial, West urged individuals to examine and question America’s “night-side” – the dark under-belly of society. He added that part of this process of enlightenment is acknowledging real death and violence and also experiencing metaphorical death.
“We must come to terms with the forms of death in the midst of the American past and present. Education itself is a learning how to die. Every time you give up an assumption. it’s a form of death so you can mature,” said West.
I recently discovered the podcast Uncivil (Gimlet Media) in searching for significant events for discussion on the upcoming episode of Black ProGen Live. Right now, Uncivil consists of 10 episodes so far, spanning different episodes in nineteenth century US Civil War history The latest show ( Ep. 10 podcast, released 27 December 2017) dealt with the myth of the Black Confederate soldier.
Uncivil is hosted by Chenjerai Kumanyika, author, journalist, and professor of journalism and communications at Rutgers University, and Jack Hitt, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, author and radio producer. The programs intend to bring “stories that were left out of the official history of the Civil War, ransacks America’s past and takes on the history you grew up with.” Indeed, we need these reexaminations, and it’s great to have this material available to think with.
The trajectory of this particular story followed an arc that began with unpacking of historical knowledge via a young caller to the show, and culminates with the descendants of Silas Chandler (1 Jan 1837-Sept 1919). They discovered their ancestor being discussed in a photograph brought to Antiques Roadshow in 2009. During the program, the moment to explain enslavement was lost, the myth took over, leading to a division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans placing a metal cross on his grave in Mississippi, and stealing Silas Chandler’s image by reproducing it on various surfaces from t-shirts to films, prints and photos all proclaiming this evidence of participation.
The Weight of Images & Problematic Histories
The photograph is a tintype, and close up, its surface reveals a cracked emulsion with an ornate copper colored metal edge. Notable details are the position of the two men, side by side, visually composed to emphasize their inequality. The younger Andrew Chandler’s hips were elevated to lend height well above Silas, whose seat is tilted back at the hips to make him seem shorter than his slave owner’s. To read Silas’ smile is to read a face weary of waiting for a moment, if not the war and slavery itself, to be over.
Sites that proclaim that they have ‘evidence’ of Black Confederate soldiers, and one features a painting of a Civil War battlefield, no location just a battle scene. Just off center, is a kneeling black man holding the head of a white man wearing the gray uniform of the South. The military serviceman is injured and bleeding into a large handkerchief. It’s white surface creates an area that visually marks and makes central for the viewer, the tableau with a enslaved adult man at the center. He has no arms no gun, no rifle, he simply serves and tends to the white master, an ideological composition that seeks to deny historical reality by providing a romanticized tableau. This same idea was extended to the photograph, a plain effort to define Silas Chandler as a soldier. He was not.
As Myra Chandler Sampson (Silas Chandler’s great-granddaughter) and Kevin M Levin note, “Interest in Silas’ military career has been fueled by a desire to affirm that Southern blacks were just as eager as whites to fight back against the invaders— an attempt to validate the belief that the war did not ignite over slavery but over predatory Northern acts.” They go on to ask: So what role did Silas really play in the war, and why did he choose to fight for the South—if he actually did? One thing is clear: Ever since the SCV posthumously ‘honored’ Silas, an enslaved body servant who accompanied his white master into service, accounts of black Confederate troops have surged in popularity, with some now claiming that upwards of 100,000 blacks fought willingly in Southern ranks.
While there were a small number of enslaved black men who served in the Confederacy, but they comprised less than 1% of those who served. A 2015 article in The Root, goes into further details about this controversy. In a nutshell: “How many supported it? No one knows precisely. But by drawing on these scholars and focusing on sources written or published during the war, I estimate that between 3,000 and 6,000 served as Confederate soldiers. Another 100,000 or so blacks, mostly slaves, supported the Confederacy as laborers, servants and teamsters. They built roads, batteries and fortifications; manned munitions factories—essentially did the Confederacy’s dirty work.” Note that African Americans were unable to enlist in the Confederacy until an order was issued in March 1865, the last month of the war. In contrast, almost 187,000 African Americans joined the Union Army over the course of the war, with numbers rising for the last two years.
Details That Matter: The move towards freedom
Why does the story matter? Because this was a myth fed to fourth grade children in social studies texts and museum exhibits organized by descendants of the confederacy. There’s potential for these scenarios to be incorporated and disseminated into some family histories and genealogies, effectively casting the shadow of confederate myth over a lineage while declaring a white nationalist identity.
Silas was born into slavery on 1 January 1837 in Virginia and two years later, his slaveholder, Roy Chandler moved him and 39 other enslaved people along with the Chandler family to Palo Alto in Clay County, Mississippi. As an adult, once freed, Silas kept his owner’s surname.
Roy Chandler claimed a land grant after an 1831 treaty that displaced thousands of American Indian peoples in the area, and gave white settlers some 11 million acres of state land. Silas became the body servant to Roy Chandler’s son, Andrew born in 1844. Silas sits alongside Sergeant Andrew Chandler, the white man in uniform in the photograph. Yet the fear of armed black men ran rife through the Confederacy, and they supplied no guns, nor permitted combat roles for African Americans until the final weeks of the war; add the fact that thousands of African Americans were supportive of the North, to the point of escaping to Federal lines, and the desperation to legitimize the myth of participation becomes evident.
Silas weighed his situation, and “likely gained even more freedom of movement when Andrew was wounded and captured at Shiloh in April 1862 and imprisoned… Deemed human property he was legally bound to Andrew.” Although Silas returned and helped his master return home after injuries at the Battle of Chickamauga. Extant correspondence shows Silas’ return would be to his wife and newborn child. Silas served again in 1864, going with Andrew’s younger brother Benjamin, who served in the 9th Mississippi Calvary.
Why Silas Chandler’s Story Matters
Silas Chandler was a carpenter and helped found the first black church, Mount Hermon Baptist Church in West Point, Mississippi. He married Lucy Garvin about 1860, “daughter of a house slave named Polly and an unnamed plantation owner.” They had 12 children, 5 who survived to adulthood, and one son was the great-grandfather of Myra Chandler Sampson. Silas lived to appear in the 1910 US Federal Census, where a glimpse of the life he built with his wife Lucy can be seen, some nine years before he died. In contrast, Palo Alto, MI, where he first lived in bondage, became a ghost town. It’s worth noting that the Wikipedia article on Palo Alto mentions that “In 1876, Palo Alto was the site of an incident in which a group of heavily armed white men brought a piece of field artillery and broke up a meeting of the Republican Club in order to suppress black voters.” This is just one of myriad examples of retaliation committed against people of African descent that numerous whites committed after Reconstruction and the passage of ‘black codes’ in 1865 and 1866. Despite their efforts, Silas Chandler raised his family and contributed to his community.
What I appreciate about the Uncivil podcast is the content, and the website’s clear layout and availability of transcripts, allowing one to easily search for subjects. As an adjunct to genealogical study, it helps bring to the table some of the issues that POC genealogists and their families face when working on family lines that head straight into terrain already complicated by locating material. Understanding documentary context helps with document analysis, and depending on one’s location, its easy to see how details can be used and misused to serve very different needs. Hearing voices waver, be insistent, vulnerable or firm, reminds one that this history still matters enormously. The events in Charlottesville last summer speaks to the urgency of projects that seek to unpack the historical pain and experience of those populations born or taken into slavery who made this country possible from its inception, and this foundational fact can no longer be ignored. We are still navigating this past.
In this case, the attempt to hijack family history for an ideological purpose was foiled, precisely because these descendants pressed on to tell their stories, writing, broadcasting and, Myra Chandler Sampson continues to speak truth to power. May we all find the strength to bring our ancestors into the light.