Next Week: 6/10: Bound to History – on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, Puerto Rico, EFS

Have you ever wanted to know more about the woman behind the only slave narrative out of Puerto Rico?

On June 10, 1 PM, I’ll be a guest on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond.

We’ll be talking about Leoncia Lasalle’s & her daughter Juana Rodriguez Lasalle’s account and touch on the larger issues of archives and enslavement. See my recent article in the journal Genealogy, “Bound to History: Leoncia Lasalle’s Slave Narrative from Moca, Puerto Rico, 1945” (2020)

Event link: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett/2021/06/10/bound-to-history-leoncia-lasalles-slave-narrative-with-ellen-fernandez-sacco

Background: Here’s the article abstract::

Abstract: The only slave narrative from Puerto Rico is included in Luis Diaz Soler’s Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (1953; 2002). This article considers this embedded account as part of the literature of slave narratives to address a gap in the literature; this is perhaps due to the account’s singularity and brevity. Beyond this, the other source for understanding the experience of enslaved women in Puerto Rico is through legal and parish documents, generated by a colonial government and church supportive of slavery. As a result, lives under enslavement are quantified statistically, and the lack of oral history or personal accounts hampers understanding of the effects of enslavement from an individual perspective. Documenting such a life comes with its own set of issues, as shown here by demonstrating the limits of various archival resources. There is no one methodology to follow to reconstruct lives and family histories under slavery, an institution designed to prevent the formation of a historical sense of self and agency. Factoring in familial connections makes my own location as a researcher visible, as knowledge is not neutral. Despite its brevity, considering Leoncia Lasalle’s account, and that of her daughter, Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, in terms of its multiple contexts—microhistory, similarities with U.S. and Cuban slave narratives, family histories, and the archive—reveals the constructed nature of the idea of historical knowledge, which also has implications for genealogical practice involved with slavery and life post-emancipation.

Tonight: 4/28: A History Unraveled: Slavery and the Babilonia Family

Please join me tonight on Zoom!

Wednesday April 28, 2021 from 7-8PM– Register via the link below

Independent scholar and genealogist Ellen Fernandez-Sacco will discuss Spain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. She will talk about its connection to her research and how it shapes her family history in Puerto Rico.

https://www.ryehistory.org/events-calendar

Persons Enslaved by Samuel Williams (1795-1856) Tobey Creek, Barnwell County, South Carolina

At the end of October, I was searching South Carolina probate records to see whether a Williams may have enslaved some of the ancestors I am helping to search for in Barnwell County.

I transcribed this list of 8 people, ranging from old to young, in hopes this may help someone find their ancestors.

On January 8, 1858, the Williams estate is described as follows: “…estate lying in Barnwell District on the waters of Tobey Creek, bounded on the west by Tobey Creek, on the East by the estate of John Martin, North by BH Brown and South by Joseph Still and Frederick Croft containing seven hundred and ninety five acres …” 8 Jan 1858

Samuel Williams 1795-1856 SC Wills & Probate 1670-1980 Barnwell, Probate Records Case No. 131-132, 1787-1958  image no. 103 of 450

No. 4                    $9.74625
Sam           $ 1.

Sampson    $1

Earther        $100

Lewis          $500

Bob             $800

Daniel         $800

Jim             $700

Lidia & 2 children – Bess & Milly $1200                

———–                   

$ 4102 

Charles his X mark

Still Osbon  Dyches C + J Nisc
followed by cash & notes due

Note: page 105: first item of goods

No. 21: set of hand irons

11 Oct 1856 Appraisement of the Est of Samuel Williams Ancestry.com

Tree Climbing with Mr. Williams 2: Searching for Anderson Williams (b. 1830, SC)

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.

Household of Caleb E. Williams, Nelly Williams, servant on line 44, 1880 US Federal Census, Jefferson, Marengo County, Alabama. Ancestry.com

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

Map included in probate packet
Map of “Widow Davis’ Lot – heirs of Andrew Davis”, 1860. This is a plat showing the big house & plantation where Elizabeth Davis Williams grew up, consisting of two lots, 224.5 & 235 acres. Courtesy of DCHGC

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.

An Inventory and Appraisement of the Goods & Chattel belonging to the Estate of Andrew Davis (decd) as exhibited of James Wright & Martha Davis Admin & Admts on the fourth month of November 1845 to JB Nettles, JC Law [?], Mr. Vann.
Negro Ned    475 
   “      Jim     500 
   “     Mackey 250.00 
   “     Elvey  — 
   “     Lanie —   600.00  [3 together] 
   “     Sam — 
   “     Pat         365.00 
   “     Ann        425.00 
   “     Bill         350.00 
   “     Ben        250.00 
   “     Anthony 150.00 
   “     Jinery     325.00 
   “     Charlotte &  500.00 [2 together] 
   “     Mariah   —  
Mules                 5000 
Equity Packet No. 166 p. 8, Courtesy Darlington Historical & Genealogical Commission, Darlington, SC.

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. 

Inventory and Appraisement, 1860. DHGC
Inventory & appraisement for a Writ of Partition, first page, 1860. Courtesy of DHGC.
Writ of Partition
Martha Davis     
vs                                 – Bill for o/c & Partition 
Ashley Williams  
& wife & others 

The undersigned being three or the Commplices to where a writ of Partition was directed requiring in to divide the Slaves held in common by Susanah Davis & Martha Davis the Said Martha now the wife of Robert Dalrymple Make the following return of our proceedings under said with being first duel Swore the appraised & divided the Negroes as follows, to wit,  
Lot no 1/ Patty & child Hannah          $1200 
                Sam 16 years old                 1150 
                Cate   6 Do. Do.                     450 
                Sarah 4 Do. Do,                     400             $3200 

Lot No.2/ Jim 32 years old                  1200 
                Jiney   50 Do. Do.                  300  
                Macky 10 Do. Do.                  600 
                Abner    8 Do. Do. (Stutters badly) 500     $2600 
Making an aggregate                            ——   of       $5800               
½ of which is $2900 — 
We set apart the Slaves in Lot No 1 to Susanna 
      Davis at                                                                $3200 
      Her share is                                                            2900 
                        Except her share                                 $ 300 
We set apart to Martha Darywimple wife  
      of Robert Darywimple the Slaves in Lot No 2 at $2600 
          Her share is                                                       2900 
                 Less than her share                                     300  
                                                                                    $2900 

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.

To be continued…

What i’ve been up to…

Rainbow, Florida

Hey- It’s been awhile! The last three months have been full, juggling health, writing & researching several projects. 
Most recently, we had a great discussion on BPG’s Ep. 106: History Unscripted: Perception is Everything with Regina Jackson, thanks to hosts Nicka Smith and True Lewis, Dr Shelley Murphy & myself. The focus is on perception via three different news articles: image as representative of community, versus image as threat across different contexts- a photo project in a Southern town, the brouhaha over the recent novel, American Dirt and the definition of civil rights activists as the problem by government agencies that should be protecting them. 

Check out Ep 106 here:

Regina Johnson, presently Chair of the Oakland Police Commission, talked about ongoing changes in Oakland, California (my former hometown) and her efforts in providing services for Black youth in the face of reduced services and the pressures of gentrification. Working with youth is a context that can open possibilities and facilitate resilience in the face of difficulty, so important for getting through life.   History Unscripted aims to spark thought about further dialogues and point to next steps toward change that one can take, so check out past and upcoming episodes!

Another BPG activity is #CREWChat on Twitter- a fun way to share genealogícal tips on a range of films. This month was Glory (1989), on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment of the USCT, in conjunction with the African American Civil War Museum. Coming next: Imitation of Life (1959) on March 18th, 9PM EST, join in!

I’m working on a series of short blog posts, to help Mr. Orlando Williams find family in time for his Family Reunion coming up in June. Tree Climbing With Mr Williams may help you get through some brick walls and find a connection! I’ll be talking about some of the recent finds that lead to several states: AL, GA, FL, SC & NC. There is so much history in this tree! I’ll be posting soon.

Casa Labadie, Aceituna, Moca, Puerto Rico. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco, 2007.

Finally… I’ve submitted my article, “Reconstructing District 3’s Missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos for Northwest Puerto Rico” to Hereditas: Revista de Genealogia Puertorriquena, and had the pleasure of working with Ernie Rivera and Eliud Nieves on their great grandmothers who were enslaved on the plantation of Juan Labadie and its previous owner, Pedro Pellot, in Moca, Puerto Rico. Their cedulas are among those I transcribed and sought to provide context for.  Pellot (hispanicized from Peugeot) was among a cluster of emigres from the Pyrenees region- from both the French and Spanish sides of this mountain range— who eventually wound up in Puerto Rico. The article will be out in the next issue of Hereditas, complete with a transcription of the cedulas for 492 enslaved ancestors taken in 1870. 

Like I said, busy! Feel free to reach out and comment if you find a connection on these pages!

Enjoy the weekend-
Hasta pronto,

Ellen 

Seven Points for Teaching POC Genealogy

family photographs
Three photo postcards from Mayaguez Puerto Rico from the early 1900s, two toddlers flank a young girl.
Three photo postcards from Mayaguez, ca 1910.

It seems almost weekly, we see articles describing tone deaf and racist approaches to the teaching of slavery, on which the foundation of this country rests, and maintains today. Part of the problems rests on the disconnect between this history and how and what we learn, together with where and who delivers a particular narrative about the past. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in response to the recent spate of incidences in schools across the country, issued a report with seven common problems in teaching about slavery, which I rewrote here to apply to genealogy.

1. We understand that slavery is not a universal experience for POC, but it is the fact of how this nation was founded. We seek to research, learn and understand the roles and experiences of families and communities within these systems.

2. We acknowledge that flaws are embedded in particular understandings of American history, and that by understanding their role in impacting family history, we can also work towards change.

3. Enslavement is an American institution that crosses time and place. It existed in all colonies and states at the time of the signing of Declaration of Independence, and its principles continue to be bound with the economic fate of the nation today.

4. We speak to the ideology of white supremacy, and point to its outline and role of eugenics within the formation of genealogical practice. We also consider the perpetuation of slavery within forms of structural racism today, that connects past and present.

5. We deal with traumatic experiences as part of our history; the focus within our approach is on resilience and survival.

6. Genealogy and family history are contextual practices- we seek to incorporate the scope of POC experience by not divorcing it from the cultural currents and practices of the time.

7. Our focus on the lives of POC decenters white experience, and instead references a framework of relevant political and economic impacts in the time leading up to and beyond the Civil War. African American institutions provided structure and opportunity, thereby affording a way out of no way.

These two quotes, from a speech made by James Baldwin in 1980 still resonate today when thinking about family histories, genealogy and their use in interpreting the larger context of living and understanding the past:

“I want to suggest that history is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”

“You got to find out the reality which surrounds you. You got to be able to describe it. You got to be able to describe your mother and your father and your uncles and your junkie cousin. If you aren’t able to describe it, you will not be able to survive it.” “Black English: A Dishonest Argument.” Randall Kenan, ed. James Baldwin,  The Cross of Redemption, Uncollected Writings. 2010. 

Resources

Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. Tolerance.org PDF. SPLC, 2018. https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2018-02/TT-Teaching-Hard-History-American-Slavery-Report-WEB-February2018.pdf

Teaching Hard History: Podcast – Seasons 1 & 2 https://www.tolerance.org/podcasts/teaching-hard-history/american-slavery

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, “Can Genealogy Be Racist? Identity, Roots & the Question of Proof.” Blogpost, 22 March 2018, Latino Genealogy & Beyond.com. https://latinogenealogyandbeyond.com/blog/can-genealogy-be-racist/

A Constant Threat of Erasure Pt 3: Claude Neal & the Rippling Out of the Civil War, Jackson County Florida

Black ProGen Live, Episode 83b: Stories from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

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 the FBI 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. 

Dr. Carol Anderson, The Spectacle Lynching of Claude Neal. Emory University

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.

Section of settlement map; marks indicate “plantations using 30 slaves or more developed by 1840.” Red circle indicates Jackson County.

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… [1]

“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 [2]

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.[3] 

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. [4] 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. [5]   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. 

Reconstruction

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.. [6]

A Panhandle County

Colson’s 1862 Map of Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Jackson County lies right by the ‘L’ in Florida. Screenshot from Florida Memory.

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. [7] 

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. [8]  

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. [9]  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

York Neel [Neal], Return of Qualified Voters, Precinct 9, 21st Election District, Sumter, AL, 15 July 1867. FS.org

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, [1867] 83-84)”[10] 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. [11]  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.[12]  

York Neel & Penny Bowls. Marriage Certificate, 23 Oct 1880, Jackson County, FL. FS.org

On 25 October 1880, Penny Bowls Dickson  married York Neal  in Jackson, Florida. [13]  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)

Descendants of Washington Dickson. Chart by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, April 2019. Given the gap in years between Jennie and Charity, there may be more siblings to be located. .

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. [14]  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. [15]  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. [16]  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. [7]. 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. [14]  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. [10] 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.”

The Estate of James M. Long. Note the mention of Washington under Lot Six. Florida Probate Records, 1784-1990 Jackson County Florida, Estates 1857-1860. Vol D, F71
The Estate of James M. Long. Note the mention of Washington under Lot Six. Florida Probate Records, 1784-1990 Jackson County Florida, Estates 1857-1860. Vol D, F71-72.

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 

Wm Powers 

Isaac Widgen 

Florida Probate Records, 1784-1990 Jackson County Florida, Estates 1857-1860. 

Pondering Valuations

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. [20] 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. [21] 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.

1860 US Federal Census, wine 27: John CL Long, 22, Personal Estate, $6,000.

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

“Map 9. The heartland of African Methodism in post–Civil War FL.” from Rivers & Brown, Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord: The Expansion of the AME Church in Florida.

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] 

Line 39: White, James (Jonas), 34, A.M.E. Preacher. 1870 US Federal Census, Marianna, Jackson County, FL. Ancestry.com

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 .

Performance Note: “Trouble is Hard” performed by Gussie Slater and Clifford Reed (vocals) at State Farm, Women’s Dormitory, Raiford, Florida, on June 4, 1939. John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip (AFC 1939/001)

On 4 August 2014, The Tampa Bay Times noted the FBI’s closing of the Neal case, as family members gathered for a reunion. As Gussie Slater sang in 1939, Trouble is Hard.

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.

References

[1] 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. 

[2] Jackson County, Florida, Explained: Jackson County War” https://everything.explained.today/Jackson_County%2c_Florida/“ Accessed 13 Apr 2019. 

[3] Seth Weitz. “Defending the Old South: The Myth of the Lost Cause and Political Immorality in Florida, 1885-1968,” In The Historian, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Spring 2009), pg. 83. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1540-6563.2008.00232.x

[4] Daniel R. Weinfeld, The Jackson County War: Reconstruction and Resistance in Post-Civil War Florida. University of Alabama Press, 2012.

[5] Seth Weitz. “Defending the Old South: The Myth of the Lost Cause and Political Immorality in Florida, 1885-1968,” 82-83.

[6] 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

[7] Weinfeld, The Jackson County War. 

[8] Weinfeld, The Jackson County War. 

[9] 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

[10] Alabama Secretary of State, Loyalty oaths, 1867-1868. https://www.worldcat.org/title/loyalty-oaths-1867-1868/oclc/145409972 Apparently only Autauga County and Baine County are extant. 

[11] 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. 

[12] York Neal. Ancestry.com. 1880 US Federal Census, Jackson, FL.

[13] Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. 

[14] “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. 

[15]  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.

[16] 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.

[17]  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. 

[18] Julia Floyd Smith, Slavery and Plantation Growth in Antebellum Florida. University of Florida Press, 2017, 10-11.

[19]Race and Slavery Petitions Project, Petition 20585816, Jackson County Florida, 2 Jan 1858.http://library.uncg.edu/slavery/petitions/details.aspx?pid=4719

[20]  Calculator, Measuring Worth, Relative Value of US Dollar.  https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/relativevalue.php

[21] War of the Rebellion: Serial 129 Page 0019 Confederate Authorities. https://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/129/0019

[22] Potential connections may exist via the Long, and Pittmans mentioned and those researched.  Quoted in  Claude Reese, “Antebellum Greenwood – The Baptist Church” Jackson County Times, Sunday, 10 March 2013.    http://www.jacksoncountytimes.net/jackson-county-history/greenwood-history/item/3077-antebellum-greenwood-the-baptist-church.html

[23]

African Ancestors in San German: Juan Tomas Gandulla and his Family

The first church was built in 1688, and rebuilt several times as a result of earthquakes; its likely the Gandulla, Malave and Rivera families attended San German de Auxerre at some point in their lives. . Church of San German de Auxerre, By San Juan: F. Liebig, 1914. University of Puerto Rico

Recently, my cousin Maara asked me to explore her great grandmother’s line, Maria Monserrate Malave Ayala, and that of her first cousin, Maria Angela Malave Vazquez and her husband, based in Barrio Rosario, San German. Among them is an African ancestor, Juan Tomas Gandulla, who lived nearly 90 years and built a foundation for his family.  My hope is that further information will come to light concerning his African origins whether through documents, or via the DNA of his descendants- please feel free to reach out. 

Most of Tomas Gandulla’s life took place within the boundaries of the municipality of San German, in the southwest of Puerto Rico.

Location of San German, Puerto Rico Wikimedia.org By Based on File:USA Puerto Rico location map.svg made by NordNordWest, highlighted by Dr. Blofeld – Based on File:USA Puerto Rico location map.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10946858

The Landscape of San German

Barrios of San German, Rosario Penon highlighted.

In the nineteenth-early twentieth century, some Gandulla families lived in San German; that of Juan Tomas Gandulla lived in Barrio Rosario Penon, on a peak north of the Pueblo close to the southern wards. Thanks to its elevation, coffee was the crop that dominated the plantations in the area of the time.

Separated by two peaks, and further defined by rivers, both the church and the municipality attempted to provide a separate set of services to those in Rosario Penon, in order to bridge the distance. 

1888 Mapa Militar , Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico

This 1888 map from the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico, created by the Spanish military, illustrates the difficulties of traveling between the barrios of El Rosario on the left and Pueblo de San German on the right.  The distance from the town center meant additional services needed to be provided. For convenience, i rotated the map’s orientation almost 90 degrees (E-W than N-S) to make it easier to read. One can note the roads and rivers that cross its areas, and Rosario Bajo on the northwest corner of San German.

Unlike the previous map of San German’s wards, this military map provides a sense of the distances involved and the difficulties of getting through the region quickly before the arrival of the automobile decades later. In this sense the map is also political, given its creation in a period after the Grito de Lares and the Spanish American War, a promise of how far government intervention can reach after the repression ofEl Componte. The costs were high, and my cousin Teresa Vega has written about the death of her grandfather by lynching during the 1880s.

The ward is adjacent to Mayaguez’s barrios of Limón and Montoso, both areas where descendants of collateral family eventually lived.  Below, the Google satellite map of the ward gives an idea of the hills that cross through the landscape

Barrio Rosario Penon, San German [red outline] Google Maps April 2019.

As the local population needed a place to worship, the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario was established along with a Chapel near the center of the ward, with services scheduled to a designated priest’s travel there.. After 1885, once the Registro Civil began, the municipal administration used designated persons to bring the information for vital records from barrio El Rosario to barrio Pueblo to the south of San German.

Tomas Gandulla (1809-1887), natural de Africa

“Tomas Liberto de Gandulla, natural de Africa, de ochenta anos de edad, agricultor, domiciliado en dicho Barrio, falleció a las tres de la manana, del día de ayer en su domicilio a consecuencia de “vejez”.” 

Juan Tomás Gandulla, Acta de Defunción, 20 Dec 1887; San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico

Juan Tomas or more frequently, Tomas Gandulla, was born in Africa about 1809, taken in slavery and brought to Puerto Rico sometime in the first few decades of the nineteenth century.  His status as a freedman was writ large on the title of his death certificate as “Tomas Liberto de Gandulla” on the upper left of the document.

Note that the Secretario’s name 4 lines above is Don Juan Antonio Gandulla, which may account for why Tomas’ name appears as Liberto de Gandulla. His surname points to a Gandulla owner sometime before the 1870s.

His son Basilio Antonio Gandulla served as the informant. Now married, Basilio was a farmer living in Barrio Rosario, and stated his father’s parentage and situation: “Ignorando sus padres. Que no otorgo una memoria extrajudicial, a los mismo declaro manifestando no saber firmar.” “Parents unknown. Declared that he did not execute a will, and that he did not know how to sign his name.”  Regardless of this status, it did not stop Tomas Gandulla from being involved with farming on his own account and having a family. [1]  Neither Tomas, his sons or his first wife appear in the Registro de Esclavos de 1872, so that any record of their freedom predates these forms. An additional search of parish records may yield such information as the Tomas Gandulla’s age at baptism and perhaps additional details regarding his origin. As a farmer or laborer before 1887, he may have owned or rented his land, so there may be deeds or contracts mentioning him in municipal records or within the series of notarial documents at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico

Maria Josefa Rivera: first wife

“During the nineteenth century, the genealogy of people of color often comprises a lineage from single mothers, free and unfree.”

 Tomas Gandulla was married twice, first to Maria Josefa Rivera and then to Maria Angela Malave Vazquez. With Maria Josefa, he had two sons, Basilio Antonio Gandulla Rivera (b. 1853), who married Mercedes Velez Candelario and Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera (b. 1854) who married Juana Maria Candelaria. Both couples had large families, Basilio and Mercedes had at least 7 children, while his brother Jose Cecilio with his wife Juana Maria Candelaria had some 10 children between the 1870s-1900s. Although Tomas and Maria Josefa did not live to see their 17 grandchildren, most of them survived to adulthood.

So far, no additional information on Maria Josefa Rivera was found; she was probably born in the 1830s. Given the mention of ‘Liberto‘ on one of Basilio Gandulla Rivera’s documents, indicates he was born into slavery, which means that at birth according to law, his status followed that of his mother, Maria Josefa Rivera. She too was enslaved. Yet both sons and their families are listed as ‘Mu’ (Mulato) in the 1910 census. She could be of African or Afro-Indigenous or of other admixture descent, born on the island or brought there for sale. Perhaps parish documents hold some clues, if not answers.

Family of Juan Tomas Gandulla and Maria Josefa Rivera, San German. Chart by EFS, 2018.

Maria Angela Malave Vazquez: 2nd wife, May-December marriage

Maria Angela Malave Vazquez (bca 1862) became Tomas Gandulla’s partner sometime mid-decade in Barrio Rosario Bajo and likely, lived in Barrio Rosario Penon, San German in the early 1880s.  This was a December-May relationship, as Tomas was 40 years older than Maria Angela.  Given that this marriage took place sometime in the 1880s, opens the possibility of yet another wife, given that Tomas’ previous marriage was two decades earlier. Tomas Gandulla and Maria Angela Malave had two children, Juan Tomas Gandulla Malave (b. 1887) and Maria Monserrate Gandulla Malave (b. 1889) who lived to age 44 and died of tuberculosis in August 1933. She was married to Juan Alicea.

Maria Angela Malave died of Cloro-anemia, a form of iron deficiency anemia in 1902 at the age of 40, some three years after the death of her husband Tomas Gandulla in 1889.

Family of Juan Tomas Gandulla and Maria Angela Malave Vazquez. Chart by EFS, 2018

La Mancha del Platano: regard & disregard

Questions remain about the relationship between Tomas Gandulla and Maria Josefa Rivera, how they met and what their lives were like building a family during a time of great transition for POC in Puerto Rico. Despite their freedom, traces of resistant attitudes to emancipation can be found within documents.

Acta de nacimiento, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez, San German, Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV1Y-T78F

The birth certificate for Tomas and Josefa’s granddaughter Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez contains small details that may reflect the microaggressions endured in daily life by the Gandullas because of their ancestry and class. Does even the documentation bear this kind of disregard?  Torn and water stained pages full of insect holes pit the tropical environment against paper, weighted by records for a diverse rural population. Advancing the frames of the microfilm shows that the form beneath this page was not filmed, and the start of the document is covered by the stitched slip, “Nacimientos de 1890, Leg. 31 Exp. 81e” from the Archivo Municipal de San German.  it is still remarkable that it survived all this time.

For Basilio and Mercedes’ daughter, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez, their child’s name may simply appear as Carmen on the left hand margin, despite her full name appearing in the document, a level of care more often taken with people considered blancos of higher status. In his post for the municipality of San German, Juan Antonio Gandulla— “D. Juan A. Gandulla, Secretario”, was tied to the family who once owned Basilio’s father, and insured that there was no mistake between their lines, so that some social divisions continued. Yet additional documentation may reveal the complexity of relationships and networks that sustained families in Barrio Penon and beyond.

The statement that D. JA Gandulla, recording the birth wrote near the bottom, highlighted in a detail from the birth certificate below was: “Que es prieta por linea paterna de Tomas Liberto de Gandulla y Ma. Jose Rivera.“ “She is black via the paternal line of Tomas Gandulla’s Freedman and Maria Jose Rivera”   As secretary, D. Juan A. Gandulla made sure to record the girl’s paternal lineage as black. Yet this identity was far more flexible than the secretary could have imagined, for in the coming decades, the racial identity of the Gandulla grandchildren is recorded as white.

“Que es prieta por linea paterna de Tomas Liberto de Gandulla y Ma. Jose Rivera.”

Maria del Carmen Gandulla Candelario

Tomas Gandulla’s son,, Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera and his wife Juana Ramona Candelario also had a daughter, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Candelario, born in February 1890. In this record, Jose Cecilio appears as Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandulla, and he reported both the birth and the death of his daughter, who only lived for one day.

“Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandula. detail, Acta Nacimiento Maria del Carmen Candelario, 14 Feb 1890.

Again the same Secretario, Juan A. Gandulla inscribed the information for the municipal series Nacimientos de Barrio Rosario de Penon that year. As Jose Cecilio Gandulla and Juana Ramona Candelario were not yet married, the secretary notes the details of their single status. During the nineteenth century, the genealogy of people of color often comprises a lineage from single mothers, free and unfree:  

..comparecio Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandulla, natural de este poblado, mayor de edad, soltero, labrador y vecino de Barrio Ros.o de Penon de S. German, presentando con objeto como padre ilegitimo declaro que se inscriba que era hija natural de Juana Ramona Candelario, natural de San German de 22 anos de edad, soltera, domestica y avecinada en dicho barrio. Que era nieta por linea materna de Ma de la Cruz, natural de San German ya difunta. y a dicha niña ha puesto el nombre de Ma del Carmen…

So, despite Juan Cecilio’s accounting for his identity as father of Maria del Carmen in person, her surname is listed as Candelario, not Gandulla.  By 1909 the law was changed to include details concerning paternity, and many women took advantage of this opportunity to amend the birth records to identify the father of a child born out of wedlock.  Still, in other municipalities, a father’s willingness to identify his paternity could be followed by the use of his surname for births out of wedlock.

These details suggests that Maria Josefa/Jose Rivera married her husband while they were both enslaved, because their son, Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera appears as ‘Liberto’ — freedman— in the 1890 record for their granddaughter, Maria del Carmen Candelario.  As this happens in 1890, not 1870, why was it necessary to continue mentioning the status? Was there a Jose Cecilio Gandulla blanco? or was it simply pulling rank in the rural society of San German?

While no additional information has turned up on his first marriage to Maria Rivera, it is possible that despite enslavement, they married and had a family before 1873-1876. Maria Rivera was alive at least until 1854, when her second son, Jose Cecilio was born. 

After 1890

In the 1910 census, both Jose Cecilio and his brother Basilio Gandulla’s families were working on a coffee plantation, in Barrio Rosario Penon, on the “Camino de San German a Rosario, sendero del Penon, Rio Abajo” (Road from San German to Rosario, path of Penon, Lower River). Their sons are listed as laborers.  Jose Cecilio Gandulla’s death certificate of 1926 lists his occupation as “Agricultor— finca de su padre”, which tells us he worked his father’s farm as a farmer, and likely inherited the farm.  Over the course of his lifetime across various census records makes visible the change in economies a decade after the Spanish American War.

Basilio Gandulla Rivera and Cecilio Gandulla Rivera, 1910 census Bo. Rosario Penon, San German

By 1930, only Basilio Antonio Gandulla remained, and labor there was now devoted to a different crop, sugar. 

During the mid-nineteenth century, the area of San German had the major plantation crops of coffee, sugar along with minor crops that fed the population. Without additional documentation, it is difficult to say what other crops the Gandulla grew besides coffee, or what kinds of situations and arrangements they navigated. By the early twentieth century, social conditions and status changed, and these branches of the Gandulla family continued to grow. 

Whether family members worked in the fields, or in the home that served as its administrative center, or labored as service people within the town, the cycles of sowing, tending and harvesting, overlaid by the Catholic calendar structured their lives . As the details across documents show, family histories were determined by shifting conditions of freedom, enslavement and class. In 1910, six grandsons of Tomas Gandulla worked as farm laborers, four granddaughters as domestics, a generation born on the cusp of emancipation.

References

Writing Juan Tomas Gandulla back into history was part of a larger research project for Maara Vazquez., “Finding Maria Monserrate Malave.” March 2018.

A great place to begin understanding what’s at stake with writing the Gandulla back into history is Milagros Denis, review article, “The Problem of Slavery in the Puerto Rican Societ: , Reseña de “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” de Luis Figueroa, “La esclavitud menor: la esclavitud en los municipios del interior de Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX” de Mariano Negrón Portillo and Raúl Mayo Santana y “Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico” de Guillermo Baralt. Centro Journal [en linea] 2009, XXI (Sin mes) : [Fecha de consulta: 2 de abril de 2019] Disponible en:<http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37721248012> ISSN 1538-6279

Centro Geográfico del Ejército, Itinerario de San German a El Rosario por la altura (1888). Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Ricohttps://archivonacional.com/PL/1/1/1290

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ7-VWTG : 17 July 2017), Juan Tomás Gandulla in entry for Juan Tomás Gandulla, 20 Dec 1887; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV1Y-RP5L : 17 July 2017), José Cecilio Liberto Gandulla in entry for María del Carmen Candelario, ; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJZ-PMJ6 : 17 July 2017), Maria del Rosario Varquez Y Acosta in entry for Maria Malavé Y Varquez, 19 May 1902; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ7-V8M3 : 17 July 2017), María Malavé in entry for María Monserrate Gandulla Y Malavé, 19 Jan 1889; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-82XH : 16 July 2017), Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera, 25 Nov 1926; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

On the Other Side: Loreta Janeta Velazquez (1842 -1897)

“Harry T. Buford 1st Lt Indpt Scouts C.S.A” Civil War Veteran, Confidence Woman or both?

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.  

Title page, The Woman In Battle (1876)

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. 

EDITED BY

C. J. WORTHINGTON,

The dedication lets you know right away what side she was rooting for: 

TO MY 

Comrades of the Confederate Armies, 

WHO, ALTHOUGH THEY FOUGHT IN A LOSING CAUSE, 

SUCCEEDED BY THEIR VALOR IN WINNING 

THE ADMIRATION OF THE WORLD, 

THIS NARRATIVE

OF MY ADVENTURES AS A SOLDIER, A SPY, 

AND A SECRET-SERVICE AGENT, 

Is Dedicated,  

WITH ALL HONOR, RESPECT, AND GOOD WILL.

Madame Velazquez in Female Attire. Frontispiece, The Woman in Battle

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.’ [10] 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.” [11]

“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.” [12]

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: [111] “… 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’ family

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.

Diego Velazquez de Cuellar By Unknown – John Carter Brown Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4865322

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.

Maybe it was the mustache?   Self portrait By Diego Velázquez – [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1963704
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:

Velazquez, My Childhood Home, WIB

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 Roach

Lieutenant Bensford

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:

Masthead, Tarborough Southerner, NC, Friday Aug. 27, 1875

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.

A reference

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.

http://www.studlife.com/archives/News/2006/02/03/CornelWestdeliversinspiringlecture/

Paul Rucker: Stories from the Trees

This morning I sit with the work of Paul Rucker, who manifests the realities behind terminology, and the coercive, body destroying violence that is a part of the legacy of white supremacy. His strategic use of sound and image in a multi-disciplinary performance reanimates imagery to memorialize the nearly 4800 African Americans lynched between 1882-1968. While people from different ethnicities were also lynched, African Americans were disproportionately targeted.

The video  begins with his electronic score for revealing the rate of prison building in America, to one a day. Lights begin to appear, color coded to time periods in which areas rapidly spread and merge. This is a parasitic system on the body politic, something that continues to suck lifeblood as the system of penalties keeps removing access to education, housing, food out of reach while providing a captive labor force with wages under $2 an hour. This violence is slow moving, constraining millions of people from the ability to define themselves, their families and their lives. It’s enshrined in the 13th Amendment.

Evolution

Yet many are unable to grasp just how high the social cost of imprisonment actually is, and that the US holds over 2.1 million people in prison, a disproportionately black population that continues to grow.

As genealogists & family historians, this growth means that working with records of incarceration will become a requirement as we close towards a present where generations are being shaped more by incarceration and deportation than schools, families and communities. And last week, we saw the plans for indefinite incarceration of brown people escaping violence and seeking asylum, and this weekend, people march against the policy, with over 750 locations across the country. That sinking feeling returns, yet knowing we are witnessing another round of the 1870s and 1890s gives me hope that this country can do better than inspire last century’s racist vision of purity. We have been here before.

There’s a close connection to the economy and the logic of targeting the poor as the reason, rather than the structural inequality of wealth produced in the US . The Great Depression was not caused by Americans living in poverty. That the GDP for Puerto Rico is half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, was not caused by the people of Puerto Rico. Let us turn further back.

For hundreds of years, slavery removed or hampered access to equality for millions of people. Colorism (which is with us in myriad forms) then refined that access further. Both are legacies that need to be grappled with in the building of family trees and the acceptance of DNA results. The legal structures that made those issues possible are still present today, and continue to shape inequality. How to tell those stories differs, and different formats help to convey different facets of experience. I want to share the work of artists who communicate a complex story visually, to provide a visceral understanding for difficult historical and contemporary moments.

Rucker’s work transforms the news of lynching into dangling figures that remind us of the human toll, a legacy that cannot be denied or forgotten. Numbers serve to abstract realities , and when humans are represented by numbers, their lives can sink into definitions that render them unremarkable and disposable. We write against this tide.

“…when humans are represented by numbers, their lives can sink into definitions that render them unremarkable and disposable. We write against this tide.”

This ongoing work of restoring humanity to our ancestors continues. QEPD, May they Rest In Peace, may we realize a long term vision for a world with restorative justice. To seek an end to inequality, racial terror and trauma is the task of every generation, just as it is urgently ours today.

Learn more:

Report on Racial Terror & Lynching:  https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/

Equal Justice Initiative: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration:

Interview with filmmaker Ava DuVernay on her film, 13th (2016):