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Black and White and Red All over, Too
Journey of an American family
By Cynthia Jeffries Long
Copyright 2002 Cynthia Long
All rights reserved
Table of Contents
P.4 The Preface while summarizing my motivation in writing this book also introduces two themes which recur throughout my narrative. First and foremost is every family is a history lesson. Yet however true and important, the fact many Americans, in particular, those who descend from some of the earliest Americans, whether now identified as black or white, have a shared history, is at the core of what I uncovered.
P.9 “What We Share” examines several acquaintances who’s roots intertwine with mine. I would expect many of the stories and anecdotes will resonate with others and their history. Also as part of this chapter I document several families who although having a similar history are now divided my race.
P.145 The Casey, Pettiford and Smith Families
P.146 The Keen, Vaughn Families and Herbert Jeffries Family
P.149 The Coker Family
P.151 The Saunders and Wilson Family
P.152 The Goens Family
P.153 The Roberts Family
P.155 The Archer and Brown Family
P.156 More of What We Share
P. Introduction One introduces myself and the family I knew, hopefully furthering the readers understanding of where I was coming from and needed to go.
P. 18 Introduction Two introduces many of the families covered throughout the book. In doing so I try to convey where they were coming from. Also because of the numerous history lessons, the search for my roots revolved around, I try to simplify some of what I learned within this introduction.
P.32 P.11 Chapter 1 “My Journey,” recounts my journey in the actual order it took place. It is important to note I did not have access to the Internet in the beginning of my research. My journey was a systematic backwards tracing of information, unlike today’s family historian who may skip generations and a mere typing of a name and possibly a place and much is learned. Each step backwards added facts and places to research. Considering the nature of such research, the many detours and even missteps played an important role in my enjoyment of discovery; it became my very own detective story.
P.76 Chapter Two highlights the extent four very interesting individuals enabled me to complete my family tree. Continuing the narration of my journey in real time, each person introduced me to the next, with each opening new avenues of research.
P.96 Postscript to Chapter Two
P.100 The Conclusion: its title is self-explanatory - Black and White and Red all over.
P.106 The Epilogue documents the discovery of my Kunte and Kissy
P.7 The Methods section details used during the actual search for my roots.
The Notes section covers previously mentioned subjects, family genealogies and inter-connections I felt were not practical for the main body of work.
B - Stanley and Shepherd Family Photographs
C - The Stafford Family
D - The Jones Family
E - The Foster Family
F - The Winborn Family
G - The Roberts Family
H - The Jeffries Cemetery
I - Last Will and Testament of Wright Jeffries
J - Last Will and Testament of Andrew Jeffries
K - The Occaneechi Struggle
L - Parker Jeffries’ Lawsuit
M - The Lawsuit
Constructive tips for those searching their roots are included throughout the narrative.
Footnotes which substantiate and define various statements are for the most part drawn from the communities covered.
“Every Family is A History Lesson”
reached back. I refer to the search for my father, Kensel Jeffries’ roots, as “my journey,” as I traveled backwards into the lives of ancestors through the twentieth, nineteenth, eighteenth and ultimately the seventeenth century.
Learning about my family, Black Americans whose history reached back before our country was established was an enlightening experience. The fact of black American history, many descended from Africans who were brought to America before the eighteenth century, coincides with what is referred to as the founding of the new world. Understandably, our family histories are filled with aspects of America’s larger history. No aspect of which is more significant than early America’s dependence on free labor/slavery.
Furthermore, this subjugation of a people, which for one, resulted in African-American’s idiosyncratic mixture of blood, is behind many of our families’ inimitable spins on race. With each step backwards, I realized more and more the extent my father’s roots, wound around issues, such as race and slavery.
I increasingly became aware our specific history was not only a slice of Black history but one peculiarly relevant to many white Americans. But I stress what I am referring to transcends mere blood. Being black or white has always been more than a simple mixture of genes. My reference point is not the typical; I am not referring to the immeasurable numbers resulting from the brutality of the slave master. Their children lived in different worlds. My focus concerns families which started out as one but because of what this country became, they separated, branching out into either the black or white worlds of America. Indeed, such roots, which are a part of so many black American families’ oral histories and however interesting to some or trivial to others, it opened doors to my roots.
Successful in determining where we came from I increasingly realized how these factors twisted in and out of my research. They took me beyond the listing of names on a family tree. Additionally, I realized because of efforts to conceal our history, a uniquely American family story was unknown. The more I learned I knew I had to document why and how all of this came about. It was a story in and of itself.
In documenting my discoveries, putting together the pieces of my puzzle, my ancestors as well as their peers became a colorful collage of America. Considering the numerous others within my story, the Bunn’s, the Keens, the Goens, etc., the numbers become incalculable. Moreover, there are countless other American families with similar histories.
Although my research will further our knowledge that much is common to all of us, a broader study and investigation of our shared history of black, white and red is needed. Our American history should not be told without including all of its nuances and all of its people. I challenge the sociology and history scholars to do so, especially as we increasingly acknowledge America’s unique past.
“Every Family is A History Lesson and this is mine.
Paradoxically, my need to find my father’s roots, his African American roots was fueled to a great extent by what I knew of my family: my maternal grandfather, a Wampanoag Indian from Massachusetts and my grandmother, who was born in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Since I lived in my grandparent’s home along with my parents, they had easy access to this sponge of a child, with both frequently taking the opportunity to pass on their history. My grandfather’s tribal history was a favorite subject. Whether it was the Wampanoag’s interactions with the Pilgrims and in particular their hosting of the first Thanksgiving or other captivating recollections, each were chapters in my very own personal history book.
But my mother’s family’s history—was removed from my life as a black girl from Detroit. Understandably, it seemed to have little relevance to my life.
Also my familiarity with the history of my mother’s family contrasted sharply with the little I knew of my father’s family.
Yet, similar to my maternal grandfather’s Native American ancestry, I went on to find my father’s roots deeply imbedded in America’s history. I came to understand his ancestors’ lives and in several instances their very existence was affected by historical events. These revelations began to make America’s history even more personal.
I planned on researching the four branches of my father’s family, each free people of color - his paternal lines, the Jeffries and the Staffords, as well as his maternal lines, the Joneses and the Fosters. But because of the large amount of information I began to uncover, even within the first weeks of my search, I decided I needed to focus on one branch at a time. I chose to primarily research the Jeffries, the name I carried before marrying.
But soon, this goal also had to be revised. I realized, although I tried to focus on the Jeffries, because of their continuous and strong linkage with an interconnected group of families, I was uncovering not one family’s history or four, but numerous families.
To a great extent these free people of color originated in four counties: Greensville County, Virginia, Northampton, Halifax and Hertfort County, North Carolina. Decades before the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery for all black people in 1865, as early as the 1820’s they began migrating to various communities in Ohio and subsequently to Indiana. My specific ancestors as well as many of these fellow travelers, which I began to call them, continued on to Southwestern Michigan by the 1850’s.
Despite the distance between their various settlements in Ohio and Indiana and Michigan, as in Virginia and North Carolina, they maintained their interrelationships for over two centuries. The fact these families stayed connected throughout their westward migration to modern times was quite interesting.
What We Share
“Soon we will only share the history”
A personal take on this shared history
Cynthia Long and
Dr. Joseph Casey
Fox Lake, Indiana
1990An especially interesting and unanticipated (although logical) aspect of my journey was the fact several of my contemporaries (white, as well as black) also descended from I referred to as fellow travelers. The same sociological and geographical factors which made Detroit, the last stop for countless southern black and white job hunters, attracted many of the families my research covered. Indeed, migrants from rural Michigan and from the adjoining states of Indiana and Ohio came to Detroit looking for a better life.
The realization much of my story and its anecdotes would resonate with acquaintances, was truly an added benefit. My research turned the pop culture theory, “everyone is only separated by six people”, into what I refer to as my two degrees of separation rule.
In addition, many aspects of what I discovered and subsequently detailed in Chapter One, the narrative of my actual search, I found to be alive and well. The following is the first of several encounters, which brought to life aspects of my research. Also the manner in which this meeting came about, was somewhat of an initiation to several other out of the ordinary experiences which came about throughout my research. For the most part they added to my research but some were merely personally rewarding and enjoyable.
The series of events began quite typically, after finding a Jeffries mentioned in the 1890 Detroit, Michigan Directory, (a compilation of Detroit residents and their occupations). In one residence two widows originally from Indiana, Georgia Jeffries, a dressmaker and her sister-in-law Annie Long were listed. At first glance, I thought of this as a snippet of information, illustrating what was surely a common situation: the practicality of migrants, usually relatives living together.
I began accumulating facts about Georgia’s specific family, which I initially thought would merely be a cursory search to eliminate her being a part of my lineage. It however resulted in me uncovering a branch of my family, whose history led to several tangents and interesting aspects. For example, Georgia’s father an Augustus Jeffries was born in 1843, the very year his uncle (who he was named after) won a court case to change his last name to that of his biological white father, Augustus Wyche Robinson. From the moment I learned of these circumstances; my mind wandered to probable discussions and emotions, which had to have taken place. For one, had Georgia’s grandfather named his son after his brother because he knew his brother was leaving the family in more than name?
It was no more than a month after coming across this intriguing family history I met Dr. Joseph Casey, the nephew of Georgia L. Jeffries, at a golf outing in Fox Lake, Indiana. As routine as visiting the library and finding Georgia Jeffries listed in a book, coming across her nephew at a golf tournament was truly unusual.
Deciding not to golf the second day of the outing, the day began talking over breakfast with my friend, Karen Fahle. Since I had recently learned about Georgia’s branch of the Jeffries and in particular, that they were pioneers of the area we were visiting, my conversation was filled with information about the family. Now more aware of the intensity those interested in genealogy will sometimes flaunt their discoveries, my conversation must have been quite tiresome. She responded several times, somewhat sarcastically, “you surely will come across a cousin”. I acknowledge, again in retrospect - I felt I needed to expand my white friend’s knowledge of black history beyond the stereotypical tales of slavery, southern plantations, etc.
Given what was a give and take type conversation, however good-humored, it is understandable when Karen seized her first opportunity to possibly end my ramblings. She suggested talking to a foursome, who had entered the restaurant, obviously having finished their round of golf. We introduced ourselves and skipping any small talk she interjected, “Does anyone know any Jeffries?”
To my surprise as well as Karen being startled, an older, white-looking gentleman leaned forward saying his mother was a Jeffries. Although he had grown up close by, Dr. Joseph Casey went on to explain he was unfamiliar with his mother’s side of the family. He then, quite mischievously stated to his buddies, he had always wondered what “drop” had designated him black. Maybe one would have to have been there, but this was not said in a negative or anti-black way. In fact, because in most contexts, one would assume he was white; it was an acknowledgement of what many had probably wondered.
Interested in which branch of the Jeffries he belonged, I asked his grandfather’s name. Not knowing, he answered by naming his mother as Georgia Jeffries. Without pausing, I began a detailed synopsis of his family beginning with Georgia being the daughter of Augustus Jeffries and the granddaughter of a Wyatt Jeffries. It is not exaggeration facts covering this very interesting history spilled out so quickly, I had to catch my breath several times.
Realizing the oddity of being so knowledgeable, I explained my interest in his specific branch was spurred by an especially intriguing court case. I went on to tell Dr. Casey details of his grandfather’s brother’s civil suit to change his last name of Jeffries to Robinson, the name of their biological (white) father.
The Casey, Pettiford, and Smith Families
Dr. Casey stayed in contact, mailing within the same week a detailed history of his father’s side: the Casey, Pettiford and Smith families. They were among the founders of the Weaver Settlement, in Grant County, Indiana during the 1840’s. It was made up of free people of color who migrated to Indiana from, as he mentioned, the same general region as the Jeffries. Their community, along with the numerous other free colored communities I was in the process of learning about, was not only comprised of families with similar backgrounds, but who were often related. Because of these parallel histories I was increasingly meeting members of these proud African-American families. But during this early stage of my search, I was fascinated and surprised at each new encounter.
During such meetings, formal and informal, everyone eagerly shared family chronicles, resulting in even more interconnections. Alongside my labeling them as fellow travelers I also began to refer to them lightheartedly but rather accurately, as fellow tribal members.
Their stories often included examples of race affecting their family history. Several verified the harm, I could only assume, separating into the white and black worlds of America must have caused. The next, rather pertinent anecdote came from a man who descended from not one, but several families of the Weaver Settlement.
It was during a conversation about meeting Dr. Casey, a friend of my Aunt Josephine who in the truest sense just happened to be part of the discussion, mentioned he knew Dr. Casey. He went on to state he also descended from several families of the Weaver Settlement. Although more than 100 years had passed since his ancestors first settled in Indiana, his family, as recent as his upbringing during the 1950’s, had not moved.
Responding to our obvious interest he went on to tell a thought-provoking story. It involved “passing” and as anything pertaining to the practice, it was a “Pandora’s Box” of information. It was a strikingly personal verification of the harm caused by separating from one’s family to change one’s racial identity to white.
He recounted his uncle during one weekly Sunday dinner informing his brother’s family, his family could no longer associate with them. His uncle’s family, who would continue to live on the adjoining farm, was “crossing over”, in other words they were changing their identity to white. It was an intriguing story, but as he mentioned he could no longer play with his only neighbors, his best friends, his cousins, was especially poignant. During his retelling of the incident, he chuckled, remembering his uncle was somehow surprised when his father told them to leave. Yet even though smiling, I saw in this now middle-aged man’s eyes, wounds that would never heal.
His recollections definitely touched contemporary times. But it was easy to surmise comparable incidents, far from anyone’s actual memory, had to have been common.
The Keen and Vaughn Families and Herbert Jeffries Family
One case dealing with two Jeffries families of Lansing, Michigan, one white and one black, definitely touches today. They are unaware of the history they share. A unique history intertwined with several families, again illustrating several factors within my narrative. But most importantly illustrating my main goal - documenting our history - as soon we only have the history.
Their story begins with cousins, Mourning and Herbert Jeffries, who were born in approximately the 1780’s. They undoubtedly were close, growing up near each other in Greensville County, Virginia.
Mourning and Herbert were both middle-aged by the time they, along with all their children migrated from Greensville County, Virginia to Ohio and then Indiana. In Indiana Herbert’s family settled in Whitley County while Mourning’s settled in Rush County. Both of their settlements were populated by a number of families from what I have determined was one community, which spread approximately thirty miles from north to south. It included the southernmost part of Greenville County, Virginia down to Halifax and Northampton Counties in North Carolina and across to Hertford County, also in North Carolina. Example after example illustrate numerous families’ close relationships that began there.
As in Virginia and North Carolina, the communities these families settled in Ohio and Indiana were often more than a day’s travel from each other. The fairly close proximity of the Roberts Settlement in Hamilton, County, Indiana to their previous community in Rush County, was not the norm. More common was the approximately 100 miles between Herbert’s community in Smith Township in Whitley County and Mourning’s community in Ripley Township in Rush County.
However far from each other, wherever these families settled, who they married, for one, emphasized repeatedly the strength and longevity of their relationships. For example, soon after Herbert’s family’s migration to Whitley County Indiana his son, Mortimore Jeffries moves to Rush County. As deciphered from the census - within a short time he marries an Elizabeth Keen there in 1840. The prevalence of marriages between Mortimore Jeffries’ siblings (Whitley County) and his wife, Elizabeth Keen’s siblings (Rush County) testifies to their deeply rooted interrelationships. .
A century later, by the middle of the 1850’s several branches of each of the Jeffries and Keens settled in Southwestern Michigan, mainly in Cass County. Mortimore and Elizabeth’s son Levi continues this path so many followed, a geographical path, as well as marrying into another interconnected family. Levi Jeffries married Addella Vaughn, daughter of Henry Vaughn Jr. and Mary (Bunn) in Cass County, Michigan.
Generations earlier Addella Vaughn’s family started out in Hertford County, where her husband Levi Jeffries’ mother’s family, the Keens also originated. Once again pointing to prior relationships, which were strongly held and purposely maintained.
The continued overlapping of these family’s roots, also emphasized their longstanding free heritage.
Henry Vaughn’s father, Henry Vaughn Sr.’s family having migrated from Hertfort County, North Carolina in the 1820’s, they made their first Northern home in Cedarville, Greene County, Ohio. They settled in the Beech Community in Rush County by 1834 and by 1870 the family had moved on to Cass County, Michigan.
Whether in North Carolina or in Indiana or in the Southwestern corner of Michigan; there they are: the Keens, the Jeffries, and the Vaughns throughout the generations. By the time these particular families settled in Michigan their roots reach back for at least a century into free black communities. For instance, going back as far as Addella Vaughn’s great-grandmother’s family, the Bairds owned land in early 1800’s Virginia.
A truly convoluted history of families I determined originated from the same Virginia/North Carolina community and who shared a long history of freedom and who continued to stay connected through the generations.
But by 1910, things have changed. The Vaughns have abandoned their history and whatever status it entailed. The 1910 Michigan census lists Henry Jr. and Mary (Bunn) Vaughn, both seventy living in Lansing with their daughter and son-in-law, Levi Jeffries nearby. Their comfortable little communities were no longer and their Mulatto label would soon be abandoned for a white identity.
Mourning Jeffries and her sons followed the same geographical path as Herbert Jeffries’ family’s migrations outlined in the preceding paragraphs, (Greensville County, Virginia, Rush County, Indiana and Southwestern Michigan). Yet her family ended up in a different world.
My personal lineage starting in Virginia has Mourning Jeffries migrating with her son, Walker to Indiana. Walker Jeffries’ third child, Robertson is born in 1837 in the Beech community in Rush County. By the 1860 census Robertson has moved on from his father and grandmother, settling in Southwestern Michigan.
Two generations later, Robertson’s granddaughter, Josephine, who was born in Niles, Michigan was handpicked to be one of three Negro girls to be the first of their race to be secretaries for the State of Michigan. Moving to Michigan’s capital city in 1933, she subsequently marries and starts her family in Lansing.
How ironic the contemporary descendants of the Greensville County Jeffries are acquainted in Lansing, but because their ancestors separated into the white and black worlds, they are oblivious to the history they share. They assume their last names are only coincidental.
Every time I came across family members taking different racial identities, I easily imagined the range of feelings. I also recognized a good deal of what I was uncovering was not that long ago. My father’s generation and those slightly older; lived in that world with all of its betrayal and disconnectedness. For example, it was a Mrs. Finley, an older friend of my Aunt Josephine, who contributed a few personal recollections to what she teasingly referred to as my “so-called discovery”. She remembered the “other” Lansing Jeffries from her childhood, having attended Sunday School with them at the Bethel AME Church.
A few have taken issue with this curiosity about people so long ago and/or so far away in many aspects. But to put it in perspective, my husband’s family’s outings are an example of the continuity of family, where the great-grandchildren of siblings now having children are very aware of their relationship. They share the same ethnicity to begin with, the same area, the same values and to a large degree resemblances still prevail.
I am certainly sensitive of the degree my lineage is disconnected, yet I feel it highlights why we need to know our shared history.
Oral histories and the personal insights of many such as Mrs. Finley definitely added to my discoveries.
The Roberts Family
Although I was increasingly becoming aware of the historical interconnections of so many families, it was my meeting a Martha (Roberts) Sanders and all of which developed from her that tied up many loose ends.
She was yet another example of how the remembrances of older generations, were an ongoing help in my research. In addition, their willingness to share photograph contributed immensely to my research.
When coming across vintage Cabinet Cards labeled Jeffries, she knew exactly where they belonged. She was aware of a fellowship between the Roberts family and Jeffries, which had survived over two centuries. Adding to the degree of interrelationships, she was a retired teacher at my uncle, Lewis Jeffries’ school in Detroit, where he was in the last year as principal. She called my uncle, stating she had photographs from the 1800’s of his family, whereupon I was recruited to talk to her.
Listening to Martha (Roberts) Sanders recall family conversations about her mother’s lineage, in particular, their connections with the Jeffries was fascinating. Given she was born in 1907, the stories she vividly told from her youth, not to mention her remembrances of her older relatives recounting their oral histories, went deep into the nineteenth century.
An unexpected and especially nice outcome of my discussions with Martha (Roberts) Sanders is the Jeffries and Roberts are friends, once more. This friendship and later with her daughters, Martha Vincent and Marilyn Thomas now continues into the twenty-first century.
Most of Marilyn (Sanders) Thomas’ adult life has been in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The fact Yellow Springs is in Greene County and near the very area the Jeffries and Roberts settled, after leaving Virginia and/or North Carolina is only coincidental.
Martha (Sanders) Vincent has lived in Detroit since college. She especially, I found very interested in this intriguing group of black migrants and has furthered my knowledge of these people. In 2000, she and I became part of a group of ladies whose commonality is our interest in doing things for and/or with our grandchildren. One semi-annual activity for our group is to go antiquing or as coined by our founder, Shirley Northcross, “Bumpin and Junkin”. Our first trip included shopping in the numerous antique stores along the route through Indiana and Ohio, to the home of Marilyn (Sanders) Thomas.
Marilyn (Sanders) Thomas now of Yellow Springs, Ohio,
Martha (Sanders) Vincent of Detroit, Michigan and
Cynthia (Jeffries) Long, now living in Southfield, Michigan
Since much of this trip took place where my direct ancestors lived from the 1820’s to the 1860’s, I found myself, searching diligently, hoping to retrieve a lost photograph. From the first store to the last, piles of Cabinet Cards were presented as “instant ancestors”. Not only was this surprising but an insult to any serious researcher. It also diminishes the possibility of finding that “one” clue and place it in its rightful home.
The Coker Family
An especially treasured discovery is a scrapbook of photographs my father collected during his dating years. My Aunt Josephine recognized two of the young ladies pictured as members of the Coker family of Niles, Michigan where they had all grown up. She suggested asking their brother Bernie Coker, to help identify the others. He easily recalled every person as friends of his oldest sister, Maxine and visibly enjoyed contributing his own recollections of the people shown.
An especially attractive grouping of photographs from the scrapbook chronicles one apparently fun day in the lives of ten young adults. Their good looks, all fashionably dressed, including furs worn by several of the young ladies are very much on display. Only an assumption at the time I came upon the scrapbook, but the photographs seemed to declare their upward mobility. Additional research determined most of the young people pictured (the children of farmers) were college students, evidently on their way to bigger and better things. Interestingly Bernie mentioned two of the couples were later joined in marriage.
The families represented in this 1930’s photograph, the Byrds, the Ashes, the Wilsons, the Cokers, the Sanders and the Jeffries reiterate the strength of family connections I found throughout my research. Ties that remained strong, up to my generation.
The Cokers for instance, were yet another black family with a long history of freedom. An interesting history reaching back to the 1700’s Virginia with a Peter Coker and his wife Elizabeth Stewart. Elizabeth’s maternal side includes another free colored family’s roots that later settled in Michigan, the Dungeys.
Left to Right - Kensel Jeffries (my father), Ailene Byrd, Ester Wilson, __ ___, Maxine Coker, Marcia Ash, Alden Byrd, Norma Coker,
_____ Byrd and Marshall Sanders
The earliest of records consistently list the Cokers, the Stewarts, the Dungeys, as well as the Jeffries’ native area, as Brunswick County, Virginia. Since they had not moved and since their area became part of Greensville County, Virginia in 1781, gives more insight into the depth of their participation in the early years of America.
The Sanders and The Wilsons
As stated, the revelatory nature of the photographs acquired during my research, was substantive, consistently leading to more information. The previously mentioned scrapbook is a personal treasure, giving me a glimpse into my father’s life totally unlike what a census listing or a document could possibly do. For example, it introduced me to a group of interesting individuals from his past. Two of these young people, a Marshall Sanders and Ester Wilson who later married, had made their home but a block from where I grew up. Shrinking, if possible my two degrees of separation theory, is the fact our childhood homes were no more than a hundred feet from each other.
Only slightly aware of some connection between my father and the Sanders, the scrapbook illustrated their closeness from years gone by. Consequently, when I came across their son who I remembered from the neighborhood, I was very inquisitive. It truly was a “don’t I know you from somewhere” type encounter, which re-introduced me to Marshall and Ester Sanders’ son, Maurice. Overriding the fact Maurice is knowledgeable about Southwestern Michigan’s black history, was my curiosity on a thoroughly personal level. Totally immersed into long-forgotten questions, such as his parents’ relationship to my father, etc., kept us from acknowledging the social event we were attending. I remember my pleasantly surprised reaction, as Maurice recalled my father, referring to him by his first name and describing “Kensel towering over everyone”.
During our second conversation, he mentioned having photographs of his parents together with Kensel and other friends. Sending one via email, I recognized it from my father’s scrapbook, which totally floored both of us. After examination, since his father and mine are rarely in the same photograph we concluded they were the primary photographers. Maurice pointed out the windmill in the background in several, his smile coming through the phone, fondly recalling his maternal grandparents, James and Rosetta Wilson. He was very familiar with their farm, where his parents and their friends clearly enjoyed some fun times.
The Goens Family
So many old connections continue in Detroit. Along with the Cokers, Roberts, and Sanders, etc., another family I frequently came across during my research was Goens family. Aware of my Aunt Lydia’s marriage to Charles Goens of Dowagiac Michigan, I took a personal interest wherever I came upon the name.
Once more demonstrating “six vs. two degrees of separation”, my Aunt’s husband, Charles Goens’ sister, Ruth, married Judge Charles Farmer of Detroit, a golfing buddy of my husband for decades. But more importantly with further research I documented the Goens’ lineage intersecting with my father’s maternal line, the Fosters, in nineteenth century Albemarle County, Virginia.
Whether listed as Goins or Gowans and other variations of their surname, the name is often mentioned in books and for instance in online sites covering the history of early mixed blood people in America. One group, what is referred to as the Melungeon people, the Goens name is prominent in any version of their history. One or another of their branches are also a part of many of the free colored communities in Ohio and Indiana with their strong presence continuing into Southwestern Michigan. The documented number of branches listed in Paul Heinegg’s book Free African-Americans of North Carolina and Virginia, as one example, is an indication of the extent the name has to have multiplied across this country.
Artis, Brown, Byrd, Lawson, Stewart …
Research as well as chance meetings, some alluded to as divine intervention, to new friendships, all broaden what I learned by traditional means. Understandably, after a few, as I called my “chance encounters”, I could not dismiss any avenue of research, however trivial or out of the ordinary.
It was my cousin, the late Gordon Jeffries who, happened upon a slew of vintage Jeffries Cabinet Cards at a garage sale of all places, connecting our family to the then recently deceased Basil Brown. He was a member of the Michigan State Senate before he was thirty and an active participant in the politics of Michigan for another thirty years.
A search of Basil’s roots documented our connection through my great-grandfather’s sister, Julia’s marriage to Joseph Ampey. On the Ampey side, it reconnects to the Haithcocks, one more free colored family originating in an area bordering Virginia and North Carolina, and who migrated to Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
I had taken note again and again, how the work ethic and integrity of the farmers of Cass County and comparable communities are well-known and have frequently been documented. For instance, from a book about Cass County, the author mentions, their commonality of progress: “Names such as Byrd, Lawson, Artis, Stewart were synonymous with integrity.”
Many of the descendants of this now widespread group of blacks sought out higher education and have done well for themselves. One of the more prominent examples is Dennis Archer, the mayor of Detroit from 1991 to 2002. Mayor Archer’s ancestors were longtime residents of Cass County, Michigan, migrating from Logan County, Ohio and North Carolina.
More of What We Share
Bloodlines, the backbone of genealogy, are the source of many inherited traits. The strong nose and chin the Jeffries joke about to this day are seen in the photograph of James W. Jeffries born in 1821, as well father Kensel Jeffries born in 1914, and his niece Lydia Goens born in 1962.
Although, superficial things like physical traits will diminish, we will always share the history.
Kensel Jeffries Lydia Goens
1914 – 1989 19
1821 – 1921
Greene County, Ohio
“Who was my Kunte Kinta?”
Before recounting my actual journey, those many steps I took to find my father’s roots, I would like to introduce myself and the family I knew. Considering my goals versus what I discovered the following introduction to me and members of my immediate family will contribute to the reader’s understanding of where I was coming from and needed to go.
Primarily told through anecdotes, this part of my narrative, which I refer to as Introduction One will hopefully expand upon why I wanted to learn about our African-American roots. “Who was my Kunte Kinta”?
Cynthia (Jeffries) Long
I will begin with one of my earliest memories, probably from kindergarten, bringing home a lesson about the Pilgrims—my maternal grandparents’ opening to teach me about my ancestors, the Wampanoag Indians of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The fact our ancestors greeted the Mayflower and everything revolving around this well-known chapter in America’s past was discussed, especially each fall, as Thanksgiving approached. For one, there invariably would be a school project on the subject.
Alfred DeGrasse - maternal grandfather
Gramps, as I affectionately called my grandfather, Alfred DeGrasse, would emphasize the first Thanksgiving came about because of his tribe’s generosity. He then would elaborate on how “his people” supported the first settlement of whites in America. It was only when I was a little older I detected the lighthearted, but still sarcastic tone in his voice.
Our home was full of memorabilia, books, artifacts and photographs representing Gramps’ heritage. He often related historical facts relevant to his family and tribe. One of his favorite subjects was his grandfather, Watson Hammond. The local Cape Cod newspaper described him as Massachusetts first “North American” State legislator. (See Notes A: DeGrasse and Stanley Roots) I clearly recall my fascination while he recounted this same grandfather’s youthful adventures hunting whales, which included circling Cape Horn several times.
Gramps also related interesting anecdotes from his childhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts and from his years at Carlisle Indian School. He attended this boarding school for Native Americans in Pennsylvania from 1905 to his graduation in 1911. (See previously mentioned Notes A) I assume his stay at Carlisle was necessary since his parents traveled selling homemade medications. They were, in the vernacular, “Medicine Men,” which led to countless more stories.
Many of Gramps’ recollections covered the socio-history of his times. He would explain it was Carlisle’s (and other Indian schools set up across the United States) purpose to erase their student’s culture. The Indian commissioner in 1904 justified it this way: “it was to shape their identity to resemble their civilized American brothers and sisters.” One particular detail must have struck a nerve, since he mentioned it frequently. His voice would fill with emotion, as he recalled the first thing which happened to all the new students (the majority were from tribes out West) was to cut their hair. He would try to explain why this symbolic act was so degrading. Furthermore, from his perspective, it must have been a wakeup call; he was from a “civilized” tribe on the east coast, which had lived, even then, the “ways of the white man” for several generations.
He also had an impassioned opinion of how bigotry affected his fellow Carlisle classmate, the legendary Jim Thorpe. Considered one of the most multitalented athletes ever, Thorpe starred in college and professional football, won Olympic gold medals in the Pentathlon and Decathlon and played major league baseball. Gramps felt Jim Thorpe’s transgressions (playing two seasons of minor league baseball before he participated in the Olympics) did not warrant the severe punishment of being stripped of his Olympic gold medals. Although playing for money violated Olympic and college rules, he cited our future President, Dwight Eisenhower as an example of it being an acknowledged practice. Backing up his memory author Robert Lipsyte states, “Many college athletes played under false, names, including Dwight Eisenhower, a West Point halfback, who roamed minor league outfields as Wilson.” All things considered, his recollections were surprisingly, only tinged with bitterness. Indeed, alongside the seriousness of the conversations covering Thorpe, it was obvious he took pleasure in Carlisle Indian School Football knowing the “Athlete of the twentieth century.”
Judging from the number of times he would corner me, to reminisce about those years and the many mementoes he kept from Carlisle, it was also obvious he was fond of the school. He was especially and justly proud of being Salutatorian at
his graduation. His hometown was proud as well, judging from articles in his hometown newspaper. (See Notes: The DeGrasse Family)
Mary (Stanley) DeGrasse - maternal grandmother
Gramps’ wife, my grandmother Mary (Stanley) DeGrasse, frequently recounted her colorful background as well. She was born in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) Canada. Approximately 2,000 miles away from her adopted hometown of Detroit, Michigan. I however cannot imagine the immeasurable cultural miles it was from the rural white setting of her childhood to the colored neighborhood she and Gramps moved to after leaving Massachusetts, where she had moved to as a teenager to work. Yet in retrospect, the bustling metropolis of Detroit was probably a good fit for her, a beautiful and outgoing woman, which certainly smoothed her adjustment in the colored Detroit community as any, appreciated a pretty lady.
Several of her recollections were especially interesting, revolving around her family being one of the few colored families on Prince Edward Island (also to be referred to as P.E.I.). For instance, she recalled her mother’s pride in having Booker T. Washington as a dinner guest in their home.
Meme would recount her mixed racial ancestry in detail. The degree of mixture was intriguing, exemplified by her father, a West Indian sailor, who she would add, was part Chinese. One of my first experiences of finding information backing an individual’s recollections was when I located Gustave (Augustus) Stanley, Meme’s father, in the Canadian Census; it listed his father as Chinese-born. Alongside the regular information, a handwritten notation states, “migrated to P.E.I. from Jamaica”. Although she was unaware of specifics, she stated her mother’s fraternal side, the Shepherds, whose history went back in P.E.I. to the eighteenth century, was of some “colored” blood. Grandmother “Meme” would carry on these conversations for more than a few minutes, usually ending with a short history of her mother’s maternal side, the Clows/Cloughs, who came to P.E.I., in 1844 from England.
Prince Edward Island
I jumped at the chance when life-long friend, Lila Cabbil, knowing my grandmother was from the general region, suggested I go with her to neighboring Nova Scotia.
Quite the activist, one of Lila’s main commitments was to Rosa Parks and the Institute named after her and her husband. During the summer of 1999, the Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute were taking a group of Detroit teens to Nova Scotia. Each year in fact, they took students to different destinations of the Underground Railroad. About half of Nova Scotia’s black population descended from African-Americans, who migrated there seeking freedom. Another large percentage of the black population descended from what is called black loyalists; the approximately 30,000 blacks who fought on the British side during the American Revolution. Many of the Black Loyalist were slaves, who had been promised freedom. As the result of losing, they evacuated with the white loyalists (often their previous masters) to Canada from the soon-to-be-United States of America. A small percentage of P.E.I.’s black population descends from West Indian sailors.
Arriving in Halifax, the capitol city of Nova Scotia we made an immediate connection. The hotel doorman, who did not hide his curiosity, inquired about our trip. After Lila mentioned she was part of the upcoming visit of Rosa Parks, I chimed in my purpose was to see the area where my ancestors, the Shepherds and the Stanleys, originated. “His last name is Shepherd”, he informed us, pointing to a black hotel worker no more than two feet from me. Another serendipity moment, but quite funny to Lila, since she was aware of my Indian roots and knew through my research I kept coming across white relatives. “You had to travel all the way to Nova Scotia to find a black relative”, she said, laughing.
Getting together with the hotel worker’s family, I learned they had only a vague knowledge of their background. However, they did know their black ancestors were among those called “Black Loyalist”. From the few clues they were able to furnish and notwithstanding a resemblance I have learned can reach over many generations, I concluded it is only a possibility we are of the same people.
From the first moment, I knew I was going on this trip I thought about visiting a cousin, who lived in Charlottetown, the capitol of Prince Edward Island. Any familiarity with my mother’s family came from the few who visited and the calls and letters, which always included up-to-date photos. In addition, both my mother and grandmother enjoyed recounting stories embracing what others would refer to as the old country. Discussed, especially after new photographs arrived, was who resembled, whomever in the family. My grandmother and mother described the cousin (who decades later I would visit), as the one who looked the most like my grandmother. Continuing to send photos of her growing family; I remember them teasing, she was maturing into a “white’ version of my grandmother. Since she had lived with us for a couple of years contributed to my impression I knew certain people, in particular her, as there were photographs of us together.
She clearly had made an impression in Detroit, as seemingly often, (or at least enough for me to notice) several male friends she dated during her stay, would ask how she was doing. My mother and grandmother would chuckle while explaining this cousin from P.E.I., along with a few others, came to Detroit to find “colored husbands”, which meant to them, rich husbands. The irony of this went over my head until many years later.
Understandably, uneasy about meeting her, I pictured several negative ways she could react to her black cousin. Yet knowing I could learn from her pushed me forward. I did end up calling and the ensuing conversation made me feel comfortable enough to visit. When she answered my knock on the door, her first words melted any apprehensions, “I would know you anywhere”, she exclaimed.
I set off on this personally, very meaningful visit after two days of sightseeing, along with a little research in Halifax. Heading out early in the morning, I remember thinking I was finally going to see the “red land” of P.E.I., which was how my grandmother described it. I crossed over the Confederation Bridge connecting the Canadian mainland in New Brunswick with P.E.I. in about four hours, smiling as I passed the first dirt road, noticing the land truly was red.
By going back to where my grandmother was born and above all, learning from my cousin, I did get a better sense of what my grandmother left and why. Quite open about racial matters, the subject I at first tried to slip in our conversation, my cousin discussed with obvious forethought and reflection. Recalling conversations from her childhood, for one, she discussed the degree of color determining the likelihood of marriage, which greatly influenced who stayed on the island. Additionally, she explained males had more options and advantages along these lines.
Without a doubt, my grandmother along with four of her five sisters ended up in Massachusetts, not simply looking for work; but because they were looking for husbands. Unlike their mother’s generation, their aunts, who all married white, only the youngest sister Louisa married a white Prince Edward Islander. After her husband’s tragic death in WWI, she joined her sisters in Massachusetts.
This youngest and said to be, the most spirited of the Stanley girls Louisa (Stanley) Muttart settled in New Bedford, where her sister, Genieve had been married for some time to Burt Logwood, a colored doctor. It was recounted that not much time passed before she remarried, marrying a prominent colored lawyer, Edwin Bush Jourdain.
My grandmother, Mary and her sister Selena married Wampanoag Indians from Cape Cod, Alfred DeGrasse and Isaac Coombs respectively. The boys in the family, except for John, stayed in their birthplace and married white Islanders. My grandmother’s African ancestry or at least not being Native American caused problems with my grandfather’s parents. They put several obstacles in the way of her marrying their only child; including sending him to Texas work on the railroad immediately after he graduated from Carlisle. Evidently, distance made the heart grow fonder, since it was not too much later they eloped, moving from Massachusetts all the way to Michigan.
The photograph of my grandfather, (2nd from right) lying on a Texas hill with a bunch of Indian railroad workers, all apparently intoxicated, is a perfect snapshot illustrating people’s recollections. This was the life my grandmother would only half jokingly stated she saved him from!
1920I recall my grandmother saying often, in a roundabout way, her child’s unquestionable Native American looks did not hurt the situation with her in-laws. I received her message. Along with the visits my great-grandparents made, the last few from California, where they had retired, I remember a few others coming from “out East”.
One particularly intriguing visitor was a huge Native American named Zef, who came for several Thanksgiving dinners. He looked as if he could have been the model for the cigar store Indian statue. However, all I ever heard about him was he had been a classmate of my grandfathers at Carlisle. Zef’s visits were short. Arriving early in the afternoon, he and my grandfather spent the day reminiscing, leaving immediately after dinner.
(Degrasse) Jeffries, Mary (Stanley) DeGrasse, Austin Stanley
1945Summer was the time relatives visited, with a seemingly constant stream of various neighbor’s relatives arriving throughout the summer. They came from charming sounding small towns like Jenkinburg, Georgia and Tugalo, Mississippi. I now wonder if my friends thought my relatives were as interesting as I did theirs. I envied their conversations, such as the black college experience and soul food, which had not been part of my upbringing. These were also the years the Civil Rights era was at its height; their familiarity with the segregated South and subsequent conversations, I listened to in wonder. They definitely highlighted our differences.
Even some of their parents’ strong drawls did not seem unusual, since Detroit was home away from home for many southerners, black and white. Their way of talking was not distinctive like the New England accents of my relatives from Massachusetts and the dialect of those from P.E.I.
My relatives’ looks were also out of the ordinary from my completely black neighborhood. They seemed foreign, in my child’s mind. This is strange to say today, but the movies and TV were where I saw people similar to them.
One, my grandmother’s nephew, Austin Stanley, was handsome; time and again being told he resembled a range of movie stars, Tyrone Power, John Garfield, etc. He was killed in WWII, unluckily a few days before the war ended.
In retrospect, his good looks are probably what made him interesting, especially from the viewpoint of an adolescent girl. I say this; because those were the years I started noticing our photographs and the people around me. From what I understand, he was more like a son to my grandmother, staying with our family on leaves over several years. However, I wonder why it was our home his medals were sent to, several of which I have to this day. Certainly, because of how I was raised, I was not told anything nor did I ask questions. Is it possible my mother and grandparents felt they had told enough?
Furthermore, comparable to my grandparent’s migration to Detroit being under direst, I learned the reason my father moved to Detroit, was to get away from an abusive father. Contributing to my assumption of his disconnect with his family was that I did not remember my father’s relatives visiting Detroit. Obviously from the memory of a child, I have since been told his sisters did travel to Detroit a few times, staying with my father’s brother, Lewis.
Lewis Jeffries- uncle
Of with my father’s five siblings, I only knew my Uncle Lewis, who moved to Detroit after college. I became friendly with my Aunt Josephine, once I started Michigan State University in Lansing, where she moved to in 1933. Josephine and my father were a mere fourteen months apart, the two eldest children of Pearl and Irving Jeffries of Niles, Michigan. There was an eight-year gap between my father and my Aunt Josephine and the four younger children.
Josephine, but especially Lewis, told me several stories pertaining to growing up black in small town white America. They would elaborate, black, but differentiated by a white population, where many remained friendly with the family over the generations. They would go on to explain mockingly, “We were from one of those respectable and acceptable (to a certain extent) families”. did have close relationships, for example, living next-door to whites and enjoying inter-racial friendships throughout their lives. Yet, in contrast to the South they attended school together, which led to competition in academics and sports.
Over the years, my aunt and uncle mentioned several incidents which kept the Jeffries “in their place”. My aunt would inject, “It wasn’t too many times,” as if to suggest these white people were not too racist. However, Josephine did bring up one incident several times. Each time with uncharacteristic emotion, she would recall being awarded an academic scholarship to prestigious Kalamazoo College; one that was never finalized.
Josephine (Jeffries) Ferguson Wharton - aunt
Divorced early in her marriage, Josephine raised three boys alone while pursuing a successful career in Lansing. She often took a leadership role in her community, including being the president of the Lansing NAACP. An article about her life, from The Lansing State Journal, mentioned her activism served as an impetus for her oldest son, Joel Ferguson, to become one of the more successful African-American entrepreneurs in the country.
Uncle Lewis also did well for himself, as he would say, “for a poor country boy from western Michigan moving to the big city of Detroit”. Since retiring as a principal with the Detroit Public Schools, now wearing his hair long and combined with his coloring and features, his looks elicit questions about his ethnicity, more than ever. Sociable from the introduction on, he is quite assertive, very much in contrast to his reserved siblings. He often initiates discussions revolving around race and politics and yet however spirited, his genial way, in my opinion, together with tempering reactions, also masks a lot to those not in his league intellectually.
Compared to the lack of information regarding any discrimination my father encountered and the few stories my Aunt told of setbacks because of her color, my uncle frequently recalled incidents related to race. He told of various ways his light coloring affected other blacks, leading to either negative or exaggerated positive treatment. He spoke bitterly of various confrontations between himself and the colored troops he led as a Lieutenant in WWII. Recounting one incident to his young niece, using uncharacteristically raw language, he stated “They told me they were used to the white man but would not be bossed around by this (expletive deleted) imitation”. In addition, as he would explain, he was aware of the generally unstated, yet annoyance, whites took in reaction to his assumption of equality. However, it was obvious his experience at the almost all-white Olivet College in mid-Michigan was a comfortable and successful four years. Lewis was truly a “Big Man on Campus”, captaining the basketball team and was surely the first and only president of his fraternity, to name two of his accomplishments. He has maintained his commitment to the school throughout his life, including serving on the Board of Trustees and was awarded an honorary Doctorate in1990.
My relationship with my uncle and my Aunt Jo was completely different from few interactions I had with their mother and two younger sisters. To be specific, I only knew my grandmother from an annual two-day visit. This was, without a doubt, my father’s choice.
Pearl (Jones) Jeffries - grandmother
My grandmother Pearl (Jones) Jeffries and her two daughters, Charlene Wilson and Lydia Goens, lived near each other in Niles, Michigan. Indeed they lived but a short drive from where my grandmother’s mother had been born in 1868.
I remember a small white house shared by Grandmother Jeffries and her brother, Henry Jones, who like her, had lost his spouse many years earlier. During our visits, my two aunts and their families would stop by to see their big brother. Usually they would bring along their brother Elwin’s son Marc, who was close to my age. Although Elwin also lived in Niles, I met him only once. It was understood, but never discussed there was some sort of family estrangement.
Primarily because of the shortness of our stays and since my grandmother was reserved like my father, I never felt any family ties. On a silly note, I remember giving considerable thought during the four-hour car ride across the state, how to avoid calling my grandmother by any name. After all, I had been raised, calling my mother and father by their first names and the grandmother who basically raised me, Mary, somehow became Meme.
My father’s mother was a tall stately woman, with the bearings of true disciplinarian, stereotypical of the teacher she had been before marrying. Even from the perspective of a twelve-year-old, when I met the middle sister, Charlene, she seemed different. Even her appearance, her smaller frame, her softer look, green eyes and curly brown hair contrasted with the strong features and straight black hair common with most of the family.
Additionally, her conversations revealed an open personality. One of her recollections, myself, a teenager at the time, I listened to with rapt attention, as she described in detail, (the music, her clothes, etc.) dancing with a white admirer at a Niles High School dance. Obviously amused, she closed by only somewhat jokingly stating those three minutes were the talk of the town ever since. She clarified, adding that as a longtime owner of a local hair salon her white clientele would occasionally mention the incident. She would emphasize fifty years had passed.
Charlene’s sister, Lydia was the youngest in the family. She inherited her mother’s height, which may have something to do with me thinking they were alike. However, since getting to know her, she is full of the dry humor Lewis uses so effectively and which I detected in my father later years.
Lydia, alluding to my impression of her, poignantly tried to convey a little about her family in a letter. She began by stating, “she never laid eyes on her brother, (my father) until she was sixteen”. She reminded me he moved to Detroit shortly after graduating from high school in 1931, which was before she was born. The other siblings were not familiar with him either, since they would have been in the early years of elementary school when he left. Her letter went on to explain her understanding of why my father, only started visiting Niles, after I was an adolescent. She theorized correctly I had started asking questions, curious about his side of the family.
Questions, but nothing compared to thirty years later.
“I marvel at the unique lessons the search for my roots uncovered.”
It is my intent this second Introduction, will further the reader’s ability to follow my narrative giving the reader somewhat of a context of my family’s early years in America. In addition, since my narrative covering the actual search is a backwards tracing of information, this summary of their beginnings I feel will help in understanding where they were coming from.
Additionally, and interestingly since I acquired knowledge, much of which was unknown or even contradictions to established histories of the various time periods in my research, explanations were especially needed. For example, how many are aware of black indentured servants or free people of color? Yet there were, from the beginnings of this country, Africans who were purchased to work a number of years similar to white indentured servants. These black indentured servants worked, played, fraternized and married their white counterparts. Black indentured servants who sustained their free status went on to be referred to as Free People of Color.
The four branches of my father’s family each descended from free people of color. Paul Heinegg’s book Free African-Americans of North Carolina and Virginia documents a countless number of such families who solidified their place in their communities before the 1800’s.
Continuing to learn, I became aware of not only numerous free people of color but many who owned land as early as the 1700’s. Although primarily in the upper South and not to any degree were there huge numbers of colored landowners, there were some and some prospered. There definitely was a range of living conditions within the free colored population. In addition, the factor their marriages were often documented puts their complex social condition more in context.
Conventional history asserts all people of African ancestry came to America as slaves. Throughout my research I have come across black family histories as well as documents conflicting with this all-encompassing view and asserting long-standing free status. For example, a mere generation or two from their very ancestors in question, members of the free colored community of Lick Creek, Indiana (during the 1840’s) stated in their required registration as free people, “their family never were slaves”. Multiple family histories such as the Bizzell/Collins and the Pettiford/Smith published genealogies also emphasize their ancestors had never known slavery. But whatever the documentation and for example their definition of long-standing, I look on these statements as testaments separating themselves from, at least what they were not.
Families relevant to my research, the Weavers and the Bairds and the Jeffries as my personal example, I concluded had been free of those notches, inhuman checkmarks replacing the real names of real people.
In addition, different communities dealt with these issues in their own way. A fellow researcher reasoned, they were people from places even in the old South with Indian and part African populations, which had acceptance not consistent with the times.” Obviously the make-up of the white community determined a great deal. For instance, Quaker settlements were often more open to black neighbors. Accordingly, each area my specific ancestors, as well as their peers settled, were with and or part of Quaker communities,
The longevity of relationships also had to have played a large role in such communities. In view of the fact the first free colored population descended from some of the earliest Africans brought to America and since many remained in the same area, white and free black families would have been interacting over the generations. Using the beginning years of the 1800’s as a gauge, more than a hundred years of interaction could have been the norm for many. Specific to my research I determined three of the four branches I was focused on, were born, lived and prospered from as early as one can research and remained in their areas until they felt they needed to migrate.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the free colored population began to grow significantly, adding to the “historically” free colored population. Blacks began to acquire their freedom in a variety of ways. The “benevolent” slave master emancipating favored slaves is often cited. The fact many slaves became free as the result of being the biological children of the slave master is also mentioned at times, yet interestingly the implications are rarely covered. There are however frequent depictions of brave attempts to escape from slavery in conventional history and the media. Notwithstanding the passionate portrayals and drama, they are portrayed as few and far between. Yet even considering traditional historical accounts which approximate upwards of 100,000 were successful it is logical those unsuccessful are incalculable. Many were part of organized groups, in particular the iconic Underground Railroad, while many others relied on themselves. Additionally, there were those who went about acquiring skills and when permitted to earn outside money, could lead to the possibility of purchasing their freedom. Yet it must be stated alongside ambition and skills, for instance of carpenters or blacksmiths, two jobs frequently mastered by slaves, an owner open to such activity, let alone emancipation, was a prerequisite.
Different from person to person and even within supposed receptive communities, they being a people of color had to have eclipsed whatever they did. After all this was at the very time the vast majority of African-Americans were suffering severely. It can easily be assumed, the maintaining of their status was all important.
But rather than whatever status free people of color obtained or being able to build upon their successes, my subject area in particular, exemplifies the deterioration of their situation. The white establishment increasingly limited or curtailed the rights of the free colored community in Virginia and North Carolina. Their efforts peaked from approximately the mid-1820s to 1850’s.
The powers that be, so to speak, definitely had reasons to be fearful of what they had created. The ratio of slaves vs. whites put their tenuous situation very much in perspective. Statistics from several 1850 North Carolina County censuses are detailed in John Hope Franklin’s book, The Free Colored People of North Carolina. He documents the slave population in several areas surpassing the white population. He uses two counties significant to my research as examples. One, Halifax County’s colored population was double that of whites with one-fourth of the blacks free. In Hertford County, there were 3,947 whites and 4,405 slaves with more than a thousand free blacks.
Also relevant was that black rebellions were frequently led by free people of color. This would have heightened suspicions and animosity, including retaliations against their specific group. A free person of color, Nat Turner’s bloody insurrection in 1831, which resulted in dozens of whites killed, took place in the Southwestern corner of Southampton County, Virginia. Since it was close to my Jeffries’ ancestor’s area in Greensville County, its residents would have been impacted more than others farther away. These were times without any forms of modern communication, yet one can be sure troubling news traveled quickly. It is true one’s place on this earth determines much about the course of one’s life.
Soon after Nat Turner’s uprising in 1831, Virginia prohibited free blacks from owning a gun or carrying a gun at all. Considering the necessity of guns for hunting if nothing else, this law was life-threatening at its extreme. But similar laws were maintained with few exceptions throughout the remaining decades of slavery. In 1840 Halifax County, North Carolina declared “do petition to the honorable legislature of North Carolina to prohibit Free Negroes and molatoes from carrying or using fire arms under any circumstances”.
Having to deal with the severity and mounting number of discriminatory laws, more and more free colored people began migrating North. My ancestors along with many of their neighbors: other free people of color and anti-slavery minded whites, Quakers, in particular, went on to form several communities in the frontier of Ohio and Indiana.
Having touched upon a little of what was going on in my ancestor’s area in early America, the following is a short introduction to the four branches of my father’s family who were part of this migration out of Virginia and North Carolina. The Jeffries, the Staffords, the Fosters and the Joneses being free people of color had to have experienced the real-life ramification of what I outlined in the previous few pages.
I begin as they are leaving their native lands during those volatile years between 1820’s and the 1850’s.
Jeffries - Stafford - Foster - Jones
My father’s two branches on his paternal side, the Jeffries and the Staffords traveled directly from their farms in Virginia and North Carolina, respectively.
The Jeffries migration took place early in the period (the 1820’s to the 1850’s) when so many people of color left their homes migrating to the North. Walker Jeffries along with his brother Macklin and their mother migrated from Greensville County, Virginia to their first Northern home in Ohio in 1826. These two young unmarried brothers left what had to have been a relatively favorable status, which included a family history of land ownership and voting. Although having acquired a farm in Ohio, Macklin stayed a short time in Ohio, moving on with his brother and mother to Indiana. Both brothers bought farms in Rush County, Indiana by 1831 and were among the founding members of their free colored community called “the Beech”.
During the mid-1830’s the other branch of my father’s paternal ancestors left their native land. The Stafford Family led by patriarch Enos Stafford, migrated from Hertford County, North Carolina. Enos, as well as several of his family bought land in Nettle Creek Township, Randolph County, Indiana in 1837. Pinpointing the time of their migration is the fact Enos’ grandson, Jeremiah Stafford II and Anna Milar were married in Indiana in 1836. Jeremiah and Anna’s first child was born in 1837, followed closely by their second. Marriage licenses, land ownership papers, the census, etc., all help in acquiring information, but also help in understanding lives.
Tracing my father’s mother’s side, I came across her maternal great-grandparents Grief Foster and Eliza Battle. Both descended from families who were members of a robust free community (landowners, documented marriages, etc.) in Albemarle County, Virginia. Grief Foster and Eliza Battle were joined in matrimony there in 1823.
The young couple migrated to another free people of color community called the Pee Pee Settlement in Pebble Township, Pike County, Ohio by 1830 as deciphered from the 1830 Ohio census. Exemplifying their hard work, the 1860 census documents they had multiplied their real estate to a relatively sizable farm, valued at sixty-five hundred dollars.
Grief and Eliza Foster’s community included, interestingly Madison Hemming’s homestead, which he farmed after leaving his father, President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Suggestive of a probable connection, Thomas Jefferson’s Plantation is located in Albemarle County, Virginia, to reiterate, the area from which the Fosters originated.
The fourth branch of my father’s tree reaches back to Thomas J. Jones, born in Virginia in approximately 1790. Unlike the other three branches, the Joneses did not migrate directly to the North. Thomas J. Jones Sr.’s son, known as T. J. Jones, Jr., was born in Kentucky in 1823.
Also, unlike the other three branches of my father’s ancestors, the Jones did not go into farming. Father and son were barbers, listed as such consistently in several censuses. Adding to information taken from various censuses, books and newspaper articles also covered their entrepreneurial spirit. I came across T. J. Jones, Jr., having owned a restaurant and two barbershops in the town of Buchanan in Berrien County, Michigan.
Indeed, by the 1850’s several children of Walker Jeffries, Enos Stafford’s children, Grief Fosters’ children and Thomas J. Jones, Jr.’s family had made Michigan their home.
“Where did we come from?”
The following is the actual step by step narrative of the search for my roots. Why my narrative branched out from the typical listing of names, dates and places was the result of this journey.
Increasingly I took note of political issues taking place across the country and local events important to the people I was researching. These factors are an integral part of my narrative.
Initially I was determined to research my father’s family, his father’s two branches, the Jeffries and the Stafford families and his mother’s two branches, the Joneses and the Fosters. I recall to this day my first family reunion, as if it was yesterday. I asked questions, took notes and made plenty of observations.
I began by asking “Where did we come from?” Uniformly family members answered “Michigan”, which was understandable, since three of the four branches had lived in Michigan from the mid 1800’s and the Stafford’s, even earlier. After a little prodding, some thought Virginia or North Carolina was where our ancestors originated.
Several of the older members hinted at a Native American ancestry. Always in a soft voice, it was said “I am sure we have Indian blood”.
I discounted their theory since every ancestor I was finding in the census was identified as Mulatto or sometimes black or white. Using the common definition of Mulatto, I expected at each step backwards to find a black or a white ancestor.
The Fosters, my grandmother’s mother’s side, were listed in 1870 census as “Mulatto”, in 1860 as “Black” and in 1850 as “White”, although having remained in the same home. (Reiterating, genealogical research before the popularity of computers was a backwards tracing of information.)
Perplexed at the different identities for each decade, I wondered what this could mean. I did know it did not mean a family could be distinct races in two decades and then change to a mixture of black and white in the third decade. Oblivious to what this information was revealing, it was only later I realized these types of inconsistencies were for one, clamoring things were not black and white, in many ways.
During my first month of research I was immersed in my ancestor’s Michigan years. I also took note the ancestors I was finding in Michigan censuses had been born in the free states of Indiana or Ohio, which confirmed they were a people who had been free for some time.
How far one can research into African American histories directly correlates to when they became free. Since slavery was not officially abolished until 1865 with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, most African American research goes no further than the 1870 census.
I was not aware I was consistently breaking this barrier and what this represented.
While reaching back into the lives of my ancestors, I must emphasize the frequency I had to actually pause, taking note of political issues. Learning about the politics of the various eras I was researching, added considerably to my awareness of my ancestor’s lives.
For example, the fact these long established citizens of Indiana had pulled up stakes and migrated further north was unquestionably related to politics. The politics which swirled around them had to be devastating. In fact, although learned some time later in my research, so much of what was happening to these free people of color was similar to what had happened to the generation before, in their native North Carolina and Virginia.
Without doubt the tumultuous climate during the 1850’s culminating in the Civil War is evidenced, in particular by the passage of more and more discriminatory laws during the 1850’s. Restrictions directed at the free colored population ranged from the required registration of free colored people to the much more threatening Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850. Hardly inconsequential, Indiana and Ohio’s non-violent and relatively seemingly tame required registration of Negroes and Mulattoes nonetheless had a message heard loud and clear by a proud people.
The deteriorating environment for people of color in Indiana traveled through the unofficial but obviously effective grapevine. For instance, the population growth of free people of color in Indiana slowed considerably from 1850 to 1860, only growing by a few hundred from 11,262 in 1850 to 11,428 in 1860. The slowdown was remarkable, considering from 1840 to 1850 the free colored population had more than doubled.
The Fugitive Slave Law enacted in 1850, much more threatening very pertinent to free people of color. It gave encouragement and implied approval to kidnap even free Negroes without any legal claim. Although Ohio and Indiana were free states they did border southern states and understandably it would have been a goal for free colored people to be as far from a slave state as possible.
Yet the determination of numerous slave owners to capture their so called property did reach into Michigan. One enlightening incident took place in my ancestors’ area in Southwestern Michigan, specifically in Cass County. The white community banded behind a black neighbor when Kentucky slave-catchers tried to kidnap him. Successfully confronting the slave-catchers they had to leave empty handed. Interestingly, the Kentuckians returned, suing in the courts, but lost there as well.
Definitely these years leading up to the Civil War were teeming with political turmoil, so much of which was relevant to my ancestors.
However interesting to me, after introducing such information during my first reunion, only more mundane subjects would be discussed. A typical comment was how much the reunion’s participant’s oral histories matched the facts listed in old censuses that were being displayed. In addition, several who had never moved from the general area were especially interested in ancestors of their present-day neighbors and friends who were listed. Since it was the practice of the census taker to travel from home to home, the order of the families listed in the census illustrated that many had remained, not only in the area but often farming the same land.
Although I was at a stage of my research where I was merely documenting previously known information it was obvious there was an abundance of information. Names and dates for my family tree were easily obtained.
Yet beginning in those very first few weeks and despite the disinterest in the politics surrounding our ancestors I could not avoid my personal curiosity. After all, even basic information implied so much more.
One such factor was the preponderance of grown children settling near parents. Although logical, the ongoing nature of this factor throughout the generations, is striking. Evidently these colored families felt staying close to one another was important.
Irving Jeffries - Grandfather
(1899 - 1939)
The 1910 Van Buren County, Michigan Census showed my grandfather, Irving Jeffries, sixteen years of age in his brother, Chester’s young household. The 1910 census also documented Claude the oldest child of Robertson and Lydia and a sister, Bertha, beginning new marriages with new additions to their families. They also lived nearby.
Following Irving backwards to the 1900 Van Buren County Census, I came across him six years of age living with his parents, Robertson and Lydia Jeffries. Also in the home were his then fourteen-year-old brother Chester and four other siblings.
Robertson Jeffries and Lydia Stafford - Great-Grandparents
Continuing to move backwards, the 1880 Census revealed more clues about Robertson and Lydia Jeffries’ lives. Along with the usual listings, age, race, occupation, etc., it included a side note of “Just married” next to Lydia (Stafford) Jeffries’ name. This little piece of information made me take note of her age. Lydia was only twenty years of age while Robertson was more than twenty-three years older than his new wife. Robertson’ age suggests he was married before Lydia.
As I assumed, I went on to find in the 1870 and 1860 Michigan Censuses Robertson listed with his first wife Maria and a daughter named Sarah. Fellow researcher and cousin Teresa Jeffries added to this information by uncovering the 1860 marriage license for Mariah Bradley of Decatur, Michigan and Robertson Jeffries. Marriage licenses contain valuable information: ages, the parents’ names and sometimes notations stating whether the bride is underage.
While married to his first wife, Sarah, Robertson owned a farm in Volina Township in Van Buren County. One year after Maria’s death in 1879 and having married Lydia Stafford, he is listed in the 1880 census, as a preacher and lives in the city of Kalamazoo. Although the census lists his occupation as that of a “Farmer” in 1900 and 1910, older family members recalled talk he was indeed a traveling preacher. I went on to uncover quite a record, as a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church.
1837 - 1916
Rush County, Indiana
Circa 1900Although in these beginning stages of my research I derived most of my data from the census, I was beginning to use other sources. One of my favorite methods was talking to local historians, a few of which, who had actually known the people in question.
One interesting and knowledgeable elderly gentleman was a Hondon Hargrove who wrote a book titled, Jubilee, covering the Bethel A.M.E Church’s history in Lansing, Michigan. During a telephone interview Mr. Hargrove stated Robertson Jeffries was the Presiding Elder at Bethel and organized the church into the A.M.E. denomination in 1875.
Robertson is described as a traveling evangelist in the Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress. In The History of Kalamazoo County he is listed as the pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Kalamazoo from 1875 to 1876 and again in 1880. The printed program of the A.M.E Church’s 38th annual convention in 1878, names Robertson Jeffries as a Presiding Elder at the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Detroit.
Irvin Jeffries - Robertson’s brother
Although planning on researching in a straight line backwards I was beginning to come across more and more who were quite interesting and whose information was helpful, but who were not of my direct lineage.
For instance, I learned Robertson’s older brother, Irvin Jeffries was the first of the Jeffries to migrate to Michigan from Indiana. It is documented Irvin Jeffries family along with the Walden family were the original colored settlers in Volina, Michigan. Narrowing the time frame of their migration is the census’ listing of Irvin’s first child being born in Michigan in 1858. Also deciphered from census records, Irvin married three times; Frances (Roberts) was the mother of his five children, followed by Nancy (Stewart) Powell (married 26 years by the time of the 1900 census) and the last year of his life he was married to Mary Eliza Walden.
Multiple marriages, as in the case of Irvin Jeffries, were common. Deaths at an early age compelled the remaining spouse into second and even more marriages. New wives were needed to raise motherless children as well as new husbands for financial security.
Barely into the first generation of my research and but a few visits to the library I also began to realize the extent they maintained a pattern of marrying those with the same background.
Irvin’s three wives, a Roberts, a Stewart and a Walden are from families again and again interconnected throughout my research. Taking note of Irvin and Robertson’s siblings’ spouses, the similarities within their backgrounds were striking, especially their long established history of freedom. For instance, Julia Jeffries (Robertson’s younger sister by three years) married Joseph Ampey and later Lafayette McCowan, each of whose families were pioneer Southwestern Michigan families. In addition, yet not known at this time in my journey, their family’s free status went back into Rush County, Indiana, and even further into eighteenth century Greensville County, Virginia.
Hannah James, who was married to Robertson’s younger brother, Williamson, was also of a free family originally from Virginia. In 1886, a mere year after Williamson’s death Hannah married an Andrew “Uppy” Haithcox. His branch of the Haitcock/ Haithcox line originated in North Carolina and settled for a time in Jefferson Township, Logan County, Indiana. In 1898, Hannah married a Harvey Lewis of yet another free family from North Carolina. Of particular personal interest, provoking more conjecture, the minister at this third marriage was her ex-brother-in-law, the Reverend Robertson Jeffries. But of more interest, some forty years after Williamson’s death and two husbands, Hannah is buried in 1931, as a Jeffries.
Continuing the pattern, the wife of Bradford Jeffries’ (Robertson’s much younger brother) was the daughter of William Allen from Cass County, Michigan. His parents, Joseph and Rebecca (Taborn) were a free people as far back as the 1700’s in Northampton County, North Carolina. They made their home in several communities after leaving their native North Carolina, settling in Columbiana, Ohio and Logan County, Indiana before Michigan. William Allen, known as “Hog Bill” became one of the wealthiest farmers in Cass County, white or black.
Specific to my branch, Robertson married into the large Stafford family. To reiterate, they were pioneer landowners in Indiana, as early as the 1830’s, moving on to Van Buren and Allegan County, Michigan by the 1850’s.
“whos, whats and whens” vs the “hows and whys”
Chapter Two – Indiana
In spite of everything I was learning I saw my purpose as a gatherer of facts, the “whos, whats and whens”; the “hows and whys” were not given the attention they deserved. It was not long before I could not avoid the reasons in which the facts I was in the process of uncovering, were grounded.
Trying to focus my research in somewhat of a straight line I knew Indiana would be my next step since it was listed in the census as Robertson’s home state. However, without knowing a particular county to simplify one’s search, using the census would almost be impossible. In addition, I did not know any first names proceeding Robertson’s generation. I was anxious to discover Robertson and his four sibling’s parents, my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.
Mildred Jeffries - Cousin
As stated it was encounters with several elderly individuals who played an important role in my narrative. I had looked forward to talking to Cousin Mildred (Jeffries) Copley, since I assumed she possessed information over and above any member of my family. I reflected on the deeply rooted oral history she could have heard as her father Claude was the first-born of my great-grandparents. This was not to minimize her personal memories, which would go back to the first years of the 1900’s. However, I was quickly frustrated. Even before I could ask a question, she stated, firmly, “Things should be forgotten”! Interrupting my questioning several times, Mildred let me know, in no uncertain terms, she felt our family history needed to remain in the past. It was impossible to ask a question, let alone get an answer. It was obvious (and she did not care how obvious) she was holding back information.
Although Mildred took most of her knowledge to the grave in 1990, I did obtain one essential piece of information. Not far from giving up, I changed the subject, showing her vintage photographs of the family. While staring at one of herself, at approximately sixteen years of age, she exclaimed, a Walker Jeffries was Robertson’s father! Her response seemed impulsive, I now wonder. Did I pull it out or was she merely ready? She went on, volunteering “with certainty”, Walker had three wives: one white, one black and one she identified as Mulatto, which was the first time I heard this distinction, other than in documents. She also recalled talk of twenty-one children.
Learning the name of my great-great-grandfather enabled me to begin searching deeper into our history. Because of the lack of any other details, for example, not knowing which Indiana County he had lived, I still could not use the regular census.
Within the same month, I attended a meeting of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society. It was during my first meeting I learned of the Sound-Ex of the census, a database, grouping like-sounding names together within a state. For instance, Jefferson, Jeffers, etc. would be listed with Jeffries, which for one, erased the problems arising from names being spelled differently. But of great significance was it also was a way to get around the county-specific requirement!
I joined this organization hoping it would bring me in contact with knowledgeable and similarly interested people and it did not prove me wrong. Talking to fellow members about their personal experiences was very beneficial. Additionally, it was fortunate my first field trip was to the only library close to Detroit having a Sound-Ex, specifically the sound-ex of the 1880 and 1910 censuses. This library, the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana became one of my main sources of information.
From the beginning of my research, I experienced various types of support from strangers. Genealogical researchers share a kinship of sorts, offering assistance, if only nuggets of information. At this time, years before the Internet became popular; research could be quite tedious. The continual turning of the microfiche handle, hoping the next page would uncover new information was only occasionally successful or for some, never. Possibly an escape to the boredom fellow researchers often talked to each other. This particular day after barely a minute of scrolling through the 1880 Indiana Sound-Ex the man seated next to me asked what I was trying to do. I responded I was searching for an ancestor sixty to eighty years of age. He explained the Sound-Ex would only include heads of households with children less than ten years of age in the home. Discouraged, I thought the likelihood of finding Walker Jeffries through the Sound-Ex, at his age, was not probable. There was, however, the possibility I would locate any Jeffries, which would point toward, hopefully a specific county. Facts connecting various Jeffries would be the same birthplace; those listed Mulatto and even first names, which were frequently used in my family. In fact, first names can be a determining factor when researching, especially with common last names.
To my surprise, (as well as the man next to me) Walker Jeffries, a Mulatto, born in1805 in Virginia, was listed. He lived in Ripley Township in Rush County. In addition, such facts, as his wife, Azzariah being twenty years his junior and having five children in the home, the youngest born when Walker was over seventy, said much more.
Discovering where the Jeffries lived was truly a breakthrough, opening an exciting stage of new information. I traced Walker’s family through the 1880, 1870, 1860, 1850 and 1840 censuses, each citing new additions to the family. Indeed, Robertson had a number of younger sisters and brothers.
Ripley Township, Rush County, Indiana
I was aware the 1840 Census only named the head of the household with the remaining members of the household unnamed, listed by sex and within age brackets. Although this was anticipated, it was daunting, seeing it for the first time and thinking of the little information subsequent censuses would offer.
Immediately under Walker’s name in the 1840 census (placement usually indicating the wife) was a female, between the ages of 10 and 24. Because Azzariah, the wife I had previously found, would have only been about twelve years of age in 1840, I assumed there was an earlier marriage. I confirmed Walker was married before Azzariah, when I came across an 1833 marriage license for Walker Jeffries and a Sarah Winborn.
Walker Jeffries and Sarah Winborn – great-great-grandparents
(1801-1881) (1820(?) -1841)
Also listed in Walker’s household were three boys under 10 years of age, a male between 10 and 24 years of age and a female 55-100 years old. Although it was not spelled out, as before, I nonetheless matched the genders and general ages of those in Walker Jeffries’s household in the 1840 census with Walker’s household in subsequent censuses. The male youth (between 10 and 24) listed in the household, I believe to be Walker’s younger brother, Wright. I was confident the 55-100 years-old female, listed in the 1840 census was the Mourning Jeffries I had previously found in the 1860 Rush County census. In 1860 she was listed as an eighty-year-old Mulatto and born in Virginia. Considering elderly parents tended to live with their children, my theory was supported after locating his wife, Sarah Winborn’s mother (See Notes F: The Winborn Family) living with another daughter in the same community.
From 1841 on, Walker’s wife, Sarah (Winborn), disappears from any records I have come across. I assume she died, possibly in childbirth, since a daughter, Julia was born in 1841. Derived from the 1850 census, Walker and Azzariah’s first child, Williamson was born in 1844, adding to the four previously documented children. To repeat, a common and necessary practice for a widower, especially with young children, was to take a new wife, as soon as possible. Walker and Azzariah’s union was very fruitful with twelve children born from 1845 to 1872. In total, I documented sixteen children fathered by Walker Jeffries.
During a visit to the Rush County, Indiana courthouse, I located Walker Jeffries’ death certificate, stating he was born in 1801. This would have made him thirty-two years old in 1833, when he married Sarah Winborn, his supposed first wife. Mildred (Jeffries) Copley recalled her mother who would have been Walker’s grandchild, stating he had twenty-one children and three wives, which did not come close to the sixteen children and two wives I uncovered. Being married at thirty-two, there was ample time for an earlier wife and the other children Mildred mentioned. This is only a possibility, as I have never found evidence supporting this theory.
Macklin Jeffries - Walker’s brother
Head of the neighboring household in the 1870, 1860 and 1850 censuses to my great-great-grandfather was a Macklin Jeffries. I assumed he was Walker’s brother, because he was listed Mulatto, was born in Virginia and was close to Walker’s age. More and more my research substantiated my contention. For example, the will of Wright Jeffries, who I determined was also their brother, added credence to this view. In Wright Jeffries’ will, leaving no children, he listed several nieces and nephews as his only heirs; the children of his wife’s sister and brother, along with several of Macklin and Walker’s children. (See Notes H: Wright Jeffries’ Will)
Macklin’s wife was named Mary “Polly” (Turner) from North Carolina. They had fourteen children, thirteen born in Indiana with the first child born in Ohio.
Tracing backwards through the censuses, including supplementary research techniques such as marriage licenses, added numerous facts. Yet it was aspects of the individuals I was coming across, however unstated, which suggested more interesting types of information. For instance, Macklin’s focus and persistence was demonstrated consistently; he seemingly had a plan and he did things in order. Indeed, there seemed to be a methodical pattern of behavior throughout the communities I was coming across. Alongside this steady accumulation of names and dates, these people’s character was becoming quite evident.
One pattern was the of males marrying late, a number in their thirties and forties and after obtaining land, which had to have increased their chance for success. In Macklin’s case, he was a relatively young twenty-six, while his bride was said to be only twelve. He was said to have traveled to his former home in
Ohio, returning with his evidently previously chosen bride.
Assumptions or as I would describe as educated guesses and words such as “evidently” and “apparently” must be used. But based in his, as well as his peers’ documented way of life, many things are obvious, if not spelled out.
The Beech Community
The book Early Rush County Landowners documents Macklin and Walker Jeffries buying land in Rush County on the same day in 1831. Macklin and Walker Jeffries were founding members of the free people of color community called “the Beech,” near to the town of Carthage, Indiana.
The people of the Beech practiced a type of exclusivity (to a great extent) comparable to their friends and family in Michigan a generation or two later. My previous suppositions were found to be as prevalent in Indiana, as in Michigan. Having traveled and settled together, with few exceptions they married within interrelated families. Siblings of one family marrying the siblings of another were common and spouses having the same last name or the last name of other relatives was found regularly. Marriage between close relatives was unusual however.
I would soon realize the extent these factors were significant to the dynamics of my family.
My research had widened considerably having learned about several interconnected families in Michigan, such as the Bradleys, the Allens and the Ampeys. Reaching back another generation to Indiana I was accumulating information on more families. It was becoming more and more evident; I was uncovering information about a group of families linked together.
These families founded several communities, first in Ohio and then in Indiana with each community consisting of an overlapping of family names. The Winborns would be a part of several of these settlements, the Beech for one and the Roberts settlement in Hamilton County, Indiana for another. One more example is the Cabin Creek settlement in Virgo County, Indiana, which included Scotts, Watkins, as well as the Staffords.
A comprehensive telling of one migration and which included many of the people I have discussed is titled “The Migration of a Free People: Cass County’s Black Settlers From North Carolina.” In the Michigan History Magazine the article states, “In Northampton County (1790) there were thirty-two heads of households whose surnames would eventually appear in Cass County.” This article details a specific migration from Northampton County, North Carolina to the “end of the line” in Cass County, Michigan. It lists only two communities as stopping off points between North Carolina and Michigan. But as I stated earlier, a number of communities in Ohio and Indiana became temporary, as well as permanent settlements for various branches of these families. In addition, along with Cass County, Berrien County and Van Buren County in Southwestern Michigan should be cited, as the last stop for many of these families.
The frequency of these groups’ migrations was completely contrary to my understanding of nineteenth century people. Considering, this was decades before the Emancipation Proclamation or the Thirteenth Amendment I would never have imagined a colored people traveling so freely or so often. It is also not an unimportant factor they were using horses and buggies and wagon trains.
How caravans of blacks avoided problems with inquisitive, at the least, and hostile whites, is covered in several written accounts. Frequently the incidents include white-looking members speaking up, keeping everyone out of trouble. I thought of what the fictitious Eliza did in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, posing as a white slave owner of George, who was in actuality her husband, during their escape to freedom.
An extraordinary example of the extent some of these people moved about is the migrations of a James Jeffries’ family. Skimming through Carter Woodson’s book, Free Heads of Households in 1830, I noticed a James Jeffrey, listed as a Mulatto, born in Virginia in 1786 living with his white wife, Ruth. The census lists their first child, James born in Tennessee in 1837; Wiley in Alabama in 1838; Elizabeth in Ohio in 1842; and Patsy in Indiana in 1846.
By simply using the census it is easily ascertained, these migrations often held deeper implications than simply moving from place to place. For example, this James Jeffries family’s first Northern home in Greene County, Ohio was near more Jeffries. Within a few years they moved to the “Beech” in Rush County, Indiana, which included even more Jeffries families. Their real-life journeys as so many others, emphasized their value of community, of living among their own, which had to have offered innumerable advantages.
Continuing to follow James Jeffries’ family in the census, they returned to Greene County, Ohio before 1850. It was the 1850 census which documents James’ family as well as the other Greene County Jeffries’ Mulatto label changing to white. Again determined through census records this Jeffries family ended their migrations at this time, putting down permanent roots in Greene County.
While continuing to learn about and to document various sociological factors relevant to various eras, racial identities, in particular, seemed to be relevant more and more. For example, who identified as black or who identified as white and when the change of identities took place, correlated directly to who found their place early on vs. those that continued to move. James Jeffries’ migrations are a perfect example.
My direct ancestor Walker Jeffries and his brother Macklin migrated first to Ohio but within a year or two they made the colored community in Rush County their home. Various branches of the Jeffries began choosing different identities and in doing so found their niche in different communities. It seemed they were almost following a blueprint of sorts. A blueprint Walker and Macklin evidently chose to go against.
The changing circumstance of their Mulatto labeling, in particular the deteriorating of their various communities, their protected environments, was fundamental to my family’s separation into white and black America. On a personal level it had to have spurred the “Jeffries Five” as I call them to move to Michigan, as well as their siblings to make their move to Hancock County.
As stated, my journey, following my ancestors’ paper trail, led me into a unique set of circumstances evolving around color and race.
“the Browns were so numerous there was a little bit of
brown in all the families of the Beech”
Even while uncovering information about the free colored community, called “The Beech”, race was mentioned in a variety of contexts. In Lawrence Carter’s history of the Beech, he mentioned the large Brown Family, adding — “the Browns were so numerous there was a little bit of brown in all the families of the Beech”. I recognized his play on words was his way of describing the community as made up of a mixed people, a “brown” people. During a meeting some months later, his response of a slight chuckle, as I mentioned his quote, underscored that indeed this was his typically humorous way of underscoring a relevant point.
Evidently the white establishment had some say in these matters also. Contrary to typical thinking I found evidence some people of color did maintain a distinct status.
Walker’s daughter, Nancy Jeffries marriage to a Leroy Morris, a government clerk born in Natchez, Mississippi, revealed their distinction. Considering the marriage took place in the 1880’s, the groom’s occupation led me to surmise he was Caucasian. This view did not last a second, as one notation down; it listed the bride and the groom as 1/8 colored. Since it was significant enough to mention, the wording revealed a “third” racial classification was recognized in this area.
Loss of the Beech
Timing is always important. Their community specifically the Beech, where the same “kind of people” settled and thrived was becoming less isolated beginning in the mid-1850’s. To restate and underscore again, the “comfort zone” in which tri-racial people had thrived, those who lived among their own, was eroding. It was these years, the years leading up to the Civil War, when opinions and the resulting laws about free people of color (needless to say, with no consideration to how long one had been free) took an even harsher turn. For one, the risk of violence toward people of color increased during these overtly racist times.
All through my piecing together of these people’s history, there is consistent evidence of ambition, reinforced by the desire for an education. They definitely were not an inconspicuous people.
The Beech Settlement had one of the first circulating libraries in Indiana of which any record has been found. In a book titled, Reminiscences (the same title as the famous abolitionist Levi Coffin’s book) by a Quaker resident of the Beech, he mentions his colored neighbors quite favorably. “Seventy or more years ago they were striving as best they could for educational attainments.” It also recounts two especially relevant anecdotes as the author reminisced about his childhood. “They had a school of their own where children of the Jeffries, Watkins, Browns and others got a rude start in education” and “Wright Jeffries, a very ambitious young colored man was a leader and teacher.” Apparently, my great-grandfather’s brother, Irving Jeffries, followed his Uncle Wright’s footsteps, as he is also mentioned as a teacher in The History of Rush County. Again taking note of the chronology of various events, this would have been when Irving was quite a young man, before marrying and moving to Michigan.
The Beech, as well as the other similar settlements, was somewhat isolated and often protected by nearby Quaker and/or friendly communities but the rest of the world was but a stone’s throw away. The white community was enlarging, their population was no longer limited to those who had lived and worked alongside the Beech’s citizens for generations. Notwithstanding what some of their neighbors thought nor what they may have thought of themselves with all their qualifying terms, always free, landowners, mixed blood, etc., it seems they were reminded many in the white population simply saw them as black, inherently inferior. Things happened; there were incidents when bigotry raised its ugly head. I am sure only a fraction documented, but I did come across one frightening example from the Beech community itself.
In 1875 the local paper recounted the lynching of Billy Keemer, the son of a black Civil War veteran. It stated, “One day after being accused of assaulting a white woman he was taken from the jail and lynched by a mob comprised of some of the prominent men in the community.” I found a differing view of the incident in a local black historian’s notes. He related it had been known the supposed victim lied and there were other reasons why the white citizenry did not want to wait for a trial. Taking place approximately fifty years after the Beech had been formed and whatever was the true story, the lynching must have been a wakeup call for these deeply rooted black citizens. They had to have realized without any doubt, neither the size of their property nor their relationships with some whites would prevent them from danger.
This was also the period when the majority of the Jeffries choose to change their racial identity. Furthermore, since so many had merely moved to nearby Hamilton County, I cannot begin to imagine their views. After all Billy Keemer was their neighbor during their childhood. The feelings of those who changed their racial identification in the next few years had to be even more complicated.
I also came to the conclusion the Beech families, viewed themselves as “different”, which may have been why some of the Jeffries did remain in the Beech. Reflecting on the amount and severity of various historical events that actually touched these peoples’ lives continued to perk my interest in them as individuals. I read whatever I thought could be helpful, including historical novels, newspaper articles, etc. The previously mentioned incident involving “Nigger Bill,” vividly illustrated the precarious lives of people of color. The incident has been covered in several books. One, The History of Cass County by W. H. Mansfield is a good example of where I obtained relevant information about my ancestor’s area, even if my specific family was not mentioned.
The local newspaper article covering Billy Keemer’s lynching and Nancy Jeffries’ interesting marriage record exemplifies the extent the Beech’s racial dynamics spanned the gamut. Both events helped to decipher a little of what life was like in the Beech during the 1870’s and the 1880’s. Without a doubt some were able to hold on to their particular way of life a while longer.
“Last of the Mohicans”
The loss of the Beech
By using another local source, I concluded the Beech was on its last legs by the beginning years of the 1900’s. In comparing The Ripley Township Atlas of 1908, which shows individual land tracts, to the same document for 1879, (See: p. 58) it is hard not to notice most of the old names were gone. Thad Jeffries, Macklin’s son, was one of the last to maintain a significant amount of land.
Macklin’s lifelong commitment to the Beech community ended with the death of his brother Walker in 1881. By 1888 I found Macklin and his wife listed as “white” in neighboring Hancock County. This was puzzling since as late in his life as 1880 he is listed in the Republican Party’s Poll Book along with the other “colored” citizens of the Beech. Also exemplifying his continued involvement in this colored community is the Beech’s library’s check out records. How he was living as white, less than eight years from the voting record and only in the neighboring town, was especially confusing.
Re-examining facts and putting them in chronological order made things somewhat understandable. Obviously significant Macklin and Mary’s children married white even though this went against the tradition in the Beech’s community of marrying within their group or at least taking in “acceptable” outsiders into these circles of similar families.
But in considering Macklin’s children by the 1880’s were grandparents and most having lived in Hancock County for decades, his move late in life underscores Macklin’s brotherly bond with Walker. Restating, Macklin and Mary’s move happened after Walker’s death in 1881.
Macklin’s oldest; James G. Jeffries’ move from a person of color in their Beech community to white in nearby Hancock County took place in the same time period as his father. His first wife, of the Brown family, as well as his second, a Roberts were of traditional “like Families”. Yet he and his second wife, Henrietta (Roberts) Jeffries, are labeled white from the 1900 Census forward. They relocated but ten miles from the Beech Community in Rush County to Hancock County in close proximity to the other members of their immediate family. Since James migrated decades later than his younger siblings and cousins, it seems James and Henrietta and Macklin and Mary may have been bending to the evitable.
I have determined Macklin, the last of the Mohicans; so to speak, change of identity solidified the separation of the Jeffries family.
All of Macklin’s children remained in Indiana identifying as white along with the majority of Walkers. Only five of thirty first cousins who grew up across the road from each other moved on to Michigan and went on to identify as black. Three from the union of Walker and Sarah Winborn, (Robertson, Irvin and Julia) and two from Walker’s union with Azzariah Brown (Williamson and Bradford) moved to Michigan. Similar to the majority of their siblings and their first cousins move from the Beech, their move took place decades before their father died and their uncle’s subsequent move.
Apparently each group was more comfortable in their respected areas, both politically and personally.
The changing circumstance of this era, in particular the deteriorating racial climate in the Beech, their protected environment, was fundamental to my family’s separation into white and black America. On a personal level it had to have spurred the “Jeffries Five” as I call them to move to Michigan, as well as their siblings to make their move to Hancock County.
It was at this juncture continuing the backwards journey into my history I decided to focus on the next generation of Jeffries.
“Onward Into Ohio”
Chapter Three - Ohio
Since Macklin and Walker’s birthplace was listed as Virginia I expected it to be my next stop in my journey. Yet after coming across a biographical sketch of Macklin’s son, the previously mentioned James Jeffries and learning his birthplace was Ohio, I realized Ohio research was necessary. James G. Jeffries was the first child of Macklin’s and the only not born in Indiana. The fact, Macklin’s second child was born but two years later in Indiana, proved my premise the family lived in Ohio for a very short time. “Onward to Ohio,” I recall thinking, as if I was the one traveling through the frontier.
However, James’s biography did not mention the specific county of his birth. Unfortunately, unlike my earlier search in Indiana, the Sound-Ex was not going to help; it was only available for the censuses of 1880 and 1900.
As stated previously and as reminded increasingly during my search, information from the census was becoming limited. Reminiscent of my pre-Internet days, unconventional sources and visits to the actual areas, etc. became essential once more. Because The History of Rush County, Indiana, had provided a great deal of information, I began skimming through the county histories of Ohio.
Though at the time I searched alphabetically, I now know there was usually a method to people’s migrations. After finding relevant information in The History of Greene County, Ohio by R. S. Dills I realized the Jeffries had moved directly to the west, using the Native American paths, which became The National Road. Their route goes westward from Greene County in Ohio to Rush County, Indiana, specifically the Carthage area.
I found Macklin, Walker, a Silas, a John, a Dillison, a Peninah, a William and an additional James mentioned in The History of Greene County, Ohio. It stated Walker and Macklin were 1830 Ohio pioneers adding they migrated to Indiana in the same year. It also stated a Wyatt Jeffries moved to Indiana in 1832. Once more, one source took me to a new place and generation, along with several new names to research.
“Parallel lines to the beginning”
Excited about my discoveries, I looked forward to visiting Greene County and the type of hands-on research one can only do in the actual area. Indeed, not more than two weeks later, I visited Greene County with my husband and daughter. We expected the trip to open new avenues of research, the type of information not found in books. We were not disappointed. Yet before I recount the noteworthy information I did come across, I need to describe a fascinating incident.
In looking back at my years of research, I feel such occurrences were important, even if they did not particularly enlighten my research; they added to the enjoyment, which helped keep me going.
My goal for this trip was to investigate the three cemeteries mentioned in The History of Greene County, Ohio containing “Jeffries” listings. We located two of the cemeteries easily, finding both in small communities on the outskirts of Xenia, a town near Dayton, Ohio. However, we spent the next several hours, into the middle of an exceptionally hot day, searching unsuccessfully for the third. It was listed as being in Jamestown, a much smaller town than Xenia, but no one, not even clerks in the courthouse, seemed to know anything.
Never a fan of hot weather I suggested giving up, moments before we experienced a truly enjoyable encounter. In frustration my husband, who has always supported this project, said: “Let’s ask the postman – they know everybody.” I was tired; but thought it was worth a chance, forgetting the people in question had been dead over 100 years! The mail carrier’s immediate response to whether he knew about a small Baptist Cemetery in Jamestown, was shocking. Jerry Stout shouted, in a heavy Southern drawl, “That’s in my backyard! How could y’all know about such a tiny cemetery.” He repeated louder, “in MY backyard!” Simultaneously Larry and I shouted, “in your backyard?” It was quite an introduction. Neither of us could believe our good fortune from such an unexpected source.
Using every cliché crossing our mind, we expressed our astonishment for more than a few minutes. Mr. Stout then began apologizing. “It’s in pretty bad disrepair”. Obviously irritated, he recounted his unsuccessful efforts to have it recognized by the county, since veterans of the American Revolution and the Civil War were buried there. “I’ve always hoped the county or someone will step forward and give the cemetery the attention it needs and deserves”, he repeated several times. At the very least, he felt they could do more than the little he was able to do. Interspersed throughout our conversation, the three of us continued to point out the stroke of luck it was to run into each other.
Finally breaking away, we followed his directions to his home, which included his advice not to worry about his dogs. Exactly as he warned, my husband had to zigzag through a half dozen large barking dogs to Mr. Stout’s porch. His elderly mother, with hair as white as her skin, greeted my husband. True to my urban sensitivities, it is an understatement I was surprised watching this barely five feet lady, without hesitation welcoming the six-foot black stranger inside. Our daughter and I sat in the sweltering car for at least five minutes before they reappeared, both with glasses of lemonade, conversing as if they were old friends. This was years before cell phones became the norm and since the ride took no more than two minutes to their home, I am sure she was not expecting us.
Not wanting to climb down her steps, she pointed toward a slight opening in the hedges hiding the cemetery to any unknowing eye. Within a few seconds we were pushing past the waist high hedge into a mini-jungle with bushes for the most part taller than us. Cropped up here and there, we saw several headstones with the name “Turner”. Although, Larry had gone to the car for a large golf club, precipitating we might come across something, our excursion was cut short when we heard an animal with a little size, move in the bushes. Nervous already, I screamed, wondering what might be there and alive at that! We immediately got out of its way, resolving to search among those bushes when and if it is ever cleared!
It is a truly special memory of my journey.
However, what we thought was simply an interesting day, we soon recognized was a great day, filled with valuable information. It was the first cemetery we researched, the Massie Creek Cemetery, which would soon open a completely new line of inquiry.
I remember walking into the small rural cemetery, immediately noticing a large mausoleum; the inscription especially unexpected.
Surrounding it were several smaller but nonetheless substantial monuments of his descendants. Among them were his son, James and a Uriah Jeffries, a distant cousin as well as his daughter Caroline’s husband.
Beginning in the 1830’s, they had been cabinetmakers in Jamestown, Cedarville, and Xenia, Ohio. In fact, during a subsequent visit, I came across the original log house of their furniture-making company, which stands west of Xenia.
Jeffries Furniture Factory
Original Log Cabin
Outside Xenia, OhioSeeing the grandeur of Silas’s monument, learning from the information on the headstones and experiencing the incident with the postman, all demonstrate how beneficial on-site research can be. But walking inside the Jeffries’ log cabin, brought to life a little of what it was like back then and was worth the trip to Greene County by itself.
Reading about their expansion into a brick building in downtown Cedarville in 1845 underscored their accomplishments. Because they were well-established business-owners, I thought there might be mention of them in the town library. It was my lucky day when head librarian and genealogist Julie Overton answered my telephone call. She not only gave me several ideas to research, she mailed an article honoring James Jeffries as the oldest living cabinet-maker in the state.
In this article, James recounted walking beside the covered wagons, as his group traveled from Virginia to Ohio, when he was eleven years old. He stated the men and boys walked the entire distance of 500 miles.” The year was 1832; his family was joining numerous relatives in Greene County.
Although I assumed these Jeffries, (Silas and his descendants) were not part of my direct lineage, it was fortunate I traced their branch. I soon determined James Jeffries was a cousin of Walker and Macklin; they were the grandchildren of brothers.
I obtained two additional articles from the Xenia library, both very informative. One covered James’ eighty-eighth birthday and the other was his obituary. They stated his birthplace was Greensville County, Virginia. Yet again, because of a little investigation into what I merely considered an interesting family, I was able to identify my family’s earliest American roots. Our two branches of the Jeffries family were perspective lines, which came together at our common beginnings.
After migrating from Virginia, James along with his father, Silas Jeffries and his siblings settled in Greene County, Ohio. Their cousins, Macklin and Walker as stated earlier, only lived in Greene County for a short time, moving on and settling in Indiana.
There are several examples of interconnections between the Jeffries in Greene County, Ohio and for instance the Jeffries who settled in Whitley County and Rush County, Indiana. For one, James’ nephew, Uriah Henry Jeffries moved from Greene County to Rush County, Indiana where his cousins Walker and Macklin had made their home, approximately thirty years earlier. He married Macklin’s daughter, Malinda there in 1861. Although second cousins, at the least, their marriage was one of the few times I documented cousins marrying. The young couple moved on to nearby Hancock County and before long they acquired one of the largest farms in Hancock County, Indiana. Since several of Walker and especially Macklin’s children moved from Rush County to Hancock County leads to several more probable synopsis to ponder.
(1821 – 1921)
Although my main goal was to step backwards another generation, I postponed researching in Virginia. I was accumulating so much sociologically intriguing information about my family and their peers; I felt I needed to tie up several loose ends.
“How our historians have failed us!”
Epilog to Chapter Three
I definitely had not finished with Ohio. I had uncovered an extensive number of Jeffries, (as I did in Indiana) with the same ancestral roots who identified as white. I could no longer skim over certain facts. At this point in my research I was coming across people born early in the 1800’s and my roots were looking less and less like what I expected.
But I persisted in believing the Jeffries and their peers were “free colored,” however atypical. I assumed they (as many had done so in Indiana) had “chosen” their race.
Similar to a good deal of what I had previously uncovered, my new discoveries did not correlate with my knowledge of those times. For instance, although James Jeffries’ father Silas, was listed as “a free colored” in the 1820 Virginia census, he was a successful cabinetmaker in Greene County, Ohio by the 1830’s.
Various censuses continued to reveal families closely related and living near each other, crisscrossing white and black identities. But James Jeffries’ mention of Indian blood in the newspaper article, was my first time coming across this identity. Indian was also listed as his race, beginning in the 1830 census.
As yet another example of the surprisingly narrow time frame, similar to the Indiana county histories, Ohio books featuring various Jeffries were published approximately at the turn of the century. The people in question, but a decade earlier had been listed in the census as Mulatto. Adding to the equation is their parents were referred to as free people of color.
The more I researched these people’s history, the more confused I became: confused about their ability to change their racial identity within short spans of time and generally in the same place. I was not naïve, I knew of “passing,” but I assumed you moved away and as the inscription on the back of Tom Jeffries photograph declares, you never saw your family again. (See p. xx) In America, could you be black one day, the next day, only sometimes having moved a few miles, be white? It defied my understanding of racial identity, both then and now.
Added to the Jeffries who were featured in books and newspaper articles in Ohio, as I previously come across in Indiana, forced me to appreciate the level, some of the Jeffries’ acclimated into the white world.
It must be reiterated, the fact, for instance, my family’s earliest roots was discovered because I continued to investigate a seemingly white family. Such research, along with being sociologically intriguing, continued to open doors to more information.
Continuing the paradoxical and atypical nature of many aspects of my research I also became aware of the unique status of certain individuals of color. One, individual pertinent to my family and especially interesting is Thomas Day, a wealthy freeborn mulatto furniture maker. A pamphlet covering an exhibit of Thomas Day’s furniture at the North Carolina Museum of History states, “While there were free blacks and even slaves who contributed to their time, few became such an integral and vital part of a white community, as did Thomas Day. Property owner, successful businessman, respected craftsman, valuable citizen …” Similar attributes could be said for several of the free black population I was coming across, although not at his financial level.
Thomas Day and the Jeffries grew up in the free colored community in Greensville County. I was told Thomas Day was instrumental in Silas, James and Uriah Jeffries becoming furniture makers. The fact Uriah Jeffreys served as Thomas Day’s bondsman at his wedding in 1830 confirms their close relationship.
So much of what I was uncovering, so many historical facts testifying to a proud history had been lost. I had to think, so many were failed opportunities to positively affect a people.
“The Tip of an Iceberg”
During a visit to the Allen County, Indiana library, I came across an article in The Southern Workman magazine, designating Xenia, Ohio as a common haven for white southern fathers to relocate their Mulatto children. It went on to say, these fathers often left their Mulatto children in good financial condition. In view of the fact the Xenia area in Greene County, Ohio was my family’s first home out of the South, I speculated the sponsorship of white fathers would explain a lot. But this proved to be wrong. I determined the Jeffries who migrated, first to Ohio, then Indiana and then Michigan, over a forty-year span, were not the children of the slave master sent North.
In spite of everything I learned I had held onto my original perspective and pre-conceived ideas of my ancestors. I had thought Ohio would be different from Indiana. Yet, it was at this point, after so much information, so much documentation; I was beginning to come to terms with various aspects of my ancestors and their lives.
The icing on the cake or what tipped the iceberg over, not to use too many clichés, was not the number of Jeffries taking on the label of white during these years, but when I came across several going to court to do so. I came to a better understanding of their group, why several fought against a second-class existence.
Whitley County, Indiana
Circa 1890Since the defining factor in whatever choice they made, had to be their appearance, I thought of Walker and Macklin. It was evident it was their choice to live in a colored community. Having apparently finding Ohio not to their liking, they moved to “the Beech” community, in not much more than a year.
Because it was their choice to move to and make this colored community their home for the next fifty years I feel their political views are quite evident. Macklin was seemingly quite a political activist. For one, it was said he wrote several letters demanding justice as his children have been denied a public school education in Carthage, the larger community, which “the Beech” was a part. Interestingly not by their appearance, as judged by photographs, but because of the very identity he himself lived.
During these fights Macklin remained an active member of the free people of color community called the Beech. For example, he is a leader in their church (Mt. Pleasant) whose membership chose to be part of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination in 1844.
Additionally, it was said to be common knowledge the reason Macklin Jeffries’ son, William M., sued to establish his race as white was to secure his children’s right to a public education. The Jeffries were known for asserting their rights and challenging their community’s feelings.
During this same time period, in 1860, but in Whitley County, Mortimore Jeffries, Macklin’s cousin, also had to fight for his children’s right to an education. Attached in one of the letters he wrote asking for a hearing concerning his children being denied an education because of their color.
Education continued to be important to these nineteenth century people of color. In Wyatt Jeffries’ will he states, along with the usual bequests, “I direct that said son, Josiah shall be sent to school as much as possible at least during the winter season…until he arrives at 21 years of age.” The last phase “until he arrives at 21 years of age” infers a great deal, even in today’s perspective.
“Holding on to their Rights”
Along with being denied the right to an education, these families had problems obtaining the right to vote because of the presumed African blood. While covering Parker’s case the local newspaper expounded: “They paid their taxes but were not allowed to vote or send their children to the public schools.”
Similar to Macklin and Mortimore, other Jeffries did not take things lying down. During my research I began coming across several more fascinating characters, who were each fighters against the status quo.
Parker Jeffries, the dapper gentleman seen in the accompanying photograph was denied the right to vote because he was a "person of color" by the trustees of Xenia Township in Greene County, Ohio. (See: Note F) Parker sued, providing depositions from witnesses who had been his neighbors in Virginia to testify he was white and Indian. Parker lost his case in the local court but won his appeal, which proclaimed the plaintiff was of the Indian Race, the illegitimate son of a white man and a woman of the Indian Race and that he had no more than one- fourth Indian blood in his veins.”
Parker JeffriesIn another case, Wyatte Jeffries, the father of the previously mentioned, Mortimore and another son, Marcus also lost in their attempt to fight for their voting rights. But they, similar to their cousin, Parker, did not quit. They carried their case to the Ohio Supreme Court where they were finally granted suffrage. During their trial, the prosecution hired one witness, who claimed to be an expert in distinguishing traces of African blood by an examination of hair. The Jeffries’ attorney presented to this “expert” witness a lock of hair clipped from the judge’s head instead, which the witness, after careful examination, pronounced to be African hair! In the subsequent favorable ruling for Wyatte Jeffries’ and his sons’ voting rights, the Supreme Court judge made the following startling statement, “…that all nearer white than black … were entitled to enjoy every political and social privilege of the white citizen.”
Not at all as utopian as the judge, an article covering this event in The History of Whitley County, Indiana (where the family had subsequently moved) stated, “I am sure, which (privileges) they exercised under the scornful eyes of some of their neighbors”. This opinion surely echoed the realities of the day.
In yet another court document it stated, “William Jeffries has generally been regarded in his neighborhood as a man of African descent, though as white as ordinary white men.” Despite their appearance, which this quote once again confirms and alongside the court cases (however favorable), there were obviously strongly held feelings against the family. The fact there were court cases, proves to me they were viewed black by their neighbors and discriminated against accordingly.
“Grandma told me not to ask any questions”
It is my conclusion these incidents, lead back to one answer. Their problem was their background. According to the census, Macklin and Walker were born in Virginia, migrating to Ohio in the mid-1820’s and settling in Indiana soon after. I found many (not limited to their peers and friendly Quakers) sharing the same migration pattern. I have concluded their main “problem” was the continuity of their associations. Their neighbors, those who had also migrated from Virginia, were their Achilles Heel.
Keep in mind, every one of these Jeffries families’ migrations from Virginia to Ohio to Indiana occurred within approximately a twenty-year window, from the mid-1820’s to the late 1830’s. This short span of time definitely relates to who knew what. By the time my ancestors, for example, had settled in Michigan less than forty years had passed from when all the Jeffries lived in Greensville County, Virginia.
Numerous Jeffries lived to old ages and whether they had remained in their hometowns or had moved on, their longevity adds to the probability of knowing one another. For example, James Jeffries, the cabinetmaker was born in Virginia in 1820 and died in Ohio in 1921; John Jeffries Sr. was listed in the 1830 census as 100+; and a John Jeffrey’s, born in 1832, lived until 1934.
Everyone knew from where they came; ignorance did not play a part.
Along these lines, I think it is worth mentioning that several times I have come across photographs of the Indiana (white) branch of the family in the belongings of members of the Michigan (black) branch. These cousins had obviously communicated, exchanging and preserving photographs for over a century. On the other hand, one “Internet” connection, a white Jeffries descendant, mentioned during a telephone conversation, her questions regarding her family background were awakened only after finding revealing photographs hidden in a barn. She dismissively summed the incident up, by stating, “Grandma told me not to ask any questions.”
It stands to reason; elders knew where all the skeletons were hiding! All of which underscore the reluctance of some Jeffries to discuss from whom and from where they came.
“Earliest American Roots”
Chapter Four - Virginia
Understanding why they migrated, it was time to learn about the place they migrated from.
After coming across the articles about James Jeffries, which named Greensville County, Virginia as his birthplace, I also began to uncover information about the Jeffries migrating early in the eighteenth century to nearby North Carolina. This obviously was why Virginia and North Carolina were mentioned interchangeably as where we originated.
To restate, the adjacent three counties of Greensville County, Virginia and Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina were repeatedly named as the homes of the interconnected families in my research. For example, the Watkins and Pompeys were from Greensville County; the Roberts and Staffords were from Northampton County; and the Waldens and Winburns were from Halifax County. Hertford County, North Carolina was further east but was the home of a considerable number of this group, such as the Weavers and the Browns. Their pattern of staying close to one another began in and around these neighboring four counties.
Through the generations, one sees the same family names. To name a few specific to my research, there were the Archers and the Allens of Northampton County, North Carolina and Logan County, Ohio and Cass County, Michigan and the Keens of Hertford County, North Carolina, Whitley County, Indiana and Berrien County, Michigan. Staying connected throughout their westward migration to modern times, their settlements time and again, maintained their interrelationships, in particular by marriage. The circles were never ending.
To thoroughly understand a people, you should research the sociology and the history of their area and the geography, as well. During my research, I found the names of places changed, sometimes more than once. In 1783, Greensville County was fashioned from parts of Brunswick County to its west and Sussex County to its east.
Becoming knowledgeable about events taking place in and around your ancestors can add immensely to for one, your appreciation of what they had to deal with. I had already learned a pattern in my ancestors and their peer’s history was their habit of moving from problems or the potential of worst. In particular, the deteriorating views toward free people of color.
While investigating Virginia history I once again came across their situation declining. Similar to each era I researched, whether in the North or in their native South, their progress was blocked consistently. One Virginia legislative act passed in 1823, truly demonstrated the escalating hostility against free people of color. It stipulated free Negroes convicted of crimes should be flogged and sold into slavery. However comparable to previously stated discriminatory laws, this specific law’s timing was particularly pertinent. From my calculations this was the very time numerous Jeffries started migrating to where at least they would not have to deal with slavery. For instance, Walker, Macklin and their mother, Mourning migrated by 1826 with several family members and peers. But it must also be stated even considering their deteriorating circumstances many, if not most of the Jeffries did not migrate. But for those that did, they made the trip from approximately 1826 to 1835.
Having uncovered from where and when the Jeffries originated, enabled me to search specific records. I began my Virginia research in the 1820 Greensville County, Virginia census.
Greensville County, Virginia
I found nine Jeffries listed; seven (Sally, Eddy, Nathan, Herbert, Sinehey, Mourning, and Silas) were under the “Free Colored” designation. Listed white were a William and a Henry Jeffries. Following those individuals through the census, I found Edith, Nathaniel, Herbert, and Silas still residing in Greensville County in the 1830 census. There also was a Donaldson Jeffries, a name, up until that time, unseen. By the 1840 census, Herbert and Silas were heads of Ohio families. Nathaniel, Sally and Sinethey were no longer heads of households in 1830 or Edith by 1840. Taking into account their ages, (each was listed over 45 in the 1820 Census) they in all probability were living with younger members of their families or had passed on. The necessity of caring for the elderly resulted in multi-generational households. For instance, I found Mourning Jeffries in her son, Macklin’s household in the Greensville County 1822 tax records.
Information gained from tax records, etc. can supplement the few facts you can acquire from early censuses. In addition, numerous common-sense deductions can be made from those facts. For one, in these sparsely populated rural areas, the fact you lived in the same place testified to some connection. Similarities, such as the same ethnicity and certain names would add to the probability of a blood relationship.
For example, I took note of Grief Haithcock and Britton Jones, the only other colored families listed under the free colored classification on the same page as the Jeffries in the 1820 Greensville County census. Learning about these individuals enabled me to connect several more of the families I had come across, to Greensville County. They also led to more knowledge about my specific branch.
“Backtracking to the. Robinsons and meeting Sarah”
In retrospect, there were certain periods when information seemed to pour from various sources, in comparison to the long stretches where I found nothing or hardly anything. But after beginning to search in Virginia records I entered a rewarding period of discovery, which was encouraging. I committed myself to redoubling my efforts.
A few years had passed since I started my research and my new best friend was my computer. I had begun to occasionally scan Jeffries websites, which surprisingly were usually helpful. One discovery, a website covering the Jeffries Cemetery in Whitley County, Indiana (See Note G: The Jeffries Cemetery) revealed several new avenues to pursue.
Having found Britton Jones living in Greensville County in the 1820 Virginia census, I realized he was the same individual listed between Crones, Pompeys, Winburns, Keens and Jeffries in this Whitley County cemetery’s documents. This cemetery’s inclusion of the women’s maiden names documented several members of the Jones’ family intermarrying with the Jeffries. In fact, I later identified everyone in this cemetery as related.
Although I had previously noticed Jeffries living in Whitley County, Indiana I had skipped over a thorough investigation. But after seeing the extensive number listed in the Whitley County cemetery and in particular, their various interconnections, I decided I needed to research in Whitley County before delving any further in Virginia.
Once more I was able to gain significant information from a county history book, this time, The History of Noble County and Whitley County, Indiana. It stated the family was headed by Benjamin Jones, Britton’s father. It went on to say Benjamin Jones and Wyatt Jeffries were pioneers of Smith Township in Whitley County, Indiana and were originally from Greensville County, Virginia. This county history also mentioned the first death in the township was a child of Wyatt Jeffries.
One more piece of the puzzle – more evidence of neighbors in Greensville County joining family and friends. Their persistent practice of banding together had to be fundamental to their success. The term “There is safety in numbers”, referring to actual physical safety, had to be all-important. It took a village to survive then, even more so than now.
The Counties of Whitley & Noble, Indiana was full of relevant information, having not only a biography of Britton Jones, but one of an Augustus W. Jeffries. His biography listed his birth as 1843 and that he was the son of Wyatt W. Jeffries. It was confusing when I located a court document of an Augustus Wyche Jeffries suing in 1843 to change his last name to the name of his biological father - Robinson. However, after laying out their family tree, the pieces of another puzzle came together. This was why years later, after meeting Augustus W. Jeffries grandson, Joseph Casey, I was able to detail his tree as if it was my own.
I determined the Augustus W. Jeffries (Wyatt Jeffries’ son), whose biography I had come across, was named after father’s brother. His uncle, the older Augustus W. Jeffries changed his name to Robinson in 1843, the same year his nephew was born. Augustus W. Jeffries’ (born in 1818) lawsuit revealed valuable genealogical information, identifying this Augustus’s father as Darius/David Robinson, white, of Greensville County, Virginia. It connected more dots, stating his mother was Sarah Jeffries, half Indian and half white.
In view of America’s racial history, it is easy to assume being acknowledged the son of a white man, rather than simply the son of an unmarried Indian, was an advantage. But, whatever the reason, Augustus Wyche Jeffries took the name of Robinson. Apparently, another brother did the same a few years later. I came upon Parker Jeffries (mentioned earlier) in the 1850 Indiana Census as Parker Robinson and from then on, listed white in the census.
Throughout my journey, I had moved backwards from generation to generation, trying not to waver from my ancestor’s tracks. Even considering the degree, I found their roots tangled, at times crossing through several branches and interconnected families, I had steadfastly moved backwards. But my research into the Jeffries of Whitley County was an actual U-turn back into Indiana.
For so long, I had asked, where did we come from and this turn truly delayed my research, in what in essence, had been my initial objective. But learning about the branch headed by Sarah “Sally” Jeffries added considerably to knowledge of not only the Jeffries in Indiana but of their lives in Virginia.
Sarah “Sally” Jeffries
(about 1781 - unknown )
Discovering the father of Sarah Jeffries’ sons was Darius Robinson, the son of the neighboring farmer, insinuates loads of scenarios taking place centuries ago. Not to mention, the name Robinson, kept cropping up in my research.
Because genealogy is the study of one’s bloodline, several details suggested the possibility my lineage may include a Robinson. Is it possible my great-grandfather, Robertson Jeffries’ father was a Robinson? The name always piqued my curiosity. For instance, in the 1850 census, when my great-grandfather was eleven, his first name was listed as Robinson. In an 1860 Rush County court document, when he was twenty-two years old, the writing clearly states “Robinson Jeffries selling liquor to a minor.” The fact my great-grandfather, Robertson Jeffries’ first name is sometimes listed as Robinson, would not be consequential, nor my curiosity the same, if the name had been anything else. Yet again, another angle, but one unable to prove, whatever its importance.
It had been early that summer when I had uncovered the news article where James Jeffries mentioned his birthplace. Because of this very important fact, new and interesting information seemed to be endless. While delving into this branch, I discovered Sarah and loads of data but I also came across several enlightening events taking place so long ago. In fact, it was learning about Sarah’s sons, Wyatt and Augustus, which prepared me for my encounter with their very much alive descendant.
But as mentioned earlier, I knew such tangents, however interesting, I needed to resume researching my direct lineage in Virginia. Aware the census was not going to help, I made sure to visit my family’s geographical roots before the summer ended.
Choosing to visit the Greensville County, Virginia County Clerk’s office in Emporia was definitely the right decision especially considering the shortness of our stay. Walking inside the small building we never could have imagined it containing such a wide range of pertinent information.
After a brief summary of my goals, the County Clerk without pausing picked out of a cramped bookcase a document detailing the marriages of Greensville County. Alongside the names of the groom and the bride, it listed the minister, usually the witnesses and often included a few miscellaneous facts. For instance, if the bride was underage it was noted. Named were several Jeffries: Ginsy Jeffers married Robert Brooks Corn and Henry Jeffries married a Sarah Shehorn, for example. I determined the previously mentioned Grief Haithcock’s maiden name was Jeffries from the listing of a Colby Haithcock marrying Grief Jeffries.
One should remember surnames have a variety of spellings, Haithcock (Heithcock) and Corn (Cohn) etc.
Some of the records available to the genealogist are deeds, tax lists and wills: to name the more obvious. I found Jeffries in a variety of records. For example, in the Greensville County, Virginia 1800 tax list Andrew Jeffries was listed as having four horses; John two; Shadrack, Hudson and Simon; one apiece. Although, at the time, I did not know who these people were, I recorded everything about each Jeffries. Any fact, some seemingly innocuous, can be critical to making important ancestral connections and could help in uncovering the whole story. For instance, one of the most important facts deciphered from the tax records was that several of the Jeffries’ abruptly ended tax payments to Greensville County in the middle of the 1820’s. This pinpointed their migration from Virginia.
Greensville County is roughly at the mid-point of the state on the border with North Carolina. What a place it must have been! Tax books and probate records furthered my view Greensville County was one of those places with Indian and part African populations alluded to by local Jeffries historians, where “there was acceptance not consistent with the times.”
An acceptance where those labeled free people of color, for example, the Jeffries, not only lived alongside whites, (which has always been common in the South) but had relationships, which carried over into business, even at times litigious. Additionally, the Jeffries’, as well as several of their peers’ level of land ownership indicates much more, if not equality. Indeed, what I came across was not the typical successful white farmer with those of color nearby who are simply tenants or owners of small farms. On the other hand, an economic parity and living next door does indicate close relationships, their familiarity was not legitimized by marriages. Marriages were limited to those labeled free people of color: Drury Jeffries with Silvia Scott, Mark Goings with Sarah Jones, etc. Free people of color married free people of color.
It is not hard to imagine the range of likely interactions between the neighbors, Andrew Jeffries and Darius Robinson, considering they shared grandchildren from the liaison between Darius Jr. and Sally. Reading wills, seeing what they left and to whom, was interesting as well as revealing. But, was I assuming too much, smiling, as I noticed in Andrews will the property he left to his daughter Sally, bordered the Robinson’s?
Because of my research I was aware of numerous families; those having migrated in approximately the same time frame and each to one or another of the free colored communities in Ohio, Indiana and later Michigan. The same surnames I had seen in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio were in Greensville County, the Scotts, the Pompeys, the Haithcocks and the Mabys, to name a few and even the young Littleberry Stewart, an ancestor of Irvin Jeffries’ second wife, Mary.
Throughout the day, Bobby Wren, the Greensville County clerk guided us, making suggestions. This knowledgeable and affable clerk was extremely helpful. As we were about to leave he mentioned the original Jeffries farmhouse was still standing and the Robinson family lived across the road. Understandably, my husband and I rushed our goodbyes and expressions of gratitude. It turned out, only a little early, as the office was about to close.
A short drive from where we were in Emporia, we quickly located the Jeffries’ farmhouse, a narrow, two-story, white frame house showing all of its age. Not more than 100 yards from the Jeffries’ farmhouse, we noticed three redheaded farmers working. Getting late in the day, we rushed through our introductions trying to explain what we were doing. Introducing themselves as members of the Robinson family I was especially anxious to begin asking questions. They responded politely, but gave the impression they did not know anything regarding their history. However, in response to my comment about the small size of the Jeffries homestead, one said he had heard it had been quite stately and had been the home of a government official in the nineteenth century. His statements led me to believe they were aware at the least, a little of their history. Leaving the Robinsons, we barely beat the setting sun, which was directly in front of us.
Epilog to Chapter Four
Returning from where my family originated, I was at a crossroads.
Aware of my limitations I however, was optimistic something would open up. I knew I had exhausted what my old friend, the census had to offer. When I did begin to utilize the Internet, I immediately began referring to it as my new best friend. I am sure I would have stopped prematurely had it not been for its vast array of information at my fingertips.
In numerous ways the Internet contributed to my understanding of my family, in the present as well as in the past. For one, it enabled me to learn from the many others who were interested in the Jeffries. This curiosity of primarily white Jeffries about their family, shown in online message boards, personal websites, etc., was not only intriguing but helpful.
I also realized visits to local libraries and courthouses, which had been consistently rewarding, would need to be resumed. Relevant information, which can only be found in local venues, had to be out there. Accordingly, after returning from Virginia, I revisited the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne. My positive attitude was rewarded, finding Macklin and Mary Jeffries interviewed in The 1879 Illustrated Atlas of Rush County, Indiana. This book, primarily covering geographic aspects of Rush County’s townships only included a few interviews. Macklin, evidently a respected member of the community was one of those interviewed. He named his father as Henry Jeffries and his mother as Monin.
As I often did in those days of active research, I readily told anyone about new discoveries. I remember talking about the similarity of the names Monin and Mourning, with my husband’s office manager, Mary Greenhill. Before I could tell her I assumed the name Monin was a shortened version of the name Mourning, she read my notes aloud, pronouncing the name Mourning, “Monin.” I realized her pronunciation, in all probability, was the manner in which, Macklin, a transplanted Virginian, would state his mother’s name to the interviewer.
Even before I was aware of any connection with Henry and Mourning, I had made note of Henry Jeffries. I recorded he was an English immigrant, who in 1808 in Greensville County married a Sarah Shehorn. It was my opinion he possibly was of some significance, because not only his name was Jeffries, but also the Shehorn family was an interconnected family. For instance, husband and wife Winfred (Shehorn) and Benjamin Jones were the parents of Wyatte Jeffries’ wife, Eliza. (See Family Tree, p. xx).
Was it coincidental they had the same last name?
Each of my discoveries added to my puzzle. Each contributed to my understanding of my Virginia ancestors but at the same time alluding to more questions. Questions often answered themselves, especially when I reviewed information. Every time I went over what I had accumulated, I realized something new. It truly was an on-going learning experience.
My thoughts circled around the individuals I had uncovered, many completely different in the various stages of their lives. For example, my great-grandfather, Robertson had matured, changing from the twenty-one-year-old who was taken to court for selling liquor to a minor in Indiana, to his service to God as a minister in Michigan. I reflected on the tenacity of these people, which was very evident throughout my research, such as Mourning’s son Macklin. The strength of character of Sarah’s sons, Wyatt and Parker suing for their rights in Ohio and Indiana is another example! Using the vernacular of today, “what a good job these single mothers had done.”
During similar moments of reflection, I fondly recall my one and only meeting with Cousin Mildred. It was that somewhat contentious conversation, when she revealed the all-so-important detail, my great-grandfather’s name. It was the key which opened the first door. Information gathered from new acquaintances, would shortly close the door, tying up my loose ends.
Person to Person –
Martha to Lawrence to David to John
I was aware of what I had accomplished, having gone from only the names of my great-grandparents to finding ancestral information reaching back into the 1600’s. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined I would have uncovered so much fascinating information.
But after returning from where my family had originated, I knew I was at a crossroads. Despite feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost, I decided my journey was not over. I now wanted to connect the dots to the beginning. I now wanted details about these people. I wanted to know the name of the first American Jeffries and although my search for my African roots had taken quite a detour, I wanted to know who was my “Kunta Kinte” or considering what I had found, was there a Jeffries “Kunta?” But, to begin, who were Mourning’s parents? The gap between Mourning (I was sure she was the connection) and the elusive “Kunta” remained.
However aware of my limitations, I was optimistic something would open up. After all I had a mini-fortune of names as reference points.
Martha (Roberts) Sanders
The day I met a Martha (Roberts) Sanders, I essentially began connecting the dots of what I had learned.
It was only minutes after walking into Martha (Roberts) Sanders’ home, a small senior citizen’s apartment full of awards and photographs of her accomplished family; I knew I had entered a new phase in my research. She was very aware of interconnections, historical and otherwise, between her Roberts family and the Jeffries.
As previously mentioned, reclaiming cabinet cards labeled “Jeffries” was our reason for meeting. Indeed, I left with a fortune in photographs, but profoundly more was acquired. As I had observed numerous times during my journey, it was the elderly, who were very strong mentally and full of information. But it was their age which was all-important; I began to realize they had a need to tell what they knew.
She immediately explained it was her second cousin, Leona Mae Moxley, who had collected the photographs. Leona Mae (Jeffries) Moxley had labeled each one without exception, with names and most, with descriptions of their relationship to her. Imagine my surprise when included among them was one of my great-grandfather, in Leona’s perfect penmanship, labeled Uncle Robertson!
Within the same week, my future daughter-in-law, Tammi Martin, gave me the book, The Rural Black Heritage Between Chicago and Detroit. She and my son were students, at Western Michigan University where the author was a professor. Page 100 included the same photograph of my great-grandfather who Mrs. Sanders had given me—another serendipity moment. It seemed like things were supposed to happen.
As if these incidents were not proof of the gods smiling on my efforts, my cousin Gordon Jeffries, who lived in Kalamazoo (a city in Southwestern Michigan where several branches of our ancestors had migrated to in the middle of the nineteenth century) made a significant discovery. Excited, he called saying, “he had purchased a group of Cabinet Cards at a garage sale, of people he was sure were the same people in those cards you received from Martha – but in my cards they are older.”
Inexplicably they were for sale at the home of a relative of the then, recently deceased Michigan State Senator Basil Brown. Soon after, we learned Basil was distantly related to our family. It was not so bizarre after all!
1875-Mrs. Sander’s cousin Leona Mae’s careful identification of her family’s photographs was immeasurability helpful. Family historians, whether myself, in
showing Gordon the Cabinet Cards or the contributions of Martha or Leona Mae, we go out of our way to support each other.
Leona Mae Moxley, obviously wanted to ensure family connections and relationships were passed on. Her documentation was incredibly thorough, exemplified in the examples displayed. For instance, the photograph of Mary Eliza Jeffries specifies on the back, “grandfather’s third wife and another photograph states, also on the back, “Sarah Stewart sister of George Stewart - husband of mother sister Tillie”. Her labeling went further stating, “father of Rhoda Irving George”. “Uncle Williamson Jeffries” was written on another.
It was a fun afternoon noticing characteristics and making assumptions (based in plenty of knowledge) about the people. Of the two photographs showing bow-tied gentleman, the one to the left, being from Mrs. Sanders’ collection, was labeled, Cyrus Jeffries. This enabled us to identify the one on the right, which was acquired from the garage sale, as a mature Cyrus.
Another very informative example is the accompanying Cabinet Card of six siblings. Leona Mae Moxley noted on the back, “The children of Walden” (first name not listed) and went on to state “pioneer with my grandfather Irving Jeffries in Volinia Township”. On the front around the outside, she named each of the siblings, including the sisters’ married names.
Similar to the manner in which facts can lead to assumptions, these photographs evoked certain opinions. For one, Cyrus seemed stylish, with his fondness for bow ties shown in both photographs. He also seemed to mature into a rather professorial type. The older Cyrus’ faint smile and squint in his eye, as well as the pleasant smile displayed in Mary Eliza Walden’s photograph, suggests aspects of their personalities, especially since smiling or anything involving movement could spoil these early photographs. As would be expected, all of the photographs showed people in their Sunday best, meticulous and dignified. But the abundance of photographs uncovered by me alone and the numerous family collections (Dungey, Haithcox, etc.) on the Internet indicates even more to me, along these lines.
Discovering Cyrus Jeffries’ gravesite at the Nicholsville Cemetery in Cass County, Michigan, listing his birth as 1875 enabled me to approximate his age in the photographs. Sharing his impressive tombstone with his mother, Hannah (James) Jeffries (1853-1931) identified Cyrus, as one of Walker’s grandchildren.
Of the photographs from the Kalamazoo garage sale there were only two we were unable to match with the labeled ones acquired from Mrs. Sanders. Seen here are the unnamed photographs, which were displayed side by side in an ornate silver frame. The manner in which I was able to identify the young man is an example of how communicating with others can further one’s research. It began by a woman from Pennsylvania contacting me via e-mail, after noticing my request for information on the Jeffries family in the Ancestry.com website. She was seeking information about Dora, the youngest son of Robertson and Azzariah Jeffries. We communicated several times about our overlapping interests. Mailing photographs of Dora in middle age, I immediately recognized her Dora, as an older version of the young man in my unnamed photograph.
As so many times during my research a little information led me to investigate more thoroughly. I found Dora appearing to have led a less than dull life. In the 1900 Indiana census he is enumerated with his widowed mother Azzariah and sister Minnie, with his occupation listed as a saloonkeeper. Continuing to research backwards I found him in several sources as having been married twice and having two children. My E-mail contact went on to tell me he had migrated to California with his third wife. In subsequent censuses I found him in Los Angeles in the grocery business.
(1868 – 1939)
and Lawrence Carter
1981Martha [Roberts) Sanders’ Cabinet Cards had truly opened a floodgate of information. But it was a casual comment, similar to comparable off-hand remarks that had time and again brought about new information. Mrs. Sanders’ comment led me to the end of my journey or the beginning, depending on your perspective.
Specifically, during one of my visits, which always included questions about her family, she mentioned, “My cousin Lawrence Carter is an expert on the Beech Community”. I recall my mind jumping ahead of itself, barely comprehending her use of the “Beech” in the present tense. She then went on to add he lived in Carthage. I could not believe what I heard!
Though my husband and I were planning on visiting the Indiana Historical Library in Indianapolis the next day, for whatever reason we did not make plans to visit Mr. Carter. Looking back, I think what I had learned just had not registered. Possibly I could not grasp what was truly history, was touchable and accessible.
We found the library to have numerous pertinent documents. Yet we were amazed the most informative materials were those compiled and donated to the library by Mr. Carter. Putting down a page of his manuscript, my husband stood, stating, “we need to visit him and besides it is only a half-hour drive”.
Our trip over to Carthage was an unexpected detour and I did not have Mr. Carter’s phone number. We learned a good lesson, emphasizing the necessity of having essential information at all times—phone numbers, addresses and maps. I also suggest keeping a magnifying glass, a tape recorder and a camera.
As soon as we arrived in Carthage I went about asking people in this small, apparently 100 per cent white town about Mr. Carter. No one seemed to know anything. While questioning a group in the bank, one young man did step forward stating, “I can tell you where the old Beech Church is”. He drew a map of how to find the church, which we realized after finding it that his directions were pretty good. I say this because we got lost, turning around several times, passing the dirt road leading to the church at least three times. Eventually we were successful, seeing for ourselves, the church founded by among others, my great-great-grandfather.
“Free Colored People From North Carolina Settled Here In 1828.”
Relieved we finally stumbled on the church, chatting about being lost, we suddenly stopped. Standing still, without uttering a word for at least a minute, we read the plaque nailed outside the front door: “Free Colored People From North Carolina Settled Here In 1828”. Emotions welled up, thinking about these people. My mind jumped forward thinking of those who came after, who created this sign, emphasizing the importance of the declaration -- these people had been free.
The minute we arrived home, I telephoned Mr. Carter, who I could tell was a character even on the phone.
(168 – 1939)
Circa 1920He laughed non-stop when I recounted running around the 99.99 percent white town of Carthage asking anyone, did they know him. Also during this first phone call I became aware of the extent of his knowledge and a little of his extraordinary life. For example, and notwithstanding his years as a teacher, he had been a world traveler and an avid mountain climber as a young man.
Anxious to meet him, my husband and I returned to Carthage within a few weeks. Lawrence Carter was truly a walking encyclopedia about all the people of the “Beech” and noticeably took pleasure in sharing his knowledge. One of his good friends and fellow Beech descendant, Ronald Tuttle stopped by while we were there. As with many others, Mr. Carter has taught him much about his ancestor, a General Tuttle. In Thomas Newby’s book, Reminiscences General Tuttle he is cited as a leader in the Beech community and a preacher in its church.
It is hard to explain the feelings I experienced meeting Mr. Carter and seeing his home. His living room was crammed with memorabilia. Each nook and cranny was jammed with books and the walls covered with framed photographs. It seemed everything was relevant to my family’s history as well. Looking down over his cluttered desk was a portrait of his grandmother, Martha Jane (Winburn) McDuffey. This lovely woman was Sarah (Winborn) Jeffries, my great-grandmother’s sister.
Lawrence Carter was a boost to my research in innumerable ways. For one, his appropriately titled notes, “Day by Day - So Much at Stake,” contributed loads of information, much of which could never have been learned from traditional sources. Since he started his research while young, his conversations with those who were elderly during his youth were unfiltered recollections reaching deep into the 1800’s. The people he interviewed, in turn, could have known some, who lived in the latter parts of the 1700’s. Though similar to Martha Sanders’ recollections, they were documented.
His remembrances brought to life much of what I had uncovered. Large segments of his narrative read like a movie script. Quoting Mr. Carter, “Between 1821 and 1828 the first colored settlers of Rush County arrived in caravans and ox-carts and covered wagons. Included in these groups were free people of color from Virginia, the Jeffries, the McCowans and the Watkins and the Roberts and the Winborns of North Carolina.”
What we learn as children regarding our particular people, our ethnicity, etc. for one, their involvement in our country’s history relates directly to our bond to our country. Considering black Americans lack of knowledge about our contributions to early America, it is a wonder the degree of patriotism there is in the black community. These types of accounts, if only more common, could help to convey that we were active participants. Whether as part of pioneer communities in our heartland and wagon trains heading west, etc. – we were there. It is important to tell the whole story.
Our day long visit concluded with the, at least 80 years old Mr. Carter trampling through a farmer’s field to the “Beech” cemetery. It was not an easy uphill trek, among other things, dense underbrush hid several flat headstones. Barely within the cemetery, I noticed a tall pillar-like monument standing off to the side. It was precariously next to the woods, which were soon to take over the cemetery. Etched at the bottom was “Walker Jeffries” declaring my great-great grandfather’s final resting place. Several small markers representing what I assumed were his children, who had died before him, made a half-circle in front of it.
The day’s events were some of the most heart-warming experiences in my journey. Everything pertaining to Mr. Carter: his home, our conversation, etc. are beautiful memories. But seeing the historic cemetery in shambles was heart-breaking.
Mr. Carter’s sharp wit was evidenced throughout the day. Back at his home as we were about to leave, he said with what I can only describe as a snicker - I was the first Jeffries of color to visit. Then bursting into a loud laugh he exclaimed, he was exaggerating, “only a little”. He went on to explain descendants of the Beech frequently seek him out, but only a few are African-American. No more than a minute later, walking out of his door he suggested contacting a David Sciacchitano. Mr. Carter explained, he was white but had extensively researched his ex-wife’s family, the Jeffries. Taking his address, I could have not fathomed how helpful he would be.
In August of 1989, my father passed and through the fall and winter, nearly ten years from the start of my interest in genealogy, I lost interest in my research. The 1990 Jeffries Family Reunion, which was fast approaching, was my impetus to resume researching. I wrote David Sciacchitano, the researcher Lawrence Carter had suggested the previous summer. Surprised and elated, I found his answer in my mailbox within the same week. He compressed in two pages the beginnings of the Jeffries family in America.
We began communicating regularly, every letter full of revelations it would have taken months, if not years, to uncover. He wrote the head of the family was John Jeffries and his wife was Juditha Lane. Their children, John, Simon, Nathaniel, Shadrack and Andrew were born around the 1730’s in a part of Brunswick County, which is now in Greensville County, Virginia.
He documented my direct line from Mourning Jeffries to Andrew Jeffries in his 1820 will. Anxious to set my eyes on the document, when I did with all of the legalized prose and in the flamboyant script of 1821, I was amazed. Understanding what it meant, I am very appreciative of his gift.
Because of David, I was able to place all those names I jotted down over the years onto my family tree.
Andrew Jeffries (1750-1821) Family Tree
The Children of Andrew and Mary (Doyle) Jeffries
In my continuing fascination with names and their implications, three out of the four choices of Andrew and Mary Doyle Jeffries’ children’s names were intriguing. They were named, Lynch, Grief and Mourning. How must they have felt to have these debilitating names, which they were surely called multiple times during the day? Did they ever ask their parents why these names? Another mystery suggesting some sociological factor, this time, one I cannot begin to assume.
A great deal of the facts I came across continued to lend themselves to assumptions and forced me to think of these people as individuals. My mind wandered, thinking about two of the sisters, specifically, Mourning and Sally. Depending on where you are coming from, would determine which adjectives you would use to describe these sisters. Both never married, yet bore children by neighboring white men. Sally interestingly, with the son of the adjoining farmer. Mourning was definitely somebody to be reckoned with; suing Thomas Advent, a white man, for parentage in 1806.
Whether they, the daughters of a successful farmer were good-looking and/or spoiled, to name two possible adjectives is pure conjecture. But their actions exclaim feisty and resilient, definitely persevering. At approximately fifty years of age, Sarah (Sally) left Virginia for Whitley County, Indiana with her sons. Her sister, Mourning approximately the same age, which was rather old for their time period, also moved on to Indiana. She settled in nearby Rush County with her three sons, Macklin, Walker and Wright. Every one of the Jeffries’ sister’s sons carried their mothers’ last name.
The numerous documents David Sciacchitano collected, painted a striking picture of a colonial American family involved in their community. They were not an insignificant people, leaving their mark wherever they lived. He took note of a number of land deals and cases where Jeffries sued neighbors, whether white or of color, at times winning. Indeed, both David and I have come across the Robinsons and Advents, for example, buying and selling land with the Jeffries. Notwithstanding the dilemmas of Sally and Mourning, I maintain those of color in and around their community seemed to be accorded a level of respect. But because I did not find any marriages between the free colored community and the white community, I concluded they never received full acceptance.
In not the first but in the second letter, David mentioned the Jeffries were Native Americans of the Occaneechi Tribe. He stated matter of factly, “the Jeffries have Indian blood”. He substantiated the claims of those elderly relatives who pulled me aside almost ten years to the day, whispering, “You know we have Indian blood.” Our history went back to the original people of this land, now called America. I remembered James Jeffries’ newspaper interview where he stated he descended from the Choctaw tribe. Incorrect about the specific tribe, he evidently was proud of his Indian heritage.
Learning the actual tribe of my ancestors, I began collecting information about the Occaneechis. It was not easy, since for the most part, they and comparable tribes are rarely heard of today. Their stories overlap with similar small tribes, the Pampunkeys, the Nottaways and the Rappahannocks, to name a few. Of special interest was the first officially “terminated” tribe, the Gingashins, a Virginia tribe who supposedly refused to give up their traditions and worse, had intermarried with too many African Americans. In 1813, the government decreed the Gingashin tribe would no longer be officially recognized.
Continuing to gather anything mentioning the Occaneechis, I concluded they were an entrepreneurial people, “... an important tribe whose island was the great trading center for all the Indians for 500 miles” is a quote from one source. Their success seems to have been part of their undoing. Continuing along those lines, they are described as prosperous in a book covering Bacon’s Rebellion in early Virginia history. Specifically it states, “The Occaneechis, known as traders, were a prosperous but small tribe until the whites they did business with turned on them and they had to flee into the Carolinas for survival.
Moving to better themselves is an overriding theme in the history of my family. But after uncovering the Jeffries’ Native American ancestry, I wondered, was this at the root of their vulnerability? From the beginning, race had overshadowed their very existence.
Stated in the book, Black Indians, “For white Americans, problems presented by Native Americans were solved in a single dramatic stroke by the Indian Removal Act.” Called the “Trail of Tears”, The Indian Removal Act, passed Congress in 1830. It decreed the Five Civilized Tribes, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole were to relocate, on foot, some 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. The name it took on, the “Trail of Tears” speaks to the horrible conditions resulting in severe suffering, including thousands of deaths.
My branch of the Jeffries lived in one of the areas affected by this forced removal, yet the Jeffries’ migration from Virginia took place several years before the “Trail of Tears”. Specifically, the brothers Macklin and Walker Jeffries migrated to Ohio by 1826, which was four years before the law passed and several years before the physical removal of Indians, which began around 1838. But, since this far-reaching action necessitated planning well before its inception, it would be reasonable to suppose the Jeffries took anticipatory action. Alongside any rationalizations, it may be impossible to know. It may be beyond the uncovering of facts.
One of the ways Native Americans did avoid the “Trail of Tears” death march was by becoming part of the colored community. In an essay about blacks and the Cherokee Nation, historian Willa Gibbs states “… it may have been advisable for those with mixed ancestry to be enumerated among free blacks. It was at this point in my research, I came to yet another supposition; could this behind what happened to the branches of my family tree which turned away from their identification as Native American?
Paradoxically, those who remained in the South and identified as American Indian found themselves fighting another battle during the second half of the nineteenth century. Indians east of the Mississippi River became victims of a non-violent attack as damaging in its intent as the Trail of Tears. This non-violent attack was the government regulations labeling Indians under the “Free Colored” designation. The ongoing Indian Wars in the West and these actions were comparable to fronts in a war; a war to rid the country of what was called the “Red problem”.
One overriding reason the establishment counted Indians as colored people was they wanted to limit who could be labeled as white. Many with mixed black ancestry were able to call themselves white, attributing their ambiguous appearance to Indian ancestry. One book put it this way: “Those whose looks were not quite white enough, claimed some Indian ancestry—which they might have had—and passed anyway”.
Such views and subsequent laws had also spiked before the Civil War, but now having lost the war, solidifying what was white was seemingly all important. No “in-betweens” could encroach on being white. Free people of color, whatever their racial make-up were grouped with blacks.
More laws supposedly guaranteeing racial integrity came into being, re-asserting (once again) Caucasian, as one with no trace of Negro blood. All of these declarations harkened back to the “one drop rule” that for one, came into being during the years of slavery, to keep the many white looking slaves in their place. The following statement about the necessity of the rule typifies the indifference of the times, “The antebellum South encouraged the rule as a way of enlarging the slave population with the children of slaveholders”. Evidently, the majority of such fathers felt their financial interests superseded everything.
Exceptions were made in some of the laws. One especially intriguing example was incorporated in Virginia’s Racial Integrity Law of 1924. It declared an exception for those with 1/16 or less of Indian blood since there were many prominent Virginias who traced their ancestry back to Pocahontas.
Each of these factors highlight the Jeffries, now based in Orange County, North Carolina, who were fighting to reclaim their Occaneechi Tribal status. (See: Note J) Whatever paths various Jeffries took for whatever reasons, they are the direct descendants of the first Americans.
David having casually mentioned the Jeffries’ Native American connection in one letter, in another letter, he went on to discuss his friendship with relatives of his ex-wife, who descended from a Jeffries branch centered in Orange County, North Carolina. Because of this, yet another spur-of-the-moment comment, I learned about living people who had the same ancestors as I.
Interestingly, time after time people who supported my search, after sharing personal anecdotes, precious photographs and vital information would however, nonchalantly refer to some fact, which often was of considerable importance.
Throughout my research I had come across numerous Jeffries listed in Orange and Alamance counties, but I did not know their connection to my family. Nevertheless, I had put the names away, along with hopefully significant facts, waiting to be placed in my family tree.
Mr. Sciacchitano stated most of these twentieth century Jeffries identified as Indian, even though they had intermarried with both their white and black neighbors over the past 200 years. Responding to my skepticism, he clarified his statement by explaining they were recognized and respected as descendants of the original inhabitants. He added they had a Powwow every August, but he was not sure of the date.
Excited over my new discoveries I immediately called the Orange County, North Carolina Tourist Center where I was referred to a Forrest Hazel of the Alamance County Native American Association. Forrest Hazel knew as much about the family as Mr. Sciacchitano. He described the manner in which he learned he was mostly Indian, during his search of his “unclear roots”. Now identifying as Native American, his experience confirmed my view that most people choose one ethnicity with which to identify. Probably because I was the first of the Jeffries who had migrated to Michigan, a descendant of the “Michigan Five” to uncover our roots, my views were very much entangled in the undeniable black component. Discussing the subject extensively with him, his response to my apprehensions was reassuring. He stated, “Whatever you’re used to, these Indians go from chalk to chocolate and you are one of them,” which went straight to the heart of the story.
That same summer of 1991, we were planning a motor trip from Detroit to my husband’s family reunion in Knoxville Tennessee, continuing on to Hilton Head Island for a vacation. After deciding North Carolina could easily be part of the return trip, I was told to call Chief John Jeffries.
Both David Sciacchitano and Forrest Hazel stated the Jeffries retained physical characteristics typical of their Native American ancestry. They went on to describe the Jeffries as a reserved, private people. Ironically this was exactly how I would describe the Michigan branch.
Chief John fit the physical description, but his personality was the exact opposite of what I expected. He is the perfect example of someone who has never met a stranger. I remember fondly the enthusiastic answer to my preliminary telephone call, - “Hi long-lost Long cousin!”
He received us with generosity from the moment we met him. In all of his glory, braid down his back, smiling broadly, John arrived at our hotel in a pickup truck decorated with feathers and personally made Occaneechi artifacts. Our daughter eagerly jumped in this colorful and exuberant man’s back seat, unaware she was sitting on the skin of a recently killed black bear. During our ride of approximately twenty minutes from Durham to his hometown of Hillsborough, we learned more about the tribe than from any book. He spoke fluently about the history of the Occaneechis, obviously the result of serious research but also as he emphasized, from living the ways of his ancestors as much as was possible.
We soon found ourselves at the original site of the Occaneechi’s as described in the Handbook of North American Indians by Frederick Hodge. In fact, The University of North Carolina had held archaeological digs in 1983 and 1989 in this exact location, at the bend of the Eno River. They had unearthed numerous artifacts from the Occaneechi past, including materials evidencing an unwritten history of 700 years.
How we got there is another story. Shortly after we reached Hillsborough, we, but my husband especially, was taken by surprise when John jerked his truck off the road. Not slowing down he drove around walls of bushes, obviously knowing exactly where to miss trees and ditches, until we reached a clearing. Slamming on the brakes and seeming to jump from the truck at the same time, John began somewhat of a prayer. Barely whispering, the only words I remember hearing was - “we were on our ancestral grounds”. This was truly an “Indiana Jones Experience,” using my husband’s words.
John Jeffries and Cynthia Jeffries Long
with a Hand Fan made by John from a North Carolina hawk’s feathers
1997 (3rd visit)
During this first, short visit, I gained an immeasurable amount of information. Everyone was helpful and told of things I never would have imagined. However, I was able to give them a few new insights as well. I recall how pleased I was when I, the new kid on the block, told these experienced Jeffries historians I had come across Macklin Jeffries in an interview during the 1890’s stating his parents were Henry and Monin Jeffries. They responded they had come to the same conclusion. They also agreed that although Henry and Mourning’s last names were the same, they had never married.
On our last day, Forrest Hazel took us to the nearby town of Mebane, populated by more descendants of the John and Juditha Jeffries. While touring the area he inquired what I thought of the numerous mailboxes labeled Cohn. This was a perfect example of how names, accents and pronunciations are confusing and can be relevant in research. I remarked, as he expected, “I’m surprised how many Jewish families lived in this southern rural area”. He went on to explain that when these peoples’ ancestors said their names to the census takers, etc., they would say Cohn, slurring their correct name Corn. This although insignificant but interesting fact underscored my confusion over the name Monin in relation to Mourning.
The Jeffries had definitely made a place for themselves in this part of North Carolina. The local museum, the Dickson House, had on display not only some of the artifacts uncovered by the University of North Carolina, but several of Chief John’s personally made items. We had lunch in downtown Hillsborough, with John and his wife, Lynette, at a restaurant owned by a Jeffries. In addition, the corner of N.C. 49 and Road 1002 is named Jeffries. At this location, there is a church named the Jeffries Cross Baptist Church.
We also stopped by a tobacco farm Forrest said was one of the largest in Orange County. It was owned by the Enoch family; whose wife as well as his mother are descendants of the Jeffries family. Although these Jeffries had no direct connections to my branch for almost two centuries, Mr. Enoch and his brother strongly resembled my father. In fact, my very first thought upon seeing Chief John was how easily he could be mistaken for my brother. We could see we were family.
At the end of the road was a large cemetery with tombstones listing Jeffries, Whitmores, Wades, etc., names familiar to my research. Visiting this cemetery was an appropriate end to my trip.
“You are a Sure enough Be”!
The next day during our goodbyes, John presented me with several handmade Occaneechi artifacts. He told me to choose one of his personally made hand fans, as the first piece of my regalia. Both he and his wife declared several times I needed an outfit representing my roots. Picking a beautiful purple-feathered one, he said, “I could not have it”. I smile to this day, recalling my immediate response, thinking, “THIS is a true example of an Indian Giver”. Thankfully I kept it to myself, as he while laughing, explained the one I picked, however beautiful, was made for the tourists. He then presented a much plainer one, which he said represented my North Carolina roots. He had made it using the feathers of a North Carolina Hawk and the handle was from the bone of a deer he had killed. However, what he then said put everything into context. Now, almost bent over with laughter (loving he had played a trick) he said, “the first hand fan was for any WannaBe but you are a Sure enough Be!”!
I returned home with an extensive amount of new knowledge and with two hand fans among several gifts.
However, being able to meet my cousin (fifth cousin five times removed, as deciphered by Family Tree computer software) was a true pleasure. John promised during my next visit, he would take me to the earliest site of our branch of the Occaneechis, near what is now Clarksville, Virginia.
Postscript to Chapter Five
In 1997 I did attend an Occaneechi a Powwow in Clarkston, Virginia. It was quite a trip, again short, but full of new experiences. I bought along a friend, Yone Payton, who was also planning to visit a friend who had recently moved to North Carolina. Immediately after meeting her, John inquired: “Was she of Choctaw blood”? Despite her color, black straight hair and high cheekbones classic to America’s original people, Yone knew only of her African-American identity. I remembered asking her parents about possible Indian roots, years before. They answered there had always been talk, but they were unaware of any facts. Intriguingly her parents are originally from Alabama, one of the areas of the Choctaw.
This incident reminded me of my grandfather describing how he could identify nearly everyone in his pictures from Carlisle Indian College by their tribe. He stated North Americans, as he sometimes referred to Indians, were different physically by tribe, as were the Ibo, the Yoruba, and Ashanti, etc. of Africa and the European’s “tribes” we now call countries.
While we were in Clarkston, the friend Yone was going to visit, informed us she would not be home since she had to visit New York City on business. “By the way” she added, “I have to attend a heavyweight fight at Madison Square Garden; maybe I could get two extra tickets.” Excited to attend something so special, we put the Powwow on hold. Flying from Durham to New York the next morning, we did a little shopping and sightseeing, ending the day watching Evander Holyfield knock out somebody. Imagine my husband’s disbelief when he saw us on TV, actually sitting at ringside where I told him to look.
Chief John could not get over his big-city, jet-setting cousin.
Since visiting our ancestral land, as Chief John so aptly calls it, multiple times, I am pleased several of the Michigan Jeffries have become interested and have visited John in North Carolina. Frank Jeffries and his family attended a few Powwows and even my Aunt Lydia and her grandson Levi Goens have made the trip.
Finished with my research and starting to put it to paper, I decided the next step was to acquaint my immediate family to these North Carolina cousins, who have always known their roots. Blessed with a daughter-in-law, Tammi Long, who is interested in the whole story, I decided in the spring of 2002 to show her the route our family had taken to Michigan from the Virginia/North Carolina area. Soon after Tammi finished teaching for the year, we started out from Detroit. We planned to drive through Indiana and Ohio, ending up where our ancestors had started, on the border area of North Carolina and Virginia.
Our first stop was Carthage, Indiana, the last place our family settled before migrating to Michigan. The drive took five hours, but locating the Beech Church was as awkward as the first time. Following the same scribbled directions, I realized after two failed attempts, having been there once, was not going to help find it the second time. For at least one more hour, we circled back to the same gas station and the same grocery store and were redirected each time. We eventually came upon the road I remembered would lead to the church. This time the road was closed by a locked gate, making us walk the narrow dirt road to the church. My anticipation was overshadowed with apprehension, as a neighbor’s nosey dog followed.
Reaching the clearing about a hundred yards down the road, my emotions were re-kindled. I was amazed; since I recalled how moved I had been the first time and how those feelings had surprised me. The same plaque outside the entrance, stating “Free Colored People From North Carolina Settled Here In 1828,” brought on, once again, an emotional response. But those added years of research gave innumerable new adjectives to describe these people, persevering, determined and brave, to name a few.
This time we were able to enter the church, which added significantly to the experience. I easily visualized people praising their creator for their new life and in all probability, praying for a good harvest. Many aspects of the church itself, for instance the dark oak pews, remained in good condition, apparently not too different than they would have looked in 1828. The altar area was barely large enough for a small choir encircling the preacher’s pulpit, which was still standing. I presumed this is where my great-grandfather, the Rev. Robertson Jeffries, preached his first sermon before moving to Michigan.
We left this location, traveling across southern Ohio through the Xenia/Cedarville area. While we drove, I would tell Tammi some of what I thought were the more pertinent facts from my research. I recounted the newspaper interview of James Jeffries recounting his walk of five hundred miles we were leisurely covering in three days. She replied, this statement in particular helped her appreciate what they had accomplished. I thought of how this short sentence taken from a distant relative’s newspaper interview in 1922 could also help explain their migration to my grandchildren. I could hear Edward, assertive already and even the more conciliatory Alex complain about unfair it was for the boys, not to share time with the women and girls in the wagons. My grandchildren’s world was one of comfort and convenience. Moreover, how would my very feminine granddaughter Rebekah react, hearing the rarity of baths or where they bathed? There is so much we take for granted.
Stopping a night in mountainous West Virginia, my mind wandered again. I reflected on what these people had to have experienced during their long arduous journey. I tried to impart to Tammi we could not come close to understanding what they actually went through. "It was more than a migration. It was an Exodus," I would tell her. Additionally, there had to be countless variations, of course within the bigger picture, of why they made this migration. Yet, the bottom line was these were people of color, making their experience different from the maority of Americans who migrated Westward, seeking a better life.
Tammi and I arrived at the Occaneechi Powwow the next day in time to see John Jeffries announce to the crowd the tribal entrance. Full of pageantry and patriotism, the tribal members pranced in carrying the American flag. This last visit to North Carolina was a short one but the purpose - acquainting my son’s wife to the area and its people was successful.
During the same summer, Tammi and I completed the circle with my grandchildren, Edward Kensel II, Alexander and Rebekah. We attended the Jeffries reunion in held each August on Frank Jeffries’ blueberry farm in Bangor, Michigan Seen in the accompanying photograph are Edward and Alexander Long of Detroit, Michigan and distant cousin Josie Jeffries from South Bend, Indiana picking blueberries on Cousin Frank’s farm. Connecting the next generation to our roots and familiarizing them with our family tree was one of my main goals and not too soon. As fate would have it, several of the earlier generation passed away within a year. First to pass was Cousin Wanda who, maybe more than any, was fascinated with our history, hearing bits and pieces from her mother, Mildred. Aunt Josephine the only Jeffries sibling who actually grew up with my father, died soon after. A dear cousin, Alta Mae, the mother of Terry Lucas, who wa s the only relatives from southwest Michigan I had any familiarity, died within the same year. As I write, Uncle Lewis, struggling, has been in the hospital for several months. Therefore, whatever the goal in such things, my advice is not to wait.
“black branch” vs “volunteer Negroes”
Chapter Six - Lessons and enlightenments
The deeper I researched the more I realized my journey searching for my African-American roots was very different than what I expected.
Each discovery, new names, new places, documented my ancestors dealing with obstacles, many atypical. Without doubt, they being a people of color, they had to deal with considerably more than the majority in their attempts to pursue the American dream. Directly tied to changes with their free people of color label, this evolving and deteriorating status caused countless problems.
During my journey, I learned much more American History and as repeatedly stated, about a part unknown to most. In the nineteenth century, their fights against and/or their successful avoidance (both uncommon factors) of the cruel laws and growing institutionalized racism was intriguing. Researching deeper into the first half of that century, I became aware of incidents directed against free people of color, which were seemingly based in jealousy, stemming from competition that most would assume never existed. Where could we learn about communities early in our country’s history showing people of color interacting on many levels with the majority population? However personally intriguing, it deserves, at least a large footnote in our history books. Yet another example of our historians failing us.
Uncovering my Native American roots raised more questions and fewer answers. Why and significantly, if the Jeffries were of native blood, in what ways did The Trail of Tears affect them?
Facts led me to believe though having Native American roots; the Jeffries acclimated into the white world early in the eighteenth century. They had definitely adapted; they were land owning, voting members of their colonial Virginia community. Truly a measure of the extent of the Jeffries’ assimilation is that voting was part of the family’s heritage, as far back as 1748. Specific to my direct line I came across Andrew Jeffries, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, (labeled Free Persons of Color) voting in Greensville County, Virginia in 1792.
I came to understand the various definitions of the word Mulatto and several historical aspects of the term free person of color.
Reaching into the nineteenth century I continued to reflect and speculate on why Macklin and Walker settled in an African American community.
Furthermore, the continuity of association initially alluded to as their “Achilles heel” was a double-edged sword. The lack of marriages with whites in Virginia (only within their group) does say a lot. However, several specifics in the suit to change Augustus Jeffries’ name to Augustus Robinson, illustrate another view. For one, it cites white citizens originally from Greensville County testifying he was consistently “acknowledged” by his then late father. It is obvious they benefited from a wide range of friendships, in particular in conjunction with their legal struggles for their rights. I can easily imagine the Jeffries best allies being the substantial number of white in-laws from Ohio on, who would have a vested interest in their freedom of choice. All examples of my ancestors’ lives, beginning in Virginia and North Carolina, having given them a certain swagger.
These friendships, which I have surmised, beginning in Virginia and North Carolina, were seemingly often with Quakers. The following excerpt from Quaker, Thomas Newby’s book indicates a friendship between a free person of color and his father and the Henley family. “He (David Winslow) was a free man raised in the neighborhood where father and the Henley’s lived in N.C. and so wanted to come to Carthage so as to be with his former friends.” In addition, there are numerous examples of free people of color traveling with Quakers. Two families of free people of color—the Edmund Carys and the Vinchen (probably Kinchen) Roberts came to Indiana with the Binfords.
Free person of color, Thomas Weaver, who at varying times lived in Grant and Rush Counties, mentioned in his biographical sketch friendships with several of the of the prestigious and successful Quaker’s in Carthage. Business dealings with the Hills, the Henleys and the Clarks, among others are documented over and over in Carthage, Indiana.
Again surmising their Native roots may have had them moving on, first to survive and succeeding at that, they went on to better themselves. Those choices involving their identity that took place after they moved from the South, if not for survival, were definitely expedient. Interestingly I determined such choices were made more often, as they got closer to supposedly more progressive times, overwhelmingly the pattern continued to white, not to black.
These conclusions are diametrically different to my initial view that I would find an exclusively “black branch” early in my family’s history. From my perspective determining so-called “volunteer Negroes” and those of obvious African ancestry, formed my branch of the family, influenced me to focus, on those who identified as “colored” in Indiana and Ohio.
However, I had jumped ahead of myself, forgetting a basic premise of what I was doing, which was a backward tracing of my family. Each time I reread the facts, I realized something, usually something staring out at me, but always taking a while to sink in. Tending to blame my education, it often was my own prejudices getting in the way. I needed to embrace my great-grandfather, Robertson, though black, shared a great deal with his white cousins, not the least with his “white” siblings. They were the offspring of those who owned land and were involved with white as well as colored population in colonial Virginia. They were members of a family experiencing the same things from “frontiers” times through to the beginning of the twentieth century. His life spanned a great deal, born in the Beech community in 1837 and dying in the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1916. He, in particular would have experienced so much of the separation and change, I uncovered as history.
Determining the Jeffries understood their country did not want what they were; the majority took the easy way out. Walker Jeffries and his brother Macklin thrived in the colored community, apparently considering it a comfortable haven. During his last years, Macklin made a choice, seemingly driven from his lifelong statement of living as black, as I alluded to earlier, by what was happening to him on a personal basis. The fact the colored community, in general, was increasingly being exploited must have been overwhelming.
But why did these two chose to be colored? Was it because of what was happening to the Indian; or did they not see themselves as white or did they actually identify more with the colored community? We will never know. Because of today’s politics and offshoots of the same prejudices originating long ago, opinions change with the individual. It is sad that race continues to make a difference. More to the point prejudice toward blacks still matters.
For example, within Native American tribal politics, the Indians with African ancestry are often not accorded their rights, as with today’s Cherokees and Seminoles. Certainly, which race you are mixed with determines if one is to be discriminated against or not. An interesting example is the Pequots in Connecticut. They acquired Federal recognition and subsequently established one of the richest casinos, yet mogul Donald Trump tells Congress they do not “look Indian” to him. Yet the lineage of other “Indians” is not disputed, even with blue eyes or white skin indicative of their racial mixture.
In crunching the numbers in the closing stages of my research, I came to terms that only Walker and Macklin lived in a colored community. Silas did not, James did not, Levi, etc. did not. But, in trying to make sense of what I had uncovered I did come across several references to individuals of color that did the same, despite all the inherent problems.
One, my personal example of a Native American, my grandfather, by marrying a colored woman required him to live in a black world. Similar choices were made within my area of research. Bishop William Paul Quinn, an East Indian, who organized the A.M.E. Church of southeastern Indiana, allegedly lived among “colored” people, in order to find social acceptance. Another example, is the Weaver family of Indiana. The book Free African Americans Of Virginia and North Carolina, states that Richard, John and William Weaver (born about 1675-1686) migrated to America from India as indentured servants before 1710. “They blended into the free African American community of Lancaster County, Virginia and spread to Hertford County, North Carolina, where there were 169 ‘free colored’ people counted in Weaver households in 1820.” They blended in, they were socially accepted and they loved a colored woman, different reasons, all personal reasons for crossing races.
Then there were reasons steeped in the politics of whichever era and/or area, one lived. For instance, who (Indians or blacks) “had it worst” we debate today. While we African Americans talk about our ancestors’ sufferings, we must, to have historical integrity, acknowledge the magnitude of what Native Americans experienced. From the beginning of this country until the 20th century, their situation was life vs. death; they were expendable, whereas we were needed. Not to mention, following the Civil War, “colored” men were technically citizens, if only second-class and in many states, as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, able to vote. This was not true for the Native American until the 1920’s. Now aware of their Native blood, several older members of our family recounted they always denied being Indian. Paraphrasing one individual: “they (the Indians) were the true N______s. WE were different!”
Personal and political, multifaceted reasons as there were people.
A great deal of information slipped under the radar. The fact only Macklin and Walker of their generation lived in a black community is interesting Additionally only five of Walker’s sixteen children chose to “join,” as it were, the black race; though mentioned, its implications were not taken into account.
I could not take in, who left whom? My preconceived views as a black woman hindered me from comprehending what I discovered. What did I say during those first few months of research: “Depending on the reader’s perspective …?” I now add, depending on the researcher’s perspective.
All of which, however complicated, was diametrically different to my initial goal. I expected to find a “black branch” the further I researched in my family’s history. In fact, it was early in my journey I concluded Walker Jeffries, my branch’s link to our Indian and free colored history, was what I refer to as a “volunteer Negro”. This description was no way looked on as disparagingly or flippant. It simply seemed accurate.
In retrospect and yet in accordance with my upbringing, giving these people such a name had me jumping ahead of myself. Was it because of what was happening to the Indian or did Walker just not see himself as white or did he actually identify more with the colored community? But because of today’s politics and offshoots of the same prejudices which originated long ago, even the plausible answers to certain questions change with the individual. It is sad race continues to matter. More to the point prejudice toward blacks still matters.
During the search for my roots I repeatedly came to conclusions deduced from facts. They consistently took a while to register. I tended to blame it on my education, yet it often was my own prejudices which interfered with facts.
I had to acknowledge my great-grandfather: Walker’s son, although choosing to live as black in Michigan, he had a great deal in common with his white siblings in Indiana. He was part of a family that experienced the same from “frontiers” times to the latter years of the 19th century. He was the progeny of those who were involved with white as well as colored (slave and free) population in colonial Virginia. This lifestyle was indeed part of his upbringing as his father evidently continued to do well. After I visited the impressive home built in 1840 by his father and considering Robertson was born in 1837, I was made much more aware of my great-grandfather’s life.
My preconceived views as a black woman hindered me from comprehending what I discovered.
“Lessons and enlightenments (my prejudices)”
In closing, I will describe an incident where I learned a lesson bringing me full circle back to where I started.
For some time, I had been in touch with a librarian who was familiar with the history of the Beech community. She was particularly interested since this small, rural and colored community had its own circulating library in the 1840’s. Aware this was quite an accomplishment she has since published an article about the library with the Indiana Historical Society. During her preliminary research, she came across the granddaughter of a Mary (Jeffries) Strong who many years ago had donated the minutes of the library to the Indiana Historical Society. Mary was the daughter of Thad Jeffries, one of the last of his family and group, to actually live in the Beech. individuals
Looking forward to meeting Mary’s granddaughter as well as the Ann O’Byran, the librarian, we planned on attending the upcoming reunion. Specifically called a Homecoming, it is held the last Sunday in August at the old Mt. Pleasant Church outside of Carthage. Organized by several African Methodist Churches located in southeastern Indiana the Mt. Pleasant Church was the first A.M.E. church incorporated in Indiana.
Outside the church, I walked toward a handsome white couple looking a little lost. They seemingly were not a part of the dozen or so of white descendants of local Quakers who regularly attend. Inquiring was she Anne, the librarian, she answered, “No, she was a Jeffries descendant, the great-granddaughter of Thad Jeffries.” We, the great-granddaughters of brothers greeted each other with a hug and immediately began talking, almost as if we were making up for lost time. I had a draft of this narrative, 200 pages and counting. Pointing to Thad’s name on the family tree, she immediately began recalling her grandmother’s numerous conversations about her father. Recounting several memories, she obviously had been close to her grandmother. She however had not been told of any relationship of her great-grandfathers to colored people. She appeared to have a mixture of curiosity and amazement with her new-found history.
Meeting her and her husband and all of the unspoken circumstances surrounding us, taught me several lessons. I must preface what I learned by what I thought I knew. Both she and her husband were groomed from the crease in his khaki’s, to her stylishly cut bob with slight variations of blonde running throughout. While talking to her husband he responded to one of our barrage of questions that he was a farmer, whereupon, I (and friends) must have shown our surprised that this couple, so sophisticated, were farmers. This evidently perceptive and smart woman, without blinking, clapped her hands and said so nicely “Girlfriend, we all have to get rid of certain prejudices and stereotypes.” We both laughed, (me, a little nervously) but from her tone which was not at all judgmental, I felt she appreciated where I was coming from.
Excited and open to learn about her roots, I remember thinking to myself, my journey is finished.
My “Kunta Kinte”and my “Kissy”
Chapter Seven - Conclusion
During this journey of discovery, I came upon a convoluted and intriguing history. Stating again, it also was full of interconnections circling back to various points of personal enlightenment. My most recent discovery takes me back to the very beginning.
Successfully researching back to John Jeffries and his wife Judith (Lane), I considered their story as the end of my research. But several years later and beginning to put it on paper I read the third edition of Paul Heinegg’s book documenting the free colored people of North Carolina and Virginia. I noticed new information attached to John and Juditha (Lane) Jeffries. The author indicated Juditha was the granddaughter of an Elizabeth Lane. His account detailed a sad commentary on American life during that time. Specifically, Elizabeth Lane sued her local court in 1690 for support after “Mr. Nicholas Sessoms’ Negra had fathered her two mullato bastards.”
Yet again, because of a little more research, as so many times before, I entered a new chapter. John and Juditha were not the beginning of the story and definitely not the end.
Obviously I appreciated and enjoyed learning about the lives of ancestors other than the Jeffries and even non-related families, the Roberts and the Bunns, for example. The modest amount of information I learned about my maternal sides, the Fosters and Joneses were filled with intriguing information. For instance, Grief Foster and his wife’s family, the Battles, who were noteworthy members of the free colored community in Albemarle County, Virginia, were fascinating. In addition, the life of Thomas J. Jones the patriarch of the Joneses begged for more research. But restating my initial goal of researching four families, which turned into so many tangents, I did try to have somewhat of a focus.
But Juditha’s grandmother’s history, this deeply embedded family connection, had to be looked into. Mr. Heinegg’s footnote was intriguing, but could actually solve questions pertinent to my family’s early roots.
Eye-opening and tragic, Elizabeth Lane’s story begins its downward spiral after losing her father early in her life. Her mother remarries a well-to-do plantation owner (who ironically started his life in America as an indentured servant). Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth bears twin children by one of her step-father’s slaves. In the historical documents the father is simply referred to as “Mr. Nicholas Sessoms’ Negra”. However severe her court ordered punishment of ten lashes for each of her children dwarfs in comparison with her need to sue her local government for support (to reiterate - although the step-daughter of a plantation owner).
Although the information connecting Elizabeth Lane to Juditha Lane is stipulated as a probability, it is a plausible answer to the blackballing of a family? Since the Jeffries are consistently described in nineteenth century documents, narratives, etc., as having no obvious African ancestry, could Judith Lane’s grandmother’s two mulatto children be the answer.
She definitely lived among those who knew her family’s background.
Slavery’s innumerable tentacles, as stated in the Preface, wound around much of our history.
Eleven generations later, had I found my “Kunta Kinte” in this unnamed man?
Similar to my discovery of Elizabeth Lane, which led to the probability of “Mr. Nicholas Sessoms’ Negra” being my “Kunta Kinte”, I definitively came across my “Kissy”. I found her while reviewing previously covered subjects on the Internet. A book, titled Black Islanders caught my attention. It details the history of the first nine black families of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Two of these families are my maternal grandmother’s ancestors, her father’s family, the Stanleys and her mother’s family, the Shepherds.
During my beginning stage of research, I had several discussions with my grandmother about her family’s history. She would always emphasize she knew little about her mother’s family, the Shepherds. The book, Black Islanders filled in the gaps.
It documented the Shepherd family’s history in Prince Edward Island began with husband and wife David and Kisiah (Wilson) Shepherd, slaves of a Governor Edmund Fanning. He was a leader of the loyalist, those followers of England’s King George, who lost to George Washington’s forces in America’s War of Independence. Governor Fanning brought his slaves to Nova Scotia where he had been exiled and later to Prince Edward Island. But before returning to England, by 1780 he awarded his former slaves, the Shepherds, a farm.
Thoughout this narrative words such as surprising have been used often, yet the following fact I will describe as astounding.
Probing deeper into David and Kessiah’s background has led me to believe they came originally from Hillsborough, North Carolina., where Gov. Fanning was stationed for several years. This is the same Hillsborough, which is the geographical center of the free people of color community, so important to my journey of discovery. It is where the Jeffries, the Waldens, the Stewarts, etc. originated. In fact, Hillsborough is the home of Chief John Jeffries to this day. John, the living connection to our Jeffries’ family’s roots, to Native Americans.
Hillsborough, also the home of my maternal grandmother’s ancestor, named Kessiah, called Kissy!
Kensel and Lydia Goens (1914-1989) (1962-1988)
Greene County, Ohio
Interview ones family
The first step for any family historian should be to interview ones family.
Information gathered from these family interviews was consistently reliable and useful. After all, it has been primarily through personal recollections the histories of average families have been preserved through the generations.
During my research if oral histories conflicted with public records, I did not discard them. In fact, several statements that contradicted traditional type sources were later proven correct. Additionally, clues often emerged from conversations with family members which opened new avenues to research.
Family historians must document and record each piece of data.
One especially valuable contribution to my research was meeting individuals, who graciously shared photographs.
The revelatory nature of photographs became very important to the telling of my story. An old family photograph’s one sentence of a caption, poignantly illustrates what may be my overriding message, how the overwhelming specter of race separated a family.
United States Census
After questioning family members, I began accumulating data from United States Censuses. The census became my main source of information, presenting a continuous addition of facts as I researched backwards to the first census taken in 1790.
Wills and other written records
As my research widened, wills became extremely helpful. Usually listing children’s names and the surnames of married daughters, which may be the only way you can connect people through to the present.
Because the Jeffries were landowners, in fact back to the early 1700’s, probate and land records were used extensively.
Newspaper articles and books also broadened my perspective, even if my family was not named. Information covering people with relatively the same background and/or living in similar communities added considerably to my research, providing valuable insights into my ancestor’s lives.
The evolving nature of our labeling, “colored”, “Negro”, “black”, etc. framed many facts into context. Term relevant to race such as the “Mulatto” classification and implications of the “one drop rule” were constants throughout my research.
Traveling to where my ancestors had lived definitely added to my knowledge. Local courthouses and libraries will more likely contain information covering so-called average people. An example is a court case, where a Lucy Day sued Williamson Jeffries for “Bastardy”. This type of case would probably only be found in local courthouse records. However insignificant, it would be extremely valuable to some: the one piece of information documenting Lucy and Williamson as parents.
Cemeteries are often-rewarding place to visit. Inscriptions on headstones spell out facts, but often are merely a fraction of what a cemetery can reveal. Seemingly unimportant things, for instance the size of the headstone would suggest several factors, yet maybe more about those left behind. In addition, since one family usually dominates small rural cemeteries, it is a good guess everyone is related. The Jeffries Cemetery near Churubusco in Smith Township, Whitley County, Indiana (see Notes G: Jeffries Cemetery) is a perfect example with its listing of names linking several previously unknown families to the Jeffries.
During the last stages of my research, I did utilize the Internet, enabling me to find and check facts quickly and efficiently. For a nominal sum, I could scan indexed census records, ending daylong visits to the library squinting through faint microfiches.
Notes B: The DeGrasse and Stanley Families
Louisa( (Shepherd) Roach Stanley
Stanley and Louisa Stanley
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Watson (1837-1916) and Rebecca (Amos) Hammond (1835-1922)and children
Charles H. Hammond, Caroline Pells, Cynthia, Alice, Nellie DeGrasse,
Edith Payne, Lorenzo Hammond
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Winifred and mother, Mary
1920Alfred and Mary (Stanley) DeGrasse
With baby Winifred
1917Edward Kensel Jeffries
born in 1969,
in 1989 with
Charles H. DeGrasse
Edward Kensel Jeffries
in 1989 with same banjo
Rebekah Long, Erica Long and Cynthia Long
Notes C: The Stafford Family
Jeremiah Stafford II
(1814 – 1870)The Jeffries and the Staffords united in the 1880 marriage of 20-year-old Lydia Stafford and 40-year-old Robertson Jeffries. The Staffords were early settlers of the Old Northwest Territories, which was what Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin, were called before they became states. I was able to estimate the Stafford’s migration North as early as the 1830’s, finding them listed in the 1840 Nettle Creek Township, Randolph County, Indiana census. In addition, the family lived in Clyde County, Indiana by the mid-1870’s.
Enus/Enos Stafford, born in the 1760’s is listed with his wife and five children in the 1820 Hertford County, North Carolina census.
The patriarch of my branch, Jeremiah Stafford II (1814-1870), the grandson of Enos was married to an Anna, whose maiden name was either Miller or Milan. I refer to him as Jeremiah II, since he was named after his father. He settled his already large family in Almina Township, Van Buren County, Michigan around 1851, again deciphered from census records. For example, their tenth child was born in Indiana in 1850, while the next child was born in Michigan in 1852.
Considering there were seventeen children within the immediate family, Stafford blood runs in countless others. Even to this day, much of the family resides in the region of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Among their many marriages are with the Hills, the Russells, the Browns and the Mahoneys, etc. also long established residents of this corner of S.W. Michigan.
The following is an Outline Chart of three generations of Jeremiah and Anna Stafford’s family:
1Jeremiah Stafford 1814 - 1870
. +Hannah (Anna) Miller(?) 1823 - 1905
........ 2 Henry R. Stafford 1837 -
............ +Martha (?) 1850 -
........ 2 George W. Stafford 1839 -
............ +Margarete Smith 1849 -
................... 3 Oliver Stafford 1868 -
........... 3 Wallace Stafford 1871 -
................... 3 Adelbert Stafford 1874 -
................... 3 William Stafford 1885 -
................... 3 Vivian Stafford 1900 -
........ 2  Martin Stafford 1841 -
............ +Emeline Chives
........ *2nd Wife of  Martin Stafford:
............ +Frances Turner
........ 2 Harriet Stafford 1842 -
............ +Joseph Benlow
........ 2 John Stafford 1843 -
............ +Mary Donagan 1846 -
................... 3 Lula Stafford 1868 -
................... 3 Alta Stafford 1870 -
........ 2 Rufus Stafford 1844 -
................... 3 Lenora Stafford 1869 -
................... 3 Ella Stafford 1874 -
........ 2 Sarah A. Stafford 1847 -
............ +Charlie Weaver 1842 -
........ 2 Jeremiah Stafford, Jr. 1848 -
............ +Maryland Clark 1851 - 1880
......... 3 Lewis Stafford 1870 -
................... 3 Anna Stafford 1872 -
....................... +Eugene Hardy
................... 3 Jesse Jeremiah Stafford 1874 -
....................... +Lydia Frances Roberts 1882 -
................... 3 Muriel Stafford 1877 -
....................... +Elisha Amphey 1871 -
................... 3 George Stafford 1879 -
................... 3 Writta Stafford 1881 -
....................... +Lewis Russell
................... 3 Heyward Stafford 1883 -
................... 3 Lucy Stafford 1885 -
....................... +Oscar Russell 1882 -
........ 2  Charity Stafford 1850 - 1923
............ +William Hill 1830 -
................... 3 Laura Hill 1870 -
................... 3 Gertrude Hill 1874 -
................... 3 Myrtle Hill 1876 -
................... 3 Charles Hill 1877 -
................... 3 Florence Hill 1880 -
........ *2nd Husband of  Charity Stafford:
............ +George Chavis
........ 2 David Stafford 1852 -
............ +Amelia (?) 1858 -
................... 3 Innis Stafford 1877 -
........ 2 Lucy Stafford 1855 -
........ 2 Rosetta Stafford 1858 -
........ 2 Abraham Stafford 1860 -
........ 2  Lydia M. Stafford 1860 - 1925
............ +Robinson/Robertson Jeffries 1839 - 1916
................... 3 Claudius Jeffries 1882 - 1949
....................... +Iona L. Wilson 1888 - 1916
................... 3 Albert Chester Jeffries 1882 -
....................... +Josie Mae Wright 1886 -
................... 3 Bertha Jeffries 1888 -
....................... +Harvey Jeffries 1885 -
................... 3 Irving Jeffries 1894 - 1939
....................... +Pearl Jones 1890 - 1966
................... 3 Isaac Jeffries 1896 -
....................... +Evelyn Hackley 1900 -
................... 3 Leroy McNeal Jeffries 1899 -
....................... +Florence Pompey 1899 -
................... 3 Theodore "Jack" Jeffries 1904 -
....................... +Mary Georgia Russell
........ *2nd Husband of  Lydia M. Stafford:
............ +Charles Mitchell
........ 2 Jason Stafford 1865 -
............ +Caledonia Frances Roberts 1875 -
................... 3 Lester Stafford 1890 -
................... 3 Linford Stafford 1893 -
................... 3 Mildred Stafford 1894 -
................... 3 Raymond Stafford 1896 -
................... 3 Clayton Stafford 1899 -
My cousin Lois (Russell) Bell, a Stafford on her mother’s side, initiated a visit to Kalamazoo for me to meet some of my Stafford relatives. She introduced me to her cousin Gwen (Russell) Taulk, who to my delight maintained one of the largest collections of family photographs I had ever seen. It was my good fortune to not only meet her and hear some of her oral history but also secure copies of several photographs from her vast collection. One was of an original photograph of my great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Stafford II (See p. xx) Since I knew he was born in 1814, I was able to approximate his age, in turn in I was able to estimate the vintage of this example of early photography.
The Stafford’s seemed to have been an ambitious group, delving into different occupations, some leaving their farming roots by the mid-1800’s. The first Jeremiah Stafford, who was born in 1795, although listed a farmer in the census, “was said not to be interested in farming, but spent most of his time hunting and in the manufacture of shingles. For more than twenty years during his residence in Indiana he followed the trade of a Cooper.” I found this interesting quote in The History of Allegan County, Michigan.
The two oldest sons of Jeremiah Stafford II, Henry and George, were barbers before 1860, as stated in a book covering the history of the city of Kalamazoo. At the turn of the twentieth century, this same George Stafford had his own business, barbering with Thomas J. Jones, and his son Charles Jones. (See: Jones Family p. 177) I came across this in The Michigan State Gazetteer 1900, an official journal, publishing the names of businesses and professionals in Michigan.
Jeremiah Stafford II’s eighth child, Jeremiah Jr., became quite a legend, actually licensed to practice medicine in Michigan. He also fought with the colored troops Co. K 5 U.S. Colored Army in South Carolina in the Civil War. He, as well as many in this family (and the other branches), proudly carried on the tradition of serving in the Armed Forces, a tradition dating back to the American Revolution.
1) unnamed sailor with Willie Stafford (Spanish-American War), 2) Heyward Stafford (Spanish- American War), Isaac Jeffries (WW1), Lewis Jeffries (WWII) with brother Elwin, and Christian Ferguson (Vietnam War)
Notes E: The Jones Family
My father’s mother was Pearl Jones, born in 1890 in Pokagon, Michigan. Her father was Harry Jones; his family, even then, was longtime Michiganders. By 1850, her grandparents, Thomas J. and Anna E. (Bass) Jones, lived in Buchanan Village, Berrien County, Michigan.
Irving Jeffries, b. 1894 with wife Pearl (Jones) Jeffries, son, Kensel Robert Jeffries, nineteen months and daughter Josephine Jeffries, five months 1915
In the 1900 Niles census, Pearl’s father Harry Jones’s occupation is listed as furniture finisher. During this same period Harry’s father, Thomas J. Jones, having been a practicing barber since before 1850 (See: p. xx) owns a barbershop with his son William and George Stafford in Kalamazoo. T.J. as he was called must have been quite a businessman owning another barbershop in Buchanan as well as a restaurant.
It seems around the turn of the twentieth century is the time that occupations besides farming became the rule rather than the exception.
Ancestors of Pearl (Jones) Jeffries
Notes F: The Foster Family
During my first few months of research, I realized I needed to focus on one family. I decided my initial plan of researching my father’s four branches was impractical.
However, the information I came across about my grandmother, Pearl (Jones) Jeffries’ maternal grandfather, Jesse Foster, I found especially interesting. In fact, if I ever decide to resume my research it would probably be with this family.
Original home of the
Jesse Foster”s family
South Haven, Michigan
Jesse’s family reaches far into Virginia history. Jesse’s grandfather Grief Foster migrated to Michigan by 1860 from Ohio. He and his wife, Mary Eliza A., had two sons and four daughters. My great-grandmother, Eliza H. Foster, born in 1869, was their last child. I actually remember her and that everyone called her Nana.
Researching backwards through the census I came across Jesse Foster in the 1880 Cass County, Michigan census; he was a Mulatto male, born in Virginia. I then went on to find him and his family listed as white in the 1870 and black in the 1860 censuses. In as much as this was found during my first month of research, I was quite confused by the discrepancy. As previously stated it was these specific pieces of information whereupon I began thinking ou history was not to be a simple gathering of facts.
Excerpt from the 1860 Cass County, Michigan Census
Excerpt from the 1870 Cass County, Michigan Census
Excerpt from the 1880 Cass County, Michigan Census, lists the Foster family Mulatto, no longer white as noted 10 years earlier, or Black, which was noted in 1860.
Very helpful during this early period in my research was one of the Detroit Main Library’s most knowledgeable genealogists, Margaret Ward. Because she was African-American, she had certain experiences and insights that lent themselves to my search.
Since I had come across family members with different racial labels in the same household, their label of Mulatto confused me, thinking it meant one parent of African descent and one parent of European descent. It was Margaret who was the first to explain the term Mulatto at the time referred to the lightness of the skin color rather than to any particular ethnic combination.
Mrs. Ward answered my questioning about the Foster’s differing racial labels with common sense. She explained how she had come across many instances when the census takers’ general knowledge and/or ignorance played a huge role in the reliability of their documentations. I began to realize a number of my puzzles could be similarly answered by common sense.
Repeatedly I found evidence many of these people were mistaken for white, but they chose not to be. For me, this was a testament to their black pride, many years before it was popular.
Another conjecture deduced from facts uncovered about Jesse Foster’s life was his value in education. A white gentleman I met during a Fred Hart Genealogical Society-sponsored tour of Calvin Township in Cass County, stated my great-grandfather started a school for the colored children in Howard Township. Although Jesse Foster had been dead for over one-hundred years, the Dodd family had preserved and now passed down this tiny but personally treasured piece of African-American history. He indicated the school had a good reputation and white children had also sought it out. This would have made it, in the middle of the nineteenth century, one of Michigan’s first integrated schools.
Jesse Foster would certainly have been proud of his granddaughter, Pearl Jones, who was a graduate of the Michigan State Normal College in Dowagiac, Michigan, the forerunner to Eastern Michigan University. She taught grade school in Calvin Center before her marriage to Irving Jeffries.
Notes D The Winborn family
The parents of my great-great-grandmother Sarah (Winborn) Jeffries were Mary and William Winborn. They like so many others in the “Beech” were from North Carolina before they settled in the “Beech”.
Quoting from Lawrence Carter, “The Winborns were of Cherokee lineage. They came to Ripley Township, Indiana before the Great removal of Indians from the Southeastern United States called the Trail of Tears.” Lawrence Carter’s papers states that Mary Winborn, the matriarch of the family, was the daughter of an Indian squaw. Yet again, an example of the Indian or part Indian, people that evolved into the “colored” community.
Notes F: The Roberts Family
The Roberts Family, more so than any of the families I came across, seems to have the most documented material. Several Robert’s letters and other papers from the 1800’s have survived over the centuries. For instance, they have donated to the Library of Congress letters written by the family in Indiana in the 1820’s urging North Carolina family members to come join them.
Along with many documents, they have quite a detailed family legend. It recounts the roots of this American family, starting with the marriage of an African servant of a Lord Roberts and an Indian woman. Where some oral histories conflict with genealogical research, this story does not. Noted historian Paul Heinegg’s extensive research on this family starts at an Elizabeth Roberts, born around 1690. His book, The Free African-Americans of North Carolina and Virginia, traces the early years of purportedly eighty percent of the free colored families in colonial America.
The Roberts were one of several Rush County families migrating from Northampton County, North Carolina during the mid-1830’s. Although one of the largest and more successful of these families, by the 1840’s they had relocated to Hamilton County, Indiana. Yet again, they traveled with many of the same families. Consistently, I came across these people migrating together, from location to location, over the generations.
During these years, the Roberts and the Jeffries united in several marriages. The connecting thread between my family branch and the Roberts is the marriage of my great-grandfather’s brother, Irvin Jeffries to Frances Roberts.
Frances’ brother Robert R. Roberts married Martha Anne Watkins. They are the great-grandparents of Martha (Roberts) Sanders. I described earlier how Martha Sanders knew of the history between our two families. It was because of her awareness she assumed the photographs in her possession labeled Jeffries were of my family. Additionally, it was the careful labeling of Leona Mae Moxley, from one hundred years ago, which enabled Martha to give them to me. This Leona Mae was named after her mother Leona (called Fannie) Jeffries Moxley. She was a granddaughter of Irvin and Frances (Roberts) Jeffries.
The repetitive use of first names makes this tree a little harder to explain than most. For instance, even to this day, the name Martha is very common. Martha (Sanders) Vincent is named after her mother and interestingly her grandson is named Richard Roberts Holley.
One goal of my research is that future generations will know from where and whom they came. Martha Sanders’s awareness of our connection was especially encouraging and has been inspirational to me.
In addition, I came across Robert R. Roberts (Martha Sanders’ grandfather) listed in the 1880 Indiana census, housed within the Wright Jeffries household. One of the most common consequences of the many physical hardships of those times was problems accompanying childbirth. Orphaned children were common, which may have been the reason why Robert R. Roberts lived with this Jeffries family. In fact, a sad reminder of the era in which they lived were the cemetery inscriptions, listing more than ten children of Wyatt and Eliza Jeffries dying in infancy.
Because of Mrs. Sanders, my husband and I attended a large Roberts gathering held every year at the Robert A.M.E. Church in Noblesville, located in Hamilton County, Indiana. It was my pleasure to meet historian Coy Robbins there. Although I caught only a few minutes to talk to him, since everyone was seeking him out, we did exchange numbers. Several times over the next few years, he contributed information to my research. What’s more, at his suggestion I became a member of the Indiana Historical Society and began receiving their newsletters educating me more about the history of Indiana. In particular, Coy Robbins’s newsletter, “Ebony Lines” added immensely to my knowledge about early black Indiana history.
However, Mrs. Sanders’ most valued contribution was introducing me to her cousin Lawrence Carter who then told me of the Jeffries historian who subsequently connected me to my Occaneechi relatives. My research was like walking backwards, one-step at a time, but her help definitely provided me a shorter route to my goal.
Notes O: The Census
A good understanding and ability to learn from the census, including implied information is of utmost importance to any family historian.
The first enumeration of the United States was held in 1790. It has since taken place every ten years. However, the information gathered is not opened to the public for seventy-two years. For example, the 1920 census became available to the public in 1990 and the 1930 census was available after the 2000 census was recorded. The purpose of this delay, deemed the average American life span, was to assure privacy and thereby enhance the probability people will be truthful.
While researching backwards, information becomes increasingly sketchy. From 1790 through to the 1840 census, family units are listed under the Free White Males, Free White Females, Slaves or Free Colored Persons sections, with only the head of the household named. Notches under the age brackets represent the remaining members of the household. In the Free White Males and Free White Female sections, age brackets are 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, and lastly a bracket for those 45 and older.
Seen here is a sample of the 1820 Census headings. The first column, which is not shown, is where the head of the household is named. In this example, I have deleted that area, in order for the rest of the document to be readable. It is interesting to note that women are only named if they are the head of the household.
The number of slaves is the third section, after free white males and free white females. They are not named, but are listed within family units, with individuals represented by marks in the columns pertaining to their gender and within more generalized age brackets than the white population.
When researching before 1870, (the first census after slaves became free) it is crucial for the vast majority of African American families, those whose ancestors were slaves, to have at least some additional information. It is especially helpful if the name of the enslaved ancestor’s “owner” is known, as well as the number of family members and their ages and genders. Since, even in large plantations, there can only be certain variables within family groupings, there is the possibility one can differentiate individual slaves within family groupings, by their ages combined with their sex. Knowing the name of the slave master can also lead to information in bills-of-sale or wills. The more information one has, raises the odds you will be successful.
The last section is titled, Free Colored Persons, divided by male and female. Their age brackets are even less specific than those for slaves.
Following is part of the 1820 Greensville County, Virginia census. Note the “Jeffers”, beginning with Sally at the top with an “Eddy” following. Variations of surnames were common, especially before the twentieth century; the individuals giving the information as well the census takers were usually minimally educated and could be quite creative in their spelling. I also came across Jeffries as Jefferies and Jeffryes, for instance.
Further down are Nathan, Herbert, Sinehey and Mourning. Each of these individuals’ notches, which represent their respective gender, age, etc., is noted under the “Free Colored Persons” category, which is further to the right and not seen in this copy.
I have also included a sample from the 1840 Ripley Township, Rush County, Indiana Census (twenty years later). Again, because I am dealing with people of color their notches begin on the designated right side. Since the last individual’s notches can be seen, he is obviously white.
In 1850, the census began naming each member of the household. Those earlier classified “Free Persons of Color” are now included along with the general population with the distinction made by using the letter M, for Mulatto or B for Negro.
1880 Randolph County Indiana
Each consecutive census reveals more about those counted. For example, by 1920 the relationship of each person to the head of the household is noted. It also states whether one is married, single or widowed and if they owned or rented their home.
1920 Cass County, Michigan Census
Census records are the main source of information, especially in the beginning stages of family research. I also realized basic records can say more about the individual than you might at first surmise. Unlike family historians only interested in facts, I became increasingly interested in reading between the lines.
It also became evident context was important to basic census facts. Who was taking the information and during what era? For example, the racist thinking of the time was quite apparent in the 1850 Whitley County, Indiana Census, when a Native American named Coessa’s, wife and children are simply listed as “squaw” and “papoose.”
In addition, it is important for family historians to be able to accept the range of people and facts they are certain to uncover, from boring to unique to scandalous. A genealogist will definitely come across facts some feel should be left in the past. Depending on the reader’s perspective, the researcher may be labeled a historian, a griot, a detective and/or, at times, merely a gossip.
But the facts are what they are and they should not ever reflect poorly on anyone alive today. For at least this reason, pejorative words like illegitimacy should be beside the point to anyone seriously tracing his or her ancestry.
The following will illustrate a few of the ways one can use the census to learn about a family. I have included examples of the necessity of assessing information, which will often lead to new avenues.
Using Census Records
In the 1870 Cedarville Ohio Census records, a “Richard Jeffries,” forty-seven years of age, is listed with his wife, Frances, children and a farm laborer named William Heathcock. As you review census records, take special note if you find extended families in the same household groupings; it will definitely help you expand your research. Based on the knowledge members of households with different surnames were often relatives, living/working with fathers-in-law, etc., I surmised Frances’s maiden name was possibly Heathcock. This deduction was substantiated after finding the farm laborer was indeed Frances’ brother.
Tracing backwards a generation, I noticed in the 1860 Census, a Silas Jeffries, 66, head of a household adjoining Richard’s. He was obviously Richard’s father. In this 1860 Census, Silas’s wife is Elizabeth Badgley. Interestingly in this same 1860 Census, residing at Richard’s home was a sixty-eight-year-old woman named Martha Jeffries. My first thought was that she probably was his aunt, because it would be highly improbable for a divorced wife to live next door to her ex-husband—or for a couple to be divorced, period. Noticing Richard’s eldest daughter was named Martha, I began to think Martha was indeed Richard’s mother, since it was the tradition to name children after someone in the immediate family. The name Martha was common in the Heathcock family and was another reason as why I believe it came from that side of the family. Following the pattern, one of Richard’s sons, Silas, was named after his grandfather. In addition, in the preceding census, in 1850, Silas has another wife, named Susan. Because this listing reached deep into their history, I concluded Susan was the mother of Silas’s children and she likely passed away (again since divorce was uncommon), leaving Silas to marry again.
Going back and forth, sifting out various premises, is very common. Being sidetracked is sometimes a blessing in disguise; you never know what small piece of information might be relevant and rewarding to your research. But most importantly, one must compile everything possibly relevant.
Note each census is increasingly less informative with those from the nineteenth centuries often faint or illegible. Patience and a magnifying glass are definite necessities for researching these early records. The use of a variety of sources becomes more and more important necessary the deeper one is able to reach in American history.
The Quakers were instrumental in the development of each of the free black communities covered. For instance, as early as 1822, they helped settle the Cabin Creek Settlement in Randolph County, Indiana. During this same decade the Lost Creek Settlement in Indiana was established with Quaker assistance along with many of the same interrelated names documented in other FPC communities, such as the the Stewarts and, Archers.
Indeed, the main reason why the Quakers themselves moved north was they did not want to be part of communities keeping people in slavery. The following is a revealing statement about the head of one of the more successful white Rush County families: “Robert Binford was a large slave owner in Northampton County, North Carolina when he became convinced the trafficking in human souls was a sin against heaven.”
Northampton County was also the place of origin of many of the free colored families of the Beech, such as the Winborn and Turner families. The Newbys and the Henleys, two prominent Quaker families of the Beech, were from Randolph County, North Carolina, another area where many of the free colored families of Rush County originated. Having become quite familiar with the discipline and determination of these people, I am sure these examples are not coincidental. I believe relationships between these black and white residents of Rush County were carried over from North Carolina and Virginia.
Quakers also played an important role in the Abolitionist movement. One particularity instructive example of Quakers helping their black neighbors took place within a few miles of the Beech. A slaveholder tried to regain his property and as had happened so many times, Quakers were instrumental in saving this black family from being returned to slavery. Levi Coffin described the incident in his book, “Groups of Friends (Quakers) bedeviled them at every turn … they helped them escape, then took them to a Quaker settlement near Knightstown, Indiana and finally helped the Rhodes family to prevail in court.”
Aside from books, I came across newspaper accounts and documents (Quaker and non-Quaker) describing the Quakers’ commitment to the abolitionist movement. The archives of the Society of Friends, as the Quakers were called, were very helpful, giving examples ranging from basic human kindness to literally putting their lives on the line. Written from their perspective, I have come across examples of the terror they the friends of black people, experienced. But in doing so, they did emphasize, how much more, it must have been for the actual victims.
The following quotes, the last one, attesting to their commitment of financial aid, are more examples of Quaker involvement. “These pioneering Negroes of Virginia and North Carolina shared common localities with Quakers. Their settlements were in the frontier where patterns of prejudice hadn’t developed.” When it became time to move on this practice of being close or even a part of Quaker communities, continued.” “The Yearly Meeting therefore instructed its agents in 1823 to remove the Negroes ... as fast as they are willing to go and to draw on the treasury.”
In Newby’s Reminiscences, he points out how teachers from what is now Earlham College (then a Quaker Boarding School) brought new ideas to the local schoolhouse. He went on to say, “At this Friend’s (Quaker) subscription school at Carthage, Indiana, often several colored children attended.”
Notes I: The Jeffries Cemetery
Notes: J: The Last Will and Testament of Wright Jeffries
Notes L The Occaneechi Struggle
E-mail announcing the Occaneechi’s regaining their status as an officially recognized tribe of North Carolina.
Notes: M Parker Jeffries’ Lawsuit
The trustees of Zenia Township denied Parker Jeffries the right to vote because he was a "person of color." He sued them in court and provided depositions from witnesses who had been neighbors of the Jeffries family in Greensville County in order to prove that he was white and Indian. Sally Robinson deposed that Sally Jeffries "claimed to be of White and Indian and I never heard anything to the contrary." Henry Wyche deposed that he believed Andrew Jeffries was "of Indian and White" (blood). Susan Wooten deposed that she grew up near the family where they lived in Greensville County. (She was probably married to or a member of the mixed-race Wooten family who lived just across the state line in Northampton County, North Carolina). Parker lost his case in the local court but won his appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which wrote:
There have been, even in this state, since its organization, many persons of the precise breed of this plaintiff, I mean the offspring of whites and half-breed Indians, who have exercised political privileges and filled offices, and worthily discharged the duties of officers. One such is now a clerk of this court, and two are now members of this bar. In 1831 in the case of Polly Gray v. State of Ohio, 4 Ohio, 354, and in 1833, in the case of Williamson v. School Directors, etc., Wright, 178, it was held that, in the constitution, and the laws on this subject, there were enumerated three descriptions of persons--whites, blacks and mulattoes--upon the two last of whom disabilities rested; that the mulatto was the middle term between the extremes, or the offspring of white and black; that all nearer white than black, or of the grade between the mulattoes and the whites, were entitled to enjoy every political and social privilege of the white citizen [Edwin M. Stanton, Reporter, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Ohio (1873), XI:318-21].
Notes N: The Lawsuit
Excerpted from History of Whitley County by Kaler and Maring - 1907
It was while Mortimer, Marcus and Wyatt Jeffries were in Greensville County, Virginia, that harsh laws were passed against “people of color” as the law classified them because they were part Indian. This put them legally in the same group as free persons of African or part African descent. These events no doubt account for the fact that in the 1840 and 1850 Smith Township census, Jeffries, Pompey and Jones families were listed in a column headed “Free Colored Persons.”
In some of these families, there were problems with education because of the assumed African extraction. The right of suffrage was refused them until 1860, when the Jeffries family voted for Lincoln against the most urgent protests and demonstrations of their neighbors. To prevent a repetition of their again exercising the right of suffrage, the citizens of the township elected Wells Smith, a Republican, as trustee, who declared that if elected, he would prevent them from exercising their rights by refusing to take their ballots.
This question of suffrage in connection with the tremendous Civil War conflict created a political furor amongst all parties. The refusal of Mortimore Jeffries’s ballot by Trustee Smith was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and he immediately resorted to the intercession of the courts. The case, on change of venue, was taken to Noble County, where it was bitterly fought by the best legal talent obtainable, but Mortimer lost.
During the trial, one witness assumed to be an expert in distinguishing traces of African blood by a critical examination of the hair. Mr. Jeffries’ attorney presented to this witness a lock of hair clipped from the (white) judge’s head, which the witness, after a careful examination pronounced to be African hair!
Mr. Jeffries did not lie down supinely, but being more determined to secure his rights, carried his case to the Supreme Court and was granted suffrage for himself and brothers, which they afterward exercised undisputed under the scornful eyes of some of their neighbors.
The actual search for my roots, and the subsequent documentation took countless numbers of hours away from many things. During one of my genealogical “surfing” sessions, I found a poem that I have adapted and personalized. It explains it all. Interestingly, a descendant of a Jeffries family from the same area wrote the original.*
I sit and type
The dust gets thicker, the cobwebs grow
The bed is unmade,
The dishes washed? No!
To tell my Grandkids things they need to know:
Who’s on our Family Tree?
Where the “Greats” and the “Grands” all came!
China, Jamaica, Africa
The Land of the Occaneechi,
And the names,
Jeffries, Stafford, Jones, and DeGrasse
Chief Popponesset, Elizabeth Lane …
As far back in time as I can find.
Adapted from Kathy Awbrey’s poem.
The completion of this project was due to many helpful hands, but I am especially indebted to my husband. Those many, often hot days where we found ourselves in dusty old courthouses transcribing notes is one example of the lengths to which he was willing to support my dream. Since I have taken up the game of golf, I now know what those summer days meant to him, a lifelong golfer with a scratch handicap. The value of his presence, his being a part of something, which became important to me, cannot be measured. He even seemed to experience some of my joy of discovery. In addition, I am very much aware of the many times he overlooked things, including things mentioned in the preceding poem.
On several of our explorations, we dragged our daughter; thank you, Erica, for not complaining too much! To our son Edward, who during these years was old enough to find other things to do, but I thank you also. Thank you, along with Erica, for your appreciation for learning more about the man you loved so dearly and who loved you both—your grandfather and my father, Kensel Jeffries. Additionally to Edward: you are my connection to the generation before me. You knew my Kensel and Winnie and his in-laws, the DeGrasses, Meme, and Gramps. You remember the tomahawk on the living room wall; you were there! We can only speculate whether Kensel’s habit of wearing cowboy boots and western hats may have been an unsuspecting acknowledgment of his substantial Native American ancestry.
Last, but definitely not least, thank you to my daughter-in-law, Tammi, for your technical support. But, most of all, thank you for your sincere desire to pass on our family’s history to those three beautiful grandchildren, Edward Kensel Long II, Alexander, and Rebekah.
Several, too numerous to mention individually, supported this endeavor. I thank you all.
As I delved into the history of my father’s family, I came across many remarkable people. Three I want to take special note of are Leona Mae Moxley, Martha Sanders and Josephine (Jeffries) Ferguson Wharton.
My Aunt Jo was the first to ask me to look into our roots. To this day I have the now, tattered yellow legal pad, listing family names and the few facts she knew.
Numerous individuals supplied materials, reminiscences and photographs to this project. However, it was after I acquired the Leona Mae Moxley’s collection of photographs and her cousin Martha Sanders’ sharing of information, which resulted in my research turning the corner. I can only speculate whether my research would have ended prematurely without their help. So much would have never been discovered through traditional means.
Thank you to all.
Numerous individuals supplied mate