One Will, Many Lives

Part of the will where Hill Jones bequeathed my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton to his wife, Judith Jones.

After horses, cattle, hogs, sheep and “stock of every description…wagons and tools of every kind,” Hill Jones bequeathed to his wife, Judith Jones the following negroes:  Tiller, Vincent, William, Tempy, Marian, Phil, Reuben and Susan “which personal property it is my wish for her to make any disposition of she may think proper.”

It’s maddening to see my great, great-grandmother, Temple “Tempy” Burton listed as personal property after the cattle and farm equipment no less. It took me a few weeks after receiving this will from a genealogy buddy to even get into the right frame of mind to  read it closely. But it had to be done and doing so revealed that some of the other slaves Jones bequethed were treated as humanely as the inhumane institution would allow. Some were married with children and were given away as a family unit.   If Jones was considerate in this way with his other slaves, maybe Tempy was on her own when  Jones bought her, separated from her parents by another slave owner, or  by their death.  Maybe the person who owned Tempy before Jones did had some compassion too and bought her with her family as well.

Whatever the case may be, this will documents how Tempy found herself enslaved by and having babies with my second great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart.  In 1846, Jones bequeathed  Tempy to his wife, Judith Jones who left Tempy to her daughter, Martha McCauley in 1857. Martha allegedly gave Tempy to her daughter, Elizabeth as a wedding present in 1858 when the young woman married my second great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart making Temple his property.

It puts a knot in my stomach how fragile Temple’s life was and that she was passed on like cattle among the family that owned her, but at least they wrote the information down. I know it’s a long shot that I will ever find Tempy’s parents and reunite them in our family history,  but I’m still crossing my fingers that this will brings me a little closer to filling out our family tree.



Filed under family history, geneology, slavery, Uncategorized

9 responses to “One Will, Many Lives

  1. Oh, Dionne. I don’t even know what to say. I guess just that I admire how you are willing to look at this ugliness square in the face and keep searching to give Temple Burton the place in history she has always deserved.

  2. Good for you, Dionne, you know this is what we must do, to have any chance at opening those doors you so desperately seek. Thank you for sharing this document, however painful it was. Persistence and determination are omnipotent – the true saying goes.

    Bill 😉
    Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  3. How frustrating to read it all. I feel for Tempy! You’ve breathed new life into Temple, Dionne, and given us a chance to know her and feel for her. Thank you!

  4. Liz

    I can’t imagine your feelings about all this. Kudos for pushing through to honor Tempy & good luck with pursuing her parents. The Jones family seems a promising paper trail.

  5. brian mclaughlin

    something i’ve lived by about the past and was mentioned in the faces of america series is that no matter what happened in the past to your ancestors, you would not be who you are without that past being exactly what it was. i think that it was mario batali that was asked that question by dr. gates. he may have asked others but it was marios response that is clearest in my mind. even when the situation turns your stomach, remember, you are who you are because of them.

  6. I well remember this feeling, of seeing my ancestors for the first time in a will with silver and furniture and whatnot. It simply never lives you. I struggle to even fathom what their lives were like. This is wonderful you uncovered her did you find him, or did you already know the name?

    • Hi Robyn. I always knew Temple’s last slave owner’s name because he is also my great great grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart and my grandpa told me about him when I was young. But our geneabuddy, Ghita Johnson whose research also puts her in Ocean Springs, Mississippi where our ancestors are from is the one who found Hill Jones’s will and forwarded it to us…I shouted out to her on the blog, but I can’t thank her enough. It seems like Hill Jones was probably one of Temple’s first owners since she was in her 20s when he bequeathed her in his will. I hope somehow I can find out about the rest of Temple’s family.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. Your courage is greatly admired.

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