When my grandfather told me about his grandparents, ex-slave, Tempy Burton and her owner’s husband, Col. W.R. Stuart, I took his word for it. But as I got older and went to journalism school, I craved some proof. As many African-American researchers know, finding a paper trail for slave relatives or the children of their unions with their masters is virtually impossible. I never expected to find any official document linking the Colonel to any of Tempy’s children. Still, I’d have to return my journalism degree if I didn’t at least try. So, I applied for my great-grandmother Josephine’s death certificate as soon as I found out when she died a few weeks ago. I was dotting my “i” s and crossing my “t”s trying to be a good journalist and family researcher. Death certificates often name parents of the deceased. It was a shot in the dark, but one that hit a bullseye.
Under name of father on Josephine’s death certificate is the surname Stuart – spelled correctly and everything. (It’s often misspelled “Stewart.”) Under maiden name of mother, is Tempy Burton. The informant was my great-grandfather, James Ford, Josephine’s husband.
Finally, an official document with Stuart listed as Josephine’s father. It’s ironic that Josephine’s death certificate would be the one of all the Colonel and Tempy’s children to list Stuart as her father since according to my grandmother, she didn’t want anything to do with that name.
The Stuart name is Scottish: originally an occupational name for an administrative official of an estate . According to Oxford’s dictionary of American Family Names, in Old English times this title was used of an officer controlling the domestic affairs of a household, especially of the royal household. Many people will also recognize the name from the Royal House of Stuart. Presently the name is found mostly in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, the US and Canada.
The earliest Stuart ancestor I’ve found so far is my fourth great-grandfather, Dr. Alexander Stuart who was an officer in the Revolutionary War. His son, William S. Stuart was born in Kent County, Maryland, lived from 1780-1853 and made his career as a politician serving at one point as president of the Maryland State Senate. His son, Col. W.R. Stuart would have the Stuart name end with him. (His obituary claimed he left no children). In actuality, he left no white children, but several black ones, possibly seven, including my great-grandmother, Josephine. While Josephine didn’t carry his name, her brother, Alfred Burton Stuart did. The Stuart name ends with him, as his only surviving children were all daughters.