Ever since my cousin, Monique and I returned from our trip down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to do some ancestry research, I’ve been thinking about all the property my ancestors accumulated and then lost.
It was a source of inspiration to me that my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton who had been a slave and could not read or write purchased an acre of land in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1887. It never even occurred to us that she had owned her own property. We always assumed that she lived with her former masters, Col. W.R. Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart after she was emancipated until she died in 1925 at the age of 104. Indeed, Tempy was listed living with Elizabeth on the 1900 census. But turns out she bought property of her own. The way we found what was known as “Tempy Burton’s Lot” in the Jackson County Archives was as surprising as the fact that she was a homeowner.
Archive Assistant, Linda Cooper was helping me look through the massive deed books for Josephine Ford’s property. (The books are so big, Linda needed another person to hold the book whenever she made a copy of a page). Monique was trying to keep her mind off her hunger (it was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet) so she was randomly browsing through indexes, looking for any familiar names. That’s when she yelled to me from across the office. She’d found Tempy Burton in an index for land owners in 1889.
With a trip to the Jackson County Chancery Court office around the corner from the Archives, we found that Tempy paid $60 for her acre of property. (Deed Book 9, p. 395) She would later convey some of this land to my great-grandmother, Josephine and another daughter, Violet Matthews Battle for a dollar each.(Deed Book 45, p. 304 & 305) Not only was Tempy a landowner, but she made sure her daughters were too. As we continued digging through the land rolls in the Jackson County Archives, we found that all of these properties were lost to tax debt decades later. It bummed me out that a later generation of my family had lost something so precious, land acquired by their slave ancestor.
Driving around town earlier in the day, we’d come across a lot owned by Monique’s great-grandmother, Tempy Elizabeth Stuart. The lot was for sale. At the time, we didn’t know about Tempy’s lot and how her younger generations had lost it. Can’t help but wonder if it’s still for sale…