- My third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart and me at the Maryland Historical Society. Photo by Flannery Silva. Fuzziness courtesy of my iphone.
Yesterday, on my way down to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I’m working on my family history project, I stopped in Baltimore to see some relatives – some living, some dead. The living one is my niece, Flannery, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art. She accompanied me to see my ancestors whose portraits are housed at the Maryland Historical Society, just blocks from her school. Funny the way things work.
Flanny was kind enough to take photos of me with the portraits of my second great uncle, Alexander Stuart, his wife, Matilda (who was sporting an amazing ermine robe), my third great uncle, Andrew Stuart, and my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart pictured above. See any family resemblance?
I found the above will in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at the Louisiana State University. The Stirling family, wealthy Louisiana planters, owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton. I’ve been scrolling through the microfilmed documents hoping that they will include some information about her. The Stirlings kept receipts for everything from purchases at their favorite New Orleans clothing store to ferry trips across the bayou. So far, Eliza hasn’t turned up in their voluminous records but scores of other enslaved people have. Here are slave names included in Alexander Stirling’s 1808 will:
Betsy, mulatto child of my negro woman Sarah
Lucy and Nan were to be left to Alexander’s daughter, Anne. Old Kitty was to be freed upon Alexander’s death and Hercules and Tennance would be freed when Alexander’s son, John turned 21. For “(his) own reasons,” Alexander puts the mulatto child, Betsy and her mother, Sarah under his son, Henry’s care. (Sarah could also be under her son John’s care if she wants, but her daughter, Betsey will have to be under John’s will). I can’t help but wonder what that’s all about. But more importantly, I can’t help but hope that this information can be helfpful to someone searching for their ancestors.
I’ll keep posting any slave names I come across as I go.
This morning, I woke up feeling really blue and not just because of the weather. I spent several hours in the library yesterday with my cousin, Monique pouring through the Stirling Family Papers. The Stirlings owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton and I hope to find some information about her and other ancestors among the vast collection of the Louisiana based family that owned her. But wading through these reams of documents about the Stirling’s endless acres of land, the hundreds if not thousands of slaves they held in bondage to work their land, and a free person of color who sold other blacks to the Stirlings is really bringing me down. This morning I was feeling like why bother researching this stuff when it’s so depressing.
But then, I opened up the arts section of the New York Times, headline “SCHOMBURG CENTER IN HARLEM ACQUIRES MAYA ANGELOU ARCHIVE” and read this:
“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: `I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.'” – Maya Angelou
I can’t do anything about the degradations of the past, but I can help protect that history and honor it by telling my family’s part in it. Thanks Maya Angelou for donating your work so that future generations can learn from it and also for helping me today to keep on keeping on!
Finally, the Stirling Family papers have arrived on five rolls of microfilm at my local library!
The Stirling Family papers are a collection of deeds, wills, diaries of slave life, and letters that belonged to the Lewis Sterling family, owner of several plantations in Louisiana. I learned this summer that the Stirlings owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton, her children, Nancy and Albert Burton, and her sisters Peggie Manrow and Bettie Matthews. They all lived on the Stirling’s Attakapas plantation. Now, all I have to do is carefully comb through the microfilm reels to see if they contain any information about my enslaved ancestors. It took me four hours to get through just one roll, so this could take awhile. For the foreseeable future, scouring and transcribing these papers will be my number one genealogy goal.
In just one sitting on Friday, I found over 100 names of slaves owned by Lewis Stirling in these papers, and I only minimally diminished my eyesight squinting at my library’s out-of-focus microfilm screen in the process. Too bad none of the listed slaves were my relatives. But on the bright side, those slaves could be related to some other family genealogist who’s looking for their people the way I’m looking for Eliza. So, on Friday, I’ll put as many of the names that I can transcribe along with the source information on this site under the tab “Stirling Family Slaves.” I’ll try to update this page as often as possible to coincide with the Geneabloggers Friday theme, Friend of Friends. A Friend of Friends was the password used along the Underground Railroad to signal those assisting runaway slaves on their journey North to freedom. (See Sandra Taliaferro’s inspiring essay and the A Friend of Friends site she helped create with Luckie Daniels.)
The other good news about transcribing these papers is that they’ll give me a chance to visit with my cousin, Monique, since she’s offered to risk her eyesight to help me.
Article about the pianist, Tempe Stuart (my great-aunt) and her wealthy father, Alfred Stuart (my great, great-uncle) in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1901.
Not only is this newspaper article about my talented great-aunt Tempe Stuart a point of pride for this woman who would go on to make her living teaching and performing music, but it’s also full of information that I didn’t know about my paternal family’s ancestral home, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I want to thank my friend, Shannon, for bringing the article to my attention.*
The article states that Tempe Stuart’s dad, Alfred was among the wealthiest colored men in the town, supplying its residents with milk. (Not bad for a man born a slave at the end of the Civil War). At also says that this small Gulf Coast town had about 120 “colored” families and over two-thirds of them owned their homes. That number has to break some kind of record for black homeowners in the south during that time, just a little over 30 years after the end of slavery. Oceanspringsarchives.net contends that the number of black residents was even higher than the article suggests with 331 compared with 925 white residents, citing the federal census as the source. So, in 190o, roughly one-quarter of Ocean Springs residents were blacks and 2/3 of those blacks owned their homes. According to US Census data from 2000, Ocean Springs now has a population of about 17,000 people and about 1200 of its residents are black. About 72 percent of all residents own their homes.
I wonder what made Ocean Springs so conducive to property ownership for former slaves and their families?
(*I’ve gotten so used to Shannon forwarding me amazing newspaper articles about my family, that I neglected to thank her in my original post, so the asterisk refers to updated information.)
My great, great-grandfather's exhibit of Stuart pecans at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893 as pictured in The Stuart Pecan Co. book, "The Pecan and How to Grow It."
Today, my family and I are celebrating Columbus Day by taking advantage of the day off and going to a beautiful farm-lined part of our state to do some apple picking. But back in 1893, the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America on a grand scale with the World Columbian Exposition . Chicago beat out New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. for the honor of hosting this world fair which took three years to organize, pushing back the celebration a year later than planned. Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame designed the grounds visited by over 25 million people including my second great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart. His Stuart pecans exhibit was one of tens of thousands on display at the fair.
Happy Columbus Day!
My grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford's tomb at Lake Lawn Cemetery, New Orleans. She's at the top of the end row. I'm standing beneath.
Only my third week of Motivation Monday and already, I’ve fallen down on the job. I blame my stuffed nose for not posting my goals yesterday as part of this weekly theme I instituted only three weeks ago. That’s also my excuse for not fulfilling the genealogy goal I set last week to transcribe one of my third great-grandfather’s letters. The letters are still sitting in their big manilla envelope where I left them the week before.
But last night as my sinuses were finally starting to clear, I couldn’t resist googling and found something unexpected on the MSGenWeb site, the online source of Mississippi genealogical resources and branch of the larger US GenWeb. In the late 1930s, writers from the federal Works Project Administration (WPA) recorded the life stories of more than 10,000 men and women including ex-slaves and MSGenWeb transcribed as many of the Mississippi slave narratives as they could and have them available at their site. I didn’t expect to see my enslaved ancestor, Tempy Burton listed since she died in 1925 before the project began, but there were two narrations for Jackson County where she lived. I read them out of curiosity. In Nat Plummer’s narrative, this ex-slave makes no reference to Tempy, but he does refer to Tempy’s master, my great, great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart. It’s just a reference to his house and the last name is misspelled Stewart, but it was exciting nonetheless, that his house could be mentioned as a point of historical reference in a context broader than just my family’s history.
My goal for next week is to fulfill the one from last week: transcribe another letter from my third great-grandfather’s collection of papers. Also, I plan to get rid of this cold.