Tag Archives: Mississippi

Talented Tuesday on Wordy Wednesday: My talented, prosperous ancestors

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.)


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Monday Madness: Ancestral Property Found, Lost & Found Again

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…


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No Place Like Home

A black and white photo of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, an ancestral home

My first cousin recently moved a stone’s throw from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, pictured above.  As I plan a visit to see her as well as our ancestral home, it made me think how  so many of us in my family end up back where we started.

When I was a kid, I thought for sure that I’d end up living some place far from the home I grew up in like Paris or L.A. At 16, in pursuit of my quest, I spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student but ended up next door to a town called Americana, named for it’s founders who hailed mostly from the Southern states of the USA, just like my ancestors.  Since then, I’ve never lived more then an hour from my old stomping grounds where my parents and a lot of my old high school paraphernalia still reside.  None of my four siblings have strayed far from the family hearthstone either.  One is as close as 15 minutes from my parents, another as far as an hour and a half.

I think I’ve inherited this desire to stay close to my roots from my ancestors on both sides.  My grandfather, Alonzo Walton lived the last 25 years of his life on a tract of 150 acres of Ozark land he spent a life time accumulating.  He shared the tract with his brother, his sister, and his nephew.  Before retiring to his childhood home in Arkansas, he lived in New Jersey, less than 10 miles from his daughter and five grandchildren (including me).  If it hadn’t been for his Air Force duties stationing him on McGuire’s Air Force Base, I’m sure my grandfather would have never left Arkansas.

I loved growing up with my grandparents so close by.  They let me wait on customers in their candy store, eat more than my share of Reggie bars (remember those?) and Slim Jims, but most importantly they told me their stories and brought me to their childhood homes in Arkansas and Oklahoma.   I got to walk through my great grandfather Bud’s garden with him, his old shotgun slung over his shoulder and  eat my great grandmother Marie’s delicious buttermilk pancakes, memories to this day I consider my greatest treasures.

The story is similar on my father’s side of the family.  My father lived in a house on property that once belonged to my great great grandfather, Col. W.R.  Stuart.  Census records show that his cousins, the Stuart Smiths lived just down the road.  My grandfather, Martin Ford was also born in that seaside town, Ocean Springs, Mississippi as was his mother, Josephine Burton Ford.  And her mother, Temple Burton lived all of her free life there (she was born a slave), died there, and is buried there in the same cemetery with the colonel, their son, Alfred, and the colonel’s wife, Elizabeth.  That’s some interesting eternal company – a master, his slave/mother to his children, one of those seven children, and his wife who couldn’t bear him any children.

Whether you’re Dorothy or Toto, a master or slave, I guess there’s just no place like home.

Evergreen Cemetery, Ocean Springs, where my great great grandparents Temple Burton and Col. W.R. Stuart, their son, Alfred Stuart, and the colonel's wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart rest. (photo by Terry Linder)

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Welcome to my family!

Grandpa Ford

My earliest memories of my paternal grandfather, Martin Luther Ford, are of him sitting on his porch in the projects in the French Quarters of New Orleans. He was as white as any white man I’d ever seen, but I never questioned why he looked so different from my brothers and sisters and me, all cocoa-colored. My dad, while somewhat darker, more café au lait than his creamy-skinned father, still favored Grandpa Ford so there was no question we were all related. Plus, Grandpa sounded like the rest of our New Orleans aunts, uncles and cousins with that same maple syrup speech that liked to drive you crazy if you were in a hurry.

It wasn’t until I was 12 that Grandpa’s pearl white skin and pin straight black hair sufficiently provoked my interest to ask him about it.

That summer, he visited us for the first time. (I think it was the first time he ever crossed the Mason Dixon line.) Grandpa was in his late 70s by then, legally blind although he insisted he could see, and spent most days at the senior center while my parents were at work. It was up to me to entertain him and make sure he didn’t burn the house down in the two-hour gap between when the senior center bus dropped him at the end of our driveway and my mother came home from work. He mostly listened to baseball on the radio or made small-talk about the weather. As a pre-teen, I wanted nothing to do with adults, let alone a senior one with a drawl and bad hearing, but his complexion and the story that had to come along with it intrigued me as the summer and his visit wore on.

One day he brought me home a hand-painted macaroni necklace from the senior center, slipped it over my head as I gave him a tall glass of iced tea and said, “I made a little somethin’ for ya sugah.” Suddenly, I had the courage to ask him what I’d wondered about all summer long.

“Grandpa, are you white?””

He laughed and said that he wasn’t white but that he used to pretend to be in order to get better paying jobs in then segregated New Orleans. He said his grandfather was a white man, a pecan farmer named Stuart and that his grandmother, Tempe “worked” on his plantation.

That was an interesting way of putting it.

I knew enough about American history to understand that black people in the south at that time weren’t paid workers. They were slaves. Soaring on my new-found courage from my necklace, I asked Grandpa outright, “was your grandmother a slave?” Grandpa looked dreamy. I don’t know if it was the cataracts which turned his eyes a cloudy blue or if he was caught up in his memories, weaving from the gritty cobblestone New Orleans streets where he delivered groceries to the acres of pecan trees that surrounded him in Ocean Springs, Mississippi where he grew up, the same place where his grandfather raised pecans. Whatever the reason, he never answered me directly about Tempe being a slave, but he did tell me other things.

He’d lived on some of Stuart’s property and my dad and his brother’s and sisters had been raised on Stuart property too. The house was big enough that he rented out rooms to other families in order to pay the taxes. Ultimately, the renters didn’t generate enough income and the Stuart house and land was turned over to the state of Mississippi. Grandpa told me that Stuart’s wife could not have children, and that Mrs. Stuart was very religious. Indeed she did donate a lot of money to help build St. Paul’s Methodist church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

I had to find out through Ocean Springs historian, Ray Bellande that Tempe was a slave, given as a wedding gift to Stuart’s wife from her family. After the civil war, Mrs. Stuart freed Tempe and gave her a job as a cook. Tempe stayed on as a cook and loyal companion to Elizabeth Stuart until the woman died in 1925. Tempe died a few months after her long-time proprietor and employer at age 105.

That afternoon in the cool belly of our basement, I stumbled across an unknown and unexplored part of our family history. Our ancestors were both slaves and masters, African and Scottish, maybe even the descendants of the Royal Stuarts, as in Mary Queen of Scots.

But I wouldn’t delve into all the specifics on that humid day in 1983. My nascent journalistic skills didn’t know to ask Grandpa what his mother looked like, if he’d ever met his grandmother Tempe, if she and Stuart had other kids and how he felt about his grandfather also being his grandmother’s master. My interests in my ancestry were as unpredictable and scattered as my teenage hormones. The next time I saw my grandfather, two years later, I cared a lot more about the color of my hair and if a boy would ever like me with those braces on my teeth than anything about my family history. He died a few years later and I presumed the answers to my questions died with him – until the Internet came along. That’s where I connected with my fourth cousin, another Tempe and Stuart descendant. She promises to guest blog soon. How’s the search for your roots coming?


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