Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Ancestry: My Mother's Maternal Side of The Family Part One

I have been researching my family tree on and off for almost two years. I start researching my family history out of curiosity, but that curiosity soon became a hobby. That hobby then turned into an obsession. I want to share my findings on this blog. I will post my findings on this blog as I continue to learn more about my family.

I am from a small town about an hour and half south of Atlanta. My mother's family originated west of my hometown while my father's family originated east of that town. At some point both sides of my family migrated to that small town. 

My great great great grandfather was named Henry Walker. He was born into slavery around 1847. His mother and father are unknown to me at this point. He was owned by a man named John S. Walker, who was a prominent slave and land owner. John S. Walker died in 1860. His obituary reads as follows: 
John S. Walker Esq., a native of North Carolina, but for many years a resident of "insert county." Having filled the office of magistrate, sheriff and legislator, with credit to himself and satisfaction to his constituents, he was a reliable and useful citizen in every sense of the word; a frugal and industrious man, a kind and provident husband, father and master, and finished his course without a spot upon his character.
The bastard picked a great time to die. He died in 1860, a year before the Civil War began. He left behind a will and estate records (I will scan and upload them when I have time).  Using his will and estate records I was able to confirm that he owned my ancestor. When he died he bequeathed my ancestor to his children...
I give and bequeath unto my five minor children, Martha Ann, William J., Nancy A., Elerjane and Robert T. Walker, in order to make them equal with the older children, five negroes. Peter, a man. Jim, a man. Harry, a boy. Bill, a boy and Henry, a boy...The negroes are to remain on the farm and as they become of age to draw their interest and should any of the negroes given to my minor children die before they are divided or depreciate in value from sickness or other accidents twelve hundred dollars is to be put in their place....
From the slave owner's estate records I was able to see how much my ancestor, Henry Walker, was worth to him. According to estate records dated September 10, 1860 Henry Walker was worth $1400.

At some point in 1863 while the Civil War was raging John S. Walker's daughter, Martha Ann, petitioned the court and estate to divide the slaves amongst the children. Though I haven't been able to prove it, I believe my ancestor, Henry Walker, became the property of John S. Walker's youngest son, Robert T. Walker, who might have been around the same age as Henry Walker.

I am not sure what kind of relationship the two of them had with each other, but I do know Henry named one of his children after Robert T. Walker. This leads me to believe they formed a companionship with each other, though Robert owned Henry on paper.

After the Civil War ended I believe Henry Walker became a sharecropper on Robert T. Walker's land. I came to this conclusion after I discovered a court case in which Henry Walker sued Robert T. Walker's widow and the administrator of his estate, John S. Walker Jr.

At some point Robert T. Walker died. I don't know how he died. I know he died young. From the jail records I found Robert T. Walker was apparently constantly getting in trouble with the law. One document mentioned he was drunk and arrested for disorderly conduct. So maybe Robert T. Walker was what we call an alcoholic today...and that aided in his demise. 

At the time of his death, Henry Walker and Robert T. Walker had some type of agreement (in the court records it's called a bond) in which Robert agreed to sell Henry some land after sharecropping for so many years. I guess when he died Henry decided to lay claim to the land. 

To my surprise the court heard the case and sided with Henry. This was well after reconstruction ended. The administrator of the estate was forced to sell Henry the land! This is how my family first came into the land that would pass from one generation to the next. 

At some point Henry Walker married Nancy Russell. Together the two of them had fourteen children. Only thirteen of those fourteen children would live to see adulthood. At some point their daughter, Florence, died. It is not clear to me how she died because she died before the state of Georgia started issuing death certificates. 

Henry Walker's race is a mystery to me. On census documents from the late 19th century he is listed as mulatto. However, on several census documents from the 20th century he is listed as black/negro. I half-way believe his ability to "pass" as white might have helped him secure the land using the court system. Because I haven't been able to pinpoint Henry's mother and father, I believe the original slave owner may have been his father. I may never know the answer to this mystery. 

Henry Walker was a very intelligent man. According to census and estate records in 1870 he was illiterate. However, by the time the 1880 census was taken Henry Walker could read and write. According to estate records dated in the early 20th century, Henry Walker continued to buy more and more land. By 1910 he was the richest black man on the block.

As I mentioned earlier, Henry Walker and his wife, Nancy Russell had fourteen children. Remember this was before birth control was invented. During this time people had several children to help work the farm. Henry and Nancy had their first child at age 23. They had a child almost every year for the next fourteen years. Here is a breakdown of what I know about their children:

According to his death certificate, their oldest son, Joe Walker was killed with an axe by his wife, Carrie Walker...

I was stunned by this information. I dug deeper and discovered a paragraph in the town's newspaper that was printed a week after the murder....

A negro woman in the Five Points neighborhood killed her husband on Thursday of last week. It is said that he was after her with a shot gun when she brained him with an axe. The coroner's jury rendered a verdict justifying her in the act.

When I shared this information with the females in my family they all shared the same response: "He must have been beating her!"

So, Henry and Nancy's oldest son got his head split with an axe.

Next, I discovered two of the other children were in love with the same woman. I discovered this after finding multiple land deeds with this woman's name listed under each brother's individual deed. At this point Henry and the rest of the family owned a LARGE plantation of land. According to property deeds Henry transferred acres of land to his children as he aged. This explains why the children and grandchildren are listed under each other on the census. They were all neighbors.

Well, anyway two of Henry's sons were in love with the same woman. According to word of mouth, the two brothers fell out and never spoke to each other again after one of them married the woman.

To Be Continued....
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