Make Black History Personal: #15 A Story of Slavery in My Family

February 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Make Black History Personal

The picture below is my great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Parker. He was born April 1878 in Harris County, Georgia; youngest child of Isaiah Parker and Charity Ann.

Thomas Jefferson Parker - My Paternal Great Grandfather

Thomas Jefferson Parker – My Paternal Great Grandfather

Charity Ann was Black and one of the slaves owned by Isaiah’s father, the Rev. Isaiah Parker. I’ve been able to find a fair amount of info on the Parker family but not much on my slave ancestor, Charity Ann. Funny thing, is that I feel so connected to her because of all the stories my grandmother (and her granddaughter) told me about her.

My grandmother, Beatrice Parker, was Thomas Jefferson Parker’s daughter who was born in 1898 when Charity Ann was still alive. Grandma got to spend quite a bit of time with Charity Ann who lived with the family until her death in 1905.

According to my grandmother, Charity Ann and her sister were girls when they sold away from their mother in Virgina. Their new slave owner was Rev. Parker and he took the girls away in a big wagon with Black horses as Grandma told it.

But as a genealogist, I was never satisfied just with Grandma’s stories – however entertaining they were. I’ve always wanted to know more about Charity Ann and here’s what I have pieced together up to this point –

1. Charity Ann aka Ann was born in VA about 1825, which is the date of her birth given in the 1900 United State census.

2. I was told by my grandmother, who lived to 97, that Charity Ann and her sister were sold away from their mother to Isaiah’s father when they were girls. He sold the sister on the way back to Harris County GA where he had a cotton plantation with 25 slaves according to the 1860 United States slave schedules.

3. Charity Ann and Isaiah developed a relationship and had 16 children together – some of them were born during slavery.

4. To my knowledge, neither married anyone else. After the Civil War, they lived together as a common-law couple because  miscegenation laws in the South preventing them from legally marrying.

5. During slavery, Isaiah’s father died and Isaiah bought Charity Ann and 3 of their children from the estate. Here’s a copy of the bill of sale dated 8 Jan 1862.

The bill of sale for Isaiah Parker's purchase of Charity Ann. They were my great-great grandparents.

The bill of sale for Isaiah Parker’s purchase of Charity Ann. They were my great-great grandparents.

6. Charity Ann died about 1905. This syncs with my grandmother’s recollection of when she died. Charity Ann is buried in the Prospect AME church cemetery in Fortson, Georgia – the Black cemetery. Isaiah is buried in the White cemetery.

Charity Ann's grave in Georgia.

The grave of my great-great grandmother, Charity Ann who was a slave.

7. The family story is that Charity Ann was part Cherokee. My grandmother always said Charity Ann looked like (and these are Grandma’s words, not mine) “an old Indian squaw” with her hair in two long braids that hung below her waist.

But after my DNA test results came in last year, I’m skeptical of a Native American connection here. My ancestry composition was only 2% Native American so I believe it’s more likely that Charity Ann was part European, as I am.

8. I don’t have any info on where Charity Ann came from in VA or who the prior slave owner was but I have heard my great-great grandmother referred to as “Charity Ann Graves”. That makes me wonder if that was her name when she was sold to Rev. Parker.

I always heard that Charity Ann was born near the James River in Virginia. When I checked for Virginia slave owners named “Graves” in the 1830 Census who had female slaves under 10 yrs old (which she would have been then), there were 47 Graves slave owners of in 24 locations. Three of those slave owners lived 35 miles or less from the James River.

This may be a wild goose chase but one I’ve got to go on because there’s so little information available about Charity Ann. She’s one of  my ancestors who I’ll be hot-on-the-trail of for years to come.

How can you make Black history personal?

52 Ancestors: #2 Thomas Jefferson Parker

January 14, 2014 by  
Filed under 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

Thomas Jefferson Parker was born around April, 1878 in Harris County, Georgia, the son of Isaiah Parker Jr. and Anne, a former slave. Isaiah and Anne, or “Charity Ann” as our older relatives used to refer to her, were a common law marriage because mixed race marriage was illegal then in Georgia. Thomas was one of the youngest of Isaiah and Anne’s 16 children together and my paternal great grandfather.

Thomas Jefferson Parker - My Paternal Great Grandfather

Thomas Jefferson Parker – My Paternal Great Grandfather

The first reference I found to Great Grandpa Thomas was in the 1880 US census for Harris County, Georgia. He’s listed as 4 years old there, which would mean he was born in 1876 –

My great grandfather in the 1880 US census.

My great grandfather in the 1880 US census.

My great-grandfather in the 1880 US censusThe next time I can locate my great-grandfather is when he married my great-grandmother, Modesta Lockhart. I was thrilled to find this copy of their marriage license dated 2 March 1898:

1898 Marriage License for Thomas J. Parker and Modesta Lockhart

After their marriage, I found Thomas and Modesta in the 1900 US census for Nance, Muscogee County, Georgia. Thomas is 22 years old and according to this record, was born April 1878 – two years later than what’s shown in the 1880 census. But I’ve been doing genealogy long enough to know that people just didn’t seem to age a consistent 10 years between each census. Often they got younger which made the census like a fountain of youth for some people – like Great-Grandpa Thomas.

Thomas’s family in the 1900 census also includes his mother, my great great grandmother, Ann Parker and for the first time – her birth year of 1825 and birthplace of Virginia. Ann died before the next census in 1910 so having this information about her as a former slave is an important nugget of history for me.

Last but not least, Thomas Parker’s daughter, Beatrice is listed in the 1900 census as a one-year old child. She was my grandmother and I remember her telling me that because she didn’t have an official birth certificate, this census record was used years later as proof of her birth:

My grandmother in the 1900 US census.

After 1900, I can’t find my great-grandfather in any official records. It’s like he fell off a cliff! What I do know about him from this point on is from our oral family history. Here’s what I learned –

  • Great Grandpa Thomas supposedly left his wife and family and went off to Oklahoma for the oil rush. That kicked off in 1905, which was also around the time his mother Ann died. I don’t know anymore about the circumstances of Thomas leaving but I don’t think my grandmother ever quite forgave him and she talked about that from time to time.
  • After my grandmother got married, she and my grandfather moved to Detroit so he could find work in the auto factories. Grandma brought a trunk with her that she said her father gave her. Years later, she would show me the trunk and laugh that she didn’t have anything to put in it for that trip to Detroit. It struck me that while she might have been angry with her father over his leaving the family, she hung on to that old trunk until she was in her nineties because it reminded her of him.
  • My great-grandfather became a traveling minister in his later years and went to preach in different towns throughout Alabama. Interesting because his slaveowner grandfather, Reverend Isaiah Parker did the same thing in Georgia many years earlier before the Civil War.
  • Thomas Jefferson Parker died in 1963 in Anniston, Calhoun County, Alabama.
  • Oh – and Thomas became a family name with both my father and brother being named after him.
Maybe my favorite of the few stories about Great Grandpa Thomas was the one my grandmother told about his only visit to Michigan. When he arrived, she showed him around her little house. At one point he went into the bathroom. Grandma said when he came out he was smiling. He looked at her and said –
Bea, that’s a mighty fine spring well you have in there. Mighty fine.

Grandma never said but, OMG – do you think he took a drink??