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Levi Jordan
Plantation

UNRAVELLING THE 1850 and 1860 SLAVE SCHEDULES.

By Spencer McCall

This was posted by Spencer E. McCall (mccase98@wfu.edu) to Afrigeneas, (an online African Ancestored Genealogy Discussion forum) in January 1999. It is reprinted here with his permission, and describes one person’s "journey through the records" to discover information about the names of his ancestors.

 

If you are interested in learning more about how to research the names of African American ancestors, go to http://www.msstate.edu/listarchives/afrigeneas/.

This is a large web site with an incredible amount of useful information. It also includes links to other genealogy web sites.

While the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules are often deemed to be of no true value to the researcher of black and or slave genealogy, this is far from the truth. With a bit of information a researcher can do amazing wonders with the slave schedules. I have used the following methods on a number of occasions and have found the Slave Schedules to be highly informative. I must note, however that I have only used this method in cases where the slave owner had ten or fewer slaves (maybe a few more as opposed to a large deep south plantation with hundreds of slaves.) [Editor’s note: some of the following methods have also been used at the Jordan Plantation, so don’t rule them out, even for the larger plantations].

With a bit of determination, most black researchers are at least able to trace their families back to 1870 (Census) or at least 1880. Below I will provide a scenario of data that has been collected back to 1870 (and the prior slave schedules).

SCENARIO I:.

Within in a given county/area for years there were known to be two - three black "SMITH" families. The first natural question is – were they kin?

To get a basic idea of whether or not they were kin, I refer to the "Slave Schedules of 1850 and 1860" for that particular area. I find out that. not only were there only one or two white SMITH families in the area from1840 forward, but that they only owned a handful of slaves. I then speculate – if there were ten black people in a given area and they were not "free" to go and marry as they chose, then all probability they either were kin or they began to marry and became kin (again, this is just pure speculation).But at the moment I can't be totally for sure whether or not these three black SMITH families came off of the same SMITH PLANTATION or FARM.

Perhaps Family 1 of the black SMITHS came off of the SMITH farm in the area. But perhaps also that Family 2, came off of a SMITH farm in another state and at the time of freedom they were working on the JONES Plantation. These are troubling questions – and while I can speculate, if I'm to be a careful researcher and historian I must seek answers or at least built a substantial case to support my theories. As of the present I have the following information, gathered from Oral History, 1870 and 1880 Census Reports, and marriage records. I utilized two types of marriage records – those "regular" (i.e. after slavery) and those called cohabitation records, which might not be available in all states. But in 1866 the North Carolina State Government required that all counties register the marriages of freed slaves. In doing so they provided the couples name.(and wife's maiden name) and how long they had been living together as man .and wife.)

FAMILY 1:
Alexander SMITH b. 1820/1825 (husband/father)
Lavinia SMITH b. 1830/1827 (wife/mother)
(Cohabitation Record Alexander SMITH and Lavinia SMITH , registered 1866, 14 years.)
1. George SMITH b. 1853
2. John SMITH b. 1855
3. Bettie SMITH b. 1860
m. 1881 Austin BROWN
4. Jane SMITH b. 1865
5. Alexander SMITH b. 1867
m. 1889 Julia SMITH daughter of SMITH family 2.
6. Julia SMITH b. 1869
m. Jospeh WHITE
7. Henry Alexander SMITH b. 1881

I got the ages of the children from several places – mainly Census Records and their Marriage Records – for many of them (like Bettie SMITH) these records always pointed to 1860. For Henry Alexander it varied over a three year period, but I made a decent estimation. The marriage records of the children were also highly helpful in determining the ages of the parents, as when they were married the records said "son or daughter of Alexander SMITH (alive/dead) and Lavinia SMITH (alive/dead)". The Cohabitation Record of Alexander and Lavinia said that they had been living together as husband and wife as slaves for 14 years by 1866, this places their marriage at around 1852. From this I am able to fairly assume that Lavinia and Alexander were on the same plantation as early as 1852. The Cohabitation Records do use maiden names, so Lavinia's maiden name was SMITH.

SMITH FAMILY 2:
Ephraim SMITH b. 1840 (father/husband)
Esther SMITH b. 1842 (mother/wife)
(Cohabitation Record: Ephraim SMITH and Esther SMITH, cohabiting for 4 years, registered 1866.)
Children:
1. Washington SMITH b. 1863
2. Sarah SMITH b. 1865
m. Sampson MORRISS
3. John SMITH b. 1867
4. Jane SMITH b. 1870
m. Elliott BOGAN
5. Julia SMITH b. 1871
m. Alexander SMITH of SMITH Family 1.
6. Henry SMITH b. 1875
7. Simpson SMITH b. 1880
SMITH FAMILY 3
Abram SMITH b. 1820 (husband/father)
Laura CALHOUN b. 1835 (mother/wife)
(Cohabitation Record: Abram SMITH and Laura CALHOUN, registered 1866, 13 years.)
Children:
1. Abram SMITH b. 1844
2. Henry SMITH b. 1855
3. Abraham SMITH b. 1857
4. John SMITH b. 1860
5. Frank SMITH b. 1864
6. Hampton SMITH b. 1867

Notes: None of Abram SMITH's children marry any children of SMITH family 1 or 2 (Although the grandchildren/great grandchildren intermarry.).This has been the SMITH family of which oral tradition has was not kin to the other SMITHS. While the other two SMITH families have always maintained "close" relationships this one has not. It is very odd that only Abram SMITH married a non-SMITH, his wife was a CALHOUN where as the patriarchs of the other two SMITH families married SMITHS.)

SLAVE SCHEDULE 1860:

In the entire county and neighboring counties there was only one slave-owning SMITH in the county and only one SMITH household and here is his schedule:

Thomas SMITH (white) (slave owner)
50 yr. old male
40 yr. old male
38 yr. old female
30 yr. old female
22 yr. old male
19 yr. old female
7 yr. old male
5 yr. old male
5/12 yr. old female
(2 slave houses)

I'm now stuck to wonder, can I place names on these slaves??? So what I do is focus in on all the people of the three SMITH families who would .have been alive in 1860. Those children no how many or how few born beyond, are not important. Since some of my ages of children were determined purely by Census Records (1870 and 1880) and not confirmed or substantiated by a vital record, I will also consider those born a few years beyond 1860 just in case the census taker got or the individual provided an age which was a few years off.

So here is how my notes will look;

SMITH FAMILY 1:
Alexander SMITH b. 1820/1825 (husband/father)
Lavinia SMITH b. 1830/1827 (wife/mother)
(Cohabitation Record Alexander SMITH and Lavinia SMITH , registered 1866, 14 years.)
1. George SMITH b. 1853
2. John SMITH b. 1855
3. Bettie SMITH b. 1860
m. 1881 Austin BROWN
Ephraim SMITH b. 1840 (father/husband)
Esther SMITH b. 1842 (mother/wife)(Cohabitation Record: Ephraim SMITH and Esther SMITH, cohabiting for 4 years, registered 1866.)
Children:
1. Washington SMITH b. 1863
SMITH FAMILY 3
Abram SMITH b. 1820 (husband/father)
Laura CALHOUN b. 1835 (mother/wife)
(Cohabitation Record: Abram SMITH and Laura CALHOUN, registered 1866, 13 years.)
Children:
1. Abram SMITH b. 1844
2. Henry SMITH b. 1855
3. Abraham SMITH b. 1857
4. John SMITH b. 1860

I then study my notes and ponder for a while – I think about the slave schedule and my notes. I think about the husband/wives that would have been the adults on the plantation and take into account that there is probably a higher chance that their ages are slightly "off" on Census Records and the like – or, at least, that their childrens’ ages are more likely to be accurate. This would be because the husband/wife would have been born much earlier in slavery and the chances of them forgetting their age or having not been told their accurate ages would be fairly high. The chances are higher that the children’s ages would be known, because they were born just around Emancipation, had to constantly report their age to Census Takers, Government Agencies, jobs, and when they got married. So I think I'll focus on the children to try to solve this puzzle. Then it hits me: It has been said that the family of Alexander and Lavinia came off the plantation of Thomas SMITH, but I need more proof or support than that. But, it hits me again. There is a newborn female infant on the plantation/slave schedule. Bettie SMITH BROWN consistently reported (i.e. on Census Records and her Marriage Certificate) that she was born in 1860. I firmly conclude that on my notes there are no other females born around 1860. Then I realize if the baby is on the farm, then so is her mother. There is no question that Bettie's mother was LAVINIA SMITH-SMITH. (By this I mean, I'm not going on assumptions, as we all know that during slavery slave mothers and slave fathers had different children. So I'm not just going on the fact that since Bettie was Aunt Julia's sister and Aunt Julia's mother and father were Alexander and Lavinia, then Aunt Bettie's parents must be the same (because they could have the same mother and different fathers or vice versa.) But I know that Bettie reported on her marriage certificate that her mother was Lavinia SMITH and her father was Alexander SMITH. This means that Lavinia SMITH must be on the plantation/slave schedule. I look and see that there is a 30 year old female on the slave schedule and I now giver her a name: LAVINIA and I give the 5/12 old female a name – BETTIE.

Then I think that while children were sold away from parents, it is doubtful that small children would have been sold away, so I wonder – what about Bettie's older brothers George and John? They would have only been 7 and 5 respectively, in 1860. Yes, there is an eight-year-old male who probably was George and a five-year-old male who was probably John and I now give them names. I speculate about whether or not the father Alexander was on the plantation. I consider that he and Lavinia were cohabiting as man and wife since 1852.(according to their Cohabitation Record). But, what if my state did not take cohabitation records, or they burned or whatever? Then I go with a hunch and look at the age of the oldest child and his/her birth year and add or subtract a year (it's just a hunch.) I consider that both Alexander and Lavinia were SMITH'S when they were freed (his surname and her maiden name) so they probably were on the same farm at the time of freedom which was only a few years after this schedule in 1860 was taken. And of course their cohabitation record says they were living together since 1852, so Alexander, Sr. is probably on the slave schedule. I take him to be the 41.yr. old male. So I have now given several of the slaves on the slave schedule names:

0 yr. old male
41 yr. old male: Alexander SMITH
38 yr. old female
31 yr. old female: Lavinia SMITH-SMITH
22 yr. old male
19 yr. old female
8 yr. old male: George SMITH (family 1)
6 yr. old male: John SMITH (family 1)
5/12 yr. old female: Bettie SMITH BROWN

But what about SMITH family #2? Well, they had no children till around 1863. They were cohabiting as man and wife since 1862. So it's understandable that they would not have children until a year or so later. They were also much younger than Alexander and Lavinia. But, if they began cohabiting in 1862, which again was only two years after the Schedule, and both were SMITH's (Ephraim SMITH and Esther SMITH-SMITH) then they were probably on the SMITH plantation in 1860. There is a.22-year-old male, who probably was Ephraim and there was a 19-year-old.female who probably was Esther so I give them names.

50 yr. old male
42 yr. old male: Alexander SMITH
38 yr. old female
32 yr. old female: Lavinia SMITH-SMITH
22 yr. old male: Ephraim SMITH
19 yr. old female: Esther SMITH-SMITH
9 yr. old male: George SMITH (family 1)
7 yr. old male: John SMITH (family 1)
5/12 yr. old female: Bettie SMITH BROWN

Then attempting to be a careful researcher, I sit and back and consider whether or not my bias has led me to be highly interested in placing families one and two on the plantation. I wonder, have I been unfair or overlooked Family 3? I wonder are things being too good to be true? Is it not possible that Family 3 was on the plantation?

I then realize, that of all the SMITH patriarchs, only Abram married a non-SMITH. Does this perhaps suggest that he was not on the SMITH plantation at the time of Emancipation? Then it hits me that he may or may not have been on the SMITH plantation – but the gold mine is that his wife probably was not since she was a CALHOUN and not a SMITH. I consider that .slave children would have followed their mother and not their father. So even if Abram was on the SMITH Plantation, if Laura was not, then she and Abram's children would not have been on the SMITH plantation. There is the possibility, however, that Abram is the 50-year-old man on the slave schedule. But, I further consider that he and Laura were cohabiting since.1852, so that means they were leaving together as man and wife since 1852, therefore he probably was on the CALHOUN (or other Non-SMITH) plantation with Laura and his children.

I write this up and include it in my family history, but I am very careful to say that this is not "exact proof" it is only good detective .work (at least I hope it is). I further discuss how Family 1 and 2 remained close throughout the years, and this is possibly because of, or a sign of, their being on the same plantation. Their children began to marry into the same families, they began to attend the same churches and so forth. I offer these cultural patterns as further support for their being the two families on the plantation in 1860.

In another case I have tried to see if the slaves in 1860 schedule were on the 1850 schedule.

While this was a scenario, it is a real case. I was not working from my notes, but if there is great interest, I am willing to go through my notes and write up and post the "actual case" from which this scenario was taken. I hope that this may be of use to someone.

Don't be so quick to dismiss those slave schedules. Also pay close attention to how many slave houses the slave owner had. If he had none, this suggests that the slaves lived in the house with his family or that he hired them out or lent them out elsewhere. If he has several slave houses, this might suggest that there were several slave family units.

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