Family Histories

Family Histories for the Rose and Kirkpatrick Families

Monday, November 23, 2015

52 Ancestors: Nathaniel Bunch of Louisa, Virginia, 1767 - 1833

My 4th great-grandfather is named Nathaniel Bunch; he was born in 1791 in Louisa, Virginia, and died in 1859 in Newton, Arkansas.  From census records, I cannot find any indication that he was a slave owner. 

Nathaniel Bunch of Louisa, Virginia is a cousin to my Nathaniel.  In researching my family line, I found some interesting documents about this Nathaniel as it pertained to his slaves.  While I have found quite a few of my southern ancestors were slave owners, very few indicated any mixed feelings about slave ownership or asked that their slaves be freed.

In his will, Nathaniel specified that after the last crop on his plantation was harvested, 13 of his 14 slaves - Adam, Pleasant, John, Henry, Angelina, Ann, Maria, Milly, Elizabeth, Nancy, Billy, John Sharp, and Peter - were to be freed.  Only an 11 year old boy named Andrew was not freed; he was to remain a slave until he turned 21 for the use of Nathaniel's sister-in-law and nephew, and "was to be treated with that kindness of humanity that is due from the master to the slave."  Nathaniel's slaves were appraised at a value of $4,105 at his death.

"It is to be understood that my said negroes are to be employed in the cultivation of said crops and are to be treated as slaves during that time," his will specified.  Once the corn, tobacco, hemp, hay, oats and wheat had been harvested, his 627 acre plantation was to be sold and part of the proceeds used to pay the traveling expenses of the newly freed slaves to the African nation of Liberia, a new colony created for emancipated slaves.  If they did not wish to leave the country, he directed his executors to "remove them to some place in the United States where they can enjoy their freedom."  They were also to receive $30 to help them begin their new lives; that's over $800 in 2015.

How many of the slaves chose to go to Liberia, or where any of them relocated to, is not known.  A year later, Adam petitioned the Virginia legislature for permission to remain in the state to be near his wife and children (who were presumably enslaved on another plantation) "for whom he has the strongest regard and of whom he is unable to effect a purchase."  Adam indicated that he was "a blacksmith, in the prime of life, capable of supporting himself and rendering much service to this neighborhood."  The legislature denied his request.

Nathaniel may have experienced guilt over his slave ownership, but he didn't act on it until the end of his life when he knew he would not need their service any longer.   He never married, so whether or not his actions would have been different if he had a family is unknown.

Registration of Adam and Henry from Louisa County Free Black Registry Book

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

52 Ancestors: Rosa Blanche, John Wilson and Mary Dent McGee

 While researching the McGee branch of my husband's family, I came across some extraordinary stories and photos of the Georgia McGee's (our branch moved on to Alabama in the early 1800's).  These stories were originally shared by descendants of the Crawford County McGee's. 

Rosa Blanche, John Wilson, and Mary Dent McGee were three of the ten children of John Wilson McGee and Cynthia Ida Blanche Dent.  They were born in Crawford County, Georgia; Rosa in 1883, Johnny in 1901, and Mary (known as Mary D to her family) in 1903.  Mary D, Johnny and Rosa's stories remind me of the quote about Southerners and their eccentric relatives:  no one asks if you have crazy people in your family.  They just ask which side they're on.  

Rosa McGee (center) with sisters Varrye (left) and Winnie (right)

Rosa McGee was never married and lived in the McGee homeplace in Crawford County with her family all of her life.  After her parents' deaths, she stayed on with her brother and sister.  Rosa worked for the University of Georgia Extension Service and was an early proponent of soybeans in the 1930's - just the plain bean, not the products we have today.  No doubt during the Depression, many people were quite happy to consume plain soybeans.  She collected Indian artifacts, tended a beautiful home garden and cared for her brother, who was blind and suffered from epilepsy, and sister, who was mentally ill. Rosa was described as "mannish" (possibly a euphemism for gay).  A family story tells of her inviting a pretty young schoolteacher to dinner, using her nephew as bait.  Sadly for Rosa, the schoolteacher and nephew hit it off and later married, creating lasting tension between Rosa and her niece-in-law.  "Why Lucille, you wore plaid, you know I like you in stripes!"  "Lucille, you wore pastels, you know I like you in paisley."  The poor woman could never get her outfits right for a visit with Rosa. 

Mary Dent McGee

Mary D was a beautiful young woman who suffered from schizophrenia for much of her life.  Her illness seems to have begun when she was in her 20's, after she had attended college and begun teaching.   Mary D carried disinfectant and paper towels in her purse to sanitize any surface she might come into contact with, and the first order of business when she visited anyone was to take a bath.  She had a form of distorted body perception that caused her to wear excessive amounts of makeup.  She often behaved strangely because of her illness, but would try to model her behavior on her sister Rosa's in order to appear more normal.  Despite her challenges, Mary D was described as "charming and engaging," and was flamboyantly feminine.

Johnny McGee

Johnny McGee's disabilities could have caused him to be warehoused in an institution, but his family kept him at home, where he was an active member of the household.  In spite of his disabilities, he also had extraordinary abilities; he remembered every family birthday, event and wedding, even if he had not been present, and the weather on that day.  He collected and worked on clocks, helped his mother in the kitchen, and "pitched" the Sunday hymns.  (As Primitive Baptists, the McGee family did not use musical instruments.)

At one point in her life, Mary D disappeared for a long period of time.  This was not uncommon; it was assumed her absences were times when she was at the State Mental Hospital at Milledgeville. During this disappearance, however, the family was considering having her declared dead in order to have her father's estate probated after his death in 1936 (which had special provisions for Mary D and Johnny because of their special needs), but couldn't until both Mary D and Johnny had died.  Then in the late 1950's, Mary D reappeared with a Hungarian circus performer husband 16 years her junior.  Julius Mester appeared to be as mentally unstable as his wife, whom he supposedly met in the circus (or at Milledgeville).  Despite his own mental health issues, he became an important part of the household, taking over the catfish ponds at the McGee homeplace, a source of income, and becoming caregiver to Johnny when he was dying of cancer.  The McGee household must have seemed like something from a Southern Gothic novel:  a lesbian, a blind epileptic, a beautiful, fading schizophrenic, and a Hungarian circus performer. 

Unfortunately, mental illness caused more serious episodes in the McGee household.  Mary D tried to kill her young nephew with a butcher knife (despite the fact that she loved him).  When he died later in life, she and Julius concluded that his mother had killed him, causing a rift between them and his grieving mother that never mended.  Mary D and Julius built a home on the McGee property, which Mary D somehow blew up in a gas explosion.  She developed breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, which she thought was a good enough reason to go topless, asking, "don't I look like a little boy?"

Rosa McGee died in 1963 at the age of 80.  Johnny died in 1973 at 71.  Mary D died in October 1982 at the age of 75.  Julius died in 2004 at age 80.   All are buried at the Salem Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Crawford, Georgia.

McGee family (front row): Grady, Vari, Mary D, Ted, Gordon.  (back row): Johnny, John Wilson, Quinton, Ida, Rosa, Winnie, Davis

McGee plot at Salem Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Reunion of Farley Bee Stroud Family

Farley Bee Stroud and his wife Mary (Fowler) with children Annie, Chester, Laura, Felix, Charles, Rebecca, Edward, and John.  Photo taken at the old Stroud homeplace in Madison, Arkansas, 1930's.

 Remains of the Stroud homeplace in Madison, Arkansas.