Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Slave Ancestor Found in Southern Claims Commission Records

Well, it’s been awhile since I posted and that’s because I had a bouncing baby boy in August who has been keeping me happily busy. I haven’t had much time to do genealogy, to say the least. But I think in the next few months I can start putting a toe back in the genealogy waters every now and then.

This was actually one of my major genealogical finds of 2010, but I didn’t get a chance to post it.  Back in July 2010, I was cleaning out my office (in typical nesting mode) and ran across some print outs I’d made years ago from one of the Southern Claims Commission Indexes. I had never found any relatives when I searched these before, but I’ve posted about the great finds that are possible . The particular indexed name I had was a white man who, oral history said, had fathered a child with my 4th great grandmother, Margaret Barnes in Hardin County, Tennessee. His name was Ben Rush Freeman. I had never found anything in many years of researching, so I didn’t think much of it, but I figured since Footnote had most of the Southern Claims Commission files online, I might as well look before I chuck that piece of paper.

I can’t adequately explain to you the utter astonishment and then rush of excitement as I pulled up Ben’s 45+ page file and found that Margaret was one of his witnesses!!! This was stunning first and foremost because I only have information about Margaret from one court case, oral history, and census records. She was born in the early 1800s, so I had sort of given up the hope that I would find anything significant about her.

The Southern Claims Commission was set up to repay loyal Southerners who had had property taken or destroyed by the Union Army during the Civil War. One had to have witnesses to attest to the damages, and many times, for slaveowners, they had former slaves as witnesses. Margaret testified to the fact that hogs were slaughtered, horses taken, and some other parts of the crop. It gave her age, and stated that she was not owned by Mr. Freeman but worked for Mrs. Barnes.

Margaret Roberts had been a freedwoman in Hardin County, or a “bonded slave” as they referred to her. She was “purchased” by John Barnes in 1838, and appeared on the census in his household in 1840 and 1850. By 1860, she had taken on the surname Barnes, John had died and she was living with his widow Elizabeth. Margaret was listed as a mulatto woman with several mulatto children. She last makes an appearance in the census in 1870.

Another thing that makes this file critical to my research is that her son, Campbell Barnes, also testifies! Campbell was listed on the census record with his mother in 1850, but I only could locate a “Cam Barnes” living in neighboring McNairy County in 1880. I thought this might be her son—and this file confirmed that it was, when it noted that he lived in McNairy County. His testimony also stated that he went away with and joined the Union Army, and returned after the war (I haven’t found him listed formally as a soldier). When asked who he had been owned by, he reiterates that he was never a slave, but that his mother had been a free woman and was purchased by John Barnes as a young girl. Again, this confirmed information I had already discovered. This find also, in my mind, greatly increases the chance that Ben Rush Freeman was indeed the father of at least one of her children. She states in her file that she was sent over frequently to help him by Mrs. Barnes. Having her in such continual close proximity makes sense.

Here is copy of the first page of Margaret’s testimony. You can see “col’d” is listed after her name, identifying her as a colored woman (click on the image to see it enlarged).

I never found Margaret here in the past because the Southern Claims Commission files weren’t online when I first looked at them and I didn’t think to pull Ben Freeman’s file at the time. But what I’ve learned, and hopefully you can benefit from, is to also search these files for neighbors, relatives and associates of your slaveowner. I thought it interesting that many of Ben’s close family members and friends also filed claims. Of course, there were just tidbits here about Margaret, as the primary purpose of the testimony was to ascertain the facts about the lost goods. But every bit counts. I kept wishfully thinking, “Why don’t they ask her parent’s names???!”

 

8 Comments

  1. January 9, 2011    

    What a great find!! And how wonderful to see you posting again!

    Of course you have been in blissful new baby land and I know deliriously happy!!! Congratulations on your precious addition to the family tree as well!!

    Looking forward to more posts from you!

  2. Mrs.Blonigen's Gravatar Mrs.Blonigen
    January 11, 2011    

    I am learning so much from your blog! I have been researching the maternal side of my family for years and have had so many brick walls. When I read your blog, it gives me new ideas of what I can look for.

  3. January 11, 2011    

    Congratulations on your new baby. Thanks for this post, and what a wonderful find you made. I am always searching through these records and your post gives me hope that I might just find something useful one day. Welcome back!

  4. Andrea's Gravatar Andrea
    January 11, 2011    

    Welcome back to the genealogy world!
    It’s so important and encouraging for other genealogists and family historians to read about finds like this!

  5. January 14, 2011    

    Welcome back and congrats on the new addition to the family. What a wonderful find. Your post makes me want to go back and look through these records again to see if I might find something that might be useful.

  6. January 15, 2011    

    Congrats on the new baby! I am glad that you are back and writing again. What a great find. I will be looking through these records again as well.

  7. Rosemary Pleasent's Gravatar Rosemary Pleasent
    January 17, 2011    

    Hello Robyn- Missed you so much, and again much happiness on everything. Each day there will be something else to smile about, that’s being mom, and i been one for so long my son came by today and said mom your computer is too slow, said he will upgrade me. I said son i’m not ready. He’s 38 this year and his sister is 39. Wishing you a great week……. R. Pleasent

  8. rkb191's Gravatar rkb191
    January 30, 2011    

    Welcome back and (more importantly) congratulations!

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

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Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
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