I was scanning the 1840 census while I was working on a soon to be published story for the blog and noticed that a free, African American male makes an appearance on the 1840 US Census for Lauderdale County, TN.

This male was between 24 – 36 years in age and was living in the household of PG Davenport. What really stood out to me was that this male was marked as a free person, not a slave, when the census provided columns for the slaves to be marked.

PG Davenport 1840 US Census
PG Davenport 1840 US Census

I checked and this male does not make an appearance on the 1850 census in the household of PG Davenport. I checked the 1850 Slave Schedule and PG Davenport is listed with 1 male slave age 32. It is possible that it could be the same male from the 1840 census, but why is he now counted among the enslaved? Was it just a mistake that he was marked as a free male?

In trying to figure out the identity of the free African American male found on the 1840 census I decided to look into PG Davenport’s background. He was born Pleasant G. Davenport to his father Thomas Davenport (1759 – 1816) a Revolutionary War soldier and his mother Sarah Partlow (1772 – 1849) around 1808 in Laurens, South Carolina. He migrated to Lauderdale County, TN with his brother Samuel Davenport around the 1830s. His father Thomas died in 1816, but did not leave any slaves to Pleasant, so there goes my theory that maybe this male was left to Pleasant by his father.

By 1860 Pleasant is living in Bird, Jackson County, Arkansas where he dies in November of 1863. On the 1860 Slave Schedule he is listed as having 9 slaves, but none around the 44 – 56 year old age range that it would take for them to match the free male on the 1840 US Census.

Doing some research on Pleasant I found a series of journals called The Stream of History compiled by the Jackson County, Arkansas historical society. I did find a small paragraph written about Pleasant that indicated that he migrated to the area by steamboat and because there were no banks he packed his gold in boxes, so he apparently was very wealthy. This wealth really made me think that he had to have had a will.

Well, I went to FamilySearch.org (a great resource for probate records) and Pleasant actually died without a will. According to probate records when he died his estate was estimated to be worth 25,000. His probate record is more than 50 pages long and it was not settled until 1869 or later. I read through about fifty pages of records and there were no mentions of any slaves he might have owned. So much for my hope to find a will written by him so I could determine if he had any special affection for any of his slaves.

Back to the free African American male…

I’m not really sure who this gentleman was to Pleasant. He may have very well just been a slave who was marked incorrectly on the census. I have seen instances were slaveholders kept their mixed race siblings enslaved or in their household, so I thought maybe this could be the case, but it doesn’t appear to be at least from what I can tell. The identity of this male has more than likely been lost to history or may exist in private family records. When I saw that free African American male listed on the census I knew I had to immediately try to figure out who he was because that was a rarity for 1840s Tennessee. For now I will think of other ways he might be able to be identified.


– Tiffany

Sources: 1840 US Census for Lauderdale County, TN, 1850 Slave Schedule for Lauderdale County, TN, 1860 US Census for Jackson County, Arkansas, 1860 Slave Schedule for Jackson County, Arkansas, The Stream of History July 1964 Vol 2, Issue 3, Jackson County, Arkansas Probate Records provided by FamilySearch.Org