Tag Archives: Slavery

The Night the Stars Fell

16 Jan

If you have had the chance to read any of the WPA Slave Narratives you might have come across stories from slaves recalling what is known as the Night the Stars Fell. I’ve been fascinated by this night because often times it has been used by genealogists to guesstimate the ages of those who did not know their age, but who had witnessed the event. The Night the Stars Fell is formally known as The Leonid Meteor Shower and it occured on the night of November 12 – 13, 1833. I’ve always been drawn to this story and the way that former slaves spoke of their experiences that night. Some stories I have read have indicated that slave owners came out of their homes to “make things right” with their slaves by telling them their history, where their parents had been sold to etc. because they thought it was the end of the world. I came across the telling of this night by Sidney Green, a former slave of Lauderdale County. He recalled that,

“One night they witnessed a biblical historical night, when the stars fell from the heavens”

Sidney Green belonged to Judge Green and lived on what was known as the Walker Farm. Judge Green had come to Lauderdale County from Virginia that same year. I decided to do a search on Sidney Green and discovered that he was born about 1828 – 1830 in Virginia. I am going to go with 1828 since he had memories of the Night the Stars Fell. It is also possible that he had memories of what he had been told by his parents or others about this night.


Have you all heard stories of the Night the Stars Fell?


Source – Kate Johnston Peters “Lauderdale County from Earliest Times” page 254.


A Free African American Male in Lauderdale County in 1840?

21 Nov

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

Newspaper Clippings – The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

7 Jul
Dr. Robard - The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

Dr. Robard – The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857


Very interesting article. Of course The Commercial Appeal is a Memphis newspaper, but I wonder if any of our West Tennessee people had the chance to see Dr. Robard and if he in fact was able to “cure” them.

– Tiffany

– Source: The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857 edition

United States Colored Troops

23 May

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the United States Colored Troops Fold3.com has announced that they have finished digitizing all records related to the USCT. From May 22 to 31, the digital collection of the USCT Service Records will be free on www.Fold3.com. After that, you will need a subscription to access Fold3, or you can use a computer in any National Archives facility nationwide to access these records for free.

What types of records can you find in the USCT digital collection?

Manumission Papers

Oaths of Allegiance

Proof of Ownership

Bills of Sale

Abstracts of a soldier’s service


Payrolls Records

Prison Registers and Rolls

Parole Rolls

Inspection Reports


Unique to my own family genealogy I found a record of the slaveholder who owned my family.

Major Gilliland USCT Record

Major Gilliland USCT Record

I covered this story in more detail on my other blog http://distanthistory.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/major-gilden-mystery-solved/

So what are you waiting for? Check the records out if you know that you have a member of your family that was a member of the USCT. If you find information about previous slaveholders or even photographs please do share!


– Tiffany

Who Were the First African Americans in Lauderdale County?

12 May

The first African Americans in Lauderdale County were brought into the area by Henry Rutherford. Henry Rutherford, the namesake of Rutherford, TN, was the land surveyor who surveyed all of the land that was to become Lauderdale County. Along with Henry Rutherford, John Rutherford, Oliver Crenshaw, George Davis, and Willis Chambers arrived with their slaves at Key Corner on September 1, 1819.

Just who were these slaves and possible first African American inhabitants of Lauderdale County, TN?

As history goes Henry Rutherford inherited the slaves he owned from his father, Griffith Rutherford, the namesake of Rutherford County, TN. I also found a source that stated that Griffith left his slaves to his wife and not Henry. According to sources Henry didn’t choose to make his slaves his primary source of income and he even taught them how to read. Doing some research on the slaves that Griffith Rutherford owned I discovered that when he settled in what is now Sumner County, Tennessee that he owned 8 slaves, but have so far been unable to find out the names of these slaves.  Griffith died in 1805. Were these 8 slaves the ones he possibly passed down to Henry that would go on to become the first African Americans in Lauderdale County?

I found a census listing for Henry Rutherford in 1820 for Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee. On this census he owned 16 slaves. Could he have been documented on the 1820 census in Williamson County, TN because this was where his family was located prior to joining him in Lauderdale County? Further research will need to be done on the life of Henry to make sure that this is him listed on the 1820 census, but I have the feeling that it is. In 1830 Henry is found living in Dyer County, TN with 6 slaves and in 1840 Henry is found living in Lauderdale County, TN with 7 slaves. But just who were these slaves?

Unfortunately Henry’s will does not name his slaves. It just refers to his slaves in general. His wife Mary died in 1839 prior to his death and I have been unable to locate a will for her.

Henry Rutherford died May 20, 1847 and is buried at Rutherford Cemetery in Lauderdale County, TN, which was his family’s private cemetery. It is also possible that the slaves he owned are also buried here, but more than likely they would be in unmarked graves.

In order to further find the names of the first African Americans to live in Lauderdale County more research will need to be done on the men who traveled with Henry Rutherford to this area. Since they all supposedly brought their slaves with them maybe we can find the names of their slaves.


– Tiffany

Source: Goodspeed’s History of Lauderdale County, Tennessee, Sketch of Henry Rutherford (http://www.tngenweb.org/records/tn_wide/bios/rutherford-henry.txt),

Watch Night/Emancipation Day

1 Jan

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in all southern states in rebellion. Many slaves had heard about this law that was to become legal and many stayed up anticipating the moment that they would become free. As I reflect on what this means for slaves in the south I think of my children’s ancestors who were enslaved in Lauderdale County, TN on the plantation of David Gilliland. I think of what they must have been thinking when this date came to pass. I am also very proud of them. Through researching David Gilliland I discovered that all of his slaves had runaway by 1864 when he had written his will. I have since discovered that one of his slaves, Major Gilliland/Gilden/Bates, went on the join the United States Colored Troops to fight against slavery. I like to imagine that on this day they celebrated their independence. I like to imagine that even if they were unable to leave the plantation on this exact date that they knew that they would eventually be free. Here are a few mentions of runaway slaves found in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. I hope that they too eventually got their freedom.  

Memphis Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

Memphis Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

Memphis Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

Memphis Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

– Tiffany

Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal January 1, 1857 edition


SR Clay – Ripley, TN Physician

26 Jul

While reading the Lauderdale County, TN Physician’s Register starting in 1889 I noticed that Meharry Medical College was listed. Meharry Medical College is a historically Black medical college located in Nashville, TN. Because of this I knew that the physician listed as a graduate of that college was an African American. It turns out the physician listed was Simeon “S.R.” Clay who lived in Ripley, TN. According to the 1900 US Census he was born in Tennessee in October of 1864 prior to the end of slavery. His mother was Nancy Thornton Taylor born 1841 in Virginia and his stepfather was William Taylor born 1850 in Tennessee. On the 1880 US Census the family was living in District 9, Haywood County, TN. When SR enrolled at Meharry Medical College he listed his home as being in Ripley, TN. SR completed medical school in 1899. Meharry has pictures of all of the graduates, but the names are not clear enough to determine which picture is SR. By 1900 SR Clay was married and living in Ripley, TN with his wife Mintie Williams Clay and their children Minerva and Minnie Clay. The 1900 US Census also lists that Mintie was a school teacher and that they owned their home free from mortgage.

I am actively searching for more information regarding his life and story. He was born a slave, completed medical school, and came home to Ripley, TN to practice medicine.

SR Clay Meharry Catalogue Listing






1. Lauderdale County Court Clerk Physician Register TN State Archives Microfilm roll #17

 2. “MMC Archives.” Meharry Medical College Library. 28 May 2008. Web. 25 July 2011. http://library.mmc.edu/catalogues/MMC_1899_color.pdf.

3. Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. 1880 U.S. Census Index provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

4. Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.

5. Dodd, Jordan R. Tennessee Marriages, 1851-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.