Ancestors born before 1900

Ancestors born before 1900
Frances Simpkins, Leah Foote, Emmaline Foote, Rosetta Foote

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Flashback to 1997

This story jumped up at me from the coffee table where it probably has sat since 2003 or so. It was started about 2 years into my research on our family history. Clearly I was still touched by post-modern toasty anthropological brain damage, although I had escaped the university. My anger about not being able to access records and the silenced voices of my ancestors drove my writing. I don't know if I ever finished this piece. At some point I should try to turn on that MacTV that was replaced in 2000 and see if the file is more complete.

Why now?


  • I won't let the month of November leave me without a blog posting. So the original work will be typed in purple and the comments and updates will be typed in red.
  • This is a chance to echo the importance of backing up data and keeping the media current. I know that the MacTV was backed up - on an IOmega Drive. It's probably in the attic with disks, but who knows whether any of it can communicate with today's technology. (Oh, it's probably not a good idea to store that stuff in the attic either.) Mom's upright freezer died last month. It will be moved to the basement with its door intact and we'll be using it to store important papers, not fireproof, but definitely more fire retardant than just sitting on a coffee table or in the attic.
  • The National Park Service no longer has a link to the full text of In Those Days: African American Life Near the Savannah River by Sharon Kane and Richard Keeton, so those voices again are not easily accessible.
  • I have made progress with research breakthroughs and in accessing some of the material over the last 16 years.
  • Luckie Daniels, founder of the  Facebook Group African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestry Research, reminds us daily that it is our responsibility to bring our research to the public.


Caroline Walker, James Edward Calhoun,
and Ed Kieser: A Story about Stories and 
an Alternative Interpretation

by Sonia L Walker
History is built on stories, but we lose sight of this idea because of a fixation with the written word. In politically-dominant discourses the development of a written language is one criterion of "civilization." Benedict Anderson links the "imagining" of nation-states to the diffusion of print capital. The same western, politically-dominant discourse specifies rules for evidence and scientific inquiry. In this story, the "language of the master" shall be used toward liberatory ends.

If an event occurred 100 years ago, a recording of it within a few days, "primary evidence," weighs more heavily on an "accuracy scale" than a retelling of the event from data some 50 years later. The humor is that we are led on an otherworldly mission, a belief in historical accuracy, as if the truth is out there. Coupled with this idea is what makes history political - the silencing of other stories. A modern example of the thesis that history is interpretation is found in the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD. Although captured on video, there were many interpretations, stories of what happened. An event is far from simple. Previous experiences weigh into our sight and influence how we tell a story.

With event reporting, some voices are heard and some are silenced. The political irony is that the heard voices are most often those advocating western styles of evidence who have also controlled the paper trails. The silenced have often had their history torn from them, physically and psychologically. For the descendants of those who survived the period of enslavement, we reflect on the possibility that a mere 133 years ago our African ancestors would have been punished for attempting to create a paper trail. Yet some of the stories were passed down, perhaps a watered-down tribute to the griots of our motherland who preserve genealogies and histories.

So, this is a story from the land of unprovable stories. It is a story of "He said; She said," but it is also a story of "They know because they've been told so." A story of Abbeville County, South Carolina probably cannot be written without mentioning "Colonel" Calhoun, "the Hermit of Millwood," according to http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=9439. I still must access the original article about him, "The Hermit of Millwood: An Account of the Life of Mr. James Edward Calhoun " by L. Perrin which was published in The Press and Banner and Abbeville Medium on 29 June 1933. So Calhoun is woven into our tale. He was never a colonel. Though he never remarried after the death of his wife Maria Simkins in 1844, from what we've been told he wasn't a complete recluse either.

Some of Calhoun's wealth was build on the backs of enslaved Africans. In 1860 more than 200 enslaved Africans were held by him according to the Census Slave Schedule for Abbeville County, SC. Some of them are my ancestors, and though I have requested access to a Millwood Ledger dated from February 1835 to June 1847, it is held by a private individual (Orser 1988:34). It is 1997 and the voiced continue to control the printed word. I am only now discovering why I needed to write this right now. I am angry because I can't gain access to that printed word, just as my ancestors did not have access to the printed word. I was never able to locate the original documents. I did, however, track down Dr. Charles E. Orser the archaeologist who excavated Millwood prior to the construction of the Richard B. Russell Dam. He sent me a copy of his copy. I later learned that the originals were probably destroyed in a fire that killed the person holding the documents in Virginia.

Calhoun died in 1889 and only two non-relatives were listed in his will: Caroline "Calhoun" Walker, an African American formerly enslaved by Calhoun, and Ed Kieser, a German immigrant. I was hoping that my great-grandfather would have been mentioned as our story is that Edmond Simpkins was Calhoun's illegitimate son. This is a big deal for my father and brother, but I'd rather have access to the ledger since I might be able to learn the name of my great-great grandmother. My guess is that she was probably enslaved by Maria Simkins' family since Edmond used Simpkins as his surname.

A few books have speculated about the relationship between Caroline Walker and James Edward Calhoun. Orser has one of the more liberal interpretations: "Although it cannot conclusively be proven, the evidence does provide support for the idea that Caroline Walker was Calhoun's companion at Millwood Plantation during the last few decades of his life (1988:159)." This is Orser's story: Perhaps the three mulatto children, John (age 17), Letty (age 15), and Kitty (age 13) living in Caroline Walker's 1870 household, were the children of James Edward and Caroline. Orser continues with the story that perhaps Letty is the 35 year old Carrie enumerated in Caroline's household in 1900, but he points out that all were enumerated as "Black" rather than "Mulatto." I have found that the census schedules are helpful, but only as accurate as the informants and enumerators. Whether an individual was listed as Black or Mulatto was a subjective, political decision of the enumerator. I've seen individuals misnamed and mis-sexed. Not everyone completed the forms properly.

That is where I left off in 1997. While Calhoun called Caroline by the surname Calhoun, she called herself Caroline Walker. I call her my great-great grandmother. Her children are believed to be:
  • Almeta "Cooney" b. Sept. 1838; 
  • Cuff b. 29 Oct. 1840; 
  • Elouise, b. 10 Dec. 1842; and 
  • Emma. 
One branch of the family believes that Cooney was not Caroline's biological child. Their story is that she was Calhoun's illegitimate daughter by a French woman and he had Caroline raise her. I contend that no slave-holding man would list his all-white, illegitimate child in a slave ledger. This could be resolved if we locate a direct-line female descendant of Cooney's who takes a mtDNA test. 

Our story of Edmond had a kernel of truth. Edmond's first wife was Ellouise Walker, so she is probably Calhoun's daughter along with Cooney. 

If a direct-line male descendant of Cuff Walker took a y-DNA test, we would be able to compare the results to known Calhoun results. However, there hasn't been a strong oral tradition linking Cuff as the biological child of James Edward.

Orser's interpretation of the relationship is correct, but he was not privy to the family stories and known genealogy. Calhoun was fathering Caroline's children while visiting Edgefield where Maria Simkins lived. Caroline Walker's 1870 household included three grandchildren: John, Letty, and "Kitty," whose given name is Sarah Elizabeth. These are Cooney's children. In relation to DNA studies, if their descendants test, they should look for autosomal links to collateral line relatives of Bill Fleming, a Euro-American purported to be their father. 

Caroline Walker's 1900 household includes her daughter, Emma (mother of Anna, Carrie, and Thomas), Carrie, and Carrie's children: Henry, Margie, Edward, and Leo. Letty and Carrie are two different people. In fact, given names in this family are passed down so often that it is difficult to place children with their correct parents.

So, we arrive at understanding that Calhoun deeded Caroline Walker and her descendants land because he had fathered some of her children. As to Hiram Edward Kieser, he was included in the will because he was the father of Carrie's children Henry, Marjorie, Hiram Edward, and William Leo. Another problem with completing our understanding of these lines is that some have crossed over the color line. Before joining the ancestors, Cousin Arlene explained that the lawyer had located some descendants who denied their connection, which meant that they forfeited their inheritance when the land was sold.

Penultimate, I research my Walker ancestors to honor them. Biologically, I am not a Walker, but like so many African American men during and after enslavement, Charley Henry Walker, son of Cuff, and grandson of Caroline, raised my father Samuel Simpkins Walker as his own son. This is the sign of a true man, to be honored and remembered.

Finally, I present the images of James Edward Calhoun's ledger. It is critically important that these copies be available to all who search for ancestors who might have been enslaved on Millwood Plantation near what is now Calhoun Falls, Abbeville County, South Carolina. I hope that together we are able to reclaim them all and place them into their genealogies. Toward the last few pages will be the "Edgefield Gang" where I located my Simpkins and Walker ancestors. I will upload my transcription later. It is available at http://sankofagen.pbworks.com/w/page/14230688/Millwood%20Plantation












With Calhoun listing "Edgefield Gang with their estimated ages in April 1839," this pointed me to look at wills for his wife's family. Maria Simkins married James Edward Calhoun in February 1839. Her ancestors died frequently in the period from 1826 - 1839, so it was possible to follow where some of my Simpkins and Walker ancestors were. 

My Simpkins ancestors are listed in the family group headed by Maria with children:  Paul, Mitchell, Emmeline, William, George, Edmond, and Susan?


My Walker ancestors are also listed in family groups. Anarchy may be Caroline's sister since she named children Amy and Letty. Caroline had a sister Anika and their mother's name was Letty. Great-great grandmother Caroline is listed with children Cooney and Cuff. Crossed out names could indicate that people had died.


Selected References: 

Calhoun, James Edward. 1835-1847. Slave Ledger.

Kane, Sharon and Richard Keeton. 1994. Beneath These Waters: Archaeological and Historical Studies of 11,500 Years Along the Savannah River. Currently found online at  http://archive.org/stream/beneaththesewate00ka02/beneaththesewate00ka02_djvu.txt


Orser, Charles E. 1988. The Material Basis of the Postbellum Tenant Plantation: Historical Archaeology in the South Carolina Piedmont.

Walker, Sonia L. 1996. Abbeville County, South Carolina: A Compilation of Data from the 1860 Slave Schedule and a List of Free African Americans on the 1860 Census.

11 comments:

  1. Today I read an article that started out "I'm not a racist but I do have race issues." This is where I am. Where many of us are. Especially if you labor over these historic documents and connect to your Ancestor's voice. We want their story complete and the absence of "their side" is maddening. I'm proud of you Sonia because we have every right to be angry BUT we have no right to deny our Ancestors any measure of freedom they can be afforded. We have no right to be careless with our life and research efforts. We rebuild for our Ancestors but we preserve for our future. We can be angry but we still have to do what our Ancestors mastered the art of doing -- pressing forward. Who knows what this story of a story will look like in the years to come? You've provided a mighty fine blueprint.

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    1. Luckie - The author of that article nailed it for me, too. Thanks for your continued encouragement!

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  2. Here's a comment from another FB Group. This is one reason why I will continue to have race issues for as long as I live: "the comment at the end is interesting... "a right to be angry"? angry at who? angry at what? As a white person, my ancestors during this time are not listed anywhere... no birthdates, not even names in many cases. I have too many "unknown daughter"s and "unknown father"s and "unknown mother"s to be comfortable. who do I have to be angry with? and what right do I have? this was over 170 years ago. Everyone who anyone has a right to be angry with is long dead. jus sayin..."

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    1. Denial [for some... okay most] is an easier salve to live with than facing the horrific truth -- the U.S. Chattel System was an evil unlike ANYTHING we can imagine. There was a lot of karma paid to nurture that evil Sonia. Sadly, it has to produce its fruit too. This is also the reason why AAGSAR had to be a closed group. We understand the horror. We understand the struggle. Not relishing it in -- just understanding it.

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  3. I would be concerned about important papers mildewing in an old freezer. I hope you will/have checked this out before you put the papers in there.

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  4. I certainly will check! Thanks, Kristin!

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  5. Sonia: I'm very interested in your research. My Walker ancestors are Daniel (?), Harriet, Richard (?), Jim/James b.1852 in Bexar & Wilson County,TX vicinity - 1870 census. I've begun a search for William D. Mayes (1800-1873) b. TN as possible slaveowner. I've only been able to connect directly with Jim Walker, my gr grandfather. Any of these collateral names: Cotton, Mayes, Douglass, Hunt? Also, there are servants in Mayes household named Anna Simpson(b. LA) and Edward Simpson(b.TN) in 1870.

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  6. Hi Jamie,
    Thanks for taking the time to write. For your Walkers, have any of them reported on the censuses that parents who were born in SC? None of the collateral lines ring bells either. I'll let you know if I see any of the other names.

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  7. Sonia..I am sure your research will be valuable to me in the future...I have several 23andMe DNA cousins with Walker surname in their tree from South Carolina. I have not yet found any of my ancestors from South Carolina as of yet.
    Stephani Juleeana Miller

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  8. Very impressive work. You have done a great job telling your ancestors story.

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  9. @Jamie, please contact me
    I am related to a Mayes and many Cottons of Limestone County, Texas.
    omoaberifa@yahoo.com

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