Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Freedmen and Information Wanted Ads

Reconstruction was a time of worlds turned upside down. For all white Southerners it meant the death of a way of life they had always known. For that part of the population that had owned slaves, they could no longer rely on the unpaid labor of others. For former slaves it was a time to test what freedom meant. It was a real chance to leave their old homes, and they no longer had to seek out permission from their masters to do so.

Freed people who had been separated over the years of slavery longed to know what had happened to husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and other relatives. Some chose to walk the roads in search of those long lost. Others felt the best way to locate estranged family members was to place advertisements in newspapers.

Black newspapers, North and South, were turned into vital tools to reunite families. Papers such as the Colored Tennessean (published in Nashville, Tennessee for two years starting in early 1865) ran small classified advertisements seeking any available information on relatives that had been separated by slavery and the war. The Colored Tennessean was a rarity in this age; a black newspaper in the South, but its readership spread over several states, and it employed agents to sell these ads. It is impossible to know how may family members were reunited due to the ads placed in newspapers during Reconstruction, but regardless of their success rate, they make for interesting and educational reading.

The following are a small sampling of ads that ran in the Colored Tennessean from 1865 to 1866:

SAMUEL DOVE of Utica, NY - Looking for ARENO, his mother, his sisters, MARIA, NEZIAH and PEGGY and his brother, EDMOND DOVE. Their former owner was GEORGE DOVE of Rockingham County, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. His mother and sisters were sold in Richmond, Virginia and he and his brother were taken to Nashville.

HENRY HILL of Nashville, TN - Looking for my wife, LUCY BLAIR, of Jonesboro (Washington County) Tennessee. Five years ago she was last living with WILLIAM BLAIR. I was raised by JOHN BLAIR.

HANNAH BARNETT of Nashville, TN - Looking for MARTHA JAMES, my daughter, last heard from in Montgomery, Alabama, but supposedly gone to Mobile, Alabama. She formerly belonged to DR. BARNETT of Princeton, Kentucky and was sold to John James of Nashville, Tennessee about 9 years ago.

SAMUEL WILLIAMS of Nashville, TN - Looking for SYLVIA WILLIAMS, my mother, formerly belonged to JAMES MAXWELL of Augusta, Georgia. Before him, she was owned by DR. DeGARR. I formerly belonged to JAMES MAXWELL. My father is HENRY WILLIAMS, now in Liberia.

ELIZA ANN RATLIFF of Williamson County, TN - Looking for GEORGE (18), WILLIAM AND BEARTY LEWIS (13), my sons, born in Culpeper County, Virginia. MRS. NOTTINGHAM took them to Eastern Shore, Virginia in 1858. In 1860, they were taken to Petersburgh, Virginia. In 1855, I came to Tennessee with MRS. HEMPS.

SUSAN HOWARD of Chattanooga, TN - Looking for WILLIAM HOWARD, my son, who formerly lived in Kingston, Georgia. Last heard from in Chattanooga. He is age 19 year old with a yellow complexion.

RICHARD GRAY of Macon, MS - Also looking for POLLY NOEL, who lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi up to the time the law was passed prohibiting blacks from living there. She moved to Nashville and no one has seen her since.

JOHN MELTON of Huntsville, AL - Looking for DICK RICHARDSON, my father, who formerly belonged to MASON ANDERSON of Pontotoc County, Mississippi, my brother EDWARD and my sisters, LUCY AND POLLY, who all belonged to the same man. My uncle, JOHN ANDERSON and his wife, FANNY ANDERSON.

I can only imagine the hope that these people must have felt as they placed these ads. Not knowing if they would ever see their relatives again, or not knowing if they had already passed away must have been a painful burden. Those that were reunited surely rejoiced at their fortune, and those that weren't successful must have been even more bitter about their past enslavement.

These rare ads survive to give historians and genealogists a small idea of what the freed peoples' existence was like. Few other relics of Reconstruction tell the tale so well.

1 comment:

  1. This is so painfully moving! How can one find the rest of the ads?