Virginia Memory: Cohabitation Registers–Follow Friday

The Library of Virginia’s digital holdings include a section entitled Virginia Memory: What’s New, collections that are recently acquired or collections that are in the process of being expanded.


Today my attention was caught by the Cohabitation Registers, more properly known as Register of Colored Persons…cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866. These documents were the legal record of slave marriages and children, and included names of the man, his wife, his last owner, place of birth and names of children.  There are not records for all counties but the collection’s explanation suggests that new additions are to be expected in the near future.


My ancestors include well-to-do farmers in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  James H. Dodson (1815-1884) was  a middling planter; in other words, he owned enough slaves to not work along side them in the field but not so many as to be considered upper-crust in his society.  In the gathering shadows that my research summons are the shapes of people, folks he owned,  black pioneers who helped him plant and harvest the foods he placed on his family’s table and the tobacco he sold in his community’s auction.  I have uncovered little information about the women of James H. Dodson’s life, and even less about the slaves that worked his land.


Both our federal and state governments found the gathering of census information to be useful quite early in our nation’s history, and the reams of resultant data provide valuable glimpses into the past.  One such census was begun in 1853 by the Commonwealth of Virginia; its purpose was to conduct an annual registration of births and deaths.  The Slave Birth Index was transcribed for the years 1853-1865 by the Works Project Administration and recorded on  microfilm in the 1930s.  To make this information more accessible to genealogists and family historians, the volunteers and staff of the Alexandria Library transcribed the microfilm in the 2000s, making it available in a multi-volume print record.  It is from this source that some of my family’s shadows get names.

From the second volume I transcribe here the slave births of Oakview Plantation, home of the James H. Dodson family, Mecklenburg County, Virginia:

Baby                             Mother’s Name                    Date of Birth

female                            Ann                                             May 1857

female                             Fanny                                        February 1855

male                                Jane                                           April 1857

Catherine                      Jane                                             January 1857

Eliza                               Joana                                           December 1855

George                         Ann                                               September 1854

George                          Ann                                              December 1855

Charlotte                       ——-                                        July 15, 18xx

female                         ———                                       April 15,  1853

Catherine                   Jane                                             June 1856

Clarasey                     Hannah                                        August 1860

Cornelius                   Fanny                                           July 9, 1860

George                      Joanna                                           May 7, 1860

Lucy                         Joanna                                           December 1861

Martha                      Fanny                                           December 1858

S. B.                          Jane                                               November 1858


Morales, Leslie Anderson., Ada Valaitis, and Beverly Pierce. Virginia Slave Births Index, 1853-1865, Volume 2, D-G. Westminster, MD: Heritage, 2007. Print.

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy, #44: Giving Back The Past

I have written a few posts (see here, here and here) about my coming of age in the Civil Rights South and my coming to terms with the unspoken piece of the Civil War South–slavery.  A few weeks back Thomas MacEntee of  Destination: Austin Family detailed a volunteer project in his September 29 post.   I clicked once, twice, three times and was signed up to participate in the Restore the Ancestors project.

The South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Family Search and Lowcountry Africana have collaborated with, the on-line archive, to digitize estate inventory records of Colonial and Charleston South Carolina from 1732 to 1872, making them available to online researchers–free of charge.  Volunteers are needed to make this collection of records searchable.  By indexing the names, dates and places found in these inventories and bills of sale, up to 30,000 slave names can be rediscovered!!

Within a day of my cursor taps I received my welcome-to-the-project email, complete with assignment and outstanding instructions for standardized indexing. The documents are fascinating windows into the world of shop keepers, blacksmiths, gravestone cutters, planters, and preachers.  The Footnote viewer is easy to use and the annotation procedure easy to master.  I found this volunteering mentally easy; but I must admit that each time I was confronted by the word chattel or a line of names followed by a dollar sign, I felt a prickle in my eyes, a lump in my throat.  Confronting this legacy of our nation’s slave culture is painful.

I can not give back freedom and opportunity to my ancestors’ enslaved people.  But, annotation by annotation, I can give these South Carolina names back to their descendants.

The “Lot” of Them: Part Two

AS the country’s enumerators set out to collect data for the young nation’s seventh federal census,  Congress was once again battling to find a compromise that would settle the slavery agitation once and for all–AND preserve the Union.  By the fall of 1850, California had been admitted as a free state, Texas had its boundaries redrawn to accommodate the eventual states of Arizona and New Mexico, a severe Fugitive Slave Act had been imposed nationwide, and the District of Columbia’s slave trade (not slavery) had been banned.  This was life after the Compromise of 1850, an earnest attempt to save the Union from disintegration.

William, Anderson and siblings were living in a world in which six of the first ten presidents were slave holders, and the eleventh, President Polk (1845-1849), made slave transactions from the White House. Abolitionists were a small but increasingly vocal fraction of the northern population.  Pro-slavery advocates, like John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, constructed arguments to guarantee slave holders’ rights citing the Fifth Amendment’s protection of private property. The culture of Franklin and Wake Counties, North Carolina, then,  would most certainly have condoned and encouraged the mindset that led the Strickland children to treat Leah’s “lot of slaves” as real  estate, property to be guarded, valued and settled.

As the political storm swirled,  Leah’s health deteriorated.  Sometime between 1 June 1850 and February 1851, Leah Jeffreys Strickland died.

BY 1851 Jasper of Wake County, North Carolina, Anderson of Franklin County, North Carolina and Nick of Fayette County, Tennessee had already sold their right title to the slaves to brother William.  John Hilliard of Franklin County, North Carolina had apparently sold his claim to Isham Young, John W. Perry, and Turner Young.  Therefore, on 2 May 1851 the group gathered to make the partition of Leah’s “lot” included: William G. Strickland, Joseph Hopkins and wife Julia, John Hopkins, administrator for wife Elizabeth, deceased, Jefferson Richards, administrator for seriously ill wife Ellen, Thomas Perry for wife Jane, Simon K. Strickland, Arabella Strickland and Isham Young, John W. Perry and Turner Young.

The value of the twenty-two slaves was listed as $10,824.  There being eleven children of Leah Jeffreys Strickland there were eleven lots assigned to the group.  Each lot was valued at $984, and “…therefore charge the more valuable dividends with such sums of money respectively to be paid to those of inferior value respectively, as will make an equitable division.”  The freeholders assigned to devised this distribution, Alpheus Jones, Noel Night, John M. Fleming, William H. Hood and HW Montague, listed the following:

Lot No. 1 Dennis and Hannah allotted to W.G. Strickland and valued at $850

Lot No.2  Richard and Candis allotted to Isham Young, John W. Perry and Fenner Young and valued at $925.

Lot No. 3 Fenner and Elizabeth allotted to W.G. Strickland valued at $1075

Lot No. 4 Riddick and Patience allotted to Arabella Strickland valued at $1000

Lot No. 5 Mariah and Andrew allotted to W.G. Strickland valued at $950

Lot No. 6 Mary and John K. Polk allotted to Jefferson Richards, Admr. Valued at $975

Lot No. 7 Carolina and John Peter allotted to Simon K. Strickland valued at $975

Lot No. 8 Sarah age 20 and Sarah age 12 allotted to W.G. Strickland valued at $1025

Lot No. 9 Martha and Alfred allotted to John Hopkins Admr valued at $875

Lot No. 10 Buck and Matilda allotted to Joseph Hopkins and wife valued at $1000

Lot No. 11 Giles and Ann allotted to Thomas Perry valued at $1174

17 March 1852 William G. Strickland purchased Richard and Candis, the negroes drawn by Isham Young, John W. Perry and Fenner Young.

Leah’s lot had remained in the Strickland family for 25 years, hired out perhaps, but never sold to the Deep South.  William G. took care to purchase claims to the lot from three brothers, and then to purchase the two slaves who were allotted at Leah’s estate distribution to outsiders.  His family in 1852 then included at least these slaves: Andrew, Hannah, Candis–all named in the first transaction of 1837–Dennis, Richard, Fenner, Elizabeth, Mariah, Sarah (20) and Sarah (12).  At his death in 1864 William’s widow, Sophia Ivey Strickland, listed 24 slaves as property; the Emancipation Proclamation had not changed the lives of these family members.  At least some of these slaves belonged to the “lot”: Sarah, the elder, had five children, Sarah the younger nicknamed Sallie had four children,  and Fenner.

From here the “lot” disappear from my records.  Perhaps they resurface in Freedman’s Bureau records, Federal Census’ or marriage records as Stricklands, living and working in the free soil of Wake County, North Carolina.

The “Lot” of the Them: Part One

In my post “The Cloak of Defeat” I stated my intention to put out the details of all my family’s people, including their slaves, so that somebody somewhere might be able to shout “THEY are mine!” Since slaves were known only by first names in legal documents I am providing dates, locations, and slaveholder surnames with the hope such details are substitute keystone information.  I welcome your ideas and suggestions in the comments.

In 1827 Mary Gray Jeffreys of Wake County, North Carolina, bequeathed a “lot” of slaves to her daughter Leah Strickland, for life, remainder to her children.  The right and title to this “lot” and their increase was given for unknown reasons to Newton Wood, of Wake County, North Carolina, to be effective during the life of Leah Jeffreys Strickland, wife of John Perry Strickland.  At Leah’s death the right and title to these Negroes was to be passed on and divided among her eleven children: William Gray, Elizabeth (Hopkins), Matthew Nick, John Hilliard, Anderson Perry (my great-great-grandfather), Julia (Hopkins), Jasper D., Jane (Perry), Simon K., Arabella (Baker), and Ellen (Richards).

Upon Mr. Wood’s death (between 1827 and 1837), the right and title or claim to this “lot” was left to his children in undivided fourths: Mrs. Richard Barnum, Thomas N. Wood, William W. W. Wood, and Dallas R. Wood.

On 31 October 1837 the eldest of Leah’s children, William G. Strickland, purchased Mr. and Mrs. Richard Barnum’s interest and title to these slaves for $275.  The Barnum’s resided in Wake County, N.C.  At the time of the deed’s writing the “lot” included: Buck, Reddick, Andrew, Hannah and three children, Candace and four children, Patience and three children, and Martha.

On 28 February 1842 William and his younger brother, Matthew N. Strickland, paid three hundred dollars for the remaining interests in these slaves from Thomas N. Wood and William W.W. Wood, then residents of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Dallas R. Wood had died. At the time of these deeds the “lot” included: Buck, Reddick, Andrew, Hannah, Maria, Candace, Giles, Caroline, Patience, Richard, Mary, Ann, Sarah, a child, Matilda, Dennis, Martha, Sarah, a girl of about 14 years of age, and Fenner.

In 1845 Jasper Strickland, the seventh child of Leah and John P. Strickland, became indebted to a William A. Jeffreys of Franklin County, North Carolina, in the amount of $300.  For one dollar Jasper “granted, bargained, sold, assigned, transferred and set over” to Mr. Jeffreys his future share in the “lot.” If he remained unable to pay this debt by 1 January 1846 then William Jeffreys could advertise the impending sale for twenty days and then proceed to sell the “lot” at  public auction to the highest bidder, at the Court House in the city of Raleigh, County of Wake, North Carolina.  At the time of this indenture the “lot” included:  Buck, Reddick, Andrew, Fenner, Dennis, Dick, Giles, Hannah, Candace, Sarah, Martha, Patience, Mariah, Caroline, Mary, Ann, Matilda, Salley, Betsey, John, and Daniel.

On 27 June 1846 big brother William paid Jasper $303.10 in full payment for his future right title and interest in the “lot”.  This payment was evidently meant to provide Jasper with the cash necessary to secure his debt to William A. Jeffreys thereby securing the ownership of the “lot”–Buck, Reddick, Andrew, Fenner, Dennis, Dick, Giles, John, Hannah, Patience, Martha and child Elizabeth, Sarah, Caroline, Sarah, a small girl, Ann, Candace and child John, Mariah, Mary and Matilda–who were in the possession of (Matthew) Nick Strickland and William at this time.

In the fall of 1846  M. Nick Strickland and William G. Strickland had Benjamin Marriott and John Harris determine the value of the slaves, and in December 1846 William bought Nick’s present interest in the “lot” for the sum of $250 and his future claim to the “lot” for $590.90.

Hereby in consideration of the sum of five hundred and ninety Dollars and 90 cents to me in hand paid bargain Sell and deliver unto Wm.G. Strickland one undivided Eleventh part of thereof the negro slaves herein after named it being my own sher (sic) of said slaves as Bequeath (sic) to me by my grandmother Mary Jeffreys Deceased. And I do further hereby in consideration of the sum of two hundred and fifty Dollars Give bargain and Sell and Deliver unto the said Wm. G. Strickland my undivided moity or half of said slaves during the life of our mother Leah Strickland it being our Interest in said slaves which I purchased from Newton Woods children for the life of my said mother to wit one half the said WG Strickland haeving (sic) bought the other half Provided that nothing in this Deed shall Release or aquit the said Wm. G. Strickland form the obligations set forth in said agreement on file in the court of Equity aforesaid (sic) to permit our mother Leah Strickland to have a limited use of the said slaves for her necessary support though upon the terms therein stated to wit the negroes which were bequeath (sic) Mary Jeffreys Deceased unto Leah Strickland for Life and afterwords to her children the Said negroes and present (sic) issue Named as follows Brink (Buck), Reddick, Dennis, Dick, Giles, Condin (Candace) and her child John, Mary, Ann, Sarah jr., Andrew, Sarah, son (last two words marked out), Fenner, Sarah Sr., Hannah, Patience and her child John, Martha and her child Elizabeth, Caroline, Matilde, Maren (?)

The 1847 North Carolina Tax List suggests that the “lot” now all resided with William G. Strickland, on his 436 acre farm in St. Matthews Township, Wake County, North Carolina.

In November 1848  Anderson Perry Strickland joined brothers Jasper and Nick in selling his future claim in the “lot” of Leah’s slaves to brother William.  As the eldest brother had amassed land and slaves during the 1840s, Anderson had set out on his own, establishing a home, a marriage and a family in the neighboring county of Franklin, North Carolina.  By 1848, Anderson’s obligations may have made the prospect of $500 cash more appealing than the prospect of someday inheriting some slaves.


Tate, Carla. Strickland Records and Family Groups.  North Carolina: self-published, 2007.