Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blacks, Enslaved and Free in the Choctaw Nation Before Removal


Pages Reflecting Choctaw Before Removal
Treaty of 1830 Document  CTN 1  



Recently, news from Oklahoma was released that Ancestry has recently added over 3 million images of Indian Records. This has emerged from a partnership with the Oklahoma Historical Society, and these millions of images are now online for review. So many of these records contain amazing images for review. For those who study the history and lives of those once enslaved in Choctaw communities, there are also amazing records to explore.

Among some interesting records were those that became part of the American State Papers. Some of the pages reflected early census records of Choctaws made in the months before removal to the west began.

CTN 01 Choctaw Citizens and Freedmen
Additional Source Information:  Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Marriage, Citizenship and Census Records, 1841-1927 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.  Original data: Indian Marriage and Other Records, 1850–1920. Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Most of the pages contained names of Choctaw citizens and showed how much land they had owned prior to the removal to the west. Among data collected were names collected at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit in 1830.

CTN 01 Choctaw Citizens and Freedmen
Additional Source Information: Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Marriage, Citizenship and Census Records, 1841-1927 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Indian Marriage and Other Records, 1850–1920. Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Records Before Removal - Surprises Found
In 1830 prior to the first Removal of Choctaws to the west a census was taken in various communities known to be Choctaw villages, towns and settlements. I decided to look at some of them, and became very interested when I recognized the names of people who would later settle in Sugar Loaf, and Skullyville. Names like Folsom, Brashears, and others were among them. What came as a surprise was that there are few pages in the collection that reflected slaves, not by name, but in affiliation with their Choctaw slave holders. It should be noted that this is one of the earliest documents reflecting slaves held by Choctaw Indians.

I expected to only see the names of Choctaws who owned farms as the document says. And for some reason I did not expect any reflection of slaves. But surprisingly when one of the listed Choctaw citizens had owned slaves it was indicated on the document.

The names of the enslaved were not listed, but the numbers of slaves held by the slave holder were reflected.

Source: Same as above.

There was even a summary page indicating the number in the population enumerated, including the number of slaves.

(Source: Same as above)

I continued to browse through the collection and looked at the old Moshulatubbe District, in Mississippi.

Source: Same as above. Image 613 of 764


I was surprised to find that some Choctaws had several dozen slaves and they were counted in this same record set.

Though there were no names of the enslaved, the number of persons enslaved were recorded. Among the large slave holders were members of the Pitchlynns who were prominent Choctaws. (Peter Pitchlynn later became principal chief of the Choctaw Nation.)


Source: Same as above.  Image 617 of 764

Many were listed with a small number of slaves, some with as few as 1 slave.

Source: Same as above

Some Familiar Surnames
One page caught my attention because it contained families with surnames of people who later relocated to Indian Territory. Brashears, and Moncrief were among those names. And these were persons who later had slaves that would later live in what is now eastern LeFlore County, Oklahoma, around Ft. Coffee and Spiro. (Descendants of the Moncrief slaves now live in the same LeFlore County community today as part of the large Eubanks families.)

Names underlined later moved to Indian Territory. Descendants of their slaves now live in LeFlore County, today.
Source: Same as above.  Image 628 of 764


One record was interesting as it reflected an interracial marriage.
Source - same as above.   Image 628 out of 764


Family of Sally Tom, An African-Choctaw Blended Family

Image 629 reflected the family of Sally Tom and her family. Sally Tom was a free woman of color, a Black woman who lived within this Choctaw community. Her daughter had married a white man Thomas Ware. Joshua O'Rare had married another one of Sally Tom's daughters. Jim Tom was part of the same clan and was said to be a "half breed Negro" who had an Indian wife. Meanwhile, Jim Blue lived with the same family clan and he too was described as a "Negro man" with "an Indian wife."

Family of Sally Tom Source same as above. Image #629 of 764



The Perry Clan in Mississippi

Among the surnames connected to my Choctaw Freedmen ancestors, are the names Perry, Davis and Frazier. My gr. grandmother Sallie, her mother Amanda and Amanda's mother Kitty were slaves of the Perry's. It is believed that Kitty emigrated with the Perry's to Indian Territory in the early 1830s. They are said to have lived in the Yalobusha area before removal. As a result one image truly interested me, which was a clan of Perrys living in "Yellow Busha" at the time of removal. Several who lived within this family group were Perry's and there were also some Fraziers. Could this be the same family of Perry's connected to my family? And interestingly there was a James Davis. My great grandfather was a slave of a Choctaw man called Jim Davis, and I could not help but wonder if this was the same Jim Davis who would later become my great grandfather's slave holder.

 I don't have enough evidence to determine any of this, however, I was excited to find Perry's and Fraziers and Davises living in Mississippi together. And with all of those specific surnames there were enslaved people living with them as well.

Source: Same as above. Image 646 of 764


Bean Family - a Free Black Family

Daniel Littlefield wrote an in depth paper in 1976 about the saga of the Bean family. This was a family of free Blacks who lived in the Choctaw Nation. When the head of the house who was white passed away, his free mulatto wife and children whom he had declared free before his death, were persecuted by the children from Bean's first wife. The children of the first wife who was a Choctaw woman, put out a warrant to have Nelly and her children captured as slaves and sold on the auction block. Their saga to evade capture and live freely lasted for more than 2 decades

What a surprise to see Nelly and listed in this early Choctaw census. The notation clearly points out that they were free, and that all of the children were born in the Nation.

Source: same as above  Image 657 of 764


The Importance of These Records
Having access to these little known records from the Choctaw Nation have provided a rare glimpse into some of the Choctaw citizens and slaves prior to removal which began in the winter of 1830-31. This rare glimpse does let the researcher know about the presence of slaves as well as free people of color living among Choctaws in Mississippi. Hopefully others will study these pages and use them as a spring board to find out more of the story of African descended people living among Choctaw people and places.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forgotten Records From The Freedmen School of the Brazil Community, Choctaw Nation


Many years ago, at one of the Family History Centers, I decided to see what records from the local community in Eastern Oklahoma I could find. I did find a reel of microfilm that reflected some of the "Colored Neighborhood Schools" in the Choctaw Nation. I saw a community close to my hometown of Ft. Smith Arkansas, and was delighted to find a school record from Ft. Coffee Neighborhood Freedmen School and was thrilled to find my grandfather's name on the school roster.

Well, a few years ago, while on a trip to Salt Lake City I decided to explore the records again, but more in depth. I found the same records and, in fact wrote an article about the schools. In that article I shared the names of children from Skullyville county in Cedar Groves, Clarksville, Dog Creek, Ft. Coffee and Oppussum Creek.

Since that time, I have gone back to Salt Lake City and was able to capture even more information about the Freedmen schools. It became clear that the Freedmen were quite anxious to have their children educated, and so many settlements and hamlets had schools, and the children were quickly enrolled when the opportunity was presented to them.

This piece reflects the documents and records of enrollment of Freedmen children from the Brazil community, which eventually became part of LeFlore County in eastern Oklahoma. These are also among the earliest records reflecting education for children in pre-statehood Oklahoma. These documents reflect sporadic years between 1888-1898.



Among the records were three receipts reflecting payments made by Jimmie Eubanks and Lizzie Scott for "services rendered" on behalf of the Freedman School.

This roster reflects the children enrolled in February of that year.






May  Roster


In later years, in the 1890s Nettie Quick was the teacher who submitted monthly reports.




By October 1895 the school reports contained more detail such as daily attendance of the children indicated by the small marks reflecting the daily schedule.



By 1898 some of the students were still enrolled and new families had settled. The teacher was now R. P. Berry. Enrollment was down slightly, but it is noted that some months enrollment was higher in the same community.


The community of Brazil is now long gone and nothing remains of the old school house, either. A map from 1905 reflects this part of the old Choctaw Nation, and most of the old settlements of Freedmen allotted lands have changed hands.

 Nothing on the current landscape points out the tiny settlement of families that once resided there, and who struggled so hard so that their children could get an education. Thankfully a few school records did survive to provide evidence of this tiny community as they made their way on the western frontier, in Indian Territory and within a few year, the state of Oklahoma.

Some of the descendants of the Brazil community moved into Ft. Coffee, Spiro, Poteau, Pocola, and nearby Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Choctaw Freedmen: Dunford Family Legacy from the Choctaw Nation Back to Africa

Zach Dunford, Enrollment Card
NARA Publication M1186 Choctaw Freedmen 909

Zach Dunford lived in Jackson County in the southern part of the Choctaw Nation. He was the son of Dock Dunford and both had at one time been enslaved by the wealthy Robert Jones.


Choctaw Nation Map

This is an interesting family case for two reasons. The Dunfords had been enslaved by Robert Jones, who was one of the largest slave holders in the Choctaw Nation, and possibly the wealthiest slave holder in Indian Territory. At one time, Jones was said to have held over 200 people enslaved. (1)


In 1899 Zach appeared in front of the Dawes Commission to apply for enrollment for himself, his daughters and grandchildren. His wife Catherine was deceased at the time of his application.

Close up view of larger enrollment card


The Dunfords lived in Jackson County and the township of Jackson as well. The enrollment card for the family is a good example of how data can lead to more information about the family. It is noted that Zach Dunford's wife and the mother of the children is not listed on the card, however, the reverse side of the card points out that she was deceased. But interestingly, it appears that Zach Dunford's parents were still living. This is known because the usual notation of "Dd" meaning "deceased" does not appear on the card, suggesting that his parents may have still been living.

Reverse side of Choctaw Freedman Enrollment Card 909

On the front of the card, addition information is provided which leads the attentive researcher to even more data about the family and it clearly points to additional documents.

(Notes on card point out that the grandchildren were enrolled later. Also there is a reference to a marriage record that was submitted to the Dawes Commission.)

I decided to examine the Application Jacket that corresponds to this family file to see if I could find information regarding the Zach Dunford's marriage, since his wife was now deceased. What was contained in the file was a hand written document that revealed the sworn testimony of Zach's mother Charity Dunford who was at that time in her 80s.  And within that statement she spoke to the marriage of Zach to his wife Catherine and she stated that she was a witness to the marriage.

Statement of Charity Dunford, mother of Zach Dunford
National Archives Publication M1301 Choctaw Freedman file 909

Unexpected Surprises

While reading Charity Dunford's statements, two things stood out in my mind. First of all here was an 80 year old woman giving testimony for her son. This 80 year old woman was one of the oldest living Choctaw Freedmen to have been interviewed by the Dawes Commission. Being approximately 80 years old, this meant that she was born approximately in the 1820s and was living several years before the Removal of Choctaws to the West. Was she born in Mississippi, or had she been brought to Mississippi, and then later purchase by Choctaws and taken west?

The second surprise which was caught me by surprise was reading the statement where Charity Dunford describes her son's marriage to wife Catherine. The marriage was performed by Sam Walters. That was my great grandfather, Samuel Walters. The family surname eventually evolved into Walton, but while he was a traveling preacher and active Minister of the Gospel, he used the name Walters.

Marriage Performed by Sam Walters, (my gr. grandfather)


Jack Dunford's Siblings

Enclosed in the same file was a statement by Eliza Garrett. She identified herself as Zach Dunford's sister, and she too witnessed their marriage performed by Sam Walters.



In many cases, one document leads to another, and with these two statements are the possibilities that were files on Eliza Garrett and her family, and a file for the mother Charity.

Since Charity was still living at the time of the Dawes process, the next question was could Charity Dunford's enrollment file be found? Considering her age at the time this would truly open doors for the Dunford family research.

I decided to check the database and was quite pleased to discover that both of Zach's parents were indeed Dawes enrollees, and they were listed on Choctaw Freedman card, 814.

Zack Dunford's parents Dock and Charity were enrolled on Choc. Fr. card 814


The Oldest Freedman Enrollee?

Upon closer examination it is amazing to see that Dock Dunford was said to have been over 100 years old. 

When they applied it was 1899 and he lived to be placed on the final roll, thus making him possibly the oldest former slave to have survived through the Dawes process!

It is clearly understood that ages are often a mere estimate especially when one is researching people once enslaved, so even with a margin or error of 5 or more years, clearly Dock Dunford was extremely old at the time.

I decided to see if he could be found on the Federal census, since there was a Federal census conducted in the Choctaw Nation in 1900.

From Africa to Indian Territory

Sure enough, in the 1900 census Dock Dunford, and Charity, parents to Zack and Eliza, were enumerated in 1900. Their birthplace was said to have been in the Carolinas--Dock, in South Carolina, and Charity in North Carolina. But what a surprise to also see that Dock's mother was said to have been born in Africa!

Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Township 7, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory; Roll: 1852; Enumeration District: 0116; FHL microfilm: 1241852.

This is the first time I have found a person enumerated in Indian Territory with an African born parent. His mother's birthplace was listed as Africa. In the case of Dock Dunford, he was truly one generation away from Africa.

The back side of his enrollment card revealed the name of his mother, Mollie Patterson. 
Reverse side of Choctaw Freedman Card 814

So many things come to mind while looking at her name on the card. If she was born in Africa, then it is clear that her name was not Mollie---and that she would have had an African name when she arrived in this land. But the cruelties of slavery stripped her birth name, and she had to die in a foreign land with a name of Mollie, and the name of the person who claimed her as his property, Joshua Patterson. 

One can only imagine the heartache in her own life, as a survivor of the Middle Passage, and the loss of everything familiar to her. Mollie is known to be a nickname for Mary, and for this dear African woman I can only pray that her entire life was not pain filled. A simple prayer for her, comes to mind, "Oh Mary, don't you weep".

But finding an African ancestor of this Dunford family line warms my hear if not for this one reason: At least the memory of Mollie was retained when the 100+ year old Dock could call her name, and state the land of her birth, somewhere on the African continent.  

There is so much more to the legacy of the Dunford family. It is a one with strong roots and a strong legacy. Hopefully the Dunford family and Garretts, Harris and others connected to this southern Oklahoma line, are still celebrating their rich Oklahoma History where they lived to see freedom, their rich Choctaw Nation legacy where for several decades of their family history was tied, their passage through South Carolina, and their strong African legacy as well. 

The sons and daughters of this Oklahoma family have a worthy story to tell, and it is one that if pursued even further, will lead to fascinating places in their family history.


* * * * * * * * * * *
1.  Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society Link: SOURCE

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Choctaw Freedman Genealogy: The Case of David Gardner

National Archives Publication #M1186
Choctaw Freedman #843, David Gardner, Bokchito, Choctaw I.T. 

 Rich family data can be found in the Gardner family of Bokchito, Indian Territory. The large clan of Gardners lived there among other Choctaw Freedmen in the town of Bokchito, in Indian Territory. The patriarch of this large clan was 56 years old at the time he appeared at the Dawes Commission to enroll himself and his family including his wife, seven children and four grandchildren.

David Gardner's mother Silva had been enslaved by Choctaw Sally Gardner, and his father who was Jim Harris was enslaved by Green Harris. It is not known why he did not carry the surname of his father, and used that of his mother's most of his life. It appears that Wm. Gardner, listed as the slave holders was possibly not a Choctaw citizens, but his wife Sally was the Choctaw citizen. And the same Sally Gardner was noted as the slave holder of record for David's mother Silva.


National Archives Publication #M1186   Choctaw Freedman # 843
The reverse side of the Enrollment Card for David Gardner, reflects the name of the parents of each applicant, whose names appears  on the front side of the Dawes Enrollment  card, including the young children.


Because there are so many notations on the card, the information pertaining to the grandchildren appear on the front side, including their dates of birth. But they are on opposite ends of the card so that critical information is not immediately visible to the eye. The overlay and the arrow illustrate this data pertaining to the grandchildren.

Enrollment Card highlighting data on grandchildren


Following up on the Application jacket (NARA Publication #M1301) the corresponding file for David Gardner contains no interview. The memos generally pertain to the enrollment of the grandchildren and how they were considered eligible for enrollment. The focus seemed to be placed on the children of Abner and his wife Clara and whether or not their children were eligible for enrollment or not.



Additional notations on the card suggest that there are additional records to explore. One such statement refers to a card where the children of Abner were being considered for enrollment. 

This notation from the front of David Gardner's card, makes a reference to Choctaw Freedman Card #D82.


The enrollment card initially put on D82 (meaning Doubtful Card #82) also had data on the same family. The information on this card can lead the researcher directly to the mother Clara's enrollment card with her family. The card was created before her marriage to Abner Gardner.

National Archives Publication #M1186 Choctaw Freedmen D82

Reverse side of same card above.


That particular file (Choctaw Freedmen D82) does contain additional information about the family. Included in that file was some very interesting history pertaining to Clara, Abner's wife and her own family's status as having been enslaved by Choctaw Indians.

National Archives Publication M1301 Application Jackets, Choctaw Freedmen D82

Page 2 of interview from same file.


Page 3 from same file.

There is much more to the family history and it is known that in many cases one file leads to another, and one document can always point to more. Within one family the wife's family is also a part of that history, and often by following the clues left in the primary file, one can open the doors to much data.

This is the case in the family of David Gardner of Bokchito, a family of Choctaw Freedmen.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Choctaw Family Research - The Case of Hepsy Williams


National Archives Publication Number M1186
Choctaw Freedman Card #56

While researching Dawes Commission records, I was looking at random cards and was appreciating how much data can be gleaned from one card. The case of Hepsey Williams was a good example.

Hepsey Williams appeared in front of the Dawes Commission on September 16, 1898. At the time she and her family lived in Chickasaw country as many Choctaws did, and they resided in the community of Hennepin. Today that area is a small community in southern Garvin County Oklahoma.

On her card it is also noted that she was born enslaved and was once enslaved by Sam Colbert. On the reverse side one learns the names of Hepsy's parents--Voyage and Edie James. Her parents had different slave holders. Molsey Colbert was Voyage James' slave holder and Sam Colbert had enslaved her mother Edie. And information about the father of Hepsy's children also appears on the same side of the card.

Reverse side of enrollment card for Hepsy Williams
(Choctaw Freedman Card #56)

Notice that Hepsy's father Voyage James was deceased at the time Hepsy appeared in front of the commission, however, her mother Edie was still alive. So a card can be found with Edie's name upon it.

National Archives Publication #1186
Edie James Choctaw Freedman Card #51

Edie was an elderly lady of 70 who appeared for herself and a small grandson, Rennie Oliver. She had been a slave of Choctaw Sam Colbert. Hepsy did not mention her father, but noted that her mother's name was Dilsey. Most likely her mother Dilsey was born in Mississippi, before removal. This is one of the cases in which the names of slaves of Choctaws (and other tribes) who were enslaved before removal appear.

The community is usually noted on the front of the card in the upper left hand corner of the Dawes Enrollment Cards, and Hepsy's card was no exception. Their residence in the Chickasaw Nation was indicated, and their closest post office was the town of Hennepin.



 She is married to John Williams who is not a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. She was applying only for herself and her children.

Names found upon enrollment card of Hepsy Williams, Choctaw Freedwoman.

On her Dawes Card, some extremely useful data appears at the bottom of the card. These notes are usually additional information added after the applicant's first appearance in 1898, but still before the rolls closed. One can also tell because each time additional information was provided, there was a difference in the penmanship. In addition, the data pertained to two of Hepsy's children, her son Joe and her daughter Gertie.

Notation at bottom of enrollment card for Hepsy Williams

The first notation pertains to a child that Joe had after he had married. That child was enrolled as a Chickasaw Freedmen and is on Chickasaw Freedman card number 159. The second note was that of a child later born to Gertie after her marriage, and that data could be found on Choctaw Freedman card number 149.

National Archives Publication Number M1186
Chickasaw Freedman Card #159

On this first card it it noted that the child's name was Mabelle Farris, and the parents were Joe Farris, (Hepsy's son) and Annie Farris who was by that time, which was 1906, Joe's wife. 

It also cannot go unnoticed that the child was being enrolled as a Chickasaw Freedman and not Choctaw. That is because the Annie the mother was herself a Chickasaw Freedman. Also it can be seen that at first the application was denied and the card was stamped "Refused" but two months later it was approved and Mabelle was eventually added to the rolls as a Minor Chickasaw Freedman.

The second critical notation was that Gertie had married after that initial application in 1898, and she was now the wife of Thomas Nolan. She had a child who was later enrolled as a Choctaw Freedman on the Freedman New Born cards. 

National Archives Publication #M1186
Choctaw Freedman New Born #145

 It is immediately noticed that the children as well as Gertie herself carried the last name Knowles and not Nolan as indicated on the enrollment card for Hepsy and her children. But the name Nolan is cross referenced on the card and there is no indication that there were two different people.

Interestingly there was no interview under oath in the file, however, a marriage certificate reflecting Gertie's marriage was filed in the record. And clearly her marriage was to Thomas Nolan. 

National Archives Publication #M1301, Choctaw Freedman 56
Marriage Certificate of Gertie Ferris to Thomas Nolan


More information can be obtained by opening the files of the grandchildren of Hepsy Williams, and will be reflected in a follow up piece, but clearly when researching Choctaw Freedmen, there are many notes and notations that will appear in the records that will point the researcher to richer information about the family's history.

And thankfully neither Hepsy, nor her parents Voyage and Edie James, nor her children and grandchildren will be forgotten for theirs is a rich history and legacy.