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.


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

2 comments:

  1. What an amazing discovery. Reading this I cannot help but rejoice that Mary (Mollie) found you. She did, you know, and she once again has voice.

    Toni

    ReplyDelete