Monday, March 18, 2024

Is This the Drennen Slave Girl who Found Her Freedom? I Call Her Amanda!

 Twelve years ago I wrote a story about The Escape of the Drennen Slave Girl. The incident occurred in 1850 in Pittsburgh. There were only a few facts known about the young girl who escaped. She was a 14-year-old girl traveling with John Drennen and his wife through Pennsylvania. In Pittsburg, they stayed at the Monongahela Hotel  during that trip, while the young girl stayed in the servants' quarters of the hotel.

At the hotel a piece of his luggage was damaged and was sent out to be repaired.  He sent the young girl to see about the damaged piece, and he did receive his luggage. However, the enslaved girl was now gone. She did not return.

The girl was about 14 years of age, and Drennen described her as being part Cherokee. This statement stood out to me, because John Drennen at that time was the Indian Agent to the Cherokees, and it was Drennen himself who compiled the 1851 Drennen Roll. Upon the loss of his slaves, there were several articles that appeared in the local press about his lost slave girl. 

Was the girl really part Cherokee?

Did he happen to know this with certainty?

Would his being an Agent to the Cherokees have been a source of information about her? 

When how did she come to  John Drennen's ownership?

Was she sold to him by a Cherokee?

Well I may have found part of the answer today in Austin Texas!

Years ago, the personal papers of John Drennen. These papers were sold to the University of Texas at Austin several years ago. And today I visited the  Briscoe Center for American History in Austin Texas to examine the personal papers of John Drennen of Van Buren  Arkansas. While there, I had the incredible opportunity to examine the personal papers of John Drennen which are part of the Charles G. Scott Collection. Charles G. Scott was the son-in-law to John Drennen.

My interest in the case goes beyond a study of the Drennen slaves. It goes beyond a story of a man whose slave girl ran away. It is personal. John Drennen owned my ancestor Patrick. He lived on the estate of John Drennen, and I have asked myself over the years---did he know this young girl?  We they siblings?

While researching this, I know that Drennen owned numerous slaves, but up the hill on his personals estate, he owned a small number of slaves at the Drennen home. And I have always known that my ancestor Patrick was one of them. Eight slaves were part of the home estate, and no others.

1850 Slave Schedule Arkansas, Crawford County

But then today, a fascinating document appeared from one of the boxes. This was an 1845 document that reflected the acquisition of six slaves from Auguste P, Chouteau, to John Drennen. Auguste P. Chouteau was a member of the Chouteau Trading Post in what is now Oklahoma. His father's trading post traded primarily with Osage people, but he had a strong knowledge of Indian Territory, including the Cherokee Nation as well. In fact, Chouteau's Trading Post. In fact, Chouteau's Trading Post was a major trading spot in the early 1800s, between Cherokee and Osages nations. 

Drawing of Chouteau's Trading Post
Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society

So I held in my hand a document from 1845 reflecting the sale of six slaves ages 45 years to 2 years of age. The document revealed that in 1845 John Drennen acquired the six enslaved people: Charity aged 45, Aleck aged 17, George aged 12, Mary aged 12, Amanda aged 10, and Moses aged 2. 

Image from Charles. G. Scott Collection 
Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin

I sat there for some time looking at the names of the six people being sold, to John Drennen, the highest bidder. Were one of these names from 1845 the young girl who escaped to freedom?

Of the many articles that appeared in the press about her daring escape to freedom, her name has never been mentioned. Over the years I have kept my eyes open for someday knowing her name. Since the slaves who resided on the Drennen estate to have appeared to be a family, and prior to this time, I only knew the name of my ancestor Patrick residing on the estate. I cannot prove a direct definitive tie between Patrick and the young girl, nor can I consider the small family of slaves to be directly related to me. However, they do share the same history  from Drennen Reserve, therefore I still embrace them as an ancestral family. 

Although I have never known her name; and the only document that may have reflected her, was only a shown as a tic mark on a slave schedule among the eight slaves on Drennen Reserve. For me, over the years and previously the names of others also enslaved by Drennen were not known except that of Patrick, my known ancestor owned by Drennen. But this visit today revealed to me the names of six of John Drennen's eight slaves that he owned in 1850 a mere five years after they were purchased from August P. Chouteau in 1845. And one of them was a young girl of 10 years. She would have been of age to have been 14 o4 15 years of age five years later on the trip to Pennsylvania. Could this be her?

After sitting and reflecting for some time after finding this document, I am more confident that I have been able at last to identify her name her. It is Amanda!  She is the only the third Amanda among my own ancestors---and this Amanda has come to me from the papers of John Drennen of Van Buren Arkansas!

This is only my first day of research and so many more files await me. However, I think I can now say her name! I shall continue to search to see if more evidence appears, but today's search has already yielded a precious find.

Until more is known----I shall and I can call her Amanda! 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Remembering my Father on This Day

Forty six  years ago, on this day, my father passed away. I loved my father. He was always the jovial man who made me laugh and would who take me on a ride with him on a whim. "Daughter, want to take a ride?" he'd ask. "Ok Daddy" I replied, and we were off! Sometimes it was a quick trek to Yutterman's supermarket where he would come back with a bag of vegetables purchased with only a couple of dollars in his pocket.  Other times it was a drive around town where he would slow down and stop for a quick chat with folks he saw along the way. That was how I learned who the men in our community were. They were all family men, and always on a Saturday morning they were outside in the yard doing something--cutting grass, working on a vehicle or playing catch with their own children. These were the men that I knew, that I saw, and they were the ones whom I admired.

Daddy was the one who introduced Oklahoma into our lives. Usually in the summer months, we would head west over the Arkansas River into Le Flore County Oklahoma, and he would always point out the grove of pecan trees to the left, in the river bottom, that he and another close childhood friend planted when they were young boys.

Proceeding westward on highway 64, we would pass the old highway marker declaring "Entering Indian Territory." He would then share stories about our great grandmother Sallie Walton, who was from the Choctaw Nation. I would stare out as we passed the fields of Alfalfa, wondering how the sweet great grandma Nannie, whom I loved was somehow connected to Indians in Oklahoma. He would then always point out that we were all part Choctaw, too.

Most people knew my dad, as he was a barber and had a popular barber shop on North Q street for many years. It was also next door to a popular establishment, "The Blue Goose", where many locals frequented during the weekends for their weekly "brew." My one memory of the barbershop was the big red colored barber chair, the strap hanging from the side where he would sharpen his blades for the close shaves, and the different smells from the bottles of bay rum aftershave. On Saturdays when my mom would drive by the barbershop, he would always come out and give her some wads of cash so that she could run some errands. A few time if he was not busy I would actually go inside and take one or two pennies to put into the small machine and get a handful of salted peanuts for a snack.

Sundays, meant church, of course, and after weekly mass at our small Catholic parish--St. John's, the family would take a drive through town, and as we saw other churches that were ending their services, Daddy would wave a hand at those whom he knew---of course he knew just about everyone, so it seemed to me. And the men who were in work clothes the day before, were now in their suits and ties, and were with their own families in tow. The families poured out of King Solomon Baptist, 9th Street Baptist and Mallalieu Methodist. We'd pass 1st Baptist where my grandmother and great grandmother attended, and friends on the south side attended St. James. As unique as our lives and the lives of worship that different families practiced, the one thing in common was the strength of the men who were the pastors, deacons, ushers, and leaders in their own small community of worship.

In our small Catholic parish, my dad was always one of the ushers who passed the baskets for collection during the  and who later counted the offerings with the parish priest, after mass at the rectory. He was among the men of the parish who formed the membership of the Holy Name Society---Mr. Webster, Mr. Greene, Mr. Gilyard, Mr. Page, Mr. Triplett, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Metzenheimer, Mr. Longley, Mr. Hardwick, Mr. Harris and more. At the annual school bazaar every fall, and there was my dad, always, in the kitchen acting as chef preparing quick orders for hot sandwiches and dishes for the annual parish event.

My father was a friendly man, always up for a good laugh, and he was a man with a good heart. His compassion for his friends was sincere and the bond that I was able to share with him was special. He had a close fondness for Mr. John Harris a quiet man who was rasing his daughter alone, and he would always give Mr. Harris a free haircut, because he respected him as an elder at St. John's.

As I grew older and began to read more literature and autobiographies I was surprised that he would ask what I was reading and expressed an interest in the books as well.  I learned that my fun Daddy, was also a thinker and also had a strong interest in what black writers were producing. One of the books that we shared in depth was "The Man Who Cried I Am" that we actually discussed together.

 One of the sweetest memories I have was when I used to play the organ in the summers for Sunday Mass. For most of my earlier years, Daddy never took communion, because of the Catholic Church issue with divorce. Before marrying my mother, he had a previous and brief marriage that did not last very long, and ended in divorce. Being divorced put him in a strange "no-communion" status with the Church.

However, he decided to address the issue, and apparently he had quietly gone through an official annulment process of the first marriage. And on one surprising Sunday, at communion time, when I joined the line for communion, he walked to the alter alongside me. He had waited as others passed in the line ahead of me as they approached the altar. He stood close by, and waited for me, so that he could walk with me.  He chose to walk to the altar with his daughter. I always remember that moment as such a sweet moment that we both shared.

There are so many more special "daddy-daughter" moments that we shared, and my only sadness is that his grandchilren never got to know him. What a joy he would have been in their lives. So, although there is a bit of sadness that this is the day that he died, I also feel the warmth that my memories of my dear father have left me. 

May he continue to rest peacefully, and may he occasionally visit me in my dreams and make me smile. I love you, Daddy.

Because of Her, We are Here!


Harriet Tubman Statue, Dorchester Maryland

Saturday Septemer 10th 2022 was a beautiful day in Dorchester Maryland. I had the opportunity to attend teh unveling of a statue of Harriet Tubman, whose image now graces the site of courthouse in the very county where she was enslaved.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Missing Migration of Our People & Why They Can't be Found

My ancestor Amanda Young was a young girl when in 1833 she witnessed the "Night the Stars Fell" , a spectacular meteor shower seen all over North America. I have written about this and told the story many times.

Years later, I learned that Amanda's parents were John and Martha Young, who were actually born in Virginia, who in their later years, ended up in Mississippi. They were first taken to Tennessee from Virginia, but, the exact location of their Virginia origin remains unknown, after 30 years of research.

On another line, I have an ancestor who was Lydia Walters Talkington. She was brought to Crawford County, Arkansas while a small girl, right around the time of Arkansas statehood, around 1836. She was born in North Carolina, when she arrived with the Walters and Harrells. Her parents names are not known to me, and have never appeared in any record. The only knowledge of her origin is found in census records stating that she was born in North Carolina. Her years after arrival were in Dripping Springs, Arkansas, and later the town of  Van Buren.

Was she brought with her parents, or was she, like thousands of others brought west and south during the domestic slave trade? Was she among other children, and separated from her mother and sold like horses or cows, to someone and then brought west? I have never been found her parents, and most likely never will.

And there are my ancestors from Indian Territory in the Choctaw Nation. My great grandmother Sallie Walton was the daughter of Amanda Perry Anchatubbee. Amanda's mother was Amanda whose mother Kitty Perry who was a slave of the Perry family of Skullyville in Indian Territory. Kitty was taken from Mississippi, and survived the removal of Choctaws from Mississippi to Indian Territory in 1831. I ask the question, "How did the Perry's obtain their slaves"? And of course I was to know, "who were Kitty's parents"? That paper trail has also come to an end.

I cannot help but wonder if she or her parents were also marched from another state to Mississippi. The Perry's, I know came from Yalobusha County Mississippi. Did they purchase slaves before they relocated to the west? And was this a purchase of one of the slaves brought to Mississippi on Slavery's Trail of Tears? That will most likely never have an answer.

An article from November 2015 of the Smithsonian Magazine, illustrates a long forgotten march that occurred almost 200 years ago. That was the movement of thousands of enslaved people, from the east coast to the deep south. The countless stories of origin of those hapless souls now forever lost to time, all chained together with no hope of release until their destination was reached--Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and other places never to be known. This was Slavery's Trail of Tears.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where millions of people, curious about their own history seek information. They pursue census records, military records, and much more hoping the find evidence of their past. And they, like many others hit the wall of 1865.

After finding ancestors in the 1870 census, they seek the stories of the early days of freedom. They look to the Freedmen's Bureau, the Freedman's Bank, and other records showing them in the first years after slavery ended. If they are fortunate, some will find ancestors in a probate record, listed among other enslaved people on a white slave holder's will or estate inventory. And then---all paper evidence comes to an end. There are exceptions, if one has free people among their ancestors. And a small few are fortunate to follow wills and records into the 1700s. But the vast majority will encounter the heartbreak of slavery era research

Like many, their ancestors were among the hundreds of thousands who were gathered, separated and then marched from Virginia and other coastal states, westward and southward, never to see their point of origin again. The untold stories of the domestic sale and trading of slaves, was an integral part of the nation's past.  Yet, it is not spoken about, and is basically unknown. This forced march--this forced separation of families--this forced treatment of human beings is the one sole reason that most searches will end in the early 1800s. That is the painful and sad reality of slavery in America. As the article note, they were marched on foot from the "tobacco south to the cotton south". This is the heartbreaking story of our ancestors.

Because of this march---many of us, will never find any paper trail beyond this point.

One of the only images reflecting the domestic "Slavery Trail of Tears"
(Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia)

The Smithsonian described this march as the largest known in our history:

"This forced resettlement was 20 times larger than Andrew Jackson’s “Indian removal” campaigns of the 1830s, which gave rise to the original Trail of Tears as it drove tribes of Native Americans out of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. It was bigger than the immigration of Jews into the United States during the 19th century, when some 500,000 arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe. It was bigger than the wagon-train migration to the West, beloved of American lore. This movement lasted longer and grabbed up more people than any other migration in North America before 1900."

The possibility is that many of the largest slaveholders, including those in Indian Territory may have acquired slaves who had been already marched from this forced relocation of slaves. and clearly the slave traders from whom they purchased slaves were participants in this horror. As much as we want to know---we cannot scale that wall of thorns, keeping us from our past. 

(Illustrated map by Laszlo Kubinyi. Map sources: Digital Scholarship Lab, 

University of Richmond; Edward Ball; Guilbert Gates; Dacus Thompson; Sonya Maynard)

However, the critical role that we must play is to become the caretaker of our recent history.
Our task, is to find the methods of how they survived, and how they thrived and to tell their stories. It is the resilience of the survivors that provided the platform from which many of our own families emerged. They endured unimaginable hardships but their suffering has lead us to whom and to where we are today.

May their souls rest and may they guide us from places beyond, and may we be filled by their strength, for they are the source of our strength.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Genealogy Institute to Feature Freedmen of Five Civilized Tribes

MAAGI – The Teaching Institute
For 2019 – Announcing: A New Track
Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes

For the very first time, MAAGI will become the first genealogy institute to offer a track devoted entirely to the Freedmen from Indian Territory and the Five Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations. This is focus in the genealogy community, is long overdue as the Oklahoma based Freedmen are uniquely the largest group of African-descended people with the most provable ties to any Native American tribe. For three days the participants will take 12 classes, all devoted to methods of researching the documenting the history of this most under-discussed population.

Terry Ligon (Blogger, researcher, Chickasaw Freedman Researcher)
Dr. Janice Lovelace (Professor Emerita, Choctaw Researcher)
Ron Graham (Genealogy Researcher, Lecturer, Creek Researcher)
Nicka Smith (Blogger, Ancestry Researcher, Author Cherokee Researcher
Angela Walton-Raji (Author, Blogger, Podcaster Choctaw Freedman Researcher)

·        Basic Records for Freedman Research
·        Chickasaw Freedmen and Equity Case 7071
·        Before the Dawes Rolls – Exploring Earlier Freedmen Records
·        Military Records & the Oklahoma Freedmen – USCTs and Indian Home Guards
·        Creek Freedmen Records – Dunn Roll, Old Series, Per Capita Payments and Dawes
·        The Case of Joe & Dillard Perry
·        Finding Ike Rogers and other Cherokee Freedmen
·        Oklahoma Freedmen and Pioneer Papers
·        Freedmen Settlements – From Tribal Towns to Freedman Settlemants
·        Freedmen Before Statehood – Associations, Societies, and Educators
·        Freedman Schools. Their History and Their Records
·        IT Freedmen and the Arkansas Freedman’s Bureau
·       The Freedmen Stevensons & Other Large Family Clans

For more information:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Oklahoma Freedmen Ancestry to be Featured on Blog Talk Radio Show

Many who are active in the genealogy community are quite familiar with the weekly program hosted by genealogist and author Bernice Alexander Bennett. On August 31, her show will feature 4 genealogists who will speak on their genealogical experience as descendants of Oklahoma Freedmen. The Freedmen were those men, women and children once enslaved by citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes. The panelists will share the genealogical process and the documents they used to uncover their family history.

Nicka Sewell-Smith, will speak about her experience documenting her ancestors from the Cherokee Nation. Terry Ligon, will speak about documenting his ancestors who were Chickasaw Freedmen. Ron Graham will share his experiences documenting his family history from the Creek Nation, and yours truly-Angela Walton-Raji will speak about documenting the Walton and Perry ancestors from the Choctaw Nation.

Ms. Smith is a direct descendant of Ike Rogers, the well known US Deputy Marshall who served Indian Territory under Judge Isaac C. Parker. Her family from Vinita, Fort Gibson and other places in the Cherokee Nation is well documented. She shares much of her research on her website Who is Nicka Smith Nicka Smith is also the host of Black Pro Gen, a bi-weekly Google hangout where professional genealogists discuss methods and strategies in a live on camera gathering. She is also a professional photo journalist and documentarian, and serves as a member of the faculty of MAAGI, the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute.

Terry Ligon's story is fascinating when he shares the amazing genealogical data that he uncovered and learned about his ancestor Bettie Ligon, who was chief litigant in a complex legal case involving over 2000 freedmen. He hosts the blog The Black and Red Journal and also a group on Facebook, called The Indian Territory Reader. He has taught numerous genealogy classes, and was a major instructor in the Choctaw-Chickasaw Freedmen conference several years ago in Oklahoma City. Mr. Ligon has also produced a number of videos on YouTube reflecting not only his history, but many aspects of the complex history of  Oklahoma Freedmen.

Ron Graham is active in many aspects of genealogy of Oklahoma Freedmen. With strong family ties to the Muskogee Creek Nation, Mr. Graham served for several years as president of the Muscogee Creek Freedman Band, a group whose mission is to preserve, and teach history and genealogy of Creek Freedmen. He has conducted genealogy classes and worked with clients seeking assistance with the enrollment process. He continues to be active with the Descendants of Freedmen Association of Oklahoma. He continues to teach throughout Oklahoma and most recently taught a class at the Cherokee Ancestry conference in Talequah Oklahoma.

Angela Walton-Raji hosts the African-Native American Genealogy Blog, the African-Native American genealogy website, and  she hosts the longest running message board focusing on researching Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, on AfriGeneas. Author of Black Indian Genealogy Research, the first and only book devoted to researching the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, Ms. Walton-Raji continues to devote time and energy to teaching and writing in many arenas. She has the longest ongoing genealogy podcast devoted to African American genealogy, with over 400 episodes available free online. Ms. Walton-Raji is also a founding member and faculty member of MAAGI and coordinates the Writer's Track at the Institute. She has spoken nationally at AAHGS, FGS, Roots Tech, SCGS, and the International Black Genealogy Summit.

Bernice Bennett, host of the weekly program "Research at the National Archives & Beyond" on Blog Talk Radio, is well known for her efforts to feature genealogists, writers and scholars who share a compassion for telling the African American family story. Next week's show will be the first program of its kind featuring the topic of genealogical resources for descendants of the Oklahoma Freedmen.

The show will air at 9pm (eastern time) on Blog Talk Radio. To hear the program simply go to: Click on the episode's name to hear the live broadcast. To join the live online chat room, log in by creating a free account, or log in through Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Finding Oklahoma Community Leaders in Masonic Proceedings

Proceedings of the St. John Grand Lodge, Muskogee Indian Territory, 
Annual Communication, 1896 (Cover Page)

In recent months I have been most appreciative of  information that can be gleaned from studying the activities of the Prince Hall Masons and their various lodges throughout the nation. Both the 18th and 19th centuries, many leaders in communities were found to be among men who also were active with Masonic grand lodges.

Thankfully I have had an amazing opportunity to speak with, meet with and learn from James Morgan III, of Prince George's County Maryland, who has proven to be quite an authority of the Prince Hall grand lodges, and their history in various regions of the country. Mr. Morgan is a member of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges of Washington, DC. In addition, Mr. Morgan has demonstrated his expertise by locating for me, images of community leaders in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. These same leaders were also among leaders in their local masonic organization. Mr. Morgan's contacts with others who also possess much knowledge of the organizational histories, has proven most beneficial.

As one who studies Indian Territory, and Oklahoma, I was pleased to receive proceedings from the 4th Annual Communication held in Muskogee, Indian Territory. The actual event occurred in Muskogee, Indian Territory in 1896 and it is a clear indicator of who the persons of influence in the Territory were. From some of the pages of the meeting, some of the leaders were reflected. Names such as J. Milton Turner, A.W.G. Sango, William  Vann and others are found upon the pages of the book of proceedings. Many were also leaders in the communities of Freedmen of Oklahoma.

I was excited to also see a list of the various lodges and their post offices throughout the twin territories. The two territories are Oklahoma Territory, and Indian Territory. Also keep in mind that the territories did not merge geographically until statehood occurred in 1907.

Proceedings of the St. John Grand Lodge, Muskogee Indian Terriotry, 
Annual Communication, 1896 

Seeing the location of the various masonic lodges one can actually glean more information about the lives of one's ancestors, and part of their social and also political network. In addition by reading the proceedings one can also learn more about lodges in other cities and states and compile a list from the communities that existed over 100 years ago.

Partial list of masonic lodges in Indian Territory. - 1896 p 1-2

Souce: Same as above: p 3-4

As genealogists, there is much to appreciate in these records, and all are encouraged to explore using some of these publications now in the public domain to study the local community, and to learn about those persons with whom our ancestors lived, and the circle of associates who influenced them.

The presences of these masonic groups in Indian and Oklahoma Territory is a part of the community history. Because of the strong influence that masonic organizations have had over the years, it would be wise to include questions about ancestors who may have been a part of these groups. New chapters may emerge in family histories and some old photos and family artifacts may eventually be explained by knowledge of these fraternal lodges and their value to family and community.