Saturday, February 12, 2011

"I Ain't Seed Them No More"

Words taken from the deposition of Amanda  Young about her husband, father and brother.

When researching ancestors who were enslaved---there is one critical moment that is missing from many of our stories---what happened during those first moments of freedom!  

How did it happen?  How and when did they actually know that they were no longer slaves? We know that we find our families in 1870 and we know that we cannot find them in 1860, because they were enslaved.  So-----what happened?  How did freedom come to them?  One day they were slaves, and the next day, something happened and they were free.

Did an announcement simply get made after sunrise that they no longer were in bondage? 

Was it a rumor that spread throughout the town that they were no longer slaves? 

Did some make a daring dash to freedom in the middle of the night?  What happened?

This is not always something easily answered, for my own ancestors left no letters, or diaries, or memoirs behind to find out. But--thankfully for me----a series of depositions were taken when my gr. gr. grandmother Amanda Young applied for a  widow's pension and a mother's pension for her husband and son, who had left to join the Union Army.

Her husband left, when the Yankees came, as did her son, and her father and as she put it, she  never saw them ever again.  Wow.  How incredible---how tragic and what an impact this had to have had.  She lost the three men she had ever loved. One day they were together, even if enslaved, and the next day they were gone.

These days in our 21st century world, war is hard to imagine. Even harder to imagine war for those whose freedom was at stake.  How did it happen?

I learned from the Civil War pension application, that my gr. gr. grandmother Amanda Young, did not escape the trauma of war, nor did she escape the heartbreak of war.  A raid had been sent by a General Rosencranz who was in the area into the community of Ripley Mississippi. The Federal soldiers had come from Corinth Mississippi, to the east, into the small towns and villages of Tippah County, Mississippi. The lived in Ripley and when the raid came, long dreamed of freedom would come, but not without a price.

When the Federal soldiers came into this small Tippah County of Ripley, community---the chance to dash for freedom came, but it came quickly and they had to make a choice fast!  Time was not always allowed for deliberation---they were given a moment's notice at times, and many knew the risk was worth it, and so they took their chances going with strangers to unknown places---they were taking a chance on freedom!

Amanda Young would never see her husband after the Yankess raid, he would never return.  She would also not see her own sister Mary Paralee, however, 50 years after the war ended, and she was still asking questions about her husband, and son, and it was then, that she would find her sister, living in Memphis.  Her sister Mary Paralee, testified on her behalf,  sharing in a sworn deposition of  part of what happened when she and others fled behind the Union soldiers.

Deposition of Mary Paralee Young, sister of Amanda Young

I realized upon reading this deposition, that she was describing what actually happened when a group of slaves left where they were living, and where they went, as a group.  Their lives were instantly transformed!  They were liberated and they were fleeing to freedom!  She continued:

Mary Paralee tells how she was taken to Memphis to a contraband camp

Incredible information---President's Island Contraband Camp!!! Wow----where was that?  I had to find it!  She left with children in tow, following the men.  From there she made it to Saulsbury Tennessee, and a train was there, taking them to Memphis!  This scene has to be imagined!  A raid of Union soldiers came through Ripley---and they simply left when the chance came!!!

How hard to imagine!  I looked at a map to see where Saulsbury Tennessee was from Ripley Mississippi.  They are not close. Making this trek over land, had to be difficult, covering miles and miles on foot, carrying few possessions, and crossing unknown territory.  

Contrabands, on the move.

Where was my Amanda? 
Why didn't she leave with them?  
Why stay behind? 

The trauma and drama described when they were on the run, is evident!  A large contingent of slaves made the run to freedom, included Amanda's daughters Nancy and Alsie. But not all of them made it to Tennessee, for as Mary Paralee described it, apparently Amanda's daughters "broke down" on the road.

Describing the journey on the road through the woods.

As I read that deposition I realized of course---this journey was being made on foot.  They were trekking through the woods, simply following the Union Soldiers, heading to a destination that was unknown to them. There would have been little time to stop and at that moment---it would have been all persons for themselves.  I try hard to imagine how the family became separated, and what happened when Alisie and Nancy simply "broke down."  These were Amanda's daughters. These were my gr. aunts!!!  They were aunts whom I would never know.

They would have been young girls---and they broke down on the road, while others kept moving. They never returned to Amanda, and chances are, during that fateful run, they may have simply died.  Oh the heartbreak!!

And in Amanda's case---for some reason she could not go with the others.  Her husband, her father, her son, her sister, and two of  her daughters---all gone, and as she put it:

Oh what price freedom!  It would be 50 years when Amanda would even see her younger sister Mary Paralee again, and 50 years to learn where some of them had gone.  Paralee was living in Memphis and when Amanda had moved there, to be near another married daughter, only then would Paralee be found and the sisters reunited and that small story of her daughters and their fate, be told to Amanda.

The fate of her husband, father and son, would be never be known.  

I still search for them, to this very day.


Cherie Cayemberg said...


I'm really enjoying your blog! You are an exceptional writer and the stories are wonderful! You should write a book based on it all! Heartbreaking and heroic!

Unknown said...

I'm left speechless Angela. I'd like to post a link on Last Road.

Also, our ancestors were near neighbors. Mine were in far eastern Marshall County in a town called Salem on the edge of Tippah. I wouldn't doubt that my family and many others took this same route as your family. Grandmother Amanda's testimony is priceless. Where exactly do you find her living in the year she testified for her sister?

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Feel free to post a link! When Amanda had found her sister, she had moved to Memphis to join a daughter. One of the ex-soldiers who knew her husband had found her sister, when he was asking around. The sister lived in an area called Whitehaven. (It was near Memphis as the time. Now it is part of Memphis, I am told.) This was about 1917 or so. They had been separated for 50 years!

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

This is wonderful, Angela. To be able to find documentation of, and to "hear" your ancestor's voice despite the family being separated is a precious thing.

The work continues!


Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Quite true Renate,

To find these words and to read her descriptions of her loss---one can only pause and pray for the ancestors. They went through so much and their losses were so great.

Truly I can hear her voice.

Tracing Ancestors, an a3Genealogy Partner said...

Great article. And another reason for researchers to scour pension records - the depositions tell a lot. I have yet to pull an ex-slave pensions (widow or veteran) and not get a bit closer to our ancestors.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Yes, you are correct, Kathleen, and you know these voices are often missing from the larger story, and at the same time---it is the voices of the people that tell the story of what happened. We all benefit from reading and "hearing" their voices. Somehow, it connects all of us.