Sunday, July 12, 2020

Did my ancestors own slaves?

I've been interested in genealogy for some time, and with the help of Ancestry.com I've traced my father's family back to the early 19th century. In fact, I recently turned up an ancestor who was born in 1777.

I find several things interesting.  I have yet to find an ancestor in my father's line who wasn't born on this continent.  My mother's family came to the U.S. in 1921 (from Canada), but the Ivy line, and the associated Moody line (my paternal grandmother's people) all seem to have been here from quite early.  Even the guy born in 1777 came from North Carolina; he moved his family to Tennessee between 1805 and 1810.  They all seem to have lived, before the Civil War, in the "border states" - Tennessee and Kentucky. Based on census and other records, they all seem to have relocated to Missouri sometime after the Civil war.
Both Tennessee and Kentucky had slaves before the Civil War, despite the fact that the U.S. banned the importation of slaves in March 1807.  At that time the South had a self-sustaining population of over 4 million slaves (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-abolishes-the-african-slave-trade), as children born to slaves were automatically enslaved.  It remained legal to trade slaves within the U.S., they only banned importation.

Both Tennessee and Kentucky joined the Confederacy when the war began.  For that matter, Missouri (where everyone eventually ended up) was a slave state until the Kansas-Nebras.ka Act in 1854.  So it would have been legal for a resident of any of those states to own slaves before the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.  

So, did my ancestors own slaves?  I'm just beginning to do the research, which will involve trying to read filmed census records from a very long time ago, in handwriting which may or may not be legible.  My initial guess is, they were poor dirt farmers and couldn't afford slaves.  But slaves owned were included in U.S. census records through the 1840 census, and I have no idea what I'll find.  I'll post again when I have something definite.

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