Although the majority of my ancestors were Northerners or living in Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany, or Spain during the early years of our country, I cringe now knowing that I have a number of ancestors who were southern slave owners. Up until several years ago, I was in the dark about this subject.  It wasn’t something that had been passed down through my family’s oral history. I knew that I had ancestors who lived in Virginia and North Carolina, but I somehow imagined them as being uninvolved in the horror of slavery.

Reading through old probate records is a wonderful glimpse into the lives of our ancestors.  I, of course, was excited when I had the opportunity to visit the Virginia courthouse where many of my ancestors lived.  I made copy after copy of the old records, and anxiously sifted through them all when I got home from my long trip.  It was so exciting to read through the list of their possessions and get a greater idea of what their lives were like.  The emerging picture wasn’t a pretty one. What was disconcerting, was the fact that along with their furniture and dishes, livestock and farm equipment, there was a list of the slaves they owned.  Humans listed as property.  Their names, guessed age, and their value.  Reading through it, I could tell that the extremely young and old weren’t worth nearly as much as the young adults – who could do hard labor.


As I was reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass this past week, this passage really spoke to me. I imagined that these slaves had to go through something similar at the time of my great-great-great-great grandfather’s demise.

“We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.

After the valuation, then came the division. I have no language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves during this time. Our fate for life was  now to be decided. We had no more voice in that decision than the brutes [animals] among whom we were ranked. A single word from the white men was enough – against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties – to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings. In addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of Master Andrew. He was known to us all as being a most cruel wretch – a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We all felt that we might as well  be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as to pass into his hands; for we knew that that would be our inevitable condition, – a condition held by us all in utmost horror and dread. ” (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Chapter VII, p. 57-58, written in 1845, Signet Classic Edition, c 1997)

2016-03-25_0003It perfectly depicts what it must have been like to be a slave after the death of their master – to be at the mercy of the white men and their whims. I couldn’t help but think of all of those names listed in the probate records I had read.  What happened to them?  Were they split up?  Were they sold off? Were my ancestors cruel? I know that everyone wants to think of their ancestors as having been kind and godly people.  Pillars of the community. But I can’t possibly tell myself that MY ancestors must have been the nice ones that didn’t mistreat their slaves.  THEY must have been kind and taught them to read and given them days off and of course NEVER beat them.

The truth is, out of all of the probate records I’ve read so far, I haven’t found one slave that was freed after the death of one of my ancestors (as sometimes happened).  They appear to have been split between their different heirs.  Sometimes the younger children would be listed as someone’s son or daughter, but for the most part, I have no way of telling if they were related to one another, so I can’t tell if families were being broken up or not.

All I can do is share the records and hope that it helps someone in researching their family’s history.

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I have posted two obituaries for Rebecca (Campbell) Baker before, but I recently found a third, in a different newspaper.  You can see the other two here and here.

Rebecca Baker was my husband’s 3rd great-grandmother.  Her husband, James Baker, preceded her in death by 25 years.  He had served in the Civil War in Pennsylvania, and after a brief time in Tennessee, the Bakers settled in Douglas County, Kansas in the 1860’s. Rebecca Baker was a very active member of the Fairview Church, and she was loved by all that knew her.

Rebecca Baker, 90 Years Old, Passed Away Saturday Night
Mrs. Rebecca W. Baker, 90 years old, died of old age Saturday night at her home south of this city, in Wakarusa township. She is survived by three sons and one daughter. The funeral was held this morning at 11 o’clock from the Fairview church, and burial made in Oak Hill cemetery by the side of her husband, who had preceded her many years.
Mrs. Baker was among the early settlers of this county, coming her with her husband in the early 60s, and locating in the country south of this city, and where she has since resided. She is well known in this city, and friends will be pained to hear of her death.

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I was a bit confused about this certificate that was amongst my grandpa’s military papers. It wasn’t very “official” looking and I didn’t know what to make of it.  I scanned it, but pretty much forgot about it for a number of years.

2016-03-15_0001I knew that my grandpa, Alphonso Thornton, Jr., served in the Marine Corps during WWII on the USS Cabot, that he earned a Purple Heart when his ship was hit by a kamikaze, and that he had 18 battle stars.  I wanted to fill in his time in service with some historical background on his ship, the places it had been and the battles it was involved in.


While I was searching for information on the USS Cabot, I came across a similar certificate from someone who had served on the USS Cowpens, and realized that this was something given out to those who had participated in this action.

Here is a little background on the action, which took place off of Formosa: (you can find much more information on the Cabot here and here.

Admiral Halsey had the idea to use a convoy of torpedoed ships and those escorting them, (which included the USS Cabot and USS Cowpens), as bait to draw out the Japanese forces. The exepdition was code-named “Streamlined Bait”

The Japanese took the bait with 60-70 aircraft headed their direction, but the Americans were prepared.  The aircraft on the Cabot and the Cowpens were launched and met the enemy. In less than 15 minutes, 27 Japanese aircraft had been shot down and the rest turned and flew away.

Those who had participated received these certificates.

And now the mystery is solved.


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Loinel Murphy
Funeral services for Loinel Floyd Murphy, 82, were held June 24 in Caldwell’s Chapel of the Valley, with Rev. Doug Hepting of the First Baptist Church officiating, He died June 18, 1991, in Safford Care Center.
Marian Rogge was at the organ with soloist Scott Goodwin singing the opening song “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”. David Player offered the invocation and presented the eulogy. Goodwin sang “There is a Paradise of Rest”, with Rev. Hepting presenting the scripture, the 23rd Psalm. The closing hymn was “Sometime We’ll Understand”. Hepting offered the benediction.
Conducting services and interment followed in the Rest Haven Cemetery, with Hepting giving the dedicatory prayer. Serving as casket bearers were Christopher Murphy, Patrick Murphy, Lavern Hennings, Jay Murphy, George Johnson, and Lawrence Martin.
Murphy was born Sept. 24, 1908, in Rexford, Kans., the son of Mattie Bell Wilmoth and Coleman E. Murphy. As a small boy, he moved with his family to Seibert, Colo., and grew up there. In 1938, he married Julia May Weeks and they resided in Hugo, Colo., where he farmed. In 1949 they moved to Arizona, residing in Safford.
Surviving are his wife, Julia of Safford; a son, Dave of Safford; three brothers, Troy and Lloyd, both of Flagler, Colo., and Dale of Goodland, Kans.; two sisters, Twila Gordon of Seibert, Colo. and Anita Rose Randall of Talihina, Okla.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Complete arrangements were under the direction of the Caldwell Funeral Home of SaffordThis

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