Monday, August 26, 2019

Freedmen Descendants Share Common Histories

Six Active Oklahoma "Freedmen" Groups

In the past two decades numerous groups have come and gone among people who descend from Oklahoma's "Freedmen" more correctly described as Freedmen from the Five Civilized Tribes. Such groups did exist among separate tribal groups in the late 1800s when Freedmen were negotiating their status prior to statehood. They did not wish to leave the only place that they knew as home, and where they had lived, and toiled, and whose elders elders died there on that soil.

In the 1800s, 
Cherokee Freedmen had an association formed as well as Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen. Both of those last two groups were,  particularly vulnerable after the Civil War, because the tribes tried to have them removed from their nation. The efforts to act upon their own behalf left small footprints on the historical landscape, that can be researched today. From the proceedings from many of those meetings, stories of resilience of Freedmen are noted.

In recent years, especially in the last two decades, efforts to act on behalf of the Freedmen have arisen, and today in both physical and online communities a few groups have arisen to study preserve and protect the legacy of Indian Territory and Oklahoma "Freedmen".

Here is a list of the groups in which discussion on history, legacy and political status have occurred. You are encouraged to explore them.

-Cherokee Freedmen Descendants (Online Group)
-Choctaw-Chickasaw Freedmen Descendants
(Online Group)
 -Descendant Freedmen Alliance of Kansas City 

-Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes
-Muscogee Creek Freedmen Band
-Young Freedmen Descendants of the Five Tribes, Discussion Group  (Online Group)

 For those interested in earlier discussions about the status of Freemen, the older AfriGeneas African-Native American message board is still active. This contains archived and searchable messages and threads that go back to 1997.

Over the years discussion has occurred within many sectors of the community, and at present there is also discussion about the possibility for another "real-time" meeting/conference in the next year or so. Whether or not such meeting unfolds, it is clear that activity is unfolding among more people who wish to pursue this much under-told story of Freedmen from Indian Territory. The Oklahoma-Freedman diaspora is widespread, but the need to encourage more dialogue and research is strongly encouraged. Hopefully more will become interested in this history and will join some of the groups mentioned above. 

These groups all hold promise for a continuation of the history being preserved. One thing however appears to be missing---the written record. Perhaps a history journal in which stories of Freedmen communities, Freedmen leaders, and the political and social initiatives of Freedmen, could be developed. 

Several years ago, discussion occurred to establish a group focused on history and devoted to production of a periodic journal and or events to present the past to emerging generations. 
Perhaps now,the long discussed, Indian Territory-Oklahoma Freedmen Historical Association may be the group whose time has come: ITOFHA

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Freedmen of the Frontier

Freedmen of the Frontier

The book is here!

In 2017 I decided to undertake a year-long project to document 52 families in 52 weeks. The families to be documented were Oklahoma-based families that originated in Indian Territory among the Five "Civilized" Tribes-Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations. These were African American families whose elders had at one time been enslaved by Native Americans.

The project ewas inspired by a popular genealogy blogging meme of documenting 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. But with this project the goal was to document the families from these nations, because so little is written about these families from the soil of what is now Oklahoma, although their enslavement, emancipation, and families were rooted on that soil.

By years's end, I had met the goal of putting the family stories out there, but decided to move the stories from my blog to book form, so that more people who have ties to the Freedmen of those nations, will be able to easily access these stories. Many people will find it easier to read their stories in book form than will actually go online and find their family story there.

The families profiled in the book are listed below:

The book can be ordered directly from AMAZON.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Irony and Opportunity from the Chickasaw Nation

A recent post from Chickasaw TV website recently reflected a revised version of their history, presenting the Chickasaw community as a place where enslaved people found "refuge".

Knowledge of this statement came while I was in the midst of a conversation with a young college student who is ardently researching his own family of Chickasaw Freedmen, In the midst of our cordial dialogue he was casually surfing and suddenly exclaimed "Whoa, the Chickasaw Nation has an article about slavery on their website! When did that happen?" He went to the then scrolled and was shocked to see what was stated, and suggested that I also get on the site, which I did.

And there is was, with the blatant headline:

"Runaway Slaves Found Refuge With the Chickasaw People."

What in the world was this?

A former slaveholding tribe, the same tribe that produced 4 regiments of Confederate soldiers that fought in the Civil War to keep people enslaved, is now "rebranding" their history to become a people who gave runaway slaves "refuge"!

History shows that this is the tribe that produced: 
-1st Regiment of Chickasaw Infantry

-1st Regiment of Chickasaw Cavalry 
-1st Battalion of Chickasaw Cavalry
-Shecoe's Chickasaw Battalion of Mounted Volunteers

These are all Confederate regiments who fought for the South in the Civil War. They fought in various battles and skirmishes, but clearly not to continue to offer "refuge" to runaways. In fact it is clear that many of the enslaved ran away from the Chickasaws to join the Union Army, and to fight for their freedom.

It is not clear when this was placed on the website of Chickasaw TV, but for those of us who today celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to see this post on this holiday is more than disappointing. It dishonors the history and legacy of Dr. King, and it dishonors those whose ancestors were enslaved in Indian Territory.

This is clearly the first time, any website pertaining to the Chickasaw Nation made even a mention of slavery, but depicting the nation as a place where runaway slaves fled to and took refuge is a distortion and simply not true. But sure enough there on the  Chickasaw website is a fabricated story of runaways who found their way to Chickasaw country for refuge, as they fled bondage from white slave masters.

If the goal of the webmaster and the Chickasaw Nation is to present slaveholders and kinder and gentler than southern white slaveholders, the words of those once enslaved will refute that. Kiziah Love, a former Chickasaw slave interviewed in the 1930s as part of the slave narrative project spoke of many cruelties experienced by those enslaved around her.

"The slaves lived in log cabins scattered back of the house. He wasn't afraid they'd run off. The didn't know as much as the slaves in the states, I reckon. But Master Frank had a half-brother that was as mean as he was good. I believe he was the meanest man the sun ever shined on. His name was Buck Colbert an he claimed he was a patroller. He was sho' bad to whup Negroes. He'd stop a Negro and ask him if he had a pass and even if they did he'd read it and tell them they had stayed over time and he'd beat em most to death. He'd say they didn't have any business off the farm and to get back there and stay there."

One time he got mad at his baby's nurse because she couldn't git the baby to stop crying and he hit her on the head with some fire tongs and she died. He wife got sick and she sent for me to come a take care of her baby. I sho'd did't want to go and I begged so hard for them not to make me that they sent an older woman who had a baby of her own so she could nurse the baby if necessary.

In the night the baby woke up and got to crying and Master Buck called the woman and told her to git him quiet. She was sleepy and was sort of slow and this made Buck mad and he made her strip her clothes off to her waist and began to whip her. His wife tried to git him to quit and he told her he'd beat her iffen she didn't shut up. Sick as she was she slipped off and went to Master Frank's and woke him up and got him to go and make Buck quit whipping her. He had beat her so that she was cut up so bad she couldn't nurse her own baby anymore.

Her words are sobering and painful to read. And while  it is known that every slave holder was not prone to such violent acts of physical cruelty, but the very act of "ownership" of another human being in and of itself is the a cruelty. And to depict Chickasaw community before and after removal as a place of "refuge" is an effort distort history.

It is noted that everyone did not own slaves, and this is true for Chickasaws as well as others on the American continent. But to suggest that there was an anti-slavery, "come-to-me-my-brother" sentiment in an Indian nation that fought for the south in the Civil War, and that refused to grant their former slaves citizenship after freedom is simply wrong.

There is more honor in admitting to history, acknowledging that history,  and making the effort to know the people who later become Freedmen as well as to get to know those who descend from the enslaved. Truly that is the better way to tell the story. And it is essential that the descendants of the enslaved tell their stories and present their ancestors in the light of dignity that they deserve. The slaveholder descendants in the Chickasaw Nation do not need to "dress up" slavery. It can never be made a pretty part of history. The better gesture is  to acknowledge it, without "dressing it up" 

Chickasaws owned slaves, as did many others in North America. But to paint and to distort one's own history as a place of refuge, clearly makes even current tribal policies of excluding descendants of those same slave completely even more incomprehensible.

The confederate Chickasaw Mounted Rifles in the Civil War were surely not fighting to bring in more people of African ancestry and give them refuge, and nothing could be further from the truth. The anti-black sentiments were strong and they prevail to this day. Chickasaw Freedmen are fully aware that they have, at present no possible way of applying for citizenship and having it granted----although their presence in Chickasaw country predates the days of removal, from Mississippi.

An Interesting Irony
There is an interesting irony however, that prevails today. Many descendants of Chickasaw Freedmen, and nearby Choctaw Freedmen, have relatives who are enrolled in the nations. As inter-racial marriages have occurred over the years, some have spouses, in fact who are enrolled Chickasaws, and even a well known politician from Oklahoma--a man of African Ancestry--is an enrolled Chickasaw. However, his enrollment comes from an ancestor on a blood roll, and not from one who was enslaved. 

The current policy of several of the former slave-holding tribes, is clear---the blood of the slaves meant nothing, and ties of the descendants of those who were enslaved, means nothing today. This is no secret to Chickasaw Freedmen descendants. Their blood and their life meant nothing while slavery prevailed, and it means nothing now, although Freedmen descendants have a direct blood tie to those who labored and sustained the wealth of the Chickasaw slaveholders.

And sadly, to date, there has yet to be a voice spoken on behalf of Chickasaw Freedmen descendants or Choctaw Freedmen descendants from those of African ancestry who are enrolled in their nations. No one has yet to point out the travesty of the disenfranchisement of their kinsmen from within. And to see a statement, that somehow Chickasaw-held African slaves were given refuge--and to see the statement coming from a tribal-sanctioned site is disturbing.

An Opportunity
Yet, as much as their statement is disturbing, it also presents an opportunity for a new dialogue. There is an opportunity for those in the Chickasaw Nation who wish to mention slavery in the Territory, to truly address it with honesty and clarity. There is an opportunity for there to be dialogue between the Freedmen of both Choctaw-and Chickasaw Nations, to engage in dialogue with descendants of Choctaw and Chickasaw slave holders.

On this day, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King we can learn much from the words of this wise man, on this day. And perhaps someday on the soil of Tuskahoma to Tishomingo, as Dr. King said, that perhaps "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood."

If there is such a desire to extend an olive branch, the opportunity should be seized.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

1896 Roll and Chickasaw Freedmen

When the 1896 Roll was compiled, prior to the official Dawes enrollment process, there were many Chickasaw Freedmen who had begun to be interviewed.  Many were aware of their status as Freedmen, and were wishing to make sure that their status as having the blood of their fathers be acknowledged. Many appeared and went into great detail about their family background. They knew that they were "Negro" as stated in many of the records, but they also went into significant detail about their Chickasaw heritage, hoping that their possession of " Indian blood" would be recognized.

However, their possession of African blood was evident and was a point that the Chickasaw Nation chose to point out was the basis of their exclusion. In the case of Aaron Simon, who was applying as a Chickasaw citizen, the attorneys for the Chickasaw Nation replied and pointed out clearly that there was no place for people from the "Negro race" among their citizens by blood, even if the applicant contained the coveted "Indian blood." The response is seen clearly in this official statement by Chickasaw Nation attorneys that follows.

The first reason to reject all freedmen states clearly: "The laws of the Chickasaw Nation forbid the inter-marriage between a Chickasaw Indian by blood with any negro."

The letter points out that the nation refused to adopt the Freedmen according to the treaty, and that they were vehemently against this and because they refused to do so, once again, the Freedmen with Indian blood were not to be considered as Chickasaws by blood. In case after case, the applications made by Freedmen unfolded, until they were suddenly as a policy brought to an end. The result was that Freedmen applications were to simply be "summarized" as the concept of family units consisting of Indians and Freedmen was not to be tolerated within their nation. The applications of Freedmen seeking admission by blood contains useful data for historical as well as genealogical research. Hopefully many will start to look at these records.

These records are part of National Archives record group M1650

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Ancestors Beyond Indian Territory? Census, Slave Schedules and More

Many who have ancestors who were Freedmen from the Five Tribes, often have multiple challenges as they research their families. That is because they also have another line of the family that came from the United States and who migrated to Indian Territory and married Freedmen from the various tribes.

So those researchers are faced with learning how to research their Oklahoma Freedmen based families with Dawes and Pre-Dawes records, AND they have to learn the basics of African American Genealogy and learning how to research families who were once enslaved in the American south. At some point they will reach the "Wall of 1870" where they find their ancestor documented there and can go no further. That is because in the census years before that, their ancestors were enslaved and were not listed in the census by name? So what are the resources and what records are there?

Here is a useful list that might assist you in finding more of your family:

1) Records from The Era of Freedom -This includes records from the Freedmen's Bureau, the Freedman's Bank, Co-habitation Records, Civil War pension files, and various state census records

Pension Index card of Afr. Am Civil War soldier 

2) 1860 and 1850 Slave Schedules - Though the names of the enslaved are not revealed, these documents can be used to learn more about the community where the family was enslaved, and there are clues about the size of the slave community, the number of dwellings, and data if some of the enslaved were fugitives. A detailed article about how to use slave schedules is provided here from the blog, "My Ancestor's Name".

3) Court Records One cannot emphasize the value of court records in genealogical research. The names of slaves are found in probate court records, where wills will often list the names of enslaved people. Also the transfer of slaves often from the slave holder to others in the family can be revealed in these records. Additional records such as tax records, deeds, bills of sale and much more can be found in the court records, especially prior to 1860.

List of slaves in Camden Co. GA being willed by slave holder to his daughter

4) Land Records - The acquisition of land was critical for people wishing to live independently. Many are unaware that their ancestors obtained land through the Homestead Act where federal lands were opened to those wishing to become land owners.  A good way to find out if your ancestors were able to purchase acres of land, utilize the amazing database offered by the Bureau of Land Management. This free database is found HERE.

Image from the BLM Database

These are a few tools that are provided for those who have ancestors from states beyond Oklahoma. Many Freedmen researchers are not sure how to research their non-Oklahoma families, and these are provided as a guide to researching the extended family.

Hopefully the desire to tell the family narrative will extend beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma and these suggestions will assist researchers is expanding their options to tell more of the family narrative.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Researching Native American Slaveholders

Portion of a sample Slave Schedule from Choctaw Nation

Do you have ancestors who were enslaved in Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Nations? 

When you find that first Freedman Dawes Card and see the name of the slave holder, what can you do to learn more?
Is there a way to find out more about the life and history of the person who enslaved your ancestor in Indian Territory?

The Dawes records reflecting those who ancestors were Oklahoma Freedmen quickly find that there is a unique challenge that they have. For them, there is no easy way to research the history of the slave holder. The basic reason is because from 1870 till 1900, data for the Federal Census was not collected in Indian Territory.

Unlike those whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States, there are decades where federal census records simply don't exist. And likewise, there was no county courthouse where vital records, and land records were held in those pre-statehood years. So, when trying to learn more about who the slave holder was, from the Five Civilized Tribes--many Freedmen descendants are at a loss of what to do next, and where to go to find out more about the slave holder.  So how does one find out more about the slaveholders from Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations?

Here are five suggestions that might be useful for Fr eedmen descendants to use.

1) Search the slave holder's family on the Dawes Card database.When searching the Dawes records on Ancestry, try typing in the name of the slave holder. For Freedmen that name is on every enrollment card. And on the reverse side of Freedmen cards, even the name of the slaveholder of each of the parents is also revealed. Even if the slave holder was deceased by the time of the Dawes Commission, (1898-1914) there is a possibility that the slave holder's descendants were on the Dawes Roll. With the Ancestry database, the names of the parents of Dawes enrollees is a part of the indexed database. By studying the slave holder's family, then one will learn more about the family of the slave holder, and in many cases, their history since removal.

2) Locate the slaveholder's family on any of the tribe's pre-Dawes rolls. Numerous records abound from Indian Territory for each of the five tribes. This is especially the case with records from the 1890s, and 1880s. These records can shed more light on that family.

3) Find the Slave holder's name on the 1860 Slave schedule. This pre-civil war document is part of the federal census and provides a head count of all people enslaved. The only names on these records are those of the slave holders, and this can be quite significant for the researcher.

Firstly, keep in mind that the 1860 slave schedule reveals the actual number of people held in bondage for that year. In some cases the actual "owner" of record may have been the wife or the widow of the head of house. Secondly, by studying the numbers of enslaved people, the researcher may be able to glean more information about the kind of community that the ancestor being held in bondage may have lived. If they were slaves of Robert Jones, for example they experienced a southern plantation kind of life with the big house and slave quarters. On the other hand if the slave holder only had a small number of enslaved people then the life experience may have differed.
Note---with slave schedules, it is important to use them properly. Many people will look at the record and try to guess which person is their ancestor, by making a mathematical calculation. This is not an appropriate use of the record. A document with no name should never be used to declare that an ancestor is reflected on the record. A "guess" is not genealogical evidence, and does not meet the standards of genealogical proof.

4) Include the Indian Pioneer Papers in your research. This collection, which is part of the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma should be a standard part of  your genealogical research. This is a 116-volume collection of interviews with people from Indian Territory. People who were "early" residents of the territory or descendants of the early residents were interviewed in the 1930s. This amazing collection of white, black and Indian people should be a standard database used by Oklahoma genealogists. This collection is fully digitized, and searchable, and much valuable data can be studied. In many cases, slave holder data is discussed on multiple levels.

5) Study the Civil War participation of the slave holder. Many slave holders were confederate sympathizers in the war, and served in one of the numerous Indian Confederate regiments. (A fully detailed article on Civil War regiments is being developed in a separate article for this blog.)

Beyond the wonderfully rich data that one finds among the Dawes records, it is imperative that for Freedmen research, that the narrative can be expanded by examining the slave owner's history. The life of the ancestor while enslaved, during the war, and during those early days of freedom will unravel many of the untold mysteries in the family's history. Hopefully the unspoken relationship between the slave holder and the families once enslaved will be explored, and will allow the researcher to tell more of this little studied history.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Free People and Property in Post Civil War Indian Territory

In the years after the Civil War, many citizens of Indian Territory used the services of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen's Bureau. Some needed the Bureau for assistance as they settled into war torn land they once knew as home. For some, the Bureau assisted them with life as free people for the first time. For others, they needed rations, that were provided, and for others, there was an issue of lands abandoned during the War.

Of course, for those once enslaved in Indian Territory the Bureau was a place where many resources could be found. But a group of Creeks who were of African ancestry who were not enslaved also appealed to the Bureau in western Arkansas for assistance. These were people who were born free, and not enslaved. They had lived in the Seminole & Creek Nation as free people, but during the Civil War and the time of conflict, many had to abandon their own lands for safety. Prior to the war, they had settled on lands and had worked their own lands for years, but once the conflicts and issues of the war came closer to their home, like many, they took refuge in Kansas to avoid the chaos and devastation brought by war. After the surrender, many wished to return home, but found much of their property destroyed.

Lewis Moore, who was a leading man of color, first made the inquiry to the bureau officials, inquiring about compensation for the lands that they had abandoned. The officials in the Fort Smith Field office were not certain and in fact wrote to their superiors with the same inquiry. A copy of a letter written about Seminole and Creek people was found among the papers of the Fort Smith Field office of the Bureau. The letter appears below.

The letter was written by the Superintendent of the Fort Smith Field Office of the Bureau, and sent to his superior in Little Rock at the Bureau office there.

There is no response among the letters from the Fort Smith Field office addressing the rights of people and property in the Territory. But the answer can still be learned simply but understanding the bureau, the jurisdiction, and the actions taken.

The bureau, did oversee the issue of abandoned lands in the United States, but the bureau did not restore lands to people in Indian Territory. That is also complicated by the fact that among the Five Civilized Tribes, land was not "owned" in private parcels of land, and private ownership did not take place in the Territory until the Dawes allotment process began in the 1890s.

So although there was no official response found to the letter above, the letter is still revealing as it is one that pertains to the rights of free people of color in the Territory, and it is reflective of a time of post Civil War re-adjustments that were made by all who lived in the Territory.