Friday, March 11, 2011

A Closer Look at Susan Colbert, Choctaw Freedwoman

Enrollment Card of Susan and Israel Colbert, Choctaw Freedmen

In early January, I wrote a piece about Susan Colbert's interview in the Indian Pioneer Papers, by Gomer Gower was an interesting one.

Her voice was not heard, it was summarized and the voice telling the story was the interviewer who wrote about her Cherokee father, and her being placed on the Freedman Roll, which according to the interviewer, was a wise decision, for the Choctaw population was "protected" from countless numbers of "bogus" claims that would have resulted had this woman of mixed ancestry been treated differently.

I found the interview curious not only because of the biases expressed by the interviewer, but the fact that the reader was not hearing her voice---only his narration of her life.  I decided therefore to took at some records created 30 years earlier---her Dawes Card. 

-From the interview, it was stated that her father was Bob Parrot a Cherokee Indian.
-But from the Dawes Card it is revealed that her father was Tom Parris, A Choctaw Indian.
Enrollment Card of Susan Colbert with husband Israel Colbert, and their children


Reverse side of Enrollment Card.  Susan's data appears on line 2. Note her father 
is identified as Choctaw, and not Cherokee.


-From the interview it was stated that she married Tom Smith a Choctaw citizen who was half Choctaw, half Negro.
-From the Dawes Card it is revealed that Tom Smith was a Cherokee citizen.

Thomas Smith, a husband from a previous marriage was not Choctaw, 
but noted as Cherokee on her Dawes Card.


-From the interview it was stated that their marriage was very brief due to his cavalier lifestyle and he left shortly after their marriage.
-From the Dawes Card it is revealed that Tom Smith was around at least long enough for them to have had three children, who do appear on the card with her.

The children of Susan and Tom Smith are reflected on the Dawes Enrollment Card. 

-From the interview it was stated that she married a Choctaw Indian, Israel Colbert.
-From the Dawes Card, it was revealed that she married Israel Colbert a man once enslaved by Sam Colbert. (Also both of his parents were enslaved by Choctaw Sam Colbert.) 





Fathers and  Father's Slave owners indicated.


 
Mothers and Mothers' Slave Owners indicated

The lesson learned from the case of Susan Colbert, is that we must rely on multiple sources of information to truly understand the story of an ancestor. With Susan Colbert, she was interviewed in the 1930s and for some reason, her words were not produced, but merely her story was presented in the 3rd person. However, when one looks at the records produced 30 years earlier, a different story emerges about Susan Colber, her life, her husbands and her identity.  She was not the daughter of a Cherokee, but the daughter of a Choctaw.  Her first husband was not half Choctaw, but he was a Cherokee citizen.  

Truly in order to explore the lives of one's ancestors, it is imperative that as many resources as possible are utilized to tell the story, and to tell it accurately.

14 comments:

Stefanie said...

These are my relations. Edmund Colbert is my gggGrandfather, and Israel one of my great uncles. Edmund was the son AND slave of Sam Colbert. Israel Colbert was the grandson of Sam Colbert...Edmunds mother was 1/2 Choctaw. Edmunds wife Jane was 1/4 Creek.

Blessings,
Stefanie Colbert Stringfellow

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Hello Stefanie,

How nice to hear from you! Your post illustrates how important oral history is to family research. Sam Colbert being the slave owner and the father of Edmund Colbert (Israel's father) is significant. These facts indeed add much more to one's legacy for sure.

Do you have photos of the Colbert family from the 1800s?

Terry said...

Greetings Angela,

Your article demonstrates just how important it is for Indian Territory Freedmen researchers to dig into the documents for the full story of the people, family ties and history that gets lost in the desire to become members of the tribes.

We clearly have a connection to the Five Slave Holding Tribes but sadly so many people let it rest with the short sighted desire to belong to a tribe, rather than the larger story of who we are as the descendants of some unique people with a story to tell.

It is also gratifying to see another descendant step forward and acknowledge their ancestor's; like you I hope there are photos of these men and women to again illustrate these were flesh and blood people who were/are more than just names on a piece of paper.

Thanx I really enjoyed your analysis.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Terry,

You have made a very interesting and poignant statement. We have a unique story to tell within the greater African diaspora of which we are a part.

You stated that sometimes history or the desire to learn our history gets lost in the one effort to become members of a tribe that will fight you tooth and nail,to keep you away.

The fight for equal rights is a significant battle, but it is a battle in which are engaging as outsiders. A battle in which we are viewed as outsiders because the history of how we have a tie is still unknown.

These five tribes were held black people as slaves. Can't paint that picture pretty. They did not "take them in" they held them as human property.

These five tribes fought for the SOUTH in the Civil War.

These five tribes refused to grant freedom after the war, and a full 18 months later they finally signed a treaty freeing their slaves from bondage. The Treaty of 1866 abolished slavery in the Territory. This is a story you will never hear told in Tahlequah, Okmulgee, Durant, Tishomingso, or Seminole. For to include that part of their history, might affect their image. BUT----it is their history. And we as descendants of those who were enslaved have another story to tell---one of a strong people who stuggled to survive.

Our grandparents and great grandparents were members of the tribe during their lifetime. They lived by the laws of the nation, and lived upon the soil of their families and of their enslavers from the slave holding tribes. It was truly the only land that they knew as home.

During our lifetime, we were expelled without knowledge, and until the past few decades, we never knew how we were even a part of those tribes---it was the embracing of black chattel slavery by the 5 tribes called "civilized" because of their embracing European lifestyle---including black chattel slavery.

This is the challenge----to tell the stories of our ancestors---of their enslavement, of their resistance, and of their resilience and courage that they relied upon to survive.

But to tell it accurately---we must tell all of what happened to them.

To ignore the enslavement of our ancestors, and to embrace only the slave holder's blood, is truly a form of self-genocide---a destruction of the history of our own people.

Hopefully we will not become willing participants in the annihilation of our history, just to call ourselves a member of a tribe---or to hope that they will embrace you as a member.

The fact is----we have a wonderful history, a unique one, and one that is worthy of being told.

We have nothing to be ashamed of. Our ancestors who were Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee and Seminole----African citizens of these tribes---a unique corner of the diaspora for sure. We must tell their stories, just as we must also preserve the landmarks where they lived.

If one is working for citizenship, but has done nothing to preserve a landmark, or cemetery and could care less about it---then is that quest truly genuine?

Thanks for your response.

Stefanie said...

Edmund Colberts' second side of his Dawes application show that his Father and owner were Sam Colbert. My familys Joe and Dillard Perry Case file reveals that Jane Colbert was 1/4 Creek. I have one picture from the 1800's, which I received from Terry Smith, who is a direct descendant of Israel Colbert. It is I believe of his daughter Rachel Colbert.

I want to add to this, that I was raised with the knowledge that I am a Choctaw Indian and African American descendant from my paternal side. I was also raised with the knowledge that we descend from Chiefs. What I did not know until I was an adult, is that the Chiefs were in the Chickasaw Tribe and not Choctaw. Sam Colbert was Choctaw from his Mother (Susannah James Colbert) and Chickasaw from his Father Major James Holmes Colbert. I have never felt a sense of rejection from anyone in the Native Community whether in my home state Oklahoma, or in Alaska where we live now. It is my prayer, that ALL of the Five Civilized Tribes do the right thing, and bring the Freedmen back into full fellowship with their respective Tribes where they belong.

Blessings,
Stefanie Colbert Stringfellow

Stefanie said...

There is an article in this months Choctaw paper the Biskinik which has an article in the online edition about Wallis Willis a Choctaw Freedmen who wrote 'Swing Low, Swing Chariot" which is in the process of being recognized as the State Gospel song.

Assistant Secretary of the Oklahoma State Senate Currie Ballard is one of his descendants.

Blessings,
Stefanie Colbert Stringfellow

Patizio said...

This blog is very important for my quest to reclaim my ancestry... My part of the Stevenson tree is from Oklahoma/Indian Territory and has never left. After reading my family's history, I have discovered that the Colbert Family was an instrumental part of my heritage.. I'll be going to my reunion in July so I can find the missing links to my past.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Hello Patizio,
I am glad that you have found the information useful. , The Stevensons were a very large clan in Indian Territory and there were 171 Chickasaw Freedmen.

I noticed that Elsie and Mack Stevenson were the parents of a very large clan of Stevensons, and Mack Stevenson was a slave of Joseph Colbert and his mother Creasy Colbert was also a slave of Joseph Colbert. There were many more Stevenson throughout the same area. Perhaps more information will be available at the reunion that you attend. Best wishes.

dp said...

This is so wonderful to find this info, Israel Colbert was my great-great grandfather his daughter Vernetta Colbert-Burney was my great grandmother. My family has been doing research on ancestry.com and we got pretty far in our history and we were even able to find a picture of Israel that an unknown relative posted, now finding this out makes us want to keep digging. Thanks

Larry Green said...

Angela

Thank you for posting this and I am also of relation to Susan Parrish-Colbert she was the sister to my 3x Great Grandmother Dicey Hunter. Everything mentioned in your article and Stephanies comments are true. She was the youngest of girls born to Mary Ann McCoy. The 3 children noted on her Dawes card (Nick, Hamp and Eddie) were her nephews born to her sister Ellen Hunter. When she died during childbirth she raised them along with her own and with the Help of Israel Colbert. These familys spoke the choctaw language and followed the traditions of the choctaw indian, example. My 3xGreat Grandma Dicey Hunter and her Sister Isabella McCoy where married to the same man John Guess a slave of Sam Colbert through his mother and white father. They practice this sister marriage until polygamy was banned in the territory but continued to have and raise children together. Numerous family members fought the nation to be put on the roll by blood, few succeded many failed. Case in point Isabella McCoy-Guess the sister to Susan and Dicey was the daughter of Mary Ann McCoy and the daughter of Rueben McCoy who was the son of the man that enslaved them all William Billy McCoy. Her and her children where defendents in the equity 7071 case but where denied. John Guess sister Susan Guess the child of a slave women owned by Sam Colbert and a White man from Switzerland obtained a lawyer and fought to have her and her children put on the roll by blood due to her marriage to William Billy McCoys other son Oliver Boss McCoy, Her testimony should the challenges African/Native Americans faced to prove there identity (See Susan Brashear Choctaw Nation case). I have pictures of all the people I spoke about and wouldn't mind sharing them with you all. Thank you Angela and please keep bringing awareness to OUR people.

Unknown said...

Hi Stephanie, I am also a Colbert from Oklahoma (Tulsa area) and I have heard many of these names but I do not know of the direct ancestry line as many of my elder Colbert relatives are deceased....I would love for you to share with me any pictures you have to go with these names...my email is tasha75054@yahoo.com Thank you!

Monica Jones said...

Hello! What a great and informative article. I am wondering if you have any information on my gggg-grandmother America "Mereka" Colbert and Isom Williams- both reportedly owned by Samuel Colbert?
I keep hitting genealogical walls and would greatly appreciate any help.
Thank you SO much for the work you do!

Monica Jones

Louise Davis said...

Israel & Kimmel Colbert are my great grandparents their baby daughter Vernetta Colbert Burney is my grandmother Louise Burney Haywood

Niyah Lee said...

I am a descendant of Isabella McCoy (Guess) this is solo awesome.