Monday, March 19, 2012

The Chickasaw Freedman History of Don Cheadle

One of the Dawes Records Reflecting Part of Don Cheadle's History. 
Source: NARA Publication M1186, Chickasaw Freedmen Card No. 729

Many of us recall the PBS Series African American Lives. The episode reflecting he history of actor Don Cheadle interested many of us who share the history of the Freedmen of Indian Territory.  When it was revealed to Mr. Cheadle that he had ancestors who had been enslaved by Chickasaw Indians he was stunned to learn of this history, and mentioned that he had never heard of Native Americans and Black Chattel slavery.  Dr. Henry Louis Gates also admitted that this was history of which he himself also had no knowledge.

Meanwhile, dozens of Kemps and Cheadles from southern Oklahoma, from Texas and across the country, in addition to thousands of people who descend from the former slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes--nodded  as we watched once again, how so little is known. Amazingly this unique history has over 14,000 records at the National Archives, that tell the story, and yet not even a Harvard professor had heard of the Freedmen of Indian Territory.

In the episode, Mr. Cheadle was told, "You are one of the few African Americans whose ancestors were not enslaved by white people."  But the reality is that the numbers are not quite as small as Dr. Gates assumed them to be. 



Being familiar with Mr. Cheadle's ancestry and having researched Freedmen for over 20 years as well as having Choctaw Freedmen ancestors myself,  I examined the records of Don Cheadle's family. I also had the opportunity to find the Civil War record on his Missouri family. But the Cheadle and Kemp history is a fascinating family history, indeed!  

Don Cheadle is tied not only to a large clan of Oklahoma Cheadles---but he is also tied to an even larger clan of  Kemps---who reside to this day in southern Oklahoma and Texas and beyond.

As he was told on African American Lives, his gr. gr. grandmother was Mary Kemp.  Mary Kemp had married Henderson Cheadle also known as Hensce Cheadle and they had 8 children, including his gr. grandfather Bill Cheadle. Mary Kemp had been born a slave and was the slave of Chickasaw Jennie Kemp.

Close Up view of Mary Kemp Enrollment Card
NARA Publication M1186 Chickasaw Freedmen # 729

The back of this card reveals more information about Mary Kemp and her children.  
Reverse side of Chickasaw Freedmen Enrollment Card #729

The columns on the reverse side reflect the name of the father of each person on the front of the card, and the card also shows if the parents were slaves, the name of the Indian slave holder. So in this case Mary Kemp's father was a man called John Kemp, who was a slave of Chickasaw Jackson Kemp. Her mother was Frances Kemp, also enslaved by Jackson Kemp. Eight of Mary Kemp's eleven children were fathered by Henderson Cheadle--called Hensce. 

Mary's former husband, Henderson Cheadle himself also had an enrollment card from the Chickasaw Nation.

Henderson Cheadle Enrollment Card
Source: NARA Publication M1186 Enrollment Card Chickasaw Freedman #813

Henderson Cheadle's father was a man called Elderidge Edwards, and his mother was Peggie Edwards. Both of them had been enslaved by Chickasaw citizen Jim Cheadle.

Reverse side of Card reflects the parents of Henderson Cheadle. Though called Edwards, they were enslaved by Chickasaw Jim Cheadle.
Source: NARA Publication M1186 Enrollment Card Chickasaw Freedman #813 (Side 2)


Mary Kemp Cheadle and Henderson Cheadle had separated from each other, and she had remarried. Her second husband was Scott Finley and in their file was a copy of their marriage record.

Marriage Record of Mary Cheadle to Scott Finley
Source: NARA Publication M1301 Dawes Enrollment Packets
Chickasaw Freedman File #729


In the 1900 Federal Census taken in Indian Territory, Mary Kemp Cheadle and her children appear in the Chickasaw Nation community enumerated together. And son, William, gr. grandfather to Don Cheadle is in the household with her.

1900 Census enumeration of Mary Kemp Cheadle 

By 1920, William was married with his own family and living in what was now the state of Oklahoma.

William Cheadle and family living in1920 in Oklahoma
Source: 1920 Federal US Census, Oklahoma 

Lee Turner Cheadle was William's son, and when the family later moved to Missouri, the family's ties to Oklahoma were broken.  Lee Turner Cheadle is Don Cheadle's grandfather, and Don Cheadle Sr. is the son of Lee Turner Cheadle.  Don Frank Cheadle Sr is the father of Don Cheadle Jr., the actor.

Of course time did not allow for extensive detail about the lives of those who were enslaved in Indian Territory to be shown in the PBS program that featured Don Cheadle.  The lives of the slaves in the Territory have never been widely studied which would explain why Dr. Gates himself knew nothing of this history. But there are still records that tell this story.

Mary Kemp Cheadle was enslaved by Jackson Kemp. What would her life have been like as a slave to Chickasaw Indians?

Jackson Kemp was a large slave holder in the Chickasaw Nation.

Source:  1860 Slave Schedule Chickasaw Nation
Ancestry.com. 1860 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls.

Jackson Kemp owned 61 slaves in 1860. The oldest was 61 years old and the youngest--were several children 1 year or less in age.  On closer examination, at least 20--more than a third of the slaves he was said to have owned---had fled from him. They were listed as "fugitives."  Among the runaways was even the eldest slave.

Close up view of Slave Schedule of Jackson Kemp Slaves. The oldest slave was listed as a fugitive.

The presence of so many runaways from bondage suggests that Jackson Kemp may not have been viewed as one of the most kindly of slave holders, evidenced by the resistance of more than a third of his human chattel said to be fugitives.

In addition to simply knowing the names of the ancestors of Don Cheadle, there also comes a fascinating history of the Kemps. Mary Kemp the matriarch of the Cheadle clan, had an older brother Isaac Kemp. Isaac Kemp was leader and an activist in his community of Chickasaw Freedmen, He worked with a group of other leaders to speak on behalf of Chickasaw Freedmen. Their treatment and their neglect  by the Chickasaw Nation, as well as the US government was a issue for more than four decades, and both Kemps and Cheadles and also the Loves were among the leaders of Freedmen that continually fought for the rights of the former Chickasaw slaves. 
This item is a document from the National Archives (II) found in a box of miscellaneous letters reflecting issues pertaining to Chickasaw Freedmen. Included was an item from Isaac Kemp a leader 
in the Freedman community of Wiley, I. T.

The saga and struggles of the Chickasaw Freedmen went on for many years. Scholar and professor Daniel Littlefield wrote about them, in  his book The Chickasaw Freedmen,  and some of Don Cheadle's ancestors were noted in his work as well, including Isaac Kemp--Cheadle's gr. gr. gr. uncle.

The Chickasaw Freedmen by Professor Daniel Littlefield captures the story of hundreds of Chickasaw Freedmen from the years after the Civil War, up to Oklahoma statehood in 1907

Littlefield, Daniel, The Chickasaw Freedmen. A People Without a Country
Westport Connecticut, Greenwood Press,  1980, p. 166

Isaac Kemp worked alongside other Freedmen leaders to voice their concerns for the educational needs of their children, and when they felt that strong teachers were not in place, they also voiced their concerns about the strength and competency of the teachers as well. In this next excerpt, Isaac Kemp (Cheadle's 3rd gr. uncle and Hensce Cheadle (his gr. gr. grandfather) voiced complaint with others about the status of the schools for Freedmen children.

Source: Monthly School Reports. November 1882, Turner to Price, January 8 and 27, 1883, and 
Miles to Commissioner February 8, 1883, Letters Received, 22294-82, 634-83, 1074-73

Isaac Kemp (Don Cheadle's gr. gr. uncle) began his fight for justice immediately after the Civil War. In a rare letter written in 1865, Isaac Kemp's name appeared in a letter to the Arkansas Freedman's Bureau. The letter was asking for help for their loved ones still being held in bondage by the Chickasaw Indian slave holders. I wrote about this letter in a blog post  back in 2010.  

At the end of that letter the "X" marking the signature of Isaac Kemp is found.  He was requesting release of his wife and children, and also of his mother Frances (3rd gr. grandmother of Don Cheadle). This was probably the first time that Isaac Kemp's name appeared in writing as a free man. It was also perhaps the first in many battles that he would fight and that would initiate a battle for justice in Chickasaw country.

Isaac Kemp's mark is shown among the signatures of others seeking freedom 
for their loved ones in the Chickasaw Nation.

Programs such as African American Lives as well as the NBC program WDYTYA (Who Do You Think Your Are) now in its third season, are popular and they encourage many to explore their family history. However, what is often shown on the prog, rams are mere glimpses as their history. 

As the case of Don Cheadle, his Chickasaw Freedmen history is rich, complicated, colorful, and also inspiring. The few moments aired on the PBS program only mentioned the Chickasaw Freedmen, but as one can tell, there is so much more to this amazing story. As one who researches the Freedmen of Indian Territory, my hope is that others will be inspired to tell the stories that come from this little known chapter in America's history.  

Ancestral Family Tree of Don Cheadle, Descendant of Chickasaw Freedmen

31 comments:

Andrea Kelleher said...

Amazing post! A perfect reminder to so many that there is so much more to the stories that sometimes get showcased on TV shoes.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

You are quite right, Andrea. The stories are in everyone's families, and they extend beyond the documents.

Andrea Kelleher said...

I meant shows...Angela sorry I was typing last night on my Nook.

Coloring Outside the Lines said...

Very interesting post- thanks Angela!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thank you so much.

AAINNM said...

Angela,

This is a brilliant piece of research. You expertly picked up where Mr. Gates left off in tracking Don Cheadle's ancestry.

You have made us mindful that the TV programs are not as thorough or comprehensive in their researching, often relying on 'celebrity' to entertain us for an hour or so.
Thank you!

Peace & Blessings,
"Guided by the Ancestors"

Noketch said...

I have been researching this myself as my maternal grandmother was a Kemp. Her Grandfather was Louis Kemp, who was listed as a slave as Jackson Kemp in the 1902 Dawes Enrollment packet for my great-grandfather Dave Kemp and his Mother Peggy Kemp and siblings.

His mother Peggy was listed as a widow so Louis Kemp was already dead. Family history indicates that all of Peggy's children were actually by the man who owned her. So it i snot know whether or not there was really a Louis Kemp who owned Jackson Kemp who was married to Peggy and fathered her children, or if a name was just given for the records and the father was actually Jackson Kemp himself.

While trying to figure this out, I also found Jackson Kemp's slave schedule from 1860 and noted the large number of mulatto slaves and that every single Mulatto slave listed was also listed as a runaway. Not only was every single Mulatto listed as a fugitive, but not one of the black slaves were listed as fugitives.

I'm sure there is some significance to this, but I have no idea what it is.

I hope to find out one day.

Both my grandmother's mother's family and father's family were slavesd of Native Americans. Her mother Josie Fields, was the daughter of Elmira Fields who was owned by some Chocktaw Indians but her father Bill Fields was not owned by Native Americans. It is not clear if he was free, or owned by whites. I really wish the records were clearer. All of this is fascinating, but so much is missing.

Mavis said...

Angela, great work and thanks for bringing out the rest of the history that was not revealed on the show.

seekingtoledo said...

Are these Kemps related to the former Senator Jack Kemp?

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I have not researched Senator Kemp's history or genealogy, and could not say.

Anonymous said...

My name is Hazlee Kemp, Grand-daughter of Wellington Kemp/Mary Lamey Kemp. Great grand daughter of Henry Kemp.Tishamingo, Okla. Born 1939 to Holsey Kemp/Jettie Lawson. I have two Aunts that are Cheadles. Related to Don Cheadle.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Hello Hazlee,
Thanks for visiting the page. I hope that you found the information useful on the Cheadle line and I hope you found it useful.

The MO Amper Commander said...

Hey Angela!
This is my 2nd review of your post -- simply, THANK YOU!! My mother named me after a very famous labor/legal/activist member of the Moskeogee Oklahoma based KEMP family! My great uncle was James Horace Kemp who was a labor leader, trustee of Taladega College, and president of the NAACP in 1985. PLEASE help me in bridging the link between James and Sadie Kemp who assisted leaders of the NAACP with safe-houses during the late 1800's...THANK YOU :-) email: commander0305@aim.com

Ms Vicky said...

What amazing research you did Angela and as always you have again hit the nail on the head by telling the story with words and documents.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. angela you did great, but I wonder would you do any,reasearch about south carolina indians,from the freeman descentant,i notice in the census records alot of mistakes was made when doing research like family surnames was switched names was wrongfullt misspelled by the census takers, I also heard it was hard in the south keep up with indians especially black indians,

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

As you can see, the blog posts, always contain documents from the various communities. The Freedmen of the Five tribes have a rich paper trail. In addition they were legally designated as "Freedmen" reflecting their status as having been "freed" from bondage in their tribes. I am unaware of "Freedman" records from any tribes east of the Mississippi, and am unaware of any legal status of "Freedmen" from any of those tribes that you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I just received my DNA report which to my surprise reported 8% Sub Saharan African. My most difficult genealogy "block" are my 3rd Great Grandparents; Byrd Kemp and Sarah Horn who appeared out of nowhere in Muddy fork Township, Polk County, Arkansas 1860 census. Nothing is known of their history before then. My great grandmother, Eliza,(Byrd and Sarah's granddaughter) was sometimes called a Black Dutch. She was very beautiful. We thought that might have meant part Indian. My dad always said we were part Chickasaw, but I could find no evidence of that. All the pieces now fit with this story--now I need to figure out if these are just a series of coincidences or if I am a descendent of former Chickasaw slaves. Cool :-), Randy

Anonymous said...

My name is Betty Love. I grew up in the Tishomingo area. I've been researching my roots since 1999. In my research I found that Mary Kemp was my great grandmother. Scott Finley, her second husband was my great grandfather. I've also discovered that Mary had far more than 8 children by Hence Cheadle. During the time that the Dawes Commission came through Indian Territory, Mary and Hence had grown children who weren't enumerated with either Hence or Mary. Among those children were Douglas and Amos Cheadle. I do agree that Don Cheadle (a cousin) has a varied and colorful family history indeed. I most recently found my great grandmother, Mary Kemp's brother, Isaac. Can you tell me where I can find the letters he wrote to ask for freedom for his wife and children?

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I wrote an article with images of the letter and a full transcription of the letter as well. You can find it here.
http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2010/07/earliest-list-of-slaves-from-indian.html

By the way, do you have any photos of the Kemps and Cheadles?

Anonymous said...

I don't have any photos of either the Kemps or Cheadles but a cousin of mine who is also doing a family history has in possession a picture of Hence Cheadle.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Wow---I hope that the photo is shared, because Hensce Cheadle was a patriarch of such a large and significant clan of people among Chickasaw Freedmen! The entire cadre of descendants should have his photo!

Anonymous said...

Estella Cheedle is my great great grandmother. Starting my research now. I do know Mary Kemp was her mother. I do have a pic of one of Estella kid.. Trying to dig deep asking family for pics of Mary Kemps family. Wish me luck!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I would love to see a photo of one of Mary's children! Can you upload it?

pearlene said...

My name is Pearlene live in Fresno.Mother Kathrine Cheadle,Grandfather Bill Cheadle,Hence Cheadle is my Great Grandfather.Love to hear more

Nat Turner said...

Hello... My name is Shawn (Cookie ) 3 rd Great Grandson of Eldridge Edwards..2nd to Hence Cheadle and 1st to Bill Cheadle and Grandson to Katherine cheadle. I've been gathering pic's and info on our VERY BIG family and it's really exciting to find so much info.. I have at least 330 family members and adding as i go to complete this family tree. I will be in Oklahoma at the family reunion this year in july !! so i can get all the info i need, Hope to see some of you there ??You can email me if you have any QUESTIONS .. cookieshawn415@gmail.com or you can go to the site and look for the Eldridge Edwards Tree ...bye..

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Hello Pearline, nice to hear from you. I also heard from another Cheadle who is connected to Hence Cheadle. Do you know if there are any photos of either Hence Cheadle or Mary Kemp?

Anonymous said...

There will be a Cheadle/Gordon reunion the 3rd weekend in July 2014 in Tishomingo Oklahoma your more than welcome to attend to gather more info or pics. We have a Facebook page as well thanks. V.P. Cheadle/Gordon reunion Okc, Ok.

Anonymous said...

I was going thru some old photos I found going thru a trash dump and found pictures possibly from the Gordon Cheadle Family Reunion July 21, 1990. Most are circa 1990 color phots but a few are old Black & Whites from possibly from the 40's or 50'. If these are related to your family, plz advise. My personel e-mail addressis chaps4@charter.net

Anonymous said...

Hello...family has always been my way of finding out about us and just reaching out is very important..Those who hide and destroy the records of truth did a good job of destroying the tracks of our ancesters.

Anonymous said...

It is visible on ancestry

Anonymous said...

Hello family..just go to ancestry and see who you are...cookieshawn ��