Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Family of Serena & Perry Cohee, Chickasaw Freedmen - Celebrating Freedman Families

The family of Serena and Perry Cohee is a fascinating one from the Chickasaw Nation. The documents reflecting this family also illustrate how Freedmen of the various nations intermingled and lived blended cultural lives. In addition, the records also reflect the way Freedmen from this nation were treated when appearing for the Dawes Commission. 

Serena Cohee (later known as Serena Brown) appeared in front of the Dawes Commission in September 1898. She was a resident of Pontotoc County and resided near Purcell, Indian Territory. By looking at the card, it appears that she applied on behalf of herself and her children, Eddie, Washington and Annie. A one year old child's name was added at a later date--Myrtle Lee Brown. (A notation to the side indicates that Myrtle was born in December 1901.)

National Archives Publication M1186
Chickasaw Freedman Card #348

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
 Record Group Number: 75

On the reverse side of the card, more about Serena is revealed. Her father's name was "Washn" Mays. His name is clearly an abbreviation for "Washington". He had been enslaved by Sam Colbert. Her mother was Susan Brown, also enslaved by the same Chickasaw slave holder, Sam Colbert.

The father of the Cohee children was Perry Cohee, but it is noted that at the time of Serena's appearance at the Dawes Commission, he was deceased. Serena had clearly remarried, by the time Myrtle was born, and her father's name is shown as Emanuel Brown.
(Source: Same as above image)

Serena's interview, as such, is presented as a simple statement. The full testimony given by Serena is not included in the Dawes packet. This was the case of many Chickasaw Freedmen. In fact it was later noticed after some time, that Chickasaw Freedmen cases were being "modified" by some of the Dawes commissioners and their true interviews having been replaced by these short statements. In many situations some of those Freedman cases with brief statements were later challenged by attorneys investigating the enrollment process for Freedmen and inquiries were later made as to why the testimonies were not included in the official files. Such is the case with this file, however, much more still can be found even with the modified testimony.

It is important to keep in mind that the Freedmen of this nation were never adopted by their former slave-holding nation, and they had lived for over three decades without a country. Abbreviated statements such as found in the Dawes application packet for Serena and her family, are quite frequently found in this collection of Chickasaw Freedman documents. See the page below.

(The single "interview" contained in Susan Cohee's file)
National Archives Publication M1301
Application Jacket for Chickasaw Freedman 348
Ancestry.com. U.S., Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

The youngest child's name (Myrtle) is not included, because at the time, she had not yet been born. But among the additional items in the file was the birth affidavit for Myrtle. From this document much more can be learned, in spite of the limited data in the abbreviated interview. 

Myrtle was born in 1901 in Purcell. By this time, Serena had re-married, and her husband was a Emanuel Brown, and he is listed as the father of the child Myrtle. However, it should be noted that on one portion of the card, Emanuel was said to have been a Chickasaw Freedman. But the bottom portion of the same document says that Emanuel Brown was actually a Creek by blood.
(Source: same as above image)

Two other documents are part of the Application jacket, but not further mention of Emanuel Brown. 

(Source: Same as above)

(Source: Same as above)


The statements about Myrtle's husband Emanuel is intriguing and conflicting. He was listed as a Chickasaw Freedman and then as a Creek. So, I decided to see if more could be learned about him. Was he Creek, or was he Chickasaw? And was he a citizen by blood or classified as a "Freedman?"

Emanuel Brown's Creek Family

A search was made on the Oklahoma Historical Society database for Dawes enrollees. There was an Emanuel Brown on the rolls, and he was of the Creek Nation. Another search was made just in case of a spelling difference to see if a "Manuel", or "Emmanuel" may have been on the roll from either Creek or Chickasaw nations. There was a "Manual" Brown, but this child was a Creek New Born, and not an adult. There was no one on the roll with the name Emmanuel spelled with two "m"s, so, it appears that Emanuel Brown the adult male, was the husband of Serena and father to Myrtle. And that Emanuel Brown was a Creek Freedman.

Being curious about Emanuel Brown's ancestry, I decided to study the enrollment card of Emanuel Brown, which was an amazing exercise. He was born about 1868 after the Civil War, so he was clearly not born enslaved. He had also been previously listed on one of the "Old Series" Creek Cards. And prior to that he was on the 1895 roll as "Manuel" Brown.

National Archives Publication M1186
Creek Freedman Card #1441

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
 Record Group Number: 75

Emanuel's father was a Chickasaw Freedman, Jack Brown, who was, by that time deceased. His mother was Amelia Hutton, who was apparently still living at the time of the Dawes enrollment.

(Source: Same as above image)

Manuel's mother was Amelia Hutton, daughter of Peter and Creasy Wolf of Canadian Town. They had at one time been enslaved by Wm. Reed. Amelia's husband was Joe Hutton, son of Jim Grayson and Venus Grayson of North Fork Town. With this information, clearly, there is much more that can be learned, because the Hutton family has had much research conducted on the family line,  by many individuals over the years. And studying the history of that line will take the family history down another unique path. With a rich Creek history of Amelia and her ancestry and also by studying more about the old tribal towns of the Creek Nation, so much more will be learned. It is also important to note that Creek history is an amazing one, with much contact between many families. The tribal towns are equally as rich and this knowledge of the family's ties to Canadian Town, and even Ketchapataka Town through her husband Joe.

Back to Serena Cohee Brown

A small notation appeared at the end of the abbreviated interview to take note of Chickasaw Freedman card #344. That was the enrollment card of Susan Brown--Serena Cohee's mother.

National Archives Publication M1186
Chickasaw Freedman Card #344

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
 Record Group Number: 75

(Reverse side of card)
(Source: same as above image)


Only two pages are found in the application jacket of Susan Brown. And it too, appears to be an abbreviated interview as there are no questions and answers in detail. However---the summary is still useful and quite valuable to the family research. The brief "statement" made by Amelia reflects an extensive family with quite a complex structure. Each new branch can lead the researcher to much more on the family line.
National Archives Publication M1301
Application Jacket for Chickasaw Freedman 344
Ancestry.com. U.S., Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

The remaining document in the file is a memorandum simply stating that Susan was enrolled by the Dawes Commission. However, this is significant, as it entitled her to receive her own land allotment, and that even at her mature age, she was not removed from the rolls because of having died before the rolls closed.

The structure of the Chickasaw ancestry of Serena's mother Susan connects to others as well in the family. And the fact that her mother Susan was living, she did receive her land allotment, and by searching the land records, her allotment certificate was also found.

Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 1884-1934 
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.
Original data: Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. 
Five Civilized Tribes Agency. Applications for Allotment, compiled 1899–1907.

Susan Brown, her daughter and other children and grandchildren including Cohees, Stevenson and others were a cohesive family living in the Purcell area of the Chickasaw Nation. Other families were the Mays, Alexanders, and Bruners. And this family even with such a small file, is one that extended into the Creek and also Seminole Nations. They survived many obstacles that were placed in the paths of the Freedmen of that nation. It is not known if they were able to retain their land for in subsequent years many families lost their land do to the efforts of many to swindle the people from their land. But it is evident that this family did survive to receive their land, and eventual American citizenship that came with Oklahoma statehood.

So, clearly, the file of Serena Cohee, and her extensive family is a fascinating one to research. Her husband Perry most likely has ties to the other Cohee Freedmen families. By following the clues left on the documents it leads the researcher to the Creek Nation, to the Tribal towns, including Canadian Town and Kethaptaka town.

Clearly the descendants of the Cohees, and Browns and Huttons have an amazingly rich history and much to celebrate as they survived removal, enslavement, freedom, and finally a nation to call their own.
******************
This is the third in a series devoted to sharing families once enslaved in Indian Territory. The focus  is on Freedmen from the Five Civilized Tribes, and are part of the effort to document 52 families in 52 weeks.

2 comments:

Kristin said...

Very interesting and so helpful and wonderful to have even the information in the abbreviated files.

Raymond Dallas said...

Thanks for this article. Serena was my grandmother's mother. I haven't been able to find who Susan Williams married who was named Brown. Serena is buried between Purcell and Washington Oklahoma. Washington Cohee lived with us most of my childhood.