Category Archives: African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research


Jessie Freeman was born in 1888 in Montgomery. She was the eighth child of Rufus E. and Alice (Larkins) Freeman. Two of the children died young. Jessie’s mother died before 1900, when we find Jessie living with her Aunt Mary and two younger sisters. They were attending school. She graduated from St. Normal school in 1911 and started teaching at Cemetery Hill School the following year. She was 24 years old.

“The Cemetery Hill school building (for colored pupils) was erected in 1888 at a cost of $2,100.  Subsequently the Council expended about $800 dollars more in furnishing and improving the building. This building is well located on the hill just south of Oakwood Cemetery, where the city owns several acres of valuable property. The building has seating capacity for 300 students and the property is valued at $3,000.” The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery, Alabama · Friday, May 29, 1891

The Montgomery Times Montgomery, Alabama Mon, Sep 30, 1912 · Page 5. Edelweiss members – Jessie Freeman, Willease Simpson, Annie Wimbs and Naomi Rodgers.

There were three fires that burned African American buildings in January 1913. Cemetery Hill School, which burned to the ground, Swayne School that was not a complete loss and the Negro Lodge Hall. There was talk of arson, and the fire marshal decided that the Swayne School fire and the Lodge fire were of incendiary origin. The Cemetery Hill School fire was ruled accidental with the blaze beginning in the basement and spreading upwards to the roof until the whole building was engulfed. Windy conditions fanned the fire. No one was injured in any of the fires.

The cost of replacing the building was estimated at $4,000 ($2,000 covered by insurance) and $800 for the desks, black boards etc. The school relocated temporarily to a church building and seems to have been rebuilt in a timely fashion.

Jesse Freeman taught second grade at Cemetery Hill for several years and then taught fifth grade at Day Street School for several years. By 1919 she was teaching eighth grade at Booker T. Washington school where she taught until her death at age 60.

The Emancipator, 26 January, 1918

“The Edelweiss Club was entertained last Friday evening by Miss Jessie Freeman. After whist the members of the club were served to a delightful luncheon. The guests were Misses Alice Snow, Lucile Caffey and Ophelia Peterson. The prizes were won by Miss Juanita Davis and Miss Annie Wimbs.”

I wonder what constituted “a delightful luncheon”? Sounds like a good topic for the letter “D”.

B- Booker T. Washington School

Daisy Pearl Turner

Fannie’s younger sister Daisy graduated from State Normal School in 1912 at age 20. She began teaching the following year at the State Normal School. She taught several years in Selma, Alabama and had to board there, only coming home for holidays and summer. In 1919 she was assigned to teach at Booker T. Washington elementary school, right next door to her home.

I wonder if she was happy about that or if she was sorry to lose the the freedom she probably had and the friends she had made in Selma. Her lost love, Duncan IRBY was in Selma, which could have made it harder or easier to leave, depending on if she had already refused his proposal of marriage.

A Short History of Booker T. Washington School

“Booker T. Washington School Named for one of the nation’s premier educators, Booker T. Washington School began through the efforts of an expanding Swayne College. Its large enrollment forced Swayne’s officials in 1916 to erect a new building which they named for the great educator. And even larger enrollment propelled officials in 1925 to add a junior high department with the same name. Three years later, the Montgomery Industrial School, which had been sold to the city, became a part of the junior high department and the site of the first high school. In May 1940, 88 students became the first graduates, and, in 1948, the old Swayne building was demolished to make way for the new $250,000 high school at Union and Grove Streets. A dedication program was held on 3 April 1949, and an auditorium-gymnasium was added in 1954. Only two principals – Pro. J. A. Edwards, who resigned in May 1942, and former basketball coach and teacher, C.T. Smiley, who assumed his duties in September 1942 – served the school. The school’s nickname was Yellow Jackets and its colors blue and gold. It was known for its excellent faculty, students, school spirit, marching band, and athletic teams.” Information from Alabama Historical Association markers 2003

The Montgomery Advertiser Sunday, June 8, 1919. Associated with the Eldelweiss Club were Effie Mae Todd, Cecile Walton, Daisy Turner, Anita Nesbitt, Madge Brown, Juanita Davis, Jessie Freeman, Naomi Rodgers and Janie Binford

Although Booker T. Washington school was built to relieve the horrendous overcrowding at Swayne School, there were 100 students to a classroom at the time with some on half days and still all of the African American students that wanted to attend school were not able to squeeze in, almost immediately Booker T. was also overcrowded. According to an article in the Montgomery Advertiser of October 2, 1917, “Negro Schools Crowded

At the negro (sic) schools, there is hardly room for the proverbial one more. Booker Washington school, which includes the three schools – old Swayne school, the new eight-room brick building and a cottage in the school yard; there are 1,022 pupils. Day street has an enrollment of 556; Cemetery Hill, 292, and Vesuvius, 124.”

More about Swayne School when we get to S.

All buildings eventually included in the Booker T. Washington “complex” are labeled. Also labeled are Fannie and Daisy’s house, Tulane Groceries, First Congregational Church and their grandparent’s house – Dock and Eliza.

Many African American schools were named after Booker T. Washington, who rose from slavery to be the head of Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee Alabama. You can click on his name for a look at his autobiography.

More posts about Daisy Pearl Turner

Daisy Turner Dead at 70. Nov 24, 1961
Daisy Turner and Duncan Irby
Joe Turner – Land, Mules and Courts

A – Abominable Weather

It all began during a January cold wave with snow expected across Alabama. My grandmother Fannie Turner held the first meeting of the Edelweiss Club. She was 29 years old and lived with her mother, a seamstress and two sisters, Daisy a teacher and Alice a school girl. They lived in the African American Centennial Community of Montgomery, Alabama.

"Jennie Allen Turner and Daughters"
Fannie, Jennie (mother) Alice. Daisy standing.

Most of the members of the Edelweiss Club were teachers. Fannie was one of the few who worked in family businesses. She managed her Uncle Victor Tulane’s grocery store.

Click to enlarge. Advertisment for Tulane Grocery

Below is my mother’s description of her mother Fannie’s job.

“She never tired of telling me about taking inventory, counting money, keeping books, dealing with the help and customers and demanding respect from the drummers. Drummers were white salesmen trying to get orders for their products and you can imagine how difficult it was for a handsome black woman doing a man’s job to get respect from them.  But she knew the power of her ability to give or withhold orders and she used it without apology.  Her whole tone when she straightened her back and raised her head to tell it was not of asking for respect, but demanding it – and loving the demanding!     She managed the store for the twelve most satisfying years of her life.  Then she married in 1919.”

Transcribed below. Click to enlarge.

Edelweiss Club Entertained by Miss Turner

On Friday afternoon, the 11th inst. ( ie. ‘of the current month’), the Edelweiss Club, composed of a number of prominent young women of this city, was delightfully entertained at the residence of Miss Fannie M. Turner, 712 East Grove Street. Several invited guests were present. After the games were played a delightful luncheon was served.

The bad weather made page one of the Montgomery Times January 12, 1918. Click to enlarge.

More posts about Fannie Turner

Fannie Mae Turner, Enumerator 1910
Grandmothers 1912
My Social Butterflies – 1911 & 1937
The Proposal – 1918
The Proposal Accepted – 1918
Fannie Mae Turner about 1919
Fannie Turner Animated
Announcement – 1 February 1919
From Montgomery to Detroit – Plymouth Congregational Church – 1919
Mershell Graham and Fannie Mae Turner Marriage License – 11 June 1919
Graham-Turner Wedding – 1919 Montgomery Alabama

The Edelweiss Club

Some of the members of the Edelweiss Club.

This year am finally going to write about the Edelweiss Club of Montgomery, Alabama.

This will be my eleventh year participating in the A to Z Challenge. I am going to present the lives of some of those women as my A to Z theme.

Who were the members of the Edelweiss Club?  They were thirty seven women who attended the monthly meetings, starting January 12, 1918 and continuing monthly during the school year until  May 3, 1919. Thirty of them were teachers. One was a seamstress. Three worked in family businesses.  The majority of the members were single. Most married as time went on. Some moved out of town.  A good number never married.

Their parents were born in the mid 1850s to the  1870s and would have been teenagers when slavery ended or were born during Reconstruction. All of them came from literate homes. Most of their parents owned their homes. Some owned them free and clear. Others were mortgaged. Their fathers tended to work for themselves as barbers, carpenters and plasterers. Bertha Loveless’ father was an undertaker. Madge Brown’s father was a farmer. Alberta Boykin’s father was a mail carrier. Several lived with their widowed mother or an aunt. At least two were from out of town and boarded. Most had multiple siblings.

There were no more reported meetings after May 3, 1919.

AtoZChallenge theme reveal 2024 #atozchallenge

Death, War and Slavery 1860 Autauga, Alabama

In November 1859 Crawford Motley Jackson, large slave holder, became ill. Bronchitis set in. On February 26, 1860, he died at age 43. He held 136 people in slavery.

Death of Gen. Crawford M. Jackson

The Autauga Citizen Prattville, Alabama · Thursday, March 01, 1860

It becomes our melancholy duty to announce to our readers the death of our distinguished fellow citizen, Gen. C. M. Jackson, who died at his residence in this county, on Sunday last, 26th inst. His unexpected death has cast a gloom over this whole county, in which he was universally known and esteemed. The Confederation, in commenting on the untimely end of one whom we all loved and respected so much, uses the following language: Gen. Jackson was a man of marked ability and intelligence and commanded great respect and influence among his fellow men whenever thrown into consultation and deliberation with them. He frequently represented Autauga county in the State Legislature; and two years ago was unanimously elected Speaker of the House; the duties of which he discharged with an ability, success and popularity rarely equaled by any of his predecessors. He has been sent upon two occasions to represent the Democracy of his District in the National Convention of the Democratic party, and always discharged his duties to the entire satisfaction of his constituents. Being a gentleman of varied information, of a kind, social and charitable disposition, his intercourse with his friend and neighbors was as charming and agreeable as it was useful and instructive. In him they have lost a friend indeed – one whose place will not be easily supplied, or soon forgotten.

The Autauga Citizen Prattville, Alabama · Thursday, Dec. 20, 1860

The death of such a man as Gen. Jackson is a public calamity. Endowed by nature with a mind and social qualities of the highest and most attractive order, he filled the duties of a patriotic and upright citizen in a manner that reflected credit upon himself and benefit to the State. Alabama had no more worthy son, and she has cause to mourn at his loss.

His remains were attended to the grave by the neighboring Masonic and Odd Fellows Lodges, and a host of relatives, friends and acquaintances.

The Autauga Citizen Prattville, Alabama · Thursday, March 01, 1860

Crawford Motley Jackson belonged to one of the largest slave holding families in Autauga County. He owned 136 people when he died in 1860. His brother-in-law, Lunceford Long held 161 people in slavery. Jackson’s older brother, Absalom enslaved 61 people.

My 2X great grandmother, Prissy and her six children were among those enslaved on General Crawford Motley Jackson’s plantation. Using DNA evidence, at least some of her children were fathered by Crawford.

During the next several years, the estate was probated. Because he left no wife nor white children, his brother, and various nephews and nieces were his heirs. Several of them died during the process and the enslaved would have to be shuffled around to those still living, or sold off. The probate record is quite large and includes several lists of those enslaved among the mules, farm implements and household items.

Families were kept together until children reached the age of about 12 – 15, at which time they were often placed in a different household than the rest of their family.

1860 Map of Alabama with percentage of enslaved population based on 1860 census data.

According to U.S. Census data, the 1860 Autauga County population included 7,105 whites, 14 “free colored” and 9,607 slaves. 57.6% of the population was enslaved.

On November 8, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th president of the United States. The Slave holding South was enraged at the possibility of losing their enslaved workforce. Succession soon followed. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. As you can see below, no one was freed by it.

“Big Prices, – At a sale of negroes (sic) in this place on Saturday, 10th inst., five negroes, two boys 20 years old each, one woman 50 years old, one woman 25 years old, and her child aged four years, sold for $6,500, an average of $1,300 to the negro (sic). This would seem to indicate that the people in this region have very little faith in old Abe’s proclamation. It certainly beats any sale ever before made in this county.”Big Prices, – At a sale of negroes (sic) in this place on Saturday, 10th inst., five negroes, two boys 20 years old each, one woman 50 years old, one woman 25 years old, and her child aged four years, sold for $6,500, an average of $1,300 to the negro (sic). This would seem to indicate that the people in this region have very little faith in old Abe’s proclamation. It certainly beats any sale ever before made in this county.”
The Autauga Citizen (Prattville, Alabama) 15 January 1863

Working on the D. & C. line

Clifton Graham
Mershell Cunningham Graham, my grandfather.

The first job my grandfather got when he came to Detroit was as a steward on the Detroit and Cleveland fleet. His friend Cliff Graham worked as a waiter on the same fleet.

Mershell C. Graham’s WW1 draft registration card. Address and employment given. Race erroneously written as “caucasian”. Click to enlarge in new window.
John Clifton Graham’s WW1 draft registration card. Click to enlarge.

Traffic on D. & C. Route Increases

Two Boats on Cleveland Run Handle Larger Business Than at Start Last Year.

Yearly season Passenger traffic between and Cleveland this year have been somewhat in excess of the business carried on during the similar period a year ago, according to officials of the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation company.

The two boats of the line covering the route, the Easter States and the Western States, have been in operation since April 2. Besides an increase in passenger business the line has handled large shipments of automobiles and trucks in addition to the usual amount of package freight.

“W are now carrying about 50 more passengers on a trip than we did last year.” says A. A. Schants, vice-president and general manager. “To meet the increased operating costs we must do more business this year than ever before. With the larger boats in operation early in the season our costs are higher, but we feel that the prospects for a large passenger and freight business have justified this policy.

Detroit Free Press Detroit, Michigan • Tue, Jun 19, 1917 Page 1

Passenger Boat Rams Freighter

On her way down the Detroit river bound for Cleveland, the Eastern States of the D. & C. fleet collided with an upbound freighter opposite Ecorse about midnight.

The freighter, formerly the Pioneer, now the Natironco, was damaged to such an extent that she was put on the bottom.

The bow of the eastern States was considerably damaged and she was brought back to Detroit, arriving a out 2 a. m.

People on the Eastern States made the assertion that the freighter was seemingly improperly lighted, her lights not showing clearly.

Part of the crew of the Natironco were taken aboard the Eastern States by Captain Lee C. C. Nike. The others made their way ashore in the steamer’s yawl.


On May 10, 1918, my grandfather started work at the Ford Motor Company.

Click photo for more sepia posts.

Other posts about my grandfather’s move from Montgomery, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan
Prologue: Montgomery
Bound For the Promised Land
The Land of Hope
One Way Ticket
The Steamer “Eastern States” – 1917

The Land of Hope

My grandfather Mershell “Shell” Graham.

The Land of Hope

I’ve watched the trains as they disappeared
Behind the clouds of smoke,
Carrying the crowds of working men To the land of hope,
Working hard on southern soil, Someone softly spoke;
“Toil and toil, and toil and toil, And yet I’m always broke.”
On the farms I’ve labored hard, And never missed a day;
With wife and children by my side We journeyed on our way.
But now the year is passed and gone, And every penny spent,
And all my little food supplies Were taken ‘way for rent.
Yes, we are going to the north!
I don’t care to what state, Just as long as I cross the Dixon Line,
From this land of southern hate, Lynched and burned and shot and hung,
And not a word is said.
No law whatever to protect- It’s just a “nigger” dead.
Go on, dear brother; you’ll ne’er regret;
Just trust in God; pray for the best,
And in the end you’re sure to find “Happiness will be thine.”
William Crosse’s poem appeared in the Chicago Defender, c 1920

The Montgomery Advertiser 12 Oct 1916, Thu • Page 10 Click to enlarge.

When my grandfather, Mershell C. Graham arrived in Detroit he already knew people there who had come up from Montgomery earlier. At that time they all lived in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. These were segregated, crowded and thriving black neighborhoods. That is where my grandfather found lodging with friends from home.

I found the names in letters he wrote and received from friend back in Montgomery. Using City directories and other records, I found out where he lived and who owned the houses and who lived in the area.

Charles Whyman was in Detroit in 1903 working as a waiter. In 1915 he owned a restaurant on St. Antoine. Lowndes Adams asked about him in a letter in 1917.

Moses Walker, Mershell’s future wife’s cousin’s brother-in-law, was in Detroit in 1915. He worked as a deputy collector with the United States Customs office. After their marriage, my grandparents roomed with his family.

Frank McMurray and his wife were mentioned in several letters that my grandfather received in 1917. They appear in the Montgomery directory in 1915 as grocers. In the 1919 Detroit directory he is listed as a carpenter. They also took in roomers at their residence, 379 Orleans Street.

My grandfather’s play brother, Clifton Graham was worked on the D & C Line as a waiter according to the 1917 Detroit Directory. Letters from Montgomery ask about him that same year.

Arthur Chisholm was mentioned in Lowndes letter as having gotten away without his knowing. On his 1917 draft card, his address is 379 Orleans St. Detroit, the same place my grandfather was living.

Feb 16, 1917: weather. “At Detroit the weather was fair during the day with the temp at 18 at 8 AM rising to 23 at 11 AM and falling again to 22 at 8 pm. Cloudy Friday and Saturday probably snow flurries” Free Press.

All three of the houses that Shell lived in during his first years in Detroit were two story frame houses with upper and lower porches in the back. It would be useful as a fire escape.
  1. in February 1917, my grandfather lived at 293 Catherine Street between Dequindre & St. Aubin. It was in Black Bottom. It was a two story wooden house with a two story back porch and a small side porch where the entry door was. In the back of the lot there was another dwelling house, smaller than the one in front, also two stories, with a one story kitchen on the side. 
The house is labeled. Click to enlarge.

“Women Likely to be Given Ballot,” a headline in Lansing’s local newspaper read on March 13, 1917. “Unless something unforeseen happens a bill giving the women of Michigan the right to vote for presidential electors will be passed by the Michigan legislature, and a constitutional amendment to be submitted at the general election in 1918 providing for universal suffrage will also be ratified,” The State Journal reported.

Apr 4 US Senate agrees (82-6) to participate in WWI

Apr 6, 1917, US declares war on Germany, enters World War I

On  June 4, 1917, according to his WW 1 draft registration card my grandfather, Mershell Graham was single, responsible for his father, living in Detroit and working as a steward for the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company on the Lakes and living at 2021 Orleans, a boarding house owned by the McMurrays. Formerly of Montgomery, AL.

Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company
Mershell Graham’s name appears on the list. Detroit Free Press 25 Jul 1917, Wed  •  Page 14
House labeled. Click to enlarge

2.  In May 1917, Shell was living at 379 Orleans, half a block from Maple. This was a two story frame flat with a wooden shingle roof. The alley was on the right side. There was a 1 story porch across the front and a one story kitchen in the back.  McMurry and wife, who are mentioned in several letters, lived here and ran a boarding house. This house was also in Black Bottom.

May 27, 1917 Race riot in East St Louis Illinois, 1 black man killed
Jun 26 1st US troops arrive in France during World War I

To Be Continued.

Related Posts

Letters from home
The Steamer “Eastern States” – 1917
The Migration Part 3 – Those Left Behind

H – HORACE White

This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.

Horace White

Rev. Horace White was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church from 1936 until his death in 1958. Both of my parents were members and met at Plymouth. My father credited Rev. White with turning him to the ministry. I decided to look for information about him and the article below is one that I found. It reminded me of some of my father’s writings.

The Facts in Our News

By Horace White

The Michigan Chronicle

Detroit, Michigan · Saturday, November 03, 1945

It ain’t yet – The Negroes have jumped overboard because one Negro has been assigned to get ready to play baseball in the white organized baseball fraternity. We always jump overboard at the least provocation in such matters. We make too much out of such events in our news. Of course it is an achievement to get such an assignment. But it is not any great step forward yet. The assignment of the young Negro ballplayer has in it only the fact that he is a very promising player.

Negroes are not accepted yet on the basis of their merit. It will be a long time comparatively speaking before we will be so accepted. It is no fault of the Negro players that such is the case – our American race prejudice causes this particular situation as race prejudice causes many other un-American acts on the part of Americans.

click to enlarge

It is nothing short of pathetic to see a race of people so eager for acceptance that the least little crumb dropped to them causes so much excitement. Maybe that is the way it has to be. There is one thing sure, about giving so much importance to the ordinary and common place events of our lives, we set our sights lower than we ordinarily would. Young people accept little achievement in terms of something really important. You and I have seen how easily a whole race gets vicarious pleasure and a sense of achievement from the fact that one Negro has been given some ordinary job or position.

Many times young people are given the wrong evaluation of achievement when they see their parents making such a fuss over small things. When small things are assigned to us as a race let’s be big enough with ourselves to accept small things as small things. It is nothing short of weakness on our part when we get and give so much publicity to any little incident of acceptance.

How can we get over this seeking of approval from the majority at almost any cost? This is no easy task. We have been denied and we have looked for our satisfactions from the people who have denied us so very long. We feel sometime that approval from the majority group is worth any effort that we may make.

Of course we can understand why we seek so much approval. The reasons are not far to seek. Any people living as a minority group in all ways. The majority group does its domination through education, social mores and economic controls.

The minority groups usually succumb to these controls of the majority group. One way of succumbing to the controls of the majority is to bite for every sop that the majority group hands out. The assigning of a Negro to a berth in organized baseball is an example of what is meant here. The Negro population has been led to believe that Negroes have gained something by the very fact that the young man has been assigned to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Still, nothing has been gained.

The boy is good. It is good business for the team to sign him to play. More than this fact we should as Negroes take the position that the recognition of the abilities of Negro players is long overdue. Therefore, Negroes should not express so much joy over the fact that the very fine young man has been signed. We are glad for him and that is all.

This unusually overrated incident is no different than the “hell” that some Negroes are “raising” over the fact that Jane White is taking the lead in Strange Fruit.” The protest of Negroes is so silly to say the least. Yes, it is possible for a Negro woman who has gone to college to fall in love with a no-good white man. Negro women who have gone to college fall in love with no-good Negroes. “Strange Fruit” is a real novel.

The protest over a Negro woman playing “Nonnie” in “Strange Fruit” is a sign of our total insecurity. We cannot face a situation without “tears” of wishful thinking. We always try to put our best “foot” forward even to the point of being ridiculous.

Our family life must provide the way for us to escape the basic need for acceptance. Young people must learn how to find inner emotional strength within themselves. Our families must provide a real basis for Negroes to free themselves from a need to seek acceptance from the majority group. We must seek brotherhood. Brotherhood means giving of selves equally. Anything else is subjugation.

#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter H


This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.

Eliza Allen 1840-1917

My 2X great grandmother Eliza Williams Allen was born into slavery on the plantation of Col. Edmund Harrison and his wife Jane Starke Irvin Harrison. Her mother was Ann Williams, a seamstress on the plantation. Who her father was is not known. When the youngest daughter of the Harrison’s, Martha James, married Milton Saffold in 1851, Eliza went with her as a wedding gift. Martha was 18 when she married. Eliza was about 12.

Martha gave birth to three sons before she died in 1856. At 16, Eliza gave birth to Saffold’s daughter in 1856. In 1857, Saffold married Georgia Whiting. Eliza was 17 when Saffold freed her and Mary. In 1860 I found them living, free, on a small farm with Nancy Wiggins and her daughters. I haven’t found a connection between Nancy and Eliza.

Later that year she met Dock Allen when he hid in the barn while escaping from a master known for cruelty and keeping vicious dogs to hunt escapees. Dock and Eliza married. They had 13 children. Eight lived to adulthood. After Freedom, Eliza’s mother, Annie Williams lived with the family until she died in 1898.

Centennial Hill Marker. Click for more information.

Eliza was a seamstress and Dock was a carpenter. Although neither of them were literate, they sent all of the children to school, the oldest through elementary school and the youngest completed two years of college. The family owned their own home in Montgomery’s Centennial Hill Community.

Eliza died on June 22, 1917 at 77 years of age and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.

Burial place of Dock and Eliza Allen. Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama.

More about Eliza and her family

  1. Who was Eliza?
  2. The Search Begins
  3. A Brief Explanation for Eliza’s Story
  4. Eliza Williams Allen – a photograph
  5. Eliza and the people in her life
  6. Escape – Dock Allen
  7. Finding Eliza Part 1
  8. Finding Eliza Part 2
  9. Finding Eliza Part 3
  10. Eliza’s daughters part 4
  11. She was owned before the war by the late Colonel Edmund Harrison of this county
  12. The 4th Annual Gene Awards
  13. Visit to Oakwood Cemetery
  14. Seven Generations of L3e3b-My MtDna
  15. Stolen From Africa
#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter E

Dock Allen 1839-1909

Dock Allen. This photo was in my grandparent’ dining room.

Before the War

Dock Allen was my 2X great grandfather. He was my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather. He was born into slavery about 1839 in Georgia to 19 year old enslaved Matilda Brewster. Eventually he was taken to Alabama. I do not know what happened to his mother.

It had been a wet spring, that 1860 in Dallas County, Alabama. Dock Allen was 21 years old and already a good carpenter.  He was a white man’s son, but the man who then held him in slavery was not his father.  His owner was known as a cruel man who kept vicious dogs to instill fear in his slaves. He wanted them to be afraid to run.  When Dock made up his mind to escape, he had a plan  to throw the dogs off of his track. There was a swampy area where wild ramps grew. He rubbed himself with them, poured the water on himself and rolled around in the field so the strong onion odor would hide his own human smell.

He had been running and running. He was bone tired. He could hear the dogs tracking him in the distance when he came to a small farm near Carlowville.  He couldn’t go any further. He climbed up into the hay loft, covered himself with hay and lay there barely breathing.  The dogs came into the hay room. He could feel their breath as they walked over him, but they didn’t smell him because of the ramps.  Eventually they left.

Eliza Williams Allen

This was the same place where Eliza and her small daughter Mary, lived. Eliza had been freed several years before. She lived on the farm of Nancy Morgan.  Did Eliza hear the dogs and see Dock stumble into the yard?  Did she silently direct him to hide in the hay?

For unknown reasons Dock decided to give himself up. Nancy sent a message to his master.  It wasn’t long before he came to the house. He said that no one had ever out smarted his dogs and that any man who was smart enough to do that deserved to be free and he freed Dock.  Dock stayed on that place and he and Eliza married.  They stayed together until he died in 1909 at age70.

Reconstruction and After

Dock Allen registered to vote in Montgomery, Alabama in 1867. In 1870 the family appears in the same household with a wealthy white cotton broker and his family. I cannot find the house in the Sanborn Fire Maps so I don’t know if there were two houses on the lot. In 1875 he was again among the voters. Unfortunately Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 when the Union soldiers left the South and black people were once again without a vote for a hundred years.

Dock and Eliza Allen and children.

The Montgomery City Directory starts with 1880, so I am not sure when the family moved into their own house, but from 1880 – 1904 Dock Allen and his growing family owned the house on the corner of Clay and Holt. Dock and Eliza raised nine of the thirteen children born to them to adulthood. There were six girls and three boys. All of them attended State Normal school through the elementary grades and were literate. The youngest daughter completed high school and two additional years there.

I highlighted the house in orange. Daughter Mary and family live next door on Clay in the two story house.

In 1882 the oldest boy Henry drowned in the Alabama River, which was about a block from their home. The third son, Dock Allen Jr. drowned in August 1891 trying to walk the moonlit path from a boat.

After her husband was killed at a barbecue in June 1891, my great grandmother Jennie Virginia moved back to her parent’s house with her two young daughters. My grandmother Jennie was four years old and her younger sister Daisy was two.

His daughter Abbie married a river boat gambler and had two sons. Earl was born in 1896 and Alphonso was born two years later. I don’t know if she ever left home.

1900 Census, she and her two young sons were living in her parents home. Beulah, the youngest child, was still at home. In 1900 there were the four grandchildren (ages 11, 7, 5 & 3), three daughters, Eliza and Dock living in the house at 237 Clay Street. The women were all seamstresses and Doc was a carpenter. Oldest daughter Mary lived next door with her husband and five children. Daughter Anna had moved to Chicago where she was passing for white.

My mother Doris Graham Cleage wrote the following about her mother’s growing up years:

I know very little about their childhood except that they spent most of it in their Grandfather Allen’s house (which was in Montgomery) because their father died when Mother was about four and Jennie T. had to work to support them.  It was a big house, Mother said, with a big porch around two sides and pecan trees in the big backyard.  She never used the words “happy” or “unhappy” to describe her childhood and I have the feeling that it was happy on the whole.  She told several incidents:

Their Grandfather took care of them while Jennie T. worked and when they were bad, he told Jennie T., who would sometimes spank them.  Mother said she told Daisy to cry loudly when Jennie T. spanked them and so make the spanking short and not too hard.  She said this worked!  (This always surprised me because I never thought of Mother as a person who ever consciously manipulated people.  Whenever she told this…and she didn’t mention it until she was in her eighties…she looked very pleased with herself.)

Everyday her Grandfather swept the backyard “smooth as silk” (it was dirt) and told Mother and Daisy not to set foot on it.  (I hope this was just part of the yard and they had some space left for play, but I don’t know.)  They got spanked with the flat of his saw if they made footprints on it.  Mother said they would play on it when he dozed off, not realizing their footprints would give them away.

On Sundays they could do absolutely no work at all.  Dinner had to be cooked the day before and could be warmed up.  They couldn’t even sew a button on.  They all went to the Congregational Church (black, of course) every Sunday morning.  In the afternoons, Mother had to read the Bible to her Grandfather who would often doze off during the reading.  Mother would get up and play and watch and run back if he seemed to be waking up. I don’t know if he still did carpenter work at this time.  Mother said he was a good cabinetmaker and would make furniture for people.  I don’t know if this is all he did or if he also built houses or what.  But I do know he made cabinets, tables, chairs, beds and whatever.

Changes in 1904

The Montgomery Advertiser, March 28, 1904

James Edward McCall is the oldest son of Ed McCall, for twenty-three years a cook at the Montgomery police station and one of the best known and most respected negroes (sic) in Montgmery.  Ed McCall was owned by W.T. McCall of Lowndes County.  His aged master is still living on the old plantation and he has no truer friend or more devoted servant than Ed McCall.  The mother of the young poet was Mary Allen, daughter of Doc Allen, for many years a well to do negro (sic) carpenter of Montgomery.  She was owned before the war by the late colonel Edmund Harrison of this county.”

Beulah married in 1901. In 1904 Dock Allen and the family moved to 444 S. Ripley street. Jennie married the following year. She lived several blocks from the house on Ripley street.

Dock lived there for five years before he died on March 29, 1909 of “inflammatory bowels” after an illness of several weeks.  His mother is listed as Matilda Brewster on his death certificate.  No father is listed. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.

I would like to find information about a runaway matching his description in the Dallas/Lowndes county area around 1860. 

I found this information in records on Ancestry and elsewhere, newspaper articles in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sanborn Maps and oral history from family members.

Sepia Saturday 641 : Two Men Reading