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Cunningham Slaves in Shelby County, Alabama and other family information on Roebuck, Hawkins, Bowdon, Wilson, and Welch

I present for researchers a list of my ancestor Joseph H. Cunningham's family slaves, from the inventory taken in 1857. Slavery in the South ended in 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment. 

Moses, age 25
Alfred, age 21
Jessee, age 18
Lewis age 16
Edmund age 13
David age 10
Harriett age 8
Elijah age 35
Lizzy age 42
Skinner age 40 
Mink age 21
George age 13
Sam age 23
Dallas age 11 a boy
Milly age 17 a girl 
Jimmie a girl age 18
Linda age 42
Bill age 16
Jim age 15
Prince age 21
Aggy 14 a girl 
Felix age 23
Elvira age 11
Eliza a girl age 12
Priscilla and 2 children, she is 19.  
Sarah age 16
Charles age 55
Pleasant age 60 

From an 1851 document, there was
Esther, plantation cook
Lucinda, born 1835

Most of the above people were purchased or inherited by the sons and daughters of the planter in 1857/1858. Some of the family names of the children were Cunningham, Bowden, Hawkins, Roebuck, Welch, Wells, Hail, Frost, and Wilson. 

Tintype photograph I own of Priscilla Cunningham,  age 19 on the inventory above.

Photograph I own of Pleasant Cunningham, who was  inherited in 1832 from Mrs  Elizabeth Welch Cunningham's father Thomas Welch of Dallas County and brought to Shelby County after his death.  She is holding my great grandfather about 1870,  5 years after slavery ended.

I am very glad to hear from all researchers of our family, and will do all I can to help you in your search and documentation of your African American ancestry. 

Joseph H. Cunningham ( 22 May 1793- 7 May 1857), the planter and plantation owner at Montevallo, Shelby County, Alabama, was the son of Lt. John Cunningham and wife Keziah Chandler Cunningham of Lunenburg County, Virginia.

Silhouette of Lt. John Cunningham ( 1748-1842) of Lunenburg County, VA; Wilkes County, NC, and Tennessee.  Father of Joseph H. Cunningham
Painted on shell.  This is possibly James Cunningham ( died 1762 )  of Lunenburg County, Virginia, father of the above Lt. John Cunningham.  This painting on shell was in the Cunningham trunk, but not identified on back, so I can't guarantee it is James, as it may be one of the Chandlers.  It is of the style of the 1740s-1750s. 

John Cunningham moved after the Revolutionary War to Wilkes County, North Carolina, then to the area of Coffee County, Tennessee. He was born in 1748 and died in 1842 and is buried with his wife in Viola, Tennessee in a small family Cemetery. Above is a silhouette  I own of him from ca. 1800.  

Joseph H. Cunningham was the youngest of John and Keziah's children. 

Joseph Cunningham came down from his father's home to the newly opened lands in central Alabama. He was working in Alabama territory as a surveyor, which paid very well. I know this because he is listed in the Shelby county books as an "agent for the 16th section." This was by 1818. He would have been 25 in 1818,  quite old enough to be trusted with such employment. 

By 1820 he had married ( in 1819) to Elizabeth Welch, whose father owned 17 slaves at the time. Joseph is listed on the Shelby County census as having only one slave in 1820, a wedding gift from Mr. Welch to his daughter. Joseph did eventually receive some slaves from his father, specifically a young boy Elijah and a woman called "Old Hannah." This was in the 1830s.    Joseph may have received more slaves at his father's death in 1842. 

Joseph also had a slave in the 1830's named Isaac who was accused by a neighbor of assault with intent to murder. Joseph apparently got Isaac out of the state quickly and he was fined for not allowing Isaac to answer the charges. 

The old planter himself,  Joseph H. Cunningham ( 1793-1857 )

Elizabeth Welch's father Thomas Welch moved to Dallas County, Alabama, where he died in 1832, and Joseph inherited in his wife's behalf  Pleasant, Charles, and Skinner.  I also found a law suit in Dallas County in which the other sons in law of Thomas Welch kept some of the slaves who were supposed to be set free according to the terms of Thomas Welch's Last Will.  They were named Flora, John, Julia and her child. Thomas Welch spent a great deal of his Last Will providing for their freedom, freedom papers, income, upkeep, and guardianship.  I think Flora was a special house servant and her children were possibly his.  His wife had been dead for many years.

The Welch administrators applied for freedom papers for Flora and the children.  They were refused by the state legislature.  They then allowed Flora and the three children their freedom anyway. The boy John moved to Arkansas without papers. Elizabeth's children sued in 1847 that their father was not entitled to their mother's estate. Thomas Welch had left slaves and property in 1815 to their mother only. The children knew that if the slaves and property went to their father, it would all become a part of their father's estate and would be divided at his death among not only them but his second set of children.  The case went to the Alabama Supreme Court and in 1848 the Court ruled that slaves could not be granted freedom in Alabama by means of a Last Will.  So Flora and the two remaining children remained as slaves in the family. The court also ruled that Elizabeth Cunningham's children should be the sole beneficiaries of their mother's estate, and that Joseph H. Cunningham could not add Elizabeth Cunningham's property to his own estate(and his children by his second wife therefore share in the estate of their father's first wife).   If you want to read the brief on the entire case, you should google words such as Thomas Welch slaves and heirs Dallas County; Alabama Supreme Court 1848 and it should appear several times. 

Elizabeth Welch Cunningham died in 1832 and Joseph remarried in 1836 to Lucretia Griffith Wilson. Her father, Benjamin Wilson, owned the plantation "next door" and had several slaves also. ( I now live in the log house built by Benjamin Wilson's slaves in 1817). The 1850 slave census lists the ages of slaves owned by Joseph H. Cunningham, but does not give names. 

Ambrotype I own of the old planter's second wife, Lucretia Griffith Wilson Cunningham, mistress of the plantation. She was named for her grandmother Lucretia Griffith  wife of James Wilson.  She is my great great great grandmother. 

Lucretia Griffith Wilson Cunningham was the daughter of Benjamin Wilson and Hannah Harless.    Her grave is at Harless Cemetery north of Montevallo, a family cemetery began by her mother's brother Henry Harless, Jr.  Lucretia's father Benjamin Wilson was a slave owner whose plantation was next to the Cunningham estate. I have no list of the Wilson slaves as Benjamin died intestate in the 1850's and although the estate was properly recorded with heirs,  I have not found an inventory of slaves by name.   

The 1850 slave census for Shelby County lists Benjamin Wilson Sr. as the owner of female slaves aged 65, 30, 22, 8, 7, and 5, and males with the ages of 30, 27, 25, and 1, for a total of 10 slaves, all black, none mulatto. 

 Benjamin's  brother Jesse Wilson is credited as the first settler of Montevallo.  His name is on the Historic Marker that is located in front of the CVS Pharmacy on Main Street in Montevallo.  Jesse's wife and one of his daughters have tombstones in the Montevallo Cemetery. Jesse is buried with a large marker in the country near Selma, Alabama.  For anyone researching this family, I can guarantee you one thing: Elizabeth, wife of Jesse Wilson,  was not a COOK.  That ridiculous claim comes from a mistake from amateur genealogists on Ancestry who happened to find a Jesse Wilson in South Georgia who married a girl named Elizabeth whose maiden name was Cook.  Jesse and all the Wilson brothers and sisters were in the HILLS OF TENNESSEE at the time. 

Jesse Wilson died suddenly in 1820 when in the process of participating in the founding of Selma.  His wife moved back to Montevallo in the area near the Alabama National Cemetery.  Many of Jesse's daughters died young of   "consumption," now known as TB.  If you died quickly, it was called the "galloping consumption."   We have searched for years to discover the maiden name of Jesse's wife Elizabeth.  As her first son is named William A. Wilson, we thought it might have been Armstrong, but we have never found a marriage record or any other document as the Wilson clan was moving from Burke County, NC in the 1790's through the hills of Tennessee.  Both Jesse Wilson and Benjamin Wilson were associates of  Gov. Sevier of Tennessee and are mentioned in his diary.

Jesse Wilson's Last Will is dated 27 June 1820 and was proved on 24 October 1820 in Dallas County, Alabama. He leaves the following property to his wife Elizabeth:  Charles, Nelly, Andrew, Westley, Isaiah, Emilia, Emily, Calvin, Rachel, Fanny, Mary, Moses, and Spencer. 
He also leaves an inheritance to his sons William and Jesse, and to his daughters  Nancy, Hannah, Lucretia, Lydia, Betsey, Patsey, and Mariah.  The witnesses to his Will were Bennett Ware, John Massengale, and Roswell Johnson.   The Executors of his estate are Francis McWhirter ( his son-in-law, husband of Jane. Hers is the oldest marked grave in the Montevallo cemetery), Bennett Ware, and William Blevins.  

The 1850 Slave Census for Shelby County:

Joseph H. Cunningham
Males: ages 62, 34, 30, 28, 20, 18, 18, 16, 15, 15, 15, 13, 12, 11, 11, 10, 10, 8, 6
Females: ages: 61, 30, 25, 30, 16, 15, 15, 13, 6, 7, 7, 6, 4, 3
Total: 33 
All of the slaves are listed as "black" except one of the 30 year old females is "mulatto" ( mixed)

Columbus Cunningham, Joseph's oldest son, is listed as having:
1 female, age 31, 
3 females, ages 11, 6, and 2. 
1 male, age 9 
All are listed as mulatto. You may draw your own conclusion about this. 

Columbus Cunningham in later years. 

Columbus was not married at the time ( 1850). He later married his cousin Sarah Bowdon and had two sons. Columbus was born 20 January 1821. 

There was some sort of sickness on the plantation in 1857. I have a copy of the Dr.'s bill, and he apparently was called upon almost daily, sometimes taking up residence at the house for a fee of $5 per night. An unnamed slave woman died, and the old planter himself died in May of 1857. Several of the children were also sick for several weeks. 

Joseph H. Cunningham's Last Will called for the plantation to be kept together, including all of the slaves, until his youngest children became of age, and then everything was to be divided among the family. His executors, Mrs. Lucretia Cunningham the widow, and the oldest son, Columbus Cunningham, were unwilling to wait almost 15 years, and the court agreed that the plan to keep everything together would not work, so the County Court ordered an inventory and sale and division of the estate. The Last Will had stated that if there was any need to change anything, then the executors could do so. 

Recent photograph of the Joseph H. Cunningham plantation home.  The family owned 800 acres. A slave cemetery with plain stones for grave markers  is located behind the house.  The house is not open to the public at any time.

The following inventory was made in 1857 and the sale soon took place. Here is the list of the slaves, who purchased each one , and the price:

1. Moses, age 25, purchased by Columbus Cunningham, for $1427.00 ( Joseph's oldest son) 

2. Alfred, age 21, purchased by Columbus Cunningham, for $1415.00

3. Jessee, age 18, purchased by Columbus Cunningham, for $1400.00

4. Lewis, age 16, purchased by E. B. Woodfin, for $1420.00

5. Edmund, age 13, purchased by A. H. Roebuck, for $1199.75 ( Joseph's son in law) 

6. David, age 10, inherited by A. H. Roebuck on his wife's behalf

7. Harriett, age 8, purchased by Hannah Cunningham Hail, for $783.00  ( Joseph's daughter) 

8.  Elijah, age 35, bought by Mrs. Lucretia Cunningham the widow , for $1200.

9. Lizzy, age 42, bought by Mrs. Lucretia Cunningham, for $500.00

10. Skinner, age 40, sold to Columbus Cunningham, $902.00

11. Mink, age 21, sold to "Morrow and Bowden" ( a business partnership) $1410.00

12. George, age 13, sold to "Morrow and Bowden" for $1100.00

I know that George had been "matched" with my great great grandfather, Benjamin F. Cunningham, as a life long servant, as they were both born in 1843. Of course at the time, Benjamin was only 13 and could do nothing about the sale, but after the Civil War and freedom came, George returned to the farm and lived with Benjamin and his family in the house. My father's first cousin  in her 80's remembered  "Uncle George" when she was a child...he lived to be in his 90s. 

George Cunningham

13. Sam, age 23, sold to Mrs. Lucretia Cunningham, $350.00

( a 23 year old man who was worth only $350 would have been physically or mentally handicapped and was obviously bought by Mrs. Cunningham for his protection and care. )

14. Dallas, age 11, bought by Morrow and Bowden, $1205.00

15. Milly, age 17, girl, bought by Mrs. Lucretia Cunningham, for $1000.00

16. Jimmie, a girl, age 18, bought by Hannah Cunningham Hail, for $1151.00 Jimmie is listed also as Jane.

Hannah Caroline Cunningham Hail, wife of Rev. R. J. C. Hail, a Presbyterian Minister

17. Linda, age 42, bought by Mrs. Polly Young $420.00  

18. Bill, age 16, bought by Hannah C. Hail, $1426.00

19. Jim age 15, bought by E B Woodfin $1299.75

20. Prince, age 21, bought by John Cunningham ( the planter's son) $1435.00

I have a slave pass that Prince carried. In it, he was trusted to bring Mrs. Cunningham $20 from her son.

21. Aggy, girl age 14, bought by Shelby King, $1200.  ( Son of Edmund King whose house still stands on the Univ. of Montevallo campus) 

The King family lived in Montevallo in the oldest brick house in Central Alabama and were a wealthy family from Georgia. The University of Montevallo now sits upon their old plantation. Mr. King also bought the "family coach" for $400. I have another blog post that mentions that. Of all the old Plantation items, I wish I could go back and see the family coach. 

22. Felix, age 23, bought by Mrs. Lucretia Cunningham, for

23. Elvira, age 11, purchased by Mrs. Polly Young, for $935.00

I don't know if, or how, Mrs. Young was related to our family.

24. Eliza, age 12, not to be sold, eventually, like David, ended up with A. H. Roebuck ( who is also my ancestor and married a Cunningham daughter) . David ( #6) was also listed at first as "not to be sold." He was a part of Mr. Roebuck's wife's inheritance, as she was owed money by her father for her deceased mother's estate ( Elizabeth Welch Cunningham being her mother). Joseph had never "settled" with his first set of children for the money he received from their mother and grandfather on their behalf. 

25. Priscilla and her 2 children, Tobe and Mary. sold to Margaret Cunningham Bowdon for $1995.00 Margaret was one of Joseph's daughters by his second wife. I have her photograph also. She married Samuel Bowdon  Jr. I have his photo on a tintype ( see below). He was a lieutenant during the War. 

Margaret Francis Cunningham Bowdon in later years. 

I have a letter Mr. Bowdon wrote to Margaret about Priscilla and the children in 1862. He writes: " I want Cilla to make $100 a year clothed also. Can't you buy provision for Tobe and let him go with her to the one you hire her to. You will have to keep Mary with you. I merely make these suggestions to you. Act as you think proper, but not hastily."

Samuel F. Bowdon during the War. 

Mrs. Bowdon was herself boarding with relatives. Mr. Bowdon is careful only to make a "suggestion" because Priscilla and the children belonged to Mrs. Bowdon. Priscilla was being hired out for pay, a common practice. 

Again, Priscilla. 

26. Sarah, age 16, bought by John Cunningham for $126. 

Another purchase made for a small amount due to a physical or mental condition, bought by a family member to protect her.

The only photograph we have of John Cunningham, son of the old planter. His wife was also a Roebuck daughter. 

27. and 28. Charles age 55 and Pleasant age 60. Purchased by A. H. Roebuck for $100. This couple were in "retirement" and bought by the family for protection. I found them in 1870 listed as Charles and Pleasant Cunningham, married, on the census. A. H Roebuck had married as his second wife Elizabeth Cunningham, a daughter of Joseph and his first wife Elizabeth. His plantation was in Jefferson County, Alabama. His wife Elizabeth Cunningham Roebuck died while nursing the sick in the cholera epidemic which swept through Birmingham in 1873. I think about 150 people died.   Charles and Pleasant were inherited by Mrs. A. H. Roebuck's mother in 1832 so she had known them all of her life.

Again, Pleasant Cunningham in 1870. 

Mary Ellen Roebuck, daughter of A. H. Roebuck and his first wife Susan Caroline Hawkins.  She is my great great grandmother.   Her husband was Benjamin F. Cunningham Sr,  one of the old Planters's four sons: 

Benjamin F. Cunningham Sr. about 1907.  He was "matched" in 1843 with a slave boy named George born the same year.  He served during the War in the 2nd Alabama Cavalry under the command of Joe Wheeler.

The Old Planter's youngest of four sons,  Joseph H. Cunningham Jr. and his wife Adosia Blackburn.  Later in life, after his own son was born, he went by Sr. and his son by Jr. 

The Old Planter's daughter Lucretia Ann Cunningham who married John Francis Marion Welch, a cousin.

Notes on the Bowdon Family for those whose African American ancestors can be traced to Shelby County, Alabama. 

Samuel Bowdon was born in 1785 in Newberry County, South Carolina and married Sarah Welch. 
Joseph Cunningham was born in 1793 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, and married Sarah Welch's sister Elizabeth Welch in Shelby County Alabama on 11 February 1819.  Their father Thomas Welch died in Dallas County, Alabama, in 1832. 

Thomas Welch's two other daughters were Nancy Welch who married 23 Dec 1819 in Shelby County Alabama to Martin McLeroy, and Olivia Welch who married Abraham Whorton. 
Olivia is often listed as Levy; she was named for an aunt who also was nicknamed Leve or Levy.

Near Plantersville on Highway 22 is a Welch family lot alone in the woods. In it are John Welch ( 14 Oct 1795-31 March 1849); his wife Sarah ( 3 Dec 1797-23 Aug 1852) and Julia A. A. Welch ( 13 Jan 1838-22 Feb 1852) and Caroline P. Welch 23 April 1824-31 Aug 1852.)  Note that all three of the women died in 1852.  John was the father of John Francis Marion Welch, proven by the 1850 census. He has died and his widow Sarah is at home with their children.  Several of the Welch family used three given names ( see Julia above.)  John Francis Marion Welch who married Lucretia Ann Cunningham ( the Old Planter's daughter by his second wife) also had children with three given names.) 

There were two marriages between the Bowdons and Cunnighams. 

Columbus Cunningham married Sarah Bowdon. Sarah was born 25 January 1836.

Margaret Francis Cunningham married Samuel F. Bowdon. 
Samuel was born 25 Feb 1834.   ( See their photographs above) 

So a brother and sister married a brother and sister. Since the children's mothers were sisters, they were marrying their first cousins, no big deal among old planter class people in the Old South. Cousins married cousins to keep the money and the property together in the family.  Also, since a woman was pretty well stuck in a marriage,  by marrying a relative you already knew his personality as it came to drunkenness, abuse, temper, and such. 

Samuel Bowdon born 1785 had slaves and died in September of 1841.  His Last Will and Estate papers are on file in Book D of Wills and Estates in the Courthouse. His Last Will instructs his executors to sell two slaves, Isham and Becca, and then all remaining slaves were not to be sold but were to be divided among his children. His death was 25 years before freedom, so his estate gives the names of those he owned in 1841 but would not include names of those born from 1841 to 1865, if you are seeking someone with Bowdon connections born after 1841. Two of Samuel's daughters were already married:  Caroline had married  her first husband Dr. Thomas McHenry and  Elizabeth had married Washington Moody. 

If your African American ancestors were Bowdon slaves from Shelby County before 1865,  they would have been a part of this family.  The Bowdon boys, sons of Samuel Bowdon, were Frank Welch Bowdon born 17 Feb 1817; Lewis Bowdon, born 24 April 1819; Elbert Bowdon, born 29 October 1823; William Bowdon, born 23 May 1827; and Samuel Fielder Bowdon, born 25 Feb 1834. 

The Bowdon girls were Caroline Bowdon (Mrs. Dr. Thomas McHenry and Mrs. Capt. Wiley Pope) born 18 Nov 1821; Elizabeth Bowdon ( Mrs. Washington Moody) born 24 March 1825);  Nancy Bowdon ( Mrs. Andrew H. Bowie) born 17 Feb 1829; Penelope Bowdon ( who died young) born 9 Sept 1831; Sarah Bowdon ( Mrs. Columbus Cunningham ) born 25 January 1836; and Mary P. Bowdon ( Mrs. Dr. James S. Meredith) born 18 April 1838.

Samuel Bowdon's  slaves were divided in October of  1841:

1. Becca and Isham were sold to pay estate expenses as directed by the Last Will. 
2. Manuel was given to Caroline Bowdon McHenry before her father's death.  At his death, she received Robert.
3. Rose and her three youngest children Phoebe, Charlotte, and Margaret were inherited by Franklin Welch Bowdon.
4. London, Lucy, and Willis were inherited by Lewis Bowdon.
5. Jerry was inherited by Elbert Bowdon.
6. Burwell and Taylor were inherited by William Bowdon.
7. Henry was inherited by Nancy Bowdon.
6. Jack and Jim were inherited by Samuel F. Bowdon.
7. Bob and Kate were inherited by Sarah Bowdon.
8. Anthony and Merica were inherited by Mary Bowdon. 
9. Peter and Hannah were inherited by Elizabeth Bowdon Moody. 
10.  Morrison was given no value due to "disease" and was taken in by one of the heirs. 

Note that William, Nancy, Samuel, Sarah, and Mary Bowdon were all age 13 or younger at the time of their inheritance. All had guardians appointed ( their mother also having died in 1839) so their inherited slaves were "hired out" to give them an income or possibly sold by their guardians.  

The estate was also paid a debt of $550 with the transfer of ownership of Patience and her three month old child.  

The total value of the slaves in the estate was listed as $10,850.

The 1860 Shelby County Slave Census lists 5 slaves  owned by Samuel F. Bowdon "Jr." and wife Margaret Francis Cunningham Bowdon. There is a 24 year old woman and four small children. This would be Priscilla as she is still in the Bowdon household in 1862 according to Mr. Bowdon's letter to his wife.  Apparently Priscilla has had two more children. Mr. Bowdon had inherited Jack and Jim from his father 20 years earlier ( see above) but no men are listed as his property in 1860. Mr. Bowdon was only 6 years old when he inherited Jack and Jim so they may have been sold by his guardians.

One of the more famous sons of the Old Planter Samuel Bowdon was Frank Welch Bowdon ( b. 17 Feb 1817) who was a well known lawyer. He debated Gen. Sam Houston at Rusk, Texas in 1855. 

Caroline Bowdon ( b. 18 Nov 1821) was the unfortunate subject of much discussion as her first husband Dr. Thomas McHenry for some reason froze to death in a stable in Montevallo in 1843. 

My great great great great grandfather Williamson Hawkins was born in 1790 in South Carolina and was in Jefferson County, Alabama by 1816.  He amassed a plantation of 2,000 acres and owned 165 people by 1865.  We have no lists of their names. Had he died before the war, they would have been listed by name and age and value. It is safe to say that most Hawkins African Americans on the 1870 Federal Census of Jefferson County, Alabama were part of his inventory or that of his sons. He was one of the "Great Planters" of the Old South.  His plantation was located on land that is now called Birmingham, Alabama. 

Williamson Hawkins
One of the Williamson Hawkins slave cabins, photographed about 1905. Uncle Nat lived in his old slave cabin his entire life.  Even though the Hawkins 2,000 acre plantation had been sold to the Republic Iron and Steel Company in the 1870's, Uncle Nat refused to leave his home. The house was dragged by mules and chains to a corner of the plantation lands and he was allowed to stay there free of charge, plant a garden, and live peacefully until his death. 

Uncle Nat Hawkins,  one of the Hawkins Plantation fiddlers, photographed in Birmingham about 1905, 40 years after freedom came for the Williamson Hawkins Plantation. 
Uncle Nat Hawkins stands at the grave of old  "Marse" Williamson Hawkins and family and tells stories of the Old Plantation to a young boy and his father.  Uncle Nat was photographed by Ethel Armes for her book about the coal and iron industry in Alabama, published in 1910. 

My ancestor Alfred Hamilton Roebuck also lived until after the War so there is no known list of family slaves by name.  It is also safe to say that most if not all Roebuck African Americans on the 1870 Federal Census of Jefferson County belonged to him, his sons, his brother, or his nephews. The area of Jefferson County, Alabama,  north of Birmingham called Roebuck today was the location of their plantation lands.   
Alfred Hamilton Roebuck. His first wife was Susan Caroline Hawkins, daughter of the planter Williamson Hawkins.
Elizabeth Welch Cunningham Roebuck, second wife of Alfred Hamilton Roebuck.  The photograph is an ambrotype ( on glass).  She died in 1873 nursing the sick in the Birmingham Alabama cholera epidemic.

I am presenting this information for research purposes for family members, black and white, seeking genealogical information.  I am in no way boasting or bragging about my ancestry and their wealth.  I believe that all human slavery, past, present, or future, is morally wrong.    I am personally acquainted with - and friends with - direct descendants of several of my ancestor's slaves.  

I did the Ancestry DNA test and found that over 80%  of my ancestors were from Great Britain. That means that about 2000 years ago when the Romans invaded England ( they never conquered Scotland),  MY ancestors were slaves to the Romans. So the only difference I have with most of my white family and African American families when it comes to slavery is  TIME....African Americans had slave ancestors 200 years ago and my white English ancestors were slaves 2,000 years ago. 

Another quite interesting thing the DNA test said was that I am 1% Cameroon.  That is in west central AFRICA!!!   And the DNA test didn't just say "African," it said "Cameroon, in Africa."   I find that fascinating, and tried to figure out where that might have come from. My best guess is since my grandmother's grandmother was Cherokee, I know the Cherokee people occasionally intermarried with African Americans, so I believe one of my Cherokee ancestors during the last 400 years did just that.  And, mind you, in the Old South one drop of black blood in one's ancestry would cause that person by law to be considered African American !  My friend in Selma, Alabama,  "Miss Rose" , pointed that out to me. 

My mother's people were named Prentice. The first Prentice to come to America was a poor orphan boy named William who landed  in Williamsburg, VA and was taken in as an apprentice by two merchants. He eventually obtained shares of the business. The Prentice Shop is still there after 300 years and is part of the Williamsburg experience.  I have attended the African American Prentice family reunion here in Alabama and presented the "white" side of the family story from Colonial Williamsburg to Western Virginia to Kentucky to Sevier County, Tennessee, to Alabama.  Yes, I went to the reunion, and got the tee-shirt to prove it! 

The story of the Prentice family is then continued to the present day "after slavery" by the "black" side of the family.  It is an amazing experience. People from other parts of the country may not understand our openness and willingness to discuss and present our family history here, but it is a fascinating story when a family can be traced as living together over 300 years.  

The African American Prentice family comes from the slaves of several Prentice men, but all of the white Prentice men left for Texas or Rome, Georgia after the Civil War. My mother's ancestor was a Prentice girl named Hannah who married Rev. Dr. Joshua West, a Methodist minister and medical doctor.  To my knowledge, there are no male white Prentices here in this county now from the pre-civil war family, but many of our African American Prentices descend from Rev. Josire ( or sometimes Joseph) Prentice, an educator for whom the "colored" high school was once named.  He had over 20 children and there are many descendants of his still around in the area.  I have his photograph from the cover of a 1989 Montevallo phone book: 

Some readers may find this blog post unusual to say the least. This was the world into which I was born, with grandparents and great aunts and uncles telling stories of the Old Plantation days in detail as if the incidents had occurred only yesterday.  Please email me if you think I can help you with these black and white families listed above, or any other Shelby County, Alabama family. My email is  ( When my ancestors left Virginia, they were not there at the end of the year to pay their 12 1/2 cent horse tax for the year. The court house tax book has  "gone to Tennessee" by their name. My friend took that name and I took GoneToAlabama.    One can find "gone to alabama" or "gone to Georgia" by many entries. Later, in Alabama,  the books say GTT, which meant "Gone to Texas,"  as thousands left to go west and find a new life there. )  


  1. Wow, what a wonderful post and how nice to have all of that history still in the family, and in passed down and still in your memory. I researched my husband's side back to slavery but do not know as much as you do. You have amazing photos too. I only have two.
    Thanks for sharing your family history with us.

  2. Bama Planter, Thanks so much for this informative and thoughtful piece. It has help me greatly in sorting out my branch of the Shelby County, Alabama Bowdon's from the Samuel Bowdon branch. Patricia Harris, Seattle

    1. Hi Patricia. Very glad this has helped you. Over 300 have read this post so far! Are you from the Robert Bowdon ( brother of Samuel) line? I have info on them. Email me at if you want me to see what I might have on your family. Marshel

  3. My great great grandfather was Lawrence Cunningham a Mulatto, born in Alabama in 1842 or 1850 and died in Shelby County Tennessee in 1924. His mother and father are not listed in any of the records. I think you are doing a wonderful thing and I commend you for including the slave information about the Black side of your family. Not many would do that even though they may have information to share and help black people trace their roots. So Kudo's to you and on behalf of all African Americans who are searching for their roots I thank you for what you are doing!!
    Sincerely, Eva

    1. Thank you so very much for your comment above and I hope you have success in finding your family as more records become available. You might check in Shelby County Tennessee or the Tennessee State archives for a death certificate, as 1924 is late enough to have required death certificates in many states. It would list the father and mother of your Lawrence, if the person talking to the one filling out the certificate knew the information.

  4. Hello! Thank you for the information about the Hawkins Plantation. I am helping someone with their African American ancestry and they have an Alec/Alex G. Hawkins showing up in the 1870 census in Bessemer area. The 1860 slave schedule showed Williamson Hawkins as having a 27 year old male slave, same age as Alex would have been. He is said to have been born in North Carolina. Any chance you know of records indicating how and where Williamson Hawkins got his slaves from? I realize there is not a will listing the names of his slaves, but wondering if there might be any other records out there to try and track down where his slaves came from. Thank you for posting the pictures and sharing the information you have. You can reach me at

    1. I know from family stories from the children/grandchildren of the old planter that Mrs. Hawkins regularly went to the slave auctions held in Jefferson County, Alabama, and would buy, so there is no way to know where he might have come from. The Hawkins ( Williamson and wife) were in South Carolina, Georgia ( when he was young), and for a short time in Rutherford County, Tennessee before coming to Jefferson County before 1820, and he was not wealthy at that time. I can say that the person you are researching was not old family property, but was probably purchased at a Jefferson County auction or estate sale.

      There is a story passed down that the Hawkins slaves were always allowed to attend as a group any circus passing through Jefferson County, in antebellum days. It would not have been Ringling Brothers, as they were not founded until the 1880's in Wisconsin. But there are accounts of small circuses travelling the country before the civil war. There were at least 30 circuses touring the country during the 1850's.

    2. "Marse" Hawkins would go with his people and pay for their tickets. This tiny bit of information should be added to the facts about the early life of the person you are researching as a great item of interest which we know is a fact.

      There is no record or family talk of mistreatment. All the people after freedom took the Hawkins name and would brag after the war about the 2000 acre plantation and the harmony of the place. Mr. Hawkins had all of his farm building constructed around a square area so as to create a sort of pen in the middle of them for the safe keeping of whatever livestock needed protection.

      The actual location of the plantation was an area called Elyton, now called Thomas, and is a part of the city of Birmingham. I think it was the Republic Iron and Steel company that bought the plantation in the 1870's.

      The only photograph I own of a family slave is that of Uncle Nat Hawkins, the plantation fiddler, whose photograph is on the blog, as you see.

      Williamson Hawkins' parents were Edward and Winniford Wells Hawkins of Lunenburg County, Virginia. Edward's wife died and Williamson left home when his father remarried. He worked for a rich Cherokee widowed woman in Georgia to get his start in life.

      With the addition of children and perhaps purchases during the war, the family said the number of slaves on the plantation by freedom in 1865 was about 165. I think Williamson Hawkins and Mr. McAdory were among the top 5 slave owners in Jefferson County at that time. The 1860 Alabama Slave Census for Jefferson County would confirm that claim. It would not be hard to scan through it and see who owned the greatest numbers; I just have never done it.

    3. I know Williamson Hawkins regretted his lack of education, and saw to it that his children received a good education. He once said he'd choose a plow for his coat of arms, so that shows he was not spoiled in character.

      When Wilson's Raiders entered Jefferson County in March of 1865, there are accounts of the Yankee soldiers being amazed to find the old planter and his wife living in perfect peace and harmony among the 160 plus African Americans who were concerned about the old couple's safety from the cavalrymen. The Yankees took what they could in the form of food, and also confiscated barrels of peach and apple brandy and wine. Mary Gordan Duffee in her "Sketches" article tells this story, and describes Williamson Hawkins and his plantation life.

      Her Victorian writing style was "edited down" by the two ladies who had her "Sketches of Alabama" published ( Virginia Pounds Brown was one of them ) and they also changed Williamson's son in law ( Alfred Hamilton Roebuck, also on my blog and my ancesotor)...changing his name to his brother George James Roebuck, thinking Miss Duffee had made a mistake, only later to realize after the book was published that Miss Duffee had the name correct in the first place. I have an original typed copy which describes the old planter and his wife, which is in the language Miss Duffee used rather than the edited and shortened version, and much better. Perhaps I should put it on the blog while I still have the copy for others to have.

  5. As of March of 2018, over 1,000 have read this post. I hope I can inspire others to research their families, black and white, slave and free.

  6. Bama Planter, My name is Stacey Lacey my family were slaves of James Pulaski Lacey and William Lacey of Maylene, Shebly County Alabama.. I'm sure our Ancestors crossed paths at some point, do you have any information please.

    1. James Pulaski Lacey died in 1884 so there is no slave inventory for him. His father died in Jefferson County, Alabama in 1844 and his estate is found in the Orphans Court Records 1841-1844 p. 488. There may be no slaves listed; I haven't seen the papers. The Lacey slaves are on the 1850 and 1860 slave census, but as you probably already know those lists give male/female/ black or mulatto/age, but no names. Some of the Lacey descendants still living here told me one little bit of information I found interesting: their slaves were kind and not allowed to see the Cunningham slaves, as they were considered mean.

  7. I am a decendent of Alfred Roebuck's brother, George. He was married to Sudan Caroline Hawkins sister, Ann. U am so happy to have stumbled across your blog. I have never seen any photos of the Roebucks. I have seen the one of Williamson Hawkins. Thank you for doing this blog!

    1. I have his family in my ledgers from Cousin Flora Jones Beavers. She knew his grandchildren. Write me at and I will send the info I have to you on his family.

  8. Oops. Should have checked my spelling better.

  9. Hi Lawrence Cunningham is my great grandfather....he does not appear in the inventory and from reading your post there was a 9 yr male born to Columbus Cunningham (mulatto). Lawrence death certificate does not have a mother or father listed but he was mulatto born in Alabama and would have been around this age,give or take a few years, at the time the census was done in 1850. Do you have anymore info on Columbus and the mulatto slaves that were mentioned? An interesting fact I would like to sister did a DNA test and her percentage was 35% Great Britain

    1. Have you found Lawrence on the 1870 census? Or 1880? Is he anywhere near Shelby County where Columbus lived ? I don't have any more info on the Columbus set of children.

  10. Yes, I can find him in both. At this point in time he is residing is Shelby county, TN where he lived until he died. There is so much rich history surrounding his life. He was a Buffalo solider serving in the 55th U.S. Colored Infantry. To know about the latter part of his life makes me want to know about his birth, his parents and how his migration from Alabama to Tennesse came about. I feel that Columbus was his father???? Wish there was a way to know definitively. Do you have any other suggestions?

    1. Write me at and send what you have on 1870 and 1880 census so I can find him. We can go from there. Marshel

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  12. ok....another interesting fact...he named his first born son...Joseph.

  13. I think you should look at Cunningham families in Tennessee before the war in the area your ancestor lived. Especially the 1850 and 1860 census. The only connection I see is here were are in Shelby County, Alabama but he was in Shelby County, Tennessee.

  14. I meant: The only connection I see is here WE are in Shelby County Alabama and he is in Shelby County, Tennessee. I don't know why he would suddenly leave everyone here and go that far into Western Tennessee. Possible , not probable.


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