Madison County Families

Kentucky Pioneers and Their Descendants

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This site created by and maintained by Robert J. Parks, 11 Regents Park Lane, Frankfort, KY  40601-3845

© Robert J. Parks 2009-2016

Slavery in the Families

Ancestors on both sides of  my family owned slaves in the 1800s in Madison County, but  there were more on  my mother’s side than on my father’s.  

For a very long time, at least since my childhood in the 1950s, I have been curious about slaves and slave owners in Madison County.  My grandparents Parks lived in an ante-bellum structure with white columns in front, a mansion in its time.  Behind the house were several outbuildings, one of which, it was said, quartered slaves.  It was a ramshackle building, some 100 years old if the yore were true, evoking the romance of olden times, yet a stark reminder of a disgraceful element of America’s history.  

From studying history in high school and college, the idea of slave owners of as wealthy masters of large agricultural plantations was firmly planted in my mind.  Yet, I recall, from my mother, I believe, that some of her ancestors – none of them wealthy – may have had some slaves at some point in their lives.  

When I took up genealogy seriously in the 1990s and began looking at census records, yes, I noticed, some of my ancestors were recorded as owning slaves.  I made some notes and entered the fact in my genealogy software occasionally, but never systematically.  It was always on the to-do list in the back of my mind, but I procrastinated.  I wasn’t exactly afraid of the truth, but I had the queasy feeling that I might be uncomfortable with what I would find.  And anyway what difference does it make 150 years hence?  

In 2016, I bit the bullet.  I looked up all my direct ancestors in all the censuses from 1810 through 1860 and systematically recorded their ownership of slaves.  To put these historical facts into some perspective, I looked at the ownership of slaves by my ancestors’ neighbors across Madison County and considered the economics and politics of their times.  I saw no reason to revisit questions of morality; those have been long decided.  Further, no information is available on how any of these ancestors may have treated their human property.  It would seem that prudent owners would treat their slaves with the same consideration given to their other valuable property.  We can also imagine that when slaves grew old and of little value, humanity and gratitude might come into play.  

First, some historical context.  Slaves in Madison County date from Daniel Boone’s earliest expeditions in the 1770s.   A few of the early arrivals at Boonesborough brought slaves with them.  A historical marker near the Blue Grass Army Depot commemorates a heroic exploit in 1780 by Monk, a slave of Capt. James Estill.  The first systematic count of black persons in Madison County – the 1788 Tax List – records 75 “blacks over 16” as the property of 33 taxpayers.  William Hoy had 10 and William Calk 5.  Nine others had either 3 or 4; 20 had 1 or 2.  In 1790, the U.S. Census for Madison County, Virginia, a much larger territory than today’s Madison County, 737 slaves lived alongside some 5,000 whites.

Between 1790 and 1800, as settlers from Virginia and North Carolina rushed into Kentucky, some of them bringing their slaves with them, Madison County’s population nearly doubled while the slave population nearly tripled.  In the next decade, the total population rose about 50 percent while the slave population nearly doubled.  From 1810 to 1860 Madison County barely grew (from 15,000 to 17,000), but the slave population doubled (from 3,000 to 6,000).  From 16% of the population in 1800, slaves increased to 35% in 1860.  During some decades, the non-slave population – nearly all white – actually declined slightly.  

So what was going on here?  

First, as the early settlers turned the wilderness into farms, they became increasingly prosperous.  To some, owning slaves was an integral part of getting the farm work done.  For others, slave ownership was more a product of economic success than an economic necessity.  This phenomenon manifested itself in the acquisition of house servants to do the cooking, washing, child care, etc., thus increasing the owners’ leisure time.  So as farmers prospered, slavery grew.  By 1850 nearly half of the county’s households had at least one slave.  While a few large landowners owned a score or more of slaves during the first 70 years of Madison County’s history, many more had five or fewer, often one or two adults and one to four children.  In 1840 and 1850, the average was about six slaves per owner and 40 percent of all slaves were children under 10.  Second, many Madison Countians followed Daniel Boone’s example and went west for good cheap land.  Some left for Missouri soon after President Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803.  Others moved north of the Ohio River into the Ohio, Indiana and Illinois after those territories opened for settlement between 1803 and 1809.  The exodus continued throughout the 1800s, but was particularly vigorous in the 1830s.  Almost all of this exodus was white.  Slaves were not free to move on their own, and few white owners took slaves with them.  In fact, slavery was illegal in the northwest territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois).  Some owners sold slaves into Southern markets – Samuel Shearer, primarily a livestock trader, estimated he brokered 300 slaves between roughly 1830 and 1860 – but the growing population numbers suggest no major effect.  

Third, birth rates were very high for both whites and blacks during the 1800s and the slave population tended to be younger.  In 1840, for example, children under 10 accounted for 40% of the slave population and 34% of the white population.  On the other end of the spectrum, persons over 35 made up just 11 percent of the slave population but 20 percent of the white population.  

Politics and religion appear to have had little, if any, influence on the ownership of slaves.  Many of the most prominent early ministers in the county were themselves slave owners.  During the 1850s, a period of anti-slavery activity, the number of slave owners in Madison County increased 16% from 812 to 945.  Cassius M. Clay, Madison County’s richest man, was a state representative, abolitionist, a founder of the Republican Party in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia – and a longtime slave owner.  Clay donated the land for the Rev. John G. Fee’s abolitionist college at Berea, but neither Clay’s political activism nor the reverend’s religious zeal had much influence over who decided to own slaves in Madison County.  Instead, both Fee and Clay became targets of fierce, sometimes violent, organized pro-slavery activity.  

About half my ancestors were slave owners

Now to my families and their ownership of slaves, but first a caveat.  All of my information comes from the 1788 tax list, wills and the biennial US Censuses.  All are snapshots at one point in time.  A lot can happen in a decade, so it is entirely possible that some owned slaves except in the Census years while others may have owned slaves only in a census year.  However, broad patterns emerge among families and to some extent communities.  

I looked at slave ownership generation by generation, starting with my grandparents and going back four generations.  Patterns emerged:  

Slave ownership was common among some families.  In 1850, for example, 14 Millions were owners of 89 slaves.  Ten years later, 15 Millions had 142 slaves.  Six Broaddus families owned 47 slaves.  Six Gentry households had 58 slaves in 1850 and 59 in 1860.   Ten Park and Parke households had 57; in 1860 they had 93.  In 1850, two Newby households had 8 slaves; in 1860 nine Newbys had 18 slaves.  Likewise, some families, including my Joneses, the Dennys and Johnsons, never had slaves.  

On my father’s side – the Parks side – there were few slave owners, only 3 by my count.  None of my direct Parks ancestors owned slaves.  None of my Grandmother Parks’ ancestors owned slaves.  These include her Jones, Johnson, Shearer and Denny ancestors.  Among my grandfather Parks’ ancestors, both the Gentrys and Scudders owned slaves.  Both appear to have brought them with them from Virginia and North Carolina.  My Crews and Bruce ancestors did not own slaves.  

Location seems to have made a difference.  The non-slave owners lived primarily around Union City.  The Scudders and Gentrys lived on Otter Creek near Red House.  The Parkses lived in between on what is now Brookstown Road.

Those who came from eastern Virginia – e.g. Millions and Doziers – were more likely to own slaves than those from the Piedmont (Parkses).  

On my mother’s side – the Million side – nearly all of my ancestors owned slaves in the 1810-1850 period.  This included the Millions, Newbys, Heathmans, Perkins, Doziers, Christophers, Mundays and Broadduses.  Only the Fosters were not slave owners.  Among these families there were different patterns of ownership.

The family patriarchs, Travis Million and John Newby, settled across Tates Creek from each other about 1800 on modest sized farms.  There were four marriages among their children.  Two of the couples are my ancestors as subsequent generations of the two families continued to intermarry.  Bryant Newby and John Million moved in the 1820s to the ridge that became Newby.  Bryant had married Susannah Perkins, whose family lived across Jackson Branch near Baldwin.  The Heathmans also acquired land at Newby, an area characterized by steep hillsides and narrow ridges, land that was more suitable for raising livestock than growing grains, tobacco and hemp.  

The Christophers, Mundays and Broadduses settled on the ridge that splits the area between Tates Creek and the Kentucky River, around the area that later became Forest Hill.  The ridges are broad there and some may have owned river bottoms, terrain conducive to growing row crops (corn, hemp, tobacco) on a larger scale.  The Doziers settled on similar broad ridges just a few miles north of Richmond on what is now Red House Road.  

The families who lived at Newby appear to have brought few if any slaves from Virginia or North Carolina, and they added slaves gradually as they prospered.  Their slaves tended toward more women and children with relatively few men.  This indicates they acquired slaves primarily as household help rather than field hands.  Take Anthony Perkins, the veteran of the Revolution.  He had no slaves in 1820 and two in each of the next two censuses.  His will provided for two, Rachel and Jenny, to be freed.  Anthony’s son-in-law, Bryant Newby, who bought land near Newby in 1818, had 1 slave in 1820, 4 in 1830, 7 in 1840 and 3 in 1850.  The 7 in 1840 included 3 children under 10 and two males between 11 and 24.  The three in 1850 were two male teenagers and a 10-year-old girl.  The Millions and Heathmans had followed similar patterns of ownership.

On the other hand, the Forest Hill families and the Doziers appear to have arrived with slaves.  James Ingo Dozier, the patriarch, had one on the 1788 tax list and named one, Adam, in his will in 1790.  His son Leonard had 9 in 1810 and bequeathed 9 – five women and four men – to his children in his 1844 will.  David Christopher had 9 slaves in 1810, and his widow Sarah had 9 in 1820.  Sarah’s 9 included no children and four males older than 45.  Their son Ambrose reported 11 in 1830, more than half adults.  At Ambrose’s estate sale in 1843, six slaves, five males and one female, were sold.  My 3rd great grandfather Reuben Munday had 8 slaves in 1820 and 13 in 1830.  His father-in-law John Broaddus had 6 in 1820.  The slaves of all of these families tended toward fewer children, fewer women and more adult males whose help was needed in raising labor intensive crops.  

Frank Scudder had a close relationship

The Census and other sources don’t tell us very much about how the slaves fit into life on these farms, but we do get some hints and draw some inferences.  Take the family of William Scudder, for example.  A 3rd great grandfather, William, owned 2 in 1830, 1 in 1840 and 6 in 1850.   These six were a woman, 33, a mulatto man, 20, and children aged five months to five years.  In 1860, William’s widow, Lucy, also had six, a 36-year-old woman, a 31-year-old mulatto man and four children, aged three to eight.  It is possible that the mulatto man in the 1850 and 1860 Censuses is Frank Scudder who is listed in the 1870 Census as a 41-year-old farm owner in the Otter Creek area where the Scudders lived.  Frank Scudder, born January 20, 1830, who is buried in the Scudder family graveyard, according to family oral history, was “reportedly a slave.”  Some members of the Scudder family also entrusted Frank Scudder with one of their fine show and breeding horses, Peavine 85.  The horse died on Frank’s farm in 1887.  (Richmond Daily Register., June 16, 1922.  It appears the relationship was somewhat amicable.

While we infer that Frank Scudder was with the Scudders in 1840, 1850 and 1860, it is fairly clear in looking at the ages of slaves from one Census to the next there was not a lot of continuity.  Of course, with slaves being kept primarily for work, both the work and a worker’s productivity change through time.  Farmers changed crops as markets changed, and new agricultural machinery changed the type of labor needed.  A younger ambitious farmer might have more of a need for labor than a semi-retired farmer in his twilight years.  And, of course, a person’s productivity grows early in life and declines later in life.  So farmers could be expected to shift slaves among family members and make deals with neighbors over time as needs and abilities changed.  This would have made life among slave families somewhat chaotic.  

Civil War service provides another window for a peek at slavery among the families.  Two of my ancestors served, one on each side.  Thomas S. Fowler, who married Nancy Scudder, joined the Rebs right after the Battle of Richmond, became one of Morgan’s men and spent most of his time at Camp Douglas in Chicago as a prisoner of war.  His brother in law, Ira Scudder, son of William and Lucy, also joined the Confederate Army, was captured, imprisoned and escaped.  On the side of the United States of America was Sylvanus Massey Shearer, the grandfather of my great grandmother Jones.  Shearer, who lived in Rockcastle County, just south of Berea at Disputania, was active in teaching slaves to read the Bible and joined the Union Army at age 48.  Also four of his sons fought for the Union.  

In spite of their substantial ownership of slaves over a long period of time, none of the Millions in Madison County joined the Army.  Four Newbys, including a grandson of Bryant, did; all were prisoners of war; one died in captivity.  One Dozier joined the Confederacy.  

No Parks Ancestors Owned Slaves

None of the Parkses in my direct line either owned slaves or served in any military conflict prior to World War II.  Perhaps their Quaker heritage had something to do with it.  In England, Roger Parke was a Quaker, and joined a group of other Quakers from England settling in New Jersey.  Some of his descendants lived near the Jersey colony in North Carolina before coming to Kentucky.  Pacifism and anti-slavery sentiments may have followed them.

The Quaker influence didn’t seem to affect some members of two of the three other original Parke families in Madison County.  Shipton Parke of the Timothy Parke line had 6 slaves in 1830 and 5 in 1840 at his homestead on the West Fork of Otter Creek.  Ebenezer Park and several of his descendants, who settled in eastern Madison County, owned slaves.  

 The closest relative in my Parks line to show up as a slave owner is Nathan Parks, a son of my fifth great grandfather Charles Sr.  Nathan lived in Estill County, married into a relatively wealthy family (the Whites) and owned two slaves in 1810.  

Another factor in slave owning was cost.  At Ambrose Christopher’s estate sale in 1843, the best horse, a three-year old colt brought $40.  His “Negro boy John” brought $450.  His six slaves accounted for nearly two-thirds of the value of his entire estate, which included yokes of oxen, 5 other horses, sheep, hogs, farm produce and furniture.  It’s hard to understand the economics when you’d have to sell a dozen horses to purchase one slave.  It suggests that among owners of smaller farm in Madison County that slavery was more an effect of their prosperity rather than a cause.  

What difference does all this make – 150 years hence?  It demonstrates the power of peer pressure, of the tendency of people to do what others in their peer groups – their families, their communities – are doing.  The larger landowners and the wealthiest families in the county sometimes had dozens of slaves; emulating them elevated your own social and economic standing.  It reminds us that questions of morality can be answered with rationalizations such as “our culture and economy will collapse – we will all starve – without slaves” and “uneducated, unskilled black people can’t survive on their own – they need slavery as much as we do.”  It reminds us that we get caught up in popular beliefs about people different from ourselves.  

There’s another critical difference.  From my study of family history, it seems to me that what I am today was built on a foundation of values and successes of my ancestors through many generations and a few centuries.  The families of former slaves have no such foundation.  Slaves had no last names.  They couldn’t marry and form legitimate, legal families.  They couldn’t own property or bequeath anything to their children.  They were not legally responsible for their children; the owner was.. Parentts were routinely  separated from their spouses and their children.  Stable family life was  accidental.  

Slavery in our midst among our ancestors reminds us that good people can do horrible things.  It also reminds us that many of our society’s issues today are deeply rooted in the mistakes of the past.