Releasing Slave Names Found in Genealogy Research
The Slave Name Roll Project began two years ago, the brainchild of Schalene Dagutis, blogger at Tangled Roots and Trees. Inspired by Cathy Meder-Dempsey’s posts for Black History Month (Opening Doors in Brick Walls) and Heather Wilkinson Rojo’s Honor Roll Project, Schalene decided to create a list by state and county of blog posts naming slaves found in genealogical records.
I have come upon the names of enslaved people in my ancestors’ records numerous times and I’m grateful for this opportunity to finally do something productive to make the names of these enslaved people accessible to their descendants.
Before emancipation, slaves appear in the records only by their first names, making it incredibly difficult to locate them. Putting them in a place and time, combined with their names, opens up possibilities for researchers. Hopefully by publishing the names of these people, their descendants will be able to find them through searching google and the Slave Name Roll Project.
I discovered PRINCE, DICK, SARAH, FLORA, and BETT a few months ago in an 1813 equity suit of South Carolina, Washington District. In a family history serendipity moment, I had entered the surname of my ancestor, ROYSTON, into the Digital Library on American Slavery database and got five hits. Turns out that Petition 21381206 provided key evidence that I needed in proving the third generation for my accreditation four-generation project.
The Race & Slavery Petitions Project: Petition 21381206, Wrenwick vs. Wrenwick ²
The petition is part of the “Race & Slavery Petitions Project” that contains detailed information on thousands of people, both black and white. An abstract of the record with the names of the slaves and others mentioned in the documents is given as well as the repository for the record, in this case the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. I contacted the archives through their website and requested a copy of the petition. A few weeks later a large envelope came in the mail containing twenty large photocopied pages with very small writing. Over the next few days I transcribed each paper and promised myself that when I was finished with my four-generation project, I would do something about the slaves named in the petition.
The general petition information from the website shown above gives an overview of the case, important in trying to keep the names and relationships straight.
Several heirs of Elizabeth Wrenwick Nichols sue her executors for an account and division of the estate. By a deed of 1784 and a later will, Solomon Nichols gave a life interest in his personal estate to his wife Elizabeth, with the remainder of the estate to be divided equally between her children after her death. In 1796 Elizabeth Nichols wrote her will, giving several specific bequests but also directing that the rest of her estate be divided between her children when they turned twenty-one years old. Upon her death in 1806, Elizabeth’s sons, John Wrenwick and William Wrenwick, became her executors and took possession of both estates. Agness Wrenrick, Elizabeth’s daughter, and Jabez Gantt and Solomon Royston, Elizabeth’s grandsons, charge that John and William have not filed the required yearly reports, nor will they divide the property with the other heirs. The petitioners also fear that William will waste the property and leave the state. They ask the court to compel the executors to render their accounts and to distribute the property. They also ask for a writ of ne exeat against William to prevent him from leaving the state.
Among the property referred to are the slaves. Although the website lists their names, it is in going to the original records that the story unfolds and important details emerge. Birth and death dates can be estimated and some family relationships are stated.
BETT: In 1784 Solomon Nichols executed a deed leaving all of his estate to his wife, Elizabeth Nichols. After her decease, the negro woman, BETT, was to be given to her son William Renwick (Miller). After the executing of the 1784 deed BETT had children DICK & SARAH, DICK born in the lifetime of Solomon and SARAH after his death (29 September 1793); BETT died before the decease of Elizabeth Nichols (23 August 1806).
DICK: Born to BETT before the death of Solomon Nichols on 29 September 1793. After the death of Elizabeth Nichols, DICK was claimed as the property of William Renwick (Miller) under the deed of Solomon Nichols. Judgement: “The Defendant William Renwick is entitled to negro DICK at the value of four hundred dollars.”
SARAH: Born to BETT after the death of Solomon Nichols on 29 September 1793. Agnes Renwick claims that SARAH was given to her by the will of her mother, Elizabeth Nichols. Will Renwick (Miller) kept back SARAH. “Agnes Renwick by virtue of the said will is entitled to the negro girl SARAH in whose possession the said negro girl now is.”
PRINCE: Purchased by Solomon Nichols after executing the deed of 1784 and before his death on 29 September 1793. PRINCE was willed to John Renwick by Elizabeth Nichols. In his answer to the petition brought against him, John Renwick states that he “lived with the said Elizabeth before her death for the years eighteen hundred two, three, four, and five making four years he laboured faithfully in the plantation and with the assistance of two negroes PRINCE and FLORA he supported the family and realized something handsome for the said Elizabeth for which he has received no recompense . . .” Judgement: “John Renwick by virtue of the will of the said Elizabeth is entitled to the negro man Prince who already is in his possession.”
FLORA: Acquired by Elizabeth Nichols after the death of Solomon Nichols on 29 September 1793. In his answer to the petition brought against him, John Renwick states that he “lived with the said Elizabeth before her death for the years eighteen hundred two, three, four, and five making four years he laboured faithfully in the plantation and with the assistance of two negroes PRINCE and FLORA he supported the family and realized something handsome for the said Elizabeth for which he has received no recompense . . .”
Because of the sheer volume of information, I transcribed each document, (see attachment below for complete transcription) and created a timeline abstracting the information that will hopefully help their descendants find them.
Timeline of Renwick vs Renwick Equity Suit
|Document and Date||Date of event mentioned||People||Event||Details|
|Bill: Agnes Wrenwick, Jabez Gault, & Solomon Royston vs John Wrenwick & William Wrenwick alias Miller:
13 Nov 1812
|17 May 1784||Solomon Nichols late of Newberry District, dcd||Deed||Gave by deed to Elizabeth Nichols all of his personal estate; after her decease Wm Miller to have BETT; the remainder of the estate to be divided among her children; then made his will confirming the deed|
|Deed||17 May 1784||Solomon Nichols||Deed||To Elizabeth Nichols & William Miller her son of the past [marriage]|
|Last will & testament||1790||Solomon Nichols||Will||Heretofore made & executed several conveyances of real and personal estate to Elizabeth my present wife and her children;|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||After executing the aforesaid deed [will]||Solomon Nichols||Purchase of PRINCE||Solomon possessed PRINCE at the time of his death|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||Between 1784 and 1793||Slave BETT||Birth of slave DICK||Born in the lifetime of Solomon; After executing the aforesaid deed [will]|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||29 Sept 1793||Solomon Nichols||Death||Died without altering or revoking his will|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||After 1793||Slave BETT||Birth of slave SARAH||Born after the death of Solomon Nichols|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||Between 1793 and 1806||Slave BETT||Death||Died before the decease of Elizabeth Nichols who possessed the slaves and all personal property of Solomon Nichols|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||After 1793||Slave FLORA||Purchase of FLORA||Acquired by Elizabeth Nichols after the death of Solomon|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||15 Sep 1796||Elizabeth Nichols||Will||To daughter Agnes: slave SARAH, 20 guineas, 1 feather bed ½ the clothes; ¼ residue of her estate
To Jabez and Solomon, grandchildren: 14 pounds apiece; ¼ residue of her estate to be possessed when they turn 21
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||23 Aug 1806||Elizabeth Nichols||Death||Died without altering or revoking her said will|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||After 23 Aug 1806||John Renwick and William Miller||Executed estate of Elizabeth Nichols||Possessed all of the personal estate; more than satisfied her debts|
|Bill of 13 Nov 1812||After 23 Aug 1806/ 13 Nov 1812||Agnes, John, and Ann Renwick||Only lawful children of Elizabeth Nichols||Ann since intermarried with John Cary Royston; she died 16 January 1801; he has been gone the 7 years last past|
|Subpoena to appear in court||11 Dec 1812||John and William Renwick||To file an answer and appear in court||Order to appear and answer the aforesaid bill of complaint; each to file an answer to the complaint|
|Answer to Bill Renwick Vs Renwick
10 July 1813
|10 July 1813||Wm Renwick||Statement on oath||His accounting of his deeds as co executor regarding the property of Solomon and Elizabeth Nichols|
|Answer to Renwick Vs Renwick||no date||John Renwick||Statement under oath||At the time of the execution of the deed,the only lawful children were Agnes, Ann Renwick, intermarried with one John C Royston settled in Georgia; a complete accounting of the property, sale and money.|
|Summary of case and judgement||19 June 1813||Arbiters||Award and decree||John Renwick is entitled to PRINCE, already in his possession
Agnes is entitled to SARAH, in her possession
William Renwick is entitled to DICK at the value of $400
The complainants are entitled $637.46 ( and more reckoning)
The Defendant to pay the costs of this suit.
Complete transcript: 1813 Equity suit of Wrenwick vs Wrenwick Newberry County SouthCarolina
Painful as it is to see enslaved individuals referred to as property, I begin this journey of releasing their names in the hope that someday their descendants will find them.
If you have had similar experiences in researching a slave owning ancestor I invite you to also contribute to the Slave Name Roll Project. As a community we can make a difference!
¹ Lindsay Lowe, “15 Inspiring Quotes for Black history Month: ‘Freedom Is Never Given,’ ” Parade (https://parade.com/260134/linzlowe/15-inspiring-quotes-for-black-history-month-freedom-is-never-given/ : accessed 22 February 2017).
² Washington District Court of Equity, Bills 1813, No.7, Agness Wrenwick, et al vs. John Wrenwick, et al, “County Estate Papers 1785-ca. 1920,” LR 13, box 1, microfilm 880, reel D1278, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina; “Race & Slavery Petitions Project,” Digital Library on American Slavery, (http://library.uncg.edu/slavery/petitions/details.aspx?pid=17475 : accessed 22 February 2017), Petition 21381206, Wrenwick vs. Wrenwick, 17 November 1812.