A 1913 will and property owned 120 years ago

One of the amazing documents I unearthed in the basement of my late grandparents Tarrytown, N.Y.,  home was the original last will and testament of my great-great grandmother Lucy Ann Jackson. The will was executed in September 1913–almost a century ago–and in it she leaves property in Basic City, Virginia (now part of Waynesboro, Va.) to my great grandfather, Clarence Jackson, and her other children. The two pieces of adjoining property were purchased by my great-great grandmother between 1880-1890, which is pretty remarkable considering she was a slave until around 1870.

During my August trip to southwestern Virginia, I visited the Augusta County courthouse in Staunton, Va., where my great-great grandmother’s will was filed. The same courthouse housed the original deeds for the property she once owned in Basic City.

Using the handwritten and very difficult to decipher information in the deeds, I was able to determine the exact location of the property my great-great grandmother owned in what is now Waynesboro, Va. So my wife, Linda, and I left the Augusta County courthouse and traveled the 10 or so miles to Waynesboro to visit the intersection where my great-great grandmother once owned property.

Two rather unremarkable ranch-style houses now occupy the corner lot owned by my great-great grandmother from around 1890 until, I suspect, the 1940s or 50s. I was tempted to knock on the doors of those houses and proudly–and loudly– let the folks living there know that my great-great grandmother, an ex-slave, once owned the property they were now living on. But I restrained myself. However, I did take the picture below.

Searching for my history on a slave plantation

In August, I drove from Washington, D.C. to Nelson County, Va. (a three hour trip) where my great-great grandmother Lucy Ann Jackson was a slave from birth until the end of the Civil War. (I was fortunate to have discovered a 1935 newspaper article where my great-great grandmother—who was 114 at the time—discussed her early life on the Rhodes Plantation in Nelson County and later on the Harris Plantation in the same county.)

My first stop in Nelson was the county seat of Lovingston where I visited the courthouse and the library in search of the birth and marriage records of my great-great grandmother and her husband, Squire Jackson. While I failed to find any birth or marriage records, the library did provide additional information about my great-great grandmother’s second owner, Colonel James Harris. Turns out the colonel’s family was one of the original settlers of Nelson County. Harris also served in the Virginia state legislature. In 1845, Col. Harris married Jacintha Rhodes and, I suspect, my great-great grandmother went with her from the Rhodes plantation to the Harris Plantation.

The former Rhodes Plantation in Nelson Co., Va.

I also began to connect the dots as to why the last name of the three children that my great-great grandmother had prior to emancipation was Harris, something I discovered in a 1870 Census available on Ancestry.com. My great-great grandmother worked in Col. Harris’s home helping to raise his and his wife’s children. And the colonel was most likely the father of  my great-great grandmother’s first three children—James Harris, Charles Harris and Lucy Ann Harris. (She had a total of 14 kids.)

I’ll have more on my visit to Nelson County and nearby Augusta County, Virginia in my next blog.

A challenging assignment

After 40 years as a journalist, I recently took on my most challenging assignment—researching and writing about my ancestors. This journey started in 2009 when, while cleaning out my late grandparents home in Tarrytown, N.Y., I happenend upon a box of photos, letters and other documents dating back to the late 1800s. That was followed by the discovery of an amazing family scrapbook stuffed with newspaper articles, church programs and other materials tracing the accomplishments—both individually and collectively—of “negroes and colored people” from the early 1900s through the 1930s.

This article about my great-great grandmother appeared in a Tarrytown, N.Y. newspaper when she was 114 years old. She is voting in the photo.

Thus far, the assignment has taken me to a plantation in Nelson Co., Virginia where my great-great grandmother, Lucy Ann Jackson, was a slave and to a nearby town, Waynesboro, where she purchased property in 1870. My great-great grandmother later moved to New York state where she lived until the ripe age of 114.

My early research has also introduced me to a great grandmother, Addie Wilkins Jackson, who worked closely with Mary Church Terrell, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and other well-known female activists in the formation of a national colored women’s association. And a great grandfather, Clarence Jackson, who, in the early 1900s, was the personal assistant to one of the most powerful men in America, the president of New York Central Railroad.

I hope to use this blog to keep friends, family and others abreast of my progress—and to help keep me motivated as I take this journey into my personal history. I hope you will take the time to regularly read my blog—or at least occasionally stop by out of curiosity.


My blogging game plan

After more than 30 years of writing about topics ranging from education and sports to music and social justice, I decided it was time to take a shot at writing a blog.

My blogging game plan is to keep my posts short and sweet–a lot like this introductory one. I intend to cover those subjects which both interest me and with which I have a decent amount of familiarity. And I want and need your feedback.

In the upcoming weeks and months, I’ll be writing a good deal about the surprising—and inspiring—things that I’ve discovered as a result of my recent research into my family history. Maybe it will inspire you to research your own family history—if you haven’t already. The photos in my header are of my great grandfather, Clarence Jackson, and my great grandmother, Addie Wilkins Jackson, along with my grandmother, great aunts and uncles, mother and cousins. All of these images are from the early to mid-1900s.