Sunday, July 7, 2013

That Hamilton Woman!


No, this isn't a review of that old classic movie about the life of Emma Hamilton, starring Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

It's a post about Genealogy....of course it is! lol
My family genealogy specifically and a document I found recently.

I am working on my mother's side of things old long Southern mother's, mother's, mother's, father's parents and grandparents to be precise.
Back about there is where the census information gets spotty and piecing together who's who and where they did what, becomes difficult to follow and keep the continuity of the trail.

Like for instance, my 3x Great Grandparents, Richard W. Baker and Sarah "Sallie" P. Hamilton.  We don't know exactly when they were born.  From the ages on census records you can deduce a range of a few years but no birth records have been found yet.  And the chance exists that I may never find any records to confirm their birthdates due to the records that were destroyed when the Yankees violated Old Virginny.

The possibility of hitting the genealogical Brick Wall at any point once you get this far back is always there, even if you are white.
But by finding various documents in their paper trail you can start to piece together where, when  and how they lived.

I was happy to discover a document that helped me authenticate this part of the family line.
It's a part of the special collections dept. at the University of VA library.....part of the "A Guide to the Valuation of Confederate Slaves from 1864".  I would have to travel to Charlottesville, VA to see that actual document but this digital summary gives me an idea about what it contains.
The documents were purchased in 1990 from a NJ auction dealer.

It's a court decree from February of 1864 concerning the dividing of a group of slaves among the heirs of one Mrs. Frances Flippen Hamilton, the widow of John Hamilton of VA(Prince Edward county to be exact).
Frances and John Hamilton were my 4x Great Grandparents.
Their daughter, Sarah "Sallie" was my 3x Great Grandmother.

Though it's not a "happy" document, being in reference to slaves and holding them, it is a thrill to see my direct ancestors mentioned if only electronically.

The person who wrote the content summary added that they were not sure if the court from which this proceeding were held was in Virginia or not because they could not find Frances or John Hamilton enumerated in the VA. state Censuses of 1850 and/or 1860(which preceded this court event in 1864).
Obviously, the person who wrote out the summary hadn't undertaken the amount of genealogy digging necessary to find Frances and John that I had. lol
It is widely held that John Hamilton died before the end of 1840, and at the time of this court proceeding Frances had been widowed for approx. 24 years.

I did think it strange since this was a court proceeding where it was determined how to divide up Frances Hamilton's, the widow of John Hamilton, slave property among her heirs, took place in Feb. of 1864.   Frances did not die until 1874.

Distributing an estate ten years before the owner of said estate died?
A true head scratcher this.

Then my Hubs, ever the clever thinker, put out there that perhaps Frances was incompetent by 1864....meaning she was unable to take care of herself and of sound enough mind to direct how her property was to be handled.  Nowadays, someone deemed incompetent makes out(before they become incapacitated) or a court gives someone else a Power of Attorney over someone who is incapacitated so they can be their ward and handle all financial and legal affairs for the person.
I'm not sure if POA's were a regular part of the legal system in 1860's Virginia or if one existed for Frances, but this sounds very plausible a situation.

So if she was judged to be legally incapable of handling her own legal affairs, her estate may have been distributed at that point to her heirs instead of wanting until she passed on.
Especially since this "property" were living human beings and thus had needs to be met on a daily basis.  You couldn't just tuck slaves in a trunk somewhere like someone's good silverware or fine china until the owner died and the folks in the will came into control and possession of the property.
Slaves were people who had to be fed and housed and their physical needs met.

The particulars of the court decree were concerning 26 slaves in the possession of Frances Hamilton.
The total value of these 26 slaves, in 1864 dollars was $37,750.  In 2013 dollars that's equal to $563,432.84.  That ain't pocket
The slaves were divided up into 7 lots to be distributed to the 7 living heirs of Mrs. Hamilton; Richard W. & Sally Hamilton Baker(my direct ancestors), James & Anne Hamilton Ireson, William A. Hamilton, John F. Hamilton,  ? C. Hamilton(this was probably Joseph but not definite), Robert P. Hamilton and Martha Hamilton Leffew.
While this document with her children's names helped substantiate some of them, it also caused more questions for me about others.  For example, other genealogists have Robert Hamilton dying in 1849, 15 years before this court proceeding, but he is one of the inheriting heirs(and his children and/or spouse are not mentioned instead)?
But I digress.....

Each slave lot was worth $5,392.85 but separate from the slaves was a sixty-two year-old female slave named Betsy "nearly blind and Valueless".  The other 6 heirs were to pay $500 to William Hamilton, who took possession of Betsy, "for the keeping for life the said slave."   I truly hope my ancestors followed this court directive willingly and supported Betsy for the rest of her natural days.

The summary doesn't give the names of all the slaves concerned but it does indicate that 3 separate family groups(each a mother and her two young children)were worth $3,500 per family group.
My natural curiosity wants to know the names of all of these slaves and which ones my 3x Great Grandparents inherited.  Slaves who were no doubt released the following year if not sooner.
Having this information and putting it out into the electronic world, may also help someone of African American slave descent to connect the dots with a long lost ancestor of theirs as well.

I hope to someday get to Charlottesville again(I lived there for a year back in 1982-83....wish this document had been there back then and I had knowledge of it too)and get a chance to view the information contained within personally.




  1. I read of a case about 200+ years prior to this when a son had his mother declared a witch and burned so he could get her land after his father had died. Clearly, she was not a witch. So, could this be a case of children or one child wanting a share now and not later? Either way, I hope she was also taken care of by her children.

    1. Oh, and the incident of the half-grown son accusing and having his mother burned as a witch happened in the colonies, not in Europe.

  2. Fascinating to read about your genealogy search. My mom's side has been documented but my cad's side is a little more iffy.


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