Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sometimes in genealogy, when you know you are going to be researching your families who lived in the south before the civil war, you just have to steel yourself against what you probably are going to learn. Even so, you probably are not going to be totally prepared for what you find.

I am presently writing up a narrative of my dad's mom's side of the family. Dad's mom (my grandmother, Maud McConnell Dobbins) was born in Glasgow, Kentucky. In a story written by my Aunt Dorothy, Dad's sister, she mentions that the old family in Kentucky had slaves before the Civil War, but that when they were emancipated, the slaves wanted to stay with the family. Now that may be true, but of course it is beside the point. The point is that facing the fact of slavery in one's family is not at all an easy thing to do, even if they were treated nicely.

Grandma Dobbins' mother was Narcissa Frances Wright, also of Glasgow, KY. Narcissa's father was Uberto Wright, likewise of Glasgow. And Uberto Wright's father was Jacob Wright, who died in 1857 possessed of a large estate which included eleven negro slaves.

In order to settle the estate according to Jacob's will, it had to be inventoried. All the papers generated in settling the estate are still available in the county courthouse. The first document begins this way: A true and just inventory and appraisment of all the slaves and personal estate of Jacob Wright, deceased, which was produced to use by U. Wright, his executor.

First on the list is Baylor, with a notation "not valued at anything." One can assume he was a baby, but that's just an assumption. Perhaps he was an old man no longer capable of working. Then the list goes on, showing Billy on the low side, worth $250, to Samuel and Felix, both worth $1,200.00. Those amounts are in 1857 money. In 1857, $1.00 would buy just about what $12.00 would today.

Some of the other items on the list and their value are as follows:

1 yellow horse - $25.00
3 axes - $1.25
3 kettles - $3.00
1 bed and furniture - $20.00
5 beef cattle - $90.00
1 muley cow and calf - $14.00
1 white faced heifer and calf - $8.00
1 brown filly - $100
1 crib of corn supposed to be 125 barrels - $156.25

The sale was held and the proceeds of the estate distributed to the heirs as per the will.

What is hard to understand is that the slaves were considered property, and from the price they would fetch on the market you can see that they were a large and valuable part of a man's estate.

As a genealogist, we try to learn as much as we can about our families and the times they lived in. If we had all good old New England ancestors we wouldn't need to be dealing with the value of slaves when we write up our papers. But the truth is that some of us did have slaves in the family, and seeing their names written down on a property inventory may be interesting, but we sure don't have to like it one bit!

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