William H. Signor: Veteran of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry

An unidentified African American soldier guards a line of 12-pounder Napoleon cannons at City Point, Virginia in 1865. Private William Signor and his brother Private Cassius Signor were stationed at City Point in May 1865 with the 5th regiment of the Massachusetts Cavalry. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress, 1865.)

William H. Signor was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in about 1844 to Floyd Signor and Elizabeth Earl Signor. However, the story of his naming requires a step back in time to a few years before his birth.

The Signors and the Smiths in 1840

In the spring of 1840, my third great grandparents, Stephen F. and Abigail Smith took “a southern route” when they left Wilmington, Delaware with their sons George W. Smith, 3, and William H. Smith, 2, for Wisconsin.

An 1873 map of the National Road showing the route from Wilmington to Baltimore and then westward into Pennsylvania. This is likely the route that the Smiths took on their journey to the Wisconsin Territory. (Photo Credit: Robert Bruce, The National Road, 1873.)

According to one of two handwritten versions of the story passed down to my cousin Kristine Engels from her grandmother Norma Whitney, great granddaughter of William H. Smith, the Smiths met Mr. and Mrs. Signor en route.

[The Smiths] saw their first slave market and were horrified — a family was being pulled apart, with the young father being purchased. Smith asked what it would take to buy all three and the auctioneer took his 6 beautiful horses, giving him 2 oxen and the family of three.

Norma Whitney
A crowd stands outside the Market House in the town square of Easton, Maryland during the days of slavery. Auctioneers sold people who were enslaved here on market days. The Smith family witnessed a similar scene during their journey. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, c. early-to-mid 19th century.)

When the Signors and the Smiths arrived in “a free state,” likely Pennsylvania, the story continues: “Smith told them they were safe now but they insisted on going to help him settle his homestead. He gave them some land and their freedom papers, so he was a good man.”

According to the June 1, 1840 census taken shortly after their arrival in Prairieville (later Waukesha), Wisconsin, it appears that the Signors were living with the only other African American family in the township. The Richard Moore family had two people in the household that fit the age ranges for Mr. and Mrs. Signor and who do not appear in the Moore household in 1850, when the Signors had a separate household. There’s no indication that the Signors had a child in 1840 and it is unlikely, because Mrs. Signor was only 12 or 13 years old. (The age of consent for marriage in New York, where they were from, was 10 at the time.) However, because of the importance William H. Signor plays in our family lore, he may have been added to the narrative by later generations.

Another written version of the family lore says that the Signors took a family name and, indeed, when their eldest son was born in about 1844, he was named after William Henry Smith, one of the Smith sons who made the long journey to freedom with the Signors. I imagine that they grew quite fond of two-year-old Will while riding in a wagon loaded with “considerable household goods” and wanted to honor the Smith family by naming their son after him.

The Signor and Moore Farms in Wisconsin

Until the Homestead Act of 1862, free African Americans could not apply for land patents. Yet the Signors and the Moores each had a farm by the 1850 census. Family lore says that Smith “gave land” to the Signors. Research shows that Stephen F. Smith took out three land patents in Waukesha in 1843, 1844, and 1848.

The third of three land patents that Stephen Francis Smith took out in Waukesha, Wisconsin in the 1840s — then “the District of Sands, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin Territory.” This may be the patent that Smith took out on behalf of the Floyd Signor family. (Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management, 1848.)

The corresponding plats for each patent fit the locations of the Signor, Moore, and Smith farms listed in the 1840 and 1850 census records. The Signors and Moores were neighbors in 1850 census, and the Smiths lived in the same township as the Moores in the 1840 census. This indicates that Smith took out a land patent on behalf of the Moores in addition to the Signors. Smith did not “give” land to the families; rather, he facilitated the paperwork for their homesteads in order to circumvent the restrictions of the day. Each family homesteaded approximately 40 acres and, in 1850, Floyd Signor’s farm was valued at $1000.

The Signor and Earl Heritages

William Signor’s parents both hail from New York, which outlawed slavery in 1827, just before the time of Mrs. Signor’s birth in New York City. Family lore doesn’t say how or where Mr. Signor ended up on an auction block in a “slave market” in the spring of 1840. We can only speculate. New York was notorious for human trafficking even after slavery was outlawed and Baltimore, Maryland — a likely southern route for the Smiths before heading north to Wisconsin — was notorious for markets in which enslaved people were bought and sold.

Of note, the Signor surname may be tied to the white Signor family who colonized Delaware County, New York, so Mr. Signor may have come from that part of New York instead of New York City like his wife. Floyd Signor’s surname is Italian for the abbreviated English variation, “Sir,” and he is described as “mulatto” in one census record, meaning that he was of African and European ancestry. So while one of William Signor’s obituaries says that his mother was “of Spanish blood,” it is likely that his father may have had Italian heritage.

Elizabeth Earl Signor is described in census records as “Black” and her maiden name “Earl” is of English origin. Like Signor, its roots are tied to nobility. She may have had Spanish heritage, but only a DNA test by descendants and more research can prove the Signor family lore. In 1850, there were many people in New York City with surnames Earl and Earle, including a white Elizabeth Earl, who is the same age, and a free African American man named Allen Earl — the same first name as one of her sons — who is the right age to be a brother. However, no records have been located to prove that either she or her husband lived there.

The Signor Family

William’s father, Floyd George Signor, was born in New York in 1819. Since New York passed a Gradual Emancipation act on July 4, 1799 that manumitted enslaved children born after that date, but indentured them until they reached adulthood — age 21 for men — Mr. Floyd’s indenture would have ended in 1840. He should have been a freedman. Since he also married Elizabeth Earl in New York around this time, according to their son Leavitt in his 1925 census, it is unlikely that he was enslaved elsewhere before he ended up on an auction block in a “slave state.” Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Signor may have been the victims of human traffickers. Perhaps the newlyweds were snatched off the streets of New York shortly after Mr. Signor’s indenture ended or perhaps they traveled to a southern city on their own accord to look for employment without fully realizing the dangers. After all, places like Baltimore, Maryland had a large free African American population and a need for workers in 1840, and Mr. Signor was likely looking for work after his indenture ended. Conjecture aside, family lore says that Stephen F. Smith manumitted Floyd and Elizabeth Signor in the spring of 1840 and facts show that they were free at that time.

Mr. Signor was a successful, lifelong farmer — first, on the 40-acre homestead in Waukesha, Wisconsin and, later, on a 160-acre farm in Sand Creek, Iowa. He died on January 24, 1887 at age 68 in Creston, Iowa of “cardiac dropsy.” This was the medical term for what is now known as congestive heart failure. He is buried in the family plot at Greenlawn Cemetery in Afton, Iowa.

William’s mother, Elizabeth “Betsy” Earl was born in New York City, as mentioned previously, in 1828. If this date is accurate, she was born free but enslaved illegally in another state after her marriage. She gave birth to William, her first child, as a freedwoman in Wisconsin at age 16. In 1860, Mrs. Signor attended school for a time, learning to read and write along with her children. Only her husband remained illiterate. On April 10, 1890, she wrote a will, leaving her estate to son Leavitt Signor, daughter Emma J. Ewing, and widowed daughter-in-law Lucy Signor. William is not named in the will, perhaps because he was not living nearby like the others. Mrs. Signor died in Creston, Iowa at age 63 about January 9, 1891 and is most likely buried with her husband.

William Signor had three brothers and one sister. Cassius M. Signor was born in 1846; Leavitt A. Signor on February 11, 1847; Allen Signor in about June 1850; and finally, Emma J. Signor in about 1865. All the siblings were born in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Cassius and William were close. They served in the Civil War together and lived near each other in Chicago, Illinois after the war. It wasn’t until 1870, when the Signor family had moved to Sand Creek, Iowa and William had married in Chicago that the brothers separated. Cassius quit his job as a coachman and moved home to help his family with their farm. In 1872, Cassius joined the U.S. Army patrols in Sand Creek along with his brothers Leavitt and Allen. On June 1 of that year, he died at the age of 26. Like his parents, he is buried in the family plot.

Like Cassius and William, Leavitt and Allen were close and lived together until at least 1880. By 1887, all of the Signor family — except William — were living in Creston, Iowa. It is there that Allen married Lucy Deare Robinson of Atchison, Kansas, daughter of Reuben Deare and Mary Chesnut Deare Robinson, on March 22, 1888. Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived as Allen died exactly six months later at age 38 and was buried in the family plot.

After Allen died, Leavitt married the widow Eliza Ann Murphy Bowman Brown on November 6, 1890 in Bedford, Iowa. She was the daughter of John Murphy and Eliza Jane Hackley and the stepdaughter of Allen Taylor Bowman. At that time, Leavitt worked as a mason in Creston, Iowa. Before that, he worked on his father’s farm and then as a farmer in Highland, Iowa in 1880 with his brother Allen Signor and Philip Warner, a white man with German immigrant parents. All three men were single when they ran the farm together.

By 1900, Leavitt was working as a plasterer, which was his main occupation for the rest of his life. His career took him around the Midwest: to Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; York, Nebraska; Shenandoah, Iowa; and Sioux City, Iowa. In 1920, he worked at a packing company in Omaha before retiring to Grant Township in Shenandoah, Iowa where he and his wife attended the Methodist church. (The Smith family was also Methodist.) Leavitt died in Grant on May 8, 1928 at age 81 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried in the family plot in Afton.

Emma J. Signor’s first husband was Joshua Robinson, half-brother to Lucy Deare Robinson Signor, wife of Emma’s brother Allen. Joshua Robinson was the son of Joseph Robinson and Mary Chesnut Deare Robinson. He spent his childhood in Iowa (now White Cloud), Kansas and Shannon, Kansas and married Emma on September 13, 1887 in Omaha, Nebraska, where he worked as a teamster. By 1890, Emma was married to a Mr. Ewing and living in Creston, Iowa again. After her brother William’s death in 1898, the trail goes cold. The first name of her second husband and the date and place of her death are unknown at the time of this writing.

William and Cassius in the Civil War

One of the most thoroughly documented parts of William and Cassius Signors’ lives is their Civil War military service. In June 1864, William left Chicago, Illinois and Cassius Signor left Waukesha, Wisconsin and they traveled to Massachusetts to enlist with the Union cavalry. Cassius enlisted in Dana, District 9, Worcester, Massachusetts on June 25, 1864 and mustered in Boston, Massachusetts where he was assigned to the 5th Regiment of the Massachusetts Cavalry. The 5th regiment consisted of all African Americans — except for the commanders and most officers, who were white. Cassius is described as having hazel eyes, black hair, and a copper complexion. He stood five feet, six inches high. William enlisted in Lincoln, District 7, Middlesex, Massachusetts and also mustered in Boston, where he joined Cassius in the 5th regiment. William is described as having black eyes, black hair, and a black complexion and standing five feet, three inches high.

William Signor signed his 1864 enlistment document in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where he traveled to join the Union in the fight for freedom. Unlike many soldiers in the 5th regiment, he was born free. (Photo Credit: National Archives, 1864.)

On July 12, 1864, William and Cassius both mustered at Gallops Island in the Boston Harbor under Captain Goodhue. There, they were both assigned the rank of private and paid a premium of $200 a piece.

On July 16, 1864 Privates William and Cassius join Company G at Point Lookout, Maryland, a prison camp under the temporary command of Major Henry Ingersoll Bowditch. Their duty was to guard Confederate prisoners and the camp, and to construct pontoon bridges.

A pontoon bridge across the Potomac River to the village of Berlin, Maryland, built in 1862. Privates William and Cassius Signor and the 5th regiment built similar floating bridges in 1864 while at Point Lookout near the Potomac. (Photo Credit: Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress, Nov. 1862.)

On September 30, 1864, Colonel Henry S. Russell, who had been wounded earlier at the Battle of Baylor’s Farm, resumed command of the 5th regiment. On February 14, 1865, Col. Russell resigned and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Francis Adams became colonel. In March 1865, Col. Adams ordered William and Cassius, along with their regiment, to the field and duty near Richmond, Virginia. In April 1865, Col. Adams ordered the 5th regiment to the front near Petersburg, Virginia.

On April 3, 1865, William, Cassius, and the men of the 5th Regiment of the Massachusetts Cavalry were the “first mounted men in the city” of Richmond, according to Private Charles Beman in his April 22, 1865 letter to the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper. He wrote of their triumphant entry:

We entered the city about 9 o’clock a.m. Monday, April 3d … no matter where he [Jefferson Davis] has gone, the Confederate States of America have fallen.

Private Charles Beman
View of the canal and ruined buildings in Richmond, Virginia after the triumphant entry of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. African American refugees have loaded the barge with their household belongings. (Photo Credit: Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress, c. Apr.-Jun. 1865.)
This unidentified private from the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry had his portrait taken shortly after the fall of Richmond by a photographer who had also served in the Union military. Private Cassius Signor’s description fits that of this soldier: hazel eyes, black hair, and a copper complexion. (Photo Credit: Charles R. Rees & Bro., Richmond, c. 1864-1865.)

Following several weeks of occupation in Richmond, the 5th regiment was ordered to duty at a location near City Point, Virginia in May 1865.

The barracks of Military Railroad Construction Corps at City Point, Virginia in winter. Privates William and Cassius Signor and the 5th regiment were stationed near City Point in May after the fall of Richmond. A railroad line built by the corps ran next to the camp. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress, c. 1861-1869.)

In June 1865, thinking that the war was nearly over, they were ordered back to Camp Lincoln in the vicinity of Richmond.

Camp Lincoln, where the 5th regiment was stationed off and on in the months following the Union occupation of Richmond, Virginia. Military blankets are draped over rope attached to posts, forming a makeshift fence around the camp. Two large trees shade the tents. One soldier leans his elbow on the shoulder of a fellow soldier. (Photo Credit: James F. Gibson, Library of Congress, Jun. 1862)

However, on June 16, 1865, they were ordered to duty at Clarksville, Texas due to the prospect of trouble from the last of the rebel troops under Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. By the time they arrived in Texas, Col. Smith had surrendered and fled to Mexico.

On July 26, 1865, William was detached from his regiment and ordered to work with the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps by his commanding officer. This work was instrumental in defeating the Confederate army in Virginia in the closing days of the Civil War, according to the National Park Services. William continued his work on the U.S. military railroad through September 1865.

African American members of the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps in northern Virginia using levers to loosen rails while a white officer oversees the men’s work. Private William Signor did this type of backbreaking work for about three months before returning to the 5th regiment in Texas. (Photo Credit: Andrew J. Russell, Library of Congress, c. 1862-1863.)

Meanwhile, Cassius remained in Texas, where Colonel Samuel. E. Chamberlain became commander of the 5th regiment on August 1, 1865 after Col. Adams resigned due to a long illness. In October, William rejoined his brother in Texas.

On October 31, 1865, Privates William and Cassius Signor mustered out in Clarksville and, with the 5th regiment, took a transport ship from New Orleans back to Gallops Island in the Boston Harbor.

An unidentified African American soldier faces right, posing for a full-length portrait in New Orleans at the end of the Civil War. His uniform is tattered, and he wears a bandage around his forehead beneath his cap. His right hand is inserted into his coat between the first and second buttons, and he is leaning on a stick or cane with his left hand. (Photo Credit: Bernard Moses, New Orleans, Library of Congress, c. 1864-1866.)

In late November 1865, William and Cassius left Massachusetts after being paid and discharged. Cassius followed William home to Chicago. He lived with William for the next five years before returning home to Iowa.

An unidentified post-Civil War, African American soldier wearing a white cross belt, a U.S. buckle, a double-breasted coat, epaulets, and a shako red, white and blue pompom. He is holding a 45-70 rifle with a fixed bayonet and wearing gloves. The backdrop is painted. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress, c. 1865-1870.)

Life and Marriage in Chicago

In Chicago, William went to work as a porter for David F. Kenly and George R. Jenkins of Kenly & Jenkins. They were drug and oil brokers who sold such items as gasoline, naphtha, and white carbon oil. He was most likely hauling these items from the railway station to the store so, once again, railroads were in his life.

Business card for Kenly & Jenkins of Chicago in 1869, William Signor’s employer. William worked as a porter for this drug and oil broker for a few years. (Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune, 20 Jan 1869.)

By 1869, William had a wife named Mary. The only details known about her at the time of this writing are that she was born in Scotland in about 1834, that her father was also of foreign birth, that she was keeping house, and that she was described as “mulatto” in the census taken on June 18, 1870 in Chicago.

William shows up in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census twice: first, on June 15 with his family in Sand Creek, Iowa and, second, three days later with his wife and another couple with whom they lived. The other couple is John and Hannah Baxter, newlyweds who were married in July 1869. John is described as a Black blacksmith from Kentucky who’s parents are of foreign birth, and Hannah is described as a White woman who is keeping house and who is from Illinois. While Hannah was 10 years younger than John, Mary was 10 years older than William. How the two couples knew each other is unknown.

Life in Kansas

After Cassius’s move back to Iowa and subsequent death, William’s history is spotty. He has not been located in the 1880 census. He appears in the 1885 Kansas State Census — possibly. The William Signor listed as working as a laborer in rural Clyde, Kansas for the Millers is described as single, “mulatto,” and coming to Kansas from Missouri. William is not described as “mulatto” in any other record, and it is known from the Civil War records that his complexion was darker than his brother Cassius’s. Additionally, there are no records of a William Signor in Missouri. However, there is a record for a Signer without a first name who is a porter in St. Louis in 1873. “Signer” is a variation of the surname that shows up in other records, so this could be William. The 1873 directory listing offers some credence to the 1885 census, but still leaves uncertainty.

Before William moved to Beloit, Kansas in the latter half of 1894, there is one more possible record for him: a William Signor is listed as a laborer in the Nashville, Tennessee directory in 1893. If this is the same William, it is possible that he was working as a porter and laborer on railway lines in big cities around the country and not merely adrift in the world without his brother Cassius.

By the end of 1894, William settled into his final residence and joined the Beloit Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. His occupation was listed as “Laborer” and he owned a two-room house in Sturgis Addition. Disabled by severe nerve pain, he lived on his veteran’s pension of $6 per month and did odd jobs for people. He spent his leisure time reading and attending GAR meetings.

An unidentified African American Civil War veteran in a Grand Army of the Republic uniform with medals and sword. (Library of Congress, c. 1900-1920.)

In late January 1898, Dr. Brewer treated William for heart trouble. Several weeks later, a neighbor, Mr. Ritter, was concerned that he hadn’t seen William for several days, so he called Marshall Banks and Dr. Brewer for a welfare check. Mr. Signor was found deceased on February 7, 1898 at age 54 and was buried the following day by his brethren of the Beloit Post. He is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Beloit, Kansas and was one of the last living veterans of the 5th Regiment of the Massachusetts Cavalry.

Photos Credits

  1. “City Point, Virginia. Negro soldier guarding 12-pdr. Napoleon. (Model 1857?).” LOC, 1865.
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  8. “5th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry.” Charles R. Rees & Bro., Richmond, circa 1864-1865.Heritage Auctions, 12 Jun 2015, https://historical.ha.com/itm/photography/cdvs/-5th-massachusetts-colored-volunteer-cavalry-carte-de-visite-of-a-black-union-soldier/a/6141-47366.s. Accessed 10 March 2022.
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Searching for Braxton Hockaday’s Enslaver

Braxton Hockaday is the patriarch of the family who was formerly enslaved by my fourth great grandparents Wesley Hines and Elizabeth Davis Hines. However, Mr. Hockaday was not enslaved by the same family. What do I know about Braxton Hockaday that might give me a clue to who enslaved him?

Let’s review what I know thus far. According to the 1870 census, Braxton Hockaday was born in Kentucky about 1800. Marcus Eli Hockaday’s census records and death certificate also list his father’s birthplace as Kentucky with one exception: in the 1880 census, Marcus Hockaday’s record lists both his parents as being born in South Carolina. While I assume that the senior Mr. Hockaday was born in Kentucky, it’s important to keep South Carolina in mind, in case it indicates where his family came from before they were taken to Kentucky.

Next, since his known children were born in Caldwell County, Missouri between about 1842 and 1854 and since I know specifically that his son Marcus Hockaday was born in Kingston, Caldwell County, Missouri in 1849, I can infer that Braxton Hockaday lived in District 11 near the Wesley Hines farm in 1850.

Searching for the Enslaver

My first thought was to look for enslavers named Hockaday. In searching the 1850 Slave Schedules, I found four enslavers named Hockaday in Missouri, but none of them live in Caldwell County or adjacent to the county. It wasn’t going to be that easy. The Hockaday name probably wasn’t the surname of his last enslaver.

What I needed was specificity: a list of enslavers in District 11, Caldwell County, Missouri in 1850 who had enslaved a male born with 10 years of 1800, so I searched the schedules again. The results gave me a list of seven possible enslavers:

  1. Armsted Bragg
  2. Lowden Brown
  3. Eli Penney
  4. Smith Adams
  5. George Walter
  6. William Pollard
  7. Thomas Butts

One name in particular jumped out at me: Eli Penney. Eli Penney’s daughter Julia Ann Penney married Elizabeth Davis Hines’s brother (my fifth great uncle) Albert Gallatin Davis.

This is why it is important that descendants of enslavers research the people who their families enslaved: we are the ones who understand the intricacies of our allied enslaver families and who hold the records. We aren’t just researching one family, but a class of people who made enslaving people their way of life and who intermarried over generations as a way to consolidate their power.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t tackled the Eli Penney records yet. I kept meaning to research the ancestor of department store owner J. C. Penney, but his records were daunting. Eli Penney had a plantation on which he had enslaved at least 80 people. Everytime I looked at the enormity of the task of documenting all these people, I became overwhelmed. However, if he was Mr. Hockaday’s enslaver, that would certainly give me renewed motivation.

My next step was to check whether any of the enslavers in my list lived near Wesley Hines in the 1850 U. S. Census. I found Westly Heines, a variation on the spelling of his name, and his family listed near the top of the census page.

I searched the rest of the page for one of the surnames in my enslaver results, but I didn’t find a match. Since Wesley Hines was near the top of the page, I went to the previous page in the census record. On the previous page, I found one match: Eli Penney.

This means that Eli Penney, who was born in Kentucky around the same time as Braxton Hockaday, may be the person who enslaved him. However, this is not a definitive answer.

My next step will be to search Eli Penney’s records to see whether I can find Braxton’s name. Barring that, which seems like a slim chance, I can at least build up evidence that would prove or disprove this theory. For example, are there Hockaday enslavers in Kentucky? Did the Penney family have a relationship with a Hockaday family? This will likely take more than a day’s worth of research, so my next post may be about another aspect of my Hockaday research. If you want to follow the story, please follow The Reparations Genealogist.

The Hockadays After Emancipation

In my last blog, I wrote about finding Winnie Hines Hockaday and her son Marcus Eli Hockaday together in 1870 after their emancipation. Mrs. Hockaday was emancipated from my fourth great grandmother Elizabeth Davis Hines. Her son Marcus was emancipated from a so far unknown enslaver after my fourth great uncle Thomas W. Higgins sold the eight or nine-year-old Marcus away from his mother, along with other family members, at the door of the Kingston courthouse in Caldwell County, Missouri in May 1859. Now that I had proof I’d found the right people, it was time to learn a bit more about their emancipation before I continued my research.

Emancipation in Missouri

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy claimed the state of Missouri. Missouri had two competing state governments and sent representatives to both the United States Congress and the Confederate Congress.

Near the end the war, many Missouri citizens wanted a new constitution. So in February 1864, the Missouri General Assembly called for a vote on a convention and ordered that, if approved, the convention would consider amendments for the emancipation of enslaved people.

The Ordinance Abolishing Slavery in Missouri was proposed at the constitutional convention that convened January 6, 1865, in St. Louis, Missouri. It passed on January 11, 1865, three weeks before the United States Congress proposed the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States, did not go into effect until December 18, 1865, so emancipation in Missouri came 11 months early.

On February 5, 1911, lightning struck the Missouri Capitol building and it caught fire. The Ordinance Abolishing Slavery in Missouri and other important documents were rescued from the burning Capitol building. Thus, there are singe marks on and words missing from the original document.

The ordinance reads:

“An Ordinance abolishing Slavery in Missouri.

Be it ordained by the People of the State [of] Missouri in Convention assembled.

That, hereafter, in this State, there shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary Servitude, except in punishment of crime, whereof the party … have been duly convicted, and all persons held to service, or labor, as Slaves, are hereby declared free.

A. Krekel

President of

Missouri State Convention

A true copy of the original ordinance as passed and on Record

Amos P. Foster

Secretary of the

Missouri State Convention”

Hockaday Marriage Records

After researching the history of emancipation in Missouri, I realized that there might be a record for the Hockaday family between 1860 and 1870 that I hadn’t considered: Braxton and Winnie Hockaday’s marriage record. Since enslaved people couldn’t officially marry despite sometimes living as husband and wife for decades, many formerly enslaved people married shortly after emancipation. Mr. and Mrs. Hockaday might have done the same.

Since Ancestry didn’t have any marriage records for the Hockadays, I turned to FamilySearch. Knowing that his surname might be different than on the 1870 census and since Braxton is a less common first name, I did a broad search for Braxton in Missouri between 1865 and 1870. The results listed Braston Hockady and Winnie A. Williams, married August 17, 1865 in Caldwell County, Missouri. That looked like the right people.

The fact that Winnie’s last name was Williams and not Hines or Heines didn’t put me off, because I knew that emancipated people often did not keep their former enslaver’s name. Surname selection varied. Sometimes people chose a surname that had personal significance, such as Freeman or the first name of the head of their family. Sometimes they chose the surname of their first enslaver rather than the last. I looked at the surname Williams and thought, ah, another clue. Now I needed to examine the original record to look for more.

“This is to certify that on the 17th day of August A.D. 1865 I joined in marriage Braxton Hockady and Winnie A. Williams and the said Braxton and Winnie A. Hockady acknowledge the following children to be theirs viz. Isaac Sidney, 24 years of age; Eliza, 22 years of age; Marcus, 17 years of age. Given under my hand this 17th day of August A.D. 1865.

(Rev. Stamp 5°) James Mylar J. P.

Filed for record August 28 A.D. 1865
Lemuel Dunn, Clerk and Recorder”

First, Braxton is mistranscribed as Braston. However, FamilySearch isn’t allowing name corrections on this record yet.

Second, Hockaday is spelled Hockady, so I made a mental note to look for this version of the name.

Third, I noted Marcus’s name and correct age, but I didn’t recognize the other children’s names. However, Isaac Sidney is the same age as “Elijah” in the partition document and Eliza is the same age as “Lucy,” so I am assuming that they are one and the same.

This name discrepancy appears to be a case of the enslavers refusing to use Isaac and Eliza’s given names. Also, renaming may account for the reason some of the names were in quotes in the “Sale of Slaves” document. The enslaver practice of choosing names for people who already had names makes it all the harder for genealogists to trace them, but not as difficult as it was for enslaved people who rejected their renaming. One has only to think of the enslaver in “Roots” who whipped Kunta Kinte for not accepting the slave name Toby.

Fourth, I noted who was missing. Marcus’s twin brother Booker isn’t named and either is the youngest child Mary. Did they die, or did Mr. and Mrs. Hockaday just not know whether they were alive? I knew that Booker was sold away from the family 1859, so maybe they hadn’t found him. But what of little Mary, who was living with her mother in 1860?

Fifth, I noted another Hockaday marriage on the same page: that of the aforementioned Isaac Sidney Hockaday.

“This is to certify that on the 17th day of August A.D. 1865 I joined in marriage Isaac Sidney Hockaday and Elizabeth Debenham and the said Isaac and Elizabeth Hockaday acknowledge the following children viz. Isabella, 6 years of age; Martha, 5 years of age; Amanda, 2 years of age. Given under my hand this the 17th day of August 1865.

(Int. Rev. Stamp 5°) James Mylar J. P.

Filed for record August 28 A.D. 1865
Lemuel Dunn, Clerk and Recorder”

Score! Now I have more Hockaday descendants to document. My next blog will cover the results of my research on these first three generations of Hockadays. To get notified, follow The Reparations Genealogist.

Mother and Child Reunion

I want people to know that family is the most important thing in your life next to God.” — Cissy Houston

Finding a name for a person who my ancestors enslaved is like finding out that soul and gospel singer Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney Houston, was the backup singer for the reggae song “Mother and Child Reunion.” When I learned Cissy Houston’s name, suddenly, my focused shifted from Paul Simon, the only white person involved in the song, to the cast of names who were involved in making the song great: Winston Grennan, Hux Brown, Neville Hinds, Jackie Jackson, Larry Knechtel, Denzil Laing, Wallace Wilson, Von Eva Sims, Renelle Stafford, Deirdre Tuck, and Jimmy Christmas. When I learned the names of the people who were enslaved and sold by my ancestors, suddenly, my research shifted from my fourth great grandfather Wesley Hines to Winny, Elijah, Mary, Jerry, Louisa, Lucy, Booker, and Marcus. Now that I had their first names in 1859, I wanted to find their last names in 1870.

1870 U. S. Census

My first thought was that since I knew Winny and her young daughter Mary were living together in 1860 on Elizabeth Hines’s farm in Rockford, Caldwell County, Missouri, they might still be living together in 1870, since Mary would be only about 17 years old. So I looked for a Winny and Mary who were listed as Black and living in Caldwell County, Missouri in 1870. Nothing. Then I looked for variations on the name Winny who was living with someone named Mary. Bingo! I found a Black woman named Viney who was about the right age and who was living in Rockford with a Black woman named Mary who was about the right age. Now it was time to dig into the record.

The transcription listed the following people in the household:

  • Margos Hockaday, 20, husband
  • Mary Hockaday, 20, wife
  • James Hockaday, 1, son
  • Viney Hockaday, 65, inferred mother of Margos
  • Braxton Hockaday, 70, inferred father of Margos

However, since I’ve seen many mistranscribed records, I needed look at the original document to check for errors as well as additional information.

The letters in first name for the head of the family are squished and hard to read, so I downloaded the file and zoomed in.

I saw that the name is Marqes Hockaday, not Margos, so I entered a correction for the online record. Since Marqes sounds like Marcus, I checked Marqes’s age against Marcus’s approximate age. Yes, 20 years old is the correct age for Marcus, so I had a tentative match. It looked like I’d found Marcus and his mother as well as his father, wife, and child. I was getting excited about this mother and child reunion, but I needed proof still that the Hockaday family was the same family from Wesley Hines’s probate documents.

The Hockaday Hypothesis

To test the hypothesis, I added the Hockaday surname to Marcus and Winny/Viney and also added father Braxton, wife Mary, and son James. This gave me leaf hints in Ancestry with more records and two other family trees that listed the parents of Marcus Eli Hockaday as Braxton Hockaday and Winnie Viney Heines. Yes! Heines sounds like Hines. It looked like I was on the right track, but I needed to know where these other genealogists had got their information about Marcus’s parents. None of their attached sources listed the names of his parents, so I needed to do some more digging

I decided to follow the Find-A-Grave link to see whether the memorial page led to an actual gravesite with a headstone. (Sometimes they don’t.) In this case it did, so I looked closely at the headstone as well as the information on the page for more clues.

Marcus Eli Hockaday’s headstone shows his birthdate as November 15, 1849, and the memorial page says that he was born in Kingston, Caldwell County, Missouri. What do I know about the Marcus who was enslaved by my ancestors, and does this information correspond with it? I realized that people who were born into slavery often did not know their birthdates and that slaveholders usually didn’t keep track of the birthdates of the people who they enslaved. So I just wanted to check for an approximation of the date and place.

Birthdates and Birthplaces

According to the 1850 Slave Schedules for District 11, Caldwell County, Missouri recorded on September 12, 1850, Wesley Heines — there’s that variation on Hines again — was the “Slave Owner” of twin boys who were 6/12 years old (six months).

I knew from previous research that these precious babies were Marcus and his brother Booker. This record puts their approximate birthdate as about March 12, 1850. That is only a four-month difference between my estimation and Marcus Holladay’s birthdate. This seemed like a reasonable difference, since I’ve seen records for other people where their birthdates varied by years.

Now I wanted to compare the birth location. Was Kingston in District 11 of Caldwell County, Missouri? According to Google maps, it was.

However, District 11, Caldwell County, Missouri in 2019 isn’t necessarily District 11, Caldwell County, Missouri in 1850, so I needed to research Caldwell County. Caldwell County was organized on December 29, 1836 with Kingston as its county seat. Before that, it was part of Ray County. So I was reasonably sure that the Marcus in my records had the same birth place as this Marcus. Plus, I had some county history that might come in handy when I was researching in this area before Caldwell County was formed.

Death Record

Now that I had determined that Marcus Hockaday and the Marcus in my records had similar birth information, I moved onto the death information. The headstone lists Mr. Hockaday’s death date as August 5, 1920. The memorial page lists his place of death as Kirksville, Adair County, Missouri. It also gives me another clue: death certificate number 26230. Time to locate the death certificate.

In Ancestry, I had a hint for death certificate 26230 for Marcus Elv Hockaday in Adair County, Missouri on August 5, 1920, so I followed the link. It took me to the Missouri Death Certificates Search page. Once there, I put in deceased’s last name as Hockaday and first name as Marcus, and clicked Search. The search result listed Marcus Elv Hockaday with certificate number 26230. I clicked View Image, and up popped a PDF of his death certificate. (How I wish other states made it this easy!)

Looking closely at the middle name, I saw that the middle name is Ely, not Elv. It’s an alternate spelling for Eli. So I added a transcription correction for the record in Ancestry.

Next, my eyes fell on the name of Mr. Hockaday’s parents: Braxton Hockaday and Winnie Heines. Hallelujah! I finally had the proof that I needed to say that the Marcus in my ancestor’s probate documents is Marcus Eli Hockaday. The news that Marcus had reunited with both his parents after emancipation brought me to tears, because as Cissy Houston once said, “Family is the most important thing in your life next to God.”

But my journey to reunite this family through genealogy was only just beginning. Now that I knew I had the right people, I had a lot more research to do to find the Hockaday descendants, starting with Laura Hockaday, whose signature appeared on the death certificate in informant section. To read the next part of the journey, please follow The Reparations Genealogist.

The Partition of Beings

Back in March, I visited a fourth cousin who I met through Ancestry, because she had a lot of old family photos that I had never seen, including some of our mutual third great grandfather Thomas Madison Hines. As I was leaving, I mentioned that I was a researcher with The Beyond Kin Project and that I was documenting the people who our ancestors had enslaved. She said, “Oh, I have something for you. I’ll bring it out to your car.” What she brought me was a photocopy of a document entitled “Petition for Partition of Slaves and Assignment of Widow’s Dower.” It was from March 1859 for the estate of our fourth great grandfather Wesley Hines, the father of Thomas. Court was held in Kingston, Caldwell County, Missouri.

It wasn’t the first estate document I’d seen that listed the names people who our family had enslaved. I’d seen that one the previous year. The first one was shocking, because I had no idea that my paternal ancestors were enslavers. No one mentioned it as part of our family lore along with tales of our Scotch-Irish heritage, and local historians insisted that Oregon colonizers from Missouri were mostly poor farmers “who had struggled to compete against farmers using slaves.” However, by now, I wasn’t shocked — just heartbroken that there were yet more people to add to the long list of those who my ancestors had held captive and misused.

My first task was to transcribe the document, since most people can no longer read the old-fashioned cursive and some younger people cannot read cursive at all.

Partition and Dower

“On Matters of Estate
Wesley Hines, Deceased
Petition for partition of Slaves and assignment of widow’s Dower
Thomas M. Hines
Martin D. Hines
John F. Hines
Francis M. Hines
William P. Hines
Humphrey Beckett and Elisabeth Beckett, his wife
Thomas W. Higgins and Matilda A. Higgins, his wife
and Elisabeth Hines, Widow of Wesley Hines, deceased
Ex parte
Now at this day comes here into Court the aforesaid parties and present their petition verified by the affidavit of Francis M. Hines praying this court for an action appointing Commissions to partition the Slaves of said Wesley Hines deceased among these entitled thereto and it appearing to the Court that said deceased died seized and possessed of the following Slaves to wit: Jerry, man, aged about 26 years; Elijah, boy, aged 16 years; Marcus, boy, aged 8 years; Booker, boy, aged 8 years; Winny, woman, aged 50 years; Louisa, woman, aged 37 years; Lucy, girl, aged 14 years; Mary, girl, aged 5 years, all Slaves for life, and that Elisabeth Hines widow of said deceased is entitled to one third part of said Slaves as her dower therein for and during her natural life and that Thomas M. Hines, Martin D. Hines, John F. Hines, Francis M. Hines, William P. Hines, Elisabeth Beckett late Elisabeth Hines, and Matilda A. Higgins late Matilda A. Hines are each entitled to an equal seventh part of said Slaves aforesaid. It is therefore ordered by the court that John T. Hill, Samuel Mathis, and James D. Paxton be said they are hereby appointed Commissions to assign the dower of Elisabeth Hines Widow of Wesley Hines deceased in and to the Slaves and to make partition of the remainder of the said Slaves among the parties herein according to the disposition rights as herein declared by the Court and that they make full report to this Court at the present term hereof.”

Next, I needed to understand what the document meant. First, I looked up the legal definition of widow’s dower. Let’s see. The widow is entitled to one third of her husband’s real property and no more. That is her “dower.” In this case, eight human beings were counted as “property.” How does one divide eight human beings into thirds? One does not. I thought John T. Hill, Samuel Mathis, and James D. Paxton, who were commissioned by the court to make a decision, needed to decide whether she got two or three people. Then I realized that they wouldn’t be making a decision based on the number of enslaved people. No, they would be making a decision by assigning dollar amounts to each person and then giving her a third (and no more) of the “property.”

Second, I looked up the legal definition of an inheritance partition. Nowadays, this usually applies to real estate that needs to be divided equally among the deceased person’s offspring. In these cases, the real estate is sold and the proceeds are divided equally among the people listed in the will. During the period of legalized slavery in the United States, personal property law usually applied to enslaved people but, in the case of partitions, real estate law applied. After one third was given to the widow, there weren’t enough remaining enslaved people to be divvied up among the seven children and Wesley hadn’t left a will specifying which child should inherit which enslaved person. Thus, a partition was necessary, which was a new concept to me, so it took a bit for it to dawn on me: whoever wasn’t part of the widow’s dower would have been sold, so that their value could be equally divided among Wesley’s children. This was the first sale I had run across, but where was the sale document?

Here’s where my membership in The Beyond Kin Project Facebook group was a research boon. A fellow researcher was able to locate the probate documents on FamilySearch.org, a free genealogy website, and give me links. Now I had the “Order for the Sale of Slaves” and “Order Approving Sale of Slaves” for the Wesley Hines estate from the same county in March 1859 and May 1859, respectively, and a better idea of how to find probate documents online.

Then, I transcribed these documents, as I had done with the previous one, and uploaded them to Ancestry.com, so they would be available to other genealogists.

Order for Sale

“In Matters of Estate
Wesley Hines Deceased
Now on this day comes here into Court John T. Hill, Samuel Matthis and James D. Paxton Commissioners appointed by this Court to make partition of the Slaves belonging to the estate of said deceased and to assign to Elizabeth Hines widow of said deceased her dower in said Slaves, and Submit their Report which is examined and approved by the Court and ordered to be filled. And it appearing to the Court from said report that said Commissioners have assigned to the said Elizabeth Hines widow as aforesaid the following named Slaves as her dower in same to wit ‘Elijah’ man aged 18 years, ‘Winny’ woman aged 49 years and Mary girl aged 5 years. It is therefore considered ajudged and decreed by this Court that the said Slaves are and shall be the dower of the said Elizabeth Hines widow as aforesaid in and to the Slaves of the said deceased and that she hold and enjoy same for and during her Natural life. And it is further appearing from the report of said Commissioners that the remainder of said Slaves to wit ‘Booker’ boy aged 8 years, ‘Marcus’ boy aged 8 years, ‘Jerry’ man aged 26 years, Louisa woman aged 37 years and Lucy aged 13 years belonging to said estate, can not be divided in kind among those entitled thereto. It is therefore ordered by the Court that they be sold by the Administrator of said estate at the Court house door in the town of Kingston Caldwell County Missouri on a credit of nine months first giving ten days notice of the time, terms and place of sale together with a description of the property to be sold by putting up eight hand bills in as many public places in Caldwell County, and that the money arising from the sale of said Slaves when collected shall be paid to these having an interest in the Slaves sold according to their rights and interests as ascertained and declared by this Court, and that the administrator of said estate make full report of said sale to this Court.”

Approval of Sale

“In Matters of Estate
Wesley Hines Deceased
Now at this day comes into Court Thomas W. Higgins Administrator of said estate and presents his report of the Sale of the Slaves of said deceased and same is examined and approved by the Court and ordered to be filed.”

Ugh! I expected a sale, but it never gets easier when reading about a family being separated on account of my ancestors. It was especially hard to think of the eight-year-old twins, Booker and Marcus, being taken from their mother and, possibly, separated from each other as well. And how would I ever track them now? I couldn’t find any newspaper ads or account of who bought them on nine months credit at the courthouse door. Perhaps the filed report is still somewhere in the Caldwell County courthouse archives, but I’m unable to travel there.

The Beyond Kin Method

However, I was able to track the family through the census records, where they were accounted for by tick marks next to Wesley Hines’s name, and in the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules, where they were described by age, sex, and color and associated first with Wesley Hines’s name and then the three remaining people associated with Elizabeth Hines’s name. Now that I had their names, ages, and fates in two additional documents, I was able to match up the tick marks and descriptions to their names and create profiles for them using the Beyond Kin method.

Once I finished this portion of my research, I entered the information into the Enslaved Population Research Directory. (Note that it isn’t necessary to wait until your research is complete to add names to the Beyond Kin database, nor do you have to be a Beyond Kin researcher to add names. This is just what works best for me.)

After this, the next step of my research is to jump the pre-emancipation and post-emancipation barrier, which is the bane of all African American family genealogists. Although it is only six years, 1859 to 1865 is a research chasm, and I likely wouldn’t find any records until the 1870 census. And since families didn’t necessarily take their former enslaver’s surname, I wouldn’t know what name the family from the Wesley Hines farm would be using.

Will I find anyone in the 1870 census? Follow The Reparations Genealogist to find out in my next blog.