Notable Black Toledoans – George W. TUCKER and Dr. Alpheus W. TUCKER

My research of late has shown a lot of connections between my own ancestors who were early Toledo residents and the black communities in SE Michigan, in particular our larger city to the north – Detroit.   I’ve also discovered some connections to Detroit for some of our notable 19th century black residents.

In reviewing some of the black Toledoans who were mentioned as having been involved in Underground Railroad activities in local newspapers, it was noted in the post regard William H. MERRITT, that in 1858 the negroes of Toledo held a meeting to determine who would be the delegate sent from our city to the convention held in Columbus, Ohio.  The delegate chosen, per that news article was G.W. TUCKER.

George W. TUCKER was enumerated in the City of Toledo on the 1860 census.  It was shown that he was born in Kentucky around 1812 and had four younger persons, presumably his children, in his household.  Mary W., aged 23; Georgetta A., aged 18; Alpheus W. (or Alphonse) aged 16; and Caspar M. (or Cassius) aged 14.  In 1860 George was 48 years old and listed as a “mullatto.”  He was a Barber and owned real estate worth $300 and a personal estate worth $250.

In a review of George W. TUCKER’s life, I did not find much more about his residency in Toledo, except for the note below posted in the Toledo Daily Blade on December 30, 1858.

We are advised by the receipt of the proceedings of a meeting of colored people held at their school-house in this city, recently but which are too lengthy for our space, that a resolution was passed to send a delegate to the Under Ground R.R. Convention, to be held at Columbus on the 5th and 6th of January. Agreeable to previous arrangements a mass meeting was then held on Tuesday evening last, for the election of a delegate, resulting in the choice of G.W. Tucker. The officers of the meeting were W.H. Merritt, President, and M.H. Hawkins, Secretary

Per Toledo City Directories starting in 1864, TUCKER was not listed as a resident; however, George W. TUCKER “colored” was listed in the 1858 City Directory, which can be viewed via the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s online digital archive.  He was labeled as a “barber” and located at “Locust b Ontario and Michigan, east side.”  A review of death registers for the city showed that there was a “colored” man of the same name and age of George W. TUCKER who died in 1862 in the city. It appears that TUCKER moved to the city around 1850.

A quick google of his name brought up a connection between TUCKER and famed black Underground Railroad conductor from Detroit by the name of William LAMBERT.  LAMBERT lead a group of of primarily black men in an organization he called  “African American Mysteries:  Order of the Men of Oppression” also called the “Men of Mysteries.” He and other notable Detroit abolitionists were actively involved in transporting runaway slaves from Detroit to Canada during the antebellum period.  Per the text “The Underground Railroad in Michigan” LAMBERT was interviewed by a reporter in 1886 and spoke of how 60,000 men took the “order” and became members of his secret organization whose primary focus was helping those who “self emancipated” themselves to get to Canada.  Unfortunately his records detailing those transported to freedom and those who worked within “the order” have unknown whereabouts.  In the book mentioned above, it was noted that George W. TUCKER was an agent who handled subscriptions to a newspaper called “The Mystery” founded by Martin DELANY of Pennsylvania, another black abolitionist and Underground Railroad administrator.  TUCKER handled subscriptions for this paper in the Detroit area.

Other information reviewed regarding the history of George W. TUCKER uncovered that he was one of the 9 black/colored residents listed in Detroit’s first city directory published in 1837.  He was listed as a hairdresser and a barber many times in Detroit through the 1850s.  As noted above, he was listed in Toledo with his family in 1860.  It is unknown if he was engaged in activities related to the Underground Railroad in Toledo, but his association with other known UGGR Toledoans like William H. MERRITT and his mention of him being a delegate from Toledo to the UGGR convention make this very likely to be the case.

It seems that George TUCKER died in Toledo in 1862 of “consumption.”  He was listed as being 50 years old and buried at Forest Cemetery but a review of cemetery records does not show his name and year of death.  They may not have information that far back for the online records of the cemetery.

A review of the family of George TUCKER showed that his two son’s Alpheus and Cassius lived with a couple with the surname of HUBBARD in 1850 in Detroit when they were children.  I could not find George TUCKER on the 1850 census so he may not have been enumerated that year.

George’s son Cassius TUCKER moved back to Detroit after 1860.  He was listed as a “colored” barber in the City of Detroit directory in 1864 living on “Mullet bet Hastings and St Antoine.”  He was the only “colored” TUCKER living in Detroit during that year.

Cassius later married Eliza JOHNSON a Richmond, Virginia native.  A marriage record has not been found for the couple, but I believe they may have married in the metropolitan District of Columbia area considering that their first born child Beatrice TUCKER was listed as having been born in DC in 1865 on the 1870 Census.  The rest of their children in 1870 – Alberta, born 1867; and Octavia born 1870 were listed as having been born in Michigan.

The DC connection I felt was plausible considering that Cassius’  brother – Alpheus (or Alphonse or William A TUCKER) was living in the DC area in the 1860s following the Civil War.

Alpheus W. Tucker showed up in numerous queries due to being a physician who was was an early black physician working in Washington, DC after the Civil War.  Research into Alpheus showed that he and his brother Cassius grew up in Toledo and received their early education in the city.  More than likely they attended the segregated public school system of TPS or the private Colored School administered by Warren AME church due to them being children in the city prior to the 1873 desegregation of the school system.  Alpheus later went on to attend Wilberforce College between the years of 1861 and 1863.  One of his classmates included Dr. Charles Burleigh PURVIS, who was the son of two leading black abolitionist families in Philadelphia.  Alpheus attended the Iowa College of Physicians and Surgeons and graduated in 1865.   Dr. Alpheus Tucker worked as a civilian surgeon during the Civil War at Contraband Hospital.  He also had a record listed in the District of Columbia’s Freedman’s Bureau Field Office Records as receiving a disbursement/payment for work after the war.  His payment was provided on October 21, 1865.  He was paid $100 for services rendered in a department called “A. A. Surgeon.”  Research showed that this was an abbreviation for “Acting Assistant Surgeon” and that persons listed usually were employed as civilians by the medical department working for the Bureau.   Alpheus married a woman named Martha Ellen WOOD on the 24th of January, 1867 and they had one daughter – Estella TUCKER.

A review of Alpheus TUCKER shows that as a black physician, he was limited in opportunities for employment primarily due to race.  Information obtained in the reference below regarding the history of the National Medical Association, shows that he and his black physician colleagues of DC often had to work for government positions or some other job during the day and practice medicine at night.  Due to race prejudice, black doctors were not allowed admitting privileges to local hospitals.  They also primarily saw black patients and due to the black population of DC being made up of primarily newly freed slaves, opportunities for a decent living as a black doctor were limited because many of their patients could not afford to pay for medical services.  Due to this a large percentage of black physicians obtained other degrees in other disciplines in order to be able to make a decent living during the period following the Civil War.

In 1869 Dr. TUCKER was mentioned in various newspaper articles from DC where he was listed as a member of the Republican Party and gave comments regarding local elections in the capital.  He was also the cause of a controversy in the medical community when he applied for admission into the District of Columbia Medical Society along with his Oberlin classmate Dr. Charles PURVIS.  Both men and fellow black physician Dr. Alexander AUGUSTA were denied admission due to “color phobia.”  Their request for admission was deemed a part of the “Trouble of 1869 to 1872” by a history of the National Medical Association. Information found showed that:

On the 9th of June, 1869, two colored physicians, Drs. C. B. PURVIS and A. T. Augusta, were proposed for membership in the Society. At the next meeting,
June 16th, they were reported as eligible. They failed, however, to receive the requisite number of votes to elect them. June 23rd, another colored physician, Dr. A. W. Tucker, was proposed; on the 30th he was reported as eligible, but failed of election.

As a response to not being admitted to the medical association, it was noted that TUCKER and his black colleagues took action and formed their own, integrated medical society:

In response to the rejection of Drs. Purvis, Augusta, and Tucker in 1869, the three Negro physicians and their supports formed a new integrated society which they named the National Medical Society (NMS). In December of that year, amongst much publicity in the local papers, the battle moved to Congress when the NMS appealed to Congress for the repeal of the MSDC’s charter. The grounds for the repeal, according to the NMS, was that the Society was acting in dereliction of its charter by refusing admission to all physicians in the District, regardless of color.

Dr. Alpheus TUCKER was enumerated with his wife and daughter in the WOOD household  in DC on the 1870 census.  Research into his work, shows that he worked in DC as a physician through 1878.  Between 1878 and 1880 he seems to have moved to Detroit, where his brother Cassius had relocated to in the 1860s.  Alpheus was listed as having died in Wayne County, Michigan  in January of 1880.  His widow and child stayed in DC where his wife and later his daughter worked as teachers in the public school system for black students in that city.   Martha E TUCKER his widow (shown below) was mentioned in the publication “The Crisis” as an employee of the DC public schools for 50 years.  She served as a teacher, principal and as a social worker.  Her daughter Estelle also became a teacher.

Martha WOOD TUCKER from “The Crisis” NAACP publication vol 22,  no. 1, pgs 22-23 May, 1921


Alpheus’ brother Cassius lived out his life in Detroit and died between 1900 and 1910.  I have yet to locate his death record but his wife Eliza JOHNSON TUCKER was listed as a widow by 1910 in the City of Detroit directory.



Toledo City Directory 1858 (accessed via TLCPL online digital archives 12/10/2017)

“The Underground Railroad in Michigan” Mull, Carol (see link above)

Ohio County Death Records – Death of GW Tucker, colored (accessed 11.9/2017)

District of Columbia Marriages – 1811-1950, Alpheus W. Tucker (accessed 11/9/2017 – see link above)

The Black Past – African Americans in Medicine in the Civil War (accessed 12/10/2017)

The Founding of the National Medical Association (accessed 12/10/2017)

The Crisis – Volumes 22-24 (short biography and picture of Martha WOOD TUCKER accessed 12/10/2017)

National Archives Research and New Information on WHITFIELD Family

Recently I visited Washington, DC and the National Archives.  I was looking into the pension files of US Colored Troops who were either members of my or my spouse’s family, or people of interest on my list of early black/colored Toledo families.

One of the family’s on my list is the WHITFIELD family.  When I first began this blog, I had found some information that lead me to believe that my earliest WHITFIELD ancestor, named Elias WHITFIELD born approximately 1862-1863 was from North Carolina.  I did some extensive research on the North Carolina WHITFIELD family and they did have a person with the same name and approximate same age who I believed had moved to NW Ohio and was a relative.

In my hobby of genealogical research, I often continue to research the same individuals over and over again.  I had a nagging feeling  that Elias may have been related to one of the earliest black families in Toledo also with the surname of WHITFIELD who were enumerated on the 1850 Census in the City of Toledo. I also discovered that the NC Elias WHITFIELD had moved to Washington, DC with his family and I later found a census record of him from the 20th century when my 3rd great grandfather Elias WHTIFIELD died in 1897.  Due to that discovery, I deleted all of the information I had on my NC WHITFIELD line and started from scratch back at Elias.  I did however, make a tentative link of him to the 1850 Toledo WHITFIELD family and decided to do some off-line research on this family so placed John WHITFIELD’s pension file at the top of my list of ones to request on my visit to the National Archives.

On the 1850 Toledo census the WHITFIELD family was headed by a man named John W. WHITFIELD Sr. and his suspected wife named Hannah.  Per the 1850 Census  – John  was born in approximately 1823 in Virginia.  His wife Hannah was born in Canada around the same year.  They had within their household five children in 1850 – John W Jr., Jacob and James (twins), daughter Ann, and baby Robert WHITFIELD.  All the children were born between 1840 and 1850.

While in DC, I reviewed the file of John W. WHITFIELD Jr. in regards to his pension.  Both he and his younger brother Jacob are known veterans of the Civil War and both fought in the US Colored Troops, 5th Ohio regiment.  They both enlisted here in Toledo for the regiment and went to Delaware County for training.  During their service, both experienced some medical issues/illnesses and John Jr.’s pension file centered on him having had a finger shot off during the war along with a cough where he spit up blood, which was labeled as a “lung disease.”  His younger brother  Jacob died in 1868 in the City of Toledo so did not recieve a pension, but John Jr. filed for one first in 1889 then again in 1892 after a law was passed where veterans didn’t have to prove a disability to receive a pension.  John Jr. had lived primarily in Toledo prior to and after the war but died in Cleveland, Ohio in 1905.

In his pension file, John Jr. had to create a statement and tell a bit of his life and service in the military, including any injuries he suffered.  In his statement, he stated that he was currently married but had been married before to a woman named Mary EDWARDS.  EDWARDS is another early black/colored Toledo family and I had them on a spreadsheet for future review.  Due to seeing Mary EDWARDS’ name, I decided to do some digging on her and her family to see if she had any children and if she and John Jr. could potentially be the parents of Elias WHITFIELD.

Reviewing the EDWARDS family showed that Mary EDWARDS and John WHITFIELD Jr. married in Toledo in 1887.  Also that Mary was born in 1851.  Due to the late marriage date and Mary’s year of birth, she could not have been the mother of Elias due to him being born between 1861-1863 and she was very young at that time.  It was possible but not likely for her to have a child so young and the marriage date didn’t make sense.  John Jr.’s pension file also included a note that he had not had any children so this made him not likely to be the father of Elias Whitfield.

However, I discovered that Mary EDWARDS had an aunt named Lavina EDWARDS born approximately 1840.  Lavina was the sister of Mary’s father – William EDWARDS Jr.  There was an entry in Toledo’s marriage records  via Family Search that showed that she married John WHITFIELD Sr. in 1859.  John WHITFIELD Sr. was no longer living in Toledo in 1860 and I had always wondered where he’d moved to or if he’d  passed away.  Doing a query with him and Lavina, showed that a John WHITFIELD was a saloon keeper living in Detroit in 1860 with a woman of the same age as Lavina, who was enumerated as Elvina.  I thought that that may have been a mis-spelling by the enumerator due to it being similar to Lavina  Within their household was also a Robert WHITFIELD who was the  youngest child of John Sr and Hannah in 1850 and it stated he was born in Ohio.  Also within that household were two other children – Samantha WHITFIELD born 1852 and a baby named Mary Ann who was born in 1860.  So I believe that the 1860 household was indeed John and Lavina Whitfield who had been married in Toledo in 1859.

I did some digging into Samantha WHITFIELD and it did show that her father’s name was John WHITFIELD on her death record.  She was also enumerated in the household of William EDWARDS Sr.  in 1870 in Toledo, Ohio.  William EDWARDS Sr., born approximately 1795-1803 was the father of Lavina EDWARDS, he was living with her in Toledo by 1880.  This further solidified a relationship between these two families.

Some digging into baby Mary Ann from the 1860 Census in the household of Elvina and John WHITFIELD Sr., a death certificate turned up showing that she was the daughter of Lavina EDWARDS and John WHITFIELD.

Another person also had a death certificate that showed she was the daughter of Lavina (this time THOMAS – Lavina married Montgomery THOMAS after the death of her second husband Arthur SPENCER) and John WHITFIELD.  This daughter was named Lulu and she was shown to have been born in approximatly 1863-1864.

A review of the 1870 Census looking for Lavina showed that there was a Lavina SPENCE living in Toledo in the household of Arthur SPENCE.  Within that household included a male named Eli SPENCE.  I concluded that John WHITFIELD must have died between 1860 and 1863 as Lavina re-married a man named Arthur SPENCER in 1863 in Toledo.  By 1880, Arthur also must have passed away because Lavina was listed as a widow and she later re-married a man named Montgomery THOMAS in 1884. Due to her having a male named Eli in her household, I thought maybe this Eli SPENCE(R) was more than likely Eli(as) WHITFIELD.  I’ve seen before in censuses where the surnames of family members were incorrect, mostly due to the re-marriages of their parents and them being given the name of the widowed mother or stepfather instead of their biological surname.  I also  never have seen an Eli or Elias Spencer listed in the city directory of Toledo, however starting in the 1880s Eli or Elias WHITFIELD was listed several times until his death in 1897 and later he was listed as the deceased husband of my 3rd great grandmother Martha JONES WHITFIELD.

Unfortunately Elias WHITFIELD died prior to the establishment of death certificates in the City of Toledo.  So his parents were not listed on the death register since that information was not collected prior to the 20th century in Toledo.  I have never found him on census records in Toledo as Elias WHITFIELD, only in the city directory starting in 1883.  Due to these connections discovered via information on the EDWARDS family as a result of reviewing John WHITFIELD Jr.’s pension file, I am 95% sure that Eli SPENCER may be Elias (also labeled as Eli in directory information) WHITFIELD.  I base this on the fact that Eli would have been the middle or youngest child of John WHITFIELD Sr. and Lavina EDWARDS.  Mary Ann was born in 1860, Eli in 1862-63 and Lulu in 1863-64.  Both Mary Ann and Lulu lived until the 1920s so had a modern era death certificate that listed their parents as John and Lavina, so I feel safe concluding that my 3rd great grandfather Elias WHITFIELD was actually the son of John WHITFIELD Sr., and brother of John WHITFIELD Jr.

I am very excited to explore this connection further and the EDWARDS family, especially since William EDWARDS Sr.  would be a potential 5th great grandfather.  He was a Barber in Toledo and worked and/or lived in the same location as Barber William MERRITT who was a known black UGGR administrator in Toledo.


1850 Census – Household of John Whitfield

Marriage Record of John Whitfield and Lavina Edwards 1859

1860 Census – Household of John Whitfield

1860 Census – Household of Willien(William Sr.) Edwards – includes Mary Edwards

Marriage Record of Lovinia Whitfield and Arthur Spencer 1863

1870 Census – Household of Arthur Spence 

1870 Census – Household of William Edwards

1880 Census – Household of Lavina Spencer

Death Record of Lulu WHITFIELD VENABLE


Early Black Toledo Families – DENT Family

I have always read that many of our early black Toledo families settled here due to being runaway slaves and escaping to their freedom.  Due to Toledo’s distance from the southern slave holding states and its proximity to Canada, I am sure that many of our early black residents were indeed fugitives seeking to own themselves and gain control over their own lives and provide their children with greater opportunities.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult at times putting together the stories of our early resident’s lives to confirm their history, especially if they were not well known and just lived ordinary lives.  For me, the lives of ordinary people are just as important and inspiring as the more well known, so focusing on some of our unknown early black Toledo residents has been rewarding.

Due to the difficulty of researching little known persons, I was excited to find an interesting bit of information about one of the families on my list to research – the DENT family lead by patriarch John DENT.

John DENT and his wife Sarah were first enumerated in NW Ohio on the 1860 census.  At the time, they had in their household four children – Mary, John, Julia, and baby George who at the time was the second youngest black resident in the city at age 2 months.  John was listed as a laborer from Kentucky.  Wife Sarah did not provide her state of birth, but I later discovered she was also from Kentucky.

Some digging into this family produced a source from the University of Kentucky Library system called the “Notable Kentucky African American Database.”  Within this link was information about the ancestry of a woman named Hazel THOMPSON GOMEZ who was the granddaughter of John and Sara DENT.  It states that John DENT escaped slavery by riding his horse into Ohio.

I was very excited to find this information that provided a link to one of our early black residents escaping bondage and finding freedom in our area.  I looked up the book from which this information was taken, which is titled “In Darkness with God:  The Life of Joseph Gomez, a Bishop of the AME Church,” by A. L. Gomez-Jefferson – a great granddaughter of John and Sarah DENT.   The book related John’s escape as follows:

Her maternal grandfather was John DENT, a former slave born in Paducah, Kentucky.  He had escaped from slavery by simply jumping on his master’s horse and “riding like hell” to freedom.  For a while  he settled in Ripley, Ohio, where in 1849 he married Sara Jane GRUBB, a young woman of African parentage who had been born in Sterling, Kentucky.  The couple moved first to Columbus, Ohio and then to Toledo.  Julia Ann, Hazel’s mother, was born in March of 1858, one of their twelve children.

A review of available source material showed that John DENT was living in Wayne, Fayette County, Ohio on the 1850 Census so he probably escaped slavery in the 1840s.  He was enumerated in the household of a woman named Sarah SMITH who also had Kentucky as her state of birth.  Due to this Census document, I believe that Sarah SMITH was the grandmother of John DENT’s wife – Sarah Jane GRUBBS.  This is due to the fact that also within Sarah SMITH’s household was a couple named John M and Emily GRUBBS and their children who were close in age to Sarah.  Them having the maiden name of Sarah as their surname and the other GRUBBS youths being close in age to Sarah, lead me to believe that Sarah Jane was the daughter of John M and Emily GRUBBS.

John DENT and Sarah Jane GRUBBS were actually married in Wayne County, Ohio in 1849, not Ripley, as stated above.  Ripley, Ohio was a known town with significant Underground Railroad activity and activists, so John DENT may have received assistance there and lived there prior to going an hour north to Wayne.   In 1850 a new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the United States which required state governments and citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves so they could be returned to their owners and re-enslaved.  This law caused a lot of panic amongst black families both formerly enslaved and those who had long been free.  Black families during this era moved to what they considered safer areas when they could to avoid being re-captured and sent into slavery or to avoid being kidnapped and made a slave when they had never been before.  It seems the DENT family also fled southern Ohio after 1850 per the book noted above.  They eventually settled in NW Ohio, which was a safer distance away from slave catchers.

As stated above, by 1860, the DENT family lived in NW Ohio, in Oregon specifically.  They were enumerated numerous times between 1860 and 1910 in the city.  John DENT died on May 10, 1890.  His death record said that he died of a concussion suffered via a fall.  He was listed as being 80 years old on the death register, but due to his headstone shown below and other census documents, he was probably in his late 60s or early 70s as he was consistently labeled as being born between 1820 and 1833.  The document said he had been a resident of Toledo about 50 years at the time of his death and that he lived on “Bridge” street in the 6th Ward of the city.

A review of the book noted above provided a sad account of the death of John DENT.  The wife of Joseph GOMEZ, of which the book details his life (and is a great read for anyone interested in early black civil rights leaders) was named Hazel.  She was the daughter of John and Sara DENT’s daughter Julia Anne by  her second husband George THOMPSON, a man who apparently looked white and was of mixed race ancestry (European and Polynesian descent).  Hazel THOMPSON was light skinned and received some  cruel treatment from Sara DENT due to Sara’s personal prejudices against whites/people who were light skinned based on her experiences with whites and the circumstances of her husband’s death.  Page 39 of the text highlighted above, stated:

Ironically, Julia’s father, John DENT, died from a concussion received when he was thrown down a flight of steps by some Polish men during a racial incident.  After that, Julia Anne and her four children went to live with his widow Sara, who made life miserable for Hazel because she was of light skin.  Sara had no use for “yeller niggers,” and that included her granddaughter, who had the “blood of the men who killed her husband.” 

I have been slowly going through early City of Toledo death registers and have noticed a little more than a handful of black men who had been labeled as being “found drowned” or who were labeled as being “murdered.”  It made me wonder about the racial atmosphere in the city during the 19th century in the city and how it probably was much worse than what I had initially thought for black residents.

The text also highlighted the limited opportunities for employment that blacks faced nationwide in this era, whereas Julia DENT made sure to send her daughter to Wilberforce University in Ohio so that she would at least have an opportunity to be a teacher and not live as a domestic all her life.  Black women in America have a history of always having high employment rates due to the precarious economic situation of black families.  Both husbands and wives usually worked and helped support the family.  Both genders were limited due to their ethnicity – men were usually general laborers and performed the most difficult and dangerous jobs for less pay than white men in many cases.  Black women, including Julia DENT,  were usually domestic workers – maids, cooks, or washer women (doing laundry) and both men and women worked long hours.  Julia told her daughter, per the text, after Hazel came home from Wilberforce after only a week with homesickness that Hazel would have to go back because Julia wanted to ensure that :

“she could get an education and not have to work in somebody’s kitchen all her life.”


Julia Dent – Early Black Toledoan, mother of Hazel THOMPSON GOMEZ

Though John DENT’s death was and is tragic, it is heartening to me that he lived the majority of his life free, and not as a slave.  He took ownership of his life and endured tough circumstances in regards to race prejudice and even a tragic death, but succeeded in raising a large family in the city.  I’ve seen many obituaries of the DENT family in the Toledo Blade through even the 2000s and feel that there are probably still a significant amount of descendants of this family in Toledo.  Hopefully they are aware of the story of John and Sara DENT and take great strength and pride from the hard work and suffering of their early black Toledo ancestors who endured such tough times to give them an opportunity to better themselves today.

Will end with the fact that I am related to the DENT family by marriage through a 4th great aunt – Martha JONES DENT who married John DENT Jr., the brother of Julia DENT shown above.  So I was enriched by learning more about their lives while researching the family’s history.


In Darkness with God:  The Life of Joseph Gomez, a Bishop of the AME Church,” Annetta Louise Gomez-Jefferson

1850 Census – Household of Sarah SMITH (includes GRUBBS and DENT families) accessed via 9/13/2017

1860 Census – Household of John DENT  accessed via 9/13/2017

1870 Census – Household of John DENT  accessed via 9/13/2017

1880 Census – Household of John DENT  accessed via 9/13/2017

1900 Census – Household of Julia DENT THOMPSON  accessed via 9/13/2017

1910 Census – Household of Tena DENT ALEXANDER accessed via 9/13/2017

Death Record of John DENT died 10 May 1890 – Ohio County Death Records 1840-2001 accessed via 9/13/2017

Photo of Julia Dent – accessed via public images 9/11/2017

Cemetery Photo of grave of John DENT – Find-a-Grave – Forrest Cemetery, Toledo, Ohio – accessed 9/11/2017

Notable Black Toledoans – Garland H. WHITE

I first came across the name of Garland H. WHITE when I was looking through newspaper articles about black residents of Toledo. Oftentimes looking through online resources of African American newspapers provides me with some interesting stories and insights into the early black community of Toledo and Northwest Ohio.

As noted in the Black Culture Series post regarding education and intellectualism, I discovered an article published on March 3, 1871 in a black newspaper called the “Weekly Louisianian” that stated that Garland H. WHITE of Toledo had filed suit against the Toledo school board for not allowing his daughter to attend the school of the ward that they lived in at the time. She was disallowed attendance due to the City of Toledo and its school board having segregated school facilities at the time; therefore his daughter, named Anna would have had to attend the “Colored School” of Toledo and not the one nearest to her home.

WHITE’s complaint did have an impact in the city, being that by 1873 Toledo Public Schools integrated the system and allowed children to attend the schools closest to them regardless of the race/color of the student.  WHITE, however, moved away from Toledo around 1873 and so his children may not have benefited from the integration of the schools in the city.

After finding this information out about WHITE and the integration of Toledo Public Schools, I decided to place him on my (LONG) list of individuals to research later and this past week, I decided to take some notes on him and others.

When I first begin to focus on an individual, I usually first refer to my transcriptions of the Census data of Toledo from 1840 to 1870.  Then I  use the magic of google and see what comes up with a query of their name and the location of Toledo. I was very surprised that WHITE had a lot of references in a general query so decided to make my next post about him.

Garland H. WHITE was born to a slave woman named Nancy in Hanover County, Virginia around 1829. Biographical information found about him shows that he was taught to read and write as a child. Prior to the age of 13, he was separated from his mother and sold to Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia. During his teenage years, he was a personal manservant to Senator Toombs and accompanied the Senator on trips back and forth to Washington, D.C. Around 1857-1859, WHITE escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad from Washington D.C. He settled in SE Ontario, Canada, then called “Canada West” and became an ordained minister in the London, Ontario AME church.

WHITE first shows up in Toledo on the list of Civil War draft registrations in 1863.  He was living in Ward 2 of the city at the time and listed his occupation as a “minister.”  His draft registration is below on line 15:

WHITE petitioned the government to serve as a recruiter for black troops, even before the federal authorities allowed black men to enlist in 1863.  His requests were denied but he was persistent due to having a goal of recruiting and serving as Chaplain for the first black regiments – the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments (the 54th was memorialized in the movie “Glory”).  Unfortunately he was not allowed access to those regiments but was later asked to recruit for Indiana’s first colored regiment – the 28th USCT.   WHITE both joined and recruited black soldiers for this regiment from all over the Midwest and was persistent in his writing campaigns seeking to achieve his goal of becoming a chaplain in the Army.    WHITE’s request was delayed but ultimately approved and he became the Chaplain of the 28th USCT in 1864 and received a rank similar to that of a Captain.  His rank made him one of the few black officers in the USCT during the Civil War (there were less than 20).   Even though he was appointed Chaplain and attained his rank, he was not authorized to wear an officer’s uniform due to the Army not wanting white soldiers being forced to salute him upon sight.

After the war, he returned to Toledo, where as noted above, he filed a complaint against the Toledo Public School board to desegregate the system.  At the time, he was married to wife Georginna and had three children, per the 1870 Census named Anna (born 1862 in Canada), Jane (born 1867) and son Emery/Henry (born 1869).  He was listed in the City of Toledo directory  as a minister between 1867 and 1872.

During the 1860s and 1870s he was also a frequent contributor to black media publications, including the “Christian Recorder” a publication of the AME church.  In one of his more well known correspondences, he described reuniting with his mother, who he had been sold away from as a child.  The letter was written toward the end  of the Civil War on April 12, 1865.:

Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for one by the name of
Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was bought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs, who lived in Georgia.

Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond  with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his bodyservant
Garland was, he replied: “He ran off from me at Washington, and went to ‘Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio.” Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, “Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see
you.” I quickly turned, following the soldier until coming to a group of colored ladies. I was questioned as follows:

“What is your name, sir?” “My name is Garland H. White.”

“What was your mother’s name?” “Nancy.” “Where was you born?” “In Hanover County, in this State.” “Where was you sold from?”

“From this city.”

“What was the name of the man who bought you?”

“Robert Toombs.”

“Where did he live?”

“In the State of Georgia.”

“Where did you leave

“At Washington.”

“Where did you go then?”

“To Canada.”

“Where do you live now?”

“In Ohio.”

“This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends.

After his service in the war WHITE had aspirations of working for the Freedman’s Bureau but his request was denied.  In the mid 1870s he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana and then to North Carolina and served as an AME minister in both locations.  He ran for a seat in Congress in the 1870s in North Carolina as a Democrat, but lost to John Adams Hyman, a black Republican.  His relationship with the Democratic Party, which back  then was the party of the former Confederates,  placed him in a contentious position with his church family in Halifax, North Carolina and he was forced out of the church by 1880.

WHITE experienced a respiratory illness, which he associated with his service in the USCT and specifically the Battle of the Crater.  He applied for a disability pension in 1884 but it was not approved until 1890 when rules for pensioners changed and all who served were able to receive payments.  WHITE moved back to Washington, D.C., toward the end of his life and worked as a messenger in the Capital.  He died on July 5, 1894 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Wikipedia – Garland H. White

Forged Through Fire – Bethel AME Church – Chaplain Garland H. White

1870 Toledo Census – Household of Garland H. White

Find a Grave Memorial – Rev Garland H. White 

Weekly Louisianian – March 3, 1871 – US Civil War Draft Registration Records – Ohio 10th Congressional District Volume 1 – City of Toledo Directories 1864-1880


Early Black Toledo Families – TILTON

One of the earliest found commercial establishment of Toledo’s black community was a restaurant/saloon established by John B. TILTON who was mentioned as a restaurateur in the city directory in 1868.  Mr. TILTON had been a resident of Northwest Ohio since at least 1860 and prior to opening his own restaurant, he was listed as a farmer in Swanton.  John TILTON seemingly moved to Toledo after 1860 as in the 1864 Toledo directory, there was a “cold” John TILTON listed as a Porter employed by the Oliver House.

TILTON was labeled as associated with the  restaurant business on the 1870 Census. Occupations of “restaurant” or “restaurant keeper” were shown on the document.  TILTON had real estate valued between $4000 and $12000 and a personal estate of between $1000 and $3000.  Based on real and personal estate figures, he was one of the wealthiest black men in Toledo in 1870 and the only black saloon/restaurant keeper in the city at the time.

Per the 1860 census and every census afterwards John B TILTON was born in the state of Delaware in approximately 1820.  In 1860 he was a farmer in Swanton and in his household was Sarah TILTON, presumably his wife and two black residents named John INGRAHAM and Woodson DERINGER.  Both were labeled as black farm laborers.

The TILTON restaurant was also labeled in the city directory as a “distiller” and a saloon, basically a club and drinking establishment.  Due to there being so few black/colored residents in 1868, TILTON was required to serve a diverse crowd in his establishment.  It can be assumed that John TILTON took advantage of the many economic advantages of a diverse, integrated society that Toledo was in the mid 1800s.  His restaurant/saloon was located near the corner of Monroe and St. Clair Street near the present day “Hensville” outdoor venue arena, Fifth/Third Field, and the SeaGate Convention Center.  It was a part of a community of establishments that took advantage of what was then known as Toledo’s “Times Square” in the 19th century.  St. Clair Street was the location of a variety of theaters and commercial establishments for many years, and luckily the area is seeing a resurgence in being the center of similar activities today.

John TILTON’s business was called the Opera House Restaurant in the 1878 Toledo directory ad that was placed for the establishment.  It was across the street from the Wheeler Opera House, which was one of the most popular entertainment venues in Toledo at the time.  Per the ad below he was “Open at all Hours” and even had a separate area for women’s entertainment with a “Ladies Dining Hall, Up Stairs.”  Associating his business with the opera house and being so near it would encourage crowds going to or leaving shows to also visit his establishment for drinks and food in association with the shows and visitors to the Wheeler.  The ad also showed that diners would be treated to all sorts of “game” that was always in season


1878 City of Toledo Director – Opera House Restaurant – John. B. TILTON proprietor

Many today, due to seeing depictions of saloons in old Western movies, associate them with prostitution.  Though it is true that many of them did provide venues of “vice” it should be noted that a majority of saloons were not houses of prostitution.  Most served as restaurants and nightclubs.  Many, per the source linked below regarding Toledo’s saloon culture, also served as hotels, especially those ran by women who rented out rooms as a way to make a living after being widowed.  On the 1880 Census half of the persons enumerated at TILTON’s establishment were labeled as “borders” meaning they were renting rooms at his saloon.

I found no evidence that the TILTON establishment was involved in any illegal activities after a review of Toledo newspapers.  In 1880 the Census takers seemingly counted all the workers who were employed by TILTON.  All of them were black community members of Toledo.  His employees included Joseph GARRETT who was mentioned as being the father in law of Toledo’s first black photographer George FIELDS.  Both men were also listed as some of the early trustees of Warren AME Church.  The occupations listed for TILTON’s employees ranged from “cook” to “porter” to “dishwasher.”  All of his workers in 1880 were labeled as black or mullato while all the borders were white, showing that he primarily hired black workers yet served a majority white customer base.  He and other black business owners assisted the small black community due to their hiring trends based on the fact that in the City of Toledo, employment opportunities for black/colored Americans in the 19th century were severely limited due to the prevalence of race prejudiced against all people with any known negro ancestry.

A further review of the history of Warren AME Chruch showed that John B. Tilton was also listed as one of the trustees of the church who bought the first church home for the young congregation.  The deed information shown below, listed as Trustees various persons who I am currently researching in early Toledo’s black community as are shown in bold:

Know all men be these present that we Calvin Barker and Mary Barker, his wife, in consideration of dollars to us paid by Joseph Garrett, David Gatsel, William Mills, John B. Tilton, David Philips, Simon Roady and George Field, Trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of Toledo, State of Ohio, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby grant, bargain, sell and convey to said Trustees and their successors for the uses and purposes of said African Methodist Episcopal Church their successors and assigns forever all the piece or parcel of land known and described as follows:


I could not find out much about TILTON’s life prior to him moving to Northwest Ohio.  Due to him consistently being labeled as being born in the state of Delaware, I did a search of Delawareans with the surname TILTON.  I did find a free black family with the surname TILTON on the 1850 Census in Kent County, Delaware, but no one named John TILTON.    I also discovered a white TILTON family who were slave owners in Delaware.  One of the members of this family – Dr. James TILTON moved to Madison, Indiana in the late 1820s.  He was a Revolutionary War veteran and when in Dupont, Indiana, it was noted in the work “Free Boy:  A True Story of Slave and Master” that Dr. TILTON  apprenticed a young black boy named John SMITH to train as a farmer soon after moving to Indiana in 1827-1828.  The age of this young John SMITH does approximately match that of John TILTON but there is no solid evidence that John TILTON was associated with the white TILTON family from Delaware.  If additional information shows up, this post will be updated in the future.

I also have been unable to locate a death record for either John TILTON or his wife Sarah.  John was labeled as a “widower” on the 1880 census so it can be assumed that his wife Sarah passed away by that year.  TILTON was consistently listed in the city directory until 1883 when he no longer had an entry showing.  Unfortunately many of my own relatives who died in Toledo between 1880 and 1900 have spotty and some, non-existent death records and it seems that TILTON may have also fell into this category of poor death record keeping for those decades.  However, I did locate some index entries for Ohio Death records between 1890 and 1900 where there were 2 John TILTON’s listed has having died in the City of Toledo.  I will review information at the TLCPL and/or the county vital statistics office to see if there are any additional entries for those deaths since only a name and date of death was provided online.



Hawkins, Arnette.  “Raising our Glass: Saloon Culture in Toledo, Ohio” 2010

History Footnotes – Warren AME Church History

US Census 1860 – Household of John B. TILTON

US Census 1870 – Household of John TILDON

US Census 1880 – Household of John B TILTON (restaurant)

City of Toledo Directory 1864-1883 – accessed 4/24/2017-6/25/2017


Early Black Toledo Families – WASHINGTON

One of the most interesting things that I have discovered in researching the black/colored historical families in Toledo is the fact that many of them are unknown and unacknowledged participants in the Underground Railroad of NW Ohio.

A review of material from the digitized Wilbur H. Siebert collection regarding the history of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) about the City of Toledo, I discovered that Henry/Hank WASHINGTON was mentioned as having devised a plan to free an escaped slave from Kentucky that was in the process of being taken back into slavery.

This information was contained within notes that Dr. Siebert had compiled about one of Toledo’s former mayors – Mavor BRIGHAM.  BRIGHAM gave an interview about his life and a few of the activities that he had been involved with regarding the anti-slavery movement and assisting runaway slaves.  A part of BRIGHAM’s  interview about a runaway he had assisted in Toledo in 1847 was as follows:

“I was told by a man I knew on Sunday morning in 1847 I think that there was a man at the hotel up-town who had his slaves with him all shackled and tied up.  I told my informant not to talk about it and I would go up and find out what I could.  I asked the hotel-keeper if I might see the parties.  I went upstairs, introduced myself and said to the slave owner that I had called to see if he had a colored man tied up.  The negro was standing in the corner.  I asked what was the matter.  The master said the nigger was a runaway and he was taking him back to Kentucky, and that the fellow was as anxious to go as he was to have him.  The darky shook his head at me.  I asked the man if he had gone before any judicial authority.  He replied no, that he had the power of attorney from his uncle the owner of the fugitive.  But I found he had done nothing in a legal way to secure the authority to hold this man in bonds.  He said I might investigate it and he’d stay if I paid his expenses….

While the matter was being discussed a young colored fellow Hank Washington came running into the office.  He with two other men had been left to guard the darky.  He came to tell that the darky had escaped by a back stairs (through WASHINGTON’s own plan). James Conlisk carried him into Michigan…”

I found a more recent article written about Mavor BRIGHAM and also of other white UGGR administrators such as James ASHLEY and Richard MOTT in the Toledo Blade.  This article posted below spoke of the dangers faced by the white men and didn’t mention any of the activities of the black/colored community in Toledo at this time.  I honestly have never heard that any black people in Toledo were involved in the UGGR and only the names above and other wealthier white families are mentioned as having been UGGR administrators.

Black/colored men that I have discovered who assisted runaways in Toledo or were named as attending UGGR conventions such as William MERRIT, Benjamin TALBOT/TABOT, George W. TUCKER, William HAWKINS and Henry WASHINGTON faced much more danger being that they were black and some,  were more than likely runaway slaves, which would place them in greater danger if discovered or captured themselves.  Historians now acknowledge that the free black/colored communities in northern and border states were much more actively involved in assisting runaway slaves than  previous histories written on the subject have indicated.  They were also more daring in regards to assisting the fleeing slaves, such as was described about Hank WASHINGTON in BRIGHAM’s interview.  The  UGGR was usually not tunnels under buildings or secret rooms in a white person’s home.  More often than not, it was free black people seeing a fugitive and helping him/her to not be discovered or assisting them to safety.  There were also some violent accounts of blacks and whites against southerners who sought to re-enslave a black person who had been living as free in their community.  The UGGR stands as one of the most intricate and interesting networks of inter-racial cooperation in American history.  Unfortunately, Siebert made little mention of black Toledoans in his section about NW Ohio and who were involved in anti-slavery activities or who assisted runaways and even omitted the names of black Toledoans from his book – like Henry WASHINGTON and even William MERRITT who was mentioned by multiple white UGGR administrators as being involved in UGGR activities in Toledo and a leader of the colored community.  The interview of Mavor BRIGHAM and his recount of WASHINGTON’s deeds did not make it into Seibert’s text.  Luckily the interview survives and brings to life one of the names of a member of one the earliest black families to have resided in the Toledo area.

Unfortunately, in looking through Siebert’s papers that were digitized online, I did not see any reference to him contacting the black churches in Toledo as in the 1890s when this account was provided to him by Mavor BRIGHAM, research that I have conducted on Henry WASHINGTON shows that he may still have been alive.  The name of “Henry” or “Hank” WASHINGTON was only shown within research documents that I discovered twice; however, there was a George H. WASHINGTON who was approximately the same age as Henry and who was also a Barber and Laborer in the City of Toledo through the 1890s.  This George H. WASHINGTON, due to the black population of Toledo being so small, may very well have been Henry WASHINGTON.  George H. WASHINGTON passed away in 1897, two years after Mavor BRIGHAM provided this account to Siebert.   Other known black anti-slavery activist such as the poet James Madison BELL was also still alive in 1895.  The son of physician James A. FIELDS, a black abolitionist was also alive and living in Adrian, Lenawee County not too far from Toledo and he was also not contacted.  It is unfortunate that Siebert and his team did not follow up on the black/colored individuals who were involved in anti-slavery societies or the UGGR while conducting their research for NW Ohio.  The only name that has been mentioned in the various texts I’ve read about Toledo’s UGGR network who was black/colored is William H. MERRITT who was mentioned as being a participant by a few people that Siebert contacted, but even he was not mentioned in the published text regarding the NW Ohio routes of the UGGR.  According to information shown within the post regarding MERRIT’s life on this blog, he was a relatively wealthy individual, the most wealthy black man in Toledo in the 19th century and it makes sense that he, as a prominent black/colored citizen would get more attention than the other free blacks in Toledo who were poor to working class individuals even, though quite a few of individuals other than MERRITT, I have discovered were mentioned in newspaper accounts of UGGR activity and in interviews such as the one provided to Siebert by Mavor BRIGHAM in 1895.

Genealogical information I’ve discovered about Henry WASHINGTON includes the fact that there was also a George WASHINGTON listed on the 1840 census.  Interestingly enough, there was also a colored George WASHINGTON listed on the 1830 census for the Michigan Territory of which Toledo was a part of at that time.  In  both 1830 and 1840 all household members were not named so only George WASHINGTON is listed.  In 1830 there were only two members of his household, a male aged 24-35, presumably George himself and a female aged 24-35 presumably his wife.  In 1840 George WASHINGTON had four individuals in his household – a black/colored male under age 10, a black/colored male aged 36-55, and two black/colored females – one between 24 and 36  years old and the other between 36 and 55 years of age.   It can be assumed that George WASHINGTON in 1840 may the father of Henry WASHINGTON

Henry WASHINGTON married Josephine PERRY in Toledo on June 12, 1845.  This is the earliest marriage I have found thus far between a black man and woman in online county records for Lucas County.

On the 1850 census, Henry and Josephine were living in Ward 1 of the city in the “Port Lawrence” district near downtown Toledo.  The 1850 Census provides more details about all household members versus 1840.   Henry was labeled as a “Barber” in 1850.   Henry and his wife Josephine were both approximately 21 years old.  I believe, due to the year of their marriage, that they were probably a bit older than that.  At the time of the 1850 census there were two children within their household – an  8 month old  infant named Eli and a 3 year old male that I couldn’t quite make out the name.  It looked like “Estera” or more than likely “Edward” from the original script writing.

In 1860 Josephine was listed in the household of Charles and Cinderilla WALKER.  I am not certain if they were related to her in some way.  The WALKER family lived in Sylvania at the time and were labeled as “Black.”

The next record where Henry was located in the Toledo area was in the city directory in 1870.  He was labeled as “col’d” and  his residence was stated at being on “Hartford blk. 3d floor.”

After 1870 I did not find any records of Henry WASHINGTON via  I did find records of another George WASHINGTON though that was close in age to Henry WASHINGTON.  Due to believing that Henry may have been the son of George WASHINGTON from the 1840 census whose year of birth was between 1785 and 1804, I am of the belief that George H.WASHINGTON who began to show up as “col’d” in the directory instead of Henry WASHINGTON may have been Henry.  I have quite a few relatives in my own genealogical tree who went by both first and middle names at one point in time so Henry may have been George Henry WASHINGTON and perhaps after his father passed away he went by George instead of Henry.

His wife Josephine also disappeared from records starting in 1860.  I could not find a record of her death so both Henry and Josephine may also have left the area after 1870 or her death may not have been recorded.

However, there were three other individuals who were black/colored and named George WASHINGTON in Toledo through the turn of the 20th century.  The oldest George WASHINGTON called George H WASHINGTON, as stated above died in 1897.  He was born in the approximate year of Henry WASHINGTON – 1820 so may have been the “young colored fellow” that Mavor BRIGHAM referred to in his interview shown above who freed the slave in 1847.

It is unknown whether or not there are any descendants of Henry and Josephine WASHINGTON.  As stated there were other black/colored persons in Toledo after 1860 who had the surname WASHINGTON.  It is possible that they were all related but that cannot be known for certain.  Individuals listed in records that I’ve discovered who had the surname WASHINGTON through 1900 are listed below primarily because, as noted, this family has been in the Toledo area the longest of any others that I have researched.  Please note that any bulletted persons underneath the head of household are in the same household.  Each lone  name was enumerated separately or with a different surname versus WASHINGTON:


George WASHINGTON – 1840 Census household included male (probably himself) aged 36-55 years of age.  This would make George WASHINGTON’s year of birth between 1785-1805

  • Un-named male in household aged 10 and below
  • Un-named female in household aged 24-36 (possibly daughter)
  • Un-named female in household aged 36-55 (possibly wife)


Marriage record of Henry WASHINGTON and Josephine PERRY, June 12, 1845


Henry WASHINGTON – 1850 Census aged 21, black, barber, birthplace “unknown”

  • Josephine WASHINGTON aged 21, black, birthplace Michigan
  • Edward WASHINGTON aged 3, black birthplace Ohio
  • Eli WASHINGTON aged 8 months, black, birthplace Ohio


Josephine WASHINGTON aged 30, mullatto, birthplace Michigan (NOTE:  enumerated in household of Charles WALKER in Sylvania may be related to Charles WALKER.  They have the same birthplace)

Louisa WASHINGTON aged 25, mullatto, servant, birthplace Washington, DC (NOTE:  enumerated in household of white family headed by Carline FIELD)

James/George WASHINGTON aged 64, black, laborer, birthplace Virginia (NOTE:  may be George WASHINGTON from 1840 census, potential father of Henry WASHINGTON)

  • William WASHINGTON, aged 20, black, laborer, birthplace New York (NOTE:  may have been boy in household of George WASHINGTON in 1840)


George WASHINGTON married Sophia LEE in Lucas County, February 18, 1866

John A WASHINGTON married Sarah R WILLIAMS in Lucas County, July 23, 1868 (NOTE:  Sarah WASHINGTON was listed as deceased August 18, 1869 along with infant Charles WASHINGTON on August 31, 1869)

Edward WASHINGTON married Mary ARMSTRONG in Lucas County, March, 19, 1870 (NOTE:  may be son of Henry WASHINGTON based on 1850 census household)

1870 CENSUS (these entries are taken from previous blog post)

Edward WASHINGTON – 1870 Census aged 20, black, laborer, birthplace Ohio (NOTE:  may be son of Henry WASHINGTON based on 1850 census household)

  • Mary E WASHINGTON aged 22, black, keeping house, birthplace Ohio

John WASHINGTON – 1870 Census aged 28, black, cook, birthplace Ohio

George H. WASHINGTON – 1870 Census aged 40, black, laborer, birthplace Ohio

  • Mary WASHINGTON aged 30, black, keeping house, birthplace Ohio

Ed WASHINGTON – 1870 Census aged 22, black, barber, birthplace Ohio

George WASHINGTON aged 18, black, cook, birthplace Ohio



Hamon WASHINGTON married Martha JACKSON in Lucas County, March 3, 1873

William WASHINGTON married Jennie HILL in Lucas County, June 12, 1883

There were other entries of the WASHINGTON family whereas they were labeled as children of William or George WASHINGTON in Toledo after 1900.  So it can be assumed that there are still descendants of this family in Toledo but their identities are unknown.



Ohio Historical Society – Mavor Brigham interview, Aug 4, 1895, Wilbur H. Siebert Collection, pages 3-4.

The Toledo Blade – “Local Abolitionist Risked All to Help Free Escaped Slaves.


Early Black/Colored Toledo Families – (Harvey) FIELDS

Between 1850 and 1900 there were three black and mullatto families in the Toledo area with the surname FIELDS.  I am now certain that two of them are related based on some additional research.  The other FIELDS family – headed by physician James FIELDS, per the entry regarding him being Toledo’s first black doctor and there being an obituary about him with a pretty detailed biography of his life, I do not at the moment believe he was related to the other two black/colored FIELDS families in Toledo.  The various black/colored families with the surname FIELDS were as follows:

  • 1850 Census family headed by Harvey FIELDS Barber/Laborer
  • 1860 Census family headed by James A FIELDS  physician
  • 1870 Census family headed by George FIELDS  photographer

This post will focus on the family of Harvey FIELDS since his was the first branch shown in records as living in Toledo.  Harvey was listed as a Barber in 1850 and lived in Ward 1 of the city with his wife Jane and children:  Robert, Julius, William, Anna,  and John.  In the racial category, the entire family were labeled as “mullatto.”  Their older children were some of the few black/colored children who had attended school in 1850. On the 1860 Census Harvey was listed as a “laborer.”  The City of Toledo Directory began to be published in 1864 and unfortunately Harvey was never listed in the directory.

Harvey’s sons – Robert, Julius, and William FIELDS were listed as having been born in Canada in 1850.   Harvey stated his place of birth was Massachusetts, his wife Jane stated she had been born in Georgia.   However, on the 1860 Census Harvey was listed as also having been born in Canada along with his wife Jane and all of the older children in the family.  An additional child not listed in 1850 was Mary who was listed as 4 years old in 1860.  Due to the change in birth area, it is unknown whether Harvey was a free person of color prior to moving to Toledo or if he was an escaped slave.

Some searching into this family’s background showed that son William FIELDS was listed on the Ohio Civil War Roster as having served in the US Colored Troops in the 27th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, Company I.  Research into Ohio US Colored Troops (USCT)  enlistments showed that over 80% of black/colored service eligible men (by age), volunteered for the war effort.   I have been surprised in my on family’s history to discover that a large amount of my male ancestors, no matter their state of residence, served in the USCT.  Local history research into the the black/colored population of Toledo thus far shows a similar trend in that nearly every family I have researched had at least 1-2 volunteer soldiers for the war effort.

At the time of his enlistment, William FIELDS would have been  approximately 16-18 years old.  Older son, Robert FIELDS volunteered later in the war for the 189th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, Company A.  He would have been approximately 26 years old at the time of his enlistment in 1865.

The 189th Ohio that Robert joined was organized in Toledo and Camp Chase in Columbus in January of 1865 and was only to serve for a year of the war.  This was not a regiment of the USCT.   Though black and mullatto soldiers usually served in segregated commands, there were instances where they did not.

The 27th Ohio that William joined was organized in Delaware County in January of 1864.  It was the second regiment created of US Colored Troops organized in the state of Ohio.  This regiment stayed in service until the end of the war in 1865.  Below is a picture of their camp during service in Petersburg, Virginia.

Some interesting information discovered about the 27th Ohio was that they saw some active fighting. One of the more well known battles that they participated in was called the “Battle of the Crater” in Petersburg, VA shown in the picture above.  There were some members of the regiment who kept journals and records of their service.  One was an AME minister named James Payne who was stated by the Ohio Historical Society website as having originally hailed from Kentucky and who went to Lima to enlist.  A portion of Reverend Payne’s journal provided a harrowing and humbling account of the black soldier’s experiences during the war:

(T)wo regiments [the 43rd USCI and 27th USCI] drove the enemy from their breastworks, and took possession of the blown up fort; but while they did, all the white soldiers lay in their pits and did nothing to support our men in the struggle; they lay as if there was nothing for them to do for one hour after the explosion took place…How easily Petersburg could have been taken on the 30th of July, had the white soldiers and their commanders done their duty! But prejudiced against colored troops prevented them…I can only conclude that our men fell unnecessarily in the battle on the 30th. In their retreat, they received the cross-fire of the enemy, and no small number were killed by our own artillery.

Such was the terrible fate of the day. Time will tell who was in the fault, and who made the great blunder in the battle of the 30th of July.

Among the captured was my brother-in-law, William Johnson of Upper Sandusky, Ohio…but, I can only give him up into the hand of God, who knows just how to deal with his case. If he is murdered by the rebels all is right, his blood will speak for the cause in which he fell.


In 1870, Robert FIELDS, the oldest son of Harvey and Jane was shown living by himself in Toledo on the Census.  He was labeled as a Painter just as he had been in 1860 when he lived with his parents and siblings.  Neither Harvey nor Jane showed up in the City of Toledo on any census data that I have come across after 1860 nor in any death registers.  I also have never found mention of them in the city directory or with a query into newspapers thus far.  If ever anything is located this post will be updated.  However, I do believe that Harvey FIELDS and his family were related to the family of George FIELDS, Toledo’s first black professional photographer.  George FIELDS was mentioned in this blog in the post about one of the known UGGR administrators in the city of Toledo – William H. MERRIT.  George was Toledo’s first black professional photographer and moved to Toledo after 1860 and his professional address was located in the same building with William H. MERRITT.  Throughout the various census documents George was listed on, he stated he was either born in Georgia or Alabama, which leads me to conclude that both and and Harvey were either the children of escaped slaves or people who had been free people of color who lived in the southeastern region of the US and who subsequently, moved away from their home states.  George, unlike Harvey was listed in the City of Toledo directory starting in 1867.  A clue to there being a familial relation between Harvey, and photographer George FIELDS was the fact that per the 1868 Toledo directory, Robert – Harvey’s son,  and George FIELDS lived at the same address of  743 Erie Street.

Another clue was that in 1880, Robert FIELDS was counted in the household of Joseph and Lucy GARRETT.  He was labeled as their “grandson” along with his younger sister Mary FIELDS who was listed on the 1860 Census with him and their parents.  Within the GARRETT household was also 18 year old Olivia FIELDS and 17 year old Otis FIELDS.  These were the children of George FIELDS, Toledo’s first black photographer mentioned above.  Due to both sets of FIELD’s children being labeled as the GARRETT’s grandchildren, it was assumed that Robert and Mary were cousins to Otis and Olivia.  George FIELD’s first wife’s maiden name was Mary GARRETT (George married Mary GARRET on January 13, 1861 in Greene, Ohio) and these were her parents – the grandparents of Otis and Olivia.  It is uncertain if Robert and Mary’s mother Jane was the sister of George’s wife  Mary,  or if George FIELDS and Harvey FIELDS were brothers and the GARRETTs,  called Robert and his sister Mary their grandchildren due to them being cousins of their biological grandchildren.  Another relationship between these two families is that Harvey and Jane could very well have been the parents of George FIELDS.  They were old enough to be his parents and I’ve yet to find documentation of who George’s parents were.  Robert may have lived with George per the directory in 1868 due to them being brothers.  Due to that his children in the GARRETT household in 1880 may have been the nephew and niece of Robert and Mary FIELDS.

Robert FIELDS was also listed on the 1890 US Veterans Census where he stated he served with the regiment and company listed above.  Initially I was unsure if the Robert FIELDS listed on the veterans census was the same as the one I was researching, but a review of the city directory from 1888 to 1905 showed that Robert FIELDS was a Painter who lived at 524 Cherry Street in Toledo, which is at the corner of Summit and Cherry in downtown Toledo.  He lived with Mary and Otis FIELDS,  who were also listed on the 1880 census with the GARRETs as “mullatto.” This confirmed that Robert FIELDS was the veteran also listed on the 1890 Veterans Census.

In 1910 he was still listed as a Painter and was living with his sister Mary FIELDS at 645 State Street in the Canton Avenue district of Toledo.  This was one of the neighborhoods where a substantial amount of the black population resided until the 1930s until more began moving into the Pinewood District, currently called “Central City.”  Robert FIELDS was listed as 69 years old in 1910.

In 1920 Robert was shown residing in the Montgomery County, Jefferson Township National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soliders.  He was listed at being 80 years old at the time.  The last pension record I have on file for him below showed that he died on December 31, 1923 at the National Soldiers Home in Virginia.

He was buried at the Hampton National Cemetery.  Below is a picture of his grave

I could not find much info at all in regards to younger brother William FIELDS.  However, there was records of another, younger “colored,” Robert FIELDS who was born in approximately 1865-1866 and who died in Toledo in 1906.  On his death record, his father was listed as William FIELDS and the document said that this younger Robert was born in Petersburg, VA where William FIELDS’ regiment fought in the Battle of the Crater.

Harvey and Jane’s youngest child Mary FIELDS died at the age of 75 in Toledo in 1933.  She had been a resident of Toledo her entire life.  Towards the end of her life she was a patient at the Toledo State Hospital.  Upon her death, she was buried at the Historic Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, where it was noted that she was the sister of Robert E. FIELDS.

The other children of Harvey and Jane FIELDS listed on the 1850 Census, I could not find much information about.  In 1860 they had a son named John who was 11 years old that year.  Some queries on John FIELDS showed that someone with that same name died in the City of Toledo on December 30, 1883 of bronchitis.  However, some further digging showed that this was John Brewster FIELDS the youngest son of George FIELDS, the suspected brother or son of Harvey FIELDS.  However, there was also a record of a John H FIELDS in the Toledo directory during the 1900s.  In the directory John H. FIELDS was labeled with an occupation of Porter and he lived in various locations including Missouri Street (now Pinewood Street) and Wisconsin streets through the 1890s.  This John FIELDS lived with George in 1899, a year before George’s death, so this may have been the same John FIELDS who was enumerated with Harvey’s family in 1850.

Another son of the couple – Julius/Junius (or Lucious) I could not locate any additional information.    On the 1860 Census, he was listed as a “Sailor.”  His name never showed up again in the City of Toledo.  I also could not find any information about daughter Anna FIELDS.

It is currently unknown if there are any descendants of this FIELDS family still in the Toledo area.




1850 US Census, via; accessed 3/31/2017

Ohio Civil War Roster, Ohio Genealogical Society search engine, accessed 3/31/2017

Fighting for Freedom:  African Americans in the Civil War.  The Ohio Historical Society, accessed 3/31/2017

189th Regiment Ohio Infantry roster; accessed 3/31/2017

1910 US Census, via; accessed 3/31/2017

1920 US Census, via; accessed 3/31/2017

Ohio Deaths 1908-1953, via; accessed 3/31/2017 (Death Certificate of Mary FIELDS)

Early Black Toledo Families – GATLIFF/GATLEFF

As was shared in the post regarding basketball legend William (Bill) McNeil JONES, his parents were William A. JONES and Jessie L. GATLIFF.  Both the JONES and GATLIFF families lived in the Toledo area prior to 1900 before the Great Migration got into full swing and the black population of Toledo swelled like many other Midwest industrial centers.

I thought it would be interesting to explore some of the families of early black/colored Toledoans and due to my curiosity regarding those families from my transcriptions of the 1840 through 1900 census information (I am currently working to transcribe the 1900 census).  Unlike other persons I mentioned in this blog, a majority of these other black/colored individuals and families weren’t well known in the community.  However, the history of regular people’s lives is just as important and interesting as more well known persons and a review of the family of Jessie GATLIFF is well worth sharing some information.

Jessie L. GATLIFF/GATLEFF  was born in Chillocothe, Ohio in approximately 1882.  Her parents were John H. GATLIFF/GATLEFF Jr. and Amanda GOINS/GOINGS/GOENS.  She was the second of three children born to John Jr. and Amanda.  She was the middle child between older brother Clark and younger brother Everett James.

The GATLIFF/GATLEFF family had lived in Chillicothe since approximately 1870.  John H. GATLIFF/GATLEFF Jr. was originally born in Rockcastle County, Kentucky  and was the son of John H. GATLIFF Sr (1823-1910) and Cynthia GATLIFF (1824-1913).  This couple threw me for a few loops in researching them due to both Cynthia and John Sr. having the same surname.  A review of Milton GATLIFF/GATLEFF’S death certificate – a son of John Sr. and Cynthia, and due to a clue revealed in a book about Cynthia’s mother Rose, it was shown that John Sr. took the surname of his wife when they were married.  Due to that, I have not been able to track his family back further than John Sr.  On his death certificate, shown below, his parents were unknown.

Cynthia GATLIFF/GATLEFF was also born in Kentucky in approximately 1824.  Her mother Rose GATLIFF/GATLEFF was held as a slave and had to sue for her freedom in the courts of Kentucky.  It took her nearly 20 years but she was eventually set free.  As a free woman, she was enumerate on the 1850 census in Rockcastle County, Kentucky with some of her children and grandchildren.  Rose was born in Virginia in approximately 1772 and was the daughter of a “mullatto” allegedly of mixed European and Native ancestry.  She was described as having blond hair and blue eyes.  Her case was based upon her stating that her mother was a native American and therefore she could not be held as a slave.  In the late 18th century, indigenous people were no longer considered slaves and if she had been born to a Native mother, she would automatically be free.  According the book “Rose, a Woman of Color:  A Slave’s Struggle for Freedom in the Courts of Kentucky,” by Arnold Taylor, Rose, through her attorneys claimed that she was made a slave through illegal maneuvering.  Jenny, Rose’s mother thought that she was putting Rose into an indentured servitude period, it was Rose and her attorney’s position that instead, Rose was instead enslaved.  Documents were drawn up labeling her as a slave.  The prosecutors alleged that due to the records of Virginia, as they discovered paperwork that supported that Rose was sold as a slave as a girl, that she was indeed a slave.  They also alleged that her mother Jenny was not a Native American and instead a mullato with some negro ancestry.  Many witnesses were brought forth for both Rose’s and the state’s case.  Her attorney’s position was, that of course the persons who profited off of Rose would take advantage of her position as a mullatto child of Indian and white ancestry and make her a slave for their benefit, so the jury should not accept that the documents of Rose’s alleged status as a slave should be believed.

The book above was very interesting and gave a good genealogical account of Rose’s family, including her mother Jenny and her suspected father who was a white man that Jenny worked for. It also discussed that one of Rose’s daughters – Nancy GATLIFF/GATLEFF had been freed due to winning a case in Indiana, whereas her owner had taken her to that “free” state for more than 6 months and left her there.  Nancy also won her case.  One of the arguments against Rose, ironically was that since Nancy was freed due to Indiana’s laws regarding slaves, that Rose herself, must legally be a slave and not eligible to be freed based on her mother’s ancestry.  Rose GATLIFF/GATLEFF died died a free woman around 1870 and at that time most of her children moved to Ross County, Chillicothe, Ohio including Cynthia and John Sr.

Due to John Jr. and Amanda being listed on the 1880 Census in Ross County, City of Chillicothe and because both Jessie L, born in 1882 and Everett, born in 1885 had birth records on file in Ross County, it can be determined that John Jr. did not move away from Ross county until after 1885.

John Jr. was one of 10 known children of John Sr. and Cynthia GATLIFF/GATLEFF.  Two of his brothers – James and Frank GATLIFF showed up in the Toledo City Directory in 1892 and 1895.  By 1900, John Jr. and his sons Clark and Everett GATLIFF/GATLEFF were living  in Toledo.  Clark GATLIFF was also listed in the city directory in 1899 so we can conclude that members of the GATLIFF family moved to Toledo between 1890 and 1900.

Per the census document below, John Jr., Clark and Everett were living in a boarding house in 1900 located at 132 N. Erie Street.  That address is now a parking lot located near the corner of Erie and Jefferson Ave in downtown Toledo.  In 1900 John Jr. was working as a laborer.  His oldest son Clark was a Porter in a barber shop  while younger brother Everett, who was only 14, had “At School” listed as his occupation. By 1910, Jessie was also living in Toledo and was married to William JONES.


There was never a record of Amanda GOENS/GOINS GATLIFF in Toledo and I have yet to find a death certificate for her.  John Jr. re-married in 1914 to a woman named Martha YOUNG.  He is last found in genealogical records on the 1920 census where he lived with his second wife Martha.  John Jr. died in Toledo in 1921.   His last known residence was 580 Norwood Ave, which was listed as his residence on both the 1920 census and his death record in 1921.  That address currently is just an empty lot very close to interstate 75 in Toledo and the home probably was demolished to make way for the freeway.

John Jr.’s daughter Jessie GATLIFF married one of my 4th great uncles – William Allen JONES on April 27, 1907.  Together they had nine children, eight lived to adulthood.  Both Jessie and William were active members of Toledo’s black community from the early 1900s until their deaths in the 1950s.  Jessie’s obituary labeled her as a “Church and Organizational Leader” and listed the many organizations that she worked and lead during her lifetime.  Her obituary is listed below.  She died on April 18, 1959:

As stated earlier, Jessie was the mother of William (Bill) McNeill JONES one of the first black basketball players who integrated professional basketball.  Her youngest child – Elizabeth JONES WILSON died in Toledo in October of 2014.

Additional information regarding the brothers of Jessie GATLIFF JONES was also discovered, including an obituary of Everett James GATLIFF whose daughter Dorothy GATLIFF BROWN was hired as one of Toledo’s first black female police officers in 1946.


Below is a lint to a short family tree of the GATLIFFs.  Please note that these particular descendants of Rose GATLIFF/GATLEFF are the Toledo branch.  If there is any inquiries about this family please email me for a complete tree at

GATLIFF family link


1850 US Census, via; accessed on 3/3/2017 (Household of Maragret GATLIFF)

1860 US Census, via; accessed on 2/26/2017 (Household of Cynthia GATLIFF)

1870 US Census, via; accessed on 2/26/2017 (Household of John GATLIFF)

1880 US Census, via; accessed on 2/26/2017  (Household of John GATLIFF)

1900 US Census, via; accessed on 2/26/2017 (Household of John GATLIFF)

1900 US Census, via; accessed on 3/31/2017 (Household of Albert SPEAD – boarding house)

1910 US Census, via; accessed on 2/26/2017 (Household of Cynthia GATLIFF)

Ohio Deaths  1908-1953, via; accessed 2/26/2017 – death record of Cynthia GATLIFF

Ohio Deaths 1908-1953, via; accessed 2/26/2017  – death record of John GATLIFF Sr.

1910 US Census, via; accessed on 11/15/2016 (Household of William JONES)

1920 US Census, via familysearch.og; accessed on 3/31/2017 (Household of John GATLIFF Jr.)

1920 US Census, via; accessed on 11/15/2016 (Household of William JONES)

Ohio Deaths 1908-1953, via; accessed 2/26/2017 – death record of John H. GATLIFF Jr.

Michigan Marriages 1868-1925, via; accessed 2/26/2017 – marriage record of John H. GATLIFF Jr and Martha A YOUNG.

Ohio County Marriages 1789-2013, via; accessed 11/15/2016 – marriage record of William A. JONES and Jessie L. GATLIFF

1930 US Census, via; accessed 11/15/2016 (Household of William JONES)

1940 US Census, via; accessed 11/15/2016 (Household of William JONES)

Toledo Blade Obituary Index, via Toledo Lucas County Public Library 2/28/2017; Jessie L JONES published April 20, 1959

Toledo Blade Obituary Index, via Toledo Lucas County Public Library 2/28/2107; Everett James JONES published January 20, 1953

Toledo Blade; “Blazing a Trail” published 2/26/2003

Black Culture Series – Education and Intellectualism

As was hinted upon in the second part of this series regarding The Black Family, education has always been a focus of the demographic.

Since the 1970s educational statistics for the black demographic have greatly increased regarding high school graduation rates and college entrance and matriculation.

Unfortunately these positive gains are many times overshadowed by pervasive, negative depictions of blacks in media which serve to show black Americans as a demographic that lacks a desire to lift itself via education and hard work. A historical, cultural view of education and intellectualism in black America, however, refutes this depiction as a false stereotype.

As has been shared in this series and in this blog, black Americans have lived in this country for centuries as a majority enslaved population and minority “free” status. Both enslaved and free blacks sought an education due to the understanding that knowledge is power and has the potential to create vast opportunities for the individual, family, and community at large.

Unfortunately for many centuries black Americans were denied the opportunity to be educated. Many are aware that it was against the law in southern states to teach slaves to read. This was due to the belief that it would make a slave unwilling and unsuited for life content to be held as property. Free blacks in many areas were also denied the right of an education. They were “free” in name only and even though they were forced to pay taxes, they were not allowed to participate in society as “free” men and women.

Many “free” and slave states had laws that stated that black children were not allowed to attend public schools. Those families who could afford to do so would hire teachers and tutors to educate their children. In many free communities, the families would also would bind together and raise money for land and buildings to create their own schools. Often these private schools for black children were held in the local black church if one was available.

Here in Toledo, the Warren AME church in the 1850s began a private school for black children.  Due to the low population of blacks in the area, they were unable to sustain the school.  Local blacks in Toledo, including father Garland WHITE paid for private tutors when they could afford to do so.

In 1870 Mr. WHITE filed suit against the City of Toledo due to them excluding his daughter from attending the school in the ward of his residence.  As shared in the post regarding the History of the Toledo Public School district, the city integrated its schools starting in the 1870s.  Per a newspaper article published on March 3, 1871 in the “Weekly Louisianian” a black newspaper published out of New Orleans, LA – Mr. WHITE filed suit against TPS because of its segregation policy that excluded his daughter from attending the school in his ward.  The article, shown below, stated he owned property valued at $10,00.00 yet his daughter, due to her race,  was denied the right to attend, even though  he paid property taxes that supported that school.  More research is required but it can be concluded that since TPS integrated in 1873 that Mr. WHITE won his case.  This occurrence in our local area is one of many similar stories that shows the historical dedication to educational opportunities that black families have consistently maintained.

Many are aware that slaves were not allowed to learn to read as shared above.  Because of it being taboo, many blacks who were enslaved in the south had a yearning for knowledge and a desire to be educated and to educate their children.  They were aware, following the Civil War that being uneducated was to be at a disadvantage.  They were much more likely to be victimized due to a lack of literacy.  Many of the North’s black teachers, schools, and social/community organizations, galvanized around providing educational opportunities for newly freed slaves.  Abolitionist societies also formed new goals of sending white, former anti-slavery activists to the south to educate the newly freed slaves.  The federal government, during the Reconstruction period, opened “Freedman’s Schools” for black people to attend.  These schools were filled with blacks seeking an education.


Due to the lack of public education in the south for poor white children, even they were allowed to attend those schools during the Reconstruction era.  By 1870 there were nearly 2000 Freedman’s Bureau Schools in the south. They served to educate both children and adults.  Information obtained during the Reconstruction era showed that the areas with Freedman’s schools had a literacy rate, ten years post Reconstruction, that was 6 points higher than areas that had not been fortunate enough to have a Freedman’s school in their community.   Examples of this dedication to acquiring knowledge can also be observed by studying the lives of more famous black  historical figures – two of which were recently in the media:  Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois.

One of my favorite black men in history is Frederick Douglass.  As many are aware, he was born a slave.  When he was young the wife of one of his masters taught him the alphabet until her husband told her that doing so would ruin him.  Fortunately, she had succeeded a bit and his thirst for knowledge was born.  Young Douglass tricked white boys into teaching him to read and he would later go on to escape slavery and become the most well known black abolitionist in America in his era and even today.  After his escape from slavery and the publishing of his widely read “Narrative,” many whites could not believe that he had written the text himself due to the belief that blacks could not learn to write as eloquently as Douglass.  The “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” was written only seven years after Douglass escaped slavery.  He was one of the first to prove that skin color and ethnic origins was not a factor in intelligence and the ability to learn – a desire for knowledge and a dedication to that desire was all that was needed for him to become one of the most famous black activists in American history.

Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B) DuBois is also a very well known black intellectual.  Dr. DuBois was born in 1868 to parents who had been free people of color.  He was the first black man to receive a PhD from Harvard University.  He also published one of the first historical studies on the role of blacks in a political era entitled “Black Reconstruction in America.”  His later work “The Philadelphia Negro” was the first sociological study of urban black Americans.  His longevity as a researcher, activist and writer is impressive and at its core he always exhibited the fact that black Americans, when not limited by intense race based prejudice and oppression, would have similar socio-economic successes in life as other American ethnicities.    Many who have heard of Dr. DuBois are usually aware of his views that are believed to have differed substantially from those of Booker T. Washington, in that he favored what was then called a “classical” education for black students instead of only an “industrial” education focused on specific trades.  This debate lives on in regards to both of these men and their educational philosophies and it is important to note that both Dr. DuBois and Washington believed that blacks were able to be educated in the same ways as whites and other Americans.  That if taught, blacks would learn, that racism and oppression were a factor not only in educational opportunities but also in economic and commercial opportunities.  And especially if knowledge was desired, it would be consumed.  Their differences primarily centered around politics, economics and opportunity, not a disagreement on the ability of black Americans to learn.

In summation, this modern era whereas more black Americans have completed an education than ever before, is a true testament to the cultural aspects of a dedication to education.  This attitude regarding education – that it is a means to an improvement in the condition of one’s life, has never faded in black America and is at an all time high.  Of course, like all socio-economic issues, education is an area that is still a subject of hot debate and where there are many ideas about ways to increase the quality of education in order to have more positive economic outcomes based on a particular type of education.  These debates harken back to those of Dr. DuBois and Washington mentioned above and are a lasting legacy of the culture’s focus on education within the black demographic.

Black Culture Series – The Black Family

I decided to start the series with what I feel is the root of black culture and that is the black family as a unit in America.

From the earliest decades of their existence in the colonies, black families have not always followed the typical “nuclear family” structure.  This is due to the fact that slavery and even for the free black population, indentured servitude and overt oppression, created barriers for black Americans in creating what is thought of as traditional two parent homes.  Slave families, as many are aware,  were routinely broken apart.  For the free/indentured families in early colonial American history,  many could face punishment as a result of a pregnancy due to the subsequent disability and being unable to work and inability to fulfill their service requirements.  Black indentured women who became pregnant  could also potentially be sold to another master as punishment, which could end the relationship with the father of the child.  “Free” children born to a black indentured mother could also receive an indenture period of up to 28 years and to be bound out to serve a different master other than that of his/her parents, sometimes very early in life – toddler or preschool aged.

As a result of these sorts of experiences, black families have always been based on both the traditional couple when those relationships could be maintained, along with an extended familial community, inclusive of, grandparents, aunts/uncles, and extended cousins who have always taken a heavily active role in family activities and especially child rearing throughout black American history.

Along with blood relationships, black Americans have a tradition of adopting non-related blacks into their family, who take on the role of additional kin. Children who were separated from their mothers would be adopted by this extended community, one created based upon the oppression faced by the demographic and the need to bind together and assist each other in difficult circumstances.  Together the biological family and the extended kin form the basis of what is commonly called “the black community.”

I frequently state to people in conversation in real life and online that there is not one single”black community.” The family and extended kin faced similar and different obstacles depending on the laws and attitudes about race in the geographic areas of where they were settled. However, universally, both before and after the Civil War, no matter the area of which they settled black Americans faced intense race based discrimination all over the country. This shared experience is what I believe constitutes the phrase “the black community” being used in a more generic form. The community, is an extension of the family, and as a result, many black Americans feel a familial connection to the entire demographic based on this shared history and the culture of binding together to be strong in the face of adversity shown to them based on race/ethnicity.

As stated in the introduction to this series, on the role of Family in black America I wanted to focus on some of the defining events of the demographic. The Great Migration began around 1910 and didn’t end until around the the 1970s. The vast movements of black Americans from the agricultural south to the urban industrial centers in the northern and western parts of country did not weaken the traditional aspects of the black family as described above. During this time period parents would potentially have to be split up for a period from their children other family members  or extended, unrelated kin would readily volunteer to fill the gaps left by those seeking better opportunities. An example of this cultural phenomenon is evident in the childhood of my own great grandfather Talmadge Traynum. Below is a picture of him as a little boy in approximately 1912-1914.

Talmadge TRAYNUM (approximately 1912-1914)

The Traynum family participated in the earliest wave of the Great Migration. Talmadge’s grandfather – Robert Traynum Sr. (also shown below in 1916 with his second wife Annie Williams and younger sister Mary Traynum) and his daughter Naomi moved from Anderson County, South Carolina to Toledo, Ohio around 1918-1919, not too long after these pictures were taken.


In 1910 Talmadge, his mother, his grandfather, and his aunt and uncle –  Gertrude and Fletcher Dixon,  along with his cousin Mary, lived in the same household with each other. By 1920 Talmadge was living with his Step-Grandmother – Robert Traynum’s second wife – Annie shown in the picture above (his first wife Elizabeth Greer died around 1900) and with his aunt, uncle, and cousin mentioned above. He also lived next door to the Greer family headed by Willis Greer aged 68. I believe that Willis Greer was Talmadge’s maternal grandfather. So as a child of 12-13 years of age, his mother had moved north.  The extended family tradition, which was already established within his family unit came into play.  He was in the care of a step-grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin to play with and potentially another set of his grandparents next door to look after him. This tradition of the extended family looking out for children of the community is an important, longstanding cultural aspect of black America.

Between the end of the Great Migration and the new Reverse Great Migration, which has seen a huge amount of black Americans moving back down south due to, again, economic opportunities along with the country’s evolution on race and the end of legalized racism, many social conditions have been studied within the demographic that has allowed various people to assume that black Americans are not “family oriented” as a demographic in America.  One of the main statistics cited to prove that black people are not “family oriented” is that of “Out of Wedlock Birthrates” of blacks in America versus white Americans.  Since the 1960s there have been numerous studies and media stories about the damages of  single parent homes and especially of female led single parent homes in the black community.  A sense of nostalgia is shared and claims that “black people were better off” before the 1960s, and especially before the rise of feminism, are frequently mentioned in conversation, and online by both black and non-black individuals.

These people overlook the fact that marriage rates and out of wedlock births have always been higher for black Americans, usually three times higher, for blacks versus whites based in part, on the social conditions of black Americans starting in the early colonial period shared above.    A review of census information from 1850 per reference (1) below indicates that nearly half of black children enumerated lived with only one parent and that those children had a higher rates of living in an extended family situation versus white children.  Talmadge Traynum born in 1907 was born out of wedlock, yet his mother had a rather large support system of extended family, including both male and females who served as care takers and role models in his life as a child.  Due to living with his aunt and uncle, Talmadge benefited  from that traditional  nuclear family.  He also benefited from the relationship with his mother and grandfather.  Steven Ruggles in his work “The Origins of African American Family Structures” showed, based on historical research, that  black families starting in the 1880s, were much more likely to have single parents and live in an extended family situation in comparison to white families.

What is now called the “Reverse Great Migration” began almost immediately after the Great Migration ended in the 1970s.  Due to the defeat of Jim Crow and better economic opportunities, black Americans began moving back to the southern United States in large numbers, primarily to  growing, major metropolitan areas.  This Reverse Great Migration started in an era where focus on out of wedlock birthrates began to be seen as a major factor in a variety of social ills.  I’m sure many have read about all of the negatives that children born to single parents are “at-risk” for including being a criminal and imprisoned, having high drop out rates, being a teen parent, having psychological problems, trapped in a cycle of poverty, and the list could go on and on.   This statistic is used primarily to show that there is a “breakdown” of “the black family” even though historical research shows that single parenting and extended families have always been around in black America and are an embedded part of black culture.

The representation of black children suffering from single parent home, many times overshadows the role of the extended family in the lives of black children.  Per the reference (2) a high degree of extended family and non related kin networks seen in black families causes black single parents and and even married black couples, over all economic classes, to have much better coping mechanisms with dealing with the stresses of raising a family.  Even those who are poor and in an inner city community are much more likely than white single parents to have a large extended family support system that helps with child rearing responsibilities.  This extended family situation in many ways diverts the “at-risk” lists that are frequently written about in media.

Many times, statistics regarding poverty, educational achievements, and crime rates are used as “proof” that black Americans are not focused on family or that family is not an important part of our culture.  Yet people who make these claims fail to realize that poverty for black Americans was nearly 70% in 1960 – today poverty rates are about 25%.  They have declined by nearly 50%.  Educational achievement and high school graduation rates have increased dramatically for black American youth.  In the 1960s only about 50% of blacks had a high school diploma, today young black females graduate at a rate of 86% – equal to that of white America as a whole.  Black males graduate about 68% of the time.  Over 50% of black high school graduates go on to college.  In 2014 over 70% of black high school graduates went on to attend college.  Crime rates have fallen to historic lows since the 1980s and 1990s and especially have within the black demographic.  If the black family was declining or had lost its cultural tradition of upholding the value of an education, then all of the above trends would be worse than they are today.  The strength of the black family over the centuries, including parents, all of our aunties and uncles (shout out to my aunties and uncles who had a huge, positive impact on my own life) and our grandparents and great grandparents and cousins and “play” family have greatly contributed to the upward trajectory of black America since the end of the climax of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the decades since overt oppression and discrimination were lessened to a substantial degree, and this did not occur by any large amount until the 1970s and the enforcement of Fair Housing laws,  the black community and the black family have done well on most statistical factors.  Is there room for improvement – of course, I believe there is always room for improvement.  But the fact that the above statistical factors have improved for black America –  even amid the trials of  increased out of wedlock birthrates, the  final fight to end of a majority of institutional discrimination, the crack epidemic, and the ongoing drug war are a testament to the strength of the black family and the cultural importance of extended familial relationships in black America.



(1) Ruggles, Steven.  “The Origins of the African American Family Structure” American Sociological Review, 1994, Vol 59 (February :136-151)

(2) Wallace Gorum, Jacquelyn.  “Black Single Parent Families:  Coping and Functioning.”