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Wills can prove that enslaved people were inherited

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How would you determine if your ancestor inherited enslaved people or actually was enslaved? Wills are a resource that is color blind when it comes to documenting the former slave owner and the enslaved. Sometimes you can track the descendants of former slave owners and learn the names of the enslaved people that they inherited.

Proving Pettus W. Chick owned slaves

It was not possible to tell from the will of Pettus W. Chick (1806-1887) whether or not he had once been a slave owner. His died almost two decades after the end of slavery, so his will did not list enslaved people as property. If you recall, he did provide for people of color in his will: Eliza, Anderson, Pettus, Myra Dawkins, etc. See Uncovering records that link the slaveholder and enslaved.

Whether you are a descendant of a person of color who was formerly enslaved or a descendant of the Chick family who owned slaves, the next best step would be to look among the indexed wills for people with the Chick surname who lived in Union County, South Carolina. This may help determine the parents of Pettus or find the names of enslaved people.

A search among indexed wills turned up Burwell Chick (1776-1847). This was an unfamiliar name, but after locating the actual will, it became obvious that he was the father of Pettus W. Chick:

“Second, I give to my son, Pettus W. Chick, the following negroes to wit, Tom, Hardy, Green, old Sitter patt, Elisa, Jim, Thorton, Tinsley.”

The names of the enslaved people that Burwell divided between his other sons and daughters are named in this will. See Will of Burwell Chick of Greenville.

Having been named in Burwell’s will and with the names of enslaved people he inherited, it is safe to assume Pettus was a slave owner at least as of February 1847. On the 1869 State Census for South Carolina three persons of color with the same names as those inherited by Pettus are living near him: Eliza, Green, and Tinsley.

Is this the same Eliza?

So the question remains: Is the Eliza mentioned in Burwell’s will the same Eliza that Pettus left an inheritance to in his will decades later? There is much information to be found on Burwell Chick and his family, but what might astound African American researchers is that there is also more to discover about Eliza as well.

In the book, Our Father’s Fields: A Southern Story, written by James Everett Kibler, an account of Pettus and Sara Elizabeth Henderson Chick and Sara’s maid, Liza, is given. Liza was supposed to have helped Sara run the Buck Hotel located in Maybinton, Newberry County, South Carolina before the Civil War as well as Chick Springs in Greenville. Alice Dawkins Sims, a slave born before 1850 remembered Sara taking Liza to Chick Springs to help.

Much extensive research is being accomplished in order to determine whether or not this Liza is the same Eliza that lived near the Chick family in 1870 and 1880 who Pettus mentioned in his will.

Next steps

These steps might uncover more:

  1. Descendants of Burwell Chick are beginning to share their history online. It may be helpful to find out if they know more about Eliza.
  2. An historical society was formed for Chick Springs, and they may have resources on Burwell or Eliza: Chick Springs Historical Society.
  3. Check other records generated by Burwell Chick that may reveal more about Eliza (day books, account books, ledgers, bill of sale, etc.).

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand how wills can lead to more information about descendants of slave owners and the enslaved people they inherited. Be sure to subscribe to get the next article by the National Genealogy Examiner.



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