After learning some new information about my dad’s side of the family, I decided to dig into my ancestry, and then write about it.
I am not an investigative reporter, historian, or genealogist. I’m just putting that out there right now. I have found facts about various ancestors in various places, and being someone who likes things a bit more organized, I wanted to bring all the information together to build a linear story.
The facts I’m sharing here are from articles about family members written by historians, facts collected by distant relatives’ research which they shared online, and from a large booklet made by a late great-uncle Bob after he worked with a genealogist. Many of the facts are backed-up by population censuses, military records, and birth and death records, most of which I have found through ancestry.com
So to my knowledge, all of the information that I’m sharing here is accurate, but let’s be real, how can I really know?
Looking into your family can be daunting. Think about it, you are descended from your parents (two people), and your parents parents (four more people), then your parents parents parents (eight people) and so on. The branches go out very far, very fast. Thus the term “family tree”.
Think inverted pyramid scheme, except with relatives.
So for the purposes of my storytelling, I’m telling the stories of the men only, from my dad’s side. So, my dad’s dad, then his dad, then his dad, and so on. I refer to this little series at The Far Left Branch because when I started researching, this collection of people created a branch on my tree in Ancestry.com which leaned over to the left.
Tracking the women back would be super interesting I think, but let’s be real, there aren’t nearly enough facts collected about women historically.
“There are slave graves at the back of the family cemetery in Virginia,” my dad informed me over the phone a few months ago. He had just had a conversation with his cousin Bobbie* about the progress of the landscaping at the family cemetery in Virginia.
It’s not something expect to learn during what you think will be a casual evening chat with your dad.
Allow me to back-up; Around the same time as this jarring phone call, my dad informed me that the Scotts would be gathering in VA on June 22, 2019 to inter my great Uncle Bob Scott and his wife Anne, in the Scott Cemetery. Great Uncle Bob and my Grandad Bill were born in New York, but their parents had both died by the time Grandad was 16. By sixteen my Grandad was already in college, but great uncle Bob was four years younger, and was taken in by Aunt Frances who lived in Rome, NY and was the widow of Robert Garland Scott, William’s brother. Not long after, Frances moved with Bob back to Lynchburg.
I never felt much connection to Virginia since Dad was raised in Switzerland, and Granddad lived in NJ, as did Bobbie and his family, when I was a kid.
After hearing Dad’s words though, the facts came together in a cluster, leading me to mentally smack my palm to my forehead;
• Entire cemetery with your family’s name on it is not typical (we buried my grandad there in 2001 but I don’t recall reflecting on the rarity of it).
• At no time in history, does one have a family-named cemetery without money. A lot of it.
• During this time period (Revolutionary War, Civil War) in the South, money often came from having land, and with land, slaves.
My ancestors owned slaves. And I would come to find out, a lot of them.
I felt shame with this news coupled with a familiar feeling of Why not me? The most pronounced time I felt this was when I was diagnosed as Type One diabetic in 1997. I never felt Why me?, but I did think, why not me? It could happen to anyone. I am not exempt from unfortunate things happening.
The same goes for descending from slave owners. It’s a hideous, deplorable, inhumane part of our country’s history, but it exists, and somebody had come from those people who owned humans.
Why not me? Why not us?
I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Even though I knew it wasn’t my doing. I wondered; if I were alive back then would I find the slave-owning abhorrent? Would I object, even if just in my heart if I couldn’t speak-up as a woman, or would I think nothing of it because it’s just the way things are? I would like to think I would see it as horrid, but if I were alive back then, of course, I’d be a completely different person, wouldn’t I? And who knows who I would be or what I would think of all of it.
These are the thoughts I reflected on in those early weeks of learning about this.
I started looking into my family history. There were a lot of men in those early years (the families had eight or nine kids, and often, the boys outnumbered the girls appreciably). Could I be related to some descendants of slaves? During a commute home from work one day I had a horrible thought and burst into tears wondering if my family members had been in in the KKK. Did my ancestors lynch people?
Dad, it turns out, had a hand-made book that great Uncle Bob had made with the help of a genealogist many years ago. It contained a family tree and information about my ancestors, including a copy of the Last Will and Testament of my fifth great-grandfather, Thomas Scott.
I got on ancestry.com and began digging, and once I had the book, I was able to link many of the facts from both sources.
James “MacGregor” Scott 1679-1773
Starting from our beginning(ish), my family is descended from a Scottish Highlander born in 1679. This is especially fun for me since acquiring a recent obsession with the show Outlander. Great Uncle Bob’s collection of facts reads;
Many Scots came to America having seen their homes destroyed and many of their kinsman killed. Some came in chains, deported by the British government. Perhaps no family was as persecuted as were the MacGregors, who were forbidden to use their last name because they had rebelled so often. Among the members of the Clan MacGregor who sought a new life in America was a certain James MacGregor. Since he could not use his last name, for fear of arrest, he was known as James the Scot. As the years progressed, his neighbors dropped the “the” and he became known as James Scott.
So basically my last name should be MacGregor (head explodes).
Around 1694, James boarded a boat for the Colonies – some accounts say he came with his brother but I cannot find a second account that references him – and left behind the world of pesky political tensions. He may have also been exiled to the Colonies for supporting Charles Edward “Bonnie Prince Charlie” Stuart.
Also on that boat was a girl named Barbara Clan, born around 1685. At nine years old, she lost every family member on that boat to illness.
Around 1708, James, 29, married Barbara, 23, and they had some sons; John in 1710, possibly one other, and my fifth great-grandfather, Thomas, in 1718, in Caroline, VA.
Apparently, James sent Barbara back to England for education, but I cannot imagine when exactly that would have happened. When they were younger and before they married? It’s unclear, but can you imagine taking that boat ride three times?
No thanks, I’ll stick with being a drop-out.
Also according to the numbers I found, James was only fifteen when he came from Scotland to the Colonies. You’re telling me a fifteen-year old was exiled for supporting the wrong leader? I’m not so sure.
Things we do know – James existed, changed his name, traveled from Scotland to the Colonies, settled in Virginia, married Barbara, had my fifth-great granddad Thomas.
I do not know what James did for a living, but somehow in this new world, he seemed to make a handsome one. I do know he lived to be 94, unlike his son Thomas, who died at 60.
Also happening in the area around this time (according to Wikipedia); Siouan peoples occupied this area until about 1702; they had become weakened because of high mortality from infectious diseases. The Seneca people, who were part of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy based in New York, defeated them. The Seneca had ranged south while seeking new hunting grounds through the Shenandoah Valley to the West. At the Treaty of Albany in 1718, the Iroquois Five Nations ceded control of their land east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, including Lynchburg, to the Colony of Virginia; they confirmed this in 1721.
Thomas Scott 1718-1788 (my fifth great-grandfather)
James and Barbara’s son Thomas, at age 24, married Martha Williams, and they had seven boys and one girl (gulp). Between 1851 and 1852, Thomas bought at least 900 and as much as 1400 acres along Mountain Creek, in Amelia County and Prince Edward County, VA.
Here’s one page from Thomas’ Last Will and testament from 1777, one year before he died. In it he talks mostly of bequeathing human beings of all ages to his wife and kids, but there’s also mention of his plantation, 16 cattle and two horses, and this is the only place I’ve found evidence of their life was like (later, I found more detailed accounts of my ancestors and all the things they did to make a living)
“A woman named Dol and her in future increase,” it says. Her children are her increase.
A transcription from the family Bible listed slaves along with their birth dates which was started by James when Thomas was a boy, and continued by Thomas later on, as indicated by a change in penmanship.**
Let me be very clear. I do not list these names with some messed-up pride, or for shock value. I list them because they were humans and I literally do not know what else to do with what I have learned except say their names out loud and acknowledge them in some way. Maybe this is the wrong way. I don’t know.
I wish I knew where that Bible is today, but when your sixth-great-granddad has eight kids, and they have seven or eight, and so-on, who knows where it could be now?
- Judah & Children Ages
- Judah Born June the 20th 1756
- Annah Daughter of the aforesaid Judah Born January 15, 1774
- Silva born the 10th of November 1776
- Luck born the 13th of February 1778
- Kisia born the 10th of March 1784
- Daniel Born the 27th Day of November 1785
- Cloe born the 14th day of February 1791
(My heart hurt at the thought of Luck, listed four people down in the above section, when I saw his name and birthdate, had my suspicions and looked up the day of his birth. He was in fact born on Friday the 13th. Sweet, unlucky Luck.)
- Selah & Children Ages
- Selah Born the 15th of December 1762
- Thos born the 27th Day of January 1778
- Pol born the 25th Day of February 1782
- Betty born the 9th Day of May 1784
- Selah & Pirmele both born the 23rd day of October 1790
- Peg & Children Ages
- Peg born the 20th day of May 1763
- Jenney born the 10th day of November 1782
- Caroline born the 19th day of February 1785
- Nelley born the 14th day of June 1787
- Gil & Childrens Ages
- Gil born the 15th day of November 1751
- Mol born the 15th Day of August 1781
- James born the 2nd day of May 1784
- Cooper born the 18th day of August 1786
- Mical born the 6 day of September 1788
- Gilbert born the 20th day of November 1790
- Margret & Children Ages
- Margret born ___
- David born August 10th 1781
- Peg Born June 14th 1784
- Lida born the 1st day of March 1790
- Mary & Childrens Ages
- Mary Born February 20th 1761
- Abraham born June the 7th 1778″
The following people were to be inherited by Thomas Scott’s children in his Last Will and Testament from 1777. Unless I’ve noted otherwise, the person listed is named as an adult in the Will. The parenthetical are added by me.
- “Black” Glasgow ***
- John (“boy”)
- Sheppard (“boy”)
- “Black” Lucy
- Venus (“girl”)
- Bet (“girl”)
- Charlotte (“girl”)
- Harry (boy)
- Peg (listed above, 8yrs. born the 20th day of May 1763 )
- Nance (girl)
- James (boy)
- Hannah or Annah (possibly Judah’s daughter?)
- Hunter (boy)
- Dave (boy)
- Jane (girl)
- Tenor (woman)
- Lewis (boy)
- Setah (girl)
- Martin (boy)
- Charles (boy)
- Jeffrey (boy)
- Robin (man)
- Lou (woman)
- Judah (listed above, born June the 20th 1756 )
From here I don’t know what else to do except continue to share my family’s history here, in doses, as I learn about it. I suppose I’m not doing it for you, Reader, but for myself. So I have it down all in one place. Eventually I’ll get to Mom’s side which apparently includes a pirate and someone “running away with the circus”.
I did get in touch with the University of Virginia archive department with hopes of making use of the facts I’ve learned, and while my contact told me that many slave descendants have a hard time tracing back to their roots, they didn’t ultimately follow up with me. I take this to mean that since I could find these names online, others can too, and it’s not new information.
I did recently learn about BeyondKin.org so that may be the next place I connect with to see if my info is useful.
*Bobbie goes by Bob but since he and his dad (who is my great uncle) have the same name, and I knew him as Bobbie growing up, that’s what I’m using here.
** Much of the little factoids like the change in penmanship, are from observations others made and documented in family genealogy records.
*** Quotes around the word “black” were not there in the will, I just put them there because Black being added to their name mortifies me, and I wanted to clarify that I was direct-quoting.