Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 3

Celebrating Black History Month – I did not want February to end without giving recognition to African-Americans in the United States. I hope that by sharing this information I may help someone open the door to their African-American brick wall.

If you missed the first installments, here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Isaac Sims, a Free Man

As seen in the petition drawn up and signed by the residents of Nicholas County, Isaac Sims was considered trustworthy and industrious. He was allowed to reside in Nicholas County where he remained until his death.

Several newspaper articles have been written about Isaac Sims. Some of the information in these articles may have been word of mouth or the storyteller laid it on thick.

Isaac Place On Gauley Settled By Old Slave, a newspaper clipping that was shared with me, does not have a date or name of the newspaper. I believed that it was written before 1951 as it was clipped by Edward Sims (1878-1953), a great-great-grandson of James Sims.  Similar information was found in several articles written by Clarence Shirley Donnelly (1895-1982) in his daily column “Yesterday and Today” for the Beckley Post-Herald.

As the wording of the first article was so similar to Mr. Donnelly’s later writings I searched again for the original source of the information. And I found the same article with a slightly different title, History of “Isaac Place” – A Bit of Pioneer History Relating to Slavery. It was contributed (unknown date) to the Nicholas Republican by A. J. Legg and reprinted in the Raleigh Herald on 4 February 1916. The Nicholas Republican was a weekly paper which started up in 1903. I could not find it on the Newspaper Archives or Chronicling America.

Yesterday Amy from Brotmanblog: A Family Journey wrote this comment:

I do wonder how Isaac managed to obtain the money necessary for emancipation. Did James pay him wages?

I haven’t found documentation to prove this but the pioneer history by A. J. Legg gives a good account of how Isaac (may have) earned the money to buy his freedom.

1916 History of Isaac Place A Bit of Pioneer History Relating to Slavery
The Raleigh Herald (Beckley, West Virginia), Friday February 4, 1916, page 2, column 1 (bottom) and 2 (top). [ : accessed 26 Feb 2015]
I did find one record that confirms that Isaac, when he was still a slave, was allowed to have business dealings. When the storekeeper Mr. Landcraft died his store inventory and appraisal were received and recorded by the Fayette County court at the September 1834 term. Isaac’s account is included on this list, two years before he was emancipated.
[Source: “West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971,” index and images, FamilySearch (,179689902 : accessed 26 February 2015), Fayette > Will book, v. 001 1832-1866 > image 26 of 292; county courthouses, West Virginia.]

On 20 October 1837 Isaac Sims was granted 17 1/2 acres of land in Nicholas County on both sides of the Gauley River.

By 1850 Isaac was seen on the census in the household of James Sims’ son-in-law Mathew Hughes, widower of Margaret Sims. Next to Isaac’s name in parenthesis is the word Free. His real estate, the 17 1/2 acres he was granted in 1837, are valued at $87.

1850 U.S. Federal Census > Virginia > Fayette > 43rd District > Sheet No. 371A > HH #407-407 []
In 1855 Isaac bought several items at the estate sale of Joseph McNutt. Sadly, also on McNutt’s inventory were Isaac’s children George Addison and Harriett Jane. The estate items sold are found following the inventory however the fate of Isaac’s children is not mentioned. Tradition is (also seen in article above) that they were bought by Robert L. Neil, husband of Jenetta McNutt, a daughter of Joseph McNutt.
[Source: “West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971,” index and images, FamilySearch (,179689902 : accessed 26 February 2015), Fayette > Will book, v. 001 1832-1866 > image 273 of 292; county courthouses, West Virginia.]

In 1860 and in 1870 Isaac Sims was listed on the census in his own household. He did not have anyone living with him. In 1870 he was listed as a mulatto instead of a black person as seen in 1850 and 1860. His real estate was valued at $1000 in 1860 and $500 in 1870; his personal estate was valued at $200 in 1860 and $400 in 1870.

Isaac Sims died before 9 Jun 1875 leaving a last will and testament in which he lists more land that he acquired after the 17 1/2 acres in 1837. He left the land to Robert L. Neil in exchange for his supporting Isaac’s granddaughter Rebecca Jane (Sims) Johnson. He also named Mr. Neil his executor. I have not transcribed or extracted all facts from the will.
[Source: “West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971,” index and images, FamilySearch (,179686002 : accessed 26 February 2015), Nicholas > Will book, v. 001 1820-1899 > image 90 of 158; county courthouses, West Virginia. and
“West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971,” index and images, FamilySearch (,179686002 : accessed 26 February 2015), Nicholas > Will book, v. 001 1820-1899 > image 91 of 158; county courthouses, West Virginia.]

Rebecca Jane Sims, daughter of one of Isaac’s two children, was raised in the Robert L. Neil family. She was listed as a mulatto on the 1870 census in his household. She married David Johnson on 1 May 1874. It is possible that the 5 year old mulatto child named Myrta E. Johnson, living in the Robert L. Neil household in 1880, was the daughter of Rebecca Jane who died in childbirth on 1 November 1878 as reported by her neighbor Robert L. Neil.

I have not been able to locate Rebecca’s husband in 1880 or later. No trace of Myrta E. Johnson, who I believe was Isaac’s great-granddaughter, has been found.

Hopefully, if Tom, Juda, George, Jinncy, Jude, Fanny, July Hulen, Robert and Isaac Sims’ lines did not die out, a descendant will find this and be able to fill in the missing pieces in their family tree.

My blog sister True A. Lewis of NoTe’s To MySeLf… commented on my post:

“It’s Honorable to do… You’re RELEASING their Names and their Souls for their Descendants to hopefully find them one day. Every time this Happens they are Rejoicing. They have been in a book or what have you for so long.”

True’s statement about this being honorable may change people’s minds about sharing what they might be ashamed of.

© 2015 Cathy Meder-Dempsey

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

24 thoughts on “Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 3”

  1. Cathy, I really appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into researching your Sims ancestry! Thanks again for writing it all up, especially Isaac’s story. I’m sure my Nicholas County ancestors knew him or at least knew of him. I’ll share here a video from the West Virginia Archives and History YouTube channel of a January lecture on Slavery and Free People of Color by Greg Carroll. I really learned a lot from it and maybe it can also help others who find your posts and are looking for more info on their ancestry:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cathy, this has been so Good. Mr. Issac’s character reminds me so much of who I lovingly call my Ol’Slave Granddaddy Ike. Ike (Issac) Ivery. He’s the center of all of my Blogs. He was upstanding and his Character was full. Even buying land in 1912. It does make you wonder how industrious they were after Slavery? I loved also how Mr. Legg says he deserves to be a Pioneer of this County! Spot on. All the Sims European and African should be Proud of this body of work you were able to bring To the Table for all to see. I’m comforted knowing they all, both sides have their Place in the Genealogy Community. I Thank You. I’m endeared to the sentiment we talked about “Releasing” and this being “Honorable” work and you sharing that with the Community, and being my “Blog Sister”. I tip my hat to you Girly- My Blog Sister. Job Well Done. Someone will be Blessed for this Piece.


    1. I am at a loss of words. Your Ol’Slave Granddaddy Ike definitely had a part in this. Everytime I read his name in your blog I would think of (my) Isaac. It was your sharing Nikka Smith’s post about “slavecestors” that made me want to share. Thank you True, my blog sister!


  3. These are really important documents of American history. You are so generous to share them. Isaac was quite a remarkably resourceful and intelligent man, and you have preserved his name and his story. Thank you.


  4. Superbly done, Cathy! Thanks so much for this valuable information as well as the work that went into collecting it. What a wonderful picture it paints of our ancestors and the lives they led. I believe it shows that although James Sims was a slave owner, the reduction of the number of slaves he owned as well as his plan to free James demonstrate that the odious institution of slavery was losing it’s appeal even to those that were participants in it. I have heard that it was not uncommon to find free blacks that owned “slaves,” that were actually family members they had purchased after obtaining their own freedom. I don’t see anything in the information presented here to indicate Isaac succeeded in obtaining a similar condition for his children, but he did stay close by where he was undoubtedly able maintain relationships with them. Another thought that occurred to me, and may have you as well, was that “the said Isaac was born my [James Sims]
    slave,” that his welfare and the welfare of his children was regarded more highly than other slaves owned by James Sims, that he was granted his freedom upon payment/death of James Sims, and that he was documented as mulatto in the 1870 census, that Isaac may have been the illegitimate offspring of James. If my math is correct, James would have been about 39 a the time of Isaac’s birth. Just a thought, and one I don’t suppose would ever by provable – but there is certainly circumstantial evidence to cause one to wonder.

    Thanks again for an outstanding job commemorating Black History Month.


    1. I have wondered why he chose to sell his slaves and/or perhaps gave them to his children – there is no will bequeathing them – when he went to such great lengths to free Isaac. The only possibility I see to prove/disprove that he may have been James’ son would be to find a descendant of his granddaughter Rebecca and have DNA testing done. The wording “the said Isaac was born my [James Sims] slave” would mean that Isaac’s mother had to have been owned by James.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to post a comment.


      1. I didn’t realize till just now that the name posted was my WordPress moniker. I should have completed my comments with,

        “Greetings from Oklahoma! And best wishes,
        Tim Hughes”

        That way my comments would have had a little more context!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. AND BTW, if you’ve been watching “Genealogy Roadshow” on PBS, they have been using DNA with families they’ve been studying to do just that. In shows I’ve watched they have linked up several black and white families, mostly from the south, with common ancestry – based on DNA.


    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read all three parts and I have to agree with everyone else. Well done! I have two ancestors who had slaves and I’ve always wondered what to do with the information.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Re: William Jennings Benjamin Aldridge 5 Nov 1896, corrections should be noted; his name was William Jennings Bryan Aldridge & his wife’s name was Velda Maurie Harger.


      2. Thank you Lorie for that correction. Actually the information on his full (correct) name is in his mother’s notes. I have not gotten around to working with the information I have there. I appreciate your getting in touch with me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.