DISCOVERY: Slave Name Roll Project

Thank you Miss Donna of “Daughter of Slave Ancestry” for this wonderful post. It nearly brought tears to my eyes and made my heart beat faster. And when I saw the image she used I was blown over!! It shows that she knows exactly what Opening Doors in Brick Walls means to me.

Daughter of Slave Ancestry

The 1870 brick wall is no less surmountable in cyberspace than it is in the analog archives of today’s courthouses. Court records from times past divulge varieties of slave/slaveholder relationships. Knowing the records exist is not the same as locating and examining them for myself. I do realize this problem is not exclusive to African Americans. But the fact still remains that it is more difficult due to the fact that my enslaved ancestors were considered chattel property; and, prior to 1870, they had no surnames. And even their given names are inconsistently recorded in the census records that followed.

Some have managed to scramble over their brick walls — only to find . . . yet another. Then what do we do? We dust ourselves off and rescale to the other side to devise another way.

Insurmountable? Maybe. Impenetrable? Not if Cathy Meder-Dempsey and Schalene Jennings Dagutis have anything…

View original post 311 more words

Introducing the Slave Name Roll Project

My series of posts for Black History Month on the slaves owned by my 5th
great-grandfather James SIMS 1754-1845 gave Schalene Jennings Dagutis of
Tangled Roots and Trees the wonderful idea of creating a Slave Name Roll Project.

Please read her post Introducing the Slave Name Roll Project for more information.

True's statement

My series of posts:

Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 1
Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 2
Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 3

© 2015 Cathy Meder-Dempsey

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

Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 2

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 installment, go here.

Isaac Sims, a Slave

James Sims to Isaac Sims Deed

By March 1836 James Sims had disposed of all his real and personal estate including his slave property except for his Negro man Isaac who he intended to emancipate and set free. The steps he took were not as easy as one would think.

James had a deed drawn up detailing the conditions. Isaac had to pay James $150 in three instalments of $50 for his freedom. This sounds like a lot however he continues to note that if he (James) should die before all three instalments were paid Isaac would not have to pay the rest. Further if Isaac should die before him then James would use the monies received for Isaac’s children who were mentioned in this document as was their deceased mother Emily.

MRIN02312 1836-03-09 James Sims to Isaac Sims 1MRIN02312 1836-03-09 James Sims to Isaac Sims 2MRIN02312 1836-03-09 James Sims to Isaac Sims 3 cropped“1836 James Sims to Isaac Sims
(note in margin “Delivered to Isaac Sims Sept. 9th 1842”)

Know all men by these presents that I James Simms Sr. of the County
of Nicholas and State of Virginia having heretofore made my last
Will and Testament in which I have disposed of all my Estate real
and personal including my slave property except one slave ….
my Negro man Isaac which said Negro slave Isaac I heretofore
intended to emancipate and set free according to the laws of this
Commonwealth upon certain Conditions thereafter to be mentioned
and put to writing. Now this Instrument of writing Witnesseth
that in Consideration of the premises and for others ……
good causes moving me thereto. I do hereby and by virtue and force of these
presents emancipate and set free forever my aforesaid Negro slave Isaac upon
the following condition to wit that is to say that the said Isaac causes to be
paid to me one hundred and fifty dollars good and lawful money of Virginia
fifty dollars of which is to be paid in hand which said fifty dollars is this
day paid to me and the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged fifty dollars
of which the said Isaac shall cause to be paid on or before the 1st day of
April 1836 and fifty dollars the last payment thereof the said Isaac
shall cause to be paid to me on or before the first day of May 1836 and
it is furthermore agreed to on my part and which I hereby in addition
to the foregoing make known that in the event of my death before the
payment of the fifty dollars which is next due after the date of this writing
that then and in that case the said fifty dollars nor the aforesaid fifty
dollars the last instalment or payment above mentioned nor either of
said payments or instalments shall be required or exacted by my heirs,
Executors, administrators or assigns nor shall they or either of them
cause the said Isaac to pay either of said payments or instalments of fifty
dollars nor shall his failure to pay the same in any manner affect or
do away with the force of these presents in emancipating and setting free
the said Isaac after my death according to the laws of this Commonwealth
now in force. And it is furthermore agreed to on my part that in the
event of my death after the payment to me of the aforesaid fifty dollars
which next becomes due after the date of this writing as above mentioned
that then and in that case the last payment or instalment of fifty dollars
the said Isaac shall be exempt from the payment of in the same manner
and to the same effect as I have exempted him from the payment of the
fifty dollars which first becomes due as is mentioned and set forth in the
preceding paragraph. And it is furthermore agreed upon my part
that in the event of the death of the said Isaac before my death that then
and in that case I do hereby promise and agree that any money or monies
or payments which the said Isaac may cause to be made paid to me
or which may have been in any way paid to me on account of the promises
shall be appropriated by me or my heirs Executors ? in cause of my
death, in the following manner: That is to say that whereas the said Isaac
has two children named George Addison and Harriett Jane by his wife
Emily now dead and owned in her life time by Joseph McNutt
and feeling a natural love and affection for his aforesaid children and wishing
to provide for the comfort and happiness of the same I do hereby
promise and agree as before mentioned to appropriate the money
paid to me after his death that happening before mine as above
stated to such use or uses for the benefit of the above named children
of the said Isaac as will best promote their spiritual and temporal
welfare agreeable to their condition and character in this state and
according to the Laws and usages of this Commonwealth. To the
true performance of the above I do hereby bind myself my
heirs Executors Administrators
as witness my hand and seal this 19th day of March 1836
James Sims
Joseph McNutt
John Huddleston
Bernard Hendrick

I have this day received this full consideration
in good and lawful money cald for in this foregoing Instrument of
writing as witness my hand & Seal
James Sims
Joseph McNutt
John Huddleston
Bernard Hendrick”

Isaac Sims Manumission Letter

Below the “Information” sign at the Nicholas County Courthouse in Summersville, West Virginia, there is a framed letter written by James Sims freeing his slave named Isaac.

Isaac Simms emancipation
Photo © Rock Foster. Used with permission.

Sims Manumission Letter-1836

Know all men by these presents that I James Sims
of the County of Nicholas in consideration of a large
sum of money paid to me by my slave Isaac
as for the additional considerations of his fidelity
to me I have on this day manumitted and let
him the said Isaac free. To remain and continue
from hence forward to all intents and purposes
entirely free and discharged from servitude to
me my heirs and assigns forever. And for the purpose
of removing any difficulty as to the identity of the said
Isaac and to enable him to enjoy his Freedom in
the most absolute and perfect manner. I also hereby
certify and state that the said Isaac was born my
slave, that he has resided with me up to this date
that he is very black, his stature about five feet
five inches, of slender make and about forty three
years old, that he has had his right leg broken
just above his ankle. In testimony whereof I
have hereto set my hand and seal this 26th day of
September 1836.
                                                       James Sims
in the presence of
Andrew M. Dickinson
Joseph McNutt
John Huddleston
Edward Rion
Bernerd Hendrick
John Hill”

Petition to Grant Residence to Isaac Sims

Nicholas County residents signed a petition to the Legislature of Virginia to grant permanent residence to Isaac Sims. The original can be found in the archives division of the Virginia State Library. It reads as follows:


To the Legislature of Virginia

Your Petitioners humbly represent that JAMES SIMS
of the County of Nicholas has recently emancipated ISAAC
a blackman who is desirous of remaining in the Commonwealth,
your Petitioners represent that there are but very few
slaves in the County of Nicholas not exceeding sixty –
nor is there more than one other coloured person in the
County who is free — your Petitioners further state the
said black man ISAAC is an exceedingly honest industrious
and useful man addicted to no vicious habits whatsoever,
but peaceful & inoffensive & meek in all his intercourse
& business with the country — your Petitioners would be
truly gratified should this Legislature in its wisdom think
proper to grant his application — your Petitioners are
well convinced that no mischief can result to the country
by doing so and as a precedent in this part of the state
nothing of evil is to be apprehended.

Saml Price                              David Mays
John H. Robinson                 William Sims
E. S. Duncan                          Robert Hughes Jr
Johnson Reynolds               Edward Sims Jr
Benj. H. Smith                       Jeremiah Sims
P. B. Wethered                       Martin Sims
John McWhorter                   Co. John Sims
Ro Hamilton                          Anderson Sims
L. D. Wilson                           Charles Sims
Addison McLaughlin         William Morris
John McDermott                   Joshua Morris
Thomas Miller                      John H. Morris
Jacob D. McClain                  Thomas Elliott
Thm. Hill                                Aron Loyd
Mathew Hughes                   G. C. Landcraft
Charley Reynolds                William Sims
Robert Hill                              Edward Rion
Harrison A. Low                  William R. Summers
George Reynolds                  Edward Campbell
Andrew Odle                         George Rader Sr
John Kincaid                          John Foster
James Nichols                       Jas. G. Murray
James Walkub                       James Bryant
William Hamrick                 G. W. Grose
John Dunbar                          David Bare
Robert McCutchen               Lemasters Stephenson
William Miller                      Jacob C. Chapman
Allen Ewing                           John Groves
Jacob Drennen                       John G. Stephenson
Joseph Darlington               Jacob Chapman
J. D. Sutton                              Michael Rader
J. M. Alderson                        John Linch
J. McClung                              Andre Skidmore
James R. Henderson           Isaac Gregory
James a. Walker                    Fielding McClung
R. Duffield                              Abner Stephenson
Seth Thayer                            Wm. Bell
Thomas Legg                         Cortes Stephenson
Joshua Stephenson              John Rader
Wm. D. Cottle                        J. G. Neel
Samuel Nichols                    T. B. Thomas
Joel Hamrick                          Alexander Grove
David Stuart                          James Simany
Jefferson Grose                      Joseph McClung
(?) Dorsey                                Daniel Falkler
J. Warren                                Henry (?)
Richard A. Arters                 William Chapman
William Taylor                     David Moore
Wilson Arters                        David R. Hamilton
Philip Duffy                           Moses Hill
R. Kelly                                   Ira Davis
Elij. Lightner                          Jacob Odell
James Lightner                      Wm. Hughs
James Kelly                            Wm. Bryant
J. M. Hamilton                       George Fitzwatters
John McCue                           Andrew Neil
John McClung                       Robert Neil
S. A. Hamilton                      Samuel Hutchison
Edward McClung                George Hardweg
Nathan Groves                     John Morris
Peter Duffy                             John Duffy
J. McMillian                           B. L. Boggs
Wm. Livesay                          M. A. Triplett
Jacob Hutchison                   William M. Boggs
David Hanna                        John Trout
David Peebles                        James Grose
Adam Given                          Robert Keenan
Elverton T. Walker               Isaac Fitzwater
Thomas M. Fitzwater         Nathaniel Hughes
Thomas B. Morris                Hiram S. Marsh
W. Summers Sr.                    S. Backhouse
Henry Morris                         Jos. Montgomry
John Smith                             L. C. Buster
Thomas T. Marton               Thos. Hawkins
Peter Coleman                       Thos. Hines
John Backhouse                    Cyrus Hedge
William Bird                          John Slack
Cornelius Dorsey                 James B. Cole
Pascal Backhouse               Austin McCorgil
Joseph Backhouse                Nathan Huddleston
Jeremy G. Odel                      William Kincaid
Joseph Backhouse                James Settle
William Hillard                    Bolen Ballenger
William Smith                      John Johnson Jr.
Bernard Hendrick                James Likens
Mathew Kaincaid              John P. Huddleston
John Dorsey                           W. Tyree
John Fitzwater                       Hiram Curry
John Dorsey Sr                      P. Keenan
Dryden Sims                          E. Hutson
Hudson N. Dickenson       Henry Montgomery
Miles Hansen                        John Huddleston
Jas. H. Miller                          John Hill
P. W. Buster                            Joseph Huddleston
Pleasant Hawkins               Henry Tritt
Seaton B. Prowsy                  William Huggins
James B. Murray                   Robert Huggins
James J. Sims                         Robert Heuse
(Name Illegible)                    John Heuse
Leonard Cury                        S. A. Masterson
William Johnson                  Joseph W. Nutt
Jno. McNutt                            Jno. Carton
F. T. Hughes                           Adam Johnson
Fenton McMorrow               Wm. Kelly
Job Huddleston                     Taswell W. Hues
Nelson Sims                          Andrew Kenan
Joseph Reams                        (?) Price
Francis Cincaid                    E. R. Hutchison
William Loyd                        Joseph Young
Thos. S. Buster                       Edda Young
Moses Coleman                    William Martin
T. B. Hamilton                       Thos. L. Lewis
John Kincaid                          Wm. Myles
Thos. J. Huddleston            William Kincaid Jr.
John Johnson                         Gataspher Kincaid
Me_?_ J. Conly                      Benjamin Darlington
Levi B. Murrey                       H_?_ Long
Edward Hughs                     Joel Alexander
Joshua Foster
[Source: Webster County Historical Society, Nicholas County, (West) Virginia Records of the Pioneers, 1818-1860. Upper Glade, West Virginia, Webster County Historical Society, Inc., 1985. 929.3 N597w.]

Isaac Sims, a Free Man

continued in Part 3…..

© 2015 Cathy Meder-Dempsey

Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 1

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.

My 5th great-grandfather James Sims (1754-1845) of Nicholas County, (West) Virginia was a former slaveholder at the time of his death. Over a dozen years ago I had the privilege to work with several other researchers who shared their information and documentation that I used to write a detailed biography for James SIMS in 2002.

James, born in Culpeper County, reportedly brought eighteen slaves with him to Nicholas County (then Kanawha County) when he moved there from Bath County, Virginia, sometime around 1798-1800. The number may be exaggerated as he had 5 slaves in 1810, 9 slaves in 1820, 5 slaves in 1830, and 1 in 1840.

The known names of nine slaves owned by James SIMS are:

Tom, Juda and George

Jeremiah SIMS, the father of James SIMS, wrote his will on 4 March 1768, it was probated on 18 August 1768 in Culpeper County, Virginia. In his will he left one half of his estate to his wife Agatha and the other half to his son James. There was no mention of slaves in the will however the inventory returned to the court on 19 October 1769 listed:

One Negro man Tom £60. One negro Woman Juda & her child George £70

The slaves were valued at £130. The entire inventory totaled £195 making Tom, Juda, and George the most valuable part of Jeremiah’s estate.


John Nalle, the maternal grandfather of James Sims, wrote his will on 16 September 1780. It was probated in Culpeper County, Virginia, on 19 August 1782, and mentions amongst his legatees his daughter Agatha Hill, wife of Russell Hill and widow of Jeremiah Sims, and mother of James Sims.

“Item. I Lend to my daughter Agatha Hill half the Service of a Negro Woman named Jinncy During my Daughters life the other half of the said Negroes Service to my Grandson James Sims from the time of My Daughters marriage to Russel Hill, and after My Daughters Descease I give the Said Negro Woman Jinncy and her Increase to my Grandson James Sims to him and his Heirs for Ever also Ten Shillings to my Daughter Agatha Hill and her Heirs for Ever.”
[Source: Culpeper County, Virginia Will Book B, pg. 519.]

Jude and Fanny

William Griffee Brown in his History of Nicholas County, West Virginia (Dietz Press, 1954, 425 pages) mentions on pgs. 165-166 while discussing the Bethel Methodist church that he owned an old class-book dated 1821 which includes the names of members of the class in 1821 including black Jude and black Fanny, slaves of the Sims family. James Sims “brought the first negro slaves to Nicholas County” according to Mr. Brown on pg. 30. Note: Jude and Fanny were “slaves belonging to William Simms,” a son of James Sims.

July Hulen and her mother

Lawrence M. Huddleston, author of The Huddlestons My Kin had in his possession the original bill of sale from James Sims to John Huddleston for the slave July Hulen when June Settle Ciocca visited him at home in 1990. At the time she did not realize her relationship to James Sims. On 9 February 2002 in an e-mail in which she shared the photo of this bill of sale, she wrote: “Larry told me that James Sims had previously sold July Helen’s mother to the Huddlestons and that both mother and daughter were so heart-broken, he agreed to sell them the child also. Larry had no children and my understanding is that his immense genealogical collection was donated to the archives in Charleston. I would assume that is where this document can now be found.”

MRIN02312 1833 Sims bill of sale for slave

Robert Sims

Clarence Shirley Donnelly (1895-1982) wrote in his column “Yesterday and Today” in the Beckley-Post Herald:

“Isaac’s brother, Robert Simms, ‘flew the coop,’ as a saying of that day had it. Keeping his eye on the north star as he traveled at night, he reached Canada and freedom.”

Isaac Sims, a Slave

continued in Part 2….

© 2015 Cathy Meder-Dempsey