Where are the Randolphs: A Surnaming Question
Presenter: Arthur L. Thomas
Place: Ohio Academy of History --- University of Dayton
Date: April 9-10, 1999
As a youngster growing up in Piqua, Ohio I heard in passing about a group of people called the "Randolph slaves". It was somewhat of a "negative" experience to be associated as a "Randy", after all they were slaves. My people, my relatives, could never have been connected to anyone from that group. The time period we're speaking of was from the early 1940's until I left Piqua in 1952 to attend college. This feeling of superiority and negativity continued perhaps until I became interested in Genealogy and AA history, and in particular my home area, the Miami Valley.
As my family history unveiled Free Persons of Color in the area as early as 1813, the Federal Census records beginning in 1820 became a valuable tool in developing family relationships and groupings. The surnames of Brown, Lee, Jones, Johnson, Rial and Crowder among many others began to appear as "collateral families" within my ever growing database. Who were these people and where did they come from?
Sometime later I ran across a list of the "Randolph Slaves", only a number and a first or given name. These were individuals freed in the spring of 1846 by the Will of John Randolph of Charlotte County, Virginia. This Will had been contested in the Virginia courts from 1833 at the time of John Randolph's death until final settlement in 1846.
These given names kept "popping up" in my family structures from the 1850 thru 1920 Census searches. Researching vital records for Miami and Shelby Counties, marriage from the early 1800's, birth and death records from 1864 to the present, the connections between the "Randolph Slaves" and families I had known of all my life became "one and the same'. It then struck me "Why so few Randolph's"? After all, everyone knows, or should know, that former Slaves took their surname from that of the master.
I then obtained from the "Book of Registers of Free Negroes and Mulattoes" from Charlotte County, Virginia an abstact of those persons freed from 6 Jun 1794 to 4 Apr 1865. This list numbered from #1 to #931. This abstract contained in addition to a registartion number, a given name, date emancipated, age at date of emancipation, complexion, height, weight and any other identifying features or characteristics. There was also some familial relationships, husband, wife, son, daughter, niece and nephew. This clearly established multiple family groupings within the "Randolph Slave group" which were are least recognized by the Randolph's and the registering agent. Those freed by the will of John Randolph numbered from #215 thru #596, a total of 380+ individuals.
Matching the "Freedom List" to the 1850 Cenusus records for Miami & Shelby for Negroes and Mulattoes by given name, age and relationship (family structure) the former slaves were THERE in family groups. Marriage records for Miami & Shelby Counties revealed unions that had taken place between 1846 and 1850. But, again not as many Randolph's as one would suspect.
It has been suggested by "slave researchers" that the slaves used a "surnaming system" among themsleves for keeping track of relatives who had been separated from their families. The surname taken may have been that of a former master, a color, a trade, a location. In addition, the surnaming patterns probably carried significant weight in the mating process. As a matter of fact,slave genealogy, more often follows a matriarchal pattern. Motherhood was pretty certain, Fatherhood during Slavery not so certain. This is fairly obvious when noting the complexion of the children to that of their listed parents on the Randolph Slave Register. Complexions ranged from a descriptive "very bright, nearly white" to black within some family groupings.
Research of Free Persons of Color in Virginia and along the Eastern Shore of Maryland from the late 17th century through the mid 19th century which consisted of 53% of the Black population reflected many surnames not found among the larger caucasian population.
A 1993 article in the Daily Press by Judith Hare "Seeking Progeny of Freed Slaves" of a Vriginian, Richard Carter III (1728-1824), who freed the largest number of slaves in a single action 70 years before the Civil War (485) had not yet uncovered a single "Carter" descendant from that Manumission action.
Chas. Blockson in a 1984 Nat'l Geographic article uses the figure of 20% for former slaves using the surname of the last slavemaster.
Herbert G.Gutman devoted a chapter in his work "The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925" on the surnames of former slaves and he states that less than 15% used the surname of their last slavemaster.
Two studies cited in the "African American Genealogical Sourcebook", one in South Carolina of former slaves found 17% chose the name of their last master, 46% used a surname unlike that of their last master, and 37% of the choices were for unclear reasons. A different study of former Alabama and Louisana slaves indicated that 71% chose the name of their most recent owner, 2% used the name of a previous master, and 27% chose a name not traceable to a past owner. Even after a name was chosen, it was often recorded differently at various times due to the low level of literacy and variations in spelling.
A distribution of the 383 "Randolph slaves" by Leonard U. Hill taken in 1970 of the 1850 Census reflects 266 in Miami County (67 Piqua & Springcreek Twp. 33 Troy, 39 Newbern Twp., 36 Newton Twp., 91 Union Twp.).
Another 43 have been located in Shelby County, a total of 309. A few others have been located in Darke, Mercer, Champaign and Logan County. All surnames including Randolph are in that count and the % of family groups, Randolph's, seems to verify the Blockson & Gutman figures.
It has also been suggested that John Randolph did not particpate in the buying or selling of slaves. But remember, he inherited most of his slaves and therefore had no say in how they were accumulated prior to his inheritance. In addition, it was thirteen years between his death and the final disposition of his slaves. What were the practices prior to his inheritance and following his death?
Our next presenter, Mr. John Kleek, will show at least one group from the 1850 Miami County Census (#295 Abel & # 296 Anakey) along with their children #'s 297 thru #307, their ancestor (Frederick), and his family matched the "Freedom Register" by name, age and relationship. Where did the name Johnson come from? Why not Randolph? How were the Johnson's distingushable from the Jeffersons, Clay's, White's, Green's, Davis's and Harris's ?
In conclusion, it appears from my 1850 Census review of the Miami Valley counties that some surnaming pattern existed for the group know as "Randolph Slaves" prior to their gaining freedom in 1846. A name, an identity, is something sacred and cherished by the individual and even slavery did not strip one of the necessity to chose an indentity.
Thank you for your attention.
Paper presented at the Spring Meeting of the Ohio Academy of History University of Dayton, April 10, 1999.