Monday, June 20, 2016

Finding Precilla - Uncovering the Life of My Formerly-Enslaved Great-Grandmother

I’ve been working to uncover the details of the life of my formerly-enslaved great-grandparents, Calvin and Precilla YARBOROUGH, since I "officially" began my research, in 1997. It took some time, but after numerous visits to courthouses, libraries, and the NC State Archives, I was finally able to first determine their status as formerly enslaved (2007), and then to piece together some of the data to create a timeline of Calvin's life. In the course of doing this work, I’ve been on the lookout for any information about the origins of, my great grandmother, Precilla, but it’s been tough to track her down, because I’ve never found any definitive records of her existence, before the 1866 Cohabitation Record, which is the document that confirmed for me that she and Calvin had, indeed, been enslaved.

Click here to read an earlier post about my search for Precilla.

Today, while doing some cleaning, I ran across an old legal pad filled with notes from a July 23, 2008 visit to the NC State Archives. It’s was fun to flip through the pages of the pad, reading my plan for the research trip, and recalling the celebratory moments when I was able to confirm, strike off, or add information to my growing body of research. (This was also when I found my great-grandfather’s last owner!)
Yep -- This is what my research used to look like!
Anyway, after I’d read all the way through the pages of the pad, I decided to go back and make some notations, just in case there was something I needed to review on my next visit to the Archives (which will be in three days!).  While reading this paragraph on the second page of the notepad, I had an “ah-ha” moment.

Several years ago, after I’d gathered a significant amount of information about Great-Grandpa Calvin’s former owners (and a little about whom I suspected Precilla’s to be), I noticed that perhaps my great-grandparents had purposefully left clues about their time of enslavement, in the names they chose for their children. (See notes about this on the timeline.) 
I’d long-since interpreted the middle name of their son, Henry King Yarborough, to be a clue that Priscilla was once owned by the prominent (wealthy) KING family of Franklin County, NC, but I hadn’t found any connection for his first name. (I did, however, note that there was a “Henry” in the lot of slaves that my grandfather was bestowed to his last owner with.) Well, today, I realized that in the paragraph, above, I’d noted that William Richmond KING owned a slave named “Priciller”, and I’d jotted this question to myself, back in 2008: “What year did W.R. King die? Realizing that I’d never answered my own question, I set out, today, to do so.

Upon searching for William Richmond King (on ancestry.com), I found my answer, right away. He died on March 6, 1888, well after the Civil War and the end of slavery. Knowing that, I can surmise that, unless there was a reason for him to have sold Precilla, it’s probable that she remained with (or connected to in some way) the King family until emancipation.

I’d also posed another question in this section of my notes: “Did Joel King leave her (Precilla) to Sarah?  I think what I meant to ask was if William, Jr. ended up leaving Priscilla to (his sister) Sarah, but the point is, I was trying to figure out if my ancestor had eventually ended up belonging to Sarah.

But, who is Sarah, you might ask? Well, Sarah is Sarah Helen King, who married Robert John SHAW, thus making her Sarah Helen SHAW

And, why was I asking if perhaps Joel William had left (or given) my great-grandmother to this Sarah? Well, because if you take a look at what Priscilla named her first daughter – BOO-YAH! Sarah H. Yarborough. (I presume the H to be Helen.) 

Oh! And, what surname did Pricilla give to the clerk, in 1866, when she and Calvin went to register their cohabitation as man and wife? Precilla SHAW, that’s what!
Cohabitation Records, Franklin County, 1866: North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC
Sooooo…. long ago in the days before errr-thang was on the internet, I began to put these findings together, and I deduced that there was a high degree of likelihood that my great-grandmother, Precilla, had been owned by the KING family of Franklin County, and that perhaps she had somehow ended up with the daughter of that family, Sarah Helen King Shaw, at some point prior to emancipation. Even if Precilla was never actually owned by Mrs. Shaw, it’s possible to imagine that perhaps there was an admiration for this daughter of her owner, which led Precilla to want to honor her by naming her first daughter after her.
This very worn and scribbled upon page is from the front of the reunion booklet from the first-ever YARBOROUGH Family Reunion (descendants of Calvin and Precilla), held in 1993. This was where my interest in family history began. I do have a photo of an actual page in the family bible (shown) has all of these names written, but I can't find it at this time.

An additional finding which strengthens my hunch that Precilla must’ve been close to (or owned by) Sarah King is this: Sarah’s first child – a daughter- is named Josephine. Little Josephine and my great-grandmother, Precilla, were born within a year of each other (1838-1839), which makes me suspect that they must’ve grown up, adoring (?)playmates, which would make total sense of the fact that my great-grandmother named her fourth daughter, Josephine

This brings me back to today…
Since I know that Sarah Shaw’s daughter, Josephine, and my great-grandmother, Precilla, were close in age, and may have grown up together, I needed to see if the two girls lived in close enough proximity for that to be true. Well, I struck gold, again, as hit after hit continued to support my theories about Precilla’s pre-emancipation background.
As it turns out, Robert John Shaw (Sarah’s husband) died in June, 1847, leaving her a widow, with six children. Three years later, in the 1850 Census, we find Sarah and her children enumerated in the household just after her father's, with her five children, including Josephine (who is recorded as being 14, but according to all other records found, she should have been 11). And, right next door (most likely on the same property), is her brother, Dr. William R. King, who is shown on the 1850 Slave Census as being the owner of a 12 year old girl, who is (quite likely) Precilla. (Sarah, herself, owns 13 and 9 year old girls. This group of girls probably all worked and played together.)
This 1850 Census shows Sarah living next door to what looks like her brother, William, age 35. However, in the image, below, it appears to be her father, William, Sr. (age 65) in the same location.  Either way, Sarah is back home on her family's property, with her children.

Ancestry.com. 1850 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.

If my thinking is on track (and I believe it is), this research gives a LOT of support to my theory that the Pricilla who was willed to William Richmond King, by his father, Joel King, in 1853 is my great-grandmother, Precilla Shaw Yarborough. What remains to be determined/explored/proven is why she ended up giving the SHAW surname on her cohabitation record, in 1866. However, since we know that the formerly-enslaved were allowed to use any surname they chose, my guess is that even if she was never owned by Sarah Shaw, my great-grandmother had a certain affection and respect for her, and because of that, she chose to give SHAW as her surname. This would, perhaps, further support what I was told by a descendant of the SHAW family, many years ago, when I first began to formulate these ideas. I’d reached out to this fellow researcher to see if he had anything that might lead me to my Precilla. He didn’t, but he did tell me that it was passed down in their family lore that "Sarah Shaw felt a lot of affection for her slaves, and they for her".  At that time, I wasn’t really trying to hear that, but now, it kind of makes sense that it may have been true, since it seems that my great-grandmother thought enough of Sarah and her daughter to name her own children after them.

Whew! I'm going to pause here, but I will be back with a Part II. My next steps will be to see if I can put Precilla and Calvin in proximity to one another in 1860 and/or the period just before that. I already have some documentation, showing a "Sylla" belonging to Calvin's last owner, but I'll need to find proof of some kind of transaction before and can know for sure that she's the right one.

So, for now.... That's all folks! 

Thanks for reading, and please share, widely, so that perhaps some of the Shaw and/or King descendants might see this, and come forth with more info!  And, if you have comments and/or suggestions as to how I might further explore this, please leave them below. Thanks!


1 comment:

  1. Renate, I have checked my tree, I don't have a William Richmond or Joel, but I do have a Richard King that the time frame fits but my Richards father was Miles King. My Richard was born March of 1839 in Franklin County and dies june 1914 in Pitt County. His dad Miles was born about 1794 and ides somewhere between 1850-1860. I came up with his death and birth dates from census records. Richard also had a sister named Priscilla born about 1833. I have no siblings for Miles. Its possible that your William Richmond could be one of Miles siblings or cousins. I just wish you had possible dates for Joel and William. I hope this helps and not open up more boxes for you.