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Monday, November 6, 2017

A Detested Ancestor - Philemon Benjamin Hawkins

I'm writing this post because I posted a newspaper obituary for one of my HAWKINS ancestors in one of my Facebook groups, this evening, and I mentioned that I was doing so, despite my disdain for this person. Of course, that led to a reader asking me to explain why I felt that way, so rather than give a long answer on FB, I decided to write this post.

Image result for squiggly lineWhen I began to research my GREEN line, many years ago, I heard about my 2x great-grandmother, Anna Green, for the first time. Most of what I initially learned of her came by way of interviews with my older cousins, Florine Green Edgerton and the late Harold Bruce Green, who were first cousins and had been told a few tidbits about Anna by their (shared) grandmother, Mary Helen "Pidgie" Green.  There weren't many stories, but the one they both insisted upon, which was corroborated by another cousin, Dr. Virginia Green Edwards, was that Anna, a woman of mixed blood, had been in a long term relationship with a white man, whose name they thought was HAWKINS (it was), and that this man took good care of Anna and their 6 children, putting them up in nice home on his property. However, they also relayed to me that, when the Hawkins man died, "his father came and put Anna and the children off of the property", leaving them with nothing.

Well, my early research led me to discover that the father of Anna's children was Nathaniel Hawkins (my 2x great-grandfather), and that he died in 1879, the same year that the last of Anna's children was born. What I also discovered, though, was that Nathaniel's father, Philemon, had actually died in 1856, twenty-three years before Nathaniel's death. So, that meant there was no way he could have put Anna and the children off of the property. I informed my older cousins of this truth, and though they were disappointed to learn that the story they thought they'd been told couldn't have possibly been true, they accepted this as fact.

As most of us know, there is almost always at least a grain of truth to every instance of family lore, so I tucked this story away in my mind, but never completely forgot it. My research continued, and as the years went on I uncovered more and more details about the lives of my ancestral Hawkins family, as well as the descendants of Nathaniel and Anna, who all carried the surname, "Green" (since Anna and Nathaniel could not marry).

Eventually, my work led me to the estate records for Nathaniel, who'd died intestate. The Administrator for his estate was his first cousin, Philemon Benjamin Hawkins, an prominent attorney and legislative representative, who was married to his first cousin (Nathaniel's sister), Fannie Martin Hawkins. During years of researching the Hawkins family, I'd read several newspaper accounts about this scoundrel Philemon B., some of which revealed him to be of less than admirable character. (To be fair, there were a few that were more positive, too.) From these articles, I developed a sense that he vehemently disliked blacks, but would use them, in a heartbeat, if it were advantageous to him in some way. Here's an example of one such article:


                      Click on article to enlarge.
                          Phil B Hawkins re slavery

As I read through the many pages of Nathaniel's estate files, and saw the rogue way he seemed to be handling some of the affairs, it suddenly hit me, one day. THIS is the man who put Anna and the children out of their home! It had to be Philemon B.! So, the family story was true, there'd just been a mix-up of the relationship (cousin, not father) and which Philemon it was, given that Administrator of Nathaniel's estate, had the same name as his father! It all made total sense, now!
This is said to be a photo of Philemon B. Hawkins.
(1823-1891)

So, as far as I'm concerned, this is the face of the man who stripped my great-great grandmother and her children of their home and security. I am still seeking documentary evidence of my suppositions, but, given that Philemon B. was in control of Nathaniel's assets, and that (of course) there is no mention of Anna and/or his children, anywhere, it only makes sense that he used his position on the estate, along with his power in the county to get rid of any evidence of their existence in Nathaniel's life, which is probably a contributing factor to why I am able to find so little about them, now. Furthermore, it appears that when Nathaniel's mother, Jacobina Sherrod Hawkins, died a few years later, he (along with his wife, Fanny) did some dirt on her estate, also. But, that's another story....

This is not the clipping I posted on FB. 
(Click to enlarge.)
Death of PB Hawkins

Philemon and his cousin/wife had two children, Bettie Lane and William J. William also died in 1891, shortly after his father. Bettie, who married Walter Blair Boyd, and lived in Warren County, NC. It doesn't appear that the couple had any children, therefore, Bettie's death in 1926 brought to an end the lineage of Philemon Benjamin Hawkins.


Thanks for reading. 
Renate

Permalink: https://justthinking130.blogspot.com/2017/11/im-writing-this-post-because-i-posted.html



9 comments:

  1. Great post, Renate. You're right in saying that there is usually a grain of truth in oral history. In many cases, the facts may be connect, but the oral historian does not get the names of the persons involved correct. I have also had this happen in my research also.

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  2. Good investigating. You named him right - scoundrel. I also had experience finding the truth due to oral history that was just a generation off.

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    1. It usually works in our favor, doesn't it, Kristin? I always beg my relatives for stories, no matter how insignificant they may seem. I can usually find SOMETHING helpful to my research in every story!

      Thanks for commenting. :)

      Renate

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  3. How tragic that Nathaniel died without a will, and that others were all too willing to act in a way that they must have known was against his wishes. I hope you learn more about this.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Toni. To be perfectly honest, I don't know if I even believe that Nathaniel didn't have a will. This family was involved in every level of the inner workings of the town (and county). I know it might be a stretch, but Philemon could have easily gotten rid of a will and any evidence thereof. If Nathaniel did do a will, he (Philemon B.) would most likely have been the one to have penned it for him, and could have told him he was filing it, but didn't.

      Okay, maybe my imagination is stretching, a bit, but I just don't put anything past this man! :(

      Renate

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  4. Good post, Renate, I remember this story well. Good that you found newspapers as evidence of his character. Your revenge is that all these years later you are uncovering and revealing his treachery for all to see!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Robyn! Vengeance is not mine... :)

      Renate

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  5. Very interesting post, Renate. Oral history is so valuable, but it's hard to know what to do with it without corroborating information. We've got some interesting family lore as to why my great grandfather left Tyrrell County NC for Montana in 1889, but haven't found supporting evidence yet. One of these days...

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