The Abners Clopton

Library of Congress

My second cousin four times removed, Abner Clopton, farmed in Heath’s Creek Township, Pettis County, Missouri, not far from Kansas City. He bought out his father Abner’s extensive property sometime around 1860. There were and may still be a lot of Abner Cloptons and at the risk of disrespect I call my little group of them the Abners.

One of the people enslaved by the Abners was named Archie Fox. Archie continued to work for them as a hired hand after emancipation and eventually owned a portion of the Abners’ land. Another formerly enslaved person, David Rice, purchased a piece of property from the farm where he was enslaved, right next door. David Rice married Archie Fox’s daughter Lucy. (disclaimer: I don’t have documentation of all this. I’m in touch with a descendant of Archie’s and include things he has told me.)

As I was filling in information for another rivulet of the Clopton family, the Grinsteads of Kentucky, I noticed the name Will Fox. A little side trip was warranted. On the 1860 federal census I noticed that single, middle-aged white Will Fox lived next door to young America Fox and her children, all of whom were identified as mullatto. In 1870 America had several more children and a husband named Green Fox. Then I found a document called a Slave Certificate, from 1858 when America and Green were taken from Mississippi to Kentucky. It was signed by agents of the seller attesting to the good character of the siblings, basically a warranty that an investment in this human capital is solid. Wait a minute, siblings!

Either somebody made a clerical error or Green and America had successfully passed themselves off as siblings in an attempt to stay together. Were siblings more likely to be purchased together than a married couple? I don’t know. Why was America living as a free citizen just a few years after being bought? Where was Green in 1860? (I think I have found him on the 1860 Slave Schedule of the buyer.) On documents later in life America reports Day as her maiden name and she and Green raise upwards of twenty children together. I don’t know yet if there is a connection here to Archie Fox and the Cloptons but I hope so. There are obviously a lot of threads to research! Maybe I’ll hear from a Fox descendant who can fill in more blanks.

Fine. Just Fine. Really.

Sooner or later you’ll get asked, “How are you?” to which you’ll reply brightly, “Fine!” Seriously, if it hasn’t happened yet, it will.

Someone yrmama used to know once asked “So, yrmama, how are you?” To which I replied in all earnestness, “Fine.” To which she said, “No you’re not.” “Um, yes I am.” “No (derisive chuckle) I can tell you’re not fine. Tell me what’s wrong.” “I’m fine. Really.” “Yuh huh.” “Nuh uh.” And so on.

This lady did a couple of things wrong so listen and learn. First, if you are a mind reader you have to keep it to yourself 98% of the time. Nobody likes a mindreader. Second, take a hint. By the second time yrmama said “fine” the mindreader should have mind-read the message, “I’m not going to talk about anything with you now. Stop it.” But she was itchin’ for a fight. The only thing worse than a mindreader who can’t keep it to herself is a belligerant one.

The real question is, how do you know you are fine? What’s the evidence? Some options:

Because you checked and an ambulance did not just pull up outside. Because you’ve got the dopamine/cortisol/serotonin balance grooving just right. Because you ate and your kids ate and you all have cute pants and shoes to wear. Because the mindreader said so. Because the person with whom you are codependent seems fine. Because you want it to be true. Because you feel an abiding, glowy calm washing over you. Because if you aren’t fine your house of cards will catch fire. Because you are mortally afraid of being not fine because all hell will break loose, and everyone you think loves you will wander away without noticing they’ve abandoned you.

The mammogram lady always asks, “so, yrmama, do you have the rest of the day off or are you going back to work?” To which I always, year after year, reply, “I have the rest of my life off.” And she says, “Oh!” and laughs nervously and then spends the rest of the boob-squishing session trying to make sense of such a thing. yrmama is fine, she’s busy employing creativity, obsession, empathy and intuition, to review the systems, take names and take up slack. She is sticking it to the man, man. She is attempting to put privilege to good use by doing the dorky, messy things she feels compelled to do. Because what else can anybody do?

The Monkey Tells the Truth

They say history is written by the winner. But writing the history is also a way of winning. If you tell the story, you lay claim to it.

From Monkey and Man, by Paul Zelavansky, New York City, 1992

The whole thing of reparational genealogy is to retell family history without leaving out the yuckiest parts, like a background full of profiting from rigged racial power dynamics. The invisible enslaved people who did all the work for free were actual people with names and families. Choosing to not record that was part of the effort to hide them from history and establish them as not worthy of mention. In the mid 1800’s when white settlers wrote their self-congratulatory county books that included biographies of the citizens who paid to be included, it was an assertation of ownership, ownership of history,

Carolynn Ni Lochlainn, who coined the term “reparational genealogy,” says that the documents and records are all there, right where they’ve always been and it is our job now to use them to tell the truth. ( look her up!)

yrmama floundered somewhat aimlessly about in the kiddie pool of genealogy until she found out that there are other people interested in exposing the deets of their enslaving ancestors. Tea and crumpets genealogy, the goal of which is to link oneself to genuine English royalty, and mint juleps genealogy, the aim of which is to marvel at one’s proximity to hoop skirts and pretty, restored plantation houses is fine. (To which you, sensing my tone, might say, “But yrmama, don’t you like mint juleps?” To which I’d growl in reply, “I ain’t never had one.”) But scraping the white-out (ooo, good analogy) off the rest of the story gives my new obsession a purpose and helps make valuable information available to descendants of enslaved people who have a right to family history like everyone else.

yrmama may be beating a dead horse and looking it in the mouth all at the same time, by which I mean writing about this excessively and over and over, but she’s still trying to figure out which side of her bread is buttered so she can lie down on it by which I mean get back to work.

Sinai Cox

Sinai Cox (1802-1850) was the longtime companion of Robert Walker Ragland (1779-1849) in Warren County, Kentucky. Her first marriage to John H Wheeler (1767-1819) was made when she was sixteen and ended when he died a short time later. At age seventeen, in1820, she married Jefferson Taylor. I don’t what became of him but beginning about 1821 she began living with Robert Ragland, raised about ten children with him and remained with him until he died in 1849. She appears as the head of her own household and lists farmer as her occupation in the 1830 and 1850 censuses. I have found documentation so far that seven of their children were slaveholders and would have been at the time of the Civil War.

Robert Walker Ragland passed on in 1849 and left this will:

He specifies that Sinai inherit her selection of “five choice negroes,” but does not give any names. He also intends that the people he enslaves on property in Louisiana be moved to Kentucky and hired out until the heirs work out the division. I don’t see anything in his name in Louisiana yet but who knows what kind of loopholes/alternate titles might have been employed.

The 1850 Federal Census indicates that he owned one twenty two year old female in Larue County.

The 1850 census slave schedule shows “Sinal Raglin” in Warren County enslaved eighteen individuals:

Sinai passed on in 1850.

She specifically bequeathes Milly, Silvy, Silvy’s children George Sam and Ervin and all the future increase to her son Robert E Ragland.

In summary, as of 1849-1850 this couple enslaved well over 29 people.

  • Milly, Silvy, George, Sam and Ervin (Warren Co.) (The next step is to try to cross-reference these people with those enslaved by Robert E. Ragland.)
  • “five choice negroes” (Warren Co.) (conceivably the five named above)
  • the un-numbered enslaved people in Louisiana
  • the 22 year old woman in Larue
  • males ages 95, 32, 24, 21, 11, 10, 7, 5, and 3 (Warren Co.)
  • females ages 75, 55, 40, 29, 28, 22, 15, 14, and 7 (Warren Co.)

yrmama the Medium

yrmama is busy taking names and wrestling with an appropriate voice to use in outing her ancestors as slave holders. I usually come off pretty snarky but these ancestors were real people despite the logs in their eyes and people are complicated. I need to treat them respectfully, to an extent, and the enslaved individuals I am naming deserve to be talked about in a respectful context too.

Black lives matter. That’s such a low bar; to matter.

I think when people pass on they have the opportunity to become perfect versions of themselves. My enslaving ancestors want to set things straight and they need my help to do it because I am still here and they are not. I also believe some of then are still assholes on the other side so I don’t give all of them equal voice.

Where I come from bad things can be disappeared if they are ignored long enough. “It was bad, but it’s in the past now and no one needs to know anything about it.” The enslaved population recedes into the corners of the room and melts into the wallpaper. “Well I’ll be, look at all this money. We sure do work hard around her, now don’t we.” yrmama is soooo upper-midwestern, it is disorienting having all these old-timey southern ghosts hanging around, clamoring for attention. Not that there is anything wrong with being southern. Some of yrmama’s best friends are southern.

While yrmama cultivates her family trees you can read this: The Half Has Never Been Told; Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist. It is an excruciatingly (for a non-academic anyway) detailed account of history, economics and politics, woven together with downright lyrical passages that he composed from the content of slave narratives. It’s pretty readable, really, for something that would have made me sigh and power-skim in college. It has taken me an unprecedented amount of time to finish it due to the real world backdrop of children being teargassed for saying Black Lives Matter and that bitch Coco V. (yrmama is not sick anymore, but goddam it, put on a fucking mask. If you can wear pants in public to shield our eyeballs from that horror you can learn to wear a mask too.) Plus there is a limit to the amount of horribleness I can read about and assimilate in a day.

so yes, read this book. – thank you Amazon, for this easily found and copied image

A few friendly reminders as I send you on your way: Don’t say all lives matter, or that you don’t see color or that your ancestors were too poor to own slaves or that you are probably part Cherokee and do not ask your black friend how they are doing with “all this” or to explain it to you. That’s why God made Google.