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)
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.
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.
In 1989 yrmama lived in St. Louis and someone left a message on her answering machine about doing genealogical research on the Clopton family in that area. As a heedless youth, she didn’t call him back, but she sure would now. In those olden days people had to do things like call all the Cloptons in the St. Louis phone book to find anything out. I did know from working with school field trip groups in my job at the science museum that there was a Clopton school somewhere nearby, which was surprising, and that all the teachers and students were black, also surprising. I thought Clopton meant Iowa and we all know that is likely to mean white. Then I did other things for about thirty years.
It turns out that there are a whole lot of Cloptons who don’t live in Iowa and who are not white. My father was Edwin Clopton, as was his father who went by Bill. From there on back is a long string of Williams, Johns, and Roberts and Davids. Most of them were named William and I’m not even kidding. Maybe that’s why Grandpa was Bill. Going backwards there are five generations in Iowa, a couple in Hart County, Kentucky, then Virginia. Virginia tobacco plantations all the way back to Jamestown in the early 1600’s.
I’m now obsessively compiling information about my enslaving Clopton forebears and the folks they enslaved. Thank you, internet. I’m not sure exactly why, but I want to know which ancestor in my direct paternal line was the last to own slaves. I believe it had to either be John Robert Clopton (1760-1830), or his son David Clopton (1794-1865). Both of them were born in tobaccoplatationland, New Kent County, Virginia and moved westward during their lives. John Robert settled in Hart County, Kentucky, a slave state, but with a different flavor, I think. Young David moved on from Kentucky into Missouri, into Iowa about 1850, and then retired and died back across the Mason Dixon line in Missouri. One of David’s sons, Robert Clopton (1823-1865?) even fought for the North in the Civil War and died in combat in southern Illinois. That’s quite an expanse of reality for David although I don’t know what he thought of any of it.
So David. John Robert. Which of you pulled the plug? I want to know why. Why did you give up that evil gravy train? Was it economics? Was it downward mobility? Did the overwhelming westward ho mood inspire you to liquidate and put all your capital in expansionist adventure? Did you suddenly turn into an abolitionist? What the heck were you thinking? Did you have any idea that the next five+ generations of your lineage would pat the too-inquisitive on their tow heads and say, “we don’t talk about that”?
Dorothy, my maternal grandmother, knew what to do when someone was taking her picture. This was not due to the Gladwellian 10,000 hours of practice put in by modern girls, but because her uncle was a professional photographer. There are lovely portraits of her from the time she could stand where she’s popping out some version of this: face the camera, line your left heel up with the instep of your right foot, tip your head just a hair towards the outstretched toe, then find an arm position and facial expression to match the occasion. Here, that being some boy about to give her a corsage. The bob! The shoes! The gorgeous dresses they got to wear in the 1920s!
This mirror selfie approximation of the pose took about 30 tries and I’m not even kidding. It’s the best I could do. Grandmother’s foot trick is subtle, brilliant and surprisingly hard to not over play. Turns out the rest of it requires standing up very straight and then relaxing your shoulders and neck so that your head just sits there. Who knew. Today’s fashion statement involves second hand, black Old Navy jeans, the same brown belt I wear every day, a scoop-neck Patagonia t shirt and a DIY cardigan. If you have a tightly knit sweater you are tired of, or that makes you sweat too much, you can find a pair of scissors, slice it up the front and voila; a cardigan. No, it does not unravel into a big mess. I’ve committed this wanton act of creativity many times and your should too.