During Black History Month this year, I had started to contemplate whether my ancestors had owned slaves. I have never considered it since most of my ancestors arrived in the country after the Civil War or went to more northern states where I had assumed slavery did not exist. But as I learn more, I realized that slavery wasn’t abolished in the northern states very quickly. So I started wondering.
In addition, I have been running across other articles dealing with this same issue. There is Grenada: Confronting my family’s slave-owning past and Harvard pledges $100M to atone for slavery role which had been in my local newspaper.
I have learned it is somewhat difficult to find out this information. Tax records and probate are some of the best ways to look, as slaves were considered property involved in these transactions.
So what I found was this tax information regarding David Jenkins from the Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Volumes 26-27:
From this it seems very likely that he owned slaves. David Jenkins (1731-1797) is my 6G grandfather.
From the Lancaster County Historical Society Historical Papers and Addresses, Volume 15 he had quite a history, much of it honorable.
One of his grandsons (and not a direct ancestor to me) was John Carmichael Jenkins who even has a Wikipedia page. He was clearly an owner of many slaves. He died of Yellow Fever at a relatively early age. Just desserts, if you were to ask me.
But I just found out also from Volume 15 that Adam Reigart, another Pennsylvania ancestor owned a slave. He is another 6G grandfather to me.
Adam Reigart was another apparent American hero. He was the owner of the Grape Hotel, the secret meeting place for Lancaster’s Sons of Liberty. This photo is from this source.
He became a lieutenant colonel in the 88th Pennsylvania volunteers and was under the command of Col. George Ross.
Per this volume, slavery was not completely abolished in Lancaster County Pennsylvania until 1840. This is much, much later than I had thought.
So there may be living descendants of these slaves, possibly with the last names of Jenkins or Reigart. I have to live with this possibility. I also have to live with the possibility (or probability) that the advantages my ancestors obtained from their possession of slaves were passed down through generations, maybe even to me.
I commend your courage to research and face this knowledge, understanding that it CAN and DOES impact the descendants of both the slaves and the slave holders.
Michelle is right. You don’t have to feel guilty, though. I recognized the Reigart name. Were you shocked by what you found?
Many ancestors came to the US in the mid 1800s as near as I know. I don’t have a way to find out. Ron’s second cousin does research through Ancestry, but I don’t know if he would be willing to search my ancestry.I
Hang in there!
I was shocked. I hadn’t expected it.