It was a long road to freedom

By Beth Mitchell - Contributing columnist

This two-part column — in recognition of Black History Month (February) — is by Beth Mitchell, a volunteer at the Clinton County History Center who writes a periodic column for the News Journal.

Part 1

Freedom is good, isn’t it? Historically speaking, it might depend on where you lived, what the rules were, and how your life could hopefully be improved if freedom was obtained.

When searching for a deed for the Cowan Creek Baptist Church, I found a separate deed in which numerous names were listed as the grantees – both males and females. This caught my eye and the name used for the grantees was “Bray” – a name for very early African American individuals in Clinton County.

I realized this group of people probably had to be freed slaves. We probably cannot refer to the Bray group as family because enslaved persons usually took the name of their owners. They may have all been blood relatives but we have no real way of knowing.

One Armstreat Bruce of Chesterfield County, Virginia represented one James Bray, deceased, and purchased one thousand acres of land here in Clinton County. Unfortunately, I have found no record for money set aside for expenses for the individuals.

The date of purchase was 29 November 1830. The will supposedly read “James Bray [owner] did emancipate and forever set free his slaves” and did also “devise to the said parties certain real estate lying and being in the said County of Chesterfield and state of Virginia”.

There is just one problem with fulfilling the wishes of James Bray, deceased, on that particular statement. No person of color was permitted to own land in Virginia at that period of time and if freed, really had only a limited amount of time to leave the state. If they returned to the State of Virginia for any reason it was a capitol offense.

It appears the land in Virginia was sold and the proceeds used to then purchase the land here in Clinton County. Mr. Bruce purchased the land from Thomas and Sally Rutherford. I do not know if these owners were residents of Clinton County.

The tract of land was originally sold by John Richards, Jr. to the Rutherfords 18 February 1799. The land had originally been granted by the United States Government to John Richards, Jr. as an assignee of William Whitacre. The deed for the land purchased by Armstreat Bruce was actually filed and recorded in Clinton County 27 February 1832.

The names on the deed were Dinah Bray, Milley Bray, Amy Bray, Venus Bray, Mary Bray, Ben Bray, George Bray, Charles Bray, Dick Bray, Mate Bray, Den Watkins Bray, Harry Bray, Peter Bray, Jack Bray, Joe Bray, Matilda Bray, Dinah Bray a smale [sic] girl, Susan Bray, Nancy Bray, Alcy Bray – an old woman, and Jenny Bray a small girl.

On a separate project, I am also transcribing Common Pleas Journal #4, 1830-1834. Volume #4 has NO index at all and contains 750-plus pages. I had been interested in the applications for pensions by the Revolutionary War soldiers residing in Clinton County at that period of time. I found referenced on pages 435 dated Wednesday April 11, 1832 and 438 dated Thursday April 12, 1832 references to guardians for the Bray minors. On page 438 the reference was made that those persons needing guardians owned one twenty-second of the property.

When I count the number of persons listed on the deed there are 22 total so this would prove accuracy to the numbers. Those Clinton Countians noted as guardians, suretors, and others were Obed A. Borum, Turner Welch, Aaron Betts, William Hadley, David Carter, John Jeff, and John Allen. The names and ages of minors named are as follows: Milo – 17, Mary – 16, Peter – 15, Charles – 17, Alice – 9, Dinah – 8, Matilda – 4, Venus – 11, Jenny – 10, and Joseph – 9. It must be remembered that in records there may be many spelling variants and sometimes nicknames so these names are as recorded in Journal #4 – Common Pleas.

Ten minors are named, so it would appear there were 12 persons over the age of maturity who were entitled to a portion of the land.

Next week: Part 2.

Beth Mitchell is a longtime Clinton County History Center volunteer. She writes articles for its quarterly newsletter about a variety of past Clinton Countians and genealogy subjects.

By Beth Mitchell

Contributing columnist