"This is the history of the forced relocation of enslaved families from a Founding Father and former U.S. President's Virginia plantation, of illegal African captives, and of other victims of the domestic slave trade to the newly U.S. settled wilderness of Middle Florida."
Monroe’s letters give no indication why he sold the enslaved couples he did. Toby and Betsey, and Dudley and Eve were all associated with the Highland plantation, whereas Jim Harris and Calypso were listed in an 1823 Oak Hill plantation inventory. But there was another enslaved couple at Highland who I’ve wondered if they would have been included in the sale to Florida: George and Phoebe. Like Toby, Dudley, and Eve, George had also belonged to Monroe’s uncle’s estate, and Monroe purchased “boy George” from the estate in 1809. George was born around 1796, so he would have been about 13 years old at that time. Phoebe’s origins are unknown, but she was born around 1798.
But why did Monroe not include George and Phoebe in the sale to Joseph White and Florida? Well, Monroe couldn’t. George and Phoebe made an escape to freedom in July 1826.
Monroe’s runaway advertisement indicated that he thought they were headed for Loudoun County, Virginia, or to freedom. But Monroe’s correspondence was silent about their capture. There’s no indication that George and Phoebe were ever returned to Monroe’s possession.
What happened to George and Phoebe? There’s indication that they may have lived in freedom. The couple George and Phoebe Simms were listed as living in the seventh ward of Washington, D.C. in the 1870 census, along with their presumed daughter Margaret, who was a washerwoman. George’s occupation was rag picker, meaning that he collected rags and other goods to sell to recyclers.
Research has yet to reveal George and Phoebe’s whereabouts between their escape from Highland and their appearance in the 1870 census. But their bid for freedom saved them from forced relocation to Florida.
An updated family tree containing all the new information associated with Hester Baker and Moses Harris is now available on the Genealogy section of the website. And thanks to Moses’ Freedmen’s Bureau information, the Harris family tree is more complete!
While working on Jim and Calypso Harris’ family tree, I found an 1871 Freedmen’s Bureau Bank Record for Moses Harris that listed his parents as James and Calypso, and his birthplace as Jefferson Co., Fla. It also listed his 5 siblings, Lewis, Simon, Anthony, Sallie, and Bella, which match the names on the 1844 Casa Bianca mortgage! How did Moses Harris end up in Memphis? But yet another puzzle piece fell into place in the remarks section of his bank application: he listed Esther Bumpus (see Record 84) as a beneficiary. Who was she? According to Record 84, which was made in 1867, Esther (actually Hester) was Mary Baker’s daughter! “My mother[‘s] name is Mary Baker she lives in Florida,” as her application stated. Hester also named her two sisters, Caroline Baker and Evaline White, and said her brother Clayborne was dead. Mary Baker, Hester, Caroline, and Clayborne were all listed together on the 1844 Casa Bianca mortgage. Hester married Barrill Bumpus (Bumpass) on December 14, 1864 in Memphis, and Barrill was enlisted in Co. A, 59th USCT. And a Moses Harris appeared on the muster of Co. H, 59th USCT. Was this the same Moses Harris? And how did both Moses and Hester get from Florida to Memphis?
Our brochure “The Enslaved at Casa Bianca Plantation” is now available! It includes a short history of Casa Bianca Plantation, information about the two largest groups of enslaved workers acquired by White and Wilde (including their names!), and more about the Take Them in Families Project.
The latest family tree includes Jefferson County deed and tax assessments, all transcribed! The earliest deed for a Casa Bianca freedman was Henry Clay White, who purchased a town lot in Monticello in 1866. A year later Lewis Harris purchased a Monticello town lot. Other deeds recorded the transactions between freedmen and town merchants. David Straws, Jr. signed a mortgage with J.D. Cole & Co. for all the crops he grew in exchange for provisions from Cole’s store. An 1873 deed recorded all the terms and conditions for Ned Washington’s and Isham Nelson’s families to work the old Casa Bianca plantation, at that time owned by J.D. Cole. Another deed specified that David Straws, Sr. lived on and farmed another portion of the old Casa Bianca property. It’s not until almost twenty years after emancipation that other freedmen from Casa Bianca were able to purchase small properties in Jefferson County, beginning with William McGuire purchasing one square acre in 1884.
Robert W. Williams of Tallahassee purchased 82 of Casa Bianca’s enslaved families from Ellen Beatty and promised to insure them as they traveled from Florida to his plantation in Louisiana. Among the families purchased were William McGuire, Sr., his wife Bella, and their children Bill (William), Rhoda, Moses, and Minty. They, along with Frank Nelson, his family, and his mother Hope, were shipped to William’s plantation. While Frank and his family stayed in Louisiana after emancipation, William McGuire, Sr. made his way back to Jefferson County, Florida sometime before 1872, when he was one of the founding trustees of the Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church. But his son William (Bill) stayed in Louisiana. He was enumerated with his wife Francis and their children in the 1870 census for St. James Parish, west of New Orleans. His younger brother Moses also lived in St. James Parish and married Ellen Bishop in 1879. And between 1875 and 1880 two of their cousins, Robert and Clement Nelson (their mother was Jane McGuire, William Sr.’s sister), joined them in St. James Parish. Work is ongoing to determine how the McGuires ended up in St. James Parish and what happened to them after the 1880 census.
An updated family tree has been posted and includes the descendants of Mary Baker, and more about her can be found in the Stories section. The Bakers were enslaved families owned by President James Monroe and his son-in-law George Hay. Family members included Mary Baker’s mother Sally and Mary’s brothers Jeffrey and Nicholas. Sally Baker and her two sons were given by George Hay to his daughter (from his first marriage) Maria Antoinetta Ringgold, while Mary was sold along with Monroe’s other enslaved families to Joseph M. White in 1828.
Emily Stanfill, a fellow independent researcher, has uncovered that after President Monroe’s death in 1831, his son-in-law Samuel Gouverneur sold the enslaved people from the Oak Hill plantation in Loudoun County, Va., to George Kephart, an Alexandria, Va.-based slave trader. Kephart shipped the families from Baltimore to New Orleans in September 1838. Lewis Baker, John Baker and his wife Mimy along with their children John, Sally, and Nicholas, and Rachel Baker and her children Moses, Thomas, and Claibourne made the voyage to New Orleans and ended up in Iberville Parish, Louisiana. Their descendants are still in Iberville Parish. Though it is unknown how Lewis, John, and Rachel are related to Sally and Mary Baker, it is hoped that connections can be made between the Iberville Parish and Jefferson County, Florida branches of the Baker family.
In the first quarter of 2020 we began working with the editors of the Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation (JDSP) to make our research more widely accessible to scholars and other investigators exploring the history of slavery in America and the Caribbean. The second issue of this online journal has just been published, and contains our research findings about the history of enslavement at the Casa Bianca plantation in Florida. The article can be accessed at https://jsdp.enslaved.org/fullIssue/volume1-issue2. In particular, the dataset in JSDP differs from that presented here on our website by its inclusion of the particular historical details of the enslaved people of Casa Bianca. This journal, and its partner site Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade:Enslaved.org, are part of the Mellon grant-funded Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University, in partnership with the University of Maryland and other scholars. This project has twice appeared in Smithsonian magazine in 2020, as well as in the Washington Post, and we are pleased to have our work accepted by them as a peer-reviewed contribution. The following is taken from the JSDP website, and more fully explains the project’s mission.
The Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation volume 1, issue 2 December 2020.
“The Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation (JSDP) is a digital academic journal that publishes original, peer-reviewed datasets about the lives of enslaved Africans and their descendants drawn from documents produced from the fifteenth to the early twentieth-centuries. The JSDP works in conjunction with Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade (Enslaved.org) to make the data contributed discoverable and interactive and to establish a sustainable scholarly repository for digital projects concerned with the history of African slavery. The JSDP focuses mainly on publishing peer-reviewed datasets and editorial reviews of projects and datasets while Enslaved.org acts as an interactive, searchable repository for digital data.”
“All datasets published by the JSDP will be included on Enslaved.org. Moreover, JSDP archives a copy of each published dataset with Harvard Dataverse, accessing an infrastructure of sustainability and “‘long-term care’ of valuable digital assets” that undergirds the FAIR approach to data stewardship.”
The Florida Historical Quarterly has published an article by Burnett on the history of the enslaved people of Casa Bianca Plantation. This peer reviewed publication is the “journal of record for Florida history”, and will provide access to this new research to a wide range of scholars.
ABSTRACTS FOR VOLUME 98, NO. 2
“Florida Bound: Casa Bianca Plantation’s Enslaved People” by Randy W. Burnett
Seeking to contribute to the scholarship of slavery in Jefferson County, Florida, this essay discusses the origins of the primary groups of enslaved people brought to Casa Bianca, one of the larger plantations in the county, by Joseph M. White and his business partner Richard H. Wilde, emphasizing how the two men used their social, political and financial influence to assemble an enslaved workforce to clear the Florida frontier.
More importantly, this essay explores the lives and experiences of those enslaved at Casa Bianca, both during their enslavement and after emancipation, subjects that have previously been undiscussed in literature except in terms of quantity. For the first time in scholarship, the names of those forced to labor at the plantation are acknowledged, along with some of their stories and successes. It is hoped that this study will not only enhance the African-American narratives in Jefferson County, but will also encourage future endeavors of investigation in this area.”
Florida Historical Quarterly, August 25, 2020. In Facebook floridahistoricalquarterly. Retrieved October 1, 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/floridahistoricalquarterly /posts/3679313068762662?__tn__=K-R.