Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reality of Slavery in the Booher Family

Earlier in January I published a transcription of the will of John Booher Sr, my 7th-great-grandfather. While I was in Singapore for meetings, a package arrived from the Washington County Court in Virginia, including a photocopy of John's will and a set of other documents. One document that immediately jumped out was a statement filed with the Washington County Court attesting that several slaves owned by John Booher Sr in Sullivan County, Tennessee were being legally brought north into the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The statement shows that John Booher Sr. moved from Sullivan County, Tennessee to Washington County, Virginia on 17 March 1818, which matches up with the land records from Sullivan County. These documents highlight some harsh realities of slave ownership in the family. I am transcribing this in the hopes that maybe there are descendants of these people who are alive today.

Statement of the Slaves of John Booher late a citizen of Sullivan County in the State of Tennessee who removed to Washington County, Virginia on the 17th day of March 1818 to wit,

One female slave named Polly about twenty four years old, of black colour. Tolerable thick & well set.

One female slave named Celia - about four years old of a black colour
One male slave named Jefferson, between two and three years old, of a black colour
One female slave named Russa, seven months old, of a black colour
The three last above named slaves are children of Polly.

John Booher

Washington County, to wit,

The above named John Booher this day made oath before me a justice of the peace of said County, that the above described slaves were brought by him from the State of Tennessee on the 17th day of March 1818 when he removed from Sullivan County in that State to this County, that he was the actual owner of said slaves, that the above statement contains a true account of the slaves so brought in, and that the slaves have not been brought into this Commonwealth for the purpose of sale, or with intent to evade the laws of this Commonwealth to prevent the further importation of slaves, or in any manner contrary to the provisions of the Act of the General Assembly of Virginia entitled "An Act Concerning Slaves" passed on the 9th day of January 1813. Given under my hand this 21st day of April 1818.

James White

At a Court held for Washington County the 21st day of April 1818. This Statement of Slaves brought into Virginia by John Booher with certificate of the oath made thereto was returned to court and ordered to be recorded.

Back to the Will of John Booher & Probate of the Estate
The will of John Booher bequeathed Polly, Celia & "her infant child" to John's wife Barbara. From the document above, we now know the name of the infant child, Russa, and that she was born in Sullivan County, Tennessee around August 1817. John bequeathed Polly's son Jefferson to his son Henry Booher (who was under the guardianship of his twin Isaac Booher).

Another document in the set from Washington County, Virginia provided an appraisal of the estate of John Booher dated 29 December 1820. This document again listed Polly (valued at $375), and additional slaves:
1 negro girl Selah $225
1 negro boy Jefferson $225
1 negro girl Terrissa $200
1 negro girl Julia $100

Given the spellings, I believe "Selah" is the same person as Celia, and the girl "Terrissa" is the same person as Russa, the girl named as a daughter of Polly in the document signed by John Booher on 21 April 1818. I think Julia was another daughter of Polly, born in Virginia between 1818 and December 1820.

I am interested to see if I can find more information on what happened to Polly and her children after they were brought to John Booher's Washington County land. The disposition of Barbara Booher's life estate on 27 December 1844 provides some hints.

Polly shows up as acquired by Isaac Booher for $237. She would have been about 50 years old in 1844 (assuming her birth year about 1794 from the state transfer document signed by John Booher in 1818).

In the 1850 US Census Slave Schedule, Benjamin Booher (son of John Booher Sr) appears in Sullivan County, Tennessee owning seven slaves. The oldest on the list is a 36 year old male, born about 1814. This is the right age to be Jefferson.

I don't know what happened to Polly and her children beyond these records.

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