Mining Revolutionary War Pensions: Slave Births (prob. King & Queen County, VA)

Mining Revolutionary War Pensions: Slave Births (prob. King & Queen County, VA)


Pension files contain many records of genealogical value. While a majority of the records relate to a pensioner’s family, some of these records provide genealogical information on people unrelated to a pensioner.

Births of Slave Children Owned by John Newcomb's Family

  • Probably King and Queen County, Virginia

Several pages from John Newcomb's family Bible are found within the pension file of Dawson Cooke's widow Mildred Cooke (see W4657 images 9-28).  William Collins, who testified that he came into possession of the family Bible after marrying one of John Newcomb's daughters, presented the pages to the King and Queen County court in 1851.  Nothing within the pension application reveals any kinship or military ties between Dawson Cooke and John Newcomb or William Collins.  The one link however, shows that Elizabeth Newcomb, John's sister, also testified in court in 1851 that Dawson Cooke's daughter Ann was about the same age as her brother.  Thus the entry for John Newcomb's birth was used as indirect evidence to prove Ann Cooke's approximate age.  Nothing in William Collins’ testimony explains why he tore out all four pages in the Bible, including those recording Newcomb family slave births, and submitted them as evidence to the King and Queen County court.

There were four pages of birth, marriage and death entries.  The first page recorded white Newcomb family marriages and births.  The second, third and fourth pages recorded Newcomb family slave births, and white Newcomb family deaths.The birth records reveal that the Newcomb's owned five slave women who gave birth to fifteen children.

The eldest mother or matriarch, Fanny, had five children, three daughters and two sons: Arrenah Curtis, Harriet Booth, Elizabeth Robinson, Thomas Jackson and Joseph Robinson.  These children were born from 1809 to 1821.  Fanny's daughter Arrenah Curtis was the mother of four children, two girls and two boys born between 1828 and 1832: Julius Robinson, Fanny/Frances Robinson, John Robinson and Warner Robinson.  Thus the Bible record identifies three generations of one slave family.  No fathers were identified.

Another slave woman Dolly was the mother of Rachel Buckner and Susannah Johnson.  They were born in 1828 and 1831.  Finally two slave women had two children, one bearing a surname, and the other not possessing one.  Lydia was the mother of daughter India Keys, born in 1821, and son Bradick, born in 1823.  Salley was the mother of son George, born in 1819, and daughter Mary Booker, born in 1821.

The ages of four of the mothers are unknown.  Arrenah Curtis, born in 1809, is the one slave mother for whom there is a birth date.  Calculations on the page preceding her birth recordation, suggest that she was nineteen when she had her first child.  She was twenty when she had her second child, twenty-one when she had the third child, and twenty-three when she had the fourth child.  This suggests a fairly consistent presence of a male, assuming that one man fathered all four of Arrenah’s children.

The possession of surnames by the children, but not the mothers (except for Arrenah Curtis), especially multiple surnames within the same family, suggests a non-traditional naming pattern.  Traditionally slave children were associated with their mothers, and thus at birth, were generally owned by the same individual who owned their mother.  Since the birth entries refer to the children as belonging to Newcomb family members, and none bore the Newcomb surname, it suggests the possibility that the father if enslaved, was not owned by the family, or that he may have been a free man.

Fanny, the matriarch of some Newcomb slaves, had five children with four different surnames.  Her daughter Arrenah had four children bearing the same surname.  Since Robinson is the surname all four children bore, and it is the same surname as one of John Newcomb's wives, there is the possibility that at least one of the slave mother's may have come as dower property with his wife Johannah Robinson.  Or it may be the case that the Robinson family once owned the father of some of the children.  Further research into the family records would perhaps clarify this.

Furthermore, the existence of surnames suggests that the person recording the names had some intimate knowledge of the children beyond their birth date and mother's name.  Or the case may be that the recorder, who is also assumed to be the slave owner, gave the children second names that appear to be surnames.  Again, further research is needed to determine if this was the case.

The Newcomb’s appear to not have owned slave men.  The pages reveal slave male births from 1819 to 1832.  It is difficult to determine exactly who recorded what date, and when.  John Newcomb’s death was recorded as March 10, 1828.  William Collins in his testimony stated that he believed most of the entries were made by John Newcomb.  Thus all births after March 10, 1828 were made by someone else. The last birth recorded on the fourth page, was for John Jay Collins born in September 1837.  The handwriting for this entry is exceptionally different from all previous entries.  In fact the entries on this page appear to be from more than five individuals.  By subtracting Newcomb’s death date from the earliest slave male birth, it is apparent that he recorded the births of boys, and did not mention any men.  This suggests that when attempting to construct lineages for these families, that the researcher should explore the records of nearby white and black families bearing the same surnames as each child, for potential fathers of each slave child.

As a final strategy, considering the possibility that the children, their mothers, and unknown fathers may have lived beyond the Civil War, the researcher should check the 1870 federal census to determine if it reveals additional family relationships.

Additional Info
hlg1776 -Contributions private
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