African-Americans looking for enslaved ancestors often meet brick walls. There is no comprehensive index of African-American slave names—either their first names during enslavement or their first-and-last names when freedom finally came.
Some of the best clues to this information are in the documents of slaveholding families. An uncounted number of slaveholder wills do identify the first names of slaves who are being bequeathed as “property.” Because popular first names can pass down through a family, it becomes crucial to know the first names of one’s enslaved ancestors—in case they re-appear on the landmark 1870 census.
Slave ancestors may also have chosen to take the surname of their owner, or a variant of that surname, when they were freed. Having a plausible theory of both first name and surname of an enslaved ancestor can help bring about revelations from the 1870 or 1880 censuses.
In my opinion, there should be a complete database of slaveholder wills online, full of first names of slaves, and well indexed. Descendants of slaveholders could join to make this happen. It would be only fair.
Until that time, we soldier on individually.
Right now I can share 55 first names of slaves from the 1820 will of my 3 x great grandfather, John Baxter Fraser (1767-1820). I discovered his will last week.
Some background: John Baxter Fraser had a plantation in the Sumter District of South Carolina. He began working the fields in the 1790s, farming inferior land and living under frontier conditions, with 2 or 3 slaves. Through settlements of his white relatives’ estates, he owned 20 slaves by 1801. He lived in a 28 x 20 foot log house, and his slaves built log houses for their families. By 1820, his wife Mary and two children had died, but he had 9 remaining children, ages 11 to 30, to whom he bequeathed his farm supplies, his land, and his (by then) 55 slaves. In his will he kept together all of the slave families whom he owned.
Here are further ideas for anyone searching for enslaved Fraser ancestors. John Baxter Fraser also bequeathed his slaves’ “future increase” (children) to his own children, and instructed them to bequeath these slave families and their “increase” to their own children—or if they had none, to their surviving white siblings.
Therefore, until the end of the Civil War, the families of these 55 enslaved people would probably have lived with some white family surnamed Fraser (Frasier, Frazier, Frazer) either in the Sumter District of South Carolina, or wherever that family moved. Here I give the BD dates of each of the 9 Fraser children, and the probable married names of the Fraser daughters, to aid genealogical searches. I also include possible places to which each Fraser sibling may have relocated. (These relocation suggestions are from those infamously unverified public family trees, but surely every hint is welcome in a caring search.)
As it happens, one of John Baxter Fraser’s sons is my 2 x great grandfather, Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-1889):
He and his wife Hannah Boone owned a Boone-Fraser plantation, Booneland:
First Names of Slaves in the 1820 will of John Baxter Fraser, as willed to his children:
To Samuel Fraser (1790-1843): Ben, Diana her child Xury and her future increase, and the negro girl Delia my negro slaves Toney & Affy Samuel may have been buried at Pawleys Island, Georgetown, South Carolina.
To Mary Fraser (1792 – ): Cyrus, Milly and her children to wit Amoutta, Satira, and July and my waiting Boy Primus, Lucy and her two children Labinia and Abeline Mary may have been married to Sinclaire Deschamps.
To William Hickman Fraser (1793-1864): Caesar & his wife Dorcas, George, Liddy and her two children Lembrick and Dorcas William may have died in Darlington, South Carolina.
To Jane Baxter Fraser (1794-1840): George & his wife Brunette, Lucy & her two children To wit Peggy & Nelson, and my negro girl Charlotte Jane may have married Thomas Boone in 1827.
To John Glasgow Fraser (1796-1860): Tome and his wife Dince & her child Heriott
To Thomas Fraser (1798-1863): Judith, Frank, Prince, Silla & her two children. Viz. Sylva and Abigail Thomas may have moved to Alachua, Florida, and had many children.
To Robert Fraser (1800-1886): old Ben, old Suckey his wife, Tyler, Nero, Dandy, Maria and her child Argen Robert may have moved to Bishopville, South Carolina.
To Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-89): Dick, & his wife Kate, Nanny & her three children vix. Heram, Rufus, and Susanna Ladson stayed in Sumter District, South Carolina.
To Elias Lynch Fraser (1809-51): Anthony, Ambrose, Marianne, Daphan young Suckey, and Sophronia Elias may have moved to Lancaster, South Carolina, and had a number of children by his first and second wives.
Given the terrible reality that people were enslaved and then bequeathed as property, I hope this information can help some African-Americans trace their ancestors and learn more about their families.
Sources: The full source for John Baxter Fraser’s history is Cotton Culture on the South Carolina Frontier: Journal of John Baxter Fraser 1804-1807, edited by John Hebron Moore and Margaret DesChamps Moore. This book holds some more information about the 55 enslaved people and their lives with John Baxter Fraser. It is available from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
The entire 1820 will of John Baxter Fraser can be found here.
*** Footnote relating to my last blog: I’ve received a brief, tentative response from my letter. My relative is considering what to do and talking the matter over with her aunt. She says she’ll let me know. I am waiting hopefully.