Remember Boone Hall, that much-toured plantation house in South Carolina? It was the subject of my January 8th post.
My ancestors include a host of Boones, a genealogical labyrinth. Today I’m looking at John Boone’s 1776 will, which bequeaths Boone Hall to his nephew, also a John Boone.
Three things about this will strike me as important.
First, this will names nine enslaved people: Will, Will’s wife Hagar, Israel, Murriar, Gate, Hagar the Cook, Big Tony, Mulatto Frank, and Bob. These first names may help some people search for enslaved ancestors. Relevant last names would be Boone, Durand, White, and Croft. When I finish identifying all my slaveholder ancestors, I’m going to post all their wills with all the first names of slaves mentioned.
John Boone tries to preserve slave families in his will: “My desire is that my Negroes be Divided in families, and if it should so happen that it cannot be Equally done that the Difference be paid in Money.” That is, if anyone disputes the division of slaves, money (rather than breaking up slave families) should settle the argument.
Listing each slave by a single name, although somewhat helpful to family researchers now, still reveals a method of dehumanizing people during slavery. Paring a person down to one “friendly” name is a paternalistic mask for absolute power. This practice goes beyond condescension. It robs descendants of the records used to build a family history—yet one more reason that slavery is called this country’s “original sin.”
Second, this will exposes the irony of history and the potential blindness of human nature. It was written on June 22, 1773, and signed on June 4, 1776. Revolution was in the air. John Boone himself had served in South Carolina’s second Provincial Congress, which (like the congresses in all the colonies) opposed the authority of Britain’s Parliament. Soon the world would hear that famous Declaration from Philadelphia:
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Yet on the threshold of this proclamation, in June of 1776, the Boones were signing this will and divvying up their Negroes just like they divvied up their swampland, carts, and stock. Treating people like chattel plainly violated the principles on which the Revolution was based. Somehow, our young country allowed this blatant contradiction. I find it ironic that the Boones and their fellow planters fought in the American Revolution to free themselves from British rule, only to live for the next 85 years in absolute dread of a violent revolution against their own persons–in the form of slave revolts.
- “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”– George Santayana, 1905
I would put this challenge to Santayana’s ghost: Are people actually capable of changing their behavior in the light of history?
Third, this will of John Boone reminds me once more that family historians cannot expect to complete their jobs.
Here are those I can identify in the will:
- John Boone, author, is the youngest son of my 6th great-grandfather, Thomas Boone I.
- John Boone, inheritor, is one of (probably) three surviving children of my 5th great-grandfather, Thomas Boone II.
- Sarah Gibbes is the (future) wife of John Boone, inheritor.
- Capers Boone is an older brother of John Boone, author of the will.
- Levi Durand is the husband of Susannah Boone, daughter of Thomas Boone I.
Here are those I cannot identify, although I have tried:
- “My Nephew William Boone”
- “My Niece Mary White daughter of James White”
- “My Nephew Henry White”
- The two (2) Mary Whites who are signers
Maybe I’ll make even further efforts to identify this second group. And maybe I won’t.
You’ve heard the saying, “Art is long, life is short”? Hippocrates, its author, meant that it takes a long time to acquire expertise (as in medicine—and I’d add genealogy), but you have only a short time in which to do it.
Put simply: I have too many ancestors to research in one life span.
So far, family members (and my own research) have supplied me with over 900 people in my family tree, most of them not completely researched. Added to these, I’ve inherited a sketch of the Boone-Fraser genealogy containing 294 people, all needing to be checked and connected to official records. I’m in a sea of waving leaves. Not to mention the bushels of documents, letters, photos, and newspaper stories waiting be archived beside the ancestor charts I am methodically building, one Lego at a time.
I’m dancing as fast as I can in this game—or I should say, this art.
Guess what? I’m not going to finish. Hippocrates was right.
Some kind relative is going to inherit this odyssey from me. In digital copies, in photo and archive boxes . . . whatever I can manage.
Meanwhile, I hope to tell more Stories—in this blog—about Why and How my ancestors made their decisions and lived their lives. These Stories will naturally involve Why and How this whole country is still struggling to heal from the trauma of chattel slavery and racism.
For each Story, I’ll need to pause my research train and invoke my muse. And life is short.
I’d love to hear from readers. How do you prioritize your own work? What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
In the Name of God Amen I John Boone of Christ Church Parish
now of sound memory do make this my last Will and Testament
Item I Give and bequeath unto my Nephew John Boone Son of
my Brother Thomas Boone & his heirs after the death of my
Mother, my Plantation in Christ Church Parish, Item I Give
my Mother the work of Will and Hagar the Wife of Will, Israel,
Murriar, Gate, hagar the Coock, big Tony Mulatto Frank &
Bob, during her life, I also Give her the use of my boat
Carts & Stock on said plantation during her Life, Item after
The death of my Mother I Give & bequeath unto my Nephew John
Boone Son of my Brother Thomas Boone five negroes Namely
Will, Hagar wife of Will, Israel, Murriar & Gate & their in-
Crease, but if the said John Boone dies before my Mother,
Then I Give the said five Negroes & their increase to my Ne-
phew Thomas Boone son of my Brother Thomas Boone & his heirs,
I also give my Nephew John Boone, my Boat, Carts, & Stock on
said plantation, Item. I Give to my Nephew Henry White the
Will of John Boone Page 2.
use of fifty Acres of high Land out of my Plantation in
Prince Frederick’s Parish, to be run Square from his House up
the Branch. I also Give him the use of fifty Acres of Swamp
out of said Plantation beginning at the Head of the Lake and
Continue up the Swamp, during the Space of ten years and no
longer Item. I Give & bequeath unto my Nephew William Boone
& the Issue of his Body My Plantation in Prince Frederick’s
Parish, but if my Nephew William Boone should not have any
lawfull Issue at the time of his Death, I then give the said
Plantation to my Nephew John Boone Son of my Brother Capers
Boone and his heirs but if he should be dead at the time of
the Death of the said William Boone I then Give the said
Plantation to the Eldest son of my Brother Capers Boone then
Living and his heirs, And I Give all my Stock on said Plan-
tation to my Nephew William Boone Item. I Give and bequeath
the remainder or Residue of my Estate including the Negroes
given to my Mother and not otherways Disposed of with all
their Increase to my Brother Capers Boone and my Nephew Levi
Durand & their heirs, to be Equally divided between them,
out of which I Will that each of them shall pay to my Niece
Mary White Daughter of James White, the sum of four thousand
pounds, and I do farther Will that the money remain in their
Hands they paying her the Interest half Yearly, And I do fur-
ther will that the Money be paid to her in one year after
she is married, and in Case she dies before Marriage I then
Give her full power to dispose of it by Will, as she pleases,
my desire is that my Negroes be Divided in families, and if
it should so happen that it cannot be Equally done that the
Difference be paid in Money, My Will is that my Brother
Capers Boone and my Nephew Levi Durand shall pay all my Debts
and funeral Charges Lastly I do hereby Constitute Nominate
and Appoint my Brother Capers Boone and my Nephew Levi Durand
Executors to this my last Will and testament given under my
hand and Seal this twenty Second Day of June in the Year of
our Lord One thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy three. This
was Signed the fourth day of June One thousand Seven hundred
Will of John Boone Page 3.
and Seventy Six Witness