Slavery info sets me free
by Kelvin Wade
My brother Tony received some genealogical information from an unexpected source: energy speculators looking to secure rights to drill for oil and natural gas on land the Wade family owns in Texas. The report piqued my interest because last year I opened an account on Ancestry.com hoping to piece together the history of the Wades. I was stymied trying to go back further than my great-grandparents. When I received the information from Tony, I used it to do some more digging and was astonished at what I found.
Of course, I knew my ancestors were slaves but it’s different when you have a name and dollar amount to attach to them. It is horrific knowing our great-great-great grandparents Ned and Anarchy Wade and their three children were slaves in San Augustine, Texas. How do you own humans as slaves? And if that isn’t bad enough, how do you to that to children?
While it’s sad and moving, the new genealogical information cleared up a mystery for me. Our father told us that Johnny Allen Wade, who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, was a distant cousin. When I friended his daughter, Carla, on Facebook, I couldn’t exactly explain our relation. Now I know our great-grandfathers were brothers.
Also some of our family is lighter-skinned than others so obviously we have white ancestors. While it doesn’t answer the question directly, our ancestor Ned is described in the census information as mulatto, meaning “one-half Negro blood.” In other documents he is described as a “Negro man of yellow complexion.” But the information doesn’t tell us if Ned’s father was a white slave master who raped one of his slaves or if our interracial roots go back even more generations.
While I was fascinated by the discovery of these slave ancestors, I was also drawn to finding out more about their owners. While the report says Anarchy and her three children were in the Edward Teal estate, Ned Wade belonged to the Ruben D. Wood estate, which was probated on Oct. 27, 1836. A man named Alexander Horton purchased Ned.
Minimal digging turned up a lot of information about Horton. He was an early settler of San Augustine, Texas (then called Ayish Bayou) and fought in the Fredonian War, the Regulator-Modulator war and others. He was aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston. He was both a sheriff and mayor of San Augustine and served in the Texas state legislature. He also had a friend named “Edward Teel.” Though the spelling of the last name is different than the will, odds are it’s the same person who owned Anarchy and the children.
I was shaken to find myself, with just a few mouse clicks, staring at the face of the man who owned my ancestor. Studying Alexander Horton’s old, weathered face, I wondered how he treated his slaves. Was he simply just a product of his time? A businessman who saw his slaves as farm equipment? Was he strict? Was he cruel?
But the most fascinating thing about this man to me was that he wrote a memoir. And the best part is the end where he wrote: “… I had by honest assertions accumulated a small fortune but the civil wars of my country left me in my old age penniless poor, having given away a fortune in valuable land for Negro property which was taken away from me by the self-righteous people of the North…”
There’s something about reading his lamentations over land that, in all likelihood is in my family’s hands today, that I find delicious. How many African-Americans get to hear the former slave masters of their ancestors bitterly complaining about losing their land? It’s liberating. For the horrors and hardships my ancestors went through, we have the slavemaster’s land.
This genealogy information is life affirming. We’re part of a chain of humanity. It’s also humbling. When I look at the dozens of names of relatives I never knew existed throughout the last 150 years, I couldn’t help but think that 150 years from now, me and my brothers’ names will be on someone’s genealogy list. My brothers and I are doing our best to leave them a wealth of information to find.