The Search for a Meaningful Clue to the Mystery of an Enslaved Ancestor

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Old paper ads are serving arsenic a model into the hopes and histories of hundreds of individuals who were recently emancipated.

Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu is searching for clues that would assistance   to reunite her family, which was torn isolated  during the home  enslaved   trade. 
Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Rachel L. Swarns

Aug. 6, 2022, 8:45 a.m. ET

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In the 1880s, Edward Taylor reached retired to the editors of a play Black paper successful New Orleans. Born into slavery, helium had fought successful the Civil War and established himself arsenic a blacksmith erstwhile state came. He had a wife, six children and his ain crippled of onshore successful a assemblage adjacent a winding watercourse known arsenic the Bayou Maringouin.

But Mr. Taylor ne'er forgot what helium had mislaid during his decades successful bondage. So helium placed an advertisement successful the Southwestern Christian Advocate. “I privation to inquire for my people,’’ helium wrote.

Mr. Taylor was astir 11 erstwhile helium was sold distant from his sister and 3 brothers successful Maryland and sent to Louisiana. As a middle-aged man, helium inactive remembered their names — Charlotte, Noble, William and Reverda — and the anguish of that forced separation. He joined thousands of Black radical who placed notices successful section newspapers successful hopes of uncovering relatives aft Emancipation. There is nary grounds that helium ever received a response.

More than a period later, Mr. Taylor’s descendants and 2 genealogists are utilizing the accusation successful his advertisement to effort to reunite his family, 1 of the galore Black families splintered by the American enslaved trade. I’m sharing his communicative with you due to the fact that I judge that idiosyncratic retired determination mightiness person the missing clues that could yet bring the Taylors backmost together.

In caller years, historians person digitized a trove of the ads, which appeared successful much than 260 newspapers, offering a uncommon glimpse of the aspirations of the recently emancipated and an invaluable online assets for Black families searching for their ancestors.

Black radical crossed the state were determined to reconstitute families shattered by slavery, and the ads reflected their “extraordinary volition to support searching for 1 another, contempt each of the odds,” said Judith Giesberg, a historiographer astatine Villanova University and the manager of an archive entitled Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, a integer postulation of much than 4,500 of the ads.


Credit...LSU Libraries Special Collections

Mr. Taylor’s great-great-great granddaughter, Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu, learned astir the ads successful May. She had hoped to find much astir her enslaved ancestors but thought it was improbable she would find thing they had written. Enslaved radical were typically barred by instrumentality from learning to work and write. So uncovering his words successful the newspaper, she said, felt “overwhelming and emotional.”

“You enactment maine present astatine this clip for a reason, truthful that I tin implicit this process of reuniting our family,’’ she said, describing her prayers for guidance successful her search. “Even though he’s not astir to spot it, it would beryllium a consciousness of completion to enactment those pieces successful place, to enactment our household backmost together.’’

Mr. Taylor placed the archetypal advertisement seeking his siblings successful 1885. He placed a 2nd successful 1889, which included his parents, who managed to flight from slavery successful 1842 but were incapable to prevention their children. (Mr. Taylor’s older brother’s sanction is spelled Revida successful 1 advertisement and Reverda successful another.)

“My father’s sanction was Moses Taylor, my mother’s Eliza,’’ Mr. Taylor wrote. “When I saw them last,” helium said, they were successful Prince George’s County, Md. They were each separated “long earlier the war.”

The fig of radical who yet recovered their relatives done the ads remains unknown, Dr. Giesberg said. So far, she has recovered 92 notices that picture successfully reunited families.

Mr. Taylor died successful 1902, and the representation of his communicative faded arsenic the generations passed and his descendants scattered.

The Taylor household was 1 of hundreds of thousands swept up successful the American home enslaved trade. Between 1800 and 1860, astir a cardinal enslaved radical were forcibly relocated from states similar Maryland and Virginia successful the precocious South to the fabric and cane plantations of the Deep South, according to Joshua D. Rothman, a historiographer astatine the University of Alabama.


Credit...LSU Libraries Special Collections

Husbands were torn from their wives, mothers from their children, brothers from their sisters. The historiographer Michael Tadman has estimated that the home commercialized divided up astir 1 3rd of archetypal marriages successful the precocious South and separated astir fractional of each children successful the portion from astatine slightest 1 parent.

I came crossed this communicative due to the fact that Mr. Taylor, his parent and 3 of his siblings were among the 272 radical sold by Jesuit priests successful 1838 to rise wealth to prevention the assemblage we present cognize arsenic Georgetown University, a story that I’ve been reporting connected since 2016. (Mr. Taylor’s sister, Charlotte, was calved aft the sale, and his begetter was enslaved by different man.) Mr. Taylor ended up with a caller proprietor successful Maryland astatine archetypal but was sold again and sent to New Orleans aboard a enslaved vessel successful 1846.

Exactly wherever helium spent his archetypal decades successful Louisiana remains unknown. But helium enlisted successful the Union Army arsenic a subordinate of Company E of the 75th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops, a portion lauded for its bravery successful the storming of Port Hudson, a highly fortified Confederate stronghold successful 1863. Mr. Taylor took a slug successful the thigh during 1 battle, but helium survived and was honorably discharged successful 1865, his subject pension records show.

By the 1880s, helium had recovered his mode to Iberville Parish, wherever dozens of the radical enslaved by the Jesuits had ended up. By then, hundreds of Black radical crossed the state were placing ads.

“Dear Editor,’’ a antheral successful Holly Springs, Miss., wrote successful July 1880, “I privation to inquire for my father, Thomas Duncan, who was sent to Texas during the war.”

Four years later, a pistillate successful Brenham, Texas, who had been sold, placed an advertisement seeking her son. “His sanction was Absalom,’’ she wrote. “When I near him helium was 3 years old.”

When Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu decided to instrumentality a DNA trial earlier this year, she had nary thought that her ancestors had roots successful Maryland. She was calved successful Oakland, Calif. All she knew was that her grandparents and their families were from Louisiana.

The results of the trial shocked her: They showed a nexus to descendants of the Maryland families who had been sold to prevention Georgetown. So she emailed the historiographer who runs the Georgetown Slavery Archive, Adam Rothman.


Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Dr. Rothman had learned astir the Taylor ads from Richard J. Cellini, the laminitis of the Georgetown Memory Project, an autarkic nonprofit dedicated to tracing the descendants of the radical enslaved by the Jesuits. The project’s pb genealogist, Judy Riffel, discovered the notices successful the Lost Friends online database, which is tally by the Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum, probe halfway and publisher.

Dr. Rothman told Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu astir her great-great-great grandfather’s ads.

“It was heartbreaking,’’ said Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu, a performing arts teacher who incorporates African-American past successful her work. “Did helium spell to his sedate inactive looking for family?”

Ms. Riffel and Malissa Ruffner, the Georgetown Memory Project’s genealogists, person been pursuing the family’s trail, poring implicit scores of archival documents. They recovered a Reverdy Taylor successful Baltimore successful 1900 — and different Taylors with akin archetypal names successful Maryland and Louisiana — and located a pistillate named Charlotte who ended up successful Mississippi.

Charlotte was joined to Creer Rayborn, who was enslaved by a antheral named Mark Rayborn. DNA investigating shows a nexus betwixt Mr. Taylor’s descendants and Charlotte Rayborn’s descendants, a promising lead. But truthful far, nary documentary grounds ties Charlotte Rayborn to Mr. Taylor’s family.

Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu hopes that someone, determination has a missing link.

“I commune astir it,’’ she said, arsenic she focuses her probe connected Reverdy Taylor, who stands retired due to the fact that of his antithetic archetypal name. “If we tin find him, possibly that would beryllium the missing portion to the puzzle.”

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