by Cleo Graham
August 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of slaves entering America and landing in Jamestown, Virginia. In commemoration, Rev. Cleo Graham is sharing stories about her own ancestors who were slaves in America.
Searching for my ancestors led my husband, Melvin Graham and me on a trail that followed slaveholders’ lives and their assets. We had to research their family and financial histories to find my family lineages.
The first known slaveholder of my family's ancestors was Andrew Pickens, an 1801 graduate of the College of Rhode Island in Providence, Rhode Island. (The school was renamed Brown University in 1804.)
From 1816 to 1818, Pickens served as Governor of South Carolina. He owned a plantation named Susanville in Dallas County, Alabama, which he named after his wife, Susan Smith Wilkinson. Pickens also owned two other plantations in Mobile and Wilcox Counties in Alabama.
Andrew Pickens owned an African-born slave named Milo - my 4th great-grandfather. When Milo eventually escaped from captivity, Pickens placed a fugitive slave advertisement for his capture in the Selma Courier (Dallas County) newspaper dated April 10, 1828.
In the advertisement, Pickens referred to Milo as "…an African – short and stout made and of coarse features…As he may attempt to get to Mobile [Alabama], the Mobile Register will give this three insertions in the paper published three times a week…"
Mobile was an important port where many slaves entered North America. Probably Milo's recollection of his first entering this country at Mobile might have made him think it was somehow a pathway to return to his home in Africa.
Milo's skills and status on the plantation may have motivated Pickens to place an advertisement in the newspaper seeking his return. No record is available of Milo's capture or death.
Francis Pickens, Andrew Pickens' son, later owned Milo's daughter Judy Simmons. Judy identified Africa as the birthplace of her father in the 1880 US Census, Moss Township, Edgefield County, South Carolina. This information was a significant and rare notation in this census record.
Milo's name has appeared throughout different generations in my family's lineage. This practice of naming descendants after him seems to be a continuing act of honor for - and remembrance of - Milo, the African.
Next week, I will share the remarkable life of my third great grandmother Judy Simmons - a slave, midwife, and doctor.
Rev. Cleo Graham is the Associate Minister of Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence, Rhode Island. She and her husband Melvin continue their years-long journey exploring the history of their families.
This reflection originally appeared in the Beneficent Church's e-newsletter and is reprinted with permission.
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