(This History Was Written In 1992)
(Words in Blue added in 6/28/2005 indicates a change in the original draft of 1992. Sentences were re-worded for additional clarification only.)
Searching for oneís African American ancestors during slavery can be a very disappointing task. Records, which specifically identified slaves, such as birth records listing a full name, date of birth and parents, simply were not kept. Also, prior to 1870 Blacks were not listed in the U.S. Census. Although the search is difficult, it is not necessarily impossible.
Rarely in my research did I find records listing slaves with a complete name (first and last). In most cases they were listed by a first name and their age, and were identified as Black or Mulatto.
In oneís family history it may indicate that an ancestor was born on a particular plantation. However, a search of that plantationís log books and bills of sale (if available) may prove negative. Even if you are fortunate enough to find a slave with the same name as your ancestor, you can only speculate that it is indeed the right person.
Any family history project should start with an interview of family members who have information to share. From my interviews with family members I was able to obtain many stories about the Rivers Family. It was my job then to confirm some of these stories through research and to clarify and expand on others.
I learned that Spencer and Sarah Rivers were my Great Grandparents and that both had been born into slavery. Spencer told his family that he was born in Sussex County, Virginia. Unfortunately, the family doesnít know (or remember) anything about his childhood. My mother told us that he had fought with the Union Army during the Civil War and that both he and our Great Grandmother, Sarah, had received a government pension based on Spencerís military service. She also told us that both were buried in the National Cemetery at Mound City, Illinois. (See Historical Document From The National Cemetery)
From previous genealogy research, I knew that the National Archives in Washington DC should have Spencerís military records and records of them receiving a pension, if indeed it was true. However, I could not go to them with only hearsay; so, I contacted the National Cemetery in Mound City, Illinois and confirmed that Spencer and Sarah were indeed buried there. Spencer had died on 2/19/1911 and Sarah died on 12/19/1930. (See Historical Documents)
The National Archives in Washington, DC answered my request promptly. It took only a couple of weeks to receive all of the information they had on Spencerís military records. Obviously, I was quite pleased. The military records provided me with various information about Spencerís Civil War military career, and the pension records for both Spencer and Sarah provided me with an abundance of information about their lives following the war. (See Historical Documents)
SUSSEX COUNTY, VA:
Since the Archives confirmed that Spencer was born in Sussex County, Virginia, I decided to begin the Rivers Family research there.
The 1840 and 1850 Census records listed a slave owner in Sussex County with the surname of RIVERS. Since many slaves before and especially following Emancipation took the name of their slave masters, I assumed this could have been how Spencer acquired the name.
I wrote a letter to the County Clerk of Sussex County, Virginia with a broad request to check his records, tax lists, and wills to see if a slave with the name of Spencer appeared in such records for a slave owner with the name of RIVERS. I told him briefly what I was trying to achieve in my research, and that my Great Grandfather, a Civil War Veteran, had been a slave in his county. Shortly thereafter I received a letter from Gary M. Williams, the County Clerk of Sussex County, Virginia. He was quite excited about my letter. Since he was currently writing a book about the county, he was pleased to hear about a slave from his county who had fought with the Union Forces in the Civil War. Following his initial letter, I received several more indicating his efforts in trying to acquire confirmation of Spencerís life as a slave in Sussex County. He made what appeared to be a thorough search of all records available to him, but was unsuccessful in his efforts.
One of Mr. Williamís letters is printed at the end of this chapter. Although not conclusive, his letters were quite interesting. (See Historical Documents)
It is possible Spencer had a different name as a slave. He could have picked both a first and last name before entering the war, as many ex-slaves did upon receiving their freedom. This could explain why Mr. Williams was unsuccessful in his research.
SPENCER AND THE CIVIL WAR:
The National Archivesí records indicated Spencer enlisted into the military at the age of 25, on 9/26/1864, in Company ďCĒ of the 9th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. Records do not indicate where he entered the military but do indicate he mustered out of service, or rather was discharged on 9/29/1865 at Brownsville, Texas. The military records further indicate his height as 5í5Ē.
A very interesting book was written about the 9th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. It was published in 1866, right after the war and lists all of the Companies under the 9th Regiment, Companies A-H. Under each company, each person who enlisted into the company from the date it was mustered into the service on 11/11/1863 until the end of the war is alphabetically listed. Under Company ďCĒ I found SPENCER RIVERS listed. The book also gave Spencerís place of enlistment. According to the book Spencer enlisted at Ellicottís Mills, Maryland. The name of the city was changed to Ellicott City, as it is now named.
This book about the Colored Troops is unique in that the author states ďIt is not supposed that this work will elicit any interest from the public at large, as it is strictly a local work, only intended for the members of this particular Regiment.Ē He was certainly wrong in that respect. (See Spencer River's & the 9th Reg. History)
BALLARD COUNTY, KY:
Following Spencerís discharge from the military service in Texas, he made his way to Kentucky. The question is why Kentucky? Why not back to Virginia where he once lived, and possibly left family - brothers and sisters? We can only speculate, and will never know for sure.
The archive records indicate Spencer met my Great Grandmother, Sarah, in Kentucky. They were married by a ďwhite minister...near Hinkleville, KYĒ on 12/25/1866.
The 1900 Census indicates that Spencer and Sarahís first child Julius (in some records spelled Junius) was born in Kentucky on 12/4/1867. Their next child, James Henry, was born on 3/25/1869 in Missouri. Also, according to the 1900 Census, their last child was born in Missouri on 2/15/1890.
One of the affidavits filed with Spencerís application for a pension indicated that he and his family had lived in Mississippi County, Missouri in a town called Texas Bend. Another notarized affidavit signed by Spencer Rivers (with an X), indicates he filed his original pension claim on June 27, 1890 while he resided in Cairo, Illinois. (See Historical Documents)
I feel it would be fair now to conclude that the Rivers Family left Kentucky to reside across the river in Missouri in about 1868, and remained there for approximately 22 years. Then they left Missouri in the Spring of 1890 to live in Cairo, IL, where they were living when the 1900 Census was taken.
SPENCER AND SARAHíS CHILDREN:
Included in the records received from the National Archives was a very interesting letter to Spencer from the Department of the Interior (the Federal Agency that was providing Spencer with his veterans pension) dated 12/8/1897. The letter was requesting information about Spencerís family. Ironically, the letter states, ďThe information is requested for future use, and it may be of great value to your familyĒ. Was the letter referring to us, that we may someday need the information? Well, I doubt it, but it does sound intriguing.
The letter requested names and dates of birth of Spencerís children living as of 12/8/1897. Spencerís response to the letter was dated 1/29/1898 and he listed the names and birth dates below. (See Historical Documents)
James Henry Rivers 03/25/1869
Ida June Rivers 12/22/1871
George Willis Rivers 03/14/1898*
Mary Magline Rivers 05/03/1887
Nora Rivers 02/15/1880*
Clara Fisher Rivers 09/07/1893
Although their son Johnny was alive at the time, he was not listed. Perhaps he was not living in the immediate area or perhaps Spencer simply forgot to list him.
In Spencerís response to the Government, two birth dates are listed incorrectly. His letter is dated January 1898, yet George Willis is listed with a birth date of 3/14/1898 as indicated by the asterisk. Obviously, this was a mistake. The 1880 Census shows that George was 3 months old when the Census was taken; therefore, his birth date of 3/14/1880 is correct. I later acquired the death certificate of George which shows a date of birth of 3/14/1881. This would also be in error since he is listed in the 1880 Census. Another interesting fact about Georgeís death is that he died on his birthday, 3/14/1928.
Spencerís letter also listed Noraís birth date incorrectly. The 1900 Census indicates he was born on 2/15/1890, and not 2/151880 as Spencer indicated. The family feels that the 1890 date is correct because Nora (AKA Edward) and cousin Nellie were close in age, and she was born about 1890.
Another mistake was made in the name Nora. Family members tell me the name was actually Noah, and not Nora.
Spencer and Sarah had two more children who apparently died before 1898,- Joseph, born in 1874 and Lucy, born in 1878. One of my sisters remembers vividly that our mother told us that Lucy was cousin Nellieís mother and that Lucy had died during or shortly after Nellie's birth. Perhaps this explains why Sarah and Spencer raised Nellie.
SARAH (TURNER) RIVERS:
From earlier conversations with family members about the Rivers Family I learned that my Great Grandmother Sarah was born into slavery on the plantation of a wealthy land owner in Kentucky. I needed to find not only where this plantation was located in Kentucky, but also the name of this wealthy land owner.
One of the affidavits that I received from the National Archives which was completed by Sarah Rivers indicated that she was born on 3/4/1846 in Ballard County, Kentucky. The affidavit also indicated that her maiden name was Sally Turner (Sally was often a nickname used for the name Sarah.) (See Historical Document)
Now that I knew Sarahís maiden name, I assumed Turner was the name of the wealthy Kentuckian. So I needed to research the 1850 and 1860 Census to locate him. Along with the U.S. Census, I also reviewed the ďSlave SchedulesĒ. These schedules listed all owners of slaves. Unfortunately, the schedules did not lists the names of the slaves; the schedules provided only their sex, color (Black or Mulatto), and age,
I found an Oscar Turner on the 1850 Slave Schedule in Ballard County, Kentucky with 28 slaves. On the 1860 Slave Schedule the same Oscar Turner had 47 slaves. There was no one else named Turner listed with slaves. My thoughts were, is this the Turner Iím looking for. It looked good, but I needed more confirming evidence.
I found Oscar Turner in each available Census up to, but not including the 1900 Census. I thought perhaps he had died after 1890. Then I contacted the Ballard County Court House, seeking a death certificate or perhaps his will. After several weeks I did receive a copy of Oscar Turnerís will and it was well worth the wait.
Oscar Turner's will read like an autobiography of his life. He was indeed a wealthy man. He owned well over 2,000 acres in Kentucky and in Illinois. And as an added surprise, Oscar indicated in the will that he had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for 3 terms, representing the Northwest part of the state.
Except for a few acres given to friends, Oscar Turner willed most of his property to his daughter, Lilly. The remainder of the land was willed to his wife Eugenia and his sons Oscar Jr. and Henry
On page 2 of Oscarís will he gave ďthe place known as Hall place & one hundred acres in the deadening to my old servants Mahala, Sally, and, BillyĒ. When I read this, I thought could this Sallie be my Great Grandmother Sarah. My mother called her Grandma Sally and she told us that Oscar Turner also called her Sally. Well I certainly needed more information to be sure and I knew that I must contact the Ballard County Clerk again.
I sent a copy of page 2 that described the property willed to Oscar Turnerís servants. It took several months, but I did receive a "deed of sale" from the Ballard County Clerk. In 1907 Sarah Rivers sold her share in the property willed to her by Oscar Turner. The importance of the "deed of sale" is that it provided us with conclusive evidence that Sarah Rivers, a.k.a. Sallie Turner, my Great Grandmother, had been a slave on the plantation owned by Oscar Turner and was indeed the "Sallie" willed a share of 100 acres of land by Oscar Turner. (See Deed of Sale In Historical Documents)
SARAH'S DEATH CERTIFICATE:
Now that I had conclusive evidence that Sarah/Sallie had been a slave on the Oscar Turner Plantation, I still had one more area of Sarah/Sallie (Turner) Riversí history to clarify and confirm. I had learned from my siblings and cousins that Oscar Turner was Sarahís father. Anyone who has read a book on the subject of slavery knows that such things did happen often and should not be surprised. But how do you confirm this family story?
Shortly before I received the deed of sale for the 100 acres indicating that Sarah Rivers was indeed the same person as the Sallie mentioned in Oscar Turnerís will, I received a certified copy of Sarah Riversí death certificate. The death listed Oscar Turner as Sarahís father and Jane Turner as her mother. The informant listed on the death certificate (the person who provided the information to complete it), was Sarahís daughter, Mary, who is also my Grandmother.
The death certificate of Sarah Rivers proved to us that my Grandmother, Mary Spurlock, believed Oscar Turner had had been Sarah Riversí father. I would assume that she was apprised of this information by Sarah Rivers herself. (See Sarah's Death Cert. In Historical Documents)
However, without a written confirmation by Oscar Turner himself, we can only assume that he was Sarahís father. But, to add support to this assumption, you have to consider our word of mouth family history that Oscar Turner assisted Sarah and Spencer financially for well over 25 years. And then, 30 years after Sarah was married, he was fit to leave her and her children a share of 100 acres of land. Now, was this a show of kindness on the part of an old man toward his former slaves, or simply a way to provide his slave child with a part of his wealth. Obviously, we will never know the whole truth of this matter; so, it will be left to each of us to draw our own conclusion based on the information we have.
JANE TURNER (Sarah's Mother):
Although my mother told us many poignant stories that were told to her by her Grandmother Sarah regarding her life during slavery, we knew very little about Sarahís mother, Jane. In fact, we didnít even know that her name was Jane until I received Sarahís death certificate.
As the story goes, during the summer of 1845 when Oscar Turner was home from law school, he impregnated his young slave, Jane; she was a young teenager. On March 4, 1846 Jane gave birth to Sarah. Apparently Jane tried on several occasions to kill the baby; and when Oscar Turner became of aware of it, he took Sarah to live in the main plantation house to be cared for by his personal servants. Supposedly, Sarah lived in that house (as a servant of course) until she married Spencer.
Sarah was only 9 years old when Oscar married in 1855. From his marriage Oscar had 3 children - Lillian, Oscar Jr., and Henry. Sarah supposedly assisted in caring for the children, and they had a loving relationship; as much as Blacks and Whites could have in those days. We were told that one of Sarahís brothers and her sister visited her after 1900 when Sarah lived in Future City.
Unfortunately, we do not have any other information about Jane Turner. I could not locate any public records that would indicate what happened to Oscar Turnerís slaves after the Emancipation, nor did I find any records for the sale of slaves. I would like to think that she had as much happiness as one could under slavery conditions.
From the stories we were told about our Great Grandmother, her memories of her father were ones of fondness. Supposedly, Oscar Turner treated his slaves very well. From my research of him he appears to have been a decent man, but a formidable character. Iíve been told that our Great Grandmother Sarah certainly was a formidable person.
THE DEED OF SALE (Sarah's Children):
Not only did the deed of sale give proof that Sarah (Turner) Rivers was the same Sallie Turner in Oscar Turnerís will, it gave two more interesting facts. It shows who signed the deed and where they were living at the time. When you refer to the deed of sale (See Historical Documents), you will note that only four of the eight children signed it - Henry, John, George, and Mary. At that time, 1907, Clara would have been only 14 and Noah 17 which would explain why they did not sign it. I was not successful in obtaining death records for Julius, Ida, and Clara. Perhaps they had already died by the time. Noah died much later in life in Pennsylvania.
The deed indicated Henry and his wife Sallie were residing in Beech Ridge, Illinois: John Rivers and his wife Annie residing in Cairo, IL; George Rivers and his wife Mollie residing in Charleston, Missouri; and Mary Spurlock residing with her husband Henry Spurlock in Cairo, Illinois.
MARY (RIVERS) SPURLOCK:
Mary Rivers met Lee (a.k.a. Leo and Grand Gallelar) Carman about 1902. From this relationship they had one child, my mother, Berthen Ellen.
A few years later, exact date unknown, my Grandmother, Mary Rivers, married Henry Spurlock. My mother, Berthen Ellen, did not take the name of Carman, but rather took the surname of her step-father, Henry Spurlock, to become Berthen Ellen Spurlock.
Mary and Henry Spurlock had two children: Nathaniel and Sarah. Nathaniel died at the age of 5. Sarah died at the age of 39 in 1946.
Mary Spurlock, my grandmother, died at the age of 44 on Sept. 5, 1931 in Cairo, IL and was buried on Sept. 10, 1931 at the Lincoln Cemetery in Mounds, Illinois. (See Mounds, IL Cemeteries In Historical Documents)
(Click To See)
Spencer Rivers & The 9th Reg. U.S. Colored Troops, Co. C
Oscar Turner (History)