Daniel Blackburn: Slave to Freeman after 77 years
When I’m digging through records, sometimes I run across something that grabs my attention and demands further investigation. Some of these things just get to you, you know? And when you are able to locate the pieces and put them together, then you feel compelled to tell the story. This is the story of Daniel Blackburn of Stokes County, NC.
The image below is John Blackburn (1842-1862) of Stokes County, North Carolina. A friend of mine who does a lot of genealogy work for black and biracial families once told me, 'When you run across a formerly enslaved person, you have to look at the genealogy of the family of the last known owner just as hard as you've already looked at your own."
Daniel Blackburn, the subject of this sketch, was born in about 1786, a slave of John Blackburn's great grandfather, Absalom Bostick; willed in 1803 to John Blackburn’s grandmother, Susannah Bostick Blackburn; passed to John Blackburn’s father Madison Blackburn in 1830; left the plantation in or prior to 1862; freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 after 77 years in slavery; and returned to Stokes County in 1866 to learn that he has outlived two more members of the Bostick/Blackburn family.
Daniel was born in Stokes County, NC. His year of birth is uncertain; but he was most likely born between 1786–1796. His mother was “Flo” an enslaved woman on the plantation of Absalom Bostick (c. 1740-1803.)
Image from google maps
Sometime after 1775, Absalom Bostick and his wife Bethenia, moved from Pittsylvania County, VA to Surry County, NC, where Absalom bought land on both sides of the Dan River, near the present-day Sauratown Township. Absalom named his plantation “Shoebuckle” and the land would later fall into the new county of Stokes. It was here that Daniel was born.
In 1803, when Absalom Bostick died, his will specified that “Daniel flos son,” [lower case “flos” as in original] should pass to daughter Susannah Bostick Blackburn. Daniel would have been 7-17 years old at the time. What happened to Daniel’s mother is not known, but since she is not mentioned in the will, it is probable that she had died sometime prior to 1803.
Absalom's daughter, Susannah Bostick, was married to William Blackburn (1767-1830) whose family was also a pioneer family of Stokes County. In the years after Daniel came to the Blackburn household, several children were born to Susannah and William. One of these children was Madison Blackburn b. 23 Oct 1809. In 1811, when Madison was two years old, Susannah died. William Blackburn died in 1830. Madison was 21 at the time, and, after William’s death, Daniel age 34-44, went to Madison.
Six years later, in 1836, Madison Blackburn married Margaret Davis b. 30 Nov 1817. She was the daughter of James Davis, Jr. (1793-1873) who owned a large plantation at Red Shoals. The couple had five children, but Madison would not live long enough to see any of his children reach adulthood. In 1849, he died at age 39 of fever - an unspecified illness that lasted 28 days- leaving Margaret a young widow with five children.
With the help of her father and enslaved labor including Daniel, Margaret continued to run the estate. On the 1850 US Census and Slave Schedule for Stokes County, NC Margaret is shown as a widow, age 32, and the owner of two enslaved people – a male age 64 (b. 1786) - presumably Daniel - and a young girl, age 6 (b. 1844.)
At the outbreak of the Civil War, at least two of Margaret’s sons joined the Confederate Army.
James Oliver Blackburn (b. 1839) enlisted May 30, 1861 at Germantown, NC as a Lieutenant in Company G, 21st North Carolina. He was quickly promoted to Captain. His younger brother John A. Blackburn (b. 1842) enlisted as a Private in the same company and regiment on the same day. Middle brother William Newman Blackburn (b. 1839) may have served in the 1st Cavalry State Troops.
Sometime in or prior to 1862, Daniel, then age 66-76, left the Blackburn plantation and made his way south. By the summer of 1866, we find him in Mobile, AL. Why he traveled to Mobile and how he got there are not known. What is known is that Daniel was “70 or 80 years old” and conditions in Mobile were tumultuous. He sought help from the Freedmen’s Bureau where he was provided food and medical care, but he was living at the corner of Adams and Bayou Streets, presumably in some kind of shelter or provided housing or maybe just on the street.
On July 21, 1866, Daniel appealed to the Freedmen’s Bureau for transportation “to Stokes County to Mr. ‘Blaglen’ for self and wife where he will have a home for self and wife.” He claimed to be 80 years old and his name is recorded as Daniel Thomason. The name of his wife is not mentioned. Seems this Freedemen’s Bureau worker was a bit careless with his entries. Little did he know that we would be evaluating his accuracy 153 years later!
Once again, on August 24, 1866, Daniel visits the Freedmen’s Bureau office – this time his name is recorded correctly as Daniel Blackburn. Perhaps Daniel was more specific this time? Or perhaps the clerk who recorded the request was more meticulous? He again requests transportation, asking specifically for “transportation to Germantown, Stokes County, NC where he will have a home with John Blackburn who resides within 12 miles of that place.” He reports his age here as 70 years.
It is not known exactly when Daniel left Stokes County, but it was most likely before Margaret Blackburn received word that her sons had been killed. The youngest son, John A. Blackburn, with whom Daniel hoped to have a home, was killed August 28, 1862 at Second Manassas. He was 20 years old. The oldest, Captain James Oliver Blackburn, was killed at the Battle of Plymouth, NC on April 20, 1864 while “far in advance of our line in making the assault.”
William, the middle son, survived the war, as did his mother, Margaret. Daniel and his wife, at age 70-80, were 670 miles away in Mobile, AL trying to return to Stokes County. On July 27, 1866, the Freedmen’s Bureau sub-commissioner requested transportation for Daniel and his wife from Mobile, AL to Germantown, Stokes County, NC. Unfortunately, I can locate no definitive record indicating that Daniel and his wife actually made it back to Stokes County. I sure hope they did.
Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, Contracts and Complaints Jan 1866 - 1868, Mobile, Alabama. Pages 799 and 804.
1850 US Census, Stokes County, North Carolina, Mortality Schedule.
1850 and 1860 US Census, Stokes County, North Carolina
1850 US Census Slave Schedule, Stokes County, North Carolina
Find-A-Grave Memorial John A. Blackburn https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/66942881/john-a-blackburn
Find-A-Grave Memorial James Oliver Blackburn https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/66880957/james-oliver-blackburn
Find-A-Grave Memorial Margaret Davis Blackburn https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/66880354/margaret-blackburn
Letter, James Davis Jr. to Dear Children, dated Red Shoals, N.C., April 22nd, 1861. http://www.oocities.org/heartland/farm/4162/letters11.html
Western Sentinel, April 28, 1864, page 2, column 3.
“Where all acted as heroes, it would seem invidious to make any special mention of names, but I must call attention to the distinguished and daring courage of Captain James O. Blackburn of Company G, and Private Francis Clinard of Company A. Both fell far in advance of our line in making the assault.”
Stokes County, North Carolina Will Book Volume 2, pp. 37 – 38.
Absalom Bostick's will, dated 20 Jun 1798 and proven Jun 1803, is found in Stokes County, NC Will Book 2, page 37. Children of Absalom and Bethenia Bostick named in the will are:
John Bostick, son
Absalom Bostick, son
Ferdinand Bostick, son
Manoah Bostick, son
Bethenia Bostick Hampton, daughter
Susannah Bostick Blackman, daughter
Anne Bostick Guin, daughter
Christania Bostick (daughter, a minor)
Thirty-six enslaved people mentioned in the will:
Milly (willed to son John Bostick)
Lucy, Charlotte, Crury, Isaac, Jane and Hannah (willed to son Absalom)
James a man, Fib or Feb a woman and Stephen a boy (willed to son Ferdinand)
David, Ivy, Barlee, Bibbs, Francis, York, William (willed to son Manoah)
Sarah, Delph and Selah (willed to daughter Bethenia)
Nancy, Solomon and Daniel Flos son (willed to daughter Susannah)
Beck, Rhoda and Mero Hagerson (willed to daughter Anne)
Hagar, Marian and Dick (willed to daughter Christania)
Harry, Dinah, Cloe, Bynor, Nany or Nancy and Hannah & Sam (to be lent to his wife Bethunia during her natural life and afterwards to be equally divided between his children.)