I just returned from my visit to Bunceton, MO in an effort to do some research on my ancestors who were slaves on the Ravenswood Plantation. My trip was outrageous! Besides the incredible hospitality of the people I met there -- you could not have asked for a better research trip. My "email" Boone county friend Dotty Kasmann was an absolute jewel. Her entire family treated me like a treasured guest. What fabulous people they are! I was looking for information on African American WILSON, CRUMP, GRAY, SMITH, JOHNSON, PRICE, WARRICK and several other surnames.
I met my friend Dotty on the "MOBOONE" list and she offered to escort me around town when I got to town. I arrived in Kansas City, MO and then spent the night in Independence, MO. The next day we went to the Mid Continent Public Library (right there in Independence) and then headed to Bunceton, MO to visit Ravenswood. Mid Continent is a very well stocked genealogy library. It is very well organized and the staff is incredibly helpful. We left about 12:30 from the Mid Continent library for Bunceton. Of course we got lost and that detoured us for about an hour and a half. The old mansion is filled with relics but it has been poorly cared for. The atrocity is that there are old documents lying around everywhere. The younger Charlie Leonard who "cares" and "manages" depends on his elderly father to give historical information.
The younger Charlie gave me a very brief tour and had his 10-12 year old "fill me in." They appear to not have the slightest clue about how to maintain and preserve the property and the items inside. They have plenty of old ledgers, their wills and land grand deed records lying around in public view. It is simply unbelievable. I rummaged through about 10 photos albums a couple of which pre-date both 1800 and 1900. They have left out for display, Ms. Nadine Nelson Leonard's wedding dress and other clothing items which are visibly rotting in open air. The day I was there -- the place was dirty -- and with the young boy conducting the tour -- I did not get the feeling that they understand either the history or significance of why I was there looking for my enslaved ancestors.
I interviewed the elder Mr. Leonard who is 87 for a good hour -- he was very interesting. He remembered "Hortense and Glen" who were house servants and relatives of mine. Leonard also made comments like: "Slavery was really the best thing for colored people in those days-- so they could get fed." And, "My family was always nice to their slaves -- we never yelled or raised our voices at them," he pointed out. I reminded him that the one thing they didn't do was when the slaves died was to put a marker on their graves. There are several slaves buried in the Leonard Family burial grounds -- but their identities were never noted. He said that he thought there might be some initials inscribed on a few of the stones, but most likely it would be illegible-- but we couldn't get to the burial site because rattle snakes are out in full force this time of the year.
I also got other information from him. For example he said there was a book which detailed all the names of the slaves' children born on the property. This would be a very resourceful document. He assured me that it was part of the materials on microfilm at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection. But upon reviewing the microfilm -- I did not find it. I'm sure it is some place in that house laying around. I also met the executive director of the State Historical Society – Jim Goodrich. The Historical Society would love to get access to the materials – which are pilled in boxes up in the attic and strewn on the floor collecting dirt and mold and make great mouse bait. I think it would take a team of about 20 people and a couple of months to go through and organize and inventory all the documents they have piled up high in the attic. The executive director Jim Goodrich told me that when he saw Mr. Leonard last year, he denied that the family ever owned slaves or that the slaves built the original Ravenswood property. Well -- I have it on video to the contrary. Although he did try to deny that slaves were involved in building the property --cause they hired, "skilled labor." I told him that I didn't think so. "Well," he said, "I guess since the slaves were around it makes that they were working on the building." Hmmmm" -- I said to him, " Very interesting." He did however, confirm that one of our family members was indeed fathered by the Gen. Sterling Price – so apparently we have some Prices in our family lineage.
While at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection I studied the microfilm on Ravenswood and Nathaniel Leonard. He kept track of every single penny he spent -- I mean every single penny, every single penny. He kept separate listings for his family and farm expenses. I looked through 1870 and 1850 records. Too early and too late. What I really needed was the 1860 time frame. I videotaped portions of the mansion and took lots of pictures. I lost one roll of film -- 35 photos cause I forgot I had one photo left and opened the back of the camera – and then it wouldn't rewind. I tried to do it manually and it didn't work. I was sick over losing 35 photos.
I did see that the Leonards owned several slaves -- and reviewed on slave bill of sale for a man named Henry Clay who is buried in the City Cemetery in Bunceton (Black Cemetery) with my other relatives. I also met a cousin there named Earl Miles -- my great grandmother's cousin -- and my gggreat grandmother's nephew. "Uncle" Earl remembered both my ggrandfather and my ggreat grandfather in great detail. He said that my ggreat grandfather was a member of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Bunceton and was a devout Christian -- that he was always at the church taking care of it – being that he was the Superintendent of the Church -- managing its care.
He even showed me where "Old Man Wilson" lived and other relatives as well. After a great deal of talking Uncle Earl recollected that my gggreat grandfather Marion had a sister -- which I suspected but could not connect with my records. And I asked about Henry Clay that was a slave of the Leonards and if the Wilsons & Clays were in some way related. I asked him this because he remembered that a son of Henry Clay – named Augustus visited my great great grandfather Marion on the weekends and "parked" his horse in front of his house. (Imagine having a memory like THAT!) He said that there was some kind of relationship ...because Marion's sister Millie (who was very old by this time -- born in 1835) was raising some children who were probably her great grandchildren...Millie was widowed and may have had a daughter who died... and Augustus came to visit his children on the weekends... and bought them candy etc. Augustus had a very nice horse Uncle Earl remembered. Earl had a sister Alfreda (in her 80's too) who also confirmed the names of the children Millie raised -- and my Aunt Myrtle in Kansas City, KS was confirmed the names of the 3 Clay children. In fact -- it turned out that one of them, Ellen Clay married Marion's grandson Joseph Wilson. Actually Aunt Myrtle remembered that Ellen had been married twice -- her second marriage to my grandmother's uncle. Crazy! So I have more homework to do.
Uncle Earl as you can tell was a walking time machine. We I wrote down 9 pages of family notes -- a different family on each page. For one family, he remembered the parents, their children, one child had 5 children by 5 different men and he remembered each child's first and last name. Wow -- talk about the family tree taking off!
I went to the "The City Cemetery or Sunset Hill" cemetery where my relatives were buried. Blacks are buried on one side of town and Whites in Boonville. I took pictures of every single readable headstone. I tried to get over to a couple of other Black cemeteries in Boonville but on that day both my camera and video camera broke down so we didn't go.
I also had an opportunity to speak with Helen Mitzel a 97-year old cemetery historian who has been keeping and publishing cemetery records with Elizabeth Prather Ellsberry -- THE documents for cemetery records in Cooper County, Missouri. Ms. Mitzel has remained active in keeping the records updated. We spoke 2-3 times on the phone and talked for about 2 hours. She was very helpful and put together a list of Black cemeteries and sections in Cooper Co for me. I had hoped to meet her -- but we got lost driving through those backroads -- so I missed her and she was very upset. Ms. Mitzel told me that her father and husband had years ago built a tombstone monument for the slaves that served her family. She said that in was in honor of the slaves that served their family – but most of all that they had loved them very much. She doubted that there were any WILSON names buried on her property. I could have visited her burial grounds -- but the Leonards wired the gate closed so that the public access road to the burial place was blocked. She also said there were snakes and we needed a 4-wheel drive to get up the hill. We had no such vehicle and again --yikes snakes!
When I called her to tell her we got lost she said, "Oh dear, you didn't follow my directions," ever so sweetly in her meek voice. I told her where we went and she said, "Oh dear, I guess I didn't give you good directions, but I worked on this list for you for 2 hours last night and it was the first thing I worked on this morning. I'll just put it in the mail. By the way," she added, "the young man who tends the land checked the markers (at the family cemetery with the slaves) and there is a WILSON!" She couldn't remember the name. It turns out there is an Emil Wilson -- but I have not been able to make a connection to this person. However, I did recognize some of the names listed as residents of Speed -- another small town located next to Bunceton.. Please see (marriages, census and cemetery records section). I'm on the lookout for a book called, "A Town Called Speed," by Roy B. Gerhardt. There is one chapter devoted to the Black community of Speed -- and my family names of CRUMP, HENDERSON, BLUE and others are mentioned in detail. ** (I would like to read the entire publication for general information purposes. If you come across the book --please let me know. It is out of print and is very expensive to purchase.)
I had breakfast the Sunday morning before I left with Mary Hubbell Avery. She is the great granddaughter of Edwin Patterson -- the man for whom Marion Wilson was a servant for in 1880. Edwin Patterson was also the man who managed very successfully the Ravenswood Shorthorn Cattle Farm -- which was world renowned for shorthorn cattle breeding. Edwin and his wife Emma Dills had one child -- Gussie. Gussie Patterson was Mary's grandmother – and was the child that my Grandpa Marion probably tended to for awhile. He was 15 years old in 1880 and married Mary Molly Burns in 1885. Census records show he was a farm hand or farm laborer. Most likely he continued to work for Patterson or on Ravenswood.
Mary bought me the obituary on her father which was very detailed. It was laminated and well preserved. She also said that Gussie their only daughter -- preceded her father in death, which was a great blow to the family and one that her great grandfather never recovered from. He and Gussie were very close. Mary knew very little about her Pattersons lineage. However her family married into the Stephens family – related to Lon Stephens who was governor of Missouri. She has Stephens cousins in California -- both who are very involved in collecting family memorabilia and genealogy. One cousin lives in Huntington Beach – the city right next to Long Beach. The other cousin lives in Davis, California and has an email address and she's 90 years old. Mary said that she had sent them old letters etc. of her great grandparents and her grandmother.
As we prepared to leave.... she paused and took out a book and showed it to me. It was entitled. Historic Ravenswood --written in 1922 – only 50 copies were ever printed. It has the entire Ravenswood Farm, Leonard and Patterson family history. She hesitated for some time -- and then decided I could take the book with me. I copied the book and sent it back.. I encouraged her to donate it to the State Historical society.
When I returned to California I did get into contact with the Stephens cousins. Turns out that the 90 year cousin Anna Louise is the great granddaughter of Harvey Bunce -- founder of Bunceton. She had for years been looking for the grave of woman who had been a slave in the family and her daughter who subsequently stayed with the family after slavery. The woman's name is Violet Glasgow and she is buried right next to my great great grandmother. Anna Louise was very happy to finally know where Violet was buried -- she's hoping to visit Bunceton in October. Anna Louise said that Harvey Bunce had bought that land for Violet and named it "Aunt Violet' s Hill." When Harvey Bunce gave this property in the 1920's to his daughter Cordelia and her husband William Harrison Henry Stephens -- the named was changed to City Cemetery or Sunset Hill. After some additional research, I discovered that Anna Louise's great grandfather James Madison Stephens was a slaveowner -- and most likely owned several of my ancestors. The slave schedules show that the Stephens family owned many slaves. Additionally, her great great grandfather, Joseph Stephens had a grandson, William Henry Harrison Rowles by his daughter Margaret Stephens Rowles -- who fathered several children in my family with the last name of ROWLES.
I have worked to combine my personal genealogy research and webpage as a "spiritual" journey that would help me discover my ancestry and pass it on to my children, and say, "This is who we really are! Be Proud." It has been an arduous, but rewarding project. My goal has been to encourage researchers who come across slave-related data to post the information on my webpage, as it greatly benefits African American researchers who would not otherwise have access to such data. The difficulty in doing African American research is tracing slave ancestry through slave owners and getting access to documents to help solidify their existence, including birth and death records which are an absolute "goldmine" to find. The process has been emotional. People discover that their families owned slaves and are either very upset or do not want to be bothered. Others have been helpful and have taken the time to transcribe and submit information to the site.
Additionally, the history of my family lies in the documented lives of their slave owners through a variety of records. In many cases, documents containing slave data are not publicly available, but are privately held. The key to unlocking the history of enslaved African Americans in Missouri is through the sharing of data -- and the recognition that slavery dismissed the importance of lives of millions people, simply because their skin was Black. As an African American, beyond the issue of slavery and slave ownership, I want people to know that black and white people are related -- that our biological relations go far back in time -- on both sides of the fence and in every direction. Perhaps this will give us a better understanding that we are all the same people -- made of the same stuff -- mixing from all directions. In this day of intolerance and strained race relations, I think we all need to have a better understanding of who we really are.
My Trip to Missouri continues to bring
me new contacts, friends and information to solidify that indeed, my family
was here. My personal sense is that conducting African American genealogy
research requires that one follow their instinct, intuition and oral history
as a guide. Again, I encourage any researcher who has slave related information
for Missouri, Virginia and Kentucky -- to post it to either my website,
email address and/or submit non-Missouri related information to the Afrigeneas
website at http://www.afrigeneas.com
Traci Wilson Kleekamp
4527 E. De Ora Way
Long Beach, CA
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