African Americans of Washington County, Georgia: From Colonial Times through Reconstruction

By Adam Adolphus, Sr.

To the memory of ELIZA “HODGES” (1832 – 1898) My Great-Great Grandmother, “The Black Cherokee Rose.” Purchased on the block at the Louisville, Georgia Slave Market in 1839. Parents unknown. Raised by Harriet and Tom, Slaves of Abel Hodges, Sr. Died March 14, 1898


This work grew out of a search for my ancestors in Washington County, Georgia. It soon became apparent during the search that there was a severe shortage of actual data on African Americans pre Civil War that was readily available to the general public. On a visit to the Probate Clerk’s Office in the Washington County Courthouse, I came across Appraisal Book “A” wherein, I found a reference to my great-great grandmother. At that point, I also saw that there were other slaves listed in the volume.

I also visited the Genealogy Research Center Old Jail Library on Jones Street in Sandersville, Georgia. There, I came across several family histories in various degrees of development. Some were meticulously researched, documented and printed. Others were less elaborate. These family histories often included the wills that were part of colonial Washington County up to the present time. Many of those wills often contained the names of African Americans who were held by particular families. The data in these family histories were also part of the greater narrative of an African American family’s history even though limited. I began searching through family histories in a somewhat haphazard manner. I learned that I would have to be more methodical.

So I began anew in alphabetical order of the families using the Genealogy Society’s Library numbering system 929.2(FAM) (for Family Name). When I was about a third of the way through them, a new volume appeared: Washington County, Georgia Estate Records, 1822 -1885: Published by the Brantley Association of America. The previous volume set me more directly onto the path I followed.

This work includes slave listings in the Family History volumes of the Genealogy Research Center’s library, Washington County Estate Records: 1822-1885, the Washington County Probate records that pertain to slaves, freemen and freedmen, U. S. Census records for Washington County, Georgia from 1820 through 1880, ten different church records, Washington County records housed at the Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia, Georgia death records, newspapers of the period, tombstone inscriptions from a few African American cemeteries and information gleaned from several other resources. There are a total of some 30,000 + names, with some of them being repetitions or duplications.

The period covered starts with Washington County’s early beginning and extends through the Reconstruction Period up through the early 1880’s. (The general thought in the African American community in Washington County was that all the historic records of the county had been destroyed in the two courthouse fires during the nineteenth century. This assumption turned out to be false. Some of the records were destroyed, but enough were salvaged to provide a clearer picture of what happened to some of the early African Americans of Washington County, Georgia.)

Our attempt was to record every slave listed in the foregoing publications and documents and to provide a single source document for African American genealogical research for Washington County, Georgia. As far as is known, this is the first document which attempts to accomplish this.

This volume was intended initially to provide a source reference for African Americans in search of their heritage. However, as the work progressed, it became apparent that the information is useful for family research for all people with roots in Washington County, Georgia. The reader should be aware that these listings represent only a fraction of all the slaves that lived in Washington County, Georgia during the period of this study. VIEW VOLUME TABLE OF CONTENTS

In the “Appendices” section of this work is a part designated “Anecdotes and Stories.” This is a meager attempt to highlight some notable information about a few individuals of the thousands named in this volume. It would be impossible and presumptuous to attempt to tell the story of the lives of so many individuals.

The indexes of this volume are indispensable in locating individuals. All slaves were listed by their given names. Freedmen are also listed by their surnames as were free African Americans. One should also be aware that the spellings of slaves’ names were often phonetically derived by the original recorders of those names and had variations from one set of documents to another. In the case of the Washington County Tax Digest for 1869, the microfilm record in some sections lacks clarity from a visual aspect. Many entries are either totally or partially illegible. Where there is partial legibility, though recorded in the main text, no attempt was made to index those entries. The reader is referred to the original document (a disk containing the Washington County Tax Digest for 1869 is available at the Genealogy Research Center). VIEW INDEX 1 | VIEW INDEX 2

It is hoped that this volume will provide some recognition of those African Americans in Washington County, Georgia whose existence and identity as individuals have been long shrouded in anonymity will be brought to the light of day and remembrance in the minds and eyes of their descendants and other interested parties. It is unfortunate that thousands of African Americans lived and toiled in Washington County, Georgia and will never be identified. I regret that I was not able to gain the support of the Georgia Department of Vital Statistics in extracting the names of most of the African Americans born before 1880 and who died during the period from 1928-1940. It is suspected that are at least 1,000 individuals in this group who are not included in this study.


Dathie Haines

Dathie’s mother was a Cherokee Indian named Chloe and her father was black, name unknown. She and her family were living in the North Georgia – Cherokee, NC area when she was captured by some white men while picking berries in the woods with her brother (name unknown) and sold into slavery. Dathie’s brother was able to escape. She was sold into slavery at Louisville, Georgia to Nathan and Jane Haines. Nathan gave Dathie to his granddaughter Missy Haines as her personal slave. Both Dathie and Missy were 6 years old. Missy and Dathie went to live with Missy’s aunt and uncle, James “Jim” and Lentittis Haines. Jim was from Ireland. Dathie had four children during slavery by her owner Jim (Mary, Joe, Washington Beauty Spot “Wash”, and Betsy). Dathie had one child that was not Jim Braswell’s; her name was Sally.

After slavery Jim Braswell gave Dathie and the children 600 acres of land to live on. However, because they could not read or write, they were tricked into putting their X’s on a document giving the land away. This land is located in Jefferson County near the Washington County line at Fenn’s Bridge. Dathie, her children Mary, Joe, Betsy, grandson Joe other children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren are buried directly behind Mt. Zion AME Church in Davisboro, Georgia. (Photograph and information compliments of Mrs. Tommie Braswell Merritt)

Betsy Braswell Swint 1861-1930Betsy Braswell Swint

Betsy Braswell was the daughter and fourth child of Dathie Haines. Her children were Carrie, Joe, John, and Med. Betsy had a saying “Life is like a goose and I want all of my feathers”. In later years Betsy married a Mr. Swint (Photograph and information compliments of Mrs. Tommie Braswell Merritt).

William Henry Smith 1853-1929William Henry Smith

William Henry Smith lived in the Peacock’s District of Washington County. He was a farmer, a minister who was pastor at Poplar Springs and Allford Grove Baptist Churches and was the husband of Georgia Hayes Smith. They are both buried in the Smith Family Cemetery which is an adjunct to the Bethesda Christian Church Cemetery in southwestern Washington County (Photo (by author) taken of photo provided by Mrs. Thelma Neal Smith.)

Eugene Hodges 1862-1942Eugene Hodges

Eugene Hodges was the youngest son of Eliza and Abel H. Hodges. He was born in Washington County, Georgia and lived there until his mother’s death in 1898 when he moved to Hancock County, Georgia with his wife Mittie Trawick Hodges and child. He lived there until his death. Their children were Vinnie, Mammie, Henry, Rins, Anna, Lindsey, Dawson, Pauline, Etta, Ruth and Hiram. This photograph was taken in the front yard on his farm in Hancock County, Georgia in 1938 when he was 76 years old. He is buried in the Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery in Hancock County. Photograph provided, with sincerest appreciation, by Wendy M. Glover, his great granddaughter.

Catharine Harmon and Family

Shown at right are five generations of the female line of Catherine Harmon: from lower right counter clockwise are Catherine Harmon, daughter Lucy Harmon, Wynn, Batten, Lawson, Johnson, granddaughter Katie Batten Roberts, great granddaughter Mattie Mae Roberts White and great great granddaughter Sarah White. Catherine Harmon who was born about 1830 made her way on foot with her daughter Lucy born about 1853 from Virginia to Savannah and then to Washington County, Georgia. On their long journeys they endured much suffering and deprivation under the scourge of slavery. Catherine survived her ordeals and raised her family. Despite the hurtful scars on her back which oftentimes bled, she founded the first Church of God in Georgia, the Evening Light Church of God on College St. in Sandersville, Georgia in 1902. Though the exact dates of her birth and death are not known, it is known that she lived to be almost 100 years of age. (Early 1900’s photograph and information courtesy of Dr. Angela Martin from Holiness Embraces Kaolin: A History of the Church of God of Washington County, Georgia)

Pennie Hooks Harris 1858-1942

Pennie Hooks Harris

Pennie Hooks Harris was the daughter of Samuel (Born 1825) Pennie Hooks Harris (1858-1942)and Harriet Hooks (Born 1833). She had siblings Laura, Winnie (twin), Dillie (Dilly-twin), Jane and Susan (Susie). She was first married to Fred Brown on July 31, 1873 and they had four daughters. She later married Samuel Hiram Harris, Sr. and they had three daughters and six sons. One of Pennie’s parents was either part Creek or Cherokee and black. My older sister and brother described her as having dark skin with Indian features.

In her later years as I remember as a five-year old she lived with our family and always wore an apron. She lived in the Warthen community in Washington County, Georgia and is buried at Mineral Springs Baptist Church Cemetery. (Photographs, ancestral and biographical information courtesy of Dneva Harris Waters)

Susan Hooks Taylor

Susan Hooks Taylor was the daughter of Samuel (Born 1825) and Harriet Hooks (Born 1833). She had siblings Laura, Winnie (twin), Dillie (Dilly-twin), Jane and Pennie. She was married to Tenant Taylor and lived in the Warthen community.

David Alexander Gordon

David A. Gordon was one of the first children born in Georgia after the Emancipation Proclamation was accepted as law. He is shown here with his young family on the porch of his home. David Alexander Gordon was one of the founders of the Washington Institute. He provided funding which made its creation possible. He was also the founder and principal of the Royal School in the Oak Grove Community. His life work is testimony to the impact that he had on his community and the effect of his work is recorded by the Historical Marker in the Oak Grove community at the site of the Royal School which he established in 1897. He is buried at the Gordon Family Cemetery (Photograph contributed by the Gordon family)

Santee or Santy

Santee was born in Africa around 1751. He showed up at James Kendrick’s plantation in what is now known as Washington County. He had escaped from his holder, a Mr. Palmer of Savannah, and was found on the Kendrick’s plantation on December 8, 1781. He bore tribal scars on his cheeks and forehead and spoke with a distinctive African accent. He was reportedly about thirty (30) years of age. He was dark and stood at 5’9” tall. Though he may not have remained in “Washington County” after his discovery here, there is no doubt he remains as the first African American identified by name to have been in early Washington County. There is a slight possibility that there may have been some relationship with him and Santee McDowell who is first recorded in the Reconstruction Return of Voters in 1867. (Primary information gleaned from Elizabeth Pritchard Newsome’s Vertical Card Files, Volume K)


Deedom is historically the oldest named African American known to have lived in Washington County, Georgia. He is listed as a freeman in the 1850 U. S. Census as being born in 1750. His guardian was Nancy Brown. It was a practice that, if a slave reached 100 years of age, then he was granted freedom.


Becky was born in 1758 and was listed as the slave of Ambrose Ray in the December 10, 1848 division of his estate. It is assumed that her husband was Bob because she was listed next to him as wife, but there was no age provided for him. Becky is the oldest African American female listed in Washington County.

Daniel and George

Daniel and George are similar historical African American figures in Washington County, Georgia because they share certain distinctions. Both were born in 1760. Daniel was born in North Carolina while George was born in Virginia. Both appear in the 1860 U. S. Census Mortality Schedule for Washington County, Georgia. Their distinction is rooted in the fact that they both died the same year at age 100 years. They are also distinguished by the fact that they both are two of the oldest identified African Americans in Washington County by name. They were both listed as field hands in the 1860 U. S. Census Mortality Schedule. Daniel died suddenly in December and George died in October after a fourteen day affliction with palsy.


Primus was born in 1765 in an unknown place. His distinction as a historical African American figure in Washington County, Georgia resides in the fact that he is identified as the oldest first African American so identified by name to have died in the County. He is listed in the 1850 U. S. Census Mortality Schedule for Washington County, Georgia.

Elizabeth Chester

Elizabeth Chester was born in 1765 in Virginia and was freed probably upon a petition by Absalom Chester. She is listed as a free person of color in the 1850 U. S. Census of Washington County, Georgia and is the matriarch of the entire African American Chester family of Washington County and is the oldest recorded free African American female known to be in Washington County.

Isaac Whitaker

Isaac Whitaker was reportedly born in 1765 in North Carolina and is listed as a free person of color in the 1850 U. S. Census for Washington County, Georgia. He is the oldest named African American male freeman to be identified in Washington County, Georgia. In William Whitaker’s will of 1837 [Baldwin County – formerly part of Washington County] there were two Isaac’s aged fifty and fifty-five years respectively. It is suspected that either one of them could be our current subject. The process by which he became free in Washington County is not known. Parts of the Whitaker family migrated to Georgia from North Carolina into Georgia during the late 1700’s.

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