Johnson Franklin Cunningham, Oglethorpe County, GA
by Dana Huff
Johnson Franklin Cunningham, pictured here with my great-great grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham, sent the letter that follows to Amos’s daughter Dessie Cunningham Gray. I think it would mean a great deal to his descendants so I would like to share it here on Lowcountry Africana. I would like to invite anyone who believes they have traced a connection to any of the lines I’m researching to contact me through my genealogy blog Our Family History.
These pictures were taken at a Cunningham Family Reunion in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1951. In the first picture, the man on the right is my great-great-grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham. He was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1871, but his family moved to Texas in about 1880. He went back to Georgia for the first time on the occasion of this reunion. It was the first time he’d seen his sister Lizzie Burkhalter since the family left for Texas.
The man on the left in both pictures is Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was named for Amos’s father, Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was born in 1868, also in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, to former slaves named James and Charlotte Cunningham. I believe that James Cunningham had been owned by Amos’s father, and I feel quite certain that Charlotte was. I have always been told by Amos’s grandchildren, including my grandfather and his cousin Mary Elder, that when they were little, the two men in the picture were playmates.
Letter, Johnson Franklin Cunningham to Dessie Cunningham Gray, 1952
Johnson Franklin Cunningham, pictured above with my great-great grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham, sent the letter that follows to Amos’s daughter Dessie Cunningham Gray.
Rte. 2 Box 8
Sept. 13, 1952
Mrs. John R. Gray
Dear Mrs. Gray:
Your letter has been received. I was happy to know that you all arrived
safe and that your father made the trip just fine.
I too was sorry I did not get to see you all again before you left for Texas,
however, I am hoping that you can make a trip back to Georgia again soon.
Thanks very much for sending the pictures. I have enjoyed looking at them.
I shall pray continually for your boy and all others that are in Korea.
I am inclosing a copy from those papers in this letter that you want.
Best wishes to your father.
The pages that follow appear to be a record of slave and free births in his family and are not in an order that was discernible to me, but may make sense to someone who knows more about the family.
Isabel child of Tillis was born on the 8th day of July 1856
Alford child of Tillis was born on the 29th of June 1858
Eliza Ann child of Charlotty was born on the 5th day of April 1859
George Alexander child of Charlotty was born on Monday the 12th of November 1860
Louisa child of Charlotty was born the 7th of December 1862
Hal child of Tillis was born on the [blank space] of June 1860
Green child of Conelia was born on the 14th day of August 1862
Lucy child of Elizabeth was born on the 23rd day of April 1862
Isaah child of Tillis was born on the 4th October 1862
Warren child of Conelia was born on the [missing word] of Jan. 1864
John Washington child of Thena [unsure if that is the correct name; handwriting difficult to decipher]
was born on the 1st day of March 1865
Green Terrel of Franklin County was born on the 19th day of October 1829
Correy Isibel child of Kidy was born 1st day of September 1872
Mandy child of Kidy was born the 15th September 1874
Dewit Clinton child of Kidy was born on the 1st day of Oct. 1877
Samuel Terrel Sherman child of Green T. Conelser [handwriting difficult to read]
Terrel was was born on 31st day of January 1871
Thomas child of Tom T. Julian was born on Tuesday the 8th day of Oct. 1867
John Henry child of Tom T. Julian was born on the 16th October 1869
Susan Anna child of Latty was born on the 22nd day of March 1874
William Robertson child of Julian Anna Tom was born on 30th day of June 1874
Clarinda Allin child of Latty T. Tom was born 26th day of April 1878
Mandy child of Charlotty was born on the 13th day of September 1864
Martha child of Henrietta was born on the 25 day of April 1865
Johnson Franklin child of Charlotty was born on Saturday the 17th day of July 1868
S. Elizabeth child of Sarah T. Robert was born on Monday night the 7th of December 1868
James William Rufus child of Henrietta was born on the 14th of January 1867
John Terrel child of Conelia Ann Warren was born on the 27th of January 1868
Eddy child of Sarah T. Robert was born on the 25 day of June 1865
Rolley James Franklin child of Sara T. Robert was born on the 25th December 1866
Charlotty (or Charlotte), Henrietta, and Elizabeth are sisters, the daughter of a woman named Louiza, and all are mentioned in the will of Barbara Williams, November 5, 1850, along with their brother Robert. Barbara Williams owned them and left them to her niece Mary Anne Penelope Anthony in her will. Later, Mary Anne Penelope Anthony would marry Johnson Franklin Cunningham, for whom the writer of the letter quoted above was presumably named.
Thus, the slaves passed from the Williams to the Anthony to the Cunningham family. Johnson Franklin Cunningham concludes his letter as follows:
“My father was a bought slave from Toll Goolsby. His name is James Tolbert Cunningham. You’ll know my family by the name of my mother’s name Charlotty.”
“My name Johnson Franklin child of Charlotty was born on Saturday the 17th day of July 1868.”
In the photo above, family members believed him to be 81 to Amos’s 80 years of age, but he would have been 83 when the photo was taken.
I was able to discover a great deal about Johnson Franklin Cunningham with some detective work. I located him on the 1880 Census with his father James and mother Charlotte in the Grove Creek area of Oglethorpe County, Georgia.
The census was enumerated on June 11, 1880. I was unable to locate him (or his parents) on the 1870 census, but he had been born by the time the census was taken. In 1880, he was 11 years old and worked on his family’s farm. If you click on the census image at left and scroll down to line 6, you will find his family.
I was unable to locate him on the 1900, 1910, or 1920 Census, but I don’t believe that he moved. I found him again in the 1930 Census with his wife Eliza in the same area — Grove Creek, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. This census was enumerated April 14 and 15, 1930.
What I was able to learn about him from this census is that he was 61 years old, owned a farm, could read and write, had an adopted son named Carey B. Cunningham and two adopted daughters named Mamie Armstrong and Annie B. Cunningham, and lived on Lexington Road. He probably married about 1902 to Eliza. The entire family was born in Georgia, and both Johnson and Eliza’s parents were born in Georgia as well. If you click on the thumbnail at right and scroll down to line 71, you will see Johnson Franklin Cunningham and his family.
I found a Georgia death record for J. F. Cunningham on Ancestry.com:
Name: J F Cunningham
Death Date: 13 Oct 1958
County of Death: Oglethorpe
Age: 90 years
County of Residence: Oglethorpe
No James was mentioned in the will of Barbara Williams (see footnote below). However, a Charlotte is mentioned as the child of Louiza. It is possible this is the same Charlotte. My ancestor Johnson Franklin Cunningham married Mary Ann P. Anthony, who is mentioned in Barbara Williams’ will. In fact, Barbara Williams bequeathed Louiza and her four children Charlotte, Elizabeth, Robert, and Henrietta “and the future increase” to Mary Ann P. Anthony “and her heirs forever.”
It is plausible that Charlotte Cunningham, if not her husband James Cunningham, entered the Cunningham family through this will and the subsequent marriage between my great-great-grandparents. Unfortunately, the 1860 Slave Schedules of the U.S. Census did not enumerate African American slaves by name. They are listed under the names of their owners and by age and sex. Click on the thumbnail at left to view the 1860 Slave Schedule listing for Johnson Franklin Cunningham of Oglethorpe County
Assuming (and this is a big assumption) that the U.S. Census lists the correct ages for Johnson F. Cunningham’s parents James and Charlotte Cunningham, then James Cunningham would have been about 31 in 1860 and Charlotte Cunningham would have been about 19. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule above, there is no male of that age, but there is a 19-year-old female. This may be Charlotte. There are also other candidates close in age.
Another piece of circumstantial evidence is that James and Charlotte Cunningham had a daughter named Louisa in the 1880 Census. It is possible that James Cunningham was not one of Johnson Franklin Cunningham’s slaves; the Cunningham family in Oglethorpe County was large even at that time. However, it does seem likely that Johnson F. Cunningham’s mother Charlotte Cunningham was owned by my great-great-great-grandfather Johnson Franklin Cunningham prior to the Civil War.
Based upon this evidence, I was able to deduce his mother was Charlotte and that his father, James, might not have been owned by the Cunninghams. However, I think J. F. Cunningham could be indicating in his letter that his father was bought by the Cunninghams from a man named Toll Goolsby and thus not part of the existing Cunningham family. I believe Toll Goolsby may be Toliver B. Goolsby, who is listed in the 1860 Slave Schedules for Oglethorpe County, Georgia.
Will of Barbara Williams, Oglethorpe County, Georgia
Record of Wills November Term 1851 Georgia
I Barbara Williams of said County being of sound and disposing mind and memory do publish and declare this to be my last will and testament, hereby Revoking all other wills by me made.
1st I give and bequeath unto to Mary Ann P. Anthony daughter of Matthew J. W. Anthony, one negro woman by the name of Louiza and her four children to wit: Charlotte, Elizabeth, Robert, and Henrietta and the future increase of the said female slaves to the said Mary Ann and her heirs forever.
2nd I give and bequeath unto Mahuldah Anthony daughter of Thomas B. Anthony one negro woman by the name of Teresa and her four children to wit: Evaline, Lucy, Nathan, and Henry and the future increase of said female slaves to her and her heirs forever.
3rd I give and bequeath unto Rebecca Williams Huff, daughter of Barbara Huff, two choice cows and calves, Bed and bedsteads and bed clothing also to Mary Ann P. Anthony and Mahuldah each a bed bedstead and clothing for the same.
4th I give and bequeath and devise unto my friend Johnson F. Cunningham all the rest and residue of my estate of whatever kind or nature Real, personal, and mixed ready money and choser [?] in action. I give and bequeath the whole balance of my property to my said friend Johnson F. Cunningham to him and his heirs forever in fee simple and this I do as well out of Regard & friendship for him, as for actual services and kindness he has heretofore rendered to me and which I know he will continue to render in the future.
Another consideration for this bequest is that I have four old negroes that I have owned for many years. They have been faithful servants and they will have to be supported by the said Johnson F. Cunningham and I most earnestly request him to take care of them. Their names are Dave, Charles, Robbin, and Lucy. Also I desire my said friend Johnson F. Cunningham to treat With great and marked kindness a negro girl by the name of Josephene, and the said Johnson F. Cunningham is to pay annually or to ? ill the best manner, for the comfort and support of___? Barbara Huff my Niece, annually the sum of seventy dollars (70) during the natural lifetime of this said Barbara Huff free from all control contracts or interference of any kind of her present or any future husband.
5th I further order and direct that the negroes bequeathed unto Mary Ann P. Anthony and Mahuldah Anthony be kept and controlled (sic) by my said friend Johnson F. Cunningham until my said nieces marry or become of age when either event happens then and not till then the said Johnson F. Cunningham is to deliver the negroes bequeathed to the said Mary Ann P. Anthony and Mahulda. The yearly value in the meantime to be applied to the education, support, and maintenance of the said Mary Ann P. and Mahuldah Anthony.
6th I appoint the said Johnson F. Cunningham Executor of this my last will and testament.
signed sealed published
and declared in our presence
in the presence of each other &
in the presents [sic] of the testator.
this 5th day of November 1850.
Benj. F. Hardeman
Rolly H. Mathews
Barbara x Williams
Recorded 11 Nov 1851
About the Author
Dana Swier Huff’s blog Our Family History focuses on her grandfather’s line — the Cunningham/Bowling and Jennings/Stallings lines. She has learned a great deal about her father’s lines — the Swier/Gearhart lines, and she also research her husband Steve’s family, the Huff/Bolton lines and allied families.