Sunday, October 14, 2012

Butcher, baker or candlestick maker--what did your ancestor do?

A person's occupation is a big part of their life. That is true today and it was true for our ancestors. Not only did it determine how they spent their days, but also who they associated with, as well as their social standing in the community.  The vast majority of my ancestors were farmers. Generation after generation, the sons followed in their father's footsteps and worked the land.  While it was a way of providing the essentials for their family, for many it was also all that they knew.


Although most of my ancestors farmed, I have a few who chose a different occupation and those occupations helped them to stand out, making it a tad easier for me to spot them on records such as census.  Such was the case for David Gurganus  who I've written about most recently.  David Gurganus, the younger, was a blacksmith.  But David's father and my fouth great grandfather, also David Gurganus , also had an occupation that varied from the norm.  David Gurganus, the senior, died in Bibb County, Georgia in March of 1850 and so was  listed on the 1850 Mortality Census for "Persons who died during the Year ending 1st June 1850."  Under "Profession, occupation or trade," it indicated that he had been a "turner."

While there have been many types of turners over the course of history, and there have been many things that were turned,  including wood, metal, and pottery, among other things, I think it is most likely that David was a pottery turner.  Edgefield, South Carolina where David had lived for about 25 years was known for its beautiful pottery ( see here ) and in fact there was an area of Edgefield called Pottersville, which was a community of potters.  The natural resources of the region provided the needed materials to create beautiful pottery. In addition, they used an alkaline-glazed method there which produced strong and beautiful pottery which was unique at the time. While thousands of pots were created during their boom days, relatively few  pieces have survived intact and consequently those that remain are considered a prize for collectors. (see examples here)   Recently an auction offered 1858 Drake stoneware from Edgefield  and pieces were estimated at $100,000 to $175,000. (NY Times article) I guess that means that I won't be picking up a piece for the living room shelf anytime soon.

Not surprisingly, I have found various Edgefield turners and potters of that era among David's associates.  In addition, in the book, "I Made This Jar: The life and works of the enslaved African-American Potter, Dave," by Jill Beute Koverman, a reference is made on page 23 about the location of Pottersville in 1830 and the land owned by those potters.  In mentioning the location of this property, reference is made to Harvey Drake's tract of land and "a certain tract of land called the Gurganus place."

I love every little piece of information that I gather about each ancestor that helps me to know and understand them a little better. While I will never own a piece of Edgefield, South Carolina pottery, knowing that David was there and possibly participated in some small way in the creation of some of the pottery made there is a wonderful find and a fun treasure to me.  

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What was she thinking?

What was she thinking?  Was there a reason for Elizabeth Hancock, a young widow, to be concerned about the safety of her assets as she anticipated her marriage to David Gurganus?  Or was she simply following the recommendations of well meaning or possibly even slightly suspicious associates?  Was she really worried about the possibility of the  "indiscretion of her intended husband?"  As I searched to learn more about David Gurganus, son of David and Mary (Swain) Gurganus, I came across the following among Edgefield, South Carolina Equity Court records:
"That the said Simon Hancock departed this life intestate sometime during the latter part of the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty eight, leaving his wife and children in the possession of the said property.  That Eliza Hancock his widow afterward to wit on or about the sixth day of May in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine in contemplation of an intermarriage with the said David Gurganus made and executed a deed of trust to your orator John Day with a view of protecting her property against any indiscretion of her intended husband."
It's hard to put myself in the place of a young widow with three children and it is equally difficult to imagine what her concerns and fears might have been in 1829.  By all appearances,  her deceased husband had left her with considerable property and the annual returns reveal a widow that continued to live a very comfortable lifestyle, frequently traveling to Augusta, Georgia to shop.  But there would have been concerns beyond financial stability for a young widow in that time period, not the least of which was safety. In addition, neither widows nor widowers relished the idea of rearing children alone and as was frequently seen in those times,  Elisabeth remarried less than a year following her husband's death.

For reasons not expressed in court documents, David did in fact begin to sell her properties following their marriage and they prepared to leave the state.  My suspicions are that they were preparing for the move to Cass County, Georgia that was mentioned in my previous post.  In any case, it did not sit well with John Day who had been entrusted with protecting Elizabeth's property against any indiscretion.

On 10 Oct 1834 a bill filed against David Gurganus:
"Your orator John Day further shows unto your honors that he declined to accept of the trust unless the said David Gurganus should be apprised of the said tract deed and thereupon the said David Gurganus was fully apprised of said deed and was present when it was executed.  And the said David Gurganus and Eliza Hancock were shortly afterward married.  The said David Gurganus since by said intermarriage has sold, disposed of or squandered nearly all the property specified in said deeds, except the land, and Negroes and is now, as your orator John Day is informed upon good authority and very believes, preparing to remove from the state and intends to set off in a few days and carry with him the said Negroes."

From that point on, there was a flurry of documents filed and testimony given as to who knew what when and to what extent Eliza had been party to the sale.  Although there had been the required dowers release, she may not necessarily have been in full agreement of her own free will and choice as the release would otherwise imply. In addition, there was a question as to what extent Eliza had had authority regarding the children's shares and as to whether David and Eliza had received  full value on the sale of the properties. The court battle began in 1834, continued after David returned "home" following his time served in the Milledgeville Penitentiary (previous post here), and extended into the year 1845, when the kids were of age to have received their share of their father's estate.

As I read through the court documents, it was difficult to discern the truth, to wade through the accusations and testimonies from a variety of individuals to determine what really happened.  Did David become greedy or were there personal issues and biases that existed among Eliza's family and those entrusted with the watch care over her family's inheritance?  To what extent did Eliza's children resent a step-father that had influence over their mother?  But there were there indications that Eliza was in agreement regarding the transactions and that no more than her share had been sold.  As I read through the documents, I couldn't help but feel that just maybe David was not such a bad guy, but that instead he was caught in the middle of a squabble in which he was the outsider.  Perhaps even the initial filing against "indiscretions of her intended husband," were not indications of her suspicions as much as strong recommendations from the protective friends of her deceased husband.

In the end, it's not surprising that David and Eliza decided to take their children Willis, Moses, Frances, Mary and David and move from Edgefield,  leaving behind the persistent legal troubles that had plagued them for over 10 years. Initially they settled in Hamilton County, Florida and were living there in 1850. Once again,  David's  distinguishing occupation of "blacksmith" helped me to locate him and Eliza. The final document that I have for David is a census record for the 12th day of July, 1870 in Lake City, Columbia County, Florida.  I assume that Elizabeth had died by then as David was living with their yet unmarried daughter, Frances.  David was listed as 62 years old and a blacksmith. Whether Eliza had initially had reservations about David or not, she chose to remain with him through years of emotionally trying court battles, to wait for him as he served time in a prison miles away from home in another state, and then moved with him to Florida, leaving behind her extended family and friends. Whatever others may have seen that concerned them about David, it seems that Elizabeth saw enough good that she remained with him for over thirty years.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The crime of "escape"

Blacksmith, David Gurganus
A Blacksmith's Shop by Richard Earlom
Wikimedia Commons
It was him.  I just knew it.  After all, how many Blacksmiths named David Gurganus could there be?
"#695; David Gurganis; Crime: Escape; Term of years: 1 1/2 years; When received:  9 Sept. 1838:  Sentence expires:  9 Mar 1840; County where convicted: Cass County; Occupation:  Blacksmith; Birthplace:  North Carolina; No of sentences:  1; Age: 36 yrs; 5 ft. 9 1/4 in; Dark complexion, black eyes; black hair;  served out sentence and discharged."   
David was born about 1804, was the son of David Gurganus and Mary Swain and was brother to James Gurganus, my third great grandfather.  One thing that I noticed about him early on was that as a blacksmith, he stood out on the census among the sea of farmers. Being a blacksmith made him a little different and that along with some of his escapades, made him one of James's  "easier-to-find"  siblings and you will soon see why.

 This time, David's name was on a list of men in the penitentiary in Milledgeville.  According to the entry found on page 99 in "The Georgia Black Book," by Robert Scott Davis,  David had been arrested for "escape" in Cass County, Georgia (now Bartow County)  and served out his 1 1/2 years.  I wondered exactly what "escape" meant in that time period and so I turned to "Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia," (see HERE)  which is particularly helpful for legal terms used in the mid 1800's.  Actually there was no surprise in the definition, "escape" is "The deliverance of a person who is lawfully imprisoned, out of prison, before such a person is entitled to such deliverance by law."  So the question becomes, just why was David arrested in the first place?  Where did he escape from?  Despite efforts to search court records, I have not been able to find any more related to David's initial imprisonment. I have taken note that 1838 was a very tumultuous time for North Georgia and it was during that spring and summer that the final events of the Trail of Tears occurred , much of which occurred in the Cass County area.   I wonder, in what way may that have impacted David?
Milledgeville Penitentiary Georgia
Milledgeville Penitentiary burning in 1864
More about Penitentiary Here

Prior to this time, David and his wife and children were living in Edgefield, South Carolina where David had lived most of his life until then.  On 6 May 1829, David had married a  Elizabeth (MNU),  the wealthy widow of Simon Hancock.   She had three children from her previous marriage and by the time of David's arrest, they had three children of their own.  I knew that the family had been in South Carolina in 1834 because some of David's business dealings had created legal troubles and I had found those documents among court records, but that's a story for another day.

I wanted to be sure that the David Gurganus in Cass County, Georgia was the same David that had lived in Edgefield, South Carolina. I was able to establish that fact when I turned to Edgefield, South Carolina court records and discovered annual returns for Elizabeth Gurganus during that same time period.  The first reads  "Mrs. Gurganus for part board for heirs while in GA by D. Gurganus per order as receipt,  29 Oct 1838."  Then on the 19 of February, 1838 Benjamin R. Tillman was made guardian for their children.  Also among her annual returns I found, "14 May 1838 R. Harden (half expense) of moving minors of Mrs. Gurganus back to Edgefield out from Cass County, GA. Total expense:  131.50 = 65.75."  Although Elizabeth's first husband, Simon Hancock had left her very comfortable, I can imagine how hard and difficult this time must have been for her, especially in an unfamiliar area, so it's not surprising that she and her six children returned to Edgefield, where she had lived for years and where she could receive help and support.  She remained there while she waited for David's release which came 9 March 1840.

It all fit.  David Gurganus, the blacksmith who was imprisoned in Milledgeville was my third great grandfather's brother, David, son of David and Mary (Swain) Gurganus.  Hopefully over time I will find more details for this chapter of David's life, but even without them, his story is far from over and in my next post, I will tell you more.