The Alabama Black McGruders

The ALABAMA BLACK McGRUDERS: The Life and Ancestry of Charles McGruder Sr.

By J.R. Rothstein

Table of Contents

I. Introduction


About The Author

Acknowledgements, Methodology & Invitation To Share

II. The Magruder Family

Alexander Magruder & the White Magruders

The Alabama Black Magruders

III. The Ancestry of Charles McGruder

Who was Charles’ Father?

The Paper Trail

The Oral History

The DNA Testing


IV. The Life of Charles McGruder

The Early Years of Charles

Charles Forms Numerous Families

The Wynne Family Fights over Charles

Charles’ Wives & Children.

After Slavery, Charles Registers To Vote & Acquires Land.

Under Jim Crow, Wedgeworth Persecutes the Black McGruders

The Last Years of Charles

  1. McGruder Place Map.
  2. The Life of Rachel Hill

I. Introduction


Charles Magruder was born a slave in North (or South) Carolina in 1822. According to some accounts, Charles would eventually sire over a hundred children, including fifty-two sons. Many of these children had large families of their own who had large families of their own. Hundreds, if not thousands, of his descendants, sometimes referred to as the “Black McGruders of Alabama,” would go on to populate Alabama and its adjacent territories during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This account, using DNA, oral history and the written record, attempts to reconstruct the origins of this family and preserve the events of Charles’ life.

About The Author

J.R. Rothstein is real estate Counsel at The Redstone Group, a real estate consulting and investing company. Previously he was an Associate at Liddle & Robinson working primarily in employment and civil rights law. Prior to that, he served as a federal law clerk in the Eastern District of New York for the Honorable I. Leo Glasser. In 2010, Mr. Rothstein received his Juris Doctor, and Master of Laws in International and Comparative Law from Cornell Law School, where he was Editor of the Journal of Law and Public Policy and an Albert Heit Scholarship recipient. Mr. Rothstein received his Bachelor of Arts in Middle-Eastern Studies and African-American studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has lived, worked, studied, or traveled in some three dozen countries. He is passionate about oral history and genealogy.

Acknowledgements, Methodology & Invitation To Share

This history would have been impossible without the following people: (a) Catherine Gibbs Robertson (wife of Curtis Robertson, son of Lucille McGruder), who took the time in the 1960’s to document a family history that was not her own; (b) Lucille Burden Osborne, who at the age of 90 still has the same curiosity and passion for family history that she did as a child—and which ultimately made this document possible. I spent days with Lucille on the phone recounting family history and stories. It is impossible to state how much of this document relies on her testimony, keen analysis and inquisitive spirit. She was able to provide me with nearly 150 years of family history; (c) Herman English, whom I never met, but on whose research I heavily relied; (d) Professor Kevin McGruder, who worked closely with Herman in documenting many of the family names and who supported me throughout this process; (d) Sabrina Franklin, who gives true meaning to the word genealogist and whose research I entirely adopted. Sabrina spent hundreds of hours over a period of decades gathering details of the life of Charles McGruder and his relatives. It was due to her research that McGruder family historians have been able to trace the life of Charles, and his larger connection to the white Magruder family, and reunite a family torn apart by slavery; (e) Jill Magruder Gatwood, a member of the white Magruder family, who has been actively seeking links between white and black Magruders/McGruders (and other African Americans who connect to the Magruders via slavery) for many years. She administers the African American Magruders YDNA project through Family Tree DNA ( and has financially supported DNA testing for interested African American Magruders/McGruders, to help them learn more about their family histories. Jill’s commitment to genealogy and to racial (and family) healing is unparalleled; (f) Professor Susan Tichy, a member of the white Magruder family and editor of Magruder’s Landing, who painstakingly edited numerous drafts of this work. She is dedicated to preserving the history of the Magruder family and uniting its varied branches, both black and white.

Finally, special thanks go to Juan McGruder, Wilmar McGruder, Betty Shaw, Anita McGrew, and many other family members, whom I interviewed and who offered their DNA to make this research possible.

Regarding my methodology, I have tried to use my academic training to be as objective as possible in compiling this history and where possible to rely on the written record. Despite this, disclaimers need to be made concerning the historical accuracy of events described herein, as this document is being compiled, in part, from oral accounts about events and people who lived well over a century ago. Much of this document results from my parsing together different accounts from different descendants of Charles—an arduous task which is prone to error.

Throughout this document I make note of points that need more research. I invite the reader to contribute / discuss / ask / and to continue and complete the story. Should you have a different understanding of the people and events described in this document, or have something to add, please do not defer your judgment to the account in this history. Rather, contact me at jrr483(at) so I can document your understanding of the events and amend this history accordingly.

II. The Magruder Family

Alexander Magruder & the White Magruders

Alexander Magruder, “the Immigrant” (1610-1677),  was a white Scottish settler who was born at Belliclone (now Nether Belliclone), Maderty Parish, Perthshire, Scotland. Alexander was the son of Alexander McGruder, the Elder, and Margaret Campbell of Keithick. He is believed to have arrived in Maryland by 1652 as an indentured servant, having been taken prisoner during Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland. Extant land records place him in Maryland by November 1653. Alexander fathered numerous children, who in turn bore numerous children, and whose descendants spread throughout the United States along the general patterns and migrations of white settlers. The Magruder spelling is uniquely American, adopted from the signature on Alexander’s will, and is used by most (though not all) of his descendants. All white Magruders and nearly all McGruders in the United States descend from this one man.[1]

Alexander became economically successful and soon was the owner of numerous plantations which his descendants further developed. No one knows exactly how Alexander became a large landowner so quickly. In Scotland, his family had close ties to the wealthy and powerful Drummond family, whom they had served as clerks, scribes, and chamberlains for several generations. It therefore seems likely that through his connections Alexander was able to buy out his indenture and begin acquiring land at an early date. He also built or acquired a tobacco landing—a shipping point on the Patuxent River—for the export of tobacco to Europe. This gave him a steady source of income not tied to the unstable price of tobacco itself. When he died in 1677, Alexander Magruder owned four indentured servants and one slave, named Sambo. (You can learn more about Alexander Magruder on other pages of this website.)

By the start of the 19th century, Alexander’s descendants had spread throughout the colony of Maryland, and by the end of that century were expanding into frontier Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. In the last decades of slavery, Magruders owned plantations, large and small, throughout the South, reaching from Maryland to Mississippi, to Arkansas, Kentucky, and beyond.

During slavery an unknown number of white male descendants of Alexander Magruder fathered children with black female slaves throughout the South. It is also evident that some former slaves adopted the Magruder surname after the Emancipation Proclamation. Some of these new freedmen were related to their former slave owners; others were not.

The Alabama Black Magruders

This document will not attempt to trace the families of all black Magruders and McGruders. It is relevant only to those whose black Magruder/McGruder ancestors were owned by the Magruder-Wynne families of Hale and Greene County Alabama.[2] Numerous other black Magruder/McGruder families exist elsewhere in the South with their own separate histories, and share no connection to our protagonist, Charles McGruder.[3] However, in some cases, oral histories point to some of them, too, as having been descended from white Magruder slaveholders, and other African-American Magruder/McGruder families are known to share Y-DNA with white Magruders through other family lines. In our instance, black McGruders interviewed for this article assert that all, or most, black McGruders from Alabama, and specifically Hale and Green Counties, are related to our family via Charles McGruder Sr. and his immediate family.

Numerous spellings of the surname are associated with the black McGruders of Hale and Green Counties. According to Juan McGruder[4], members of our family spelled the surname MaGruder, McGruder, Mccruder[5], Mcgruda, McGouder, Mcruder, and Mcgruter.

Three reasons have been posited for this. (1) According to Juan McGruder, after slavery African-Americans were given the option of adopting surnames. Many of them adopted the surnames of their former owners. Because some of the black McGruders were illiterate, or spelled their names phonetically, this produced different spellings of the surname among those who were genetically related. (2) According to Lucille Osborne[6], one branch of the children of Charles McGruder intentionally started spelling their surname McCruder or McGruter in order to distinguish themselves from the other branches of the family. (3) Census reporters sometimes misspelled family names according to how they heard them phonetically, and then these spellings were adopted by the families themselves.

III. The Ancestry of Charles Magruder

There is some discrepancy in the family narrative as to the names of Charles’ father and mother and as to their ethnic composition. I will explore the primary documents, oral history, and DNA results separately, and then finally present my analysis as to what I think is the most likely scenario of events. The narrative flows as it does by my parsing together bits and pieces of oral testimonies into a coherent narrative based on my macro-understanding of the history.

Who was Charles’ Father?

A.   The Paper Trail

Some family researchers, specifically Herman English, Sabrina Franklin, Professor Kevin McGruder, Wilmar McGruder, Betty Shaw, and others, assert that Charles’ father was Ned McGruder (b. 1795) and his mother was Maria (b. 1800). According to the 1880 census, Charles’ parents were born in South Carolina.

Herman English, a preeminent historian of the Alabama McGruder family, recounts that:

[a]t the courthouse [in Greensboro] . . . I saw the Greene County Alabama State Colored Population Census listing of [] Charles Mc Gruder, from the will of Eleanor McGruder (the White plantation owner) all of her slaves were listed included my great, great, great grandparents, Ned and Mariah.

In the will, dated February 14, 1848, Eleanor Magruder Wynne of Greene County, Alabama, bequeaths a group of slaves to her daughter Salina Ann Eleanor Wynne Ferrelle. The precise language of the will provides: I, Eleanor Magruder…

bequeath to my daughter Salina Ann Eleanor Ferrell the following Negro slaves, that is to say, Ned, aged about fifty-three years, and Maria wife of Ned aged about forty-eight years, Fanny, daughter of Maria aged about twenty-seven-years, Martha, daughter of Maria, aged about twenty-four years, Charles[8], son of Maria aged about eighteen years, Jasper son of Maria aged about twelve-years.[9]

Mr. English further observed that, “[i]ncluded in this group are Ned and Mariah (adults) and children including Charles and Jasper, two names that reoccur in the McGruder Family. Based on the location of the Wynn[e] property near the base of the McGruder family in Alabama, and the names of the slaves, we assume that Ned, Mariah, [and] Charles” adopted the McGruder surname at the end of slavery.[10] Mr. English continues, “[w]e assume that Ned and Mariah’s son, Charles (b. 1822), was the father of the Charles McGruder known in the family as ‘Grandpa Charles.’”

B.    The Oral History

Professor Kevin McGruder has related that he had heard at the annual black McGruder family reunions that there was an oral history basis for the Ned-Mariah-Charles connection. He could not provide a specific source. However, Lucille Burden Osborne, Juan McGruder, Geneva Burden, and Gwendoline Hubbard, believe/heard that Charles’ father was fully white[11]. Irrespective of the name of Charles’ father, and his precise ethnic composition, Charles had very fair skin and his physical appearance was reported to be mostly white. According to Lucille B. Osborne, Elsee L. Cooper, who was ten years old when Charles died, told her that Charles was a tall, light skinned man, and had grey curly hair. He reportedly looked the most like his children Amos and Creed McGruder who, according to Lucille B. Osborne, had a more Hispanic, or Middle-Eastern, or “bronze complexion.” [12] According to Lucille B. Osborne, Charles reportedly received special privileges as a slave due to his biological relationship with his owner(s).

C.    The DNA Testing

A total of six known DNA tests have been conducted on biologically related family members of the black McGruder family of Hale and Green Counties, Alabama. Four out of five confirm that the white and Alabama black Magruder families are related. The fifth is inconclusive in proving a white Magruder connection, yet does show European ancestry generally. A sixth test was conducted to test whether the black Wynnes of Texas are related to the black Magruders of Alabama.

The first DNA test was done by one male descendant of Charles McGruder Jr. and Mary Williams. The test revealed a connection to Y-Chromosome Haplotype R-CTS11722, mutation M-269, indicating direct patrilineal European ancestry, likely to be extracted from the British Isles. A second autosomal DNA test, done on Dovie Robertson, a female descendant of Charles McGruder, matched with two white Magruder families, both descended from Ninian Offutt Magruder. The third DNA test, a Y-Chromosome test done on Juan McGruder (a descendent of Charles McGruder Jr. and Mary Williams), matched all 67 markers with numerous white Magruders in the Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) database, including a white direct descendant of Ninian Offutt Magruder via his son John. A fourth test done on Wilmar McGruder (a descendent of Charles McGruder Sr. and Rachel Hill) confirmed the same results. A fifth DNA (autosomal) test, conducted on Lucille Burden Osborne, confirmed linkage to other black Magruders but was inconclusive regarding the white Magruders. A sixth DNA test conducted on Gloria Franklin provided that there is not a genetic connection between the black Texas Wynne family and the black Alabama Magruders/McGruders, nor an obvious genetic connection between the White Magruders and the Black Wynnes.

Irrespective of the exact nature and origin of Charles’ white heritage, Y-DNA results conducted on Charles’ male descendants confirm a European heritage with haplotype sub-mutations to indicate direct male origins in the British Isles, and match perfectly with the white Magruder chromosomes—confirming with overwhelming statistical certainty that a European male, a descendant of Alexander Magruder, sired a male child with a direct female ancestor of Charles McGruder Sr. at some point within a generation or two of his lifetime.

D.   Analysis

Based on the information thus far presented, two questions arise. (1) Which individual white male Magruder was responsible for fathering Charles McGruder or one of his direct black male ancestors? (2) Was that white Magruder Charles’ father, grandfather, or even great-grandfather?

Marshalling the genetic, written, and oral evidence at hand, the author believes that the Ned-Charles connection put forth by other black McGruder researchers, such as Wilmar McGruder and Herman English, is overwhelmingly likely.[13] The author further believes that Ned McGruder was the son of a white slave owner, Ninian Offutt Magruder III (1744-1803), (or alternatively one of Ninian’s sons), and an unknown slave woman.[14]

Ninian Offutt Magruder, son of Ninian and Mary (Offutt) Magruder, was born in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1744. Ninian was a great-great grandson of Alexander Magruder, the Immigrant, via Alexander’s son Samuel Magruder (born about 1654/1660), Ninian Beall Magruder (born about 1688), and John Magruder (born 1709), who married Jane Offut. Ninian Offut Magruder married Mary Harris, daughter of Thomas Harris and Sarah Offutt, both of Maryland. Ninian and many members of his family were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Ninian took the Patriot’s Oath in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1778. He was a Sergeant in the 29th Battalion, Montgomery County Militia. After the revolutionary war, Ninian Offutt Magruder removed from Maryland to Georgia and settled in that part of Richmond County now known as Columbia County, since Columbia was carved out of Richmond in 1790. Settling in Georgia he became a large planter.[15] At his death, he left an extensive estate. Ninian had a daughter, Eleanor Magruder (1785 – 1849), and five sons: (1) John (1776 – 1826); (2) Zadock (1766-1820); (3) Archibald (1772-1839)[16]; (4) George (1772-1836); and (5) Basil (1774-1801)[17]. Based on the DNA results, it is extremely likely that one of these men was the father of Ned.[18]

Ned was born between 1795 and 1800. This means that, based on their dates of death, any of these Magruder men could have been Ned’s father. At the moment, this question of parentage is impossible to answer with absolute certainty. Future researchers may be able to give more educated guesses when more precise DNA technology develops and as we learn more about the individual lives of these Magruder men. However, based on: (1) the migration patterns of these white Magruder men; (2) the biographical details about them known to the author; (3) that Ned was a slave that belonged to Ninian (as per Ned’s mother’s status); (4) that after Ninian’s death, his estate transferred ownership of Ned to his daughter Eleanor Magruder and not to any of his sons, this author believes that Ned was fathered by Ninian. Had one of Ninian’s sons fathered Ned, that son would have retained ownership of him. These facts, in addition to the genetic distance between the great-grandchildren of Charles McGruder Sr. and white Magruder descendants of Ninan Magruder, point to Ninian as the Magruder male that fathered Ned, thus making Charles’ McGruder’s grandfather, not father, the white Magruder we seek.[19] The author’s proposal fits neatly with the oral history, genetic evidence, and historical documentation.[20] It will be up to future researchers to answer this question conclusively through further DNA testing and research.

IV. The Life of Charles McGruder

The Early Years of Charles

Charles McGruder was born a slave, probably in North Carolina, in 1822[21] to Ned and Mariah Magruder. Little to nothing is known about his youth except that he would have been born into the estate of his slave-owner, a middle-aged Eleanor Magruder. Eleanor’s husband, Williamson Wynne (1760 – 1829), had fought for liberty and freedom in the American Revolution and yet was the owner of many slaves of his own.[22] The oral history hints that Charles would have been aware of his biological relationship to Eleanor Magruder Wynne. Eleanor and Williamson had nine children, three of whom play a direct role in the life of Charles: Salina Ann Wynne (1814–1859), Erasmus Wynne (1807–1863), and Osmund Appeling Wynne (1804-1877).

According to Maddie Lorine Burton, Charles had a light complexion with straight black hair[23] and was a carpenter by profession. The first known appearance of Charles McGruder in the historical record occurs in the will of Eleanor Magruder Wynne of 1848. The will, however, wasn’t settled until 1854. The author thus looked to the 1850 Slave Schedules in search of our Charles. A search of the slaves owned by the Wynne families reveal approximately 192 slaves, almost a hundred of which lived in Greene County. The Slave Schedules don’t list the names of the enslaved, only their age and gender. There were 23 slaves of the Wynne family living in Greene County who were born between 1820 and 1830. Two of them were mulatto, aged 27 and 29, both listed as belonging to Osmund Appeling Wynne.

During the 1850’s a portion of the white Magruder-Wynne family, led by Erasmus Wynne, migrated from Alabama to Texas. Charles remained behind in Alabama with his owner Salina Wynne Ferrell and her family. The family of Ned McGruder was divided, some of the family remaining in Hale and Greene Counties, Alabama, and the other portion migrating with their white slave-owners/family to Texas. Charles’ sister Martha and other family members moved to Texas with Erasmus Wynne. Martha’s descendants are believed to have adopted the surname Wynne. The white and black Wynne families have been documented elsewhere extensively by genealogist Sabrina Franklin of Texas.

In a probate court record dated August 15, 1859 for Osmund Appeling Wynne and Salina Wynne Ferrell, the court ordered an appraisal of all the property belonging to Mrs. Ferrell. The document lists, among others, a Charles, aged 30, valued at $1,500. Charles is identical in assessed value with a “negro man” named Creed, aged 57, as the highest value enslaved person in this group. Assuming, as Herman English does, that this Charles is our “grandpa Charles,” and assuming that Ned’s listed children were actually fathered by him and not fathered by another man, such as his slave owner–as often occurred during slavery–then Charles (b. 1829) shared four full siblings: Fanny (b. 1822), Martha (b. 1825), Jasper (b. 1837), and Lilly (b. 1839).

Charles Forms Numerous Families

Charles McGruder rentals

From a summary of the rentals that Charles and others experienced during these years, taken from the estate documents of Salina Wynne Ferrell. Hale County, Alabama, circa 1869.

Family lore states that in addition to being a carpenter, during enslavement Charles Sr. was used as a stud to breed slaves as a means to increase the supply of slaves. This was part of a larger effort to breed humans for exploitation and forced labor in chattel slavery. The prohibition of the importation of slaves from Africa after 1807 limited the supply of slaves in the United States. In the same period, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of the new republic and opened up vast new territories to settlement. The invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s had enabled expanded cultivation and increased the demand for labor in cotton-producing areas. As a result of all these factors, the domestic slave market expanded rapidly in the early 19th century. During this time period, the terms breeding slaves, child bearing women, breeding period, and too old to breed became familiar. Planters in the Upper South—Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina—started selling slaves in large numbers to the Deep South, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. At least a million slaves were relocated from eastern states to the newer frontiers—some sold to slave traders, others forced to migrate with their owners. According to historian E. Franklin Frazier, in his book The Negro Family, “there were masters who, without any regard for the preferences of their slaves, mated their human chattel as they did their stock.” Charles McGruder was apparently one of those “breeding” slaves.

According to Lucille B. Osborne, Charles’ slave owner wanted Charles “to have as many slave children as he possibly could so he could have more slaves, to have more money, so that he could keep the plantation going.” Charles is reported to have been sent by his owner from plantation to plantation in order to sire children.

In a slave narrative authored by an unrelated former slave named Maggie Stenhouse, during slavery “there were stockmen. They was weighed and tested. A man would rent the stockman and put him in a room with some young women he wanted to raise children from.” According to Lucille Burden Osborne, Charles was generally “very smart” and successful at implementing his “owner’s instructions.” Charles was considered a “valuable piece of property” and a prized slave by his owner. According to Lucille B. Osborne, because Charles was sent/moved/sold from place to place, in each plantation he had to start a family anew. Gwendoline Hubbard heard that Charles had five different families during slavery.

The Wynne Family Fights over Charles


Additional page of the summary of rentals that Charles and others experienced, taken from the estate documents of Salina Wynne Ferrell. Hale County, Alabama. circa 1869.

According to research conducted by Sabrina Franklin, Charles was at the center of a Wynne family property dispute. After Eleanor Magruder Wynne died, she transferred ownership of Charles to her daughter, Salina Wynne Ferrell. Salina’s husband, William Ferrell, died on April 30, 1859. Salina died less than four months later on August 15, 1859.  A property dispute began between her estate and the estate of her husband as to who was to be the owner of Charles. The administrator of Salina’s estate[24] was her brother, Osmund A. Wynne. The parties were often in court. According to records obtained by Sabrina Franklin, among which are the estate records of Salina Wynne Ferrell, from 1859-1865 Charles was hired out[25] by the Ferrell estate, rented by different individuals, and sent from plantation to plantation, coming in and out of custody of the Wynne family. The dispute between the Wynne and Ferrell families seems to have ended with neither side retaining ownership over Charles, but, rather, him gaining his own dominion as the consequence of the Civil War and the 1865 Emancipation Proclamation. At some point shortly after slavery, the record and oral history hint that Charles changed the spelling of his surname from Magruder to McGruder.

Charles’ Wives & Children

Thirty-two of Charles’ children can be named, most of them from oral history. However, details regarding his offspring are at best incomplete. According to Lucille Osborne, a newspaper article, which she thinks was in the Birmingham World News, published a report about Charles siring some one hundred children.[26] According to Juan McGruder, at least fifty-two[27] of these one hundred children were sons.[28]

The author is aware of at least four different women with whom Charles had children: Mary ?[29], Mary Williams[30], Rachel Hill[31] (1845 – 1935), and Matilda/Matida.[32] Oral history indicates a fifth wife but her name is unknown. Rachel Hill’s life and children are detailed in the last section of this history.

Charles McGruder Jr. is the first known son born to Charles McGruder Sr., in 1854, to his wife Mary Williams. One can deduce that his union with Mary Williams was interrupted by the squabbling over the estate of Salina Wynne Ferrell. Amos, Charles’ first child born to Rachel Hill, was born in 1862. Roena, his second child born to Rachel, was born in 1864. James D. McGruder[33], another son, was born to Charles and Mary Williams in 1865. Some family researchers have asserted that in 1865 the family was living in Sawyerville, Alabama (formerly known as Hollow Square).[34] However, this is unlikely and it is probable that the family migrated from Greene County, Alabama—first to Wedgeworth, then to Sawyerville. In 1866, Charles is listed in the Alabama state census as being a resident of Greene County, Alabama, which is adjacent to Hale County, and having 37 people in his household, 22 males and 15 females.

After Slavery, Charles Registers To Vote & Acquires Land

In 1867, an African-American named Charles Magruder registered to vote.[35] This registration belongs either to Charles Sr. or Charles Jr., but is more likely associated with Charles Magruder Sr.[36] In the 1870 census, however, the surname is spelled not Magruder but McGruda.

There is an 1869 reference to Charles Magruder renting land from his former slave owners–in other words, sharecropping. The records of the estate of Salina Wynne Ferrell, of which O.A. Wynne is one of the administrators, provide that the administrator managed:

a small tract of land near Hollow Square, in Hale County, which he [the administrator] has been renting out for several years during the war and since for which he accounted for in his previous settlement, and is charged up for in the settlement now to be made. He rented out a part only of the land for the year 1868, as follows . . . and to Chas. Magruder, about 23 acres for $40 which has been collected and is charged for. And he rented only a part of the land for this year, 1869 . . . and to Chas. Macgruder about 30 acres for $50.00. The land is very much worn, and out of the 250 acres of cleared land there is about 125 acres (in small patches tillable). All of the rest of it is waste land and the fencing very much dilapidated, and it was offered at public auction and could not be rented at any price. The administrator further reports that he hired out the negroes of the estate during the war, and had charged himself with all the hires… and has tried in vain to collect the notes which he holds for the hires of 1864 and 1865… . [37]

On May 23, 1871, the estate records reference to “Chas McGruder freedman” renting what appears to be the same land, but this time more land and “for the sum of $200 Dollars, and he also … bargained to [renovate]… two small log cabins on the place, which he has done.” A note dated April 24, 1872 provides that the administrator rented out “about 125 to 135 acres of … land in Hale County near Hollow Square, for $200.00 Dollars to … Charles McGruder, a freedman, second by his note, for which the crop is bound. The said land is …, and no improvements of any value on it, and cannot be rented out at public auction.”

o-a-wynne Photo of Osmund Appling Wynne (1804 – 1877), circa 1870’s, Hale County Alabama. Mr. Wynne would have been “Master” to Charles, and also his cousin.

On February 17, 1877, Osmund Appling Wynne, son of Williamson Wynne and Eleanor Magruder, and cousin to Charles Magruder, passed away. On November 6, 1877, Charles and Rachel McGruder purchased 240 acres of land for the sum of fifteen hundred dollars from a Frances and Sarah Liles. The deed was recorded in Deed Book Number One, page 420, of Greensboro, Alabama. It provides that to Charles and his children “Amos McGruder, Revena McGruder, Sam McGruder, Julia McGruder, Edmond McGruder, Wiley McGruder, Minerva McGruder, William McGruder and Jasper” to “have and to hold himself, his wife [Rachel], and heirs whose names are herein given and assigns forever.”[38] The 1880 Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules provides that Charles McGruder owned 80 acres of tilled soil, had 10 orchards or vineyards, and 140 acres in woodland all valued at about $800. According to Lucille B. Osborne, Charles Sr. was advised by an “old white man,” possibly connected to his (white) family, about where there were water wells on the property and thus where to start to build on the land. Charles is also reported to have owned a horse.

The oral history indicates that both Charles Sr. and Charles Jr. were concerned with purchasing land. There are numerous stories, or variations of the same story, as to how Charles Sr. acquired the lands he owned. In the opinion of the author, the stories about the land purchases of Charles Sr. and Charles Jr. have become so conflated with one another that they are difficult to separate. Nevertheless, I will begin with the ones I believe most accurate and relevant to Charles Sr.

(1) Charles was given the land by his father/former slave owner(s), who were biologically related to him in some way, because he was a “breeder” and had so many children and/or because he was family)[39]; (2) Charles Sr.’s white half-brother helped him purchase land from the local Indians; (3) the government or some entity forced Charles’ Sr.’s former enslaver to give him the land; (4) Charles saved up money and purchased the land; (5) when other African-Americans received 40 acres and a mule, Charles’ white family helped him get 100 acres.

The author believes that many of these stories may be true, reflecting different land purchases by Charles or different aspects of the same story. The first two narratives are the strongest as they relate to Charles Sr., but three and four are also plausible. The version of a white half-brother helping Charles Sr. purchase the lands offers a glimpse into the complicated family dynamics of slavery and its aftermath. It’s unclear whether that help would have been monetary or with political influence. Considering the DNA results, the year of the land acquisition, and the timing of O.A. Wynne’s death relative to the purchase of the land, the author posits that it was Charles’ white cousin, O.A. Wynne, not his white half-brother as reported in one version of the oral history, who assisted Charles and his family to purchase land after slavery. The last scenario (5) is plainly without historical basis.

According to Anita McGruder McGrew, Charles Jr. also was very concerned with acquiring more land and making sure that his children inherited and maintained land. In the 1870 census, Charles Magruder Jr. (b. 1854) was working as a laborer, yet he reportedly went on to engage in numerous transactions to purchase land. Charles Jr. is reported to have acquired at least 300 acres over a period of time. [40] Charles Jr. also sold some of the land to his brother Jim. According to Professor Kevin McGruder, Charles Jr. saved up the money and purchased the land himself. Jim McGruder also acquired some land through the Homestead Act of 1902. According to Orlando McGruder, some white individual in Charles Jr.’s past, possibly a relative, helped him acquire at least some of his initial land. According to Juan McGruder, at some point in his life, after he was freed from slavery, Charles Jr. worked on a steamboat as a cook. Later on, he was a shoemaker, and owned a shop where he made and repaired shoes. However, Juan believes that it is possible that this part of the narration was conflated with the experiences of Charles McGruder Sr. (b. 1822) not Charles McGruder Jr. (b.1854).

Under Jim Crow, Wedgeworth Persecutes the Black McGruders

After the post-Civil War Reconstruction period ended in 1876, white supremacy was largely restored across the South and the segregationist policies known as Jim Crow soon became law. Southern blacks were forced to make their living working the land as part of the sharecropping system, which offered little in the way of economic opportunity, especially after a boll weevil epidemic in 1898 caused massive crop damage across the South. And while the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) had been officially dissolved in 1869, it continued underground so that intimidation and violence, including lynching of black southerners, were not uncommon practices in the Jim Crow South.

In this context, an individual named Wedgeworth[41] and his family were white antagonists of the black McGruder family.[42] The town of Wedgeworth, Alabama, is named for the family of John Wedgeworth, an early settler of the area. A post office operated under the name Greenwood from 1895 to 1904, and under the name Wedgeworth from 1904 to 1955. Wedgeworth owned a cotton gin, and local farmers would bring raw cotton to his store in their wagons, sometimes a ton at a time. Wedgeworth would take the raw cotton and turn it into bales of cotton, which the McGruders would sell or keep at their homestead. Orlando McGruder recalls that Mr. Wedgeworth would sit on his white horse and oversee his sharecroppers picking cotton. According to Juan McGruder, when Charles Jr. (or Charles Sr.) was interested in purchasing more land, Wedgeworth found out about his plans and “went over to that Indian” who had previously sold Charles his land and told the Indian “don’t you sell that nigger any more land.”[43] Wedgeworth was one of the largest landowners, second only to the black McGruder family.[44] Orlando McGruder relates that Wedgeworth was the archetypal “grabby white person in that community,” and lived nearby. Wedgeworth sought to own as much land as he could “get his hands on” and got it by “hook or by crook.” According to Orlando McGruder, Wedgeworth’s greed eventually caught up with him and he lost a lot of the land he acquired.

According to Juan McGruder, some of Wedgeworth’ male kin behaved inappropriately and “ill-bred” with some of the McGruder women. He explained that “we don’t recognize them as family and they don’t recognize us.” Juan doesn’t know which McGruder women, but said that he heard many family members talk about this. Juan says this would have occurred around the 1890’s to 1900’s. According to Elmer Brox, on the other hand, when his grandfather J.D. McGruder, who looked mostly white, was sick, the Wedgeworths came to visit him, and Elmer was not aware of any issues between the two groups.

According to Orlando McGruder, after Charles Jr. passed away Wedgeworth managed to get mortgages on some portion of the McGruder land that some of Charles’ sons had inherited. Some of Charles Jr.’s sons and other relatives got together and paid off the mortgage. According to Genie Adele Cooper-Ahanotu, Elsee L. Cooper (Rowena McGruder’s son) helped many different family members pay off their property taxes for an extended period because he wanted to keep the land in the family. According to Betty Shaw, some branches of the family lost their land because they didn’t pay their taxes or behaved irresponsibly. Juan McGruder also related stories about how some other black people became bonded to local whites through debt, but that the McGruder family (or at least his McGruder family) retained their land and were not sharecroppers. The family was still poor—eating rabbits and hunting to survive—but they were “free” and owned their own land and this provided the family with certain economic advantages that other black people in the area did not have.[45]

The present address of the (or a) historical McGruder property is 340 McGruder Road, Sawyerville, AL 36776. It is currently held in a trust owned by Charles’ descendants. Juan McGruder says that the McGruders are the oldest present landowners in the area. He also states that as of 2016 most of the family has left Sawyerville and its environs for the big cities of the north. The area is economically depressed, there are few jobs, and few family members have remained.

The Last Years of Charles

Lucille B. Osborne states that each of Charles’ Sr.’s wives staked out her own section on the land and built her own sub-compound at the “McGruder Place,” or the “McGruder plantation” as it was sometimes called. There seem to have been at least two non-adjacent properties owned by Charles Sr. and/or some of his sons, including one in Wedgeworth and another in Sawyerville. The oral histories present a slight tension between the different wives and their respective compounds, yet also a simultaneous sense of solidarity vis-a-vis the outside world. Anita McGruder McGrew doesn’t believe the different sub-family compounds had much communication with one another, but her generation did meet their cousins at school. According to Lucille B. Osborne, there was some tension or jealously among the different black McGruder/Magruder families because each wanted to be favored by Charles Sr. Some of the wives of Charles Sr. reportedly were jealous of Rachel Hill because she was the one legally married to him. She may have been the youngest of his wives.

Charles died in late 1899 or 1900[46] in Greensboro, Alabama. Lucille B. Osborne relates that an old neighbor of Charles told her that he was very tall and that the casket purchased for him was too small, and so the sons cut a hole in the end and his feet were sticking out. The sons then wrapped his feet in some type of black cloth and buried him. The neighbors gossiped that Charles had so many sons yet nobody offered to purchase a new casket for him.

Charles’ children and grandchildren went on to become part of the local black elite. Among his children and grandchildren were doctors, lawyers, ministers, and teachers. Many appear to have been inculcated with a drive “to strive for something better,” and went off to educate themselves and start businesses. Juan McGruder said that the family values were loving each other, respecting each other, and, despite internal differences between different groups of McGruders, always sticking together. Members of the McGruder tribe, according to Juan, believed that if they stuck together, “nobody could break them and nobody could get to you.” Blood was thicker than water.

McGruder Place Map

Below is a map of some of the property belonging to the McGruders in Sawyerville, drawn from memory by Lucille B. Osborne. The content of the map likely dates to the 1930’s when Lucille was a child.

Map of Magruder compound

The Old McGruder Place: map of some of the property belonging to the McGruders in Sawyerville, drawn from memory by Lucille B. Osborne.

The Life of Rachel Hill

Rachel Hill was born in 1845 in Virginia or Alabama.[47] Her parents are listed as Edmond Hill and Manerva Hill, both born in Virginia.[48] Rachel is reported to have had light skin, a mullata complexion, and to have been petite and thin with long hair.[49] Lucille B. Osborne relates that Rachel looked Indian but with an African influence. She isn’t certain if it was one side or both sides of Rachel’s family that were part Indian but believes that her father was either Indian or part Indian.[50]

Rachel had at least two siblings.[51] One was named Nathan Hill, whose picture she kept on the wall of her house.[52] According to Lucille B. Osborne, Nathan “looked exactly like” a full Indian. Nathan was reportedly a member of the Creek tribe who voluntarily left Alabama to follow his people west after their expulsion from Alabama during Indian Removal in the Trail of Tears and suffered a lot on his journey to Oklahoma. According to Geneva Gibbs Wesley, Rachel wanted to go with her brother west, but had sixteen children, was married to Charles McGruder, and was unable or unwilling to go. Nathan Hill did eventually return to Alabama at the end of his life, reportedly to die, and did so at the age of ninety-eight.[53]

According to Lucille B. Osborne, abolitionist missionaries taught Rachel to read and write while she was still enslaved or shortly after enslavement. The missionaries reportedly also taught her how to cook and sew. According to Lucille B. Osborne, because Rachel was about twelve years old and “was a slight build and wasn’t strong enough to work in the fields” she had to work in the house, “and they had her in the kitchen.” Rachel’s job was to feed the slaves. Rachel “had to take the butter milk and corn bread out to feed [the slaves] and she had to put this in a big wooden tub and then [the slaves] would have to come and take it out in a bowl.” The field slaves apparently did this in a chaotic manner and Rachel couldn’t stand to watch the slaves fret because she had lived in the house and had gotten accustomed to eating at a table. Rachel “felt terrible” about the slaves outside the house. Rachel “hated” her job specifically and enslavement broadly, with a passion, but she had no choice but to perform what was required of her. Rachel wasn’t very happy as a teenager, but her lot reportedly improved when she coupled with Charles, who was twenty-five to thirty years her senior. The circumstances surrounding their union are unknown but considering Charles’ role as a breeder, the reader could speculate.

According to Gwendoline Hubbard, after the Civil War, blacks could for the first time marry. Of the different women with whom Charles had relationships, he picked Rachel to be his legal wife. Charles and Rachel were legally married shortly after the Civil War, and together had sixteen children.[54] They were: Amos (b. 1862), Roena (b. 1864), Samuel (b. 1866), Julia Ann (b. 1868)[55], Allen (b. 1869, reported to have died as a baby), Jonathan (reported to have died as a baby), Edmond (b. 1869/1870); Wiley (b. 1871), Minerva (b. 1873), William (b. 1876 – 1921), Jasper (b. 1878), Chase (b. 1882)[56], Rembert (b. 1883 – 1910)[57], Joshua (b. 1886), Creed (b. 1888)[58], and Paul (b. 1889).[59] Three of these children married siblings born to Thomas and Lizzie Edmonds.

According to Lucille B. Osborne, Rachel lived most of her life in the general area of Sawyerville, in the house her son, Amos, had built for her. She didn’t know much about other parts of the world. After Charles McGruder died, Minerva, who lived in an adjacent plot of land, looked after Rachel, though Rachel remained independent. She took care of her garden and fed her chickens till the day she died. Later Minerva McGruder’s husband, Noah Burge, left Minerva and divorced her because “her mind snapped.”[60] According to Gwendoline Hubbard, Noah sought to take Queen Mary (Minerva’s daughter) with him but Rachel begged him to leave the child with her, arguing that if he took the child from Minerva it would make her condition worse. Rachel promised to care for the child and it was thus that Rachel, then approximately fifty-five, took care of Minerva and her grandchild, Queen Mary (b. 1900)[61].

Rachel Hill McGruder & Queen Mary Burge

A picture believed to be Rachel Hill McGruder and her granddaughter Queen Mary Burge, circa 1902.

Rachel helped raise Queen Mary and then later married off Queen Mary to Charles Burden. [62] Mr. Burden asked for Queen Mary’s hand in marriage when she was a teenager, and Rachel told Mr. Burden that he would have to wait until Queen Mary finished her high school education and turned nineteen years old. The Burge-Burden couple married in 1919, a month after Queen Mary’s nineteenth birthday, and the couple moved away from the vicinity where Rachel lived. Lucille Burden Osborne recalls that during the summer Queen Mary would return to Sawyerville and live with her grandmother, Minerva, and great-grandmother Rachel. During those summers, four generations of strong women lived in the same house and many stories were transmitted to Lucille. Lucille recalls that, despite having no father, she felt loved, because everyone around her was a relative and took care of her. She recalls picking vegetables with her mother and grandmother, bringing them over to the river to wash, and then cooking what they harvested in an old fashion stove.

Lucille B. Osborne describes Rachel as a very pious and devout Christian woman, who sat in her rocking chair reading the Bible and singing hymns. She rarely, if ever, left her home and was very protective of her private space. Lucille recalls playing around her, sometimes blocking Rachel’s view of her Bible, so Rachel would say to Lucille, “get out of my rout [63] grandbaby.” Every Sunday Rachel, her daughter Minerva, granddaughter Queen Mary, and great-granddaughter Lucille, would walk together to church. Mattie Burton said that

Grandma Rachel was tall, slim, with black hair that she could sit on. She was very religious and born a slave. She raised Queen Mary until she was 18 years old. Grandma Rachel was a distant person who allowed few people to get to know her. She was aloof and didn’t like a lot of people coming around the house.

Whenever Lucille B. Osborne asked Rachel about slavery, she would “clam up” and refuse to talk about those times. Lucille was told by her mother, Queen Mary, to stop asking questions about Rachel’s enslavement experiences.[64]

At the end of her life, all of Rachel’s sons were living outside of the Sawyerville area, due to the precarious state of the local economy. The situation worsened with the advent of machinery, and in the first two decades of the twentieth century the men of the McGruder family scattered across the South/Midwest in search of jobs as migrant workers. Often the women stayed behind in Sawyerville alone for extended periods of time. This, no doubt, put stress on the integrity of the family unit. By the 1930’s, the great migration of millions of African-Americans northward had begun, and many of the remaining McGruders abandoned Sawyerville and its environs for opportunities in the North.

According to Lucille, Rachel’s legacy was that, having been born a slave, she wanted more for her children. She achieved a life for her family despite all the things she had to suffer in her life. Rachel would push her children to succeed and scold those who weren’t living up to their potential, particularly her son Rembert. Unlike her husband, who had gone from place to place, and state to state, and plantation to plantation, Rachel stayed near Sawyerville for the duration of her life. She desired to travel and see more of the world, but never had the opportunity. As a result, Rachel always encouraged her children to expand their horizons, to leave Alabama, to see the world, and take advantage of all that the world had to offer—and they did.

[1] Through the research of Duncan McGruther, of Scotland, it is now known that some McGruders/McGruthers reached the US at a later date, after first relocating to Northern Ireland. These families do not use the Magruder spelling, which is purely American. For the most part these later arrivals identify as Irish-American, though their roots go back to the same handful of Perthshire families from which Alexander the Immigrant originated. You can read more about them here.

[2] A point of further research would be to review the Magruder-Wynne family archive, which is located at the University of Alabama. The archive contains thousands of pieces, including many family letters dating back to the 18th century. There is no doubt much information about our family in these archives.

[3] The census does reveal another black Magruder/McGruder family of Macon County, Alabama, which the author believes, but cannot prove, are connected to our family. Further research needs to be done.

[4] Juan McGruder is the son of Rev. William McGruder (1900 – 1981) and Susie Mcnette. William is the son of Charles McGruder Jr. and Emmeline Riddle, son of Charles McGruder Sr. (1822 – 1900) via his wife Mary Williams.

[5] According to Netty Lorrine Burton, one set of children of Charles and an unknown wife changed their surname to McCruder in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the McGruder family. They were apparently more prosperous than the other members of the family.

[6] Lucille Burden Osborne is the daughter of Queen Mary Burge, daughter of Minerva McGruder, daughter of Charles McGruder Sr. via his wife Rachel Hill.

[8] In the 1870 census, Charles McGruder’s name is spelled McGruda. Line 28, page 14, Beat No. 6, page 14 lists Charles McGruder and his family. Page 17 lists Jasper McGruder and his family. Page 18 lists Mariah McGruder, born 1800 in North Carolina, living next door to Lilly McGruder and her siblings—all in Beat No. 6 of Hale County. The author isn’t sure of the precise distance between locations where the families were living. These records lend support for those who assert the Ned-Charles connection, but Charles is listed as living at house 144 and Mariah at 175, indicating that they may have been (26) twenty-six houses apart. In the 1870 census, Jasper is listed as having been born in North Carolina and his parents in Georgia. There is also another set of McGruders: a Rose McGruder, born 1790, and a Madison McGruder, age 45, also born in North Carolina. It’s unclear how to piece all these individuals together but it seems logical to assume that they are part of an extended family. This should be researched further.

[9]According to Sabrina Franklin and Professor Susan Tichy, it is highly unusual for a will to list the family relationships between slaves in such a detailed manner as is done in this document.

[10] The 1866 Alabama state census provides that a white E.J. Magruder was a resident of Marengo County, which is very close to Greene County and Sawyerville. A possible connection to the Wynne family should be explored. Most McGruders in Alabama in the 1866 census are living in Macon County, near the Georgia border, including three entries for a single or multiple Charles Magruders.

[11] This would have in no way been unusual. Frederick Douglass in his Autobiography written in 1845 relates:

There was a whisper, that my master was my father; yet it was only a whisper, and I cannot say that I ever gave it credence. Indeed, I now have reason to think he was not. Nevertheless, the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that, by the laws of slavery, children in all cases are reduced to the condition of their mothers. This arrangement admits of the greatest license to brutal slaveholders and their profligate sons, brothers, relations and friends, and gives to the pleasure of sin the additional attraction of profit. A whole volume might be written on this single feature of slavery, as I have observed it.

Francis Fredric in his slave narrative, Fifty Years of Slavery, written in 1863, comments on this issue:

Even his own child, by a black woman or a mulatto, when the child is called a quadroon, and is very often as white as any English child, is frequently sold to degradation. There are thousands upon thousands of mulattoes and quadroons, all children of slaveholders, in a state of slavery. Slavery is bad enough for the black, but it is [psychologically] worse, if worse can be, for the mulatto or the quadroon to be subjected to the utmost degradation and hardship, and to know that it is their own fathers who are treating them as brutes, especially when they contrast their usage with the pampered luxury in which they see his lawful children revel, who are not whiter, and very often not so good-looking as the quadroon. [Parentheticals mine]

[12] Some of Charles’ children and grandchildren were very light skinned. Juan McGruder relates that his Aunt, Rosa Nell McGruder, the daughter of Charles Jr., was so light skinned that when she would bring a bucket of water to her brothers and cousins (who were out picking cotton in the fields) she would first wrap a sheet around her to prevent getting sun burned and because she wanted to remain light skinned.

[13] Some have disputed or questioned the Ned-Charles connection altogether based on the view that the oral history states that Charles’ father was white. This position, however, is rejected by the author.

In support of anti Ned-Charles school of thought, which is of the extreme minority, one finds three arguments.

First, in the family history compiled by Catherine Gibbs Robertson, Charles’ father and mother are listed as Robert and Jane McGruder. This position, however, is based upon the testimony of Susie B. Edmonds (1877 – 1971) who was not a blood relative of the McGruder family and whose connection is through her three siblings who had married into the McGruder family. This increases the likelihood that Susie B. Edmonds did not have the correct information.

Second, it is pointed out that the Ned-Charles connection, proffered by family researchers at the McGruder reunions, is based on a number of multi-leveled assumptions. However, this by itself doesn’t render the theory untenable. Lucille Burden Osborne and Anita McGruder McGrew, experts on the family history, heard family researchers discuss the Ned-Charles connection, but never heard anything while growing up about the Robert and Jane McGruder connection.

Third, there are at least three other African-American Charles McGruders living in Alabama in 1866, any one of which could be the Charles McGruder of these Wynne family documents. However, this argument is weakened by geography, as these Charles Magruders were located in Macon County, Alabama, far away from Greene County, where our Charles is known to have resided in 1866 and where the Wynnes live. It also contradicts the findings of earlier generations of black McGruder researchers.

In contradiction of these arguments, the will of Eleanor Magruder Wynne explicitly states that Ned was the father of Charles. It’s more likely that grandfather was replaced with father in the oral history.

Therefore, it is more likely than not that Ned was the father of Charles and that the white Magruder who fathered our line is further back in time, likely Ninian or one of his sons.

[14] The author believes, based on oral history accounts and a layman’s understanding of genetics, that Charles was likely a quadroon or part white from multiple different family lines, possibly with two black grandmothers.

[15] The census reveals the existence of Georgia black Magruders. DNA samples should be acquired from this branch to determine their origin.

[16] Archibald remained a bachelor and left no known heirs. He, too, has been proposed as a possible father to Ned and possibly even to Charles Sr. (born 1822).

[17] Basil died in 1801 at the age twenty-six, and was never married.

[18] The following scenarios for Charles’ parentage have been posited, but are unlikely. (1) A direct Magruder paternal ancestor of Charles and or/Ned was fathered by a Magruder white man deeper in the distant past beyond the realm of our speculation. The DNA results suggest that this is unlikely and that the relationship is more recent. (2) A white Magruder, and cousin to the Magruder-Wynne family, impregnated Charles’ mother, Mariah. The documents and oral history seem to downplay this possibility significantly. (3) The imagination can come up with other scenarios, but those listed are those I believe most likely.

[19] This could mean that Ned was Eleanor’s half-brother. Alternatively, if in fact he was fathered by one of Ninian’s sons, Ned was Eleanor’s nephew.

[20] Another theory deserves exploration. According to Gwendoline Hubbard, Ned and Mariah were both owned by Ninian Offutt McGruder who passed away in 1803. After Ninian died, Mariah, aged 3, was deeded to Archibald, and Ned was deeded to Eleanor. Later, Mariah was transferred to Eleanor who in her will deeded Mariah to Eleanor’s daughter.  Based upon her reading of the historical documents and the DNA results, Hubbard posits that Archibald McGruder was father of Charles, with Mariah, who was at one time his slave girl. Mariah and baby Charles were then later given to Eleanor. Mariah separately coupled with Ned, who may have also been a McGruder, possibly the son of Ninian but was not Charles’ biological father. This would make Archibald Charles’ father and Ned his uncle. This would also reconcile the DNA results, documents and the oral history put forth by Hubbard and other family members that insist that Charles’ father, not grandfather, was white.

[21] Different dates given for Charles’ birth include 1822, May 1825 and May 1829. The will of Eleanor Magruder Wynne would confirm the May 1829 date. Other records indicate that Charles was born in Hale County, Alabama, in May 1829. The birth year of 1822 is based on the 1870 census. The 1880 census states that he was born in South Carolina, as were his parents. Anita McGruder McGrew heard that he had come from North Carolina. These questions remain unresolved and need further research. The middle name Henry has been offered for Charles McGruder. However, the author is unaware of it being referenced in any documents. Charles has also been referenced in family records as “Chas” which is a variant of Charles.

[22] According to one 1911 description from Mrs. Marie Scovel Browder, quoted in Revolutionary Soldiers in Alabama by Thomas McAdory Owen,

Williamson was a private in First North Carolina Regiment, also in War of 1812, son of Major Joshua Wynne and his wife, Elizabeth Appling Wynne, was born in Pendleton District, South Carolina in 1780. He lived for a time in Georgia and in North Carolina. Later he moved to Alabama. He died on his plantation, “Wynnewood”, in Greene County, Alabama, in 1829. He is buried on this plantation near the home of his descendants, the Wynne Coleman family; and Harris Magruder Coleman and his wife are the ones living nearest his grave. He served as private in Captain Dixon’s company, First North Carolina Regiment, Revolutionary War. He enlisted 1777 and his service ended January 1778. He also served in the War of 1812 as a private in Captain Jacob Welch’s company 5th (McDonald’s) Regiment of North Carolina from Chowan County. He was discharged July 19, 1813. He is said to have re-enlisted later, but we do not have this record. By the records of Greene County. Alabama, (certified by Judge B. B. Barnes and Miss Mary Dunlap) Williamson Wynne died in 1829—his son Osmond Appling Wynne qualified as administrator of his estate April 1829. Williamson Wynne died intestate and left surviving him his widow, Eleanor Magruder Wynne and five children viz: Osmond and Erasmus, both over 21 years, and Williamson, Robert and Salina Ann, minors under 21 years. Eleanor Magruder Wynne, wife of Williamson Wynne, made her will February 14, 1848, probated November 26, 1849 everything settled and executors resigned 1854,  Folio 1144, Greene County, Alabama. Their children were: Joshua; Pattie, died unmarried; John; Osmond, m. Francis Anderson; Erasmus, b. Dec. 19. 1807, m. 1. Jane Sophronia Anderson (sister of Francis Anderson); 2. Mrs. Elizabeth Smither; Robert, b. Nov. 9, 1812, m. Elizabeth Wynne; Williamson, m. 1. Palomie (?) Smith. 2. Helen Robinson; Salina Ann, m. William Ferrell. The descendants of Osmond Appling Wynne still live in Alabama. Erasmus, Robert and Williamson moved with their families to Texas and there many of them still live.

[23] Others have said, perhaps more reliably, but without a specific source, that Charles had red hair.

[24] The estate file for Salina Wynne Ferrell and William Ferrell contains over 500 pages, which need further review and research.

[25] The estate records of Salina Wynne Ferrell contain the following note containing the names of the slaves rented out, including Charles:


[26] Lucille B. Osborne is not certain that the article mentioned Charles by name. Lucille believes it was published around the end of slavery, but this is not certain. This needs further research.

[27] Anita McGruder says that her uncle told her that Charles had fifty sons and related that if she were to meet a black McGruder anywhere from Alabama it was likely that they were kin.

[28] It is unclear whether this number includes those children he sired as a hired breeder or rather those borne to him by women with whom he formed a family life. It seems to the author that it is a combination of the two.

Some of the biographical details of these spouses, children and grandchildren have been preserved in the extensive family histories compiled by Professor Kevin McGruder, Wilmer McGruder, Herman English, Anita McGrew and others. According to the history compiled by Catherine Gibbs Robertson, based upon the testimony of Susie B. Edmonds (related by marriage), Charles McGruder Sr. had three other children with an unknown woman: (1) Green McGruder b. 1857; (2) Elizabeth; (3) Eva. Charles apparently maintained relationships with at least some of these woman after slavery. According to Anita McGruder McGrew, after enslavement Charles owned a store, and he had a cot in the back of the store, and women (presumably those with whom he already had an existing relationship) would come and visit him; and the family members would gossip about this.

[29] According to Herman English, this Mary, whose surname is unknown, was distinct from Mary Williams. According to his research, Charles and Mary had five children: (1) Mary; (2) Rose; (3) Virginia; (4) Martha Anne McGruder; (5) Wiley McGruder.

[30] Charles and Mary Williams had four known children: (1) Charles Jr.; (2) Irene; (3) James; and (4) Emmeratte. According to a Brox family historian, Vicky Pickens Fields,

Mary was half-sister to a white man named Stephen May Sr. After the death of Charles McGruder, Mary remarried to a man whose last name was Mr. Inge. Two daughters were born to this union, they were, Ada and Alice Inge. Ada Married Tennessee McGruter and they had at least five (5) children.

It is not known whether this McGruter is connected to our McGruder family. This Williams-May connection is confirmed by Elmer Brox who says that Mary was half white. According to Elmer Brox, Mary had a white half-sister named Debbie May—presumably a sister to Stephen May. The 1880 Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules lists John May Jr. as a neighbor to Charles McGruder. The white family of Albert May is listed as a neighbor to Charles in 1900. According to Juliet Pickens Fields, Mary Williams, and thus possibly Charles Jr. (b. 1854), may have been associated with the Umbria Planation. This needs further research.

[31] According to Lucille B. Osborn, Rachel was the only wife of Charles to be legally married to him. During slavery, there was no legal marriage between slaves. Weddings were administered by a preacher or overseer. “Every family had a bible where weddings, births, and deaths were recorded. I saw Rachel’s bible.” The Bible was reportedly destroyed and lost to history. According to Lucille, Rachel was with Charles at the end of slavery and thus was able to procure a legal marriage with him—although she may have needed the marriage documents for some legal reason, possibly the purchase of land in 1877.

[32] According to Herman English, Charles and Matilda had four known children: (1) Wiley; (2) Dennis; (3) Duff; (4) Mary. The 1880 census records a “widowed” Matida McGruder (b. 1832) living in Hale County, Alabama, with four children: (1) Dennis McGruder, born 1857; (2) Mary Ann McGruder, born 1862; (3) Israel McGruder, born 1869; (4) Fed McGruder, b. 1873. Matida and her “widowed” husband are reported, according to the census, as having been born in North Carolina. It’s likely that this is the Matilda of our family. It is noteworthy that Matilda is a neighbor to Nathan Hill, although it’s unclear whether that is the Nathan Hill who is brother of the matriarch of the McGruder-Hill family.

[33] Jim spoke with a white accent, had red hair, and some people thought he was white.

[34] Juan McGruder has opined that the family was actually originally associated with Wedgeworth, a nearby town to Sawyerville—not Sawyerville itself. Others have supported the assertion that the family moved over to Sawyerville when Charles McGruder purchased the land. Herman English has provided the more credible theory: “Our Alabama origins were in Greene County (Hale County did not exist when family history was first documented). Wedgeworth, Alabama, has now become Sawyervile (No longer is there a town called Wedgeworth).”

[35] There are two records of a Charles Magruder registering to vote. Both were residents of Hale County. One was located in precinct 6, election district 19, and the other in election district 19, precinct 6. The records could be of father and son. There is also an African-American Jasper Magruder, as well as Henry Magruder, John Magruder, Madison Magruder, possibly relatives of Charles McGruder, who also registered to vote in 1867 in Hale County. The spelling of names in census records can be unreliable, so the Magruder-McGruder difference may or may not be significant.

[36] According to Lucille B. Osborne, she was not aware of member of the McGruder family being able to vote until the age of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, due to the poll taxes and Jim Crow laws.

[37]  This citation at pages 30-31 from the Estate of Salina Wynne Ferrell. Charles was also mentioned in pages 53 and 61, and possibly others.

[38] Coincidently the amount of the land purchase is the same amount of Charles’ assessed value.

[39] According to Netty Burton, Charles’s former master gave him 360 acres of land, of which his sons lost 240 acres due to not paying taxes.

[40] According to Juan McGruder, Charles Jr. lived in a big beautiful white house, with marble pillars, “like the [houses of the] White folks.” Anita McGruder McGrew described the house as a mansion with many rooms. Each of Charles’ children built their own homes but the “big house” was the “mansion” of Charles McGruder. Numerous children of Charles lived in the house for a time before staking their own area of the compound and building their own homes. Lucille B. Osborne states that some of the land had a special legal status called “heir property,” whereby the land could only be divided among relatives and not sold to third parties. The home was later destroyed by a fire. Dorothy McGruder Edwards says it was a fire by arson. Juan McGruder has asserted it was a naturally occurring fire. Anita McGruder McGrew remembers the house burning down in or around 1930 but has no knowledge as to its causes.

[41] It’s likely that there were several Wedgeworth individuals, all belonging to an extended family, that are the subject of these narratives.

[42] There is some evidence that the white Wedgeworths and the white McGruders were actually related via common white ancestors thereby making the white Wedgeworths and the black McGruders kin. This issue needs further research.

[43] Juan McGruder believes the story was about Charles Sr. The author believes, based on speaking with different family members, that the story is about Charles Jr. According to Dorothy McGruder Edwards the land was purchased from a white person and not an Indian.

[44] Some of the McGruder land was subsequently taken by the state by eminent domain. Not far from the town of Wedgeworth is McGruder Crossing, near Robuck Landing, with a plaque praising the McGruder family for its donation of the land to the state.

[45] This may not have been true for other McGruder lines.

[46] His name does appear on the 1900 census, which indicates that he likely passed in 1900.

[47] Different birth dates are given for Rachel in different records. Dates of birth found are 1845, 1848, 1849, and 1850. In the 1880 census she is listed as being born in Alabama. Her father’s place of birth is listed as Virginia and her mother’s as North Carolina. In the 1900 census, she is listed as being born March 1850 and originally of Virginia. In the 1910 census, Rachel Hill is listed as a mullata living in Sawyerville, Alabama, having been born in Virginia along with both of her parents. According to her death certificate, she was born in Hale County, Alabama.

[48] This information is from her death certificate. Other family researchers have put forth James Hill and Wiley Hill as alternative names for Rachel’s father. Both these researchers have agreed that her mother’s name was Manerva.

[49] Some relatives have reported that Rachel was one-sixteenth Creek Indian.

[50] The 1832 census-takers commissioned by the U.S. government in Creek country struggled to categorize the diverse group of people who resided there, unsure how to count African American wives of Creek men, nor where to place people of mixed African-Native descent. There also were Creeks who managed to stay behind in Alabama after the Trail of Tears in 1836.

[51] Lucille B. Osborne thinks that Rachel had an older sister named Fannie, whom Lucille suspects was a half-sister, and who didn’t look like Rachel, but looked plainly African-American. The author wonders if this was not a biological sister, but someone for whom the term “Aunt” was used informally. Charles McGruder had a sister named Fannie (b. 1822). Based upon her complexion, it’s also possible she was a half-sister to Charles McGruder, Sr. Lucille Osborne thinks this is equally plausible.

[52] It’s unclear whether Nathan Hill was her full brother or half-brother. Nathan Hill had a granddaughter named Edith Cunningham. According to Lucille, “when the Creeks were given a chance to get out of that area and go to Oklahoma, half breeds–half-black and Indian–were given the opportunity to stay where they were or go with the tribe and Nathan decided to go with the tribe.” Lucille thinks that he may have had black ancestry but had been passing for Indian and was accepted by the tribe because he looked Indian. Lucille B. Osborne posits Nathan may also have been a freedman with African-ancestry who applied to join the Indian nation after slavery. This would imply that Rachel and/or her family were the slaves of those Creek Indians who were known to have had slaves. By the 1840’s, Creeks are estimated to have owned three to four thousand slaves. Between 1842 and 1859 the Creeks passed oppressive ‘black codes’ to protect their “property,” such as banning abolitionist school teachers and intermarriage with Black slaves. The Hill family’s place in this history needs further research.

[53] A death certificate reportedly exists for Nathan Hill and needs to be located. The author has located a Nathan Hill, identified as black, born in 1835 and died March 16, 1929, at the age of 94, in Akron, Hale County, Alabama, and buried in Sawyerville. This could be the Nathan Hill of our family. More research is needed.

[54] The census lists a Chapin McGruder (b. 1879). Lucille Osborne says this is a mistake and/or that it may have been a relative or another son of Charles McGruder but not a child he had with Rachel Hill. Others have reported that Rachel had eighteen children.

[55] This is an undated Picture of Julia McGruder Edmonds Pippens, courtesy of Geneva Gibbs Wesley.   julia-m-e-pippins

[56] His death certificate of May 8, 1939, states Chafman McGruder b.1882 married to a Mary.

[57] According to Lucille Burden Osborne, Rembert got in trouble with the law and Rachel was often scolding him to behave better. On April 16, 1907, Rembert was sentenced to 20 years in prison due to allegedly being an accessory to murder. According to Alabama prison records, Rembert was 5 foot 10 inches, had red hair and yellow eyes. Although the record isn’t clear, it appears he died in prison on May 16, 1910, in a fight. The remarks section describes him as “a bad negro.”

[58] This photo of Creed McGruder is from August 1967 in Wedgeworth, Alabama. creed-mcgruder

[59] Paul died as a teenager after being struck by a train, or possibly in a mine. The company he was working for at the time offered to compensate the family.

[60] According to Lucillle B. Osborne, Minerva’s breakdown was possibly post-partem depression.

[61] Queen Mary married Charles Burden and the couple produced four children, the fourth of which was Lucille Burden Osborne.

[62] This picture is believed to be that of Rachel Hill and Queen Mary, or Minerva and her daughter Queen Mary. Minerva would have been around 28 or 29 when her daughter Queen Mary was born and the women in this picture is much older, so it’s assumed that this photo is of Rachel Hill and Queen Mary. This photo was given to the family by a Mrs. Cunningham of Long Beach, California, who was a granddaughter of Nathan Hill. According to Geneva Gibbs Wesley, Ms. Cunningham’s exact words were that the photo “was either Grandma Rachel holding her grandchild or Grandma Minerva holding her grandchild.” Geneva Gibbs Wesley says that the photo is definitely not Minerva. Napoleon and Lucille Burden believe that the photo is that of Rachel Hill.

This is an undated photo of Edith Cunningham: edith-cunningham

[63] Local dialect for “view” or “way.”

[64] According to Lucille B. Osborne, her parents and grandparents generally refused to talk about their experiences during slavery. Lucille, who was particularity curious and inquisitive, however, made an effort to gather these stories.


18 comments on “The Alabama Black McGruders

  1. Marie Robinson says:

    Jr, my mother, Janie Mae McGruder Ferrell married my father William Carl Ferrell. It is so interesting the mentioning of the Ferrell name. Excellent Documentary!!!

  2. Jo McCruter says:

    Are the McCruter’s related to this family?

  3. Terrie says:

    I was blown away when. While reading this story that brought back many memories from stories told to me by my father that there is a picture of my grand mother: Julia McGruder, Edmonds – Pippens posted here.
    My father was: Prince M. Edmonds

    All of his children have this picture on our walls.

    His sister’s were: Mary & Fannie
    My name is: Terrie (Edmonds) Peace

    • susantichy says:

      Terrie: I am so glad you found this connection to your family. You should write to J.R. Rothstein–he would love to hear from you and to share information. Probably you each have some info the other hasn’t found yet.

  4. KAREN says:

    Just an outstanding story! I found it very interesting and informative. My nephew has a DNA match (autosomal) with a Mary Elizabeth McGruder (1846, Shelby Co, MO – bet 1910-1920, Shelby Co, MO). However, we have an ancestor, Milton Howard/Smith (c1845, Muscatine Co, IA-1928, Davenport, Scott, IA) who was formerly a Pickett slave in AL – we think Autauga or Montgomery Co. We do not know very much about his AL life. Mary’s father, James McGruder was born in 1820 in VA and died in Shelby Co, MO. Are your AL Magruders related to the MO or VA Magruders?

  5. Tasha Peace says:

    Hi, I am a granddaughter of Prince M. Edmonds, Sr. His grandmother was Julia and his mother was Dovie McDaniels. My mother is Terrie Edmonds-Peace. Based on conversations with my mom and information I found on, I have more family than I could have ever imagined. Is it possible for me to have a telephone conversation with one of my family members? Maybe I will be able to find more family and have some questions answered. Fannie Lee McDaniels was the baby girl of Dovie McDaniels and Richmond Richard McDaniels Sr. My aunt Mary Louise McDaniels Dozier passed before being able to tell us more about our family history. This has been an exciting revelation thus far and I look forward to learning more. Thank you in advance!

  6. Electa Graham Churchill says:

    I enjoyed everything that was written in this report . Thank you all.


    MY GRANDMOTHER, ROSA BELL GARRETT LIVED In Sawyerville, AL, she was a sharecropper and she had son’s named Alfred, Charles, William (my father) and June. 2 daughters that I know of Ann and Juanita. It is so hard to figure out anything about my family heritage. My father’s dad was an Abrams. but MY DAD carried the name WYNN. I have only assumed that my grandmother had my father by a man that did not marlry her. so….my GRANDMOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME HAD TO BE WYNN. I have been trying to figure out for a long time, where my family tree starts and this article gave me some insight at least to location where family is located on my father’s side. I THINK MY FAMILY MAY BE RELATED TO THESE MAGRUDERS AS WELL.


  8. Sherry Wynne says:

    You mention Genealogist Sabrina Franklin having a very detailed history of the Wynne Family. I have searched for her but can’t find any information. Do you know where I might find her information? Thank you for taking the time to detail all of the information above. It’s amazing!

    • susantichy says:

      Hi Sherry. J.R. Rothstein did that research. I helped with the editing and published it on my site, but he is the one with the contacts among those family members. You are welcome to email him
      All best, Susan

  9. Conchita T Harris says:

    I am descended from someone named Hezekiah Magruder who lived in Fayette County, PA. He fathered many children also including my great great grandmother Margaret Goe. I have pulled off info from Ancestry and other sites that take this lineage back to a man named John Billington who was one of the people who came over on the Mayflower. His son, Francis had a daughter named Mary who somehow got involved, probably with slavery of the Magruder’s on my side of the family. I would love to know if our Magruder’s connect, as I have seen Alexander’s name several times in my line. I also found out info on that claims to have me related to Abraham Lincoln.

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