The Alabama Black McGruders, on page and screen

13 Feb 2021: I’m excited to announce that a greatly expanded book by and about the Alabama Black McGruders is nearing completion. J.R. Rothstein, a family member and the principal author, has worked with a team of family historians and genealogists, other researchers, and editors, to craft and document this narrative of the family through multiple generations. I am honored to have worked on the manuscript, in a role that evolved into “lead editor” and sometimes “chief nag.” We expect publication, via Amazon, by the end of this month.

AND, if you want to be even more excited…a short segment on The Alabama Black McGruders will be featured in the first or second episode of a new ABC documentary series, The Soul of a Nation, airing Tuesdays throughout March. I haven’t received confirmation, but it seems the McGruder segment will air in the first or second episode, March 2 or March 9. Watch the preview! Lucille B. Osborne–one of those two beautiful McGruder women on the sofa–is a 95 year-old family historian, the soul of the book and of the McGruder story on camera. When Lucille was a child, she knew her great-grandmother, Rachel McGruder, who was born enslaved but went on to become one of the founding mothers of the family. Through her family stories, her research, and her inquisitive spirit, Lucille brings our shared history startlingly close.

Stay tuned for more info on both book & film.

And, BTW…if, like me, you have streaming but no t.v., you can ask a friend to set up a laptop in front of their t.v. and live-stream it to you. When a friend shares with me this way, she uses Facebook Messenger Video and can stream it to one person or a group.

Magruder-McGregor family papers

The Huntington Library–in San Marino, California, by Pasadena–has scanned and made public a small collection of papers from the family of Roderick McGregor. This is the younger Roderick, son of Nathaniel M. McGregor and Susan Euphemia Mitchell, and grandson of John Smith Magruder, who in 1820 changed the surnames of his children to McGregor in the mistaken belief that Alexander Magruder the Immigrant was a member of Clan Gregor in Scotland. I have written elsewhere on this site about Nathaniel’s brother, the first Roderick McGregor, and other members of the family, and of those they enslaved. (See John S. Magruder & McGregor Slaves, under Slavery’s Legacy.) The elder Roderick lived on and farmed their father’s plantation in Prince George’s County, MD, while Nathaniel was a businessman in Washington, D.C.

The heart of the Huntington collection is a group of family letters from 1860-1862 (+ one each from 1857 & 1864). By that time, the elder Roderick had died and Nathaniel’s family was living at the plantation. Nathaniel himself went back and forth between “home,” as he calls it in the letters, and his official residence in a business district of Washington, D.C. Nathaniel’s son, the younger Roderick, was attending the brand-new Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland, and his absence from home occasioned the exchange of numerous letters with this father, mother, and siblings. The few surviving letters are deeply interesting, containing snippets of family life, with mention of a few of the family’s enslaved laborers, house servants, and runaways (including some identified elsewhere in family wills and estate papers). Here, too, are the various anxieties of wartime–approach of the war, efforts to find a political compromise, Union troops in the neighborhood, closed bridges and check-points, unrest among the enslaved, and, finally, a prediction that the plantation will yield no harvest as slaves begin leaving and Emancipation approaches.

We learn, too, that Roderick was nearly killed in some sort of accident in 1857; that one of his sisters was thrown from an overturning carriage; that his mother Susan (who had given birth ten times, with seven living children aged 12-31) was often unwell; that one young woman in the family’s social circle was “the most affected creature” ever seen; that the parents were religious and worried that Roderick was not; that Nathaniel generally frowned on the theater, but allowed his daughters to attend an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy; and that Uncle Alerick (another of Nathaniel’s brothers, a school teacher) “has recovered from his frolic.” Sadly, we never find out what that frolic included, only that a man of his age should have known better.

I am working on updates to Magruder’s Landing, and will include some excerpts and analysis of the contents of the letters, but in the meantime you can read them yourself, right here: McGregor Family Correspondence.

Names in the letters include: Nathaniel Mortimer McGregor; his wife Susan Euphemia Mitchell McGregor; their children Helen Woods McGregor Ewell (Roderick’s oldest sister, married to her first cousin, John Smith Magruder Ewell), Margaret Eliza McGregor (married to her first cousin John Ridout “Ridy” McGregor, son of Alerick McGregor & Martha Potts Key); Susan Euphemia McGregor; Isabella “Bell” McGregor (later married to Thomas Somerville Dorset); Roderick Mortimer McGregor (later married to Margaret Elizabeth Bowie, d/o Richard Bowie, a relative); Agnes Woods McGregor (later married to Thomas Trueman Somerville Bowie, another relative); John Francis McGregor (later married to Frances Ellen Wallace); Susan E.M. McGregor’s brothers William Mitchell and John Mitchell (Uncle William & Uncle John); John Ridout “Ridie” McGregor; various neighbors and acquaintances; enslaved men Jack Bowie, Ned [Dodson], John Henry, George, & Sam; enslaved woman Bity or Bittie.

The collection also includes some later family material (up to the 1980s), a photograph of Roderick, and two of his report cards from the MAC.

Samuel Magruder’s Patuxent Tobacco Ship

Duncan McGruther sent a message a few days ago:

Alexander the Immigrant left an eighth share of the ‘Patuxent Tobacco ship’ in his Will. Has anyone come across this vessel? Or details of where it berthed, or the other shareholders? I assume it was not seagoing and confined its activities to collecting and accumulating tobacco from growers on the Patuxent, but if so where was its home port and where did it deliver to for onward transmission across the Atlantic.

I don’t know of any record pertaining to the tobacco ship, which appears in the 1710/1711 will of Samuel Magruder, Alexander’s oldest known son. He appears to have owned a one-fourth interest in the ship, as he bequeathed one-eighth each to his sons Alexander and Nathaniel. We know Alexander the Immigrant owned the tobacco landing (shipping point) for which this website is named, and it’s likely that business accounted for much of his prosperity, as he made money there even when the (notoriously unstable) price of tobacco was down. That business-sense seems to have passed to his wealthy oldest son, who owned town lots in Marlborough as well as numerous plantations.

The Patuxent is silted in & shallow these days, but in the 17th c. was both wider & deeper, navigable for ocean-going vessels. They anchored mid-channel & sent smaller boats to the landings to take on hogsheads of tobacco. I have not read much detail about those operations, but always assumed the ships used their own small boats. It could have been the opposite, I suppose, with each landing sending out its own boat. However, since his shares of the “Pertuxson Merchant ship” were named & bequeathed as an item in Samuel’s will, separate from any real estate, my assumption would be that he owned it jointly with other growers/shippers & that it collected tobacco up & down the Patuxent for transport to Magruder’s or other landings. It is also possible the ship transported other commercial goods.

A tobacco warehouse stood at the Magruder site until it was burned down by the British in 1814, during what we Americans, for some reason, persist in calling The War of 1812. Was the Patuxent already silting up Samuel’s time, so this river-going ship was needed to transport tobacco and other produce down to the river mouth?

Can you answer that question, or do you have other detail about the operations of the tobacco landings and transatlantic ships? If so, please get in touch via the Contact tab on any page of this site.

[This post was corrected after I checked the wills of Alexander & his son Samuel, confirming my recollection that it was Samuel, not his father, who owned shares in the ship.]

A call-out to descendants

I’ve been trying to think of ways this site can do more to help people find each other–those who share ancestors, those who can share stories. I get a lot of interesting comments, but comments at the foot of a web page are often a dead-end, no follow-up. So let’s generate conversation in a different way.

If you are descended from people enslaved by white Magruders/McGruders & would be willing to share what you’ve learned, please get in touch by using the Contact page (which sends me an email). I would like to run some small features on your families & your research journey. You can write it, I can write it, or we can write it together.

I am particularly interested in Maryland and Washington DC stories, because that’s my area & I might be able to connect some dots; but I’m open to all. It was common for ties between families linked by slavery to endure after Emancipation, sometimes for generations. So even if your genealogical search hasn’t broken through the barrier into slavery times, please share what you know.

If you are descended from white Magruders/McGruders & have information about those your ancestors enslaved–from family sources or your own research–please join in. I can feature your work, as well, or perhaps you can connect some info from your family to someone else’s search.

I probably won’t be featuring families from the Sawyerville, Alabama, line, since those descendants are doing such outstanding work of their own, but as the new book takes shape I’ll try to post some teasers, so you know what to look forward to.

Once again, if you want to take part please use the Contact function (also linked at the top of every page). I can’t wait to hear from you!

Alabama Black McGruders of Sawyerville-anthology

The Alabama Black McGruders of Sawyerville, Alabama–i.e. the descendants of Ned (1795-1853) and Moriah (1800-1880)–are putting together an anthology of the family history. The book will be published in 2021 & marketed on Amazon & elsewhere. All descendants of this family are welcome to submit obituaries, family biographies, or other information. This book builds on the work done by JR Rothstein & other family members in The Alabama Black McGruders, which was published as a downloadable PDF on this site. Also see the African-American Magruder/McGruders Facebook page, which is for ALL black Magruders/McGruders (& related surnames), not just this lineage. If you want to contribute to the book, please contact JR at jrr483(at)gmail.com, or Message him through the FB group.

Edited 13 Feb 2021. Because this book is nearing completion, I removed the early draft outline from this post, and the complete text of the earlier version of the book. Watch for new posts.