The Alabama Black McGruders…who may be your family, too

It is with great excitement that I announce publication of The Alabama Black McGruders: The Life and Ancestry of Charles McGruder Sr. by J.R. Rothstein. I congratulate Mr. Rothstein, and am proud to host this remarkable history on Magruder’s Landing.

A great-great-great grandson of Charles McGruder Sr., Mr. Rothstein has worked for years to piece together written records, oral histories, and DNA evidence to create both a plausible narrative of his life and origins and an open-sided platform for further research, debate, and community. Though born into slavery and suffering some of its most demeaning aspects, Charles McGruder Sr. and his wives succeeded in establishing a strong sense of family and a legacy of achievement that survives among many of their descendants.

The story presented here is by no means complete. One power of this document is Mr. Rothstein’s careful distinction between what’s known, what’s believed, what’s contested, and what’s possible. Don’t skip the footnotes! Often, that’s where the debate, the dilemmas, and the possible next steps may be found.

At every juncture, others are invited to step up into the unanswered questions and continue the work Mr. Rothstein has begun. (You will find his email in the history’s introduction and at its conclusion, and should feel free to use it.) Seven collaborators are acknowledged in the introduction, and the stories of many more are quoted in the text; still others, both black and white, generously shared their DNA. So this is, already, a community endeavor, and, as Mr. Rothstein has said to me, an American story.

From the 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.

Mr. Rothstein goes on to state that this history is relevant only to McGruder descendants whose ancestors were held in slavery by the Magruder-Wynne families of Hale and Greene Counties, Alabama. This may be so; but taking into account Charles McGruder Sr.’s large number of descendants and the subsequent movement of African Americans out of the deep south into northern and midwestern states, it is likely that many black-identified McGruder descendants will be able to link their ancestors to this family tree. You will note in the document that many spellings of the name evolved, including MaGruder, McGruder, Mccruder, Mcgruda, McGouder, Mcruder, and Mcgruter. So pay attention! This could be your family.

Charles’ large number of children resulted from his use as a “breeder,” moved from plantation to plantation in order to sire more slaves–a practice that became increasingly common after the importation of slaves was abolished and, simultaneously, what we now call the Deep South–Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana–was opened for American settlement by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Throughout the first half of the 19th c., every kind of domestic slave trade increased, including the movement of at least a million enslaved people from the Upper south–Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina–into the new territories, where the cotton gin and other mechanical and financial innovations made industrial-scale production both profitable and pitiless.

In Charles McGruder Sr.’s family, we see, for example, a movement from the Carolinas to Alabama. The parents of one of Charles’ wives, Rachel Hill, probably were born in Virginia, then taken farther south either by the white family who held them in bondage or by professional slave traders. Rachel’s birthplace is uncertain, so it’s possible that she, as a child, made this arduous journey along with her parents.

Here is Charles McGruder Sr.’s line, as it can be traced from Alexander Magruder, the Immigrant:

Alexander the Immigrant > Samuel Magruder + Sarah [surname debated] > Ninian Beall Magruder + Elizabeth Brewer > John Magruder + Jane Offutt > Ninian Offut Maguder + unknown enslaved woman > Ned McGruder + Mariah [surname unknown] > Charles McGruder Sr.

Charles was born on the estate of Eleanor Magruder Wynne. Her father, Ninian Offutt Magruder, had passed Ned McGruder to Eleanor in his will. Most likely, she was Ned’s half-sister and Charles’ aunt.

This is the truth of family in the days of slavery. In our times, let’s allow the Magruder/McGruder family story to take on new breadth and inclusiveness, literally new life.

Congratulations, again, to Mr. Rothstein and to all who made his achievement possible.

The Alabama Black McGruders: The Life and Ancestry of Charles McGruder Sr.

& don’t forget the Magruder/McGruder Facebook groups:

Magruder / McGruder Family Genealogy

African American Magruder/McGruders (and descendants and relatives)

& other resources linked in the sidebar of this page…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Tichy, 1924-2016

For those of you with American Clan Gregor Society connections, I wanted to let you know that my father, Joe Tichy, passed away in September. Joe wasn’t a Magruder, though it was hard at times to remember that. On his mother’s side, he came from Tennessee/Georgia hill folk. On his father’s side, he was a second generation Bohemian-American whose grandmother never learned English. When he married my mother–Margaret “Peggy” Bubb, 10th generation descendant of Alexander Magruder–he had no idea he was also getting hitched to a Scottish-American identity that had already endured for three hundred years and was not ready to quit. In the end he surrendered, acquired a kilt he couldn’t afford, and became Assistant Chieftain (which translates as business manager or executive director) of the American Clan Gregor Society. He held that position for 28 years, during which he transformed the society from an old-fashioned, Washington D.C.-based family club to a wealthy nonprofit with an active national membership. Though the ACGS is a different beast now–due in part to changing times, and in part to people like me who have realized we Magruders aren’t even MacGregors–in my parents’ day it was solid and stolid, full of formal and “respectable” people devoted to their Scottish heritage and the idea of kinship…just occasionally letting their hair down enough to have a good time. (Were any of you at the Gathering–I can’t remember where or when–when the pipe band got into the hotel elevator, 2 a.m…guests on all floors madly phoning the manager to complain…in vain…because the manager was in there with the pipers, riding up and down for…was it an hour? God help their ear drums!)

I don’t know if free whisky for the pipe band was traditional or one of Joe’s brighter ideas, but here’s a tale I know belongs just to him. It’s from page 160 of my book, Trafficke.

Baltimore, 1967, the annual gathering of the American Clan Gregor Society, flawed only by the unpracticed hands of office staff called in to serve the Saturday banquet—climax of the weekend, evening dress only—when the regular wait-staff go on strike. My father, who will later remind me of this night, assumes it’s a union problem, but doesn’t ask. He’s not a Magruder, though married to one, and holds no sway. Jump to 1976, and my father, handsome in his new kilt, has been running the Gathering for four years. In the cocktail hour before the banquet, he’s checking details, admiring the centerpieces, the flags, and the large banner of the Fiery Cross, hung, as always, behind the head table. But there’s a wee problem. The wait-staff, all black, refuse to work in the banquet hall so long as that banner is there. My father asks to speak to them, and with (I am sure) great charm and tact, explains the history of the Fiery Cross, its legendary use as a symbol to call the clan to arms—men running picturesquely over the heather, house to house and glen to glen, carrying hand-sized pitch-pine torches in the shape of a double-armed cross. See? It’s there on the banquet program, too, above a few lines from Sir Walter Scott. Nothing at all to do with the KKK. He is sure of this, and sure that his explanation has put their minds at ease. Nevertheless, he takes down the banner, mentions it to no one; and neither at the banquet nor afterwards does anyone remark on its absence. My father runs the Gatherings for more than twenty years, and the banner is never seen again.

OK, yeah, it was naïve on his part to believe there was no connection–however twisted–between Scottish clans and the Klan: that was the whole point of putting this story in Trafficke, so readers could see what my father couldn’t. Looking back now, I can see other reasons this story got under my skin, how it sums Joe up in so many ways. He didn’t know much of the relevant history–and he certainly wasn’t a civil rights activist–he was just a guy with a banquet to run. And a problem. Now, he could have just taken the banner away and got on with the evening. Or he could have insisted it stay, that the meaning of a burning cross in the ill-defined past of the Scottish Highlands trumped its meaning in America. That is what he told the waiters, after all. But he didn’t do either of those things. He accepted that the banner had different meanings for different people, and he talked to them about it. He tried to make them, and himself, more comfortable. Did it matter? Were any of those black waiters one whit happier after his explanation? Who knows. If they were, it was probably not due to what he said, but simply that he made the effort to turn a confrontation into a conversation.

For those of you who knew him, you’ll be happy to hear that he kept his gift of gab, and his famous sense of humor, to the end.

A review of Trafficke…and what came next

I am happy and impressed when anyone takes the time to actually read Trafficke, much less review it. I was exceptionally pleased when I learned Jon Curley had reviewed it on Galatea Resurrects, an outstanding venue for engagements with poetry books and projects. Jon brings great historical depth to his review, and writes more eloquently than I do about why and how the method and poetics of Trafficke matters. I was so pleased by his words that it took me a couple of times through to realize that our family’s 200 years of slave holding–the book’s ultimate ethical challenge–was never mentioned. Take a look at the Galatea page now and read the ensuing comments and discussion. Sean Pears (a brilliant young writer now working on a PhD in Poetics) took the lead; Karen Branan chimed in; Jon responded with generosity and insight; and I added my thoughts. Taken together, this is an outstanding way to review a book and to keep bringing hard truths to consciousness. We all have to learn, and sometimes we have to learn in public. I’m grateful to Jon, Sean, & Karen, and to Galatea Resurrects for providing the forum. http://galatearesurrection26.blogspot.com/…/trafficke-by-su…

Plantations as Complex Historic Places

…the most recent post from Our Folks’ Tales, Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s blog “dedicated to telling the stories of enslaved people, free people of color, and the descendants of these individuals.” You’ll also find there good pages of links for African American history and genealogy. I’ve added this blog to the links on this site. I also left a long comment in response to this entry re: plantations, and invite you also to share your thoughts. More conversation on this topic is currently happening on the Coming to the Table Facebook group.

 

Book launch! The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom

I am thrilled to announce publication of James Bacon’s The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom–a book long in the making, shaped with skill, determination, and love.

In 1857, William Bowie, an enslaved man and skilled carpenter, was manumitted by the will of Roderick M. McGregor, of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Roderick’s birth name was Magruder, but in 1820 his father, John Smith Magruder, petitioned the state legislature to change the surname of his children to McGregor. Because Maryland law, by that time, forbade the manumission of slaves, Roderick’s will instructed his executor (his brother Nathaniel M. McGregor) to take William Bowie, his wife Matilda, and four of their children–Thomas, Nathaniel, Margaret, and Boston–to Washington DC, where they were to be hired out to work for a year, thereafter to have their freedom, a house, and a horse and cart. Once that was done, William Bowie received in cash the balance of the $500 Roderick McGregor had allotted to his welfare.

At that time, all members of the Bowie family were illiterate and had lived their entire lives in slavery. In 1913, just fifty-five years later, William A. Bowie, eldest son of Nathaniel Bowie, co-founded with John W. Lewis the Industrial Savings Bank, the most sound and successful black-owned bank in Washington, D.C.

And that is only one of the remarkable stories told in this book. From the Bowie family come tales of flight and capture, separation and reunion, Civil War service and multiple aliases, successful businesses and long marriages. On the other side of his family, James Bacon is descended from some of New Jersey’s earliest black property-owners, and important conductors on the Underground Railroad.

I have corresponded with James Bacon almost from the inception of this web site, and know him to be a dogged and thorough researcher. As you read this book, remember that behind every paragraph lie years of searching and careful recording; of corroboration and double-checking; of searching for graves and for documents; of squinting through miles of microfilm, then embracing the dazzling new world of online genealogy. Thanks to such efforts, The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom is, in itself, a reunion of the lost and the loved.

Just one footnote, for readers of the American Clan Gregor Society yearbooks… You may have read in an early article by C.C. Magruder, about the descendants of John Magruder of Dunblane (a grandson of Alexander Magruder the Immigrant, and Roderick McGregor’s great-grandfather), that Roderick freed all his slaves. This is far from true. He freed only William and Matilda Bowie, along with four of their children. Also to his credit, he had earlier purchased Matilda from a distant Maryland plantation in order to reunite her with William. However, the rest of the Bowie family, along with many others, remained in bondage, and an unusually large number of enslaved men are known to have run away from Roderick’s Prince George’s County plantations over the years. When recaptured, some of those men were sold, as were (apparently) several women or girls for whom there is no record of running away. These included two sisters in the Bowie family, who were not reunited with their siblings, nor with each other, for upwards of sixty years.

So while we celebrate the rise of the Bowies and other families, and while we give thanks for moments of conscience or expedience that led to the isolated acts of manumission that helped them on their way, let’s not forget the wider context of enslavement: an economic system entirely dependent on the institutionalization and social acceptance of crimes against humanity.

On this site, you can read about William & Matilda Bowie, Runaways from Roderick McGregor, Interrelations among these families, as well as the wills and estate inventories of Roderick McGregor and his father, John Smith Magruder. All these pages will be updated, as time allows, in response to publication of The Ties That Bind.

The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy it! Read it! 

How do we know that Alexander Magruder/McGruder was indentured in Maryland?

Duncan McGruther sends the following query:

From the Scottish Archives it does not appear that Alexander the Immigrant would be ‘a poor indentured servant’, so where in USA is this Indenture held, and can someone please post it online?
Alexander was captured in a Civil War battle against Cromwell – Dunbar (Sept 1650) in Scotland, or Preston (Aug 1648) or Worcester (Sep 1651) in England all fit date wise, though the latter date is very late (impossible?) to give time for Alexander to be transported across the Atlantic in time to start buying land in America in 1651. Alex’s family were the most senior officials in the Duke of Perth’s household, and in turn the Drummonds Of Perth were King Charles I particular favourite Dukes in Scotland. So if Alex did not have money directly he would have had access to it. I do not doubt as a Prisoner of War Alex would have been exiled and transported, but he would not have been poor, hence him buying up land on his arrival in Maryland.

These are important questions, that help to clarify the relationship between Scottish and American records; so I’ll respond point-by-point.

  • Prisoners of war who were transported and sold into indenture were not necessarily poor men to begin with.
  • No individual documents of indenture survive from Maryland’s early years. Entries regarding indenture do survive in Colonial records.
  • There is no evidence at all that Alexander was buying land by 1651 or even 1653. The colony offered “headrights” of land to anyone who brought settlers into Maryland, whether family members or servants. Indentured servants (whether prisoners or those who voluntarily indentured themselves) were also entitled to a headright at completion of their indenture.
  • Note that a headright existed only on paper. The recipient then needed to find his or her 50 acres, hire a surveyor, and pay the court clerk to record the details. Still to be done: find labor to clear the land and to build a house plus outbuildings, and then to plant the land in tobacco and corn. These details go far to explain why many former servants simply sold their headrights and went elsewhere to look for a life.
  • Speculation that Alexander was in Maryland as early as 1651 arises from a claim for land made by one John Ashcomb in reward for having brought several people into the colony, including “Alexander Mathoda.” It is important to note that a statement that so-and-so brought someone into the colony is not always literally true. Often it means that the claimant is entitled to a “headright” of 100 acres (1630s-1640s) or 50 acres (by Alexander’s time) in the name of that new person. Claiming in the name of an indentured servant is a common circumstance.
  • The reason some believe this record from 1651 refers to Alexander is that the same man, John Ashcomb, assigns land to “Alexander Macruder my servant” on 19 November 1653. That phrasing (“my servant”) indicates that this land is due to Alexander on completion of indenture. If that “Mathoda” entry is, indeed, our Alexander, then the commonly-held belief that he arrived with other prisoners on The Guinea in January 1652 is wrong.
  • The next definite trace in the land records is from 7 October 1653, when Charles Steward assigned 50 acres to “Alexander Macruder.” The 50 acres were due to Stewart for importing his wife “into the Patuxent.” (The Patuxent is the principle river in southern Maryland, which was, at the time, the center of the colony and included its capitol at St. Mary’s City.)
  • The question about Alexander’s indenture is how/why he got free so quickly. Money from home–from the Drummonds or directly from his own family–is the most obvious explanation. Early redemption was not common, but clearly occurred.
  • As well, men with skills were able to earn money on the side and purchase their freedom. Given his family of origin (described so clearly by Duncan) we have every reason to believe Alexander was fully literate, a rare skill in Maryland of the 1650s. Both Aschcomb and Steward signed those land assignments with “X.” That two men may have owned Alexander’s indenture jointly also suggests that he was initially sold at a very high price–possibly because of literacy, possibly because he came from a privileged class, or both.
  • In his book Economy and Society in Early Colonial Maryland, historian Russell A. Menard studied two groups of indentured men in early Maryland. His second group, which included Alexander, consisted of  “all of the 137 men identified as indentured servants in the headright entries found in the first 300 pages of liber AB&H of the patents series and who arrived in Maryland between 1648 and 1652.” Among other things, this puts the latest limit for Alexander’s arrival at 1652. It probably also indicates that Menard accepts the “Mathoda” entry as referring to Alexander  McGruder/Magruder.
  • 72 of those men later appear in the records as free men. Subtracting those who died, left the colony, or disappeared from the records without explanation, 56 remained in the study group whose economic lives Menard followed. About 75% of those 56 men acquired land in the colony, most holding between 50 and 400 acres. Alexander Magruder was one of three men (the others were John Bogue and Nicholas Gassaway) who owned more than 1000 acres when they died.
  • It is important to bear in mind that in this study Alexander was compared to other formerly indentured men. Most land in the colony was owned or otherwise controlled by a small number of wealthy and well-connected men who had never been indentured.
  • A related fact: Menard reports that 43 or 44 (around 75%) of those 56 men participated in local government in some way during their lifetimes–from serving on juries to holding minor offices such as constable or overseer of highways. We know from other sources that Alexander Magruder was one of the 25% who did not. Menard notes that formerly indentured men of his time largely were shut out of high office, those positions having been locked up by earlier arrivants and/or wealthier individuals. Interestingly, the two exceptions were Bogue and Gassaway, both of whom obtained relatively high military and/or civic positions.
  • For full info on Menard’s work, click the Bibliography tab on this site, then click Early Maryland. I have been quoting and paraphrasing from Chapter V: The Age of the Small Planter, pages 174-175 in the 1985 edition. His notes cite individual land patents.
  • Charles Kurz (also in the Bibliography) cites early entries for Alexander Magruder in the Maryland Archives’ Land Records as Liber AB&H, Folio 352 & following. I don’t have copies of them. Theoretically, they are available on line and I am seeking help from the Maryland Hall of Records to actually find them. (Those who have used the MSA site will need no explanation!)