On 4 October 2020 the African American Magruder/McGruders (and descendants and relatives) Facebook group hit 500 members! Go there for questions, connections, & community. (508 today, & counting)
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.
& don’t forget the Magruder/McGruder Facebook groups:
& other resources linked in the sidebar of this page…
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…
Don’t forget: this Sunday, 28 Feb 2016: 2:00-3:30, I’ll be reading from Trafficke, with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree (Simon & Schuster, 2015). @ The Writers Center, Bethesda, MD. Unknown to each other until we met at a gathering of Coming to the Table in 2014, we each spent 20+ years researching our families’ history–in my case, Alexander’s true Scottish origins and the history of slave-holding among his descendants/my ancestors in Maryland; in Karen’s case, a “kinship lynching” within her family in Jim Crow Georgia. I’m a poet, she’s a journalist, and as fate would have it we are distant cousins, both descended from Ninian Beall in Maryland. (I haven’t yet figured out if Karen is also descended from Alexander…) Please come out and join the conversation. Free parking on Sundays in the lot across the street from The Writers Center.
4508 Walsh St
Bethesda MD 20815
GPS users please note: Enter “Chevy Chase” as the city…though, really, it’s Bethesda.
Read about The Family Tree on Karen’s web site–including rave reviews.
If you’re nearby…I’ll be reading from my Magruder book, Trafficke, on Friday, October 9th, 7:00 pm @ University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. University Center, Room 303.
Follow signs in the building. Parking is open to visitors (other than handicap or reserved spaces) after 4:00 pm on Fridays. If you’re there, be sure to say hello! I’ll also have books there for sale.
Here are my upcoming readings from Trafficke, in case you happen to be in any of these neighborhoods. Unless noted, all events are free and open to the public.
In recent months I have read from and talked about Trafficke at a house reading/book launch in Washington DC, at a meeting of the DC chapter of Coming to the Table, in two readings at the AWP conference, at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society, at the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs, the University of Illinois/Springfield, George Mason University, a house reading in Illinois, at Busboys & Poets/Hyattsville, MD, at The Writers Center, Bethesda, MD, and at The Potter’s House, DC. Many thanks to those who turned out to support me, and to join the discussion.
Several readings have been shared with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2016), her investigation of a “kinship lynching” within her family in Jim Crow Georgia. I’ve recently discovered that Karen, too, is a Magruder descendant. See my post for 12 March 2016. Read about The Family Tree on Karen’s web site.
Now it’s summer, when I literally head for the hills…so no events scheduled until Fall. Here are two to look forward to–
Monday, Sept 24, 3pm: Karen & I will be speaking at the Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University. Building & room: Research 163. Visitor parking: Mason Pond Deck. Joining us will be Anthony Cohen, an African American historian who has twice walked to Canada on routes of the Underground Railroad, and in 2014 followed in the steps of his great-great grand uncle, who returned from freedom in Canada to enlist for service in the Civil War. A documentary of that journey, Patrick & Me, will be released nationwide in 2018. Committed to embodied encounters with history, Tony both directs his own foundation—Button Farm Living History Center, in Germantown, Maryland—and serves as Director of Historical Interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he is developing an immersion program in the experience of the enslaved at Great Hopes Plantation.
No details yet, but Karen & I expect to be speaking in Baltimore in October…stay tuned!
I recently had my DNA tested. After a little research, I chose Ancestry.com b/c 1) it’s easy to use; 2) huge number of family trees to match to (plus historical records to verify and document your tree); 3) they keep the DNA, so as technology improves you may get more results; and 4) the raw DNA data is easily downloaded, then uploaded to other sites with more powerful technical analysis tools.
I’ve uploaded my data to Family Tree DNA (for a moderate fee) and to GEDmatch.com (free). These allow you to match one-to-all (a fishing trip) or one-to-one (to zero in on someone who looks like a genuine match). I am barely beginning to understand it all, but am pleased so far.
Also, my family tree is complete (as far as I know it) on Ancestry and is public.
I have found the tutorials on the site linked below to be very helpful, including Lesson 2 which helps you figure out which company to start with. The answer may depend on where your ancestors were from, as well as what kind of information you are seeking. If you are looking for relatives within the time frame of a typical family tree, don’t skip the autosomal (atDNA). The others will take you back into deep time, but won’t show spouses, other children, cousins, etc., just a son-to-father-to-father chain or a daughter-to-mother-to-mother chain.
On the other hand, for African Americans searching for a white male ancestor, the Y-DNA test may be the most efficient way to start.
GEDmatch.com has a whole page of links for learning, under the title DNA for Dummies.
I’ve just published a page on Af-Am Magruders Named in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862.
All those enslaved in the District of Columbia were emancipated by the Compensated Emancipation Act of 16 April 1862. Slaves were freed immediately and slave holders had 90 days to file a petition for compensation. Though the 3,100 slaves emancipated comprised less than 1% of enslaved people in the U.S., its ultimate impact was far greater, providing a legal framework and precedent on which the Emancipation Proclamation was modeled.
The website Civil War Washington has transcribed and indexed those petitions, with images of the original documents attached–an outstanding resource for any African-American searching for ancestors in the city. Because both owners and the enslaved frequently moved back and forth across city limits, this source also should be searched for those with Maryland or Virginia roots. Most former slaves left their owners immediately and by 1870 70% of the approximately 3,100 emancipated people had left the city. So even if your family has no known connection to DC, you should take a few minutes and search these petitions. The site is well designed and both quick and easy to use.
As always, the best sources for details about enslaved people are those created at moments when it was in the slave owner’s interest to provide a full name and a full description. In this case, owners had to present their slaves for examination, or, if a person had run away, produce witnesses who could testify to the slave’s condition and value. Petitions provide surnames, physical descriptions, and, in many cases, details about the enslaved person’s skills, living situation, and family members. Petitioners also had to say how and from whom they acquired each person–more priceless detail for genealogists.
More than 150 slave holders failed to file a petition. To receive compensation, each had to swear (among other things) loyalty to the Union; so most of those who failed to file are assumed to have been Southern supporters or known sympathizers. Others were residents of Maryland or Virginia, whose slaves had been living–perhaps hired out, perhaps fugitive–in the District. On 12 June 1862 Congress passed a supplemental act allowing slaves whose owners had failed to petition to file petitions for their own freedom. Each of these supplemental petitions includes the individual’s request for freedom plus the testimony of witnesses who could verify ownership, residence in the District, and other details. These “supplemental petitions” were the first instance in which slaves were allowed to petition and give testimony in a Federal court, another legal precedent with far-reaching consequences.
On my page, I list the African-American Magruders I found named in the petitions, with a few notes on their circumstances and possible connections to other families or individuals.
The Maryland State Archives Online is constantly changing, which can be confusing for users but more often presents new opportunities for research without leaving home. Today I want to draw your attention to the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland database. Now expanded and easier to use, this database includes more than 300,000 names of people both black and white. It searches Census records from 1776-1880, and 26 additional categories of records, including runaway ads, chattel records (sales of slaves), manumissions, slave jails, accommodations docket (fees for housing runaways), and assessment records (assessments of slaves in estate inventories). Most of the records are from 1830-1880. The database provides basic information, sometimes a description of the person, the name of the owner, and a full citation to the Maryland State Archives (MSA) Record Series from which the information has been transcribed.
Runaway ads can be extremely important sources of information. Slaveholders provide the most complete information about a slave when in it is their interest to do so, so the ads often include personal characteristics and skills, as well as full name, appearance, height, and distinguishing marks. They also include speculation about where the runaway might be headed, and most often that is back to where they came from or where they have family members. Browsing the ads for runaways from Magruder plantations, I’ve learned that one man likes to dress well; that another is a good carpenter; that a woman is an excellent cook; that another woman talks too much; that another man had been free to hire himself out in Washington City, but had recently disappeared, probably headed for Baltimore and then to Pennsylvania and freedom.
Good luck in your search.
Through fellow members of Coming to the Table, I recently learned of Our Black Ancestry, a site that includes an interactive data base for people researching various African-American surnames. Just click on the Surnames tab at the top to reach directions for how to use the site. Also recommended: post your inquiries on a RootsWeb forum for the county where your ancestors lived. CTTT’s home page reads:
Coming to the Table provides leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.
New regional chapters are forming, and a national gathering takes place every year. Assistance can include mentoring and support for descendants of the enslaved and descendants of enslavers who are searching for linked ancestors. For those who can’t travel to a meeting, monthly conference calls on a variety of subjects can help connect you to this community.