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:
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