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…
…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.
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!
At the end of 2014, in a meeting of the DC chapter of Coming to the Table, I met Karen Branan, a retired investigative journalist. My book Trafficke was in production; Karen was negotiating a contract and putting last touches on her book, The Family Tree. We realized immediately that we were in some way related, through the Beall family who, like the Magruders, were among the first arrivants to Colonial Maryland. We next realized that though our foci were different, each of us had been investigating for decades our ancestors’ culpability in slavery and white supremacy.
Today, I finally did my homework and discovered that Karen, too, is a Magruder descendant. My line runs from Samuel Magruder, Alexander’s grandson, born in what was then Calvert County MD, about 1687. Karen is descended from Samuel’s sister, Verlinda Magruder, born 1693, who married John Beall, son of Alexander Beall and Elizabeth Coombs. Samuel and Verlinda’s parents were the well-documented Samuel Magruder and his wife Sarah (also believed to have been in some way related to Ninian Beall, though we’re pretty sure now that she was not his daughter). I have at least one more Beall in my line–Charity Beall, who married Haswell Magruder in 1762–but haven’t yet figured out if that ties me more closely to Karen’s family.
So now you have one more reason to drop by Karen’s web site and read about The Family Tree: a lynching in Georgia, a legacy of secrets, and my search for the truth at karenbranan.com. One truth Karen discovered is that she is related not only to white men involved in the lynching, but also to one of the four black victims. On her site, you’ll find links to thoughtful and enthusiastic reviews and to several radio conversations. The Family Tree is available in hardback, as an e-book (Kindle or Nook), and as an audio book (CD or streaming). Karen is working hard to promote the book–more accurately, to use her book to promote conversation and action. Check out her scheduled appearances in numerous states. Invite her to yours!
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.
Recently, someone in the Facebook Magruder/McGruder family genealogy group started off a long conversation with the following:
Alexander Magruder is no longer a “gateway ancestor” for the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne” [OCC] or for the descendants of Magna Carta Barons. Genealogists have determined that Margaret Campbell was not his mother, and she is the one who connected him to those lineages.
Subsequent discussion was not very enlightening, though group members who are also OCC members did try to find out more detail. All we know is that the OCC’s genealogist has made this determination, but apparently does not share with anyone the sources consulted or reasons for the decision. And, honestly, a genealogical claim without reference to sources isn’t worth the pixels it takes to type it. The OCC is also claiming a birth date for Alexander of 1630–fully 20 years later than has been believed. Again, no evidence offered. Are they just guessing?
Considering that several researchers, in several generations–most recently Don McGruther–have thoroughly searched public records in Scotland, and all concur that our Alexander was the son of Alexander McGrouther (senior) and Margaret Campbell, (widow of Andrew Drummond of Balmaclone)…my question was, and still is: does the OCC have access to a document or documents not available to the rest of us, or has the genealogist simply decided that the extant evidence is too skimpy to be sure of Alexander’s parentage? While the former would be big news, indeed, the latter would be no news at all–we’ve always known the record is scant. (See, on this site, Alexander’s Family Tree & Was Alexander Who We Think He Was?)
Personally, I don’t give a fig about descent from Charlemagne or the Magna Carta barons, but I’d be pretty darned excited to see actual new evidence about Alexander and his family. I hope OCC Magruders will keep the rest of us informed about any new developments or information.
In the meantime, I have to say that absent new evidence my beliefs about Alexander’s lineage remain unchanged.
If you haven’t joined the Facebook group, you’ll find a link at the right hand side of this page.
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!