Slaves Held by the Shaw Family of Sumner County, Tennessee

Whenever I find a slave holder in the family, I try to post as much information as possible about them in order to help their descendants. This has been a major project on my paternal side, located almost entirely in the Deep South. However, on my maternal side, the subject of this blog, there were only a few people who held slaves.

Of all the slave holders in my Cole/Kelly line, my 4th great-grandfather, William Shaw (1794-1867) of Sumner County, Tennessee held by far the most people, up to 35 individuals on the 1850 census. Yet, strangely, there is almost no information about them! I have found many deeds for land transactions, but not a single record of a slave sale or inheritance apart from the will listed below. I do not know the reason for this; whether it is because Sumner County kept these records separately, or because William managed everything “off the books.”

In any case, I have decided to go ahead and post what I have, in case it is helpful to anyone researching, and I’ll just add more information later if I can find it.

Robert Shaw (1755-1830), William Shaw’s father, was one of the earliest white settlers in Sumner County, arriving about 1786 from Guilford County, North Carolina. He did not appear to hold any slaves until late in life, as his early tax records do not show any “black polls,” usually meaning slaves over the age of 12.

In 1817, the first tax record appears showing a black poll. Robert Shaw held one black poll in 1821, two in 1823, and three in 1824. His will, written in 1823, mentions seven slaves by name, three of which are likely adults (Lize, Ben and Dina).

I also bequeath to my son William Shaw on the death of his Mother four negroes to wit, a boy named Randol, Lize and her two children Mary Ann and Harriett.

Item, to my daughter Sarah Stewart I give and bequeath a negro girl named Jenny.

Item, to my daughters Jenny Patterson, Susanna Reed, Elizabeth Davis, and Ann Shaw, I give and bequeath two negroes, to wit Ben and Dina. Should they not agree about the division of them in that case they are to be sold and the money equally divided among them.

Robert Shaw died in 1830. The four slaves that he gave to his son William are no doubt  listed among the 11 found on William’s 1830 census entry.

2 M -10
2 M 10-23
1 M 24-35
1 M 36-54
2 F -10
1 F 10-23
2 F 24-35

In 1838, William tax list entry shows 8 slaves between 12-50 valued at $5,600 total. He almost certainly held several more that fell outside that age range; there are 5 children under age 10 listed in 1840.

The 1840 census shows 17 slaves:

3 M -10
4 M 10-23
2 M 36-54
2 F -10
3 F 10-23
2 F 36-54

By 1850, William held 35 slaves in District 10 of Sumner County and listed his real estate’s value at $7,200. The slave schedule shows number, age, gender, and color (Black or “Mulatto”), in that order as shown on the schedule.

There appear to be at least three generations of people listed, and three of the adults match the ages of the adults listed in 1840. I hope that since William was so prosperous, the lack of sale deeds combined with this data means that he had no need to sell or mortgage slaves and that these are families that managed to stay together. But I don’t know that for a fact.

1 60 M B
1 50 F B
1 50 F B
1 25 F B
1 25 F B
1 25 F B
1 25 F B
1 36 F M
1 33 M B
1 32 M B
1 31 M B
1 32 M M
1 25 M B
1 12 M B
1 11 M B
1 10 M B
1 9 M B
1 8 M B
1 7 M B
1 6 M B
1 4 M B
1 3 M B
1 3 M B
1 1 M B
1 1 M B
1 11 F B
1 11 F B
1 10 F B
1 10 F B
(the rest illegible)

By 1860, William was one of the wealthier residents of Sumner County, listing his real estate value at $17,200 and personal estate at $3,430. Much of that wealth, of course, was held in the form of human capital. While he lived in District 10, his slaves are found on the schedule for District 9, which is odd because I have no record for any property owned by him in District 9. This may be an error. Again, there are some very old individuals listed, and while I haven’t matched the lists exactly, it looks like these are most of the same people, about ten years older than they were in 1850.

1 85 M B
1 40 M B
1 40 M B
1 40 M B
1 35 M B
1 35 M B
1 35 M B
1 18 M B
1 18 M B
1 M M B
1 70 F B
1 35 F B
1 35 F B
1 35 F B
1 18 F B
1 18 F B
1 18 F B
1 22 F B
1 10 M B
1 10 M B
1 10 M B
1 10 M B
1 10 M B
1 6 F B
1 1 M B
1 1 F B
1 1 F B
1 1 F B
1 1 F B
1 1/12 F B
1 1/12 F B
1 17 M B
1 27 M B

William never owned a huge amount of land. In 1867, he sold off most or all of roughly 300 acres, some of which was quite valuable. One 95-acre lot sold for $2,568, a very large sum at the time. It must have included a valuable facility of some kind. He also owned 22 horses in 1850, which is far more than it seems a small farm would need.

So, while William called himself a “farmer,” I do not think he was a “planter” with a big plantation.  I think it is very likely that his primary business was a mill of some kind, perhaps a sawmill or grist mill on the Red River, which is mentioned in his deeds. His enslaved population would have worked the mill until they were emancipated in 1865.

mill

William Shaw died in 1867, leaving no will. There is a brief estate file, but of course there are no slaves named because they were no longer slaves. Therefore, the names of this large population remain a mystery. However, looking at the 1870 census for District 10 of Sumner County, there are several African-American Shaw families listed. It seems likely (though certainly not definitely) from the proximity and the ages that they were held by William Shaw before 1865. Heads of household include (they all have several children):

Jerry Shaw age 56, wife Chany Shaw age 60

Joseph Shaw age 45, wife Margaret age 38

James Shaw age 41, wife Martha age 40

David Shaw age 55, wife Jane age 54

All of this information is attached William Shaw on my public tree at Ancestry.com for those who may be tracing their ancestors.

 

 

 

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