Williams Papers Tell Much Of The Lot Of The Slaves In Early Chattanooga (17th In A Series)

Monday, March 25, 2019 - by John Wilson
Slave cabin at the Samuel Williams place
Slave cabin at the Samuel Williams place

There were few antebellum plantations in the Chattanooga region, but on the banks of the Tennessee River five miles below town Samuel Williams had "an old-fashioned Southern plantation that was cultivated entirely by slaves.''

The Williams papers that were uncovered in an old downtown building last year tell much about the lot of the slaves in the Ross's Landing days and the first years of Chattanooga.

They tell of the slaves being bought and sold and how they were valued at so many dollars per month or at a sale price.

One listing mentions "the accounts and debts due the firm of Williams & Oxley. Three of four or perhaps a half dozen inferior shotguns sold by G&S Williams at auction. Silas Williams kept all the livestock, cattle, horses, mules and hogs. G&S Williams got a negro woman which they sold four or five days later to Anna Keeney on April 11, 1841." 

Jeremiah Fryar said, "I bought a slave from Samuel Williams named Soos. She was 12 or 13. I paid $400 for her. I think the money went to pay a debt. I sold Soos (back) to Samuel Williams and I think he sold him to a man named Cross in Alabama. 

John Starling said that George Williams "bought the slave Bob there in the settlement where he lived. He was bought from a man named Johnson."

Jesse G. Blackwell stated, "I know that one of the Negro women is much diseased and has been for several years - both her and her family of children." 

There were these notations:

Negro girl named Susan owned by firm of G&S Williams sold for $400 to Charles Cross

Sold Ann Keeney a Negro for $700 and took a note on Wayland.

When George Williams Jr., brother of Samuel Williams, died in August of 1842, the settling of the estate gave a  

Description of 10 Negroes

Bob, aged 33 years; Patrick, a man aged 29 years; Fanny, a woman aged 21 years; Ginny, a woman aged 28 years; Stephen, a boy aged 11 years; Jack, a boy aged 9 years; Albert, a boy aged 8 years; Jordan, a boy aged 7 years; Minerva, a girl aged 2 years; Eliza, a woman aged 21 years.

Elizabeth, the widow of George, received some of the slaves. At the time she and her two young sons and Samuel and his large family were both living in the big Williams home across from Williams Island. She later moved out and ended up suing Samuel Williams.

One notation says, "After death of George W. Williams, Samuel Williams did not appropriate the slaves for his own use, but for the support of both families." 

However, the other side claimed, "Elizabeth was put off with the negro woman Jinny and boy Albert and some three or four cows. The cows died except for one."

One person said in a deposition, "The Negroes were mostly women and children and the service of all of them applied to the support and maintenance of themselves and the livestock which was disposed of. He was furnishing articles of food and clothing for the two families that were still living together, for the Negroes yet unsold, and for the hired hands.

"He also appropriated the cabin of the Negroes and the use of the Negroes. From the age and character of the slaves, they were not worth more than their support." 

George D. Foster said, "Left on the farm at the time of George Williams' death were hogs, horses, cattle, Negroes, household furniture, bees, farming tools, one wagon and corn. There was something like seven or eight Negroes. I don't know the amount of property or stock. I would suppose the two Negro men to be worth ten dollars a month. There are two women worth about six dollars a month. The rest are children. Two of them would be worth about four dollars a month. Any less ones would not be worth their victuals."

George Williams Sr., father of Samuel and George Jr., had owned slaves also. Foster recalled, "George Sr. had an old Negro woman and two small boys that he let Richard Waterhouse have after the death of Richard G. Waterhouse. It was an over payment that was to go to Waterhouse to go toward paying for the land that Bud Taylor or some other of the connection had bought from Waterhouse. There was a portion of the Negroes I was acquainted with and a portion I did not know much about."

As a result of the lawsuit there was an estate sale that included the slaves. 

Capt. John P. Long said, "At the Williams sale the Negroes were all there except for a woman and perhaps her child. They were bid off for the widow. One of the Negro men (Paddy) I should judge to be about 30 years old and said to be in good health. The other (Bob) was somewhat older and appeared to be in bad health. One of the women (Eliza) seemed to be about 25 years old and had the appearance of good health. The balance I do not recollect about. I would think that they sold for very fair prices."

Another said, "I was at the G.W. Williams residence when there was to have been a sale of two or three Negroes and other property. I went there for the purpose of purchasing a Negro or two, and, owing to Mr. Berry's not being willing to let Samuel Williams purchase the property without paying the money, he would not let the property be sold. Samuel Williams said he had paid a good bit of the firm's debts and he felt if this property was sold it would not bring its full value."

One witness said of Samuel Williams, "He has always had a good deal of property about him I think. I have not known of him buying any land or Negroes since the death of G.W. Williams." 

There was this notation from the estate sale:

10 Negroes. 8 purchased by Samuel Williams. Bob $550, Patrick $600, Fanny $400, Eliza $500, Stephen $300, Jack $300, Jourdan $250, Minerva $200. Widow purchased Jenny $400, Albert $300.

There are various listings of items being bought for the slaves.

One mentions "8 pounds of cotton for boy Paddy."

Another says "goods for Negro Bob."

Still another reports "one pair of shoes for Negro man."

There was "37 yards osnaburg, spun thread for Negroes, and 1 pair shoes for Negro woman $2."

Samuel Williams on one occasion "paid Rawlings' Negro to shoe horse for Godsey to ride."

Another entry speaks of "goods paid Taylor's Negro boy."

In the September court term 1846, Claiborne Gott disclosed that he had married the widow Elizabeth and been appointed guardian for the minor heirs of G.W. Williams - Pleasant and Calvin Williams.

The court said that the "title of Negroes was vested with Gott."

Most of the Williams slaves lived on Williams Island, except for the house servants, including the chief cook and the coachman. It was said that Samuel Williams each morning would rise at 4 a.m. and holler in a loud voice from his front porch to awaken the slaves on the island to their daily tasks. Samuel Williams Divine recalled that his grandfather did not need a cow horn, but he "relied on his clean, clear-cut voice with a whoopee on the end of it. It re-echoed back and forth across the river, hit the cliffs on either side, echoed and re-echoed, until finally it was drowned in the whirlpool of the Suck."

Just before the Civil War, Samuel Williams still had several slaves as did his son, Mattison. 

The 1850 slave census list Samuel Williams with seven slaves - one male 18 years, one female 30, one male 16, one male 3, one male 14, one female 8 and one male 1.

The 1860 census shows him with one male 22, one female 21, one female 4, one male 40 years, and one female 2 years.

When two sons of Samuel Williams were about to depart for the Civil War fighting, the Williams slaves lined up in front of the home place by the river to see them off.

In a few short years, there would be dramatic changes for the Williams family and for the Williams slaves.

* * *

The links to the Williams papers on Sam Hall's website are here.

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