FREEDMEN COMMUNITY PROJECT
Township 1 South, Range 1 West
The Freedmen Community Project is something I’ve been working on for many years and finally decided to begin the process of assembling the necessary documents to publish the evolution of populations of former slaves and their descendants of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians.
In order to illustrate the growth and inter-relationships that developed following the Civil War up to Oklahoma statehood I have used primarily two main sources to illustrate how the former slaves formed communities that would define the lives and future for their families in the future.
One of the first documents created that defined the communities of former slaves was the Dawes Commission’s land allotment cards generated circa 1898-1899. These documents provided vital family information along with their places of residence that formed the foundation for the United States census records that would follow immediately in 1900.
It is my intent to reconstruct the communities in which these people many of whom were my ancestors and demonstrate how intricately their lives intersected and progressed to form the families that have lived throughout Indian Territory and the state of Oklahoma.
These documents in my opinion have the ability to demonstrate how our families assisted each other in making a way through the hardships in the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations when they were not truly welcomed after Civil War. Our families had to work together in an effort to secure homes and education for themselves and their children. I’m sure at the time they were not fixated on the legacy they would leave but I would like to think in the back of their mind the thought did occur, how will their children live and how would they prosper when so much around them said this was a hostile country?
I don’t know if there is any real “science” to what I’m doing but I have to believe it is necessary to tell the story of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen because it seems at least once a week I’m contacted by someone hoping to reconnect to the history of their family through the use of documents or through the use of DNA. What is becoming increasingly evident to me is the use of the documents along with the use of DNA science a lot of the stories we have heard in our families have a kernel of truth to them and if we can reconstruct those communities in which our ancestors lived their story can be heard.
As I continue this project and if I come across an ancestor of someone that reads this material I would greatly appreciate it if you have a portrait or an illustration of an original Dawes enrollee you consider submitting a copy to me. Again, it is my belief that we know these ancestors lived and died in a land that they called home but it would impact their story more if there was a face to put with that document and show they were more than just a name on a piece of paper.
You can forward that material to me at:
Please put Freedmen Community Project in the subject line so I don’t toss it in my spam folder.
|1900 United States 12th Census Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory|
Before going forward I think it is important to emphasize something about this census document that is unique to the people who were enrolled on the Dawes rolls, especially those who were freedmen. On just about every census record you see is a category with information on how many children a woman gave birth to and how many were still alive when the census was taken.
This information is important because it illustrates just how much land these families controlled and in the case of Levi and Rachel JOHNSON, they had nine children together of which eight were alive in 1900. When land was to be allotted in the next few years that meant this family had the possibility of controlling approximately four hundred and forty acres of land. It is astounding to know our ancestors held this much land and today there is probably a tiny fraction of their descendants having ownership of this land.
There is an interesting back story concerning Levi and Rachel JOHNSON and their land allotments. The land was award to a Chickasaw by blood Dawes enrollee. The records indicated that Levi had improved and fenced the land while the woman who sought the land was a Chickasaw who lived most of her life in the Choctaw Nation but was able to take the land previously cultivated and fenced by Levi.
|Choctaw Freedman Card #31 Front Levi JOHNSON|
The Dawes card for Levi JOHNSON indicates he was a Choctaw Freeman who was enslaved by Jincy COCHRAN and his place of residence was given as Homer, Indian Territory Chickasaw Nation. His card also provides information for his wife and children who were Chickasaw Freedmen on Dawes card #186.
|Chickasaw Freedman Card #186 Front Rachel JOHNSON|
|Chickasaw Freedman Card# 186 Rear|
As you view the Dawes card for Rachel JOHNSON it is important to take note of the information provided; who is listed on it, their relationship to the head of the household (usually the first person listed,) their ages and any vital statistics such as births and deaths.
You can see from Rachel’s card it runs the gamut of providing information that will assist in developing and reconstructing the community in which the Indian Territory freedmen lived in. We see Rachel’s children coming of age and beginning families of their own which meant in some cases more land that would have been allotted and controlled by members of this extended family if their children were admitted as original Dawes enrollees prior to 1902.
Again to show you just how connected and extended this family is the 1900 census three families listed on the same page; Levi and Rachel JOHNSON, Oliver and Margaret JACKSON as well as Jim and Martha WILLIAMS. On the surface if didn’t know it they might seem to be unconnected but by using the Dawes Commission records we learn that there is definitely a familial tie.
I have to point out something that is not obvious to those without a tie to this family. There are many cases that came about that challenged the idea that children of Indian men and freedmen or enslaved women did not possess “Indian blood.” The custom of the antebellum period of United States history dictated that if your mother was slave than her children would be classified as slaves, even if they were the children of white men. This was a custom that was followed for the most part in the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations.
One such case involved a Chickasaw Indian by the name of Jesse McGEE who fathered several children by a Chickasaw Freedwoman named Dora JACKSON. Oliver JACKSON was Dora’s brother and this demonstrates that these communities consisted of people who had blended families and though they were frowned upon by the citizens of the Chickasaw or Choctaw nations you will discover there were numerous blended families of African-Chickasaw people who were never recognized as being part of the tribe of their father’s. However in this case Dora and Jesse fought to have Jesse’s children and his descendants be recognized as “Chickasaw by blood.”
|Chickasaw Freedman Card# 186 Front Oliver & Margaret JACKSON|
|Chickasaw Freedman Card# 186 Rear|
Rachel JOHNSON and Margaret JACKSON are sisters and their parents are Jim (James) and Martha WILLIAMS. If you recall Rachel and Levi had nine children with eight of them living as of 1900, Margaret and Oliver JOHNSON had five children and four were alive as of 1900 and according to the same document Rachel and Margaret had eight siblings of which six were alive as of 1900 meaning there was a possibility of at least eighteen people controlling seven hundred and twenty acres of land!
Let me put it another way, this family had land that would exceed one square mile, San Francisco, CA is only 49 square miles and we know there were more than four thousand Chickasaw Freedmen that were allotted land by the Dawes Commission. That's a lot of communities the size of San Francisco in Indian Territory? I think we owe it to the ancestor's to ask what happened to these communities?
|Land Allotment Land Description James WILLIAMS|
The document above is a description of the land allotted to James WILLIAMS by the Dawes Commission and indicates his forty acres is in Section 4, Township 1 South, Range 1 West which is known as Hennepin, Indian Territory. The document also gives a relative value for that land at three dollars per acre totaling one hundred and twenty dollars.
The Plat Map below provides another view of that physical description of the land owned by James WILLIAMS in ten acre parcels. Note again the land is located in Section 4, Township 1 South, Range 1 West. If you have done the math, you will note that section 4 consists of 640 acres of land and if the eighteen people who comprised part of this extended family had their land connected they would control one square mile of land.
|Plat Map Property Allotted to James WILLIAMS|
|Chickasaw Freedman Card# 180 Front James & Martha WILLIAMS|
It is important that when we look at the communities of Indian Territory Freedmen we take a holistic view of their families and how the political and social environment helped shape their lives and the lives of their descendants as Indian Territory began to turn into the state of Oklahoma. We hear a lot of Tulsa and how that community developed but very little is known about the rural communities like Hennepin, Homer, Milo, Newport and Berwyn Indian Territory just to name a few.
It is probably not unusual but because the people in these communities had so much shared history together as the former slaves of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians it would only be natural they intermarried among each other.
There was a great influx of so called “state Negroes” that migrated to the southern part of Indian Territory and intermixed with the freedmen but you can also see there were a lot of relationships of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen that helped to provide an atmosphere for independence and inter-dependence that we don’t see today.
I have always enjoyed researching the history of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen because with the wealth of documentation available and the oral history of these families much can be learned on how a vast community of people who at one time controlled an enormous amount of land have lost their communities and land because their descendants may have forgotten their history.
Hopefully this project will stimulate more interest in these forgotten communities and possibly have the descendants of the original Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen reconnect to their history and communities?