1619 Project: ForefathersRead Now
(Part 1, of 6) Our nameless Ancestors seem to come up from the earth as full grown adults, their roots lost or erased from written record. Like the First Africans to arrive in Virginia, the “20 and odd negroes”, mostly nameless, ageless, sexless. No identity. One such man in my own family line is, Richard Nukes.
(Part2, of 6) Richard Nukes was born about 1777. He first appears in 1820 in Ohio. And then, again, in a Fayette County, Ohio personal tax list in 1826, with a note by his name : “Blackman”. He is not living in a Black community. He is not taxed for the years before and mysteriously not after either. From out of thin air. For one brief moment he owned just enough to be counted, 2 horses and 2 cows. In 1830, Richard and was living near some of the first settlers of the county, Quakers. Then he disappears again. I know from his sons that Richard was born in Virginia. How did Richard gain freedom? Did he runaway? Was he freed by a will? After careful search of manumissions, bills of sale and court cases, I found a clue. It is likely Richard Nukes was a descendant of Tom Nokes, George Washington’s carpenter at his Mount Vernon Plantation.
(Part 3, of 6) Slaves did not have surnames. They were chattel property like livestock on a farm. When slaves retained surnames, especially in Virginian records, they were likely owned by multiple different families and retained their heritage and legacy for generations. There were several reasons for this and it usually meant they were connected to the original owner of the slave family’s patriarch or matriarch by blood or valued for a special skill. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s Hemings slave family, who were not only his in-laws through his wife, but also his blood kin when he fathered children with through Sally Hemings.
(Part 4, of 6) George Washington’s house servant, Tom Nokes, was very old when Washington died and freed all of his slaves. But Tom Nokes was not likely freed by Washington’s act from guilt. He was a Dowery Slave, meaning he didn’t belong to George Washington, he belonged to Washington’s wife, Martha. She received Tom from her first husband’s estate when he died, therefore, legally, Tom couldn’t be freed by the will of George Washington. Interestingly, different Slaves with the surname Nokes/Nukes/Nooks that were Martha Washington’s “Dower Slaves” are free and living in the Washington, DC and Northern Virginia neighborhoods near the city. It seems there was a movement, especially by Quakers in the early 1800’s, to buy the Washington Dower Slaves from her heirs when she died and free them in an abolitionist act. Many of the free Nokes family disappear from records after they achieve freedom and cannot be found at this time. It is likely, my Richard Nukes/ Nokes was born on Mount Vernon and came from one of these freed Nokes Families that descend from Tom Nokes, the carpenter. But it isn’t and may never be proven.
(Part 5, of 6) When dealing with enslaved ancestors it’s hard to understand that they were merely property. They had no identity. Richard appeared in Ohio with a surname and, probably, working for a Quaker family that settled frontier Ohio. He had no wife by 1820 and was a single father of four boys and one daughter. One of these boys was my ancestor, Noah Nooks. Noah, was born in 1806, he moved from his father’s farm and started a Free Black community in the hills of Jackson County, Ohio by 1830. Noah became THE leading Underground Railroad conductor of Jackson County. Runaway slaves from Kentucky crossed the Ohio River and were picked up by Noah and taken to his farm. After hiding them for a while he drove them to Fayette County, where his father, Richard, had first settle from Virginia at least 30 years before. Full circle. He had help from the Woodson Family, his neighbors and in-laws, who were slaves of Thomas Jefferson and claimed to be Jefferson’s descendants for 200 years until it was disproved by DNA testing.
(Part 6, of 6) See a trend? The story we learned in our history books as children was only half the story. George Washington, owned slaves, freed as many as he legally could and the American people,Black and White helped free those left behind. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, his own family, his wife’s family and other slaves who claimed to be his children. Our forefathers had secrets. And these “Secrets” became free and contributed to telling America’s whole truth. They freed countless runaways, created communities, owned large farms and were loud activists and advocates for change. We are the product of this. We are the children of Great men and women who resisted what was wrong and inhumane. This is our BLOOD. It always has been. This is American History. It’s older than you thought and We are all a apart of the story.
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