Posts filed under ‘Fort’

“Gentleman By Day and Klu Klux Klan By Night…” A Chilling Recollection of Marion Junction, Alabama

Grace Lee and James Boggs. Source: e-flux-systems.com/The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center

I found James Bogg’s recollections of growing up in Marion Junction (Dallas County), Alabama in the 1920’s/1930’s to be not only interesting but deeply moving, and often painful… 

My Fort ancestors originated in Marion Junction, what Boggs describes is surely what they have also experienced … That Blacks, descendants of African slaves, had been given their freedom yet the shackles of the plantation system persisted leaving Blacks impoverished and disenfranchised. Free Blacks still inhabited the slave cabins of their ancestors, toiled in the fields as sharecroppers, and were kept “in their place”, segregated from Whites. There were constant threats of rape against Black girls and women, trauma was birthed in generations conceived from rape. Constant threats of physical harm or even death… the simplest gesture or word could lead to assault. The Klan rode at night, terrorizing Black communities. Boggs says the end of slavery did not result in freedom for Blacks, “But in the eyes of Negroes the Civil War was the war which made it possible for the United States to be industrialized, the war which resulted in the Bargain of 1877 between Northern capital and Southern landed aristocracy, which left the former slaves living and working under a caste system as brutal as that of slavery itself...” Chapter 7: Rebels with a Cause – James Boggs 

Public Domain: Photo published before 1923

Amidst the darkness blazed a revolutionary firebrand. James Boggs refused to beaten down. As a teen, he would escape the oppression of the South, seeking a better life. Boggs bravely, or recklessly, faced an unknown future riding on trains to reach the North (called “hoboing”) and emerged as a champion for human and civil rights.

Boggs found his soul mate in wife (married in 1953) Grace Lee Boggs, a philosopher, author and human rights advocate.  Together, James and Grace were a force to contend with. The couple became noted activists and raised awareness of and fought for causes including civil rights, labor rights,  feminism, Black Power, Asian Americans and the environment. They also founded a charter school and helped to establish several community organizations that inspired positive change in communities ravaged by poverty and civil unrest. The couple shared a deep and abiding love that lasted, on earth, for forty years until the death of James in 1993.  The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership was founded in 1995 in Detroit to carry on their work and honor their legacy.

James Boggs: Not Just a Southern Gentleman, A Revolutionary

James “Jimmy” Boggs (May 27, 1919 – July 22, 1993) was born and raised in rural Marion Junction Alabama. He was one of four children born to Earnest Boggs, a blacksmith and iron ore worker, and Leila Boggs, a cook. Recalling his life in the South, Boggs said most Black families were poor but always had something to eat (due to the agricultural environment),”Down south nobody was hungry, not even black folks. We always had chickens, cows and hogs down south. Down south people were ragged. We didn’t have no shoes, no clothes, much; but you had food..” (“In Love and Struggle“, Ward).

Grace Lee Boggs writes in her autobiography that “Mama Leila” had lived with the couple for 6 years and during that time, she grew very close to her. Grace Lee recalls she,”..had worked in the white man’s kitchen all her life but like many southern blacks she saw herself not as a victim, but as a survivor, someone, who despite obstacles, succeeded in winning self respect and the respect of others…” (p. 85-86, “Living for Change: An Autobiography”) 

Mama Leila never learned to read or write so she instilled in Boggs, and all of her children, the importance of getting an education. Mama Leila emphasized that her life could have been better had she gotten an education and been able to take advantage of job opportunities, that would have improved her life, and that of her children. At that time, the agricultural economy of Alabama still relied heavily on the labor of Blacks. Educational opportunities for Black children were severely limited, and often non-existent.

At 15 years old, Boggs sought to make his mother proud, despite working hard to further his education there were no further avenues to continue his studies in Dallas County. Boggs left Marion Junction to live with grandparents in the industrial city of Bessemer, where he attended Dunbar High School. Boggs graduated from Dunbar in 1937 and shortly after, left Alabama by hopping trains headed North. The experience of riding the rails left an indelible mark on Boggs, who , for the first time saw and experienced a much bigger world and interacted with people from all walks of life.

“Boggs was born on May 27, 1919, in Marion Junction, Ala., not too far from Selma. His place of birth, as we have come to learn, was infested with nightriders and members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were not opposed to expressing their feelings about Jim Crow using a noose. This was no place for someone with an inkling of resistance, and by the time he was 18, Boggs caught the first train smoking for Detroit, following a trail that had been worn by thousands of blues people from the region. He arrived in Detroit with empty pockets and a head full of dreams..” James Boggs: A visionary revolutionary 

Dunbar High School (Wikimedia Commons)

Boggs eventually made his way to Detroit, where he found a job in the auto industry. Boggs married his childhood sweetheart, Annie McKinley in 1938, and they had seven children together. The marriage ended in 1952 with divorce.

Boggs  felt there was more work for him to do; he saw great injustices happening in society and felt called to lead the way for change as a revolutionary. He later commented, “I am a factory worker but I know more than just factory work. I know the difference between what would sound right if one lived in a society of logical people and what is right when you live in a society of real people with real differences.” (The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook). Boggs fought against oppression to became a well-known political activist, author and organizer of community causes.

Discovering Ancestry in Marion Junction

Marion Junction is a small, country town just off Hwy 80, hidden behind thick trees, from which gravel roads emerge, wandering into vast farmland. Alongside the main road travelling through the center of Marion Junction is a lone railroad track, once belonging to the Southern Railroad Company another intersecting rail line was once part of the Cahaba, Marion & Greensboro Branch. Also noteworthy is Church Road, which leads to the Presbyterian Church, where Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. (1797-1836) was once a member and elder. Continuing along Church Road leads to Marion Junction Community Cemetery, where generations of the white Fort family have been laid to rest.

Map of Marion Junction and Land once held by the Fort Family, 1913. Source: Alabama Wills and Probate, Burwell Jackson Fort, 1913.

The Fort family once owned a vast stretch of land in Marion Junction area , as indicated in the 1913 probate records of Burwell Jackson “Jay” Fort, Jr 1827-1897 (Find A Grave) At one point the town was named Forts in their honor, changing its name in 1857 to Marion Junction with the coming of the railroad. The plantation owned by the family continued to be referred to as Fort’s, as did the post office.  According to probate records, the lands lie right at Marion Junction, some of it is improved and some unimproved. Property included in the estate of Burwell Jackson Fort Jr. included: a large residence house on one part, a smaller residence house on another part, a dwelling (hotel?) and a restaurant combined and two double Negro cabins (although records indicate there may have been as many as 5 slave cabins). 

After the death of Burwell “Jay” Jackson Jr., his personal property, homestead and lots of land were parceled and sold off individually and the proceeds divided among the heirs. The “spacious country home where B.J. Fort II and his family lived  has been modernized and restored to its original grandeur and is now the home of his great-grandson, Earnest Franklin Randall.” (“A family called Fort: the descendents of Elia Fort of Virginia” by Homer T. Fort, Drucilla Stovall Jones, p. 591). The home is part of Morning View Stock Farm, which was registered as an Alabama heritage farm in 1977. E.F. Randall died in 1979 and is buried in Marion Junction Community Cemetery alongside his ancestors.

Residing in one of the Negro cabins on a plantation owned by the Forts, was my ancestress Julia Fort (1824-1882), a mulatto slave. Julia worked as a housekeeper, laundress and cook for the Fort family.  During the course of slavery, Julia bore at least 5 children who identified as mulatto, the father of the children is reported to be of European origin and was born in Alabama, meaning he was likely a member of the white Fort family. I see incredible strength in my grandmother Julia to endure what she did, and then to raise and nurture children alone, without any help…when she also struggled every day for her own survival is remarkable.

The children of Julia Fort I have discovered so far:

  • Joseph “Joe” Fort (1845-1925) m. Malinda Brantley, 7 children
  • Wyatt Fort (1850-1914) m. Anna Reese Fort, 12 children
  • James “Jim” Fort (1855-?) m. Darnella Curtis, 5 children
  • Monk Fort (1856-?) m. Julia Watkins, 9 children 
  • Lizzie Fort (1861-?)

Marriage licenses show the connection between Julia’s family and the Forts. Her sister Sintha married Thomas “Tom” Harrell in December 1872, the ceremony was conducted on the E.W. (Elias William) Fort plantation. Also, in Dec 1874, Julia’s son Monk Fort (my ancestor) married his wife Julia Watkins on the Fort plantation.

Julia died on August 28th 1882 and is recorded as being buried at an unknown Negro cemetery along Harell’s Road.

Just as Boggs made the journey, Julia’s children and grandchildren would one day leave Marion, working as croppers on farms across Dallas County. Others sought work in industrialized cities, some making the migration to cities Up North, including Detroit (as Boggs did). Julia’s descendants carried on the name Fort, and alternately were called Ford.

Marion Junction: Chalk Line Around a Cotton Town 

Boggs says about Marion Junction: “James Boggs, born in Marion Junction, Alabama, never dreamed of becoming President or a locomotive engineer. He grew up in a world where the white folks are gentlemen by day and Ku Klux Klanners by night. Marion Junction is in Dallas County where as late as 1963, although African-Americans made up over 57 percent of the total county population of 57,000, only 130 were registered voters….” The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook by James Boggs

Bogg’s life is also recorded in the book “In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs” by Stephen M. Ward.

Growing up in Marion Junction, he said, meant walking a chalk line all the time…. Jimmy remember the Marion Junction of his childhood as a ‘cotton town’ comprised mostly of Black farmers. There were, he told an interviewer, about 500 or 600 Black people and between 100 and 150 Whites….

Public Domain Image, Photo Published Before 1923. Source: Timothy H. O’Sullivan (1840-1882)

Most of the White residents came from what he described as ’20 major White families’. Boggs was actually related to one of these White families. His paternal grandmother was employed as a domestic in the home of Thomas Boggs, paternal grandfather, a White man who owned land in Marion Junction. The full measure of their relationship is unclear but they had 3 children: Ernest (Bogg’s father) and his twin brother, and a third brother. Predictably the White Bogses did not acknowledge the Black Bogses as family and shut the three brothers out of family affairs, even denying them the opportunity to see their father when he died.

..Boggs described this part of his family tree as an example of the South’s “integration by rape“, explaining the cook or maid or field hand won’t have no alternative to resist the approach made by the boys. Well the White boys first sexual relations in the south is generally with a colored girl because the white girls are kind of dainty little things that you don’t go round spoiling at that early point, you go and catch a colored girl, this is a normal way of life in this town…” Jimmy says that, “Lots of Negroes had this kind of family relation in the South..”

Boggs shared a particularly close bond with his great-grandmother, Big Ma. Born enslaved in the 1850’s, and living through emancipation, Big Ma shared with Boggs her recollections of slavery, the cruelty inflicted on Blacks, and offered hope by sharing the spirituals and words of wisdom passed down in the family.

One of the stories that left a mark on Boggs involved what was called “The Buck Dance” which meantwhite people would come up and say N— dance, and then start shooting at the feet of blacks so they would dance at everything.  As a childBoggs witnessed the “Buck Dance” when the Sheriff of Selma came to town “..shooting and raising Cain to see the colored folks run..

About the Civil War, Big Ma was careful to point out not that Blacks had been freed but that slave holders had surrendered. Ward writes,”She saw the change as something that had been won by somebody, not something that had been given. She realized that there had been a struggle, and that somebody had to lose…” 

Conclusion

Today, Marion Junction remains a small town, the footsteps of the past have been overgrown with thick brush and the absence of memory. The recollections of James Boggs, and the voices of our Elders, is threatened by the modern world and its conveniences of being forgotten or deemed not relevant, even as this generation reaps the benefits of the sacrifices and tears wept for our freedom.

Let us not forget that in a small town a barefooted black boy, the descendant of slaves, fought for his education at a time where, according to the expectations of an oppressive (and racist) societym to be nothing more than a field hand. And with the knowledge he acquired, he refused to “stay in his place” and fought against inequality and oppression for all people. Boggs saw the poor and downtrodden not as victims but as agents for needed social change, and spent his life working to inspire and empower people through writing and activism.

Had my grandmother Julia Fort lived to see the accomplishments of James Boggs, I think she would have been proud to say he was from Marion Junction. But she can no longer speak so in this generation, each one of us must be that voice… and carry on the memory of our Elders, and preserve what they fought so hard for or risk losing it all.

The people who are striving for power must themselves be transformed into new people in the course of the struggle. Their will to struggle, their vision of what they are struggling for, their social consciousness and responsibility, and their capacity to govern must all be systematically increased. The struggle must therefore be an escalating one, focused on problems the people can learn from…” ~ James Boggs (Racism and the Class Struggle)

Further Reading: 

Dallas County AlArchives Biographies…..Fort, Burwell Jackson April 6 1827 – living in 1893

Marion Junction – Topo Quest

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July 24, 2017 at 3:12 am Leave a comment

A Well of Historical and Genealogical Information: The Underground Water Resources of Alabama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Underground Water Resources of Alabama Issue 6” by By Eugene Allen Smith and Frank P. Chaffee (January 1, 1907. Brown Printing Company, State Printers and Binders) offers a well of valuable historical and genealogical information!

The book can be downloaded for free on Google Play at: The Underground Water Resources of Alabama: Issue 6

Underground Water Resources of Alabama“offers detailed information on water resources and wells in Alabama located on various farms and privately held land. The book includes a name of the landowner and offers coordinates on where the land is located.

I was able to search “Underground Water Resources” in google and used the town of Marion Junction as a query, as that is where my kin once lived.

The Fort family prospered in Alabama, settling in an area that became known as Bridges or Forts. The name of the town was changed to Marion Junction in 1857 with the creation of a railroad. Marion Junction has also been associated with Harrell’s and Harell’s Cross Roads. 

The searched revealed the following information on page 202 (precise information about the wells is also included for each listing, and its coordinates, this is just an excerpt):

Wells on Udhall Place, owned by Mudhall Smith: No. 1, 4 1-2 miles southwest of Marion Junction

Will Moore’s old wells: No. 1, 4 miles west of south of Marion Junction

Dave Taylor’s well: 5 1-2 miles south of Marion Junction

Henry Stubb’s well: 5 miles southeast of Marion Junction

Well on Crenshaw Place: 5 miles south of Marion Junction, owned by Dr. Jones of Selma

Eulow Well, 4 miles southwest of Marion Junction, owned by J.W. Wallace of Birmingham

Well on Woodruff Place: 3 miles southwest of Marion Junction, owned by Mrs. S.E. Woodruff of Selma

Well on Bean Place: 2 miles west of south of Marion Junction, owned by Dr. A.W. Jones of Selma

Well of Tom Harrell (colored): 2 miles southwest of Marion Junction in the N.E. quarter section 27, Township 17, range 8…

Mrs. L.G. Fort’s well at station Marion Junction; bored about 1890, depth 250 feet, diameter 3 inches – water stands at 40 feet: pump used.

The other wells at Marion Junction having the same record as Mrs. Fort’s are those of H.P. Randall, M.F. Smith, S.A. Brice, Dr. J.M. MacDonald, C.E. Fort, J.B. Moore, Mrs. M.F. Fort, P.B. Harrell and Pat Gilmore. 

Using the index, you can search localities and family names across Alabama with ease; which can greatly assist in your genealogical or other research project.

I then found another listing that includes the following about the Fort, Harrell and Rascoe families (p. 201):

Mrs. E.W. Fort’s well, 1 mile north of Marion Junction, in the N.E. quarter section 14, Township 17, Range 8… E.W. is Elias William Fort

Well on Harrell Place, 2 1-2 mile southwest from Marion Junction, in the Northwest quarter section 27, Township 17, Range 8. Owned by Kendrick Brothers of Massilon.

Rascoe Well, 3 1-2 miles southwest of Marion Junction in Section 28 (?), Township 17, Range 8. Owned by M.P. Smith of Marion Junction. 

Capt. E.W. Fort – Marion Junction Community Cemetery. Source Find A Grave: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=150230161

I was able to type the coordinates of Mrs. E.W. Fort’s well into the search engine at U.S. Department of Interior – Bureau of Land Management (General Land Records)

From there I discovered the land the well of Mrs. E.W. Fort sits on was originally purchased by Burwell J. Fort on April 24, 1820 and included 79.31 acres. A copy of the land patent can also be downloaded or printed from the Land Management site.

Burwell Jackson “BJ” Fort and his wife, Nancy Northington, made the migration from Robertson County, TN to Alabama in 1818. Tragedy struck, in 1822 Nancy Fort died, and was buried on the plantation. Two small children, William E Fort, and Eliza Ann Fort, were now motherless. In 1824, Burwell Jackson Fort remarried Charlotte Elizabeth Harrell, together they had 5 sons and 1 daughter.

Among his sons, Elias William “EW” and Gabriel Holmes “GH” Fort became prominent farmers, the bulk of their wealth was invested in land and slaves. The Bureau of Land Management lists multiple holdings by Burwell Jackson Fort, the one below matches coordinates listed in the “Underground Water Resources”.

 

Combining this information, with what I have learned about my own family line,through Julia Fort,  I am now able to locate the plantation that my ancestors were held on as slaves with precise geographical, and historical, coordinates.

Notice the placement of Julia’s name under that of Elias Fort, with her house number following next in order, suggests she was employed as a house keeper for his family. Charlotte Elizabeth Harell Fort is the widow of Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. and the mother of E.W. and G.H. Fort. Charlotte Fort – Find A Grave – Marion Junction Cemetery

Sintha Fort, cook, is believed to be Julia’s sister. Her sister Sintha married Thomas “Tom” Harrell in December 1872, the ceremony was conducted on the E.W. (Elias William) Fort plantation. Which would match what the “Underground Water Resources” has revealed: Well of Tom Harrell (colored): 2 miles southwest of Marion Junction. Again by tracing land records through the Bureau of Land Management traces the plot owned by Tom Harell (colored) to Josiah Harrell, the brother of Charlotte Harell Fort.

July 20, 2017 at 9:15 am Leave a comment

Slave Ancestry and the Fort Family of Dallas County, Alabama

By following the history, and migration, of slaveholders, such as the Fort family, the descendants of African slaves who were held captive or birthed from relations with slaveholders, can trace their own roots. This article traces the lineage of the Julia Fort family of Marion Junction (sometimes referred to as Harell’s) Alabama to the Fort family, and includes documentation suggesting that the paternity of Julia’s children connects to a slaveholder. With the advances of science of technology (DNA testing, and connection to information, databases and family members via the internet etc.), the lives of the enslaved Africans that have been lost to history can now be uncovered.  By using these tools we can give voice to ancestors, and piece together family history.

Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

The Secrets of Slavery

The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences..”(p. 6, On Slaveholders’ Sexual Abuse of Slaves, Selections from 19th- & 20th-century Slave Narratives)

Slavery existed in America for 245 years (1620’s-1865). During that time, African people could be legally held as property. It was an accepted belief among society that African people (or anyone with dark colored skin) was considered inferior or not human. Along with that belief, slaves were not entitled to any personal rights or freedoms. Their lives were dictated by the demands of their masters.

Historical documents, and narratives, reveal that African women were viewed no different than animals when it came to bearing children – just as cattle were bred to bear offspring to be worked, sold or slaughtered, the same notion applied to enslaved women. 

Slave women had no legal protection and were often sexually exploited. Slave women were viewed as property, and had no choice or say so in what was done to them, because their body belonged to a master, and whatever he asked could not be refused. Those who objected or resisted faced harsh punishment that included rape, beatings or being sold off. In some cases, women were murdered. Popular attitudes of the time did not consider slave women capable of intelligence or feeling; and slaves were not considered capable of forming relationships or bonding with children or family, which made it easier for slaveholders to justify their cruel treatment of slaves, including breaking up families and selling off children.

The children born of relations between slaveholder and slave were often the product of rape or coercive control (a pattern of behavior that involves repeated, intentional and ongoing acts of abuse – including physical and psychological abuse, as well as institutional abuse). Coercive control results in a person being stripped of their sense of self and freedoms. The person is held hostage, in this case not just physically held as a slave but emotionally and psychologically held captive as well. That is to say what may be viewed as a “consensual relationship” could also be a result of the abuses of the slave system. If a slave became pregnant, it was a financial benefit to the slaveholder because the children would become slaves, who could be used for labor. In terms of ownership, a White slaveholder inherited any child born to his female slave. Ownership of children did not extend to males. 

Despite these harsh circumstances, there are stories passed down in families, and historical narratives and records, that indicate enslaved Africans fought to preserve family ties in the midst of great oppression and suffering.  

Jennifer Hallam writes (see source below): “Whenever possible, black slave women manipulated their unique circumstances in the struggle for their personal dignity and that of their families. As often as black men, black women rebelled against the inhumanities of slave owners.


Like their ancestors and counterparts in Africa, most slave women took their motherhood seriously. They put their responsibilities for their children before their own safety and freedom, provided for children not their own, and gave love even to those babies born from violence.

Even today, a remnant exists, passed down from one generation to the next through the traditions, the stories, the recipes, the spirituality and culture and other customs.

The Fort Family In America

…The Fort brothers are representative of artisans who strengthened their economic position beyond their wages by acquiring land and slaves and maintaining family ties…” North Carolina Architects and Builders Bio: The Fort Family

The Fort family is said to have originated as a Huguenot family in France who fled the country due to religious or political persecution. The original spelling of the surname as Liforti or Le Fort. I found historical records connecting members of the Fort family to French Huguenots, and immigrating to Lezant England. According to “Memorial Record of Alabama” which offers a history of the Burwell Jackson Fort family of Harrell’s (Vol. I, p. 866, 869 (Published by Brant & Fuller, 1893), “The ancestors of the Fort family in the United States are said to have been French, and to have been banished from their native country for political reasons. They settled in North Carolina, and one of the name was once governor of that state.” http://files.usgwarchives.net/al/dallas/bios/gbs446fort.txt

It has been established that the Forte (Fort) family traces its early origins back to Lezant, a civil parrish and village, in east Cornwall, England. The first known member of the family to set foot in America is Elias Forte who came from England to Isle of Wright County, Virginia. Few records of the first Elias Forte have survived; however, there is a recording dated Oct. 9, 1667, Isle of Wight, Va. when he served on jury. Elias Forte is also mentioned in a membership application for the Huguenot Society of America. Elias married Phillis Champion and together had 3 boys: Elias, John and George. From George Fort (1668-1719), the line of the Forts established in Harrell’s, Alabama would descend.

The name Elias Fort would be passed down to future generations of children – including my cousin Elias Fort, the oldest son of Wyatt and Anna Fort, former slaves held by the Fort family of Dallas County, Alabama. Evidence suggests that Wyatt, and his siblings, are progeny of a member of the Fort family and a slave named Julia who took the last name Fort after emancipation.

From Virginia, the George Fort family, and their descendants, migrated and became well-established in North Carolina and then Tennessee. The Forts owned land, livestock, and slaves – built stately plantation houses, and rose in the ranks of social and political standing.

In the shadows, slave families worked the land and maintained plantation houses. They raised families of their own, and prayed for freedom. 

Alabama Fever Brings the Forts to Harrell’s

Alabama Fever is the name for a land rush that happened after the Creek Nation was defeated in 1814 by Andrew Jackson, leading U.S. troops. The Creek Nation occupied a majority of land in Alabama. After the war, former Creek lands in Alabama and Georgia were ceded to U.S. territory. Much of this land was opened up for sale to White settlers. Thousands of pioneers left Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas seeking fertile farm land, and better opportunities in Alabama.

Alabama Fever also marked the expansion of slavery, and with it wealthy settlers brought slaves into the new territory. Census records also indicate this; when looking at the names of freed slaves or their descendants, the birthplace of a mother or father is often listed. In my family, the birthplace of slave ancestors is listed as Virginia or North Carolina in a majority of my relatives who were then moved into Alabama. The plantation system rapidly took hold in Alabama. Planters sold cotton to buy more slaves, and then used slaves to produce more cotton“,”Between 1830 and 1860, Alabama’s white population increased by 171 percent and its black enslaved population by 270 percent.” (Encyclopedia of Alabama) The Black Belt contained one of the largest concentrations of slavery in Alabama. By 1849, Alabama was a leader in the production of cotton.

Alabama was originally part of the Mississippi Territory but was admitted into the Union, and became its own territory in 1819. The creation of cotton plantations in Alabama, and the region, transformed and expanded the global economy.

The Forts were a respected family of American aristocracy, of their ranks, Burwell Jackson “BJ” Fort and his wife, Nancy Northington, made the migration from Robertson County, TN to Alabama in 1818. A network of rugged roads and Indian trails connected Tennessee to Alabama, along which the Fort family traveled on the Federal Road.

The Fort family prospered in Alabama, settling in an area that was known as Bridges or Forts. The name of the town was changed to Marion Junction in 1857 with the creation of a railroad. The bulk of the Fort’s wealth was invested in land and in slaves.

Then tragedy struck, in 1822 Nancy Fort died, and was buried on the plantation. Two small children, William E Fort, and Eliza Ann Fort, were now motherless. In 1824, Burwell Jackson Fort remarried Charlotte Elizabeth Harrell, together they had 5 sons and 1 daughter.

On November 3, 1836, Burwell Jackson Fort suddenly fell ill while on a trip to Cahaba – 14 miles from his home. He called on a friend to help write a will, distributing his property among his wife and children. Within hours, Burwell Jackson Fort had died.

Among his sons, Elias William “EW” and Gabriel Holmes “GH” Fort became prominent farmers, it is here that the Fort family connects to that of Julia, an enslaved woman.

Fort Slaves

Public Domain: Photo published before 1923

Public Domain: Photo published before 1923

Few records exist concerning the slaves owned by the Fort family; however land documents can help trace the location of plantations. In addition, wills or probate documents, as well as labor contracts, can indicate names of slaves and slaveholders. Census records and family history are also valuable sources of information.

The stories that have passed down to me from my Elders are not usually a complete story, like an e-book easily accessible and ready to read… but rather are glimpses into memory, contain names that held close to the heart, and are fragments of history and how lives were impacted. Family history also emerges in a recipe passed down, a song carried on the lips, an old prayer or a faded photograph. I piece together these memories and fragments with documents, or speak other family members, in an effort to better understand my family and our history.

In this case, I had an idea that my Ford (Fort) relatives are racially mixed by comments such as “they could pass for White” and that relatives “were real light skinned”. There was a vague acknowledgement that the Fords (Forts) had a White ancestor. To be honest, it wasn’t a subject anyone wanted to talk about, let alone admit other than a few, offhand comments. The pain from the past still lingered… and with it, a stigma created by the institution of slavery and the resulting segregation and poverty of the Jim Crow era that kept Blacks “in their place”. Many Black families did not talk about or pass down what happened in times of slavery, believing it was better to forget or just move on. A new history or identity was then created over the scars of the past. Now with the emergence of diversity and equality in society,and access to the past through advances in technology, the younger generation is starting to ask questions and to dig deeper.

There are indications that my ancestor, Julia Fort (b. 1824-1882), raised her 5 children to identify as mulatto, and likely told them about their White father. Julia herself was mulatto. She lived and died in the rural community of Harrell’s, living on the Fort land all of her life. Census records show that Julia worked as a housekeeper and as a laundress. Sintha, a woman in her household who is believed to be a sister, worked as a cook. 

In the traces of the lives of Julia’s children there are indications that they did want to be acknowledged  – they identified as mulatto in a time where it was safer to identify as Black. In the 1910 Federal Census son Joseph “Joe” Fort identified his father as being “European” and having been born in Alabama, offering another clue. Joe’s death certificate states his father is “not legally recognized”, again an indication of a White father. In the rural community of Harrell’s the possible father would have belonged to a very small population of men. 

1910 Census, Joseph Forte Family, 624 Green Street, Selma Ala

1910 Census, Joseph Forte Family, 624 Green Street, Selma Ala

Marriage licenses also demonstrate a close connection between Julia’s family and the Forts. Her sister Sintha married Thomas “Tom” Harrell in December 1872, the ceremony was conducted on the E.W. (Elias William) Fort plantation. Also, in Dec 1874, Julia’s son Monk Fort (my ancestor) married his wife Julia Watkins on the Fort plantation.

Marriage License Monk Fort and Julia Watkins

Marriage License Monk Fort and Julia Watkins, 1874

In my family, I have discovered that children were commonly named after family members, and have traced a trail of familiar names to discover kinship ties. Wyatt Fort named his oldest son Elias, and his brother Monk Fort named his oldest son William. Is it a coincidence that that both are names passed down among the generations of the Fort family, and Elias is a name given to the eldest son? 

July 20, 1860 Slave Schedule, Harrell’s

The key to African-American slave ancestral research is finding the last owner, which is not an easy task The slave schedules for the 1860 and 1850 census enumerations list enslaved people under the names of their owner, identified by race (“Black” or “Mulatto”), age and gender. Researchers look for an ancestor who fits the description of the enslaved person then attempts to confirm the identity with other forms of documentation. 

In the 1860 Slave Schedule, the Fort families live next to each other, this is also shown in later census taken in 1870 and 1880 – and within those dates, former enslaved Forts are seen living and working on the Fort land. 

Charlotte Fort, widow of Burwell Jackson Fort Sr.

Records note 4 slave houses

All Slaves Owned:

Gender

Age

Female

30 Mulatto

Female

28 Mulatto

Female

26 Black

Female

24 Black

Female

21 Mulatto

Male

17 Black

Female

8 Mulatto

Male

7 Black

Female

5 Black

Male

5 Mulatto

Male

3 Black

Male

2 Mulatto

Female

1 Black

Female

48 Black belongs to EW Harrell

EW Fort – 5 slave houses

Name of Slave Owner:

EW Fort

All Slaves Owned:

Gender

Age

Male

27 black

Male

27 black

Male

27 black

Female

27 black

Female

26 mulatto

Female

25 black

Female

15 black

Female

13 black

Male

12 black

Male

11 black

Male

11 mulatto

Female

8 black

Female

7 black

Female

5 black

Male

5 black

Female

3 black

Female

3 black

Male

3 black

GH Fort – Listed as 1 Slave House

Name of Slave Owner:

G H Fort

All Slaves Owned:

Gender

Age

Female

33 mulatto

Male

32 black

Female

30 black

Male

28 black

Male

28 black

Female

17 mulatto

Male

15 mulatto

Male

14 mulatto

Female

14 black

Male

12 mulatto

Male

10 mulatto

Female

10 black

Male

7 black

Male

5 mulatto

Male

4 mulatto

Female

3 black

Female

2 mulatto

Male

3/12 black

RJ FORT (IS THIS BJ JR??) HARRELL’S 8 Slave Houses

Name of Slave Owner:

RJ Fort

All Slaves Owned:

Gender

Age

Male

35 black

Male

30 black

Female

30 black

Male

28 black

Female

22 black

Female

23 black

Male

23 black

Female

22 black

Male

23 black

Male

18 black

Male

18 black

Female

18 black

Female

18 black

Female

17 black

Female

17 black

Female

20 black

Female

14 black

Male

14 black

Male

23 black

Female

20 black

Female

18 black

Female

36 black

Male

12 black

Female

11 black

Male

8 black

Male

5 black

Male

5 mulatto

Male

2 mulatto

Male

5/12 black

Male

5/12 black

Female

4/12 black

Female

4/12 black

It is difficult to say who the slaveholder of Julia Fort may have been – however the names and ages of Julia and children closely match the description of slaves held by GH Fort on the 1860 Slave Holder Schedule. A grouping of mulatto slaves is not found anywhere else: 

Female 33 – Julia (she would have been pregnant in 1860, daughter Lizza was born in 1861)

Female 17 – sister, Sintha

Male 15 – son, Joe

Male 10 – son, Wyatt

Male 5 – son James/Jim

Male 4 – son, Monk

(It is also possible that other children were born to Julia who have not yet been discovered.)

1870fort

The 1870 Census shows the Fort families in this order:

The 1870 Census was the first that African-Americans were counted in after emancipation. Note the that Julia Fort’s family continued to work and live on the Fort plantation after emancipation. 

Dwelling 87: Elias Fort, son of Charlotte

Charlotte Fort, mother and widow of Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. 

Dwelling 88: Julia Fort and her children: James, Lizzie and Wyatt (Monk was found working on a distant farm). 

Sintha Fort, believed to be a sister of Julia

Dwelling 89: Gabriel Fort (son of Charlotte), his wife Catherine, and children

What has been established is that a mulatto woman named Julia was held as a slave by the Fort family of Harrell’s, Dallas County, Alabama. She worked in the household of the Forts as either a cook or housekeeper, and lived and died on the Fort plantation. During the course of slavery, Julia bore at least 5 children who identified as mulatto, the father of the children is reported to be of European origin and was born in Alabama. Julia’s children continued to labor on the Forts plantation for most of their lives, were married on the land, and likely Julia and kin were buried there as well. In a rural, isolated community such as Harell’s there was only a small population of slaveholder men who could have been the father.

As of yet there is not conclusive evidence regarding the paternity of Julia’s children but with advances in DNA testing, an answer may be closer… And the research continues… 

treaschesst.1

 

**PERSONAL NOTE** For me, the journey to uncovering my genealogy, and connecting with family members, is my way to honor the efforts and sacrifices made by the generations who came become me. When an ancestor is named, and their life story preserved, the path of their life, and mine, is brought together…not only in blood but in memory. I believe the most important inheritance our children could receive is not in money or objects but is in passing down our family story, the lessons, the old photos, the laughter and the faith…this is the backbone of our identity as individuals, and in a broader sense, establishes an America that is now diverse, multi-cultural, and free. ~ In Our Hearts, 2017

 

HISTORY RECORDS AND INFORMATION

Ancestry.com

(This page has a member name of InOur Hearts)

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Alabama by Wayne Flynt

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Alabama Fever

FORTS:

Clayton Heathcock Genealogy Site – Elias Fort I and Related Branches

Wiki Tree: Elias Fort I

 

AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY: 

AL Black Belt Heritage: The Cotton Kingdom Era

Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears by Edward Ball, Smithsonian Magazine

The Slave Experience: Men, Women and Gender by Jennifer Hallam

Sexuality between Slaveholders and Slaves in the Beginning of American History Part 1 by Melanie “CoCo” McCoy

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

 

SPECIAL THANKS:

Thank you to my amazing cousin “S”  for your encouragement, advice and stories… you have contributed greatly to this article. I thank God for having met you, and hope to create new history with you! (Put your crown on – lol)

 

To Be Researched: 

“Letters from Fort family members in Alabama to Hilliard Fort of Halifax County, N.C., indicate that Alabama land was more productive than North Carolina land and encourage him to speculate in unclaimed lands in Alabama…”

“Correspondence between Whitaker and Fort family members and friends and other materials. Topics include family news, Halifax County news, plantation matters, and politics. Included is an 1864 letter from Jefferson Davis to Mrs. Ransom, a Whitaker family friend, discussing the whereabouts of her husband, Major General Robert Ransom Jr. The Addition also contains financial records and receipts including records of slave transactions, and clippings.” UNC University Libraries – Chapel Hill

February 28, 2017 at 3:05 am 5 comments

Julia Fort Family – 1900 Census, Mitchell’s (Dallas Co, Alabama)

Year: June 14, 1900

Place: Mitchell’s Precinct Alabama

Head of Household: Julia Fort

Born: March 1859

Father’s Birth Place: Georgia

Mother’s Birth Place: Georgia

Race: Black

Number of Children: 9

Number of Living Children: 9

Occupation: Farmer

 

CHILDREN: 

William Fort, son, b. July 1876, farm laborer

Eloid (Elliot) Fort, son, b. July 1879, farm laborer

Mary Fort, dau, b. May 1883, farm laborer

Pettus Fort, son, b. July 1884, farm laborer

Indie Fort, dau, b. July 1888, farm laborer

Pinkie Fort, dau, b. Jan. 1890, at school

Daisie Fort, dau, b. Sept. 1892

Charlie Fort, son, b. June 1894

 

District: 40 , Sheet Number and Letter: 12A , Household ID: 218 , Line Number: 42 , Affiliate Name: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) , Affiliate Publication Number: T623 , GS Film Number: 1240014 , Digital Folder Number: 004119981 , Image Number: 00155

 

Source: 

“United States Census, 1900,” Database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M986-JJM : accessed 18 June 2015), Julia Fort in household of Rosa Buckler, Precinct 35 Mitchell’s (east & south part), Dallas, Alabama, United States; citing sheet 12A, family 218, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,240,014.

June 18, 2015 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

Marriage Douglas Ford and Nettie Lou Motley 1942

 

Name: Douglas Ford
Event Type: Marriage
Event Date: 15 Feb 1942
Event Place: Jefferson, Alabama, United States
Gender: Male
Age: 19
Birth Year (Estimated): Feb. 21, 1922 (Mobile, Ala)
Marriage License Place: Jefferson, Alabama, United States
Father’s Name: Pettis Ford, deceased
Mother’s Name: Addie Curtis
Spouse’s Name: Nettie Lou Motley
Spouse’s Gender: Female
Spouse’s Age: 18
Spouse’s Birth Year (Estimated): October 15, 1923
Spouse’s Father’s Name: Wyatt Motley
Page: 120
Douglas Ford’s occupation is listed as: Delivery and Order Checker
Address: 724 South 13th Street Birmingham, Ala
Nettie Lou Motley’s Address is listed as: 1212 4th Avenue South
Her place of birth is Birmingham, Alabama.
The marriage is witnessed by Addie Ford, mother.
SOURCE:
“Alabama, County Marriages, 1809-1950,” Database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VZVL-5T1 : accessed 16 June 2015), Addie Curtis in entry for Douglas Ford and Nettie Lou Motley, 15 Feb 1942; citing Jefferson, Alabama, United States, county courthouses, Alabama; FHL microfilm .
GS Film Number:  2408091, Digital Folder Number: 004671265 , Image Number: 00349

June 16, 2015 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

Wilbur Fort (Ford) – WWII US Army Enlistment Records

 

Name: Wilbur Ford
Birth Year: 1910
Race: Negro, citizen (Black)
Nativity State or Country: Alabama
State of Residence: Alabama
County or City: Jefferson
Enlistment Date: 30 Jul 1942
Enlistment State: Georgia
Enlistment City: Fort Benning
Branch: Branch Immaterial – Warrant Officers, USA
Branch Code: Branch Immaterial – Warrant Officers, USA
Grade: Private
Grade Code: Private
Term of Enlistment: Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law
Component: Selectees (Enlisted Men)
Source: Civil Life
Education: Grammar school
Civil Occupation: Semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor
Marital Status: Single, with dependents
Height: 66
Weight: 137

Source Information

National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

Original data: Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; ARC: 1263923. World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park. College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.

April 28, 2015 at 10:08 pm Leave a comment

Douglas Ford Residence – Birmingham, Alabama

Former Residence of Douglas Ford, Birmingham, Alabama

Douglas Ford

Residence: 1935-1993 – Birmingham, AL (The home was built in 1935)

Born: Feb. 21, 1923

Died: Nov. 5, 1993

Photo: Google Maps. Source: U.S. Public Records Index, Volume 2, Ancestry

Note: Douglas Ford is the son of Adelona (Addie) Curtis Ford and Pettus (Pettis, also recorded as Piater) Ford. He was born on Nov. 21, 1923 in Mobile. And died Nov. 5, 1993.  The family is also recorded as using the last name of “Fort”.

Douglas Ford married Nettie Lou Motley (b. 1924, fa Wyatt Motley) on Feb. 15, 1942. In the 1940 Census, Nettie is referred to as “Nellie Motley”. 

 

I am researching this family tree – please leave a comment if you have any other information. Thanks!

 

 

 

April 28, 2015 at 9:39 pm Leave a comment

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