On 8 April 2015 I set out on a research trip that turned into a wonderful journey, one in which the Ancestors were whispering in my ear and nudging me all over Holly Spring, Mississippi! It wasn’t just my Ancestors who were whispering and nudging, but Ancestors of friends and fellow researchers who are part of the Holly Springs Mississippi Facebook Group page.
Before I go any further I must thank a few very important people who made this trip not only productive but enjoyable!
I would like to thank Bobby Mitchell, without him guiding me to The Last Road to Freedom by Dr. Alisea Williams McLeod, I would never have discovered my great, great-grandfather, Champ Franklin in the Contraband Band Camp at Corinth. Wherever I went in – from the court-house to the library – asking questions, they all referred me to Bobby. They said, “You need to talk to Bobby Mitchell, he knows everything about our history!” Yes, Bobby is the resident expert on all things Holly Springs and I can’t wait to return to chat with him again!
I wish to thank Dr. Alisea Williams McLeod for the wonderful work she is doing transcribing the Register of slaves at the various Contraband Camps. Such a daunting project that she has undertaken – one that gives a glimpse into the lives of former slaves who fled with and followed the Union Army during the war. This project has provided Black genealogists searching for their Ancestors, names of their kin who were enslaved, names of their former owners and their last location. This alone is reason to scream for joy because slaves were not listed by name in the census until 1870, this makes tracing them very difficult.
What a treat it was for me to meet this phenomenal woman, thank you so much Alisea for the work you are doing! I’m proud to have met you!
Last but certainly not least, is Joseph McGill, and his Slave Dwelling Project. I first decided to visit Holly Springs when I saw that he would be there as part of one of his projects; Behind the Big House: a Slave Dwelling Tour in conjunction with Holly Springs Home & Heritage Festival and Pilgrimage. I began following Mr. McGill on Facebook because I thought what he was doing was not only fascinating but very important, bringing attention to how and where the slaves lived. By bringing attention to these dwellings he is helping to preserve a part of history that you won’t find in any history book. Here’s an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about Mr. McGill’s project One Man’s Epic Quest.
Meeting Joseph was fun and informative and he even took a selfie with me! Thank you Joseph for the work you are doing, I look forward to seeing you again soon!
The Journey Begins
My flight to Memphis was delayed by several hours in Chicago. Because of this, my original plans for the first day of research had to be adjusted. After picking up the rental car I drove to Collierville, Tennessee, which would be my home base. I had originally planned to stay in Holly Springs but Anthony “Tony” Ryan, a member of the Facebook page, warned me that the hotel I planned to stay in was not a good idea for several reasons. I made arrangements to stay at the Courtyard, a much cleaner place! It pays to ask for recommendations for lodging when planning a research trip; you don’t want to end up in a dump or in a part of town that may not be safe!
I called Bobby to let him know I had arrived and we made plans to meet at the library in town. This was our first face to face meeting after sharing emails for so long! We spent a little time chatting but since it had been such a long day I decided to head back to the hotel. Since there was still some daylight left I decided to make a quick stop at the first cemetery on my list, Strawberry Plains Cemetery. Roaming among the resting places of these people, I had mixed emotions; peaceful, excited, thoughtful and sad. I was sad because the cemetery was unkempt, headstones had fallen over, some had sunk into the ground making them unidentifiable and yet others were buried under ant mounds. These are a few surnames of the people whose headstones I took pictures of: Perkins, Pegues, Rankin, Hymon and Chapel.
I needed to eat. Driving to the hotel, I found a sweet little place called Sophie’s on HWY 311 just outside of Holly Springs, that had the best apple cobbler I’ve tasted in a long time!
Later that evening via Facebook private message, Tony connected me with Catherine Wilson, a fellow researcher who lives in Memphis. Catherine and I clicked right away during a late night phone conversation and made plans to meet in the morning to visit some of the cemeteries that were on my list.
Once Catherine arrived we got on the road, me with my spray bottle of water and paper towel because I forgot my soft bristle brush at home..sigh. Sometimes headstones are damaged by age, weather and man, the safest way to clean them is with plain old tap water and a soft bristle brush to lightly brush away surface dirt.
First stop was the Strawberry Plains Cemetery, 2602 hwy. 311. I had my list of names to search for and managed to find more than a few of the headstones I was looking for.
Our next stop was Hudsonville CME Church Cemetery on Slayden Rd. just south of Highway 72. Hudsonville is an unincorporated community located in the hill country of north Mississippi.
These are the surnames I was tasked with locating headstones for: Pennington/Penilton, Luellen/Lewellen, McFadden, Raimey/Ramey, Cowan/Cowans and Jones. A few of the other names I located that made me happy were Franklin and Holland! I’m working on seeing if these families crossed paths, they are both from the maternal side of my family.
After I provided a hearty meal to the mosquitoes, Catherine and I decided to visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Corinth is actually in Alcorn County, Mississippi and is its county seat.
We left the Interpretive Center and drove down the road a piece to the Contraband Camp.
Corinth Contraband Camp was the place I most wanted to visit. I walked on the ground that my great, great-grandfather, Champ Franklin walked on, I wondered what a 15-year-old boy who had fled a slave and was now free would be thinking, feeling. Had his mother and father fled with him? Was his father taken by the Union soldiers to go fight a war that they barely understood? Did he have enough to eat, was he warm at night, did he have enough clothes to cover him, did he have a roof over his head? Did he have someone to comfort him? As a mother and a grandmother these were my immediate thoughts.
Despite knowing that this Camp was one of the better run camps, I was overwhelmed with feelings of pain and sorrow for what this young man had to endure in his short life. But I also felt a tremendous amount of pride! He survived! He lived through it all! I believe his ability – no, his determination – to survive is a family trait that has been passed on through his genes, passed on to him by his Ancestors who were brought over in chains! I could feel his spirit and those of approximately 6,000 plus men, women and children who called this place home. I believe if I had listened very closely I would have heard them say, “Welcome daughter, tell our stories, don’t let us be forgotten.”
Champ is not listed with any family members in the Contraband Camp Register.
As the family historian, I looked around at the trees and wondered if they were there between 1863-64? I had to take lots of pictures so that I could share them with my mother, my children and my grandchildren. Were any of the other Franklins’ that were listed in the Register related to Champ? What were the logistics of this camp, how were all those people provided for?
This day will forever be in my heart!
I had been invited to a reception being held in town – time to head back and get ready. It was here that I was introduced to Dr. Aliesa Williams McLeod and Mr. Joseph McGill. What a great way to end an awesome day!
I was dragging Thursday morning and didn’t get as early of a start as I had planned but I had to stop at Ihop for blueberry pancakes! I never pass up a chance for blueberry pancakes!
I drove into town for the Slave Dwelling Tour; after all I hadn’t come all the way from Chicago to miss this! My first stop was the Hugh Craft House, 184 S. Memphis St. The house was built in 1851 but the Slave dwelling was built about 1843. It was built for the family while they were waiting for the big house to be completed.
The fireplace you see that has been closed in is where the slaves cooked for themselves and their owners, this was the kitchen for the big house.
There was an archaeological field study going on at this house, conducted by Dr. Carolyn Friewald, Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology at the University of Mississippi. She believed that there had been a brick walkway that was covered and connected to the house at one time. They were discovering bones of animals most likely from the meals that were made and fragments of pottery probably used by the former occupants.
The Burton Place, 248 S. Memphis St. was my next stop. For me this was the most interesting Slave dwelling. Built in 1848 it also had a detached kitchen but there were three rooms that were much better preserved.
There were only two rooms open to the public but I had an opportunity to see the third room.
Can you see the ring on the wall? I was told that a misbehaving slave would be tied up to it for “punishment.”
The last house on my list was the Magnolias, 305 Craft St. This house was built in 1852 and as all the other dwellings had a detached kitchen which was located in the slaves quarters. Various property owners had done a lot of rebuilding and modernization.
I had not done any paper research yet so a stop at the court-house was in order. A wonderful young woman, whose name I’m sorry to say I didn’t get, was very helpful. I explained I was attempting to locate the Franklin land, I mentioned Champ Franklin. She pulled out a book, Marshall County, Mississippi Probate and Will Records, Betty C. Wiltshire. In this book she found a four-year old boy named Champ mentioned in the inventory and will of a William Jefferies!
The first image is that of an index listing of the Will of William Jefferies dated June 30, 1852 and probated August 1852 and the appraisers inventory of his estate. Circled you see, “boy Champ”. This inventory was taken in October 1852. The second image is a petition for division of the estate listing his wife and children, dated September 1856. It also indicates to which family member these Slaves would be given to. William G. Jefferies was to receive eight Slaves; “Abraham, 40 years, Sophy 30, Ellison 13, Terril 9, Champ 4, Lucy 8, Elmira 6, Dinah 2,”. The last image addresses which of the Slaves will go to the minor children of William Jefferies.
There appears to be an error in the transcription of this last inventory, in particular the name “Chaness, a boy 5 years” I have a copy of the will and in the section that addresses the division of the Slaves to the minors, I can find no Slave by that name but the age matches that of what Champ would be in 1857.
The age is right, Champ was born about 1848-49.Who is this Jefferies? Is this my Champ? Was Champ purchased by Franklin from the Jefferies estate? This information churned up more questions and another surname to research! The courthouse was closing so much to my dismay I had to leave.
Beverly Harper, one of the Facebook group members had requested that I look for Hopewell #2 Cemetery. A search on Google brought up an address but Google maps showed nothing. I took a chance, drove out there and there it was! Hopewell #2 M.B. Church is located at 239 HWY 313.
Hopewell’s cemetery is situated all the way at the far end of their property which is probably why it didn’t show up on Google maps. Since it wasn’t a big cemetery I was able to get pictures of all the headstones and grave markers for Beverly.
The next cemetery on my list was Slayden Cemetery. Slayden is another of Mississippi’s unincorporated communities along 72 on the northeast corner of Marshall County.
Here I was looking for Pegues, Lewellyn/Lewelling, any spelling, Bailey and Howell. One of the genealogical benefits of visiting cemeteries is that you learn who married into what family if you’re lucky! For example, the Howells’ married into the McKinny family. I know this because the family of Mrs. Mary McKinny put her maiden name, Howell, on the grave marker. Just this bit of information for researchers can break down a brick wall leading to a wealth of records!
There are some of us who talk about the Ancestors talking to us or guiding us to them because they want to be found and remembered. Well this next leg of my journey, I think, put the truth to this sentiment!
I was leaving Slayden Cemetery and just looking around when I spotted a sign just a bit back from the road. I pulled over and backed up to see what it was; Early Grove United Methodist Church.
Early Grove is another unincorporated community of Marshall County along 72.
The Franklin plantation was in Early Grove! Did they have a cemetery?! Down the road I went, hoping, praying…yes!! Pay Dirt baby! With very little effort I discovered the headstone of the man I believe was Champ’s last owner, Bernard Franklin, his wife, mother, father and what appeared to be headstones for very young children. Was this the land Champ worked and Bernard owned? More research will answer those questions.
Here I was standing alongside the final resting place of the man who may have owned my great, great grandfather.
The Contraband Camp Register (fig.1) states that his last owner was last name Franklin, first name Franklin. The first census where slaves are named is the 1870 census, Champ is working at farming and living three doors away from Bernard Franklin who is listed as being a farmer.
The questions I’d ask him! The question I asked myself was how I felt standing at his grave; my answer was free, strong, empowered and peaceful! From Dust To Dust.
Before I left I needed to walk the road that I believe Champ walked and try to see the land he saw. I believe once again he walked with me.
My plane home was leaving before dawn cracked which meant I had to say good-bye to Holly Springs and get to my hotel in Memphis.
I wrapped up my trip by stopping on Beale Street for dinner, good music and a visit with a friend I hadn’t seen since the early 70’s, Russell Draper.
What fun we had walking down memory lane! I think a vacation to Memphis is in my future!
My journey to Holly Springs, Mississippi was one of discovery, joy, sadness and hope.
I’ll see you again Holly Springs!