An Oral History of a Local Slave Family

By Bob Epp

Do you know your family’s history?  How far back can you trace your lineage?  If you are an African American descended from slaves, that quest can be very difficult, often impossible.  Most of what we know about the history of slaves and their families comes from oral traditions carried from generation to generation.  Such is the case of Anthony Jones, a slave on the Ellwood Plantation in the first half of the 19th century, and his family.

Shortly before his death in New York City, Jones shared a believable story of his family and their roles at the plantation.   Anthony was the son of Ester and Anthony Jones, Sr, likely the Black Minister for the plantation’s slaves.  Anthony, Sr and Ester had 8 children, some of whom are documented on slave censuses from Spotsylvania and Orange Counties.

William Jones, the owner of Ellwood, was widowed in 1825.  He remarried a few years later at 78 to Lucinda Gordon, a 16 year old grandniece of his first wife.  She brought her personal slave, Patsy, with her to Ellwood.   Like most slaves during this period, Patsy developed a specialty – her skill was weaving. The younger Anthony took a shine to Patsy as she sat weaving and, after wooing her for an extended time, asked her to marry him.   Patsy agreed and Anthony, as the law then required, had to ask for permission from the plantation owner; after William Jones agreed, Anthony and Patsy took up residency in the laundry house at Ellwood.   They had four children over the next 13 years – the first three (Isaac, Aaron, and Lucy) died in infancy.

Slave Auction Block

Over time, Anthony grew increasingly unhappy with his Ellwood life, working the fields and gold mining on plantation property.   In the early 1840s he opted to run away, leaving his then pregnant wife Patsy, his parents and his 7 siblings behind.   He was captured and returned to Fredericksburg where he was jailed and sold to a slave trader, John Ellis.   After the sale, Anthony had to accompany his master on a trip into the Deep South.  On their return by boat, Ellis became sick and died, leaving Anthony in charge of the owner’s personal belongings.  Instead of returning to Fredericksburg, Anthony stayed on the ship headed to New York.  On arrival, he locked his owner’s trunk, gave the key to the ship’s captain, and announced that he was going to Church.   He never returned to the ship.

Anthony obtained employment in New York and for the next few years attempted to correspond with Patsy; she later claimed to have received only one letter which had to be read to her by the local postmaster (surname of Almond).  Unfortunately, she lost that letter during the Civil War. She and her youngest child, Anthony III, later laid claim to the wealth her husband accumulated during his New York working days.  The elder Jones’ siblings, Isaac Smith and Elizabeth Keaton, also pursued the estate through the New York probate court. Those proceedings (1873-1876) and their related testimonials afforded considerable insight into the family, some of which are shared in this article.

(The rest of the story, obtained from the court proceedings, will appear in the next episode.)

Copyright FoWB, Inc. 2017