Monday, March 15, 2010

Madness Monday – Looking for Ewell Slave Owners

What They Say

They say you shouldn’t try to find more than one slave owner at the same time. They say you should follow one line through to completion. They say. Who is this they? And why do I have to follow what They say?

Conventional Thought - Not

There is nothing conventional about African-American Genealogy. I should follow the rules THEY hand out, but both my ancestors and I say screw it. So it’s that attitude that says, yes, I will follow both my Ewell ancestors and my Pierce Ancestor,  Georgia Black Crackers at the same time into slavery.

They don’t realize that my Georgia Ancestors and my North Carolina Ancestors seem to feed off of each other. By researching in two different states, I get ideas from one to facilitate the research of the other and vice versa.

Slam Dunk – I don’t think so

As I’ve matured in my genealogical research, I’ve learned that there is often no rhyme or reason in trying to determine the last slave owner. I learned early on, through reading Black Southerners 1619 – 1869 by John B. Boles that what history had always taught us, that former slaves always took the last owners name, simply was not true. Sometimes, a family’s surname is a clue, especially if former slaves were within a given family throughout slavery, but often times the surname is not a clue at all. Could this possibly be the case with my Ewell ancestors?


In 1870, in Martin County, NC, there were all of 27 people with the surname Ewell. My family accounts for 18.5% of those Ewells. The majority of the Ewells are Black. However, there is no cluster of Black Ewells around a White Ewell. In fact, the Black Ewells are not even clustered around each other. And interestingly enough, it rather seems to be that way with the Black families of Martin County regardless of surname.

Although there is no clustering, the possibility still exists that my Ewell family might have been owned by a Ewell, so I will still check the 1860 slave schedule for slave owners with the last name Ewell.

More so than with my maternal Pierce ancestors, I canvassed the neighborhood looking for someone with enough wealth that may point toward them being a former slave owner. By doing this, I’ve come up with 13 candidates. These candidates will be evaluated in future posts.

Might My Ewell Ancestors Have Been Free?

I first check the 1860 census to determine if there were any free persons of color with the Ewell Surname. In 1860, there are very few White Ewells in Martin County or North Carolina for that matter and no Black Ewells are enumerated.

Ewell Slave Owners

The 1860 slave schedule for Martin County, North Carolina, indicates there were two slave owners with the surname Ewell.

Comparing their slaves against Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Penny’s 1870 enumeration and assuming that both of my 2nd great grandparents were owned by the same person, neither listing provides a good match. J. M. Ewell’s slave holdings show a female that could possibly be Grandma Penny but no male that might be Grandpa Isaac. J. L.’s Ewell’s holdings are just the opposite.

I do wonder if these two Ewell owners might be related. Could it be possible that one owned Grandpa Isaac and the other owned Grandma Penny? Should I do further exploration with these two Ewells, first, or should I finish my evaluation of the other candidates?

To be Continued


  1. I consider the 23-year-old male slave of J.L. Ewell a good match for Isaac. Since Isaac chose this name, I'd focus on him being the one who was enslaved by the Ewells. His wife was probably enslaved by a neighbor. Also, did either of the two Ewells have any married daughters living nearby? ...or married sisters? Check their husbands' slave-holdings. Isaac may have been last enslaved by one of them, but opted to keep the Ewell name. Slaves were often deeded to daughters as gifts. Also, many slave-owners willed slaves to their married daughters/sons-in-law as well (that's why I suggested the married sisters). Good luck!

  2. Mel,

    Thank you for your comments. When I got up this morning, even before seeing your comment, I decided to look into these two Ewell slave owners further.


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