Monday, June 26, 2017

Creating a Tour to Walk Ancestral Lands

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Stepping on ancestral land
Wiley J. Morris Descendants Following Footsteps
For a3Genealogy clients we often are requested to plan Ancestral Land Tours after completing a thorough family genealogy and DNA tests results.  Sometimes these trip connect new cousins, sometimes, it's just 1) walking the grounds, 2) seeing the terrain, 3) collecting history from a local historian 4) visiting the old homeplace.  But, rarely is it all four.

3 Keys to Successful Tour
The family research should be thoroughly documented and supported before planning a trip.  The DNA should confirm the papertrail.  But the key to the 24 Jun family Rutherfordton, NC, tour of the Wiley J. Morris family was the local historian, Robin Lattimore. His connections to the local plantations, Historical Society, and involvement in historical building preservation opened doors to this tour group that would not have been available otherwise.

1) Importance of Local Historian
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Book by Robin Spencer Lattimore
I met Robin years ago.  He had written books on the local plantations, and was helpful in uncovering the Morris free-coloreds siblings born between 1838 - 1850 through his court record index collection. Louisa Griffin who married Wiley J. Morris was a free-colored since the Revolutionary War.  Her five children fathered by then slave Wiley J. Morris were all born-free and originally used the Griffin surname.  But in 1855 Wiley J. Morris, a slave (and blood descendant from his slave master James Morris) was emancipated. Wiley J. Morris, a blacksmith and furrier, and wife Louisa and their 5 children were living free as a family unit by 1860. All were using the surname Morris in the 1860 census and thereafter.  Four of these 5 free born children however married slave descendants. So the descendants of Wiley J. Morris and Louisa include the Carson, Cox(e), Mills, and Millers, Bird, Gudger, Gross early Rutherfordton surnames and more. Read more at Wiley J. Morris Family, 1807.
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Luncheon at Green River Plantation B&B
As mentioned Robin Lattimore, the tour guide, was able to open otherwise closed doors for this ancestral tour.  After a luncheon at the fabulous B&B Green River Plantation (originally built by Joseph McDowell Carson), we were able to take a 42 room tour of the plantations. Some of these rooms would have been closed off, but Lattimore was a part of the restoration of this 1807 plantation so he could explain the artifacts, wall photos, family photos and original structure and function of the 13,000 square foot plantation house, and he had close ties to the Cantrell family. We were able to visit with Amanda Cantrell one of the current owners of the plantations. Her parents purchased the plantations in the 1980's.  And lunch was delish! If you are wanting a tour of Green River Plantation be sure to book Robin Lattimore.

2) Be Flexible for Secret Opportunities
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Morris Descendants and Family
Our tour was for 25 Morris descendants, small enough group to be flexible, and WERE THEY FLEXIBLE!. So much more could have been seen from the bus, but the itinerary was thrown out the window on our next scheduled stop.  Robin had gained permission for the tour bus to go on the private lands of the original Morris Fox Haven plantation as a short stop.  We were given permission to walk around - what a beautiful view-  and even walk up the porch.  We thought that was generous from a person who owned private lands and was not a Morris.

We knew Wiley J. Morris, born 1807, was a slave and was skilled as a blacksmith on this plantation. We know his three sons were born free, but worked as blacksmiths on this and neighboring plantations.  We know they lived on the original lands as free-coloreds on this plantation. And thanks to DNA, we know they were blood-kin to the white Morris slaveowners.  So to walk the grounds was a blessing.
Fox Haven Plantation
But, there's more!  Robin had made all arrangements with the private owner of the plantation, who unexpectedly opened the door to the Morris Fox Haven plantation and welcomed us in to a full tour of the plantation home ( again, given by Robin). No rooms were closed off.  The plantation house was smaller but still great! We were able to visit with the current owner (name purposefully withheld here). This was the Broad River land that named the "mulatto" Morris family on the 1860 census. Robin pointed out where the slaves were buried (now located on other private lands.) We doubled our scheduled time here at Fox Haven, because this was a once in a life time opportunity.

3) Supporting Local Historical Societies
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Our last stop was to be a shopping stop on Main St. of Rutherfordton.  But that was scrapped. Again, Lattimore made quick plans. He wanted us to visit the 1848 St. John Church, the oldest church structure in Rutherford County that the Carson, Morris, Coxe slaves and free-coloreds built. The slaves and blacks of the community traditionally worshiped here on Saturdays even though nowadays, it's closed on Saturdays. But we are grateful to Lesley Bush of the Rutherford County Historical Society for opening the doors for us with historical and plantation books, DVDs, and Christmas ornaments available to purchase after our historical review of the structure.  No one missed the rather quiet Main St shopping stop, and appreciated getting books signed by Robin Lattimore the author of about a dozen Fox Haven and Green River books that covered the plantations of Rutherford County as well as the PBS documentary that he did on the Bechtler Mines. His books covered all the lands that the ancestors worked on or were enslaved until their departure from Rutherford County in 1869.

This is What Family Is About
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Isaiah and Sisters
One young man on the trip from Kentucky had never met his half sisters. They only knew each other through Skype (face-time). But when the sisters who lived in NC and SC learned their little brother was coming within driving distance, they surprised him by joining this family reunion. Oh, we all witnessed the best instant family bonding that one has seen. Isaiah was overjoyed, and his sisters were the best. My last pic of them was him sleeping on the way home with his head on one of their shoulders.  Too personal to post here, but I'm sure readers can feel the sentiment and love!

Other Notes on the Trip
1) the tour bus air-conditioner went out about 30 minutes shy of the first plantation. The tour bus driver from Charlotte to Rutherfordton was able to meet the owner of Silver Fox Limousines and there was a bus exchange midway while we were eating lunch.  The bus driver returned and still had time to eat lunch and wait for us to finish up our tour.  Thank you Randy! By the time we got to Fox Haven, Randy joined us on the tour. He too was intrigued.
2) upon returning to Embassy Suites in Charlotte exhausted and exhilarated  from our all day tour (pick up at 10; return at 6) the group did a spontaneous dinner at Queen City Barbeque in Charlotte to rewind.  All 25 members, ages 11 to 89 were present (without reservations). This restaurant quickly opened up their private party room for us.  Food was good and service superb. Thanks to our servers!

Happy Ancestral Footsteps!
Kathleen Brandt

Thanks to all of the family pics - Dwight Brown, Cathy Crumbley and John B.