Monthly Archives: August 2017

Delaware: Tracing family roots, past and present

African American Cemetery Delaware - Copyright 2017 Nadia K. Orton

African-American cemetery, Kent County, Delaware, August 19, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

In mid-August, we attended a family reunion in Wilmington, Delaware, for two of the paternal branches of our collective family tree, lines that extend to the 18th-century in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County (est. 1765), and City of Portsmouth (est. 1752), and to Warren County (est. 1779), in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

On the way to the reunion, and in keeping with the theme of “family,” we stopped at this peaceful spot, a well maintained cemetery in Kent County, Delaware. It’s located near the birthplace of Thomas Craig (ca. 1831-1896), a free person of color and Civil War Navy veteran who was included in my first blog a few years ago. (Thomas is buried near my paternal great-great-great grandfather, Max Jolly Orton, also a Navy veteran, and other ancestors in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia.)

Walking through the sacred ground, I reflected on Thomas Craig’s family history, and wondered if any of his relatives were laid to rest in the cemetery. In all probability, they’re not, as the family moved to several areas throughout Kent and New Castle counties after 1855, when Thomas left Delaware and moved to New York City to enlist in the Union Navy. Still, it was nice to be able to visit the region, and forge another tangible connection to history, a moment only made possible through the protection and preservation of the cemetery. ♥

 

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Filed under Chesapeake, Civil War, Delaware, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Warren County, Wilmington

Portsmouth, Virginia: ‘Til Death Do Us Part’: The marriage of Pvt. Esau Bowers, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Bowers Marriage Cert Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Marriage certificate of Pvt. Esau Bowers and Lucy B. Williams. Portsmouth, Virginia, 1876.

 

“Til Death Do Us Part” – The marriage certificate of Pvt Esau Bowers, (ca. 1837-1877) Company B, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, and Lucy Brownley Williams, Portsmouth, Virginia, April 5, 1876. The minister who performed their marriage, Rev. John H. Offer, was also a Civil War veteran. Born in Maryland, Rev. Offer was a Sergeant with Co. H, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, and served as the pastor of historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Portsmouth from 1871 to 1877.

Pvt. Esau Bowers was born enslaved, in Portsmouth, Virginia. According to marriage records, he was the son of Esau and Charlotte Bowers. When he was about twenty-six years old (as indicated in military records), he enlisted on July 6, 1863, at Portsmouth, Virginia, under (then) Col. William Birney, and mustered six days later at Arlington, Virginia. During the Battle of Natural Bridge (Florida), on March 6, 1865, Pvt. Bowers was hit by grapeshot on his lower right leg. Left on the field of battle, he was presumed captured by Confederate forces. Bowers was later returned to his company, or “exchanged,” according to George Connor, a fellow member of the 2nd Regiment, on March 8, 1865. Due to the severity of his injury, Pvt. Bowers’ right leg was amputated below the knee, and he spent awhile recuperating in Hicks General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, before being discharged from service in 1866.

 

Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. Library of Congress

 

Lucy was Esau’s third wife.  She was born on Easter Sunday, 1836, in Mathews County, Virginia. Lucy and her parents, William and Sally Brownley, were slaves on the Willow Grove plantation, owned by Thomas Smith, a wealthy scion of a prominent colonial family.

 

Map of Gloucester and Mathews counties, Virginia, 1862. Library of Congress

 

Lucy and Esau weren’t married very long before his health took a grave turn for the worse. Upon his return to Tidewater, Virginia, Esau continued to suffer from the complications of his amputation during the war. Often in pain, he tried to work as hard and often as he could, out of economic need, with the use of a prosthetic, then commonly known as a “cork leg.” Like many African American families in the region, Esau and Lucy were poor, and struggled daily to make ends meet. A foreman of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard noted that despite his determination and fortitude, Esau often had to take breaks, physically unable to work because of the consistent pain in his leg. Not being able to afford a doctor, Esau and Lucy depended on help from their neighbors, and those that tried to fill the void prepared salves for Esau’s leg.

 

Pvt. Bowers Portsmouth Orton Copyright 2010

Gravestone of Pvt. Esau Bowers, Co. B, 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry. Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 10, 2010

 

Pvt. Esau Bowers passed away on January 5, 1877. His headstone, in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), was provided by the Gross Brothers of Lee, Massachusetts. After Esau’s death, Lucy continued working as a washerwoman, and was a resident of Portsmouth’s Lincoln Park by 1900. She passed away soon after. The location of her grave in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex is currently unknown.♦

 

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Filed under Arlington, Baltimore, Chesapeake, Civil War, Florida, Fort Monroe, Hampton, Maryland, Mathews County, Norfolk County, Slavery, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia