My friend Aaron has made an incredible find that I wanted to share because it is such a rarity. Many people researching former slaves have encountered interracial children in their family trees. Enslaved women frequently had children with white men. Enslaved women did not own their own bodies and were commonly sexually abused.
Sometimes the names of these men are passed down through oral history. Other times, only the knowledge of an “unknown white man” survives in the history.Henry Dorsey
The Dorsey Family
Henry Dorsey, Aaron’s ancestor, was from Texas. Henry had two brothers named Texas and Richard Dorsey. Oral history provided their white father’s name as John Dorsey. John lived with his three sons and their wives in the 1880 census for Smith County, Texas:1880 Smith Cty Texas
In John Dorsey’s 1888 will, incredibly, he named his three black sons. He used strong language illustrating that he had a close relationship with them:
“It is my will …that whatever may remain [of my estate]…be equally and fairly divided between my beloved sons Henry Dorsey, Richard Dorsey, better known as Dick Dorsey, and Texas Dorsey, better known as Tex, these are three (colored) but bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and my rightful heirs.”
It is rare to find direct evidence of a white man naming and claiming black children, especially in Texas in the 1880s!
John apparently never married or had any white children. He named his “best friend” as executor to carry out his wishes.
His estate was worth about $1000. The brothers later paid the taxes on his land, which implies that they did inherit the land.
Here is Texas Dorsey’s death certificate, which names John as his father:Texas Dorsey
The will of John Dorsey’s father, Benjamin Dorsey, revealed the name of the enslaved mother of Henry and his brothers. Her name was Ann. Aaron just added a 4th great grandparent to his tree.
There are always surprises in store for us in this genealogical journey!
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.