Luther Holt

The Holt Family

Luther Holt, born in 1921 in Hardin County, Tennessee, was my maternal grandfather. I have so many wonderful memories of being with him. He was a caring and adventurous grandfather.

Luther descends from Malinda Holt (1816-1881), a formerly enslaved woman who was my third great grandmother. Giles Holt enslaved Malinda.

Giles also enslaved another woman named Judah Holt. All of the African-Americans surnamed HOLT in Hardin County, TN in the late 19th and early 20th century appear to descend from one of these two women.

Both Judah and Malinda had large families, and though not blood-related, they considered themselves family. These kinds of relationships were common in slavery, and are often referred to as kinship relationships.

Judah had nine known children: Frank, Henry, Samuel C., Mary, Velma, Thomas, Sarah, Frances, and James M. DNA research suggests that her son Samuel was fathered either by Giles Holt or his son Dauphin Holt. Other evidence shows that she was married to an enslaved man named Sam Dickson who fathered at least three of her children, perhaps more.

Judah’s son Samuel had a son named John Wesley Holt, Jr. He was probably named for Malinda’s son of the same name. John Wesley Holt Jr. and his wife Ila Spears relocated to Inkster, Michigan in about 1926 where many of their descendants live today.

Malinda Holt

Malinda Holt had at least eleven known children: Thomas, Daniel, Phillip, Chana, Eliza Ann, Cyntha Jane, George W., William E., John Wesley, James and Elizabeth. Malinda’s son John W. Holt was my  second great-grandfather. Evidence suggests that the father of some or all of Malinda’s children was an African-American man named Harry Holt.

I found Malinda’s headstone in Cawthon Cemetery in Hardin County which was a pretty exciting discovery. Her headstone was the oldest one in Cawthon. It had fallen over and was partially buried; I very nearly missed it.

Malinda’s name was also written in a family bible page, shared with me by the descendants of her son George W.

Sadly George, a very successful farmer and businessman, was lynched in Hardin County in 1887 (more details below).

John and Mary’s Family

John Wesley Holt married Mary Garrett (the name was originally Garrard) in 1877 in Decatur County, Tennessee, which is right next to Hardin County.

The couple had 8 children together: Ivie, Swanson, Madelina, Roxie, Oralee, Lawson, Freddie and Troy. John W. Holt also had another son, named Hundley. My great-grandfather was their son Lawson Holt (below).

The Holt family appears in the 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 Hardin County census.

John W. (and his brother George W.) are well documented in the records of Hardin County. They were prosperous land owners, and very active in the African-American community.

John W., Philip and Samuel C. Holt purchased 200 acres of land in 1871. That’s only six years out of slavery! Amazing.

But life was not without racial violence. John’s brother George was lynched in 1887, an event that was cruelly announced in the paper with this sentence:

“George Holt, colored, of Sibley, met his fate by the rope route last week.”

Nevertheless, the family persevered and helped build a thriving community. John W. Holt also owned a general store, was Postmaster of Holtsville from 1902-1907, and established a school called the Holtsville school.

He left a lengthy and detailed will when he died in 1925. His wife Mary died in 1932. Holtsville is still marked on many maps of the area to this day.

1931 map showing Holtsville

The Holts and their descendants have a rich legacy in Hardin County, TN all starting with our ancestor Malinda (and Judah Holt), who survived the horrors of slavery. I have a more detailed article here.

Garrett/Garrard Roots

John’s wife Mary Garrard was from neighboring Decatur County, and oral history says her mother was a full-blood Cherokee Indian. I’m not so sure about that;) It may be true, but  I haven’t found any supporting evidence, although her grandson recalling that she always smoked “those Indian pipes.”

Mary had a sister named Anna Garrard who married John’s brother George. Mary and Anna descended from Mason and Rachel Garrett.The couple appears in the 1870 and 1880 Decatur County, Tennessee census. Mason and Rachel’s former owner was Jeff Johnson, but he died shortly after purchasing his farm in Decatur County.

They were previously owned by the William W. Garrard family. The white Garrards were from Kentucky (Virginia before that), migrated to Lauderdale County, Alabama and finally settled in Decatur County, Tennessee.

Margaret Barnes

My maternal fourth great-grandmother was Margaret Barnes (abt. 1829-1894, the photo above is likely her). Margaret first appears on an 1838  county court record in Hardin County, Tennessee. The record describes Margaret’s sale to John L. Barnes for $198 because she was  being “badly treated” by her current owner, Washington B. Turner.

Margaret was technically a free black woman. In 1840, after the court transaction, she was likely the free black enumerated in the household of John L. Barnes. In 1850, she was enumerated in the Barnes household as Margaret Roberts with several young children. By 1860 Margaret’s name appeared as Margaret Barnes.

She appears for the only time heading her household in the 1870 Hardin County census. At that time, she still had four presumed children in the household. At some point after 1870, she relocated to the community of Sibley where several of her children settled. She died in 1893.

Margaret’s origins are unknown. The name Margaret Roberts is certainly a clue to her identity before being “owned” by Washington B. Turner. Although she was a freedwoman, sometimes free blacks were bonded to some white person (a form of “vouching” for them).

I was thrilled in 2011 to find that Margaret witnessed a claim in the Southern Claims Commission records, along with her son, Campbell. She gave critical testimony that validated much of my research.

Margaret had at least 11 known children:  Joe Doran, Campbell, Louisa (or Lucy), Green, Samuel, Hannah, Martin, Nancy (Nannie), Martha and Alice. She likely had at least one and perhaps all of them with a white man in the community named Benjamin Rush Freeman. He also had a white family, but interracial relationships were common all over the South.

Margaret’s Children: Lucy, Nannie, and Campbell

Margaret’s daughter Lucy (shown below) married Samuel C. Holt (a son of Judah Holt). Samuel was very prosperous and by his death in 1897 owned over 500 acres of land. Samuel and Lucy had 6 children together. Lucy secondly married William Davy in 190. She died in 1922.

I discovered through county court records that Lucy  had a son named Felix before she married Samuel Holt. Apprenticed to a white male, he is referred to as her ‘illegitimate mulatto son.’

Lucy had son Joe Doran as a teenager, likely with a white man, probably William P. Doran. He sometimes went by the name Felix.

Margaret’s daughter, Nannie, married first James Holt then Kirby Welch. Nannie died in 1949. She had three children only one of whom lived to adulthood–her daughter Minnie.

Minnie spent many years recording historical details about her family and other families in the community.

Margaret’s son Green Barnes was instrumental in building what was likely one of the first schools in the small community of Sibley in 1887. Green served on the first Board of Colored Superintendents.

Margaret Barnes also had a son named Campbell Barnes. He married Alice Jones in 1868 in neighboring McNairy County, Tennessee. I found the couple in the 1870 McNairy Co. census but they disappear after that. His Southern Claims deposition states that he went away with the Union Army, but I have not found in his name in any of the official records of the military.

Hannah Barnes and Joseph Harbour

Margaret’s daughter Hannah (my third great-grandmother) married Joseph Harbour abt. 1876 (he is shown above). They appear as a couple only in the 1880 Hardin County census. Joseph was born abt. 1852, and Joseph and Hannah had two children together, Odie and Doss.

By 1900, Joseph had apparently left Hannah and married another woman, Rachel Shannon, in 1884. Joseph’s marriage to Rachel was not a happy one; they had a very contentious divorce in 1895.

Joseph appears to have been quite a character; he was charged with crimes numerous times in circuit court records between the years 1882-1896.

By 1900, Hannah was listed as head of household with five children: Odie, Doss, Pearl, Magnolia and Alma. Hannah reported that she was widowed but she was not. Perhaps a testament to how she felt about him?

Hannah secondly married John J. Bradley. Hannah died in 1925 and is buried in the Norwood cemetery.

Harbour Roots

An 1866 Hardin County Court record illuminates Joseph Harbour’s family background. It records “..a colored woman named Marge” apprenticing her children out to white men in the community. Her sons Joseph and Alexander were apprenticed to Thomas Maxwell.

Their brother Wesley Harbour was apprenticed to Thomas’ son, Henry Maxwell. This court record also provides their birthdates and the terms of their service. This is yet another example of the incomparable value of court records.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any further information about brothers Alexander or Wesley. Their mother Marge, likely a formerly enslaved woman, was probably owned by Elijah or Elisha Harbour, large slaveowners in the county.

Doss Harbour

Hannah’s son Doss Harbour, born abt. 1878, was my gg-grandfather (below):

Hannah and Joseph’s son Doss Harbour was a farmer, and he appears in the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census records. He was by oral accounts a hard-living, tough man.

Doss had a daughter named Vannie with a woman named Ada Merriman. Doss married Lula Harris in 1905 and in an odd twist, Doss and his wife Lula raised Vannie together. Vannie was very close to Lula.

Perhaps being unmarried caused Ada to allow her daughter Vannie to be raised by Doss and his wife Lula. We can never know the true reasons behind some of the things our ancestors did. Doss Harbour died in 1943.

The picture below shows Doss with his sister Odie and his three half sisters, Pearl, Ollie and Nola (Magnolia) in 1939:

Vannie first married Lawson Holt in 1921, and they had son Luther, my grandfather. They divorced shortly thereafter.  Vannie married Elroy Roberson in 1926 in Chester County, Tennessee and had four more children: Lulapearl, Pete, Joe and Juliette.

Vannie Harbour

Vannie was a loving, soft-spoken, very gentle woman who did mostly domestic work, which was common for women of her era.

She was very religious and enjoyed spending time with her children and grandchildren. Vannie lived to be 98 years old and passed away in 2001.

This is where my personal memory comes in. I have just a few memories of Vannie from when I was a child– like combing her beautiful long silky hair. It seemed to me like something only dolls had.

I remember “Mama Vannie” cooking and that her house was always filled with kids and people. My grandfather Luther was very close to his mother, he simply adored her.

I love the picture below, which shows Vannie in grade school (actually, in the Holtsville school) in Hardin County, TN. This picture probably dates from between 1910-1915. Vannie is on the far right, the girl with the big white bow in her hair at the very end.

Holtsville School

Merriman and Bailey Roots

Ada Merriman, Vannie’s biological mother, married a man named Sank Seaman in 1883. They appear only in the 1910 census together with their five children: Nelson, Lee, and Ollie May. (She had two more daughters later, Rachel and Nettie.)

Ada died on 13 November 1918. Ada’s parents were Baltimore and Martha (Bailey) Merriman. Baltimore shows up in many of the Hardin County early records and history. Ada had many brothers and sisters, which I am just starting to document.

Walter and Effie Springer

My maternal grandmother Mattie Springer was born in Hardin County, Tennessee(1921-2001). Her parents were Walter Springer (1888-1944) and Effie Fendricks (1898-1959).

They married in Hardin County on 29 March 1910 and they appear in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census records. The family relocated from Hardin County to the town of Henderson in neighboring Chester County.

Walter and Effie had 9 children, 7 of which survived to adulthood: Granville, Maxine, Arnell, Grady Lee, Mattie, George and James.

Walter, like many African American men of the era, took work wherever and whenever he could get it. His various jobs included sharecropping, working at Wolf Creek Ordance Plant during World War II, working as a janitor at a local school, and working on the steamboats that traversed the Tennessee River.

Walter’s Parents

Walter’s Application for a Social Security Number (SS5) records his parents as George Springer and Lue Springer.

My grandmother’s birth certificate recorded her father’s birthplace as Lawrence County, Tennessee. A 1900 census in Lawrence County recorded a Ludi Springer with son Walter, of the right age to have been my Walter.

I have yet to find any document of this George Springer so he remains one of my brick walls. My grandmother Mattie remembered his name as George Washington, which adds to the confusion. Was his last name Washington or was he called George Washington Springer? Don’t know yet. Can’t find a good fit for either of those names.

After Walter’s death in 1944, Mattie’s widowed mother Effie moved to Dayton, Ohio, along with two other daughters, Maxine and Arnell. Sons George and James Springer, after fighting in World War II, eventually settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Daughter Grady Lee stayed in Tennessee.

Mike Fendricks and Jane Eliza Sherrod

Effie’s parents were Mike Fendricks (1855-1928) and Jane Eliza Sherrod (born between 1858 and 1862, died before 1910). They married in 1879 in Hardin County where they appeared in the 1880 and 1900 census records.  Jane Fendricks birthed 13 children, but only 8 survived: Mary Ella, Daisy, Ada, Effie, Mattie, Odie, Grady and John.

Records for both Walter and Effie consistently state that their parents were from
Alabama on the census records. By 1910, a widowed Mike still had two daughters at home. Three other married daughters lived right next door along with two sons. Mike was a farmer and died 2 Oct. 1928. He is buried in the Savannah Colored Cemetery.

The known marriages of Mike and Jane’s children are:

  • Daisy Fendricks m. William (Bill) Pitts, Feb. 15, 1903
  • Ada Fendricks m. John King, Sep. 2, 1905
  • Mary Ella Fendricks m. Abe Copeland, Nov. 10, 1907
  • Effie Fendricks m. Walter Springer, Mar. 29, 1910
  • Mattie Fendricks m. Bee Winn, May 24, 1919

Fendricks Roots

In trying to trace Mike Fendricks’ history in slavery, I found no other individuals with that strange surname Fendricks, or any derivative of that name in Hardin County, Tennessee. However, I noticed that in 1920 Mike lived with a man named Dee Suggs, also from Alabama.

Mike appeared as a bondsmen on Dee Suggs marriage license. This connection led me to trace Dee Suggs back on the census records and I found Dee on the 1880 and 1870 census record in Lawrence County, Alabama! This is an example of a classic cluster genealogy approach.

Tracing Dee Suggs helped me uncover the fact that he and Mike were half-brothers. I was able to find the name of their mother, Sofrona Suggs and the place of their origin in Alabama.

Researching Dee Suggs also helped me locate Mike Fendricks likely father, who was also named John Mike Fendricks. I also found Jane Eliza’s (Mike’s wife) mother, whose name was Salina Sherrod.

Mattie and Luther

My grandmother Mattie shared many happy memories of her family. She recalled her father’s diligent prayers and the family spending lots of time at church.

She also talked about going off to school, her mother’s cooking, her siblings picking cotton, and her father’s telling the children folktales and stories. I miss her very much.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email