Recently I came across a poignant quote relating to slave surnames I just had to share. Slave surnames are a topic I have discussed here at Reclaiming Kin several times and one that has no easy or simple formula that applies to every situation.
Because of this, I save original sources where the formerly enslaved provided reasons for their surnames.
While at the National Archives, I requested the Civil War pension file for a former USCT soldier named Abram Sherrod. He served in the war under the surname Sherrod, which was the name of his last owner.
The Special Investigator was trying to understand why Abram went by the surname James after the war. This was common for soldiers who had been enslaved. Some simply used other names because they were runaways.
What was Abram’s reason?
Julia Pearson, whose husband served with Abram, made it very clear in her affidavit dated 9 March 1895:
“I can give the reason for him and many others others changing their names. It was for this reason to save their lives in the year of 1867 the CluClux being verry bad in Bolivar Co, Mississippi killing all of the old soldiers they could find that had been in the Army. He and many others changed their names to their father’s names to keep from being known by them…”
When I first read that, took my breath away.
It should remind us all of the extraordinary levels of brutality and violence that African-Americans suffered during Reconstruction.
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.