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Friday, March 14, 2014

The Diggs Family... Slaves of William Wesley Hudson

The Research Journey
For the past 6 months Linda Palmer and I have pursued a collection of records to build a foundation to tell a story about Harrison Diggs and his family – former slaves of the University of Missouri’s 3rd President William Wesley Hudson.

Assembling these documents, as with any historical reconstruction, resembles building a puzzle from bits and pieces pieces, some big and some small.  We were trying to verify what we'd heard, read or been told about Harrison Diggs' family.  For example, we'd heard that Harrison Diggs and his brothers had been emancipated in his owner’s will.  We needed proof.  Our cursory research indicated that Diggs was involved in Columbia’s black community – but we had very few details.

Ella Diggs Palmer-Rogers
Daughter of Harrison Diggs
Questions we sought to answer about Harrison Diggs:
  1. Who were Digg’s parents?
  2. Could we confirm who owned him and his family?
  3. Was he or anyone in his family emancipated before the Missouri Emancipation Proclamation in 1865?
  4. Did Diggs have siblings?
  5. Whom did Diggs marry and when?
  6. Did they have any offspring?
  7. Did he own land? Did he leave a will or an estate file?
  8. Did a record of his employment at the University of Missouri exist as a public record?
  9. What role did he play in Columbia’s black community?
  10. Would any of the found documents shed light on Diggs as a person?
My presentation on February 17, 2014 at the Columbia Public Library aimed to answer some of these questions.   I was fortunate to have a crowd of nearly 50 in attendance. The program was taped and is currently being broadcast on Mediacom channels 22 and 722.

Still Digging at the DIGGS Family
As I have pointed out in my blog posts about our research journey:  We were challenged trying to sort out the various Black Diggs families in Columbia from other Diggs in other nearby communities.  Additionally, we had issues with names like Annie and Arthur (Diggs)... just too many of them with the same name!   We had to determine if they were the same people or if and how they were related?  The family was quite mobile.  We wondered what drew them to Bowling Green...Kansas City...Moberly...and St. Joseph, Missouri and, outside of the state Omaha, NE and Chicago, IL?    The Diggs were NOT confined to the Columbia area – they spread out. This meant that we had to retrieve and research records in many locations to find reliable answers. 

Collaborating and Compiling Family Bits and Pieces to Tell a Story
As a precursor to this update, I posted to my Facebook page:  Traci’s African American in Missouri Research!   It’s a sampling of  bits and pieces from news articles that cover the small rural communities of BelAir, Bunceton, Otterville and Sedalia located in Central Missouri.  All the morsels of information provide clues and insight to an issue you are trying to explore.   For example:  The problem of recruiting Black physicians, historically has been a challenge.  To see this issue in newsprint gives perspective to the barriers people of color experienced trying to enter the fields of science and medicine.  If you had a family member who was adopted prior to the days of a legal court process, your relative could have been mentioned in a small news item about "a child seeking a home."   Finding even a brief mention of an abandoned or orphaned child in a newspaper article is a resource that could be overlooked. Your research requires a bit of curiosity and strategy about what documents exist that could provide new details and more information.

A Perfect Small Piece to Start the Harrison Diggs Puzzle

My attention was piqued upon reading a small article in the University Missourian dated April, 20, 1911.  It describes a presentation by N. T. [North Todd] Gentry who had given a historical overview account of the early days at the University of Missouri.  He mentioned prominent members of Columbia such as James S. Rollins and William Wesley Hudson a past president.  But to my surprise, the article mentioned Gentry’s presentation was aided with pictures (a slide show!) and shown were two former slaves Harrison Diggs and Horace Williams. Wow!  The article notes: As the picture of the first University building was shown, the Glee Club sang “Old Missouri.” Two former slaves of University professors saw there own pictures thrown on the screen.  They were Horace Williams who belonged to William C. Shields and Harrison Diggs, once the slave of W. W. Hudson. Both are now janitors at the University.

Fabulous Find!  Now we had a news article confirming Harrison's owner. What else could we find?  Next we discovered that Harrison Diggs served in the Civil we retrieved his pension record from the National Archives. The record was nearly 75 pages... and it required careful reading. His Civil War pension file was extraordinary for a few reasons:

1) We learned that Harrison Diggs married Sarah Elizabeth Lawrence on August 10, 1867. They were married by Rev. Henry McIntire. 

2) Harrison and Sarah had 10 children – all of whom are listed in the file by their full names and birth-dates. Chester Arthur Diggs birthday was cut off in the file copy I received from the archives. 

3) References to their daughters with their married surnames helped confirm that we had followed the correct Annie and Arthur (Diggs).  As I mentioned previously, we ran into confusion trying to sort out several Annie and Arthur Diggs.  We eventually concluded that there were:  2 Annies and 2 Arthurs who were connected to Harrison Digg's family. 

4) We also discovered a possible error. Anna Smith,  listed as one of Harrison's daughters was not dead according to the 1895 record above -- she died April 13, 1913.  

5) It's possible that the word "dead" scrawled next to her name was lightly erased and intended for her brother, "Lawrence" in the line above. Lawrence has caused us equal amounts of confusion to be discussed in a separate blog post. 

Simultaneously, Linda had retrieved former MU President William Wesley Hudson’s estate file and tediously combed through nearly 80 pages to mine more details and facts.   She extracted all of the slave related information which meant flushing out all the names of the slaves owned by Hudson at the time of his death.

While sorting out names in the estate file; she confirmed that Harrison's parents and siblings were all owned by Hudson. We both reviewed the Boone County Black marriage records several times and found that Harrison's parents married under the surname of Hudson.  While comparing the list of slaves with the marriage records we also discovered another Black Hudson family owned by President Hudson. At least of couple of Hudson's slaves were purchased from the estate of his father-in-law -- Cumberland Snell, his wife Albina's father. 

Another Black 
Hudson Family
Samuel Hudson married Lucy (maiden name unknown) on January 1, 1866. The children listed in the marriage record were: Jane (32), Warren (30), Preston (25), Samuel (21) and Charlotte (20).

Marriage Records Bits & Pieces 
We researched the marriage records and found Harrison’s parents James and Susan Hudson married on December 30, 1865.  We’d actually had the record but apparently we didn't study it very closely. It wasn't until I went to the court house and viewed the actual marriage record (which was much more legible) that I noticed there was another HUDSON among the black marriages. 

Another useful resource was Charles O’Dell’s Black Households in ColumbiaMissouri 1901-1909: A Directory...which provided even more clues.  The directory noted:   "James and Susan Hudson became free at emancipation. They had 5 adult children + two adopted.  Beverly, the oldest; a skilled carpenter took the surname of Chapman, but the other 3 sons, Henry, Harrison and Silas – used the name Diggs.  Both the Chapmans and Diggs were influential members of the Black Community in Columbia…Chapman’s daughter Mary, worked as one the first assistant teachers at Cummings Academy.  She married James Thomas Ridgeway, a member of another prominent slave family of the county.  Their daughter Maggie, attend Cummings Academy, Lincoln Institute and returned to Boone County to teach in her alma mater. (pg. III)"

We missed the part in the record about the two adopted children.  See the marriage record below because the children listed: Georgiana (15) and Edwin (12) were grandchildren adopted by James and Susan Hudson.

Ah hah!  So these adopted children were not strangers; they were kin -- the Hudson’s grandchildren!  This was NEW information.  Now we have more research to do to figure out what happened to Georgiana and Edwin. Also overlooked in O’Dell’s summary about the Hudson/Diggs family in Black Households in Columbia, Missouri: Directory was Harrison's sister Sally; whom we believe was Sally Nolly/Knolly/Knolley. We have collected some details about Sally but not quite enough yet for a substantive story. The varied spelling of her name has also presented challenges.   However, O’Dell’s compiled 1988 data was very helpful and provided important clues. But we when investigated and verified our own research, we uncovered more valuable information.  The lesson learned was: check everything.  After realizing we missed a few items, we decided to spend more time reviewing Hudson's estate file more carefully. By doing this, we found the grandchildren listed in the marriage record coincided with those listed in the inventory of slaves in the probate. Double-checking our work made a difference. 

The marriage record and information from the Black Households of Columbia Directory helped us put together the marriages of Harrison's brothers.  The only marriage we couldn't find was for that of Sally Knolley and we believe she was a widow from 1870 until she died on February 6, 1933.

Siblings Married Sisters and had Children with Same Name: Annie and Arthur
Harrison and Silas Diggs married sisters Sarah and Charlotte Lawrence daughters of Dennis Lawrence and Mary Picket.  Mr. Lawrence owned property very early that he left to his children which appears to be the land that Second Baptist Missionary Church currently occupies. We are currently investigating Dennis Lawrence for more details about his family and how he came to acquire property so soon after the close of slavery. 

Harrison and his brother Rev James Silas Diggs aka J. Silas Diggs caused us quite a bit of grief trying to sort of their children. Rev. Diggs and Charlotte Lawrence were the parents of Annie Diggs Simms and Arthur Diggs who died March 1, 1946 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Harrison Diggs and his wife Sarah Lawrence were the parents of Annie Smith (mentioned above died in 1913) and Arthur Diggs who died in Chicago in 1967.  Arthur's cause of death shocked us... a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest!

More Pieces—What Did Happen in Hudson’s Estate File?  Not Freedom!
Diggs Brothers Buy Their Time Out of the Estate:
While sifting through the pension file; we also studied William W. Hudson’s estate record which was many pages not all of which are very legible.  But significantly we discovered that Harrison and his brothers were NOT emancipated in the will of William Hudson.  They actually threatened to run away unless they were allowed to buy out their time out of the estate.  This sounds a little crazy – but the estate file discussed the situation verbatim.

It's possible that wrapping the estate took them into the period of Civil War which made the issue of their value to the estate moot.  However, Silas and Henry registered for the Civil War as Silas and Henry Hudson -- and the owner was listed Albina Hudson.  We don't know why we can't find a military service record for Silas and Henry Hudson/Diggs.  We also don't know why only Harrison had a Civil War pension file record.

Foundation Built, Closing Tidbits & Pieces to Think About
In closing, all of the above bits and pieces helped us build a basic understanding of Harrison's familial ties: his parents, siblings, wife and children.  We confirmed who owned his family and that he was a janitor at the University for many years along with another former slave named Horace Williams.  

We know Harrison served in the Civil War and that he and his brother Silas married sisters Sarah and Charlotte Lawrence.  We discovered his parents were raising their grandchildren Georgiana and Edwin who were listed as adopted in their marriage record and as slaves in the estate file of William Wesley Hudson.  We also identified another slave family in the estate who took the surname of Hudson.

We did wonder what happened to the slave Julius who ran away during the probate of  MU President Hudson's estate. Once again, we only found a few bits and pieces. We searched the census and marriage records and found that Julius Lenoir married a woman named Milly on November 16, 1865.  At the time of their marriage they had children: Narcissa (9), Emeline (7), Lenoria (4) and Juda (8 months).  There was also a marriage forJohn Lenoir and Harriet Arnold on January 13, 1866.  We assume there is a connection between the two Black Lenoir families, but at the moment, we can’t confirm or deny a relationship.  We reviewed the Parker Funeral Home Records (1892-1925) copied by June Stubbs and found Julius died or was buried on December 7, 1892.  We are still trying to put the pieces of his family together.

Dr. James P. Shannon
Since we have also been following slaves who worked at the University and were owned by MU Presidents or their affiliated families...we wanted to know if Julius also worked on campus. He is listed in the estate of William E. Hudson and later takes the surname of Lenoir.  The Lenoir name ties into the Columbia slave-owning family of.James Shannon the 2nd President of MU.
He was a neighbor to William W. Hudson and his daughter Frances married Dr. Walter T. Lenoir.   Frances owned a slave named Tony whom her father borrowed with her permission and hired out for labor services to the University of Missouri. The MU Curators paid Shannon for Tony's slave labor. [See The Whipping Post for a brief story about Tony]

President Shannon also had ties to John Batiste Lange Sr., one of Columbia first free residents of color -- serving as security for his freedom license. Lange married a slave owned by Shannon named Louisa and they had a large family of 13 children.  Lange Sr., was the father of John Lange Jr., who managed Blind Boone.   These bits and pieces demonstrate that the slaves of Hudson, Lenoir and Shannon families were all neighbors and would have interacted with each other.. perhaps on a social basis as well.  

Final Tidbit -- Families Intertwined
In a last tidbit -- the obituary of John Lange Jr.[Kansas City Sun, July 19, 1916, pg. 1] has some interesting commentary about his childhood friends:  "Mr. Lange was born in Harrisburg, KY Oct. 4, 1840 of a slave mother and free father, the latter being a French Creole.  He was a slave in the family of Hon. James Shannon, the second president of the Missouri State University.  He with Hon Richard Shannon, ex-superintendent of the Missouri State Schools and Hon. Gardiner Lathrop (his father John Hiram Lathrop was the 1st President of MU) were boys and playmates together..." 

While it may seem like a distraction from the DIGGS -- we found Harrison Diggs and his brothers associated with John Lange Sr.. and Jr. in their efforts to support the betterment of Columbia's African Americans community through education, entrepreneurship and  the development of houses of worship for both the Baptist and AME Churches congregations.

In my next post, I discuss questions 7-10 above and delve deeper into Harrison Digg's Civil War application, his civic activism and what we learned about one of his sons:  Arthur Diggs of Chicago, IL. 

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

Special Note:  Thanks to "Nannie" Pat Etienne and Vanette Hamilton for their much needed help editing my blog pots. It's still a journey (work in progress) so if you find something I need to correct -- please drop me a note offline.