My brother recently uncovered the will for my ancestor, William Calvin Ray in Murray County, Georgia. In it he mentions “my yellow boy slave Allen.” this is my first encounter with a slave owner in my family tree. I have a lot of ancestors in the South, so I figured a slave owner would turn up, but this is the first one. It makes me feel, well, kind of sad. It doesn’t make me feel ashamed, really. I have encountered ancestors doing plenty of things that should make me feel ashamed, I suppose, but I can’t feel guilty for what someone else did. It is their problem, not mine, and no one can fully make up for anything they did. I feel sad that such things happened, but I know that there is nothing I can do to change that it did.
But maybe I can help a little bit. If there is anyone looking for their ancestor Allen Ray, maybe I can help them find him. Maybe Allen Ray can be remembered as something—someone—more than a slave.
In the will, William Calvin Ray bequeaths Allen to his son, William J Ray, “until my son Benjamin F. arrives at the age of twenty one years, at which time my boy Allen is to be set free.” Benjamin F. Ray would have turned 21 in 1865. The slaves were “officially” emancipated in 1863, but the South did not really let go of them until the Civil War was over in 1865.
Here is the 1850 Slave Schedule, a part of the 1850 census where slaves were listed as numbers next to their master’s name. One slave is listed as owned by William Ray of Murray County, Georgia. The slave is male, age 23, mulatto. “Mulatto” and “yellow” (as stated in the will) both refer to an individual who was part black, part white. So Allen was part white. This makes me wonder if William Calvin Ray was actually his father, but I know of no way to either prove or disprove that theory. It also means that it is possible that Allen or some of his descendants could have “passed for white.” This kind of occurrence was actually more common than many people believe. In Georgia, about 9 percent of people who identify themselves as “white” have African-American DNA present somewhere in the last six generations of their ancestry. This article contains an excellent discussion of the subject.
After the Civil War, freed slaves often took the names of their former masters. That’s why I titled this post “Allen Ray,” as I am assuming that is what his name was after he was freed. This might not be the case, but it happened often enough that it is a good starting point.
So there he is: Allen, born a slave in about 1827, lived in Murray County, Georgia as a slave of the Ray family at least from 1850-1863, was free by 1865, and after that, he may have stayed in Georgia or traveled anywhere in the country to get a job. Allen Ray is a common enough name that there are too many records and no way to know which one is him. Who knows if his descendants will ever find him. But if they are looking for him, at least I tried to make it a little bit easier for them.