Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Before getting into the story of the book about my family's home, we first need to get the lay of the land. This family—McClellan by name—had settled in a tiny portion of northern Florida called Wellborn. While settlers first started arriving in the Spanish-controlled area near Wellborn as early as the 1820s, Florida didn't actually become a United States territory until 1821, and wasn't a state until 1845, at which point, Wellborn was considered part of Columbia County.
The originating date for the county in which Wellborn is now included was December 21, 1858. As can be seen in a section map of Suwannee County from the Florida Historical Society archives, Wellborn is not far from the current border between the new county and its former county, Columbia County. When, over the years, the McClellan family was enumerated in different counties, I suspect the changing details just trailed the changing borderlines of each subsequent county.
Suwannee County got its name from the river which snakes its way around all but the eastern border of the county. The river, in turn, supposedly got its name from either a miserably inaccurate rendering of the Spanish name for the river—San Juan de Guacara, or Saint John of Antiquity—or from an equally inept rendering of the Cherokee word "Sawani," meaning "Echo River."
Speculation about the size of the county seems as disputed as the origin of its name. According to one source, the population in Suwannee County in 1860—the year of its first census—was 2,303. Another report cites the number as 3,303. Not surprisingly for this southern location, the county contained a smaller number of white residents to that of other races. Of those of African descent, only one person was listed, in that 1860 census, as a free person.
It was there, just outside the tiny village of Wellborn in Suwannee County, that George Edmund McClellan and his wife Sidney Tison McClellan raised the seven of their children who survived to adulthood. There, the family showed up in the early 1830s, and could be accounted for since the 1840 census, working the land surrounding the lake that bears his surname. There, George McClellan stayed until his death in 1866—and his remains were laid to rest in the cemetery by that same name.
The McClellans weren't the only ones who worked that acreage surrounding the lake, of course. That's where my mother's story about the book comes in: the book's author surely was connected to some of those who did work that land. If only the schedules appended to the 1850 and 1860 census known as "Slave Schedules" actually included the names of these people, perhaps I could pinpoint the name of the one who wrote the book I'm seeking.
Whether there ever was such a book in my grandmother's trunk, I can't say. But I can say there certainly was a young slave boy living on the McClellan property who fit the description of the man who, one day, became the one who wrote his story.
Above: Example of heading to the 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedule for the County of Suwannee, Florida, in which George McClellan was listed; courtesy Ancestry.com.