Not even Old John.
The name I was seeking, of the former slave who, after emancipation, wrote his life story—at least, according to what my family had told me—was not something I found through diligent searching through source documents tucked deep within the recesses of court records. Nothing as challenging as that. It was simply included in an email from a distant cousin I had met through DNA testing.
I had known right away, back when I had seen that cousin's name on my DNA results, that we were related. He had, after all, the same last name as my grandmother's Aunt Fannie, the family's fascinating storyteller. Somewhere along the line, while I had been working on the exasperating story of Celestia, second wife of the widower George McClellan, this cousin filled me in on some perspective about that episode in our family history. It occurred to me that perhaps my newfound family contact might have known this other story, as well—the story of the once-enslaved man who later wrote his life story.
I couldn't believe I had already had the email with the name of this former slave. So much for needless searching. Perhaps it did my soul some good. Like adversity is good for us.
Last week, I had gone back to my email history to dig up the last message this cousin and I had exchanged. I just wanted to send him a note that we were headed to Florida, and could he spare some time to meet over a cup of coffee?
I never did send that email request. By the time I read his last note, I was off on a cyberized wild goose chase—but this time, armed with a specific name.
In the email, this cousin had given me the briefest of explanations:
[This man] grew up a slave on the McClellan Plantation and then continued to live in and around Wellborn, a storyteller and preacher apparently respected by both black and white.
My cousin, of course, mentioned that one other detail: a name. The man I should look for might be the one known in Wellborn, back then after manumission, as King Stockton.