Friday, March 1, 2019

Stepping Into Uncertainty

With the story of King Stockton—the former slave whose biography was the little book I always knew about since childhood—it is easy to step forward from that point and catalog his children, grandchildren, and even the descendants he never got to meet.

To move backwards from that point isn't a path as clearly defined. The main obstacle, moving back in time beyond 1865, is entrance into a dark domain in which ancestors of an African-American heritage were not only stripped of their rights, but even of their full name. When we search for King Stockton, before 1865, we can only search for King. How would his descendants know to find King's parents?

Just as I didn't know King Stockton's name but did know part of his story, I also knew about his mother—but as before, I just didn't know her name.

Finding the name of this unknown former slave not only gave me his name, it gave me his mother's. Now I can connect stories with specific individuals.

Part of making that connection, of course, was what led me to obtain a copy of the booklet on King Stockton's life. There, at the very beginning, the biographer—A. L. Lewis—gave us the name of King's parents. It turns out he was named after his father. His mother's name was given as Hester McClellan, a curious detail, knowing that that was the surname of the household in which she and her son spent the remainder of their years of servitude.

The biography also mentions that King Stockton was born on a plantation in Glynn County, Georgia—the property of one "Job Tyson." Job—whose name appeared in various spelling permutations, depending on which record contained it—was a well-known innkeeper along the old post road which once marked the boundary between Wayne County and Glynn County.

It was one of Job Tison's daughters—Sidnah or Sidney by name—who married George McClellan. While I have yet to locate any documentation of that event, the marriage likely happened in Glynn County, Georgia, rather than having an unmarried Sidney travel to George's home in the wilds of frontier Florida for the ceremony. The wedding was likely around 1830—a guess based on the birth of the McClellans' first child in 1831.

We have another source for estimating these murky time spans: that of the King Stockton narrative. According to his biographer, King, born in January, was brought with his mother to Florida at the age of seven months. The narrative of the King Stockton booklet makes it sound very much as if King and his mother were slaves of George McClellan, but if we fast forward to the other end of Sidney's life when she dies, not leaving a will, it turns out King, his mother, and several other slaves were considered the property not of George but of his wife, Sidney.

The question is: if King was born on the Tison plantation and then came to Florida with his mother and with Job Tison's daughter Sidney, wouldn't it be more likely that they were considered property of the Tison family, not the McClellans? Since they are mentioned in Sidney's probate file—though her husband George was still very much alive—wouldn't they have come, previously, as her inheritance from one of her parents?

As it turns out, long before Sidney and George were married, Sidney's father had died and her mother had remarried. Finding Job's will and probate records may help identify any mention of King's father and mother, if they both came from that same plantation.

For this, however, we will need to rely on old fashioned snail mail, for such records are not available on the modern genealogy world's go-to online resources—which, of course, means we will have to wait to uncover the answer. In the meantime, however, next week is probably a good time to start disclosing some of the oral history passed down through my family concerning both King and his mother.  


  1. What a ride! This is fascinating. I Know I keep saying that every time I comment here, but it's so true. I hope to someday read a book you write about King Stockton and/or the McClellans. But for me this blog is even better - I am following the creative making of a story that starts with genealogy and grows into so much more.

    1. Lisa, I hope to someday write such a book! Or at least be able to share this story more widely. Thanks for your comments and for following the story with us!

  2. I love reading each "chapter" every morning. You have such a gift for story telling.

    1. Thank you, Miss Merry. It is a story from the heart. I cannot say enough how much it means for me to be able to discover the truth about this story I remember from my childhood.

  3. I am thrilled you are are discovering this story layer by layer:)


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