Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Beyond Just a Name


It all started with a book. No, make that a story about a book: my mother's retelling of her Aunt Fannie's spellbinding stories about life in territorial Florida, shared from a book which someone inspired and gifted to her father, my second great-grandfather William McClellan.

Though as a child, I never knew that someone's name, I still wanted to learn more about him. Finding the details regarding those who took their place in our family's story can be challenging, but it is these people—the friends, associates and neighbors—whose connections with our family can help paint the picture of what our ancestors were like.

Even before I knew his name, I always knew King Stockton was someone whose life was intertwined with my family's story, because our star family storyteller passed his stories down to the next generation. Aunt Fannie's stories were so memorable, they awoke in me, for one, a love for family history—even though I never met her, let alone the people in her stories who lived long before that. Her stories were so woven into family tradition that by the time they reached my ears, one couldn't be quite sure they were anything more than just that: stories.

To make matters more difficult for me, once I decided in my little-kid heart to pursue this story, I had no way to discover the name of this man, the one who, when he was free and could have done otherwise, chose to keep coming back to visit my second great-grandfather, William H. McClellan.

The story, of course, begins much further back in time than King Stockton's regular visits to the McClellan home in Wellborn, Florida. Actually, we can push back one more generation, to William McClellan's mother Sidney Tison, on the eve of her 1830 wedding day at the Tison residence in Glynn County, Georgia. Though her father, Job Tison, had passed away several years before, his will had not been settled—but despite that fact, since Sidney had come of age, with her wedding and subsequent move to the McClellan homestead in Florida, she was to take along with her the "gift" bequeathed to her from his will.

That "gift" was a young mother by the name of Hester, who remained with Sidney the rest of her life. Hester, as you've likely deduced, had been enslaved on the Tison property, and with Job Tison's passing, had been "given" to Sidney.

About the same time as Sidney's removal to Wellborn, Hester gave birth to a son—the one who eventually came to be known as King Stockton. When Hester traveled with Sidney to Florida, Hester's son went with her—and the two remained for the rest of their lives in and around Wellborn.

Part of that story I learned through family tales passed down through oral tradition, thanks to some family storytellers over the generations. But because I always wanted to learn more about Hester and her son King, I eventually learned how to do genealogical research and, with digitized records becoming more easily accessible, found out a few more details about King Stockton.

Once I learned his actual name, I located him in the first national enumeration taken after manumission—the 1870 census. There, still in Wellborn, King Stockton was listed at age forty, with his wife Louvenia and six children in their household. From that point, I followed the Stockton family through each decennial record, moving from Suwannee County to Shalmanezer in nearby Columbia County in 1900, and eventually to the location of his death in Saint Johns County in 1929—nearly a hundred years of age.

Tracing anything more than that was challenging, though. I had hoped to follow his family's line through the generations—I had, after all, obtained a copy of the booklet which he had once given to my second great-grandfather so many years before, and it had mentioned nine children of the Stockton family. But where did they go? Some of them seemed to simply disappear from the area by the time of King Stockton's passing.

Finding one note about King Stockton's stature in the community was indeed a clue to guide my research in more ways than one. It was literally a footnote in a journal article which gave a glimpse of who might have been included in his "FAN Club" circles. That, in itself, provides me a lesson for what I must do in order to discover anything more about this man and his family: I'll have to widen my search circle, including looking at resources genealogists may not usually access.

That type of search can take its first cue from the very source of King Stockton's story in print: the actual author of the booklet which provided the details of King Stockton's life. For author A. L. Lewis, as a part of the Stockton "FAN Club"—friends, associates, and neighbors—would have had some reason to connect with the man whose story we are seeking. We'll look for some clues to see what the association between the two men might reveal about the life story of King Stockton. 


  1. I'm glad to see you writing again about this fascinating story. I look forward to this thread of history.

  2. I really enjoyed your research that led you to this point. Can't wait to learn more!


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