Jesse Babb – An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery Shrouded by Slavery (Part 2 of 3)

In part one of this story, we discussed Jesse’s life after slavery and discovered the drama that followed his death. In part two we will work to trace Jesse’s life in bondage. But tracking a former slave back from 1870 is a big challenge. In genealogy circles it is well known that this is the end of the road for the majority of African Americans in their research. It is a brick wall that most often can’t be broken through.

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Fortunately, that is NOT the case for Jesse Babb! It took some doing, but I’ve been able to uncover his Babb foundations and assign him a place in the Babb tree. Let me take you on Jesse’s path of rediscovery:

Problem Statement

As I mentioned there are numerous challenges associated with African American research prior to the civil war. Additionally, the late 19th Century Census’ each have their own limitations:

  • The 1890 Census was the first to ask for the city you were born in. Others only recorded the State. It burned in a great fire many years before it would have been released to the public or digitized. This leaves a 20 year gap in the records that is very hard to bridge in many cases. By 1900 the town of birth had been dropped from the Census, only deepening the loss.
  • The 1880 Census is typically the best of the bunch of those that remain. It asks your parents birth states as well as your own. It is also the first to address how the people in the household are related. However, they dropped the question regarding the estimated Real and Pesonal Estate value present in previous Censuses. Additionally, they dropped the question on whether you own or rent your home, which shed light on the Socioeconomic Status of the individual in the records.
  • The 1850-1870 Census records the Value of your Real and Personal Estate, but only asks the state of your birth. The parents’ birth locations are not recorded.
  • However the 1850 & 1860 Censuses for the enslaved didn’t record their names, only the names of the Slave Owner. They are typically of limited value for this reason and not a go to set of records.

In addition to all of the above, history simply didn’t record the names of slaves except in a transactional way. Auctions and inheritances were the main vehicles for this information. It also isn’t as if someone prepared a list of all the slaves that were freed along with what plantation they came from. The British did that in Barbados, which is super helpful. But Brittain did it in an organized manner. They passed a law and gave ample notice. No war was fought, and the government stayed in tact to be able to accomplish these tasks. In America, none of that happened. So, we must scrounge through dank books with poor penmanship to try to piece together a snail of a trail from someone’s life.

Jesse’s Truth

Because of Jesse’s age and location we can surmise that he is a former slave. He is bi-racial which likely indicates that he descends from a slave owner. Of the available evidence there wasn’t anything that pointed to the city or county in which he was born. While many freedmen stayed alongside their former masters and became sharecroppers, that isn’t everyone’s story, and it clearly isn’t Jesse’s.

No Babbs are known to have lived in Haywood Co, NC prior to Jesse’s 1870 Census record, which indicates that he moved once freed. But from where?

Zip! Nada! Nothing!

I first stopped to look at the 1860 Census to see what Babbs lived in Haywood County, NC. The answer was resounding. Zip! Nada! Nothing!

I then checked the other Census dates for 1850 and before. Zip! Nada! Nothing!

I then tried to look through the death certificates of Jesse and Pricilla’s children. I found Zip! Nada! Nothing!

I finally stopped for the night as it was late, and I was coming up empty. I theorized that unless I could name at least a County location this effort was doomed.

Two days passed before I made a fresh attempt. My mind was working on the mystery…or was it the enigma?

A Shower of Enlightenment

Either way, it came to me in the shower on day 2. While I wouldn’t be able to find Jesse by name in the 1850 or 1860 Census, I would still have a list of possibilities to narrow my search.

So, I went back to work and pulled up a query of slave owners named Babb in South Carolina in 1860. There are only 9 records and 8 of them are from Laurens County, SC. In this business, that’s what we call a result!

Figure 1: 1860 Slave Census entries for SC

There were only two that had a person matching Jesse’s description. Those are for James Kellett Babb & his brother Abner. James was the eldest child and Abner the 6th child and 5th son of Sampson Babb (1766-1851). Both are a mere 5 Census pages apart.

The 1850 version of these records doesn’t shed any additional light on this relationship. Which is odd, because I was able to find Jesse listed in Sampson’s Estate Records in 1851. But I get ahead of myself.

Because of this, a DNA report may not yield a definitive conclusion. He may or may not be the biological son of Sampson or his two sons. It is certainly possible that Jesse was brought into the fold sometime after his birth rather than having been born on a Babb plantation. Regardless, this is where he would have taken his surname and that is what we are truly following here.

Seeing that Sampson died shortly before the civil war, I decided to look for his Estate Records. I was pleased to find them and although they are significantly shorter, they provided some valuable pieces of this puzzle.

Sampson’s Estate Records

Sampson’s will makes no mention of his slaves. So, they weren’t given to a particular child. They are, however, listed as part of the Inventory/Appraisal of the estate. They each had significant values which ranged depending on sex and age. There are 17 souls on this page, starting about 2/3 of the way down on the left and finishing 4 lines in on the 2nd column.

Figure 2: A page from the Appraisal of the Estate of Sampson Babb

Jesse is listed on this page, but without any corroborating information. As I continued through the paperwork, I found where he had gone.

He was sold off to Alston (another of Sampson’s sons). When I first saw this record, it was once again late at night and I dismissed it when I saw that it said “boy.” Jesse would have been 37 years old. He was no boy! I went off on a goose chase elsewhere, only to return to these documents to take a closer look. I wondered if the term boy was used in the derogatory sense.

There are two Charlotte’s in the inventory, one is the mother of two children who are first on the list on the first page, and the other is the one that was listed with Jesse in the sale to Alston. That Charlotte is listed in the second column of the first page. Regardless, the inventory does note children and only counts two of them. It is my belief that the derogatory reference was used in this instance and that this is our Jesse. The process of elimination makes this the only logical choice. He is the slave of Sampson Babb.

The online records are sparse at time, but is seems that after 1851, Jesse made his way from Alston to either James Kellett Babb or to Abner. As James Kellett is one of the potential fathers, he is the most likely answer. However, the younger son Abner is also a possibility for where he resided. Abner could not have been his father as he was simply too young.

Abner is the “Happier” of the two Possibilities

The reason is that the person who was stationed with Abner in 1860 had been manumitted. I was unfamiliar with this term and had to look it up. It is defined as someone who has been “released from slavery; set free”. It is similar to a word we commonly think of as Emancipation, but there is an important difference.

Emancipation is the process of freeing slaves through government action. Manumission takes place when masters free their slaves voluntarily. When a government ends slavery completely, the process is known as abolition1.

The ingenuity and estate building that Jesse did in his two decades of life after the civil war would seem to indicate someone who had an early start. It could be that he was manumitted because of his kinship and chose to stay with his family who were at Abner’s plantation. We just don’t yet know.

Who is Jesse’s Daddy?

Who’s your daddy is a favorite game of ours at the Babb Family Association. This was popularized by the hunt for Phillip Babb of the Isles of Shoals’ father.

A DNA test will help to confirm or disprove this theory, but it can’t reveal the exact person in Sampson’s family unit that fathered Jesse. It is technically possible that three of Sampson’s children could also have fathered Jesse. They are Martin, James Kellett and William Martin. They would have been 23, 19 and 17 respectively at the time Jesse was conceived.

The 1880 Census shows that Jesse’s father was born in South Carolina, so this precludes Sampson from being his birth father, if this is to be believed. Sampson was actually born in Virginia, but a freed slave might know nothing of his former owner other than where he lived for the entire time the slave had been alive. It is yet another unanswerable possibility.

Given the information currently available, I have assigned Jesse to be the son of James Kellett Babb. James was single until the age of 30, which gives him ample opportunity, not that marriage stopped these acts.

We can’t know the details of his life, troubles, or tribulations. But these records give us a glance into the over achiever that is Jesse Babb.

Chapter 3

I had only intended that this story would have two chapters. However, a known male descendant has come to light and has agreed to take a Y-DNA test to try and help sort out the question of whether these Lauren’s County Babbs were his parents or his owners…or both!

Stay tuned for Chapter 3!

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