Putnam FL’s First Free Black Settlers, Corrections

Previously, I posted a list of the first free black settlers of Putnam County Florida. There were 12 households; totaling 35 individuals. I obtained the names from the 1850 census that I found on the Putnam County Florida Historical Society website.

Although I took all 35 names from their book, the cover information only lists 10 individuals as free blacks.

1850 Census Cover

1850 Census Cover

I was quite confused as to how I could go from having 35 names to having only ten. That was when I finally remembered that the original boundary for Putnam County was the St. Johns River. Today, Putnam includes some of the eastern side of the river. But in 1850, the St. Johns marked the county’s easternmost boundary. Putnam doesn’t get the eastern bank of the St. Johns until almost 1870.

I found the missing families in the St. Johns County census.

It must have taken quite a while to sort out which families in St. Johns County had become residents of Putnam County after the modern boundary was established. Someone had to spend a lot of time with the local land records to sort all of that out. And since this was done before Google and Microsoft Office, I really admire their dedication.

I’m a bit of a narcissist so I’ve decided to focus on the families who were living within the original 1849 boundaries, for now.

This reduces Putnam’s first “free black” families down to 3 families, in 5 households.

FATIO, Rose Ann 45; FATIO, Edward 12 (Black)

The Fatio family may have left the region soon after this census. Between the 1850 and 1860 census several free black families left Florida for the Caribbean, or basically anywhere else. I found what could be them on the 1860 New York census. That they moved to New York is plausible since several other families they knew had already gone.

HILL, Carlos 50 (Mulatto)

Carlos may have been a former slave of the Hill family, or may have been born free. There was another Carlos Hill on the previous list, but I still have not established any connection between the two. Unfortunately, I do not find him on the 1860 census so he may have left or died before that census.

CLARKE, Amelia 29 (Mulatto)

CLARKE, Susan 30; COLE, Mary “Laura” 7; COLE, John Henry 4; ROSSIGNOL, Susan “Lucy” 2 (Mulatto)

CLARKE, Philip 26; CLARKE, Alexander 23 (Mulatto)

These three households are all members of the same family line. Susan Clarke is the daughter of the former slave, James Clarke, whose parents were George J F Clarke and Flora Leslie.

Flora was a slave (and possible daughter) of George J F’s employer, John Leslie of Panton Leslie and Co. James Clarke was their oldest son. Susan is James’ oldest child, and Flora and George J F’s granddaughter. Laura, John, and Lucy are Susan’s oldest three children. The father of Laura and John is Archibald H. Cole. The father of Lucy, and the rest of Susan’s later children, is Louis H. Rossignol. Both are white residents of Putnam County; although at this time Cole’s property is east of the river and not part of the county yet.

Philip and Alex Clarke are Susan’s uncles through her grandfather’s later relationship with the slave Hannah/Anna Benet (Hannah/Anna Clarke). In his will, he made arrangements to secure the freedom of Hannah/Anna and her children, including Philip and Alex, who were also slaves.

Amelia Anderson Clarke is the wife of Susan’s younger brother George; who was, at this time, away with two of his brothers helping to create the state of Washington.

All of the individuals listed above are considered free blacks and are subject to the slaves codes, and later black codes and Jim Crow laws.

This is the only surviving picture of the free black Susan S. Clarke (1817-1906)

Susan S. Clarke (1817-1906) Her father was born into slavery; making her legal status “free black”

Siblings Mary Laura and John Henry Cole

Siblings Mary Laura and John Henry Cole; they were classified as being free blacks for most of their lives.

You may have noticed that these first free black settlers aren’t what we would consider black today. During Susan’s time, the whole concept of “white” and “black” hadn’t quite been fleshed out yet. Jane Landers (Black Society in Spanish Florida) and Daniel Schafer (A Class of People Neither Freemen Nor Slaves) have both written on this subject. I strongly suggest reading their work because they explain all of this much better than I do.

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About pynomrah

I like stuff, and things.
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