February Theme: Branching Out
Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. The elements of any good story, including real life ones.
Maps, of course, are the logical source for Where. If I come across a street address, I’ll plug it into Google Maps. Sometimes that address ends up in the middle of an intersection or parking lot. But as they said in my science classes, negative results are still results. (Anybody who plays Wordle knows that!)
But other times, it shows how far an ancestor was from city center. What part of town they lived in. Some old maps include names, showing who the neighbors were.
When I saw this week’s topic, my mind went to some research I did for a genealogy class I was teaching at Oakland cemetery in Atlanta a few years ago. It was the first time I got to use the 1892 “Bird’s eye view” map of Atlanta. I own a physical copy, but it is accessible online: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3924a.pm001220/
I pulled up my power point from the class to refresh my memory about the map usage, but found myself so enthralled with Augustus’s life, I decided to share more of it here than just the map portion. After all, don’t maps often take us on long and winding roads?
Augustus Thompson was a former enslaved man who became a blacksmith. He was born 8 Jul 1837 and died 12 Mar 1910. His gravestone at Oakland has an anvil on top. Besides the anvil representing his profession, other symbols on the marker give us clues about his life. The crown at the top and the open gates are both religious symbols – representing the passage to heaven and the reward. The 3-link chain is a symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Augustus was responsible for organizing the Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows, the first fraternal organization in Atlanta for African Americans.
On the 1880 census, Augustus is married to Lovie Ann and has two stepchildren. They are living at 79 Connally Street. The early residents in this neighborhood – now called Summerhill – were primarily freed slaves and Jewish immigrants.
Another source gave his address as 159 Connally street. But I didn’t find either address on Google maps. Streets must have been renumbered at some point. The 1880 census taker went next to King street and Werner’s Avenue. Then Martin St. I can see the general area where Augustus lived, but Connally is a long street. (By the way, Connally St is named for Patrick Connely, who is also buried at Oakland.)
In the Atlanta Constitution archives there is a notice of a courthouse sale to pay debts. The sale is to take place in January of 1900. On the 1900 census Augustus’s address is still on Connally. In fact, on the 1910 and 1930 censuses, his widow, 2nd wife Katie, is at 503 Connally, and it says she owns the house. Apparently he settled his debts. The newspaper gives the property description as northwest corner of Connally and Richardson. That makes it easy to find on Google, and the address matches – 503. 70 feet deep along Connally (road on right). And 160 feet on Richardson (to left). Google maps show me what the property looks like now. Zillow says this house was built in 1989.
Here’s where I roll out the old Atlanta map. I find Connally St. I get out my magnifying glass and find Richardson. … and here is his house…. The large building at the other end of Richardson was the only school for Blacks at the time – later renamed E P Johnson Elementary and has since been razed.
Atlanta History Center’s online offerings show a picture of a house on Connally street in the “colored section” that was torn down to build the Capitol Homes, a public housing development. https://album.atlantahistorycenter.com/digital/collection/AHA/id/74/rec/49 This was north of where Augustus lived but gives an idea of the kind of house Augustus may have had.
Another book I found online, The Black Side by Rev E. R. Carter, 1894, gave me a little more detail. http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/p95rv I didn’t know what FLT and MVP were. I learned that FLT was an Odd Fellows abbreviation, that stands for Friendship, Love, and Truth. And it is usually written inside of the 3 links of chain like that on his gravestone. Still don’t know about MVP. I emailed another Oakland volunteer, who does our fraternal organization tours, and he didn’t know either, but thinks it represents some sort of an office he may have held. [Update: Another Oakland volunteer says it means Most Venerable Patriarch.] The biography goes on for a couple more pages, but the first thing that caught my eye was this pre-Civil War info, which is difficult to come by. It gives his mother’s name, Minerva Lee. I assume Thompson was his father’s surname, but it doesn’t say. It does say his father was a freeman in Mississippi. Minerva and her four children were left in a will to a Mr. Julius Sappho of Madison, GA. This gave me a bunch of things to research. First I looked for free blacks named Thompson in Jackson, Miss. Did not find anything! I turned my attention to Julius Sappho in Madison, GA. NOTHING! These should have been two great leads, and I wasn’t able to verify either. No sign of Minerva, either.
The book’s biography also gave me some information about Augustus during the war. It seems his blacksmithing skills were used at Athens by Confed Gun Factory Co, and later at Augusta Machine Works. Everyone who worked at these places during the war was part of the Confederate army, the labor force, organized as the 23rd Battalion, Georgia Volunteers. Another great clue! And another clue that goes nowhere. None of the rosters of this battalion mention Augustus.
Information after the war is a little more detailed. In 1865 he worked for Augusta Cotton Factory. 1866-1870 he worked for GA RR in Augusta and Union Point. He married Lovie Ann in 1866. In 1870 he came to Atlanta – worked at [rail-]road shops as boiler manufacturer. When the road was leased to Jos. E. Brown he was let go.
He went into business for himself. “Hard work and temperate habits he has realized a snug little fortune, and is well prepared for rainy days. He does business on S. Pryor street, rear of No. 69.” [The Black Side; p. 73]
He ran for office a couple times – never winning, but was recognized as a leader in the black community.
Lovie Ann died in 1888. An account of her death says she died at her home, at “the corner of Richardson and Connally streets,” confirming the location. In 1889 Augustus married again to Katie McClendon. Katie is buried with him at Oakland, although his is the only marker in the lot. I couldn’t find any documentation for where Lovie was buried. However, in the Oakland books, I found a listing for L. A. Thompson, age 48, who died July 8, 1888. She is listed in the African American section, but without a burial location. Records were poorly kept, and burial locations were not often recorded. This HAS to be Lovie. Initials are correct, death year and age are correct – too many coincidences. I asked the sexton to show me the plot abstract. Augustus is buried in grave #2, and Katie in #3. There is no one listed for grave #1. Until someone proves me wrong, I’m gonna say that’s where Lovie is buried.
I found Augustus and Katie on the 1900 census, still on Connally St. Neither of them can read or write. It was illegal to educate slaves. A girl, age 12, also named Kate, is listed as their daughter. Her birthdate is given as January 1888, the year Lovie died. But it also says that Augustus and Kate (senior) have been married 14 years which I know to be false because I have their marriage record, dated 19 June 1889. I am guessing child Kate is a step-daughter, by way of a previous relationship of Kate the mother. Kate the daughter, by the way, can read, write, and attends school. An opportunity not available to her parents.
After exhausting what I could find on Augustus’s immediate family, I took another look at the slave issue. I found a 1840 census for a man named SJ Saffold, who owned 21 slaves in Morgan Co. (where the town of Madison is located.) I thought perhaps the J stood for Julius, but his name is Seaborn Jones. On the 1850 census, though, His wife’s name is Julia. After reading his Find a Grave memorial, where I learned he was a respected doctor in the area, I searched for him a bit, and found some personal letters from the time period that someone put online.
His wife Julia, wrote a long, convoluted letter to her mother in 1836. http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~txjessy/genealogy/letters.htm#JSHSaffold2 She writes about her brother Augustus who is going through a separation or divorce with his wife, and their fight over who gets the children and slaves. She mentions her sister Minerva. Obviously, she is referring to all white people here.
It may be all random coincidence and conjecture…. On the other hand, “Southern slave families typically drew from a small pool of names used repeatedly, honoring loved ones or the master’s family.” [Elizabeth Shown Mills, National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94, Sept 2006] Perhaps Mr. Julian Sappho is really Mrs. Julia Saffold. She survived her husband, so at the time of emancipation, she would have been the slave owner of record. Coincidence is the downfall of many a genealogist, but sometimes they are the only clues we get.
[In the interest of keeping this post a readable length, I’ve removed info about his first wife, his stepson, and his parents. Here’s a nice blog post about his stepson, though. https://augustamagazine.com/2019/11/05/growing-their-legacy/ ]