Rachael A Pauper

A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin

April 25, 2010

Recently while photographing old deed books for the Probate Court's Madison County Records Center as a volunteer, my attention was caught by an entry in Deed Book P. Normally, I avoid reading any particular entry in order to maintain my speed of capturing each page of the large books. There are almost a hundred such books covering the 1800s here. They average over 600 pages each, and I photograph them to digitally preserve the recordings of land transactions during the 1800s here. However, the item of Book P on page 270 didn't fit as a land transaction. Its heading was "Rachael A Pauper". My first thought was that "Pauper" was a strange surname. Furthermore, it was highly unusual that there was no other person listed as the recipient of the transaction. That motivated me to delay long enough to see what this record was all about.

This seven-page record about Rachael began with an 1813 court action in Virginia. Rachael was a slave who had been allowed to sue her "owner" (John Draper Sr.) in the Quarterly Sessions Court of Wythe County for her freedom. The first page indicated that Rachael was joined in the suit by her brother Sam and a child. The complaint was that the owner had committed "trespass, assault and battery, and false imprisonment" plus unspecified "other wrongs" against them. The testimony related back to events of March 1, 1770, when Thomas Clay (a grandson of Henry Clay) attacked them "with staves and swords" in Southam Parish of Cumberland County, Virginia. They were taken as slaves and served Thomas Clay for several years until they were given to William Clay (uncle of Thomas) as security on a debt. In 1774 the ownership of Rachael and her child was legally transferred by Thomas to William's son Mitchell Clay. At that time Rachael was described as a Negro aged 20 with child Juda, age 7. This would mean that Rachael at age 13 gave birth to Juda. Mitchell subsequently sold Rachael and Juda to John Draper for "120 pounds". The 1813 suit against Draper requested "60 pounds" damages, later specified as $500.

The court in 1813 awarded Rachael and her daughter their freedom plus "one penny". However, before the ruling was implemented, the decision was appealed by Draper. Depositions were taken in 1818 and 1819 from Susannah Clay (wife of Thomas, then deceased). Testimony over the years revealed that Thomas had also been separately sued by Sam for his freedom, which was granted around 1815. Furthermore, John Clay, another son of William, had owned a slave named Peter who had been freed by the court. Yet another son of William, Elijah Clay had owned slaves James and Bess, who had also been likewise freed by the court. All of these presumed slaves had been determined to be descendants of "Chance," a Catawba Indian woman who was mother of "Nann" and "Judy". Nann was Rachael's mother, and under the laws of slavery, the mother's status determined a child's freedom or enslavement. The law did not establish freedom for children based upon the father's status as free or slave so that owners could produce enslaved Mulatto children by their slaves. It is hard to imagine, but this was not an uncommon practice to increase slave holdings.

Rachael and her child were granted freedom in 1826. That took far too many years in court actions. During the extended legal proceedings she and her daughter took the surname Fendley, which may be a variant of the name Finley or even Finney. There was even a Bouldin involved in the litigations, and all of the surnames appear here in the pioneer days of Madison County. The records were entered into Madison County's files in 1835 since probate records documented slaves as property. "Free papers" (evidence of emancipation) were necessary for those no longer enslaved. Rachael probably never came here, but the 1830 census shows free non-White "Jenny Findley" as head of a household at age 24-36 in Huntsville. It is likely that this was Rachael's child "Juda". If so, that would explain why the case history was filed here, to protect Juda (Jenny) from further threat of enslavement.