When Reality Hit Me - Finding My Enslaved Ancestors by Bernice A. Bennett

*When Reality Hit!


Finding My Enslaved Ancestors…

*This brief was published in the HOMPLACE - Fall/Winter 2011- Volume VI, Number 2  

A Newsletter for the Old Edgefield District African American Genealogy Society

Headquartered is located at the Tompkins Library, Edgefield, SC.


By Bernice A.Bennett


I have shared this story with several people and have always been asked how it felt to find my enslaved ancestors.  My emotions were everywhere!  Shock, sadness, happiness to finally know and, just peaceful!  Maybe peace came when reality finally hit me! This is how I explain how I felt when I found my 3rd great-grandfather as a slave, listed as a piece of property because I am a descendant of a slave.


That should not have surprised me, so why peaceful?  Well, I could finally put one chapter in my history - my ancestor's history to rest.


Happiness!  Why happy? Does this make any sense?  I cannot explain that emotion.  I don’t feel angry.  I have accepted that slavery is the dark spot in American history, it did happen!  I cannot deny that piece of reality.  Yet, I know.  I know who my ancestors are and I am happy that they were found.


Sadness, oh yes.  Why sadness?  Sad to know that my ancestors were not free!  Sad to know that they were someone else's property to be sold like the cattle and, the furniture and, the farm equipment! SAD, JUST PLAIN OLD SAD!


Most African Americans want to know more about their enslaved ancestors.  However, tracing their ancestors back to slavery is often extremely frustrating and difficult.  This is because most records on slaves do not identify them by first and last names. 


In some cases the researcher might be able to find an enslaved ancestor on the owner’s last will and testament that describes how the slave will become the property of a family member or sold. Slaves may also be included in estate inventories and bills of sale.


In other cases, the enslaved person maybe identified through a slave runaway ad, slave sale, or through manumission papers.

In addition, African Americans may also focus on searching the surnames for their enslaved ancestors.


Nevertheless, whatever method is chosen; African Americans will face an interesting journey and task to find their ancestors that maybe very emotional and painful.  However, when reality does it and the enslaved ancestor is found, the journey will be well worth the effort.


I went through a journey several years ago to find my enslaved ancestors and have been asked how I did it.


I knew from oral history that my paternal grandparents were Mattie Kemp and William Friar Alexander from the Edgefield and Greenwood Counties of South Carolina.  My great grandparents are Richard Kemp and Anna Frazier and great –great grandparent’s are Andrew and Matilda Kemp and, Boston and Martha Fraser(Frazier).


Finding my enslaved ancestors was part of a larger journey to discover living South Carolina kinfolks[1] and, hopefully one day to identify the slave owners of my family.


Since I was searching in the Edgefield area, joining the Old Edgefield District Genealogy Society was part of my education and research process to understand my ancestral home. This education included attending my first South Carolina Genealogy workshop[2].

Due to earlier discussions with the Director of the Old Edgefield Tompkins Library Director-Tonya Browder, she knew I was searching for African Americans with the Kemp surname and that research had been completed on my ancestors from the 1900[3] through the 1870[4] US censuses.  With those records, my newly identified cousins (Sheryl Kemp Bailey and her husband Harris Bailey) and I decided that we would focus on finding our enslaved 2nd great grandparents - Andrew and Matilda Kemp[5].


I met Dr. Constance McNeill (Connie) at the South Carolina Genealogy workshop.  She was friendly, shared pictures of her ancestors and was very persistent that I visit Edgefield, South Carolina.


Because of the invitation to visit Edgefield, I asked my sister and cousins [6] to go with me to the Tompkins Library - home of Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society.


On July 30, 2004, we arrived at the library and were greeted by Dr. Constance (Connie) McNeill (President); Tonya Browder (Director of the Library and Specialist in African American genealogy), and Carol Hardy Bryan (2nd Vice President and Editor of the Quill[7]) to help us find our enslaved ancestors.


We were escorted to a long table, shown a map of Edgefield; given a write-up of the white Kemp family[8] and provided a summary of the findings we had already gathered on the black Kemp family. Being a history buff, Connie also added colorful stories to supplement her discussion of who was where and, why certain names were listed on the Old Edgefield District map. 


After spending several hours at the library, Connie then told us to wait as she went through a couple of microfilms of wills, deeds and other old transactions searching for additional information on the Kemp family.  She then said, “Bernice, come here”- she found a record on January 22, 1830 where Andrew’s mother and father (Sam, Patience, and three children) were sold to a man named George Slappy for $1,232.00.[9]


She also found the 1844[10] papers of Henry Johnson Kemp where our 2nd great grandfather - Andrew was 3 years old and listed as a slave with his mother and father and other siblings. 


In addition, another transaction was found in 1847[11] where Andrew was once again sold for $400. 

With each transaction, our enslaved ancestors are listed and priced in an inventory as property along with the farm equipment, livestock, kitchen supplies and other household items.

Although the enslaved Kemps had different owners, after carefully reviewing the records we discovered that the slave owners were either related or close associates of the white Kemp family.  We could also see in the records that the black Kemps were never broken apart or sold outside of the Edgefield area.  

Our 3rd great grandparents Sam and Patience needed to know that they had descendants out there searching for them and we found them.  


In addition, our 2nd great- grandfather Andrew never forgot the enslaved family members that were also in the inventory with him. He named each of his children the same names (Patience, Matilda, James, George, Sam, Emma, Richard, Julius, George, Robert, and William). THEY ARE ALL THERE! 


When my great- great grandfather Andrew named his children he honored his family relationship and his community by leaving clues for his descendants to find them.  Those clues were so obvious that even Connie remembered seeing those same names in her own genealogy research before meeting us!  Those names were in the various slave transactions – transactions that were apart of her ancestor’s records.


We were all amazed when we discovered that Dr. Constance (Connie) McNeill is a descendant of Henry Johnson Kemp!  The actual head of the (Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society) ancestors shared a common space with our ancestors over 181 years ago and we have connected with each other!  

Now it made sense why Connie was persistent when she encouraged me to visit Edgefield.  She knew!


I learned a lesson regarding the value of belonging too and participating in a local genealogical society.  Records are available and individuals will help you!  I know that we would never have found our ancestors that quickly if we had not made the connection with the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society[12].


 In addition, researchers should do their homework because; it is necessary to gather information on your family history to actually understand how everyone is connected.  Hence, for African Americans, the 1870 US census is a key to going further back in history because this is the first US census after the emancipation where African American’s first and last names are listed.


Finally, I strongly recommend that white and black researchers should take steps to identify if they are descendants of either slave owners or slaves. With this information, they have an opportunity to reach out to each other. 


The information in the recently published Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina by Gloria Ramsey Lucas may help to identify your status as a slave owner descendant or a slave descendant. The Home Place[13] and the Quill are excellent NEWSLETTERS to publish this information as a query or a story.


In conclusion, that on a hot, muggy summer day in 2004, "When Reality Hit ", we shared a bond with Connie that will link us forever! I still have those same emotions as described in the opening of this paper, but I also feel healed and complete.


Recommended Readings:


  1. Burton, Orville Vernon. In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina. (The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern studies). The University of North Carolina Press, 1995


  1. Lucas, Gloria Ramsey, Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina.  Edgefield County Historical Society (P.O. Box 174- Edgefield SC 29824). 2010









[1] Bennett, Bernice Alexander, “Searching for My African American South Carolina Kin.” The Carolina Herald, Volume XXXIII (April, May, June 2005) No.2, page 24-33.


[2] SC Genealogical Society 33rd Summer Workshop- July 9-10, 2004 in Columbia, SC.


[3] Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Kirksey, Greenwood, South Carolina; Roll: T623_1530; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 83.  Household consisted of Andrew Kemp – abt - 70, farmer married for 40 years; Tilda – wife- abt. 68; Sumpter – son- abt. 19; Ora- daughter – abt.13.


[4] Source Citation: Year: 1870; Census Place: Hibler, Edgefield, South Carolina; Roll: M593_1494; Page: 188A; Image: 382; Family History Library Film: 552993.

Household consisted of Andrew Kemp – abt. 35; Matilda- abt.25; Patience- abt. 8; Emeline- abt. 6; Julius, abt. 4; Jim- abt.2; Lila- abt.60.


Source Citation: Year: 1880; Census Place: Hibler, Edgefield, South Carolina; Roll: 1228; Family History Film: 1255228; Page: 193C; Enumeration District: 53;

Household consisted of Andrew Kemp – abt. 50; Matilda- abt. 46; Patience- abt. 20; Emma, abt. 18; Julius- abt. 15; James – abt. 12; Richard- abt. 10; Sarah, abt. 8; Robert- abt. 4; George-abt. 2; William- abt. 1.


[5] Andrew and Matilda’s son Richard Kemp is my great grandfather and his daughter is my grandmother Mattie Kemp Alexander.


[6]  This was also my first time meeting my Kemp relatives.  Sheryl Kemp Bailey and Joyce Kemp Robinson are sisters and grandchildren of Chester Kemp. My paternal grandmother is Mattie Kemp Alexander. Chester and Mattie Kemp are siblings and children of Richard Kemp.  Richard Kemp is the son of Andrew Kemp and grandson of Sam and Patience Kemp.


[7] The Quill is the official publication of the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society.


[8] Watson, M. (1970). Greenwood County Sketches: Old Roads and Early Families. Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, Inc., the Quintin Publications Collection. Pages 279-280.


[9] Wiley Kemp (name of Estate) Henry J. Kemp (Administrator). Wiley Kemp died in 1829 without a will or last testament, therefore, his estate was assessed and sold. Sam. Patience and three children were sold to George Slappy. June 6, 1830 – Box #16, Pkg. 583 – Edgefield Archives.


[10]  Henry J Kemp (name of the Estate) Hannah Kemp (Administratrix).  Following Henry J. Kemp’s death in 1844, he had no will and testament.  His estate was assessed and Andrew was sold to Caroline Kemp - Wiley’s sister.  December 25,1844, Box #55, pkg. 2280- Edgefield Archives.


[11] Caroline Kemp (name of the Estate) John Trapp (Administrator). Caroline Kemp died shortly after her brother Henry J. Kemp and left no will or last testament. Negro boy Andrew was sold to Simpson Mathis – July 7, 1847, Box #56, Pkg.  – Edgefield Archives.  Simpson Mathis is the Uncle of Caroline. 


[12] The entire search process was less then four months from first identifying the Andrew as our 2nd great grandfather to finding him and his parents enslaved.


[13] The official publication of Old Edgefield African American Genealogical Society

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Comment by Bernice Bennett on December 20, 2011 at 8:28am

This is a posting discovered on the internet concerning Wiley Kemp and Henry J. Kemp.

From: "Drew G. Welch" <>
Subject: [SCEDGEFI] 1828-1831 Mary Nicholson Lewis, Wiley Kemp, Henry J. Kemp,Ransom Holloway, Richard Lewis
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2011 09:07:19 -0500

Ransom Holloway and Richard Lewis vs. Henry J. Kemp

Edgefield District, South Carolina Equity Bill 409 (1831)

South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History, Columbia

Film no. ED 122-beginning at frame 26

Bill for account and settlement

Your orators Ransom Holloway and Richard Lewis-

Some time in the year 1828, Wiley Kemp of said District intermarried with

Mary Lewis of said District. Previous to their intermarriage and in contemplation

thereof Wiley Kemp and Mary (obscured. . .) a marriage contract. Your orators

were parties.

Wiley Kemp was to have use of property of Mary Lewis. For more particular description

the contract was filed as Ex. A.

Orators say that Henry J. Kemp did something (illegal ?) with the property and filed

complaint 2 May 1831. Henry J Kemp failed to respond.

Complaint said that Wiley Kemp in the latter part of 1828 intermarried with Mary Lewis

and that Mary had previously by deed on 17 November 1828 contracted a settlement of all or greater portion of her property. The defendant, also the administrator, says the complainants

are trustees of the properity in said deed.

Defendant said Wiley Kemp took possession of greater part of property mentioned and died intestate about 12 December 1829 and that the defendant sold the whole of his personal property on 21 January 1830. The defendant denies that he sold any property that came from Mary Lewis. Within a week or ten day of Wiley Kemp's death, the widow of Wiley Kemp, and her trustees, at reguest of the defendant took and carried off every article of property that belonged to them.

The complainants and the widow were at sale of estate of Wiley Kemp and not a single article of property was objected to and the defendant is totally at a loss to conjecture for what property he is required to account, none being specified in the complaint. He denies they need relief from court and denies all fraud. Swore 22 June 1830- H. L. Kemp (signed).

Complainants say Wiley Kemp intended his wife to enjoy and take all interest and profits of property and should she survive him the property reverts to her. Signed: Wiley Kemp, Mary Lewis, Ransom Holloway, and Richard Lewis. Witnessed: W? Kemp, J.G. Collins, another I can not read

Agreement- Indenture 17 Nov. 1828 between Wiley Kemp of Edgefield District and Mary Lewis of 2nd part and Ransom Holloway and Richard Lewis of 3rd part.

Marriage is intented between Wiley Kemp and Mary Lewis. Mary Lewis has considerable property and personal estate consisting of her interest in the tract where she now lives.

She sells (to Wiley Kemp) the following personal property- one negro fellow Sam about 30 years old- one girl Linday about 16- two head of horses- 13 head of cattle- 30 head of hogs and including all household and kitchen furniture and plantation tools- one wagon and gear- 350 bushels corn- 5,000 weight of fodder and all oats and wheat now on the plantation.

It has been agreed that Wiley Kemp should have (the above listed items) after the marriage for their joint lives and after the deaths of either of them. If Mary Lewis survives him, she would not have any dower rights to any personal estate that he acquired.

Mary Lewis' property appraised by J. V. Berry, John Kirksey and Hezekiah Nobles (his mark)-2 November 1828.

Witnessed: H. J. ?, Gibson Collins, Bennett Nobles.

Marriage Contract between Wilson Kemp and Mary Lewis filed Sec. of State Office, Columbia 1

Comment by Bernice Bennett on December 20, 2011 at 8:24am


Thank you.  This is an everlasting journey and I am still searching for additional information on Sam and Patience.  Bernice

Comment by Art Thomas on December 20, 2011 at 7:29am


Very nicely done.... an excellent article with very sound advice.


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