He lived, he procreated, he died, and there were very little signs of him except for those in my DNA. After 17 years, his story is now coming to life.
In genealogy, there are times where we can’t wrap our ancestors’ stories in nice boxes with ornate bows. This is indeed one of those cases. Meet one of my Whodini ancestors, Mr. John Lee. *gives applause* He’s one of my 16 great great grandparents.
One Love, Or So I Thought
I had no idea the exact date and location of Grandpa John’s birth and death or any information regarding his parents or lineage when I began researching in 1999. No real oral history. No vital records. Nada.
I did know he had to be old enough to have conceived my great grandmother, Susie Lee Atlas, with my great great grandmother, Clora Evans Atlas (nee Marshall, Williams).
Susie Lee Atlas was born March 27, 1877 at Shelburn Plantation in newly created East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. Just a couple days prior, East Carroll and West Carroll Parishes were one parish – Carroll. Susie, as per her own account in the Civil War pension file of her grand uncle, Louis Carson (1), was raised in East Carroll and spent most of her life in the home of Louis and his wife, her great aunt, Caroline Russell Carson. Her account gave no mention of her father, but did mention her mother and maternal grandmother.
The nearest census to her birth was 1880, and while I didn’t find her exact name on it, I’m pretty sure that the male child noted as Noel Carson on the 1880 US Census (2) with Louis, Caroline, and Grandma Clora is probably Grandma Susie based on pension file account she gave. I also have her documented her through her marriage (3) to my great grandfather, Louis Balfour/Bareford Atlas, Sr. on November 1, 1894, on the 1900 (4), 1910 (5), 1920 (6), and 1930 (7) US Census, and through her death on January 29, 1938 (8). That death certificate notes that her father is John Lee and the informant was her husband Louis.
There were murmurings in the family about her allegedly having a brother through Grandpa John that lived in Arkansas, but nothing had ever been confirmed. A search of the U.S. Census in Carroll and East Carroll Parish yielded no results for Grandpa John as well.
C is for Cookie – Cookie Crumbs of a Document Trail
So, we set off in search of more information after these initial finds at the local level, combing through records at the Louisiana State Archives, at the parish clerk of Court in Lake Providence, and through microfilm of Freedmen’s Bureau records at the National Archives branch in San Bruno. We found the following:
“Cloe Evans and Emeline Lee to warrant William Alling – Black Bayou Plantation, January 31, 1875. We the undersigned hereby waive all rights to any portion of the crop of John Lee as hierlings until the rent and all advances are paid by him to Wm Alling. Cloe Evans (signed with mark), Emeline Lee (signed with mark), Sam Mathews (signed with mark). O.H. Cherry, A.B. Cherry witnesses.” (9)
Grandma Clora (noted as Cloe) and Emeline were sharecropping on land supervised by John Lee but owned by William Alling, hence the use of the term hirelings (Thanks to my geneabud Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, for clearing this up for me.).
In the absence of a marriage license, this labor contract connected a John Lee to Grandma Clora and an area landowner named William Alling just two years before the birth of Grandma Susie.
John Lee to Wm Alling (lien), filed April 3, 1876, recorded May 27, 1876. This agreement entered into this first day of January 1876 between Willam Alling of Carrol Parish Louisiana and John Lee of said Carroll Parish Louisiana. Witnesseth that whereas the said John lee has leased from William Alling ___ acres of land comprising part of “Black Bayou” Plantation in said Parish and in order to enable the said John Lee to cultivate and make a crop of cotton and corn on the same, the said Alling hereby agrees to advance to the said Lee from time to time during the current year of 1876 such supplies as may be necessary for the cultivation of the crop aforesaid the whole of such advances Lee in consideration of the advances to be made as aforesaid agrees to deliver unto the said Alling at the Ginhouse on said plantation a sufficient number of pounds of Lint Cotton to repay such advances with authority to ship and sell the same accounting to the the said Alling out of the net proceeds for the surplus if any and the said Lee hereby gives the said Alling a lien and privilege on the crop he may make and also on all his personal property to secure the payment of said advances. Signed John Lee (signed with mark), William Alling (represented by O.H. Cherry). Witnesses: O.H. Cherry, James McBride. (10)
This document appears to connect the same John Lee to Alling again, this time, in reference to a sharecropping contract.
At this point, we turned to geography to provide some clues.
Dr. David Flournoy Blackburn and wife Catherine A. Shelby came down the Mississippi River on a flatboat from Kentucky. They named their plantation Shelburn which as a combination of their family names of Shelby and Blackburn. The boundaries of Shelburn Plantation began at the head of the lake with Carrollton Plantation on the east, Hood’s Black Bayou on the west, and “in the rear” Highland Plantation. (11)
This notation alerted us to the fact that Shelburn, Grandma Susie’s birthplace, and Black Bayou, where Grandpa John had leased land and where Grandma Clora sharecropped, were located next to one another.
Through the Fire? Or not?
After a period of time, I came across two notations in the Banner Democrat, the local paper in East Carroll, regarding a John Lee. It wasn’t in the good section though.
The Banner Democrat (Lake Providence, LA) November 2, 1895, page 4. “Court Proceedings. State vs. John Lee; assault. Dismissed.” (12)
The Banner Democrat (Lake Providence, LA) December 14, 1895, page 3. “On Monday last in the second ward, while constable Hunter was trying to arrest a colored man by the name of John Lee, charged with attempting to set on fire the residence of Mr. T.J. Sanders, Lee leveled his shot gun on Hunter, who grabbed it, and turning it on Lee, fired. Hunter says he shot him, but he kept on the run until he got to the woods.” (13)
Woah. This wasn’t sounding so good, but I couldn’t throw my weight behind the fact these notations were about my Grandpa John. Other than having the same name, there was no conclusive proof that this John Lee was Grandpa John. I decided to tuck these things into my “genealogical rainy day fund” – a tickler file of sorts for things you find and feel in your gut are connected to your ancestors but haven’t found the direct tie yet.
But then, I found another notation on the same page as the December 14th one above.
The Banner Democrat (Lake Providence, LA) December 14, 1895, page 3.”Mr. Geo F. Blackburn, of Shelburn, informed us Wednesday that while he was in town on Tuesday attending the funeral of the late J.M. Kennedy, Jr., his gin caught fire and burned down. His engineer told him that he thought it had caught from the condenser. He lost eight bales of cotton and over a hundred sacks of seed. He had $1100 insurance on the gin, but nothing on the cotton. This is a heavy blow to Mr. Blackburn and we sympathize with him in his loss. He lost his gin two years ago and this one was lately put up.” (14)
Was the John Lee, who had an assault charge dismissed in November 1895, the same man who was alleged to have set fire to the residence of T.J. Sanders and was allegedly shot in December 1895? Was he the same person who set fire to the cotton gin owned by George Blackburn, a descendant of the Blackburns noted above? Was this same man my Grandpa John?
At this point, there was no way I could make heads or tails of whether they were the same person. But soon, DNA came in to answer a lot of questions and more. Stay tuned for part 2!
(1) US Army Widow’s Pension, Case of Caroline Carson, widow of Louis Carson, No. 1066,472, Deposition I, Susan Atlass, May 7, 1918, Lake Providence, East Carroll, Louisiana, USA. JB Steed, Special Examiner, Bureau of Pensions.
(2) “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MD6G-K2P : 24 December 2015), Noel Carson in household of Louis Carson, 5th Ward, East Carroll, Louisiana, United States; citing enumeration district ED 32, sheet 638C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0453; FHL microfilm 1,254,453.
(3) East Carroll Parish Clerk of Court, Marriage Book F, Page 406. Louie B. Atlas to Susan Lee, November 1, 1894. FHL/DGS film 311909, accessed April 14, 2011 at the FamilySearch Library, 35 West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.
(4) “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MS53-H6P : 20 January 2015), Susie Atlas in household of Lewis Atlas, Ward 3, East Carroll, Louisiana, United States; citing sheet 3B, family 64, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,240,564.
(5) “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MPTT-HJL : 29 October 2015), Susan Atlas in household of Louis B Atlas, Police Jury Ward 3, East Carroll, Louisiana, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 42, sheet 8A, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,374,526.
(6) “United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MVQ2-2X1 : 14 December 2015), Susan Atlas in household of Louis Atlas, Police Jury Ward 3, East Carroll, Louisiana, United States; citing sheet 16B, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,820,611.
(7) “United States Census, 1930”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XMYZ-47H : 8 December 2015), Susie L Atlas in entry for Lewis B Atlas, 1930.
(8) Atlas, Susie, date of death: January 29, 1938, East Carroll Parish, state file number 31. FHL/DGS film 1575806 Item 2, accessed April 14, 2011 at the FamilySearch Library, 35 West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.
(12) Page 4. The Banner-Democrat. (Lake Providence, East Carroll Parish, La.), 02 Nov. 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88064237/1895-11-02/ed-1/seq-4/>. Accessed July 17, 2016.
(13) Page 3. The Banner-Democrat. (Lake Providence, East Carroll Parish, La.), 14 Dec. 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88064237/1895-12-14/ed-1/seq-4/>. Accessed July 17, 2016.