A slaveholder had 13 children when he died in 1845…

Avery Vann was a slaveholder who was married to a Cherokee woman, Margaret McSwain. Upon his death in 1845, his property, which included enslaved people, was divided among his 13 surviving children. In a twist of irony, some of those 13 children would emancipate the enslaved they were bequeathed before the Civil War. This would include my 3x great grandfather, Jesse Vann.

Ongoing Research

I’m on the hunt for the will and estate documents for Avery Vann along with the emancipations his children enacted. These documents are not at a central repository like a courthouse as the Cherokee Nation documents prior to Oklahoma statehood are in a multitude of places across the country. There’s an off chance that they could be in nearby Arkansas, but then there’s a huge chance they’re not.

First Person Accounts

Dennis Vann, a nephew of my ancestor Jesse, was interviewed on March 23, 1937 and noted “Ave Vann was a Scotch Irishman who came from Scotland to Georgia, and who in 1832 moved to Indian Territory bringing with him his many slaves, among who were numbed [his mother and father], his aunts and uncles, and their many children.” 

Families were broken up in the administration of the Avery’s estate. Samuel Vann, a former slave of Avery Vann, noted in an interview on May 26, 1937: “My parents were both slaves of Avery Vann, and after his death his slaves were divided up among his children, and that is how my father was separated from his family. He lived about ten miles from where my mother and us children [there were 11] were, and was allowed to come home about once a month to see us.”

How Will I Identify Other Family Members and Descendants of This Enslaved Community?

Sound traditional research means tracking all the descendants of Avery Vann in hopes of then tracking down separated enslaved family groups. My DNA, and the DNA of my family members, is confirming Samuel Vann’s interview above; family groups were indeed separated upon Avery’s death in1845. Descendants can have up to 11 different surnames (see the image above) as not everyone took the surname Vann or even knows that name is associated with their family history. 

Based on my assessment, while my ancestor Jesse was freed and did select the surname Vann, half of his siblings went to Avery’s daughter Katie Vann Williams while the other half went to her sister, Avery’s other daughter, Sarah Vann Rogers Musgrove. One other sibling appears to have gone to a Lasley, which is likely Avery’s son, Andrew, who married into the Lasley family. This means that there are at least three different surnames among Jesse’s siblings alone. 

To add even more color to this story, Jesse’s brother, William, stated that he had his original bill of sale from 1815 in an interview on July 31, 1900. William was 104 years old and not literate but the newspaper account  included a transcription of the document. Neither party of the transaction was Avery Vann or a known name associated with him. The jury is still out on that. Have to vet everything!

Tip of the Day: Assuming your ancestors surname as of the 13th Amendment is the same name as their last slaveholder is not something you should do. That surname could be their very first slaveholder, the one that treated them the best,  just a name they liked, or, or or! Always remember the scenario outlined here: just ONE branch of my family could select from 11 different surnames.

Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian and Pioneer Historical Collection, 1937, Ancestry.com

The Indian Chieftain (Vinita, OK), August 2, 1900, page 1. Newspapers.com

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