Category Archives: African-Americans

John Henry Clay Pryor: A Free African-American in Pre-Civil War Virginia

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I stumbled upon a Pryor death record in Virginia for an African-American who was born before emancipation. Most notably the death record named both the mother and father of the subject. I wondered if they could be identified in records and documented.

The Death Record

John Henry Clay Pryor* was 76 years old (born about 1841) when he died on Christmas Day 1917 in King George County, Virginia. The death record (available on Ancestry.com) states his parents were Colvert Jones [sic] and Mary Pryor, both born in King George County, Virginia. The informant was Mary Bombrey. Another death record for George Pryor born 2 February 1868 and died on 6 March 1933 in King George County states his parents were Henry Clay Pryor and Anna Liza Bumbrey from King George County, Virginia. This second death record helps to not only ID one of John Henry Clay Pryor’s children but the name of his wife and the informant on Clay’s death record as a possible in-law.

Marriage and Family

Clay H Pryor age 34 (born about 1846) was found on the 1910 US Census in King George County with wife Anna L. Pryor age 62. There were no others living in the household. Pryor was identified as “mulatto”. The head of household recorded before the Pryor’s was Richard Bumbrey age 50. He was further recorded as a farmer who could neither read nor write, and that he as well as his parents were born in Virginia.

In 1880 J H C Pryor age 33 (born about 1847) with wife Ann Eliza age 31 were recorded on the US Census in King George County with five children, including his son George T. Pryor age 14 (born about 1866). Also in the household was Madison Bumbry age 23, recorded as a nephew.

Henry C. Prior age 24 (born about 1846) and Angelica age 22 were counted in Chotank, King George County in 1870. Was Angelica the same person recorded as Ann Eliza? It appears they were the same person because Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line] found on Ancestry.com states Ann Eliz. Bumbrey married Clay Prior shortly after the end of the Civil War on 24 October 1865. This database states Ann/Angelica’s parents were Thomas Bumbrey and Betsy Bumbrey. One might think that Clay married upon gaining his freedom from slavery, however Clay Prior age 16 was recorded on the 1860 Census in King George county as a free mulatto in the household of Louisa Bumbrey– Louisa Pryor Bumbrey was also counted in the household of Mary Prior on the 1850 Census (see below).

His Mother and Siblings

John Henry Clay Prior appeared on the 1850 Census in the same county in the household of Mary Prior, born about 1821. He was recorded as Clay Prior, age 5. The census was taken in August 1850 so Clay would have already had his birthday if he was born on March 1 as reported on his death record, making his year of birth 1845, and making him about 72 years old at the time of his death.

Mary and all the Priors in her household were recorded on the 1850 census as mulatto. Relationships were not recorded on the 1850 census, so there are several possibilities of the how these Priors were related: this woman may be the Mary Pryor named as Clay’s mother on his death record, or a different Mary Pryor. If Mary was the mother of all the children, including Clay and Louisa, the ages of the children (17 through 3) hint that she began having children in 1833 when she was about 12 years old and possibly ended with her last child in 1847. The possibility that all of the children were not her offspring arises when we note there were two young girls named Mary (age 12 and 7). There are instances where parents name children using the same name multiple times, however those are rare events.

Calvert Jones: Clay Pryor’s Father?

Finding Clay’s father leads to a multitude of questions rather than a clean precise answer. There two men named on the 1840 census in King George County.

Calvert Jones Jr, a white head of household. The household was comprised of a male age 20 to 29 years (born between 1811 and 1820), a white female of the same age range, and a young white female child under five years old. There were 10 African-Americans counted as slaves in his household, making a total of 13 persons in the household.

There was also a senior Calvert Jones living in King George county and counted on the same census. Calvert Jones senior was age 50 to 59 years old in 1840 (born between 1781-1790). He was the only white person living in the household, he had one slave, and 13 free “colored” people: 12 African-Americans under 24 years and one female age 24 to 34 years. There were no adult free black males in the household.

The elder Calvert Jones died intestate in 1844. A chancery court case filed by his son John N. Jones states his father, Calvert, died in the same year and was filed over distribution of the estate: one slave named Harry. It also names the six heirs to Calvert’s estate:

  • Charles G. Jones, also the administrator of the estate.
  • John N. Jones, who filed the suit and was Calvert’s son.
  • Sarah C. Jones, Calvert’s granddaughter and the daughter of his deceased son Calvert B. Jones.
  • And the three children of Calvert’s daughter Hanna Jones Pollard (Hannah’s death is inferred because she is referred to in the past tense): Cordelia, Haseltine, and Ryland.

Evidence is weighted towards Calvert Jones Sr. as the father of Henry Clay Pryor.

  • The key piece of evidence to identify Clay’s father is the death record that provides his father’s name.
  • Clay’s death record indicated he shared his mother’s surname, not his father’s surname. This issue indicates that his parents weren’t married and there was an issue with legitimacy.
  • Clay Pryor was recorded as “mulatto” which may be indicative of lighter skin color inherited for a more distant white ancestor (the census taker looked at him and made a judgment of what to enter in the race box on the census) or the description revealed knowledge that he was born of both white and African-American ancestry.
  • Family trees on Ancestry.com state Calvert Jones Jr. died in 1840, at least six years before the birth of John Henry Clay Pryor.
  • No African-American man was located in records available on Ancestry.com (census, marriage, death records) who used the name Calvert Jones (or other variations of the spelling). However, if an African-American man went by this name and fathered Clay, then he may not have lived to see freedom after the Civil War or adopted another name.
  • Calvert Jones Sr. had free people of color living within his household in 1840 and as far back as 1830. Calvert Jones Jr. had no free people of color recorded in his household on the census.

Further Research

Calvert Jones Sr. died intestate which led to the chancery court case to divide his estate. His heirs acknowledged (viz. the chancery case) that he had only one slave named Harry. Therefore, confirming the 1840 census that recorded all the other people of color on his property as free people.

How were the free African-Americans freed? The 1782 Manumission act in Virginia gave guidelines of how to free slaves in Virginia. The primary emancipation document would be a will, however the the blacks in Calvert’s household were free in 1840 and there was no mention of them in his will. The next option was any other written document during the slave holders lifetime. A requirement was that the document had to be sworn to in court or sworn to by two witnesses. The slave holder had to pay a fee to the clerk of the county court. There could be court minutes or fee schedules that contain the record of when Mary Pryor was freed.

Another piece of history should be considered. There were 5 Pryors counted as free people of color and heads of household on the 1820 census in King George county, perhaps hinting that Mary Pryor was a free woman at the time of her birth in the 1820’s.

I’m wondering if anyone from the line of John Henry Clay Pryor has done autosomal or male YDNA testing. Did they connect with other Pryors? Did they connect with the Jones line through YDNA?

* John Henry Clay Pryor as “Clay” through out this post to simplify his name and to reference the name that was used on records.

African American Pryor Family – VA and Washington DC

While researching another Pryor line I went down the proverbial rabbit hole. While this may not benefit my Pryor line, it may be of interest to other Pryors. It was interesting to me – which explains why I went astray.

I came across Dr Ellsworth Pryor III, an infectious disease doctor who was featured in 1980 in an article from a California Newspaper. I wondered who Ellsworth the 2nd and Ellsworth the 1st could be.

An obituary for Ellsworth Pryor from the Los Angeles Times on October 23, 1982 is for the father of Dr. Pryor and it also mentions that his father, the doctor’s grandfather, was living at the time. Because it states their ages we know Ellsworth Pryor II was born in about 1922 and Ellsworth Pryor I was born in about 1892. Ellsworth Pryor II worked for Pete Wilson who later became governor of California.

Ellsworth Pryor Obituary

Published in the Los Angeles Times on October 23, 1982.

 

Ellsworth Paxton Pryor (Ellsworth Pryor I) born 1892 in Nebraska died in 1991 in San Diego. That means that all three generations of Ellsworth Pryors lived in California. The CA death record states his mother’s surname was Braxton. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Omaha, NE where I see an older Ellsworth Pryor is buried. So this totally shifted the numbering of the Ellsworth Pryors. The Doctor was actually the FOURTH.

The first Ellsworth Pryor was born 1864 in Virginia. I found him and Ellsworth P Pryor in the same household in 1920, living in Omaha, NE. Ellsworth born in 1864 was recorded as black and the younger Ellsoworth, born in 1892, was recorded as mulatto. They were recorded as father and son.

In 1920 the Ellsworths born in 1864 and 1892 were recorded on the census working as a steward and shipping clerk respectively. When I took a hop backward to the 1880 Census, Ellsworth IV was recorded in his father’s household in Washington DC. His father was Charles R Pryor born 1825 in VA. Ancestry.com transcribed Ellsworth’s occupation as a student at Harvard University. A close look at the handwriting reveals he was a student at Howard University, a traditionally African-American university in Washington, DC. He graduated from Howard per a notice in the National Republican on 28 May 1881.

A small blurb in the Washington Bee announced that Ellsworth Pryor (probably b. 1862) and his wife were going to be making Omaha, NE their home. This helps to ties the Ellsworth Pryors in Omaha to the family on the census in Washington, DC.

Ellsworth Pryor b. 1862 would have been the CA doctor’s great-grandfather and Charles R Prior of Washington DC was the doctors’ great-great-grandfather. I’ve run into Charles R Prior on records before. His daughter (Ellsworth’s sister) married William H. Grimshaw the author of “Freemasonry Among the Colored People in North America“.

Charles R Prior, when counted on the 1870 Census in Washington DC, was working as a carpenter. His race was recorded as mulatto. There’s an Ely Pryor age 8 in his household that I suspect was Ellsworth, although the census recorder marked him down as “female”.

Charles R Prior was an interesting man of color because he and his wife, Angeline, were on the 1860 Census, BEFORE the Civil War. He was a free mulatto living in King George County, VA working as a carpenter. It’s likely that he’s the same Charles Prior who was recorded in the household of Henry Stephens on the 1850 Census in King George county. There’s a long history of free African Americans named Prior in King George county. (see King George County census)

Sumner County: Estate Sale of Massey Taylor Pryor

photo (24)I’ve had one of those moments. The moment when you look at a document you’ve seen before and start thinking about what the “back-story” might be.  When I requested records on the Pryors from the Sumner County Archives they sent a copy of Massey’s estate sale (1867).  I went to a name that has always raised questions: Grant Taylor. He is recorded as “col.” (colored) next to his purchases.

Grant Taylor is on the 1870 Census living in District 11 of Sumner County, near Massey’s brother Pleasant Taylor:

House 100 Pleasant TAYLOR 66, Sarah 34, Mary 17, George 15, William 12, James 10, Laura 9, Alice 4, Charles 1
House 114 Grant TAYLOR 23 (m/mulatto) TN stonemason, Annie 22 (m/mulatto) TN.

Grant Taylor purchased a Bible. Did he buy the family Bible?

The estate sale was just two years after the end of the civil war. Was Grant Taylor a freed slave?

The census states that Grant Taylor could not write– but could  he read? It seems like a good question when considering someone who had bought a book.

He shared the Taylor surname with Massey and Pleasant– was he a former slave of the family? Neither Massey nor Pleasant Taylor were slave owners on the 1860 Census.

So many questions, but I always want the whole story.

Leroy B. Pryor – Part II: Can We Connect the Cousins?

Leroy B. Pryor is one of the Jackson County, TN Pryors who remains a mystery.  Solving Leroy’s ancestry will probably clean up many of the unresolved Pryor lines in this county!

Leroy B. Pryor first appeared in District 9 of the 1850 Census (wayback machine link).

In the same district are John Y. Crocker and the elder Sary Pryor aged 86 born in NC (perhaps his wife’s grandmother?).  John Y. Crocker had a son named Allen P. living in household… Perhaps Allen “Pryor” after the older Allen Pryor who was living in District 1 of Jackson County.  The Crockers had another Pryor connection in Jackson County: Rhoda and Polly Pryor (daughters of Henry B. Pryor of Pike Co., AL) were living with William and Alsey Pryor in District 1. These Pryor sisters married William B. Crocker and Thomas W. Crocker respectively and settled in Williamson County, TN.  It’s not yet known why Henry’s daughters continued to live in Tennessee as teens after Henry moved to Alabama with his sons.

Naming traditions were not always followed, but they can be clues to sort through the relationships. In 1855 Henry’s son Robert/Robertsonnamed a daughter Rhoda Ann presumably after his sister or perhaps both girls were named for an older relative.  Henry B. named sons Luke and Allen. We know Luke was his grandfather.  Could Allen be a brother? Henry B. was born 1790 in South Carolina, he could be a brother of Allen and Alfred in Jackson Co. who were born 1810 and 1808 respectively in South Carolina? Neither Allen nor Alfred named sons Luke, Henry, nor John which may have been a strong naming tradition if they were from Henry B.’s line.

In District 9 living near Leroy B. Pryor is Jane Pryor Allen b. 1827.  She was counted in the household of her mother in law Rebeca Allen and her husband Robert N. Allen.  Jane died in 1919 and her Jackson County death record states her maiden name as “Pryer” and her mother as Linda Pryor.  Jane was the mother of 12 Allen children. The first Allen son was named Jesse and the last named Robert N. Allen Jr. It can not be ruled out that Jane was related to Jesse Pryorwho was recorded on Overton County census records.

Leroy B. Pryor left Tennessee and was in Greene County, MO by 1852. In 1854 he was recorded in Washington County, and by the time of the 1860 Census in Crawford County (Wayback Machine link). In 1870 and 1880 he was counted in Phelps County (Wayback Machine link).  If there is a clue in the westward migration pattern, Leroy’s son John Pryor, John Y. Crocker, and also the children of Alfred Pryor and Serrena Dill Pryor who lived in District 1 of Jackson County, TN moved to Iron County, MO (Wayback Machine link) which borders the counties in which Leroy lived.

Allen and Alfred Pryor on Jackson County census records stated their place of birth as South Carolina. The Sary Pryor living with the Crockers and her probable grand-daughter, Dorcas Dennis (?) Crocker, both stated their place of birth as North Carolina.  Rhoda Pryor Crocker stated her parents were born in South Carolina which is consistent with where her father Henry B. Pryor stated he was born on the 1850 Census.  Leroy B. Pryor stated on the 1880 Census that both of his parents were born in North Carolina.  Other census entries are confusing if not unreliable. For example, the children of Allen Pryor when counted in Franklin County, IL (Wayback Machine link)  in 1880 stated their parents were born in Tennessee.

An interesting link is Mayhew (Mahue, Mayhugh) England. In 1850 and 1860 he was counted living with Nelson families in Jackson County, TN. In 1900 Mayhew England was counted in Iron Co., MO one house away from Margaret Pryor Anderson, a daughter of Alfred Pryor. Mayhew’s Missouri death record states he was the son of Austin England and Margaret Nelson.  Now if we can just tease out the relationships from the connection of the Pryors and the Englands: In 1830 Austin’s father, Jeremiah England, was counted near Jesse Pryor in Overton County, TN.  Jeremiah was on the 1850 Census in District 10 of Jackson County, TN.  In his household was wife Sally and two Romine children.  More Romines, Englands, and Pryors are on the Census records in Greene County, IL (Wayback Machine link).

What if we go backwards in the records to look for a connection? The 1840 Census for Jackson County, TN (Wayback Machine link)may hold clues in how the family names are grouped in the record. Found on pages 282 through 286 that cover District 9 are households of Pryor, Crocker, Allen and Romine. … More in PART III

Was a Pryor at Mountain Meadows Massacre?

I was recently contacted by a researcher who is looking for information on any Pryor family members who may have been on the ill-fated wagon train that was attacked in 1857.

In 1857 a group of settlers from Carroll, Benton and Johnson County, Arkansas were ambushed outside of Cedar City, UT in what would become known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. 17 children lived and were returned to their families in Arkansas.

I’ve searched several of the websites who mention the names of the survivors and victims, but have not been able to find any Pryors. There were several Pryor families in Arkansas at that time, but no one seems to be missing from the census records. I’ve looked at the family of Lindsey W. Pryor who was reported to have died en route to the California Gold Rush. I suspect that he died before 1850 (his widow may be the Jane McMillan with son John S. counted on the 1850 Census in Franklin Co., MO).

Is anyone award of a Pryor that may have been involved in this tragic event?