Tag Archives: king george county

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

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)

Free African American Pryors in King George County, VA

The following information on the free African American Pryors in King George County, VA was previously published as a web page.

100 years before the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery, there was a free black community in King George County, Virginia.

The earliest known free African American of the Pryor name was Alice. She was born about 1750 or earlier and was the mother of Leviny Prior whose birth was recorded in 1764. Leviny was the mother of Milly Prior born in about 1783 and whose birth was registered in King George County in September 1820. Andrew Pryor is described a s a black man of about twenty two years old and the son of a free black woman. His birth was recorded in January 1775. Winny Pryor was free born in about 1792 to Syllah Pryor, a “bright mulatto woman.” Her birth was also recorded in King George County in August 1820.

Several of the names recorded as free blacks in the birth records also appear as heads of household at the time of the 1820 Census.

1810 Census – All Free African Americans in King George County
(Head of Household Only)

Henry Bransican
William Bernard
Richard Brunbury
Daniel Wilson
John Taylor
Lucetta Smith
William Prestrage
Helen? Prestrage
Sarah Prestrage
James Punch
James Moore
Marry matthews
Tazey Kendall
Philip Lucas
David Lucas
George Ware
William Jett
William Ford
Caty Frazier
Clay Ford
August Dunlop
Lidia Dunlop
Townsend Dade
Thornton Dean
James Cunningham
Peggy Carroll
Philip Cunningham
Benjamin Cunningham
Mary McGee
Jenny Pryor
Lawrence Paney
Sally Ware
1820 Census – All Free African Americans in St. Paul’s Parish

Richard Bunbury
Lucinda Bunbury
John Evans
Lawrence Gordon
(born 1787, Gordon was living in Washington, DC in 1850)
Milly Grayson
Frances Hoose
David Lucas
George Lucas
Thomas Lucas
Anna Lucas
Jenny Lucas
Simon Mountjoy
Bernard Moore
William Payne
Fanny Phillips
Verlinda Pryor
(no males – 1001)
Winny Pryor
(1000 – 3010)
Milly Pryor
(2000 – 2300)
Nelly Pryor
(2000 – 0100)
George Rothrock
Robert Tibbo
Mingo Walker

1820 Census – All Free African Americans in Hanover Parish

Mingo Walker
Polly Astin
Grace Branham
Daniel Carmichael
James Cunningham
Benjamin Cunningham
Lucy Cunningham
John Dean
John Dunlop
Jenny Pryor
(01000 – 10000)
Dicy Dunlap
(born 1757, Dunlap was recorded as a midwife on the 1850 and 1860 Census in King George Co.)
Charity Evans
William Greenlaw
Spence Johnson
Ellzay Kendall
William Lawrence
Mancy Lawrence

1840 Census – African American Pryor Families in King George County
Nelly Prior (120000 – 1100)
James Prior (100100 – 201)
Milly Prior (no males – 00001)
Jane Prior (010000 – 02011)
Charles Prior (101000 – 11100)
Winny Prior (300100 – 1111)

1850 Census – African American Pryor Families in King George County
Page 227a, #336 Nelly PRIOR 48 black, VA, Catharine 18 black VA, William 27 black VA.
Page 227a, #367 James PRIOR 19 black, VA, Frances 25 black Washington
Page 201a, 856 Walker Hawes 43… living in household Elizabeth A. PRYOR 58 white VA.
Page 229a, #405 Caroline PRYOR 30 mu VA, John 8 mu VA
Page 222b, #297 James PRIOR 50 black, Peggy 24 black, Mary Frasier 4 black.
Page 223a, #302 Elizabeth PRIOR 22 black, Mildred 4 black, Thomas 1 black (Mildred and Thomas were living with Charles Prior in 1860).
Page 223a, #304 Mary PRIOR 29 mu “spinster”, Louisa 17 mu, Mary 12 mu, Nancy 10 mu, Sarah 8 mu, Mary 7 mu, Clay 5 mu, George 3 mu, Jane 14 black.
Page 210b, #84 Benjamin Redman 30 white merchant… living in household William PRIOR 36 black.
Page 235a, #514 Charles Evans 60 black, Susan 45 black, Ann 13 black, Charles 7 black, Peggy 5 black, Betsy PRIOR 21 black, Willie Ann 3 black, William 1 black.

1860 Census – African American Pryor Families in King George County
Page 371 Nelly PRIOR 51 mu, Catharine 32 mu, William Dunlop 32 mu
Page 371 Louisa Bunbery white… living in household Clay PRIOR 16 mu.
Page 421, #571 Sally PRIOR 45 mu, Robert 22 mu
Page 383, # 243 William Worrell… living in household William PRIOR 43 mu
Page 404, #427 James PRIOR 74 mu, Peggy 40 mu, Matthew Hamilton 25
Page ? Charles PRIOR 40 mu, Angeline 40 mu, Sarah 9 (married Madison Brooks), Martha 4, Caroline 3/12, Thomas 10, Mildred 13 (Thomas and Mildred are children of Elizabeth Prior – see 1850 Census), John 14

King George County Pryors on later Census Records

The only one of these Prior families I’ve been able to locate on later census records is Charles Prior and wife Angeline.

1870 Census 6th Ward Washington, DC

Page 256a, #1671 Chas. PRYOR 45 mu carpenter VA, Angeline 46 mu, Martha 14 mu, Caroline 10 mu, Eliz. 8 mu, Madison Brooks 27 mu coachman VA, Sarah 20 mu VA, ? PRYOR 28 male mu laborer.

1880 Census 7th St., Washington, DC

#27 Madison Brooks 36 mu coachman VA VA VA, Sarah A. (PRIOR) 29 dressmaker VA VA VA, Stevie 7 son DC VA VA, Mary J. 5 dau DC VA VA.

1880 Census East Capitol St., Washington DC
Charles R. PRIOR 55 mu, Labor Bureau employee VA VA VA
Angelina 54 wife mu VA VA VA
Martha E 23 dau mu teacher in public school VA VA VA
Carrie E. 20 dau mu teacher in public shcool VA VA VA
Ellsworth W. 18 son mu VA

1900 Census East Capitol St., Washington DC

Page 17a, #704 Charles R. PRYOR black Sept 1824 75 VA VA VA carpenter
Angeline M. wife, black Dec 1824 75 VA VA VA
Mary Brooks boarder Jun 1875 24 DC VA VA dressmaker
Charles M. boarder Jul 1892 19 DC VA VA at school
Lucy Lewis boarder Nov 1888 11 DC VA VA at school
(Mary Brooks was a grand-daughter of Charles and Angeline, daughter of Madison Brooks and Sarah Pryor).

1910 Census East Capitol St., Washington DC
#704 Charles R. PRYOR black Sept 1824 86 VA VA VA
Angeline M. wife 86 VA VA VA
Mary J. Tignor gr-dau 34 divorced DC VA VA
Madison Tignor gr-gr-son 8 DC DC DC
Lucy Lewis lodger 24 DC

1920 Census Washington DC – ED#235
Sheet 14b, #704 Angeline PRYOR 100 widow VA VA VA
Mary J. Tignor gr-dau 42 widow DC VA VA
Lucy Lewis roomer 32 DC VA VA teacher
Madison W. Tignor gr-son 18 DC VA VA