Tag Archives: Virginia

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.

Transcript of 1745 Deed: Nicholas Pryor of Henrico County

This indenture made the twenty first day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and forty five between Nicholas Pryer of the Parish and county of Henrico of the one part and Henry Woodey of the county of Henrico of the other part. Witnesseth that the said Nicholas Pryor for and in consideration of the sum of forty pounds currant money of Virginia to him in hand paid —- the said Henry Woodey the receipt thereof he doth hereby — himself to be fully satisfied contented and —- contain parcel or tract of land containing one hundred and seventy acres lying and being in the parish and county of Henrico aforesaid and at the head of a branch at Tuckahoe Creek called Drinking hole branch being the place where on the said Nicholas Pryer now lives and is the same parcel or tract of land which the said Nicholas Pryer purchased of John Mayler and bounded according to the dimention bounds courses and distances mentioned in the said John Martin‘s deed. to the said Nicholas Pryer as by the said deed being had more fully may appear with all houses, orchards, gardens, fences woods, waters, and advantages whatsoever to the same belonging or in any wise appertaining to have and to hold the said son hundred and seventy acres of land and premisses with — and every of the appurtences unto the said Henry Woodey his heirs and assigns against the said Nicholas Pryer his heirs, Est and administrator and against all other persons whatsoever doth by these presents warrant and for ever will defend in witness whereof he hath hereunto set his h and and seal the day month and year first above written.
Signed sealed and delivered in the presence of us
Wm Street, Benj Johnson (his mark), Sarah Johnson (her mark)
Nicolas Pryer (his mark)

Samuel Pryor Associate of President Andrew Jackson?

Who’d want to run for the President of the United States? All the name calling, all the allegations… well what’s true in 2018 was true in 1827! When General Andrew Jackson was starting to position himself to run for office every allegation imaginable (and some of them true) surfaced in the press. A story from a Virginia newspaper was reprinted in Vermont — it names a Sam. Pryor or Samuel Pryor from Virginia who was a gamester and Jackson “crony”.

 

From the Richmond Whig of the 22nd ult.

The affair of Honor, in which the general deliberately shot Charles Dickinson, took place in the summer of 1806. The record of that bloody transaction, has for many years been in possession. We heard it also in 1816, at Plattsburg. When we were in company with Dr. J. Ramsey, of Charleston. From the mouths of an officer of the United States Engineer Corps, then at that station, with all its particulars. He stated, that Charles Dickerson threw away his fire, the General Jackson then advanced, and presented the pistol to the man’s head, and with an oath bid him make concessions or die Dickerson refused, Jackson took down his pistol, picked the flint, and presented it a second time, with similar remarks, and with the like effect, and after repeating this several times, finally shot the man dead on the spot. Several gentleman in the city have heard the same story the last winter, with all the circumstances attending it, from to wealthy, intelligent, and respectable gentleman, natives of New Jersey, who now live in Nashville, and have long lived there.

Appalling  as the statement is, we have circumstance to add to it, which made our informants blood run cold, when we heard it, as well it might. Soon after the duel, Jackson wrote a letter to Sam. Pryor, a noted gamester, and a crony of the general, then residing in this state, giving him an account of it. In the letter  HERO expressed himself to this affect: “I reserved my fire, and when I did shoot him, you may be assured I left the damned rascal weltering in his blood.” It is many years since our informant heard the letter read. But the expressions, he says, and we can believe it, made an impression upon his mind which time cannot obliterate while memory indoors.

National Standard, Middlebury Vermont, July 10th 1827 page 2

Peter Nance and Mary Pryor Query from 1906

It’s interesting to look at the old genealogy columns published in newspapers at the turn of the century. I thought this one was a great example of lots of names but not documentation. It was published on July 15, 1906 in The Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA.

I’m curious. What records were available to researchers 110 years ago? I suspect all research was done in the county record office or a researcher was hired to do it for you. In this newspaper column the reference to Edward and Nicholas Pryor in Henrico county sites the years and not the reference material. From what we know today, it’s likely they were citing the dates of Vestry Records.

And of course Roger A Pryor was still alive in 1906 and his involvement in US and Virginia politics, service as a Confederate General during the Civil War and appointments as a New York Judge were all well known and documented in newspapers.

I think there’s an interesting aspect to the query. In 1906 the writer was aware of who their ancestors were. Peter Nance was recorded with his wife Mary Pryor on the 1850 Census in Knox County. By 1860, when he was 86 years old, Peter Nance was living in Blount County, TN. So somewhere in the 40 or less years since his death, where in VA they originated from and who were their parents has disappeared from the family story.

This news clipping should be a reminder of why research continues and supporting documentation is needed for our findings. The writer never made a connection between the Pryors mentioned– they simply were dishing out names.

1807 William Pryor and William Pryor Jr Signatures

William Pryor and Wm Pryor Jr appear as signers on an 1807 Petition filed in Amherst County. These men may the William Pryor Sr. and William Pryor Jr. who appear on the 1810 Census in this county. The senior Pryor is likely the William Pryor who filed for a Revolutionary War pension in 1832.