Wednesday, April 2, 2014

James "Uncle Jim" Nelson, "A good and faithful servant"

James Nelson, also known as Uncle Jim, died February 25 1881.  His obituary notes that he was "colored", 80 years of age and that he had been formerly owned by T.A. Nelson to whom he had been a "good and faithful servant."  

I wanted to see what else I could find out  about Mr. Nelson and his family so my search began.

The earliest record comes from his Freedman's Bureau Application dated November 1 1867. He was born in Maryland but came to Davidson Co. Tennessee when he was about 5 weeks old.  At the age of 11 or 12 he moved to Madison Co, near Huntsville Alabama and stayed there till he "became a man."  Then he lived in Limestone Co. Alabama.  He came to Memphis about 1854.    The application states he was 65 years old and that his father was named James and his mother was Cely Vincent.  His wife was named Sally.  He listed three children: Jennie age 22, Jim and Cely had died.  His place of birth was listed as Georgetown Maryland, Eastern Shore.  His current residence was 3rd street between Poplar and Washington in Memphis. Occupation, drayman.  Remarks: "Never has heard of his father.  He was in Maryland.  Left Mother in Limestone Co., Alabama.  Has not seen her for 30 years. Half-bro. Thomas Vincent, in Huntsville when was separated at same time Mother was."   

His daughter Jennie married William Bickford prior to October 28 1867.  Jennie's application with the Freedman's Bureau states that she was born in Athens Alabama and had come from there about 12 years ago and lived in Memphis since that time.  She was 22, her husband was William and they had a four year old daughter named Bell.  The family lived at Third St between Poplar and Washington streets. Like her father, her husband was a drayman.  Remarks: "Father and Mother in Memphis. They all live together.  Bro. Jim and sister Cely dead.  Tres. Daughters of Zion."

The Nelson and Bickford families continued living together and appear in the 1870 Census for Memphis. James birth state is Maryland and he was 75 years old. Sallie was 71 and from Virginia.  They are living with their daughter Jennie, her husband William Bickford and their daughter Belle. William was a drayman, born in Tennessee, age 39.   Jennie was 24, keeping house, born in Alabama. Young Belle was 6 years old, born in Tennessee.  

Belle Bickford applied with the Freedman's Bureau on January 11, 1872.  She was 8 years old, born in
Memphis, lives at 3rd St and attends school at Mrs. Clark's.  Her father, William Bickford, has died.

A few years after the death of her husband, Jennie Nelson Bickford married Edward Carter on January 20 1875 in Shelby County TN.  This is the last record I find for Jennie.

James, Sally and Belle next appear in the 1880 Census.  James is 83 and his occupation is domestic servant. His wife Sally is now 76 and keeping house. Their grand-daughter Belle is 16.

The next time we find James Nelson he has died and was interred at Elmwood Cemetery on February 27 1881. Elmwood records his age as 80.  His wife Sallie/Sally dies on February 3, 1892.  Cause of death, Dropsy. She is also laid to rest at Elmwood.

Eight months after her grandmother dies, Belle Bickford marries Mose Harris, October 4 1892 in Memphis. They were married by Justice of the Peace P.L. Davis.

After that the trail for Belle goes cold.  I did find a Belle Harris who died in Memphis December 31, 1893.   She was 27 and married at the time of her death.  Her age and marital status are close enough that it's possible this is the grand-daughter of James Nelson. She was interred at Potter's Field in Shelby County.

For those of you that might be interested in the slaveowner, T.A. Nelson he was Thomas A. Nelson, born in 1819 in Tennessee.  He married Miriam W. Mosley in Itawamba Mississippi on Sept. 4 1839.  The family resided in Limestone County Alabama in 1850. His children were Laura, Frederick, Liza and Stephen.

The 1850 Slave Census shows that Thomas A Nelson owned 12 slaves, with five of them checked as "Fugitives from the state."  It's very possible that James and his family are listed in this Census.

In 1869 Nelson purchased the home and property of Wilks Brooks after an outbreak of Yellow Fever.  His daughter Laura and her husband James Brett lived there until 1890.  The house and property passed through the hands of others and was finally sold to James Kirby in 1898.  It would become known as the Kirby House, Germantown Tennessee.  This historic home located at 6792 Poplar Pike was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In September 2013 the home, like so many other historic landmarks in Shelby County, was scheduled for demolition to make way for other forms of development.

Thomas Nelson died on January 11 1887 and like his former slave, James Nelson, was interred at Elmwood Cemetery.  The following appeared in the Memphis Appeal, January 14 1887:  The remains of the late Thomas A. Nelson were laid at rest at Elmwood Cemetery on yesterday.  The funeral was from his late residence, No. 81 Adams street and was largely attended by the members of South Memphis Masonic Lodge, of which lodge he was a member in good standing."

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