Just over 100 years ago, the “Spanish Flu”, an especially virulent 2nd wave of influenza swept the planet. Transmitted by soldiers from Europe after World War I ended to the US, South Africa, and Latin America. The flu claimed millions of lives between 1918 and 1920. Sadly, the flu’s spread through the military was kept secret and under wraps, because there was an active theater of war. Only Spanish journalists could report on it, hence the name. So many were caught up by a widespread lack of knowledge and deliberate ignorance. Today, Covid-19, a hundred years later, is marching across the planet, but we’re fortunate to have a more widespread knowledge, and increasingly, a coordinated effort to flatten the curve of transmission.
Naturally, the recent news made me think about my family their lives during a pandemic. There is at least one documented victim of the flu on the Bobo line of my family, my 2nd great-aunt Annie Bobo-Thomas. In 1920, Aunt Annie Bobo-Thomas was living in Los Angeles with her husband. She was 26 years old, and a court stenographer. She had been there for less than a year when she abruptly returned to her family’s home in the Booker T. Washington Addition neighborhood in Dallas, Texas in May. The Booker T. Washington Addition in Precinct 1 in Dallas was near Flora Ave and McKinney Ave just a few blocks north of downtown Dallas. Anna was very ill, as reported in the Dallas Express (a black newspaper published from 1892 – 1970). The Dallas Morning News reported that the flu had burned itself out by the end of 1919, so was it the Spanish flu?
During this period, Anna’s father Dave “Lee” Bobo worked at the Central Christian Church in Dallas as a Sextant and custodian, her mother Bessie Demings-Bobo was a maid at nearby Southern Methodist University. Annie, the namesake of her grandmother Annie Turner Demings, was the oldest child, one of nine (six survived). None of her family or siblings appear to have caught the flu.
In 1918, World War 1 ended in November and returning troops from Europe brought the Spanish Flu with them to a number of American cities. When the Spanish Flu hit the Dallas, Texas area particularly at Army Camps like Fort Dick, that were full of young men who had been training to fight in the War. The second wave of Spanish Flu was a mutation that hit young men and women hard, with some victims dying within 24 hours. September saw it’s first quarantines. Dr. A.W. Carnes, Dallas’s health officer at the time underestimated the flu, and local officials waffled against his recommendations to start taking action. The Mayor and Chambers of Commerce argued and eventually kept cinemas, churches, and schools open, ultimately worsening the effects of the impact until mid-October when several deaths and hundreds of victims pouring into emergency rooms threatened to overwhelm the city’s health infrastructure. Dallas only had 150,000 people living there at the time. Over 456 people died in the city by year’s end. Ultimately, more U.S. soldiers died of Spanish Flu (63,114), than in combat during the war (53,402).
Annie’s death certificate shows that she had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, “TB”, while living in Los Angeles. She suffered from the bacterial infection from May to July in 1920, but complications from the flu hastened her to her death. Perhaps it was during her work as a stenographer, that she contracted TB. She would have been exposed continuously to people as she transcribed notes into shorthand, in a Los Angeles County Court. While recovering in Dallas, she got the flu, and as we’ve learned more recently, viruses tend to target the most vulnerable among us. While it’s not precisely clear that the strain she had was Spanish Flu, the timing aligns.
Annie Bobo Thomas died on July 14, 1920, and was buried on Dallas’s southside in the Woodlawn Cemetery. Her grandfather John Bobo was previously buried there in 1917. Later, her father Dave, grandmother Alice, and uncle A.K. Bobo would also be buried at Woodlawn.
According to another report in the Dallas Express, before she died, my great-grandfather, David Newton Bobo, 21 years old and married, traveled from Chester, PA in June, home to Dallas. Likely, he was called by his mother to see his older sister, in anticipation that they might lose her.
The lessons of the Spanish Flu were profound. Studies by the CDC about how over 40 American cities responded to the 1918 pandemic lead to the creation of pandemic protocols and policies that protect us today. Key was the many insights learned about social distancing as a communal effort to stop the spread of a virus. During the Spanish Flu pandemic, where one city shut down, lives were saved, where another went ahead blindly, like Dallas or Philadelphia, far more lives were lost.
The point of understanding history, even family history is not to drum up nostalgia or melancholy for the past, but to learn from it. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Los Angeles had shut down the courts during the pandemic? What could have happened had the greedy Mayor and myopic Chamber of Commerce in Dallas had heeded their health officials? Or if Anna was able to recover in isolation. Would she have survived or was it already too late?
What we are presented with today is not exactly unprecedented, though it may feel that way to us. We have history and its lessons to draw upon. We know it takes a community, not just the government to fight a pandemic. We don’t have to wonder what might have been. We have to act now for what could be.
Please, stay home, stay safe, and help flatten the curve of Covid-19.
Dallas County Death Certificate, Annie Bobo Thomas, 1920.
The Dallas Express, 29 May 1920, Annie Bobo Thomas.
The Dallas Express, 12 June 1920, David Bobo Jr.
The Dallas Morning News, 1920.
Tarrant, David. “100 years ago, the deadliest flu of all time devastated Dallas as it swept through the world” The Dallas News, October 2018.
One of the most exciting developments in genealogy is the use of DNA to uncover connections to family lines. African Americans who take a genetic genealogy test and upload their results shouldn’t be surprised to see white ancestors as blacks with enslaved ancestors have on average 25% DNA that originated in Europe. I’ve added DNA to my research because I believe knowing my white ancestry can lead to finding more about the life of my black ancestors prior to the Civil War and Emancipation. Understanding my white ancestors, where and how they lived helps me to gain access to the potential vital records, documents, and information that can break down brick walls. I’ve used traditional research to identify numerous enslavers, and no matter what, I’m always surprised to learn the circumstances of how my ancestors were emancipated, such as the case of Levi Chase, my 3rd great-uncle, who was freed by his enslaver Susan Goodhand, in order to fight in the Civil War for the Union Army.
The emotional toll of uncovering enslavers can be heavy at times, as I empathize with my enslaved ancestors, but I’ve decided its worth the pain to know the whole truth of their lives. Now DNA has furthered my research so I can pick up where the paper trail leaves off. DNA has helped me find new generations of ancestors, as well as to understand their forced migration across the country during enslavement.
The discoveries on my Bobo line have lead me to white ancestors who were both enslaver and family, back across the continent to North and South Carolina, and even across the Atlantic Ocean to England and Holland.
Recently, I wrote about Mama Bessie Bobo, who was originally Bessie Demings, and her mother Ann Demming, my 3rd great-grandmother. Using DNA, I was able to find the enslavers of Ann Demming (aka Ann Miles, Ann Demmings, Ann Wood, Ann Turner, Rebecca Turner), and to corroborate the finding by combining my research with census, geographical, and archival data.
Ann Demming was born enslaved in August 1849 in Leon County, Texas, and lived in Mexia, Texas for most of her life, spending her final days in Dallas with her daughter’s family, the Bobo’s. She was buried in Mexia upon her death in 1917 at the age of 67. Previously, I explored theories in The Bobo Family: Mama Bessie about my 4th grandmother. I learned of distant white ancestors in the Miles and Day lines (uncovered through DNA matches). Two white Miles descendants (brothers) and Day descendants (sisters who married the Miles bros) moved from Alabama together to the adjacent county of Limestone in Texas. Because the Miles were slaveholders, I hypothesized that this could be the source of Ann’s roots. Ann’s maiden name was listed as “Miles” in her daughter Bessie’s social security application. Naturally, I wondered if her mother or father was a Miles. I now know that it’s very likely that the Miles DNA came from Bessie’s father’s line or possibly Ann’s mother’s line, but it did not come from Ann’s father. DNA enabled me to conclusively identify Ann’s father as a white man, a farmer named Aaron Turner Sr.
THE CLUES ADD UP
Last Spring, my 92-year old paternal grandmother shared her DNA with me. What a blessing. We uncovered that she had several white 3rd and 4th-cousins, and of course hundreds of 5th – 8th cousins with roots in Texas. This was not a surprise because we knew where the Bobo and Demings family came from, and we knew there was some white ancestry. My grandmother’s father Dave Bobo was very fair-skinned. Which side did the white ancestry come from? Using the surname and geography match techniques, I quickly saw a pattern among white cousin matches but they were too numerous to discern the common ancestor.
So I turned to “genetic genealogy” and new tools used to analyze DNA data. I clustered my grandmother’s DNA matches using the Genetic Affairs “Autocluster” tool.
The more focused cluster revealed these ‘cousins by the dozens’ indeed shared a common ancestor. Several had well-developed trees that were searchable on Ancestry. Then, I was then able to compare trees and match locations, surnames, and generations to my grandmother in order to devise a probability of the most common recent ancestor (MCRA) shared by the matches.
Match after match pointed to a MCRA within the line of a white family by the surname of Turner who lived in Leon County at the same time as Ann. Finally, once I placed Aaron Turner Sr. into Ancestry Thrulines, which uses other people’s family trees and their DNA tests to hypothesize connections, dozens of Turner descendants on direct and collateral lines matched my grandmother in the same generation as Aaron Turner. Thrulines also revealed matches related to his siblings, first cousins, and Aaron’s parents, Charity Ann Clark b. 1752, and Thomas Reuben Turner II, b. 1754. The matches went further to Charity’s parents, William Clark b. 1709 and Hannah Peck, b. 1712. There are no less than 31 matches with Aaron Turner Sr. and 45 hypothesized matches with his mother Charity, 48 with Charity’s father William Clark! It was a pretty remarkable set of evidence.
Digging in, I found several pictures of Ann’s half brother, my 5th great grandfather’s son, Aaron Lloyd Turner Jr., on the family tree profiles of DNA Turner cousins. Aaron Jr. shares a remarkable resemblance to my great-great-grandmother Bessie.
Aaron Turner Sr. was born in 1783 in North Carolina to Charity Ann Clark, and Thomas Reuben Turner II. He was one of eight children (many of whose descendants are the cousins whose Ancestry DNA profiles corroborated the relationship). Senior migrated to Henry County Georgia from Marlboro County South Carolina to an area called Bear Neck Creek. In 1838, he met and married Nancy King nee’ Nelms b. 1817. Nancy was 21 years old and Aaron was 55 years old. Nancy Nelms was born in North Carolina and married George Dickson in 1830 very young, but Dickson died and she re-married. Nancy already had several children with Dickson. Aaron, Nancy and his adopted children migrated to Texas after 1841 to Leon County. Leon County is southwest of Limestone County, whose county seat is Mexia where Ann and her family first appear in the record. It turns out Aaron Sr. was a Methodist preacher and that probably had a lot to do with his migration west. Perhaps he was a circuit rider? In fact, his father Thomas Turner was also a Methodist preacher, but more on that later.
Nancy and Aaron had more children including Junior who became a cattleman, fought for the Confederacy, and was a store clerk in Mexia by 1867. Aaron Jr. lived and worked not too far from Ann Deming’s home in 1880. In Nancy Nelms (Turner-Sanders) household, alongside Aaron Jr.’s and her other adult children lived a black man (age 22) named Jack Turner. Jack Turner also shows up on the 1869 voter registration as born in Georgia. In the census document, Jack would is also confirmed as born in Georgia in 1848. Jack may have been related to Ann, a half-brother perhaps, or just a laborer in the home.
So how did Ann come to be born of Aaron Turner Senior? Despite being a Methodist and a man of the cloth, Aaron Turner was a slaveholder. In 1831 Henry County, Georgia tax rolls, Senior is a slaveholder owning 2 slaves. On the 1850 Slave Schedule for Leon County, Aaron owns four slaves listed as follows:
32, Female, Black
27, Female, Black
2, Male, Black
11 months, Female, Mulatto
The two enslaved women are of age to have children. The 2-year-old boy and 11-month-old “mulatto” girl are likely children of one or both of the enslaved women. The mulatto girl I surmise was Ann, the boy, Jack. But there is no guarantee as slave schedules were not true censuses of slaves, and have to be seen only as evidence a person was a slaveholder. In the 1900 census, Ann lists her father’s birthplace as Georgia and her mother’s birthplace as Alabama. The slave schedule was done on September 26, 1850 meaning if it was Ann, she would have been born in November 1849. The timing very much fits.
After emancipation, Ann Turner Demings may have made a mortgage for her own home with “two hundred gold dollars” in 1868 in town. It would be pretty remarkable for a formerly enslaved woman to purchase a home so soon after emancipation. The deed was for Lot 16, Block 24, made in 1868, recorded in 1872 and 1876 between A. Demming and W. R. Baker/A. Groesbeck. If it was Ann, where did she get the money? In 1880 Ann and her family lived near several perceptibly middle-class whites, including a carpenter, railroad agent, lumber merchant, and a minister in the middle of town. Records further show in 1900 she owned a home on Tyler street and then in 1910 owned a home on Carthage Street, also in Mexia. She was working as a nurse and raising her children. Some of the children’s father appear to be of Henry “Rufas” Demming, her first husband (her first marriage appeared to be in Freestone County). A seventh child may have been with a man named Hickman as her son Arthur Caldwell took the surname Hickman.
Between 1890 and 1900, Ann learned to read and write as indicated on the census. The census also confirmed she had 9 children, 7 of whom were still living. She was living with her daughter Ora Wright, son-in-law Green Wright, and grandchildren, Thomas, Herbert, and Charles Wright.
Her birthplace was listed as Tennessee, as were her parents. She probably never knew where precisely she was born because her birthplace is recorded as Tennesee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama on various records. Did she know her mother? Why did she leave Leon County for Mexia? Did she know the Turner’s were family? Surely she knew the Turner family, living in the same small town in 1880around the corner from her own home, and she could not have been able to ignore the striking resemblance to them in her daughter’s features, or perhaps her own. If Ann’s mother was either that 31-year-old or 26-year-old enslaved woman in the Turner household in 1850, then it is likely her mother was raped by Aaron Turner Sr., who was 66 years old at the time. Aaron Sr. died in 1851, so Annie never knew her biological father. Aaron’s widow Nancy remarried Drury Sanders in 1852, and moved to Grimes County, until she once again became widowed and moved to Mexia to live there until her death. What did Nancy Nelms make of her husband’s black daughter with her enslaved?
LIFE BETWEEN TWO RIVERS
When the Texas and Central Railroad reached Limestone County in 1871, Mexia became a town when the Texas and Central Railroad Reached Limestone County in 1871. Prior to that, the land was part of a large land grant owned by a Spanish family (stolen from the Comanche tribe) the Mexia family lead by General Jose Antonio Mexia b. 180o. General Mexia fought in the revolution
Mexia and his American wife, the former Carlotta Walker, owned a big land grant in Limestone County that included the future town of Mexia. Before the general’s last unsuccessful revolt against the Mexican despots, he and Carlotta had transferred the title of the Texas lands to their children, Matilda and Enrique and Enrique had been given more land near Mexia by his godfather, Marianno Riva Palacios of Palacios, Texas.
City History of Mexia
Mexia was platted in 1870 by the Houston and Texas Central Townsite Company. Lots went on sale in 1871 when the railroad was still under construction. A post office was built in 1872, and Mexia was incorporated the following year. Mexia went through an oil boom and bust in the early 1900s then quieted down to a small town population.
The 1877 Sanborn map of Mexia does include block 24 (Ann’s 1872 house lot), which was in the exact center of town adjacent to the railroad tracks, but the lot numbers only go up to 15 for the block. It may have been designated a different number in the map or a half lot. However, Carthage street appears on an 1891 street bordering different blocks suggesting Ann Deming moved and purchased a new house eventually.
Enslaved blacks coming off the plantation in Limestone and Leon counties, between the Brazos and Navasota rivers, purchased land, farmed, and started their own communities in the 1870s. African Americans celebrated Juneteenth in Mexia in Booker T. Washington park in Mexia, which they purchased explicitly for the celebration. According to the Limestone Historical Association, land was deeded in 1898 as a permanent site for celebrating June 19th– the anniversary of the 1865 emancipation of slaves in Texas.
The county sent to the Texas constitutional convention of 1866, Ralph Long, an African American, and the area had other black legislators including Giles Cotton, Dave Medlock, and Sheppard Mullins. For many years at the park, the honorable Ralph Long was the featured Juneteenth speaker, presenting from the bed of a wagon parked in the shade to over 20,000 attendees.
Another well known Limestone African American was Giles Cotton. In late 1869 voters from Robertson, Leon, and Freestone counties elected Cotton, running as a Republican, to theTexas Legislature. He served from February 10, 1870, to January 14, 1873 on the Agriculture and Stock Raising Committee and Privileges and Elections Committee.
Ann Turner was born on a homestead between the Brazos and Trinity River. Generally, there were no white settlements in the county prior to 1840, and the Turners were really pioneers. They were among the first wave of white settlers there in the 1840s as part of the Westward Movement. They lived alongside Keechi and Kickapoo tribes. During the Mexican War, Aaron Turner may have been a private in Chevallier’s Mounted Battalion (basically a Texas Ranger) between 1847 – 1848 under Maj. Webb and Maj. Walker. According to the record, Private Turner was discharged for killing cattle (no doubt to feed himself and his fellow rangers).
By 1850 Leon County had 621 blacks; by 1855 this number had increased to 1,455, with a value of $757,296, which was $300,000 more than the assessed valuation of all the taxable land in the County in 1855. However, by 1870, Ann Turner, now Ann and her husband Henry Demming were living in the next county over in Mexia. Henry Demming may have been the same Henry Demming “colored” registered to vote in nearby Freestone County in 1867. The record indicates he was born in Alabama and lived in Texas for 13 years prior, since at least 1854. Henry Demming is a bit of a ghost, appearing only by mention in later records.
I have not located Ann and Henry in the 1870 census, and in the 1880 census, “Ann Demming” is divorced. Ann’s household includes:
Mary Bell Demming, b. 1871
Ora Demming, b. 1874, twin
Zora Demming, b. 1874, twin
Bessie Demming, b. 1878
Willie L. Demming, b. 1878 or 1879
And infant (Herman Deming, b. 1880)
Bessie, Willie, and Herman’s father’s place of birth is listed as unknown, suggesting they may not have had the same father. I will explore Ann’s other children in a future post.
Meanwhile, in 1870, Aaron Lloyd Turner Jr. (Ann’s half-brother), and his wife Ella Fisher lived briefly in Western Retreat in Grimes County. By 1880, they have moved Limestone County to Mexia, where Aaron Jr. was a clerk in a store. He had several children with Ella. The census taker listed Aaron’s father as having been born in Alabama, and his mother in South Carolina. Its possible Aaron Jr. did not know precisely where his parents were born, but other records indicate both were born North Carolina – South Carolina border, moved to Georgia, then through Alabama, to Texas. Aaron Jr. may have moved from Grimes to Mexia to be near family. By 1880, his half-brother Marcus King, lived next door with his family and kept a saloon. His mother Nancy also appears to have left Grimes after the death of her 3rd husband.
Ann lived in Dallas, Texas briefly in 1910 with her daughter Bessie, now Bessie Bobo, and her grandchildren, before dying in 1917. She is buried a couple of miles outside Mexia in an African American cemetery, Mexia Memorial, where she has a prominent headstone.
TURNER’S MIXED-RACE LUMBEE ROOTS
When Aaron Turner Sr. died in 1850, his obituary read as follows:
“Died at his residence in Leon County, August 9th, 1851, Rev. Aaron Turner, aged 70 years. He was a native of North Carolina, married and emigrated to Georgia, when a young man, connected himself with the M. E. church and was licensed to preach the gospel. He was ordained in 1814 and imminently useful as a local preacher until 1848, when he emigrated to Texas. He left a widow and 6 orphans to mourn.”
George Tittle for the Texas Methodist Newspaper
Aaron Sr. of course left more than that behind, he enslaved four people at the time of his death. A good source for what happened to his enslaved would be his will, however, I have not been able to obtain his will yet. I did find the probate of Aaron’s father. Thomas Reuben Turner died in Marlboro County, South Carolina along the border near the Peedee River in 1822.
Upon the death of Thomas in July 1822, his will instructs that his “negroes” should be divided equally among his children, along with the rest of his property. In the probate, an inventory lists his enslaved:
Given the enslaved were valued based on age and condition – the males at $600 were likely adults in their prime. Caesar was probably elderly, as is Hannah, because of their very low value. Sarah is likely a young adult as well based on her valuation. Were the enslaved of Aaron Turner Sr. descended from Thomas’s enslaved or were any of them among Aaron Jr.’s enslaved? Or did Aaron Jr. inherit the slaves as a dowry from his wife Nancy’s family?
The will of Thomas Reuben Turner, Sr. names his following children:
Thomas’s first wife Charity was not named in the will, so we can presume she died before this date. This detail was uncovered by Mrs. Edmond L. Crow, a descendant of Thomas Jr., later recounted by Gail Blancett.
We know from records that Aaron Sr.’s wife Nancy Nelms was married once before to Dickson P. King in Georgia in 1830 when she was a young teen. A school teacher, she had three children before Dickson’s death around 1841, Marcus, Louisa, and Lucius King. After remarrying she had Mary Ann Turner, David Turner, Noah Turner, Francis Turner, and Aaron Lloyd Turner Jr. with Aaron Sr. The 1850 census in Leon County Texas gives Nancy’s place of birth as North Carolina, and that of the Turner children in Leon County, Texas.
I was able to trace Thomas Turner back to Marlboro County South Carolina by examining Turner family research (collateral lines of Aaron Lloyd Turner and his cousins) in blogs, forums, and published histories of this line. I also used DNA again to corroborate relationships. The research lead me to a wide variety of historical records that establish a migration of the Turners from North Carolina to South Carolina, Georgia, and then Oklahoma and Texas. Some Turners also migrated to Arkansas. For example, in the records of the Daughters of the American Republic of Texas is a description of the life of the grand-nephew of Aaron Sr., George Washington Turner.
“George Washington Turner, son of Thomas Turner Jr. (came to Leon, TX in 1843 and lived with “Uncle” Aaron Turner). He was born Nov. 18, 1833, Henry County, GA, son of Thomas Turner Jr. and Gincy Parrish. After the death of his mother in 1843 he moved west to Texas and lived with his Uncle Aaron Turner. He was a Confederate and after the Civil War, in 1869 he founded Old Bethel Methodist Church, 8 miles outside of Mexia. In 1894 he moved his second family to Altus, Oklahoma.”
Daughters of the American Republic of Texas Vol. 1
Thomas Reuben Turner II and his wife Charity Ann Clark lived along the South Carolina – North Carolina border at a time when the area was considered the wild frontier between 1750 and 1800. The land was swampy and wet, full of creeks and rivers. The land was home to the Lumbee Indians who were made up of both indigenous peoples, and the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans who escaped and free people of color. In The History of Old Cheraw’s, by Bishop Alexander Gregg, Thomas Turner Sr. was listed as clerk for Cheraw District in 1773. He further states on 9 June 1775 the Lt. Governor named twelve magistrates for Cheraw Dist., SC and Thomas Turner Sr. as being in the list of names.
Further research into the Turner line reveals that it is very likely too that Thomas Turner was mixed-race, descended from Lumbee Indian and perhaps Scotch-Irish immigrants. The following observation was made by Rev. Eli W. Caruthers in 1856 about the Turner family living along the North Carolina-South Carolina border during the American Revolution.
“Near three hundred men, under Colonel Peter Robison of Bladen county, in passing through the country had halted at Stuart’s, now McPherson’s mill creek, to take breakfast, when Colonel McNeill, with all his force, came upon them so suddenly, that they had no time to rally, and were scattered forthwith. How many, if any of the Whigs were killed, I have not learned; but John Turnerand Daniel Campbell, two of McNeill’s men were killed on the ground; and Dougald McFarland, another of the Tories, was, soon after, found dead near the place. Matthew Watson, a Tory, took young Archibald McKizic by surprise and held him a prisoner; and one story is that, being an acquaintance, and knowing that Turner, a mulatto, would kill him on sight, he gave him a chance to escape…
…It was Wade’s intention (a rebel officer) to scour the whole country and put every man of them to the sword. They were therefore greatly relieved in their feelings when his revenge seemed to be satisfied, and when he began to turn his course toward home. He turned down through the upper end of Robeson county and passed through the lower side of Richmond, by the Rockdale mills (i.e. modern Scotland Co.), into the Peedee country.
At the Rockdale mills, there lived some free mulattoes by the name of Turner, who were Tories and very wicked. The troops engaged in this expedition, having been disbanded, and Captain Culp having gone home, some of these mulattoes followed him to his own house, called him out at night, and accused him of whipping one of their brothers. He refused at first to come out, and they threatened to burn the house; but still he refused, until they began to apply the fire; then he came out between two young men, one on each side, holding them by the arms, and begging for his life; but the Turners told the young men that, If they did not wish to share the same fate with Culp, they must leave him. They did so; and he was Immediately shot down in his own yard. It is said that they not only murdered him, but his family also, and then burned his house, which stood about a mile below Hunt’s Bluff. Old Major Pouncey’s wife was Culp’s daughter….”
On 29 Dec 1760, Thomas Turner the 1st (Moses and Thomas Reuben Turner’s father) was issued a land grant by Lord Granville for 640 acres in Anson County, North Carolina adjoining Abraham Carson’s land. Obviously, after the revolution, the land grants were absolved. In 1775, Moses Turner, father of Winney Tedder (a line my grandmother shares more than a few DNA cousins with) appears in Richmond County, NC census. Moses Turner appears to be living east of Gum Swamp in then Anson County prior to 1779 when he was granted 100 acres next to Thomas Turner (likely his father’s land). Richmond County was created from Anson County in 1779.
Moses Turner was listed on the 1790 census in Richmond Co, NC. His brother Thomas Reuben Turner had moved into what is now Marlboro County, SC by then. On the 1790 census, Moses Turner’s family were all enumerated in the “Other” column. This column was for those considered “Free Colored” by the census taker. Moses Turner’s household included seven free persons of color and one slave.
Other family researchers have speculated the Turners were of Lumbee Indian extraction given the naming patterns of some of Moses Turner’s children, but it’s doubtful if we’ll ever conclusively know if they were Lumbee or simply descendants of free blacks who intermarried with whites and ultimately adopted a white ethnicity.
By 1800, Moses had joined Thomas in neighboring Marlboro District, South Carolina (Richmond and Marlboro were adjacent counties along the border). Marlboro District had been formed in 1798 from Cheraw’s District. Moses Turner was listed on the 1800 census in Marlboro District, SC, along with Thomas Turner.
Further DNA research along collateral lines of the Turners revealed the following related surnames as DNA cousin matches; Turner, Tedder, Quick, Locklear, Driggers (all Richmond County, NC, and Marlboro County, SC families). Ancestry DNA matches that include these surnames and Thrulines appears to corroborate that Moses Turner was Thomas Reuben Turner’s brother, and as we know, Thomas and his brother were slaveholders.
PLYMOUTH ROCK LANDS ON ME, HARD
In 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech in New York where he famously remarked, “We are not Americans. We are a people who formerly were Africans who were kidnapped, brought to America. Our forefathers weren’t the Pilgrims. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us.”
That quote pretty much describes a common African American sentiment about the Pilgrims, but what I learned about Charity Ann Clark (my white 5th great grandmother) makes that quote particularly poignant. Of course, I beg to differ from X’s description, blacks are Americans, we built this country with our blood, sweat, and tears, but then Malcolm X was really saying we are not perceived as Americans by racists. Efforts like the 1619 Project are revealing that our presence here pre-dates the formation of the American project, and is very much in the colonial roots of this country. The truth be told, it’s even more complicated because European Americans with colonial roots and African Americans share an intertwined history in blood.
Here’s what I learned. Charity Ann Clark’s paternal line descends from England and Holland, and her family arrived in the Plymouth Colony as Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Charity Ann Clark’s great-great-grandparents were Thomas Roberdes Clark (born 1599 in England) and Susanna Ring (born in Holland in 1611) who sailed on the Mayflower to the new continent with Myles Standish to start the Plymouth Colony of England. Thomas Clark is said to be the son of John Clarke, the actual pilot of the Mayflower (my 10th great-grandfather). Clarke’s story is straight bananas, concluding with his death in a battle between the Powhatan Indians at the Jamestown colony.
Growing up, to my white history teachers, nothing could be more thrilling than to be a Mayflower descendant. For me, it was always a painful thought. Learning more about my ancestry and recovering my once-lost history is my thrill now. I acknowledge that uncovering this Turner line and accepting it into my history is difficult. We know precisely how the Turners intersect with my enslaved African ancestors and the truth of it hurts, but it is no less true.
Early America is often portrayed in the most romantic terms, and democracy is spoken off as the result of the intent of pursuing freedom. Within the great project of America, one cannot look away from the fact that early democracy was really about establishing and protecting minority rule of poor whites, women, enslaved Africans, and the removal and genocide of millions of indigenous peoples. Minority rule was codified in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. Violence, rape, murder, torture, enslavement, theft, unjust laws, broken treaties and of course the Translatlantic slave trade was how minority rule was established and maintained in order to create property and profit for wealthy white men. And yet, against hundreds of years of persecution, against the odds, people resisted, in the dream, the hope that democracy would one day belong to them.
Incidentally, the Speedwell which was supposed to accompany the Mayflower with more pilgrims sprang a hole in it off the English coast after leaving Holland and didn’t make it on that fateful voyage. It became a slave ship captained by the great-great-grand uncle of the enslaver of my free 4th great-grandfather Emory Chase (on my grandmother’s maternal line) who was very likely descended from the men of Senegambia that were stolen away on the Speedwell.
I reconcile some of these remarkable facts now with the knowledge Ann Turner saw enslavement, emancipation, and Reconstruction. She survived and thrived. She learned to write, became a nurse, and a homeowner more than once, raised a large family, among whom would include the first college graduate in the family, “Mama Bessie.”
She gave her daughter Bessie Demings Bobo the name Fredonia after the first “Fredonian rebellion” in the Texas Mexican war that Aaron Turner briefly fought in. For Ann, Bessie was an act of freedom.
Mexia History Blog
Limestone County Historical Society
Limestone County Deed book Volume E. pg, 612.
US Census, Texas, Mexia County 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910
US Census, Texas, Freestone County 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910
US Census, Texas,Leon County 1850, 1860, 1870
US Slave Schedule, Leon County 1850
Granville Tract, Grant Book No. 30, page 322. 1750
Probate, Marlboro County, South Carolina, Thomas R. Turner, 1822.
I drove up to the cemetery office with more than a little trepidation. Tired from the early morning flight from Washington, DC to Denver, and then the tedious drive South to Colorado Springs, I did not know what to expect. The front range of Colorado and the wall of the Rocky Mountains to the immediate West loomed over me, an omnipresent voiceless giant, glimpsed occasionally through the clouds. I went into the office of the Evergreen Cemetery and requested a map. I already had a plot number from earlier research, even a picture of the tombstone.
The helpful office attendant drew a line from the office down a road to plot 228. After 45 years it was my first time in a cemetery. I didn’t know the protocol. I got in the rental and drove slowly up the hill, flagged by all manner of headstone and grave markers like soldiers at guard duty. Most were dull and lifeless, occasionally one would be marked by fresh flowers, a beacon in a field of gray. The leaves were turning and falling. How was I going to find her grave in time? The sun was setting and I did not bring a flashlight. Even with the plot number, I guessed there would be thousands of headstones.
I parked and glanced out the window, yes hundreds of markers. I sighed and got out and resolved to begin at the beginning. And then I froze in my tracks. “Harper”, I read. I know that name. I walked over. Here were two stones side by side, Ethel Harper and Andy Harper, my great aunt and great uncle. And there, to the left another marker an unmistakable name.
“Bobo” it read.
The inscription read, “Mother, Bessie F. Bobo, 1877 – 1952.” I got on my knees to touch the cool stone running my fingers across the surface. I felt the omnipresent mountains at my back. Somehow I knew she wanted to face the setting sun over the mountains. In the stretching shadows, the tears came. I could not hold them back.
My great-great grandmother, Bessie Fredonia Demming Bobo, was born in Mexia, Texas, 800 miles away and though she lived in rural places, and urban places like Dallas and the Bronx, she lived her last twenty years of life in Colorado Springs, in a small house near the base of the enchanting natural foothills of the Rocky Mountains known as the Garden of the Gods. The red rocks and white covered granite peaks overlook all who live in the valley. Here in Colorado she went to church and tended to her family for her remaining days. But not after a long life as the matriarch of the Bobo clan.
A day later in the Colorado Springs library, in the old opulent basement wing built by Andrew Carnegie, I found Bessie’s death notice and obituary on microfilm.
“Mrs. Bessie Bobo Dies Here Tuesday”
Mrs. Bessie Fredonia Bobo, 74, a resident of Colorado Springs for 10 years, died Tuesday at a local hospital. A retired school teacher, Mrs. Bobo was born at Mexia, Texas. She was a member of the People’s Methodist Church of this city, and is survived by two sons, Earl Bobo, New York City, and David Bobo, Chester, PA. ; four daughters, Mrs. Susie Mae Davis, New York City; Mrs. Thelma Swann, Colorado Springs; Mrs. Birdie Sanders, Denver, and Mrs. Ethel Harper of Manitou Springs; one brother, William Bobo, Dallas, Texas.
-Colorado Springs Free Press, January 2, 1952
Bessie was born to Henry “Rufas” Demings and Ann Miles or possibly Wood, in the small town of Mexia on the 8th of February in 1877. This was the year Reconstruction ended. The so-called Compromise of 1877 was an informal, unwritten deal, that settled the intensely disputed 1876 U.S. presidential election that resulted in the United States federal government pulling the last troops out of the South, and formally ending the Reconstruction Era. Black Republicans felt betrayed as President Grant removed troops from Florida and later that year the newly installed President Hayes would remove the rest of the federal troops from the South. The birth of Jim Crow had arrived. Mexia was a frontier town originally on Comanche land. The town is named after General Jose Mexia, a Hispanic general of the Republic of Texas Army during the Texas Revolution, the town was founded near his estate.
Ann Miles was born in August in 1849 likely a slave. She probably never knew where precisely she was born because her birthplace is recorded as Tennesee, Georgia, Mississippi (most often), and Alabama on various records. She had three children, Mary Bell in 1871, twins girls, Zora and Ora Demmings in 1874, making Bessie the fourth child, but not the last. Bessie had a younger brother Willie, and infant brother, Herman, according to the 1880 census. I can not find Ann in any census prior to 1880. On the census, her children, Mary Bell, Bessie, and the infant boy are listed as “mulatto”, the others “black.” In 1880 she lived near several perceptibly middle-class whites, including a carpenter, railroad agent, lumber merchant, and a minister in the middle of town. At 37 years old she could not read and write, but her children could and were most likely in a Negro school. In the 1900 census, Ann’s profession is “nurse”.
The 1880 US Census enumeration for the Ann Deming family is as follows:
Ann Deming, 37, birthplace Mississippi, “keeping home”
Mary Bell Deming, 9
Ora Deming, 6
Zora Deming, 6
Willie L., 2
Deming (Herman), under 1
Miles and Day Family
On the 1860 US Slave Census for nearby Wortham, Freestone County, one James D. Miles b. 1835 is listed as the enslaver of one male 21, and three females, ages 14, 14, and 26 years old. Thomas Miles b. 1844 is also enlisted as the enslaver of one male 18, and one female 18 years old. James and Thomas were brothers from Russell County, Alabama. The Miles family was originally from Georgia, and they married two Day girls in Alabama, Ellen b. 1836 and Ida b. 1856 respectively. DNA research shows I have common ancestors descended from the John Day family from Edgefield, SC (several 5th – 8th cousins) that moved to Alabama. Ellen Day’s grandfather was John Day, b. 1773 in South Carolina. Her father Wiley Day, also born in South Carolina, moved to Alabama and actually moved the rest of his large family to Freestone in Texas by 1860 to farm. Wiley Day died in Fairfield, Texas in 1862. William Wiley Day enslaved 11 souls according to the 1840 census in Alabama. and by 1860 enslaved 19 (some his own blood) ranging from age 65 to 1 years old. No doubt Wiley Day took his enslaved from South Carolina, to Alabama, and then on to Texas.
After emancipation in 1870, 3 black families are found in Fairfield in Freestone with the surname Miles, and 4 – 5 black families with the surname Day. These are the former slaves of the Miles and Day families. There was 1 black family in Limestone with the surname Miles.
I strongly suspect Ann Miles hails from one of these family groups, and that either her mother or father was bi-racial and a Day, and she was enslaved as being either part of a dowry from the Days to James Miles or directly enslaved by Ellen Day. If Ann’s father was Wiley Day, he’d be my 4th great-grandfather by blood (hence the several 5th Day cousins). With such racial status, it might also be why Ann was allowed to live among whites in central Mexia — because let’s face it, it was highly unusual for a black woman to leave among the middle-class whites in the manner she did in 1880.
Ann Demming’s married name on the 1880 census was spelled D-e-m-m-ing (no “s”). Research indicates not all of Ann’s children could not identify their father and its likely they did not all share the same father, but at least Zora, Ora and Bessie, were likely the daughters of Henry Demming who is named on Bessie’s January 1938 social security application. Henry Demming is also listed on the 1927 death certificate of Ora Demings Butler (Ann’s daughter) attested to by her brother Herman Demming.
A Married Name
By 1857 according to tax rolls in nearby Wortham, Freestone County, about 8 miles from Mexia, a large white family with the surname originally spelled D-e-m-ings had immigrated from Greenville, Alabama. This family was lead by Lewis Demming b. 1811 in South Carolina to Simeon Demming and Mary Webb, originally from Connecticut. Lewis married Catherine Baldaree, a German immigrant in 1861. His brothers Albert and William appear to have moved to Texas with him or about the same time. Lewis Demings was a slaveholder and the Demings families are connected through Henry Deming (the man who appears on Bessie’s social security application as her father)…and by blood. Ann’s daughter Minnie marries in the area to a Wesley Dunbar whose father is probably Jacob Dunbar. Jacob is listed on various 1860 Freestone County poll taxes with other black Demmings men, Sam, Jacob, and Edward. In 1867, Henry Demming “colored” registered to vote in Freestone. The record indicates he was born in Alabama and lived in Texas for 13 years prior, since at least 1854.Henry Demming may have been a son or brother to Sam, Jacob or Edward, but he was also most certainly related to Lewis Demming.
DNA research shows descendants of Bessie Demmings share common ancestry to the white colonial Deming family who settled in the Hartford Connecticut area in the 1600s. I have living 5th-8th cousins with the same Deming roots. This family’s scion is Jonathan Deming (one “m”) born in France in 1585 whose descendants came to the colonies in the 1630s. Lewis Deming’s father Simeon Deming born 1786 in Wethersfield, Connecticut, died 1858 in Alabama and is descended from Jonathan Deming. While living in Alabama in 1840, Simeon enslaved two people, a woman between the ages of 24 – 35, and one male under 10 years old, presumably the son of the woman. By 1850, Simeon enslaved 11 souls, 7 females, and 4 males. Lewis Demming died in 1870 and is buried in Freestone at Oak Island Cemetery.
By 1880 Ann Demming is the head of her household. Her record shows a “D” for divorced, and she raises her children alone. She does not live in the black section of town, all her neighbors are white. Annie lived until 1917 and was known as “Mamie Bobo” while living in Dallas near her daughter Bessie’s family. She was buried, however, in Mexia Memorial Cemetery. When Bessie attested to and signed her younger brother Herman’s death certificate, she listed her mother’s maiden name as Wood and her brother’s father name as “Rufas” Deming, perhaps a nickname for Henry. DNA points to Miles (Day) and it’s unclear where Wood came from.
At age 18 Bessie met and married David F. “Lee” Bobo, age 22, on the 10th of April in 1895 in nearby Navasota, Texas. Dave’s parents were John Bobo and Alice (maiden name Craig). John was an expressman in town and had four sons. By 1900, the turn of the century, Bessie and Lee had four children while they lived in Navasota on Lee’s property in town.
The 1900 US Census enumeration for David and Bessie Bobo’s family when they lived in Navasota reads as follows:
David Bobo, 27, born Texas, works at oil mill, can read, can write
Bessie Bobo, 24, can read, can write
Annie Bobo, 4
Earl Bobo, 2
David Bobo, 1
Susie Bobo (infant), under 1
Straight to Hell
Navasota was a true frontier town, east of the Brazos River and about 70 miles north of Houston. Since its founding in 1831, the town was primarily a stagecoach shop surrounded by farms worked by European Americans and slaves brought in and sold to work the land. In 1859 a major railroad made the area more important for shipping. But life in Navasota was unluckly and dangerous. Throughout the 1860s disaster after disaster hit the town, including a Yellow Fever epidemic, Cholera outbreak, and arson that lead to the death of many in a gunpowder warehouse explosion. Throughout the Civil War, whites fleed to Navasota with their slaves who became refugees.
The county’s adoption of the Old South pattern of plantation agriculture was evident in the census of 1850, which found 1,680 slaves and two free blacks residing amidst a white population of 2,326. The county’s slave population continued to increase at an astonishing rate during the last decade of antebellum Texas, as a result not only of purchases by current residents but also of continuing heavy migration of slaveholders from the lower South. In 1855 the county tax rolls enumerated 3,124 slaves, representing an almost 86 percent increase over the 1850 level. The 1858 county tax roll listed forty-two residents as holders of twenty or more slaves, the index of wealth often used to define a “planter,” while the 1860 census listed seventy-seven individuals owning twenty or more slaves. By 1860 there were 4,852 whites in the county and 5,468 slaves, constituting 53 percent of the population. Thus, though the white population had doubled in the preceding decade, the slave population had tripled. With 505 slaveholders, Grimes was one of only seventeen counties in the state in which the average number of slaves per slaveholder was greater than ten.
Grimes County Historical Society Newsletter, January 2016
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Blacks in Navasota began to vote and most Republican. The KKK began to infiltrate the town and a sense of lawlessness became pervasive despite the election of several black politicians. The Freedmen’s Bureau reported over a dozen homicides in 1867 most against Blacks. By 1870, 60% of the population was Black.
A deed between Ira C. Camp, and Lee Bobo’s father, John Bobo, dating to 1881 show John originally purchased for $125 two lots of land each 25 feet by 118 feet on the Daniel Tyler League (Daniel Tyler was one of the original Grimes County land grantees). Lee was probably conveyed one of the tracts by his father as he is found on the 1895 tax rolls. Father, John, was an “expressmen” delivering all manner of goods throughout the town and county on his wagon and horse. In 1867, just after the war, John is found on the voter registration list. His ownership of his labor and political will was no doubt instrumental in establishing a foothold in the town that would payoff for the Bobo family.
Ira C. Camp was a notable figure and slave-holder in Navasota prior to the Civil War. The 1850 Slave Schedule indicates Camp enslaved 13 individuals, 7 men, and 5 women. Well-known for his real estate and development projects, Camp moved from Mississippi in 1846 with his wife Eliza and acquired a lot of land in Grimes County. He built a large home that served as an inn and befriended Sam Houston and supported Baptist causes his whole life. After the Civil War, Camp petitioned President Johnson for a pardon for his support of the Confederacy and received it, like most Confederates.
Camp Addition and Camp Subdivision were sold to white settlers but a part of the town which Ira Camp named “Canaan” was sold to freed black men and became Freedman town. This is where Bessie and Lee Bobo settled in South Navasota. But even owning land offered little security. From emancipation to the turn of the century, blacks were continuous victims of white violence in Grimes County.
Despite the violence, the Bobos sought out an existence in the troubled frontier town. Lee’s brother Kelly “A.K.” was working on the river wharf, and brother John Wesley was working on a farm. By 1900 Lee worked at an oil mill and claimed his father was born in Louisiana and his mother in Texas. In 1889 Lee purchased more land in the Horlock and Deadrick addition to the city of Navasota for $150. However, by 1902, Lee and Bessie uprooted the family and moved to Dallas, Texas. They sold their land for $200. They were no doubt thinking about the safety of their family and children, Annie (named for Bessie’s mother), Earl Dewitt, David Newton, and Susie Mae. Parents, John Bobo and his wife Alice Craig left Navasota as well. Navasota had gone from outright lawlessness and straight to hell.
In 1900, a secret all-white, all-male society, known as the White Man’s Union made up of the white merchants and leaders of Navasota began to terrorize the large black population of Navasota. The white Populist Sheriff Garett Nelson who had a good relationship with the black community was targeted in a daylight attack on the streets of the city. An all-white mob murdered three men and shot the sheriff in November and trapped him and his family in the courthouse. State militia was needed to rescue Scott, his family, and several other men. Scott left Navasota, divested his land and brought a successful lawsuit against EVERY white merchant in town. They were all WMU. The black population, and the Bobo family, left Navasota in droves in 1902 so much so the crops in the area failed because there was no one to bring them in. Today the population of Navasota is 54% white and 30% black.
Not Without Difficulty
Lee and Bessie and the family settled into Armstrong’s Booker Washington Addition of Dallas, Texas near Highland Park. Mother, Annie Demmings moved to Dallas to live with them. Records indicate they owned their own home. Bessie had six more children, twins, Thelma Valentine and Ethel Tobie, as well as Birdie, and unbelievably, another set of twins, Bell Zora and Ell Ora Bobo. Fourteen years separated Bessie’s oldest Anna, and her twin daughters born in 1910. Sadly, her twin daughters lived just three months before perishing according to announcements in the Dallas Times. Tragedy struck again in 1911 when her daughter Gregory died. She survived just 10 days.
During the early 1900s in Dallas, the Bobo family went through remarkable changes from a rural to urban life. Their community and lives were documented frequently in the Dallas Times, Dallas Express (the city’s African American newspaper), as well as the Dallas Morning News. “Mama Bessie” as she became known, was a devout churchgoer at Central Methodist Church, a teacher, a nursery head, and taught Sunday School. Lee was a sextant for their church. They both worked for and were affiliated with Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
According to a 1930 Dallas Morning News article, Bessie Bobo was also head of a negro daycare for children ages 2-8 at the Highland Park United Methodist Church, part of the A.M.E. church grounds onsite. The site was rented by the Highland Park Women’s Missionary Society. It’s unclear, but Bessie probably also taught at the nearby negro Sunday School. Despite the racial slur in the headline and demeaning view of black progress, the article places Bessie at the center of the nursery entrusted to her by her community and the Highland Park Society.
Bessie’s father-in-law John Bobo died in 1917, and her mother-in-law “Nannie” Bobo died in 1929. The 1910 census indicated John was widowed by then at the age of 58. John was living with his younger sister Lilly and her husband Henry Bolden at that time in Dallas (according to the 1910 census and Directory information). However, I believe he was actually separated from Alice. Alice was living not too far away in fact according to the Directories. This intriguing bit of information recently lead me to learn that John Bobo’s younger sister (and possibly a parent or two) lived not too far from Navasota in the 1880s. Research on Lilly reveals her surname as “Johnson” and that she and her husband lived in and were married in Montgomery, Texas prior to moving to Dallas. It’s possible her mother remarried as “Johnson” or it was an adopted name. Its also possible Lilly was John’s sister-in-law, the sister of his wife Alice Craig. John’s death certificate lists his parents as Cornelius Bobo and Emma Brown in testimony by Bessie Bobo. There is considerable more research needed here.
In 1920, Annie, Bessie’s first daughter died. She was living in Los Angeles, a stenographer and recently married when she contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. She traveled home to Dallas where she passed away in July from complications from the flu. She was buried in Woodland Cemetery near the Booker Addition. John Bobo and wife Alice “Nannie” Bobo, and AK Bobo, are also interred at Woodland. Crawford was the family undertaker.
In 1932, Lee Bobo, 60, died and was laid to rest in Woodland Cemetery in Dallas as well. Lee had several jobs over the years. He worked as a driver for the Armor Package Co (1903), a fireman at the Linz building (1904-06), an engraver (1907-1909) and then worked for 26 years at the Central Christian Church (1910 -1932) in Highland Park, one of the oldest Protestant congregations in Dallas (established in 1863), as a Sextant and Custodian. David could read and write by age 7 according to the 1880 census, and clearly, had attended a negro school in Navasota.
Apparently, Lee was quite the barbecue pitmaster. His smokehouse was cleared out by a “sneak thief” in a theft that made the Dallas Express newspaper in 1919.
A Remarkable Feat
A persistent family story about Bessie Bobo was that she earned a college degree in her lifetime. Indeed, I learned after examination of the 1940 census record that she had earned a 4-year college degree between 1930 and 1940 in her 50s, a remarkable feat. The search continues to find her alma-mater. Almost certainly she was one of the first in the Bobo line to graduate from college. Daughter Thelma did have a 4-year college degree from Wilberforce University in Ohio.
After Lee’s death, Bessie left Dallas and traveled to New York where her daughter Thelma had relocated with her husband Bill Swann, a Bermudian immigrant. The Swann’s lived in Harlem on E. 99th Street according to the 1930 census. Their eldest daughter Gloria was born in New York eight years prior meaning Bill and Thelma had been living in New York since at least 1922. Maude Hale (Bessie’s granddaughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law of Tobie Bobo) shared that “Mama Bessie” had worked in the offices of Asa Philip Randolph, the noted Civil Rights and labor movement organizer while living in New York in the 30s.
On the application for a social security account number on January 19, 1938 that Bessie made, she listed her address as 129 St. Ann’s Avenue, Bronx, New York. She listed her mother’s full maiden name as Ann Miles. Her home in the NY was just off Bronx Kill on the peninsula of the borough. Across the kill was Harlem and Randall’s Island, and the East River- Rikers Island. Bessie’s daughter Birdie and her husband Leo Leslie Saunders relocated from Dallas to Harlem in late 1940 also to E. 99th St. There Leo registered for the draft while working at the Adolphus Hotel. He was never drafted. After Susie Mae’s first husband, Chester Nash passed in 1947, she left Dallas and lived the rest of her life in New York.
By 1931, Ethel and husband Andy Harper had relocated from Dallas to Colorado Springs. Cousin Leslie Stephens, grandson of Birdie Bobo and Adolph Jordan, informed me that Ethel and Andy owned a restaurant serving black soldiers and airmen from the nearby Air Force Academy out of the back of their home. Andy was a great cook and well known and beloved in the Colorado Springs community. Ethel was a social worker for nearly 20 years. Ethel had a son from a previous relationship when she was 14 years old in Dallas, Herman Atcherson Jones. Ethel passed in 1989, her husband Andy in 1958.
By 1935, Thelma and Bill and their family followed family to Denver, Colorado from Harlem. Bill was an independent trucker most of his life and passed in 2000. Around 1950, Birdie and Leo and their family also relocated to Denver from New York as well. Leo was a waiter at the Navarre Club, the hottest jazz club in Denver. He later worked as a realtor. Birdie had two children from a previous marriage in Dallas to Adolph Jordan born 1899.
According to Leslie Stephens, Adolph Jordan was the first black pharmacist in Dallas, TX. He was well-known and respected and later sent three children (not his own) to college. His first families (the Bobos) were more complicated and difficult. He married Thelma V. Bobo but later had an affair with Thelma’s younger sister Birdie, producing two children, Everett Alvin b. 1924 and Ernestine b. 1925. A third child, Charles, may also be attributed to Adolph but is more likely Leo Leslie Sanders’ son. Adolph eventually moved to Houston (presumably when the relationship with Birdie ended). He lived there until his death in 1991.
Bessie’s son David N. Bobo b. 1898, my great grandfather, lived most of his life in Chester, Pennsylvania, locating there when he was just eighteen where he met and married Edith Johnson b. 1893, the daughter of a grocer and city councilman. He had divorced and remarried Edith’s distant much younger cousin Mario Rae Henry, but large remarkable families with both women. He also had an illegitimate child with Gertrude Palm all of Chester in 1923, but that is yet another story. David passed in 1990, Edith ten years earlier. David Johnson or “Curly Dave” as he was known, lead a very complex life that I will explore in a later post.
Bessie lived the last 10 years of her life with her daughter Ethel in a modest home on Fountain Place in Manitou Springs. Records show she was living in Colorado Springs since at least 1946.
Bessie’s home was just a few miles from The People’s Methodist Episcopal Church on East Vrain in Colorado Springs. The church was formed in 1903 by a group of ex-slaves and began meeting at the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Hall. The church provided meeting space for the DuBois Study Club, People’s Literary Society, NAACP, Women’s Home Missionary Society, Ladies Aid Society, and Colorado Springs Unity Council. I imagine Bessie must have been quite a force in life. She was wise and well-traveled, and her experiences with her family and their complicated relationships showed how much she loved and cared for them. Her leadership and guidance as a teacher set a powerful example. It’s no wonder that ten years after her death, in 1963, the Woman’s Society of Christian Service of People’s Methodist Church named a new circle in Bessie’s honor.
Using DNA research and other methods, I determined the paternity of Ann Demings. Her father is Aaron Turner Sr., a white enslaver, farmer, and Methodist preacher who was born in North Carolina, likely Richmond County, who migrated to Marlboro County, South Carolina, then Georgia, Alabama, and finally to Leon County, Texas. He enslaved two adult women and two children, one of whom was Ann’s mother. Ann is likely referenced in the 1850 Leon County Slave Schedule of 1850 as an 11-month old living in the Turner homestead. See: Ann Turner Demings: Her Enslaver, Her Ancestor, Her Country.
Dallas Morning News
Land Deeds, John Bobo, 1881
Land Deed, David Bobo, Bessie Bobo, 1902
Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph
US Census, Texas, Mexia and Navasota, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, 1900
US Census, Texas, Dallas County, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
Ancestry.com, DNA Summary and Matches, Joel R. Johnson, Cherita E. Bobo
US Census, Slave Schedules, Greenville, Alabama, 1840, 1850, 1860
Slave Schedules, Freestone County, 1840, 1850, 1860