Sunday, April 13, 2014

52 Ancestors #14: Elizabeth Walker Holland

Elizabeth Walker Holland, date unknown,
my 5th great grandmother
This week's post is not intended to inspire political discourse on the ethics, etc., of the slave trade of the 19th century. It is inspired by a 2013 movie many of you are probably familiar with or have heard of called "Twelve Years a Slave".

I'm a southern born & bred & a proud sixth generation Texan. While most of my ancestors were not slave owners, a couple of my ancestors, mainly the Turnipseeds & Hollands of AL & GA, did hold slaves. (Turnipseed family history claims that the Turnipseed family were such good masters to their slaves that they took our surname for their own after their emancipation & the Civil War ended. A maternal aunt of mine claims they were "servants", but I have never bought into that line of reasoning. I won't sugarcoat what they were, i.e., slaves, & I won't accept as gospel at simple face value that we were such good masters to the people we held in bondage per se). Of all the periods of history I have ever studied, the 1800's & the Civil War period has been the most interesting to me. All that said, I have never been a proponent of slavery or racism or felt that either were right or justified.

My husband Chris & I don't make mad dashes to the theater every time there is a new release & it is often months or years before we see something that was mentioned in the headlines usually. This week, we watched "Twelve Years a Slave" which chronicles the story of Solomon Northup of Hebron, NY. There is a Holland family story concerning the death/murder of my fifth great grandmother, Elizabeth Walker Holland that I have always found a little amusing because I read into it what she must have been like as a person.

Elizabeth Walker was born on Christmas Day 1790 in Putnam Co., GA to Thomas Walker & Mary Burns. She was one of five children. On 16 Jan 1812, at the age of 21, she married John Rickman Holland, son of Thomas & Pheobe Rickman Holland in Putnam Co., GA. Together, she & John had nine children: five girls (Mary, Nancy, Martha, Sarah & Simruda) & four sons (Thomas, William, John & Samuel). They started family life in Putnam Co., GA & later moved to Troup Co., GA where their last two children were born. 

Marriage record of John Rickman Holland & Elizabeth Walker, Putnam Co., GA
In September 1840, John headed for Texas, which at that time was a free & independent republic, eventually settling in Erath Co., TX. Eight of his nine children would wind up joining him (Texas is a great state to live in!) before all was said & done. In December 1854, John petitioned the Coryell County, Texas courts for a decree of divorce from Elizabeth who had remained in Georgia with her only remaining daughter Martha & her husband Moses Holland who was a first cousin through John's brother James. A twelve man jury of his peers evaluated his case under the direction of District Judge R.E.B. Baylor & decreed that "John R. Holland be forever absolved both in person and property from all matrimonial obligations toward the defendant, Elizabeth Walker Holland." He continued to send money for her support & immediately divided his Texas lands among their children, including a 500-acre tract in Erath County deeded to Moses and Martha Elizabeth Holland who remained in Chatooga County, GA, with her mother, Elizabeth. Divorce, as everyone knows, was rare back in those days so you had to wonder what the lady was like to drive her husband all the way to Texas to get away from her (or did she just not want to go to Texas with him? No one knows for sure, but it's likely she wasn't easy to get along with).

Here is where the story of Elizabeth takes a turn of for the worse. Elizabeth lived on a plantation in Chatooga Co., GA with her daughter & son-in-law/nephew. She had a maid (who was for all intents & purposes a slave) to wait on her named Julian or Julia Ann whom she had promised her freedom upon her (Elizabeth's) death. On 4 July 1861, when the maid & Elizabeth were alone, the maid struck Elizabeth on the head with a rolling pin, killing her, & dumped her body down a well. The neighbors came out to look for Elizabeth & upon discovering her body, the maid admitted to doing the deed, saying that "she was tired of waiting upon ole miss & never being able to please her". The girl was lynched on 12 July 1861. Elizabeth was buried at Ebenezer Cemetery in Chattooga Co., GA.


Gravesite of Elizabeth Walker Holland
at Ebenezer Cemetery, Chattooga Co., GA
I guess I always thought upon hearing this tale that it spoke to the kind of person she may have been to have a husband move to Texas & divorce her only to have a slave girl kill you by whacking you in the head with a rolling pin. The movie "Twelve Years a Slave" changed my perception of this tale. I'm not saying murder is right or justified, but her treatment of the maid probably, quite understandably, brought about her death. The movie is probably the most graphic of any I have ever seen depicting slavery in the South. It shows Solomon, who was a free man of color being forceably kidnapped & sold into slavery against his will. He was first sold to a minister who treated him well enough, but refused to free him when he showed his intelligence (i.e., he was educated & definitely not a slave originally) & had gotten crossways with a bullying overseer because he had debts to pay. He was then sold to a slave owner & his wife who were absolutely terrible people whose treatment of their slaves was beyond despicable. The man was a cruel sadist who quite clearly made known that he bought into the idea of the white race being superior to the exclusion of all others. The wife wasn't quite as fanatic as her husband, but made her disdain felt & often lashed out at one of their slave women in particular because the girl was her husband's favorite (I won't call her his mistress because she didn't seem to try to encourage his attentions. Her only concern was to survive her lot in life the best way she could). It was apparent that the man & woman who owned the plantation didn't have a happy marriage. The wife begged him to sell the girl or she would leave & the husband told her that he would rather she (his wife) leave than get rid of his favorite. 

It wasn't just this female character named Patsy who came in line for abuse either. Solomon, who had been renamed Platte when he was sold into slavery, was beaten & ridiculed & his master went after him with a knife at one point, trying to kill him, even when he had tried to do as he had been instructed to do. The tale of Solomon at least had a happy ending. Towards the end of the movie, a man who was from up north was hired to do some carpentry work on the plantation & he & Solomon struck up a conversation & a friendship of sorts. Solomon told the man his tale & begged him to get word to his friends & family up north. In time, several men came to the plantation to establish his identity. They threatened the plantation owner with lawsuits & took Solomon back up north where he was reunited with his family. After his experiences, Solomon later became active in the abolitionist movement & the Underground Railroad. The movie was good, thought provoking & well deserving of its 2013 awards. 


Sources:
"Georgia, County Marriages, 1785-1950," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KXVH-DMW : accessed 10 Apr 2014), John Holland and Elizabeth Walker, 16 Jan 1812; citing Putnam, Georgia, United States; FHL microfilm 394053.

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