Sunday, October 10, 2010

Meeting and Researching with Art Thomas
Slave Owner Descendant

Photograph is of Art Thomas, 3rd great grandson of William D. Coleman, and Nathaniel Thomas, 4th great grandson of John Bryant standing in the Robinson Cemetery, Jefferson County, Mississippi.

Art Thomas replied to an old query I left on Jefferson County MSGenWeb site inquiring about Neil McCormick. Art and I corresponded, he writing about his family history and I about the research projects I was working on.

William Coleman, Sr., was Art's 3rd great grandfather. After Coleman's death, Neil McCormick was named as guardian of Coleman's minor children and the family slaves. One of Coleman's daughters married McCormick. Several of my female relatives married the sons and grandsons of Cupit Coleman born about 1811. Art and I started working together because both families shared the Coleman surname.

Art mailed William Coleman's documents pertaining to his slaves. We went through the list and did not find a connection to my family. I was 95% sure of the slave owner of Cupit Coleman and was confident of the slave owner of Cupit's wife and children. We knew Coleman was not the last owner of Cupit and his family, maybe, he was a previous owner.

Art shared a story about one of William Coleman, Sr.'s slaves, John Bryant. John was a body servant to William, Jr., during the Civil War. According to Art's family oral history, John Bryant rescued a wounded William Jr., from the battlefield, nursing him to health and returning him home. Art said John had been buried near William, Jr.

Cousins Nathaniel Thomas, James Scott and I were researching Nathaniel's 4th great grandmother Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bryant. We had hit a brick wall with Lizzie as we could not get information on Lizzie previous to 1880. I shared with Art the little we knew about Elizabeth and as far as we knew she didn't have a son named John and we did not know the name of her husband. In 1880, Lizzie, head of household, was living with her children and grandchildren, and her deceased daughter's son and husband, Bryant Coleman and Dock Coleman.

While I am corresponding with Art, Nate and James are corresponding with Anthony Neal, husband to one of Lizzie's descendants. Anthony shares with us the slave narrative of one of Lizzie's sons, Robert Bryant. In the narrative, Robert said that his father John Coleman was the slave of Neil McCormick. Robert's mother was the slave of John McDaniel. I realized that the family had at least three different surnames they could have used in the 1870 census.

In their 1870 Lincoln County household, the family was using the surname McDaniel: Jno McDaniel, 75, and Elizabeth, 65, with their children Robert, Emily, Martha, Amanda, and grandchildren Simon and Minerva. Based on Robert's slave narrative, John McDaniel's 1857 Deed of Gift, records of William Coleman, and the census records, we knew John McDaniel was also John Coleman.

The question for us became was John Coleman of the slave narrative also John Bryant of the oral family history? We knew that William Coleman's probate records named a John and that John was under the guardianship of Neil McCormick. We have a bill of sale of one of McCormick's slaves but did not have a complete listing of the eight slaves he owned per the 1860 Jefferson County slave schedule. We needed to know if McCormick owned a slave named John before we could conclude our John was John Bryant. McCormick died after slavery ended, his probate records or will would not include the names of his slaves.

I decided to check my favorite research documents, the Civil War pension records. There was an Elizabeth Bryant named as a dependent in the Civil War pension index to a Daniel Mack. I decided to order the pension file, hoping that Elizabeth was the one I was researching, indeed, she was. Daniel Mack was John and Elizabeth Bryant's son. The Civil War pension records clearly stated Elizabeth Bryant's husband was John Bryant and he had been a slave of William Coleman.

Art invited the cousins and me to visit him, which we accepted. We met on a cold raining January morning at Art's home in Meadville, Franklin County, Mississippi. We were warmly greeted, felt at ease as though we were buddies visiting after a long absence. We exchanged documents, chatted for awhile before going to visit John Bryant's burial site.

John Bryant
Age 75 Years
Epitaph - "Farewell John Bryant, Tho Lost to Sight to Memory Dear"

John Bryant was buried in the Coleman - Robinson Cemetery located in Jefferson County near the Franklin County line. It was off a gravel road used by lumber companies. When we visited, the cemetery had been cleared enough for us to walk comfortably, a quite, peaceful setting. John was buried a short distance from the others. We were grateful to Art for helping us to discover an ancestor we didn't know.

John was born between 1795 - 1805. He died of kidney and heart disease 05 Apr 1875.


  1. Wow, oh Wow! What a moment! This is historical stuff and so important. I'm so glad I happened upon your blog today.

  2. Enjoyed your post...what an amazing story!

  3. Heather, Kristin, Janice, thank you for stopping by. I enjoy doing this type of research.

  4. I totally enjoyed this story. Your blog is always inspirationals.


  5. This has been an overwhelming last few days for me, with today the icing on the cake thus far! Through my Ancestry research as well as research on the Bryant-Coleman blog page, I just discovered that John Coleman Bryant is my great-great-great-GREAT grandfather. His daughter Ann McDaniel, was my great-great-great grandmother. Ann and husband Charlie Beal were the parents of my great-great grandmother Minerva Beal. Minerva and husband Thomas Clark were the parents of my great-grandfather Reilly Clark (spelled "Riley" on some Census reports). Reilly and Marguerite Hubbard were the parents of my grandmother Addie Clark (Ada on some Census reports). Addie and Prather Spiller were the parents of my father Lynell Spiller. What a NIGHT this has been. I'm ELATED!