Sunday, November 30, 2014

So Proud of Edmund Baker

Farming Near Tupelo, Mississippi
Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress

I am so proud of Edmund Baker fighting to get his children returned to him. Baker contracted for one year, in 1866, for his minor children to labor on the land of John H Davis. Once the year had expired, Edmund expected his children to return home. Davis refused to return the children because he said the children did not want to return to their father and the children had made contracts to remain with the Davis family. All three children were under the age of 21 years and could not make a legally binding contract. Baker's attorney sought the help of the Freedmen's Bureau with the case since the Mississippi courts refused to return the children to their father.

The Civil War brought devastation to the area where my ancestors lived. They lived in small villages, towns between Union occupied Natchez and Vicksburg. The Federal armies took what they needed from the farms and in some cases destroyed what they could not take. Southern Commissions depositions, letters, federal pension depositions, slave narratives gave accounts of the military actions in the area. All that was left, hidden or had been squirreled away was what the folks had for survival.

I can imagine my people discussing the future. I know they dreamed of owning land, land to make their living. They were skilled in making the land prosperous for their former masters and I am sure they looked forward to working for self. There was plenty of work in an agriculture economy and they were to be paid for their labor.

Edmund Baker was born about 1810 in Kentucky, described as a mulatto, His wife Mary was described as a large woman and very religious. The couple was not seen in the census records living together. In 1870, they were living as next door neighbors on the Somerset Plantation. Edwina Burnley wrote in her memoirs that Edmund was the only slave who never left the plantation.

Two of Edmund's three children had returned home by 1870, Wilson and Elijah. Julia who should be about 18 is not with the family. She may be married, dead or left the area. Elijah married Lucinda Smith in 1873 and settled in Lincoln County, MS. Wilson married Betsy and remained in Copiah County, both became farmers. The 1900 census is the last census for Edmund Baker. He was a widower living alone tho Mary the mother of his children was still alive. Mary was alive in 1910, no record for her in 1920.

Wilson died August 15, 1919 in Copiah County of dropsy. His was the only death record found for the family of five.

I hope the descendants of Edmund Baker discover his story so his name can be remembered.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Davis Responds to Baker's Plea

John Henry Davis responded to Edmund Baker's letter. Baker was requesting Davis return his children and pay him for their one year service on Davis' farm.

Gallatin April 23rd 1868

Dear Sir

Yours of the 22nd inst. has been duly received. And I now hasten to respond. You wish me to state whether I have in my service the minor children (Elijah, Wilson and Julia) of Edmund Baker, freedman, and if so to explain by what authority I hold them and why their father is not permitted to remove them and receive pay for their services. I will simply state that Wilson is not in my possession or employment but has contracted and lives with Dan Brown. That he does not prevent Julia's father from having her. But deserves her to go. And told her to go. And that the father took her twice and she would not remain with him. That Elijah is over twenty one years of age and so swore in a trial between me and his father before the Probate Judge of this County. And also swore that he did not wish to remain with his father. But preferred staying with me.

Your respectfully,
J. H. Davis


1860 Copiah County Federal Census
Mississippi, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872," images, FamilySearch (,1078468007 : accessed 14 Nov 2014), Brookhaven (subassistant commissioner) > Roll 11, Registered letters received, Nov 1867-Aug 1868 > image 121 of 265; citing NARA microfilm publication M1907, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Edmund Baker's 1867 Plea
Give Back My Children
and Pay Me

Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress

Edmund Baker's attorney writes a letter to the Freedmen Bureau detailing Baker's failure to receive remedy in the Mississippi court system. Baker contracted, in January 1866 with John H Davis, for his three minor teenage children to work on Davis' farm. Davis refused to give Baker his children at the end of 1866. According to the contract between Baker and Davis, one fourth of what was cultivated on the Davis farm in 1866 was to be given to Edmund Baker. Davis did not abide by the contract.

As of January 1866, Elijah was about 17 years, Wilson was about 15, and Julia was about 13 years, per the 1870 and 1880 censuses records.

Gallatin, Miss
Dec 4th 1867
To The Office of the
F. B. & R - Brookhaven Miss


In the year 1866, Baker contracted with one John H Davis (wittiness by his written contract) that his minor children - Elijah, Wilson, and Julia ? work upon the lands of Davis & c - and should receive as compensation one fourth part of the products of the plantation as cultivated for the year 1866.

The cotton was ginned by Capt Hezekiah Brown and the first five bales weighed as follows 428, 490, 462, 520, and the last two bales (seven in all) weighed 840 lbs - leaving Edmond Baker share (1/4) - 682 and a half lbs - ginned cotton of which Edmond has received only one bale weighing 410 lbs leaving a balance of 272 and a half lbs, which at the price of cotton sold for last January should have paid Edmund Baker between $90 and $100 dollars.

Davis gave Baker only about 30 bu of corn. Davis gathered the corn for his stock, and for his bread from the fields before it was gathered - allowing Baker nothing for the part so consumed by Davis.

There was fodder and hay gathered, and some peas but Davis allowed Baker nothing for these things. And after allowing Baker 30 bushels of corn afterwards claimed it, and refused to let Baker have a single bushel.

At the close of the year 1866, Davis and his son John Davis, together refused to let Elijah and Julia leave their place, and when Baker came to move them to his house, the said Davises, ? off the father, and with threats forbid Baker to come on their premises again. Afterwards the older Davis agreed that Edmund Baker might secure his daughter Julia (for whom Baker for particular reasons felt much anxiety) but the younger Davis threaten to kill Baker if he did not immediately leave the premises without his daughter.

He the younger Davis claimed to have hired Julia by a contract with herself and the older Davis claimed to retain Elijah by a similar contract.

At the time that Baker went to Davis after his children with a wagon to move them and their affects, Simon Ruffin, Dick Overton, Ned Smith, Edwin Ruffin, freedmen went with him, they all being with Baker at Col Burnley's (their former owner) and Davis having sent them word to come to him to hire for the next year and that he would pay one of them $20 which he owed him.

After the Davises had refused to let Baker have his children, as above stated. I directed Baker to make affidavit before the clerk of the circuit court and get the writ of habea corpus issued and Baker came to Gallatin for that purpose, which when the Davises found out, they came before the county court and prosecuted Baker and all the men who were in his company for criminal conduct in coming upon the place.

In the trial, somehow the judge of the county court found a verdict against all of them and sentenced them to pay a fine of $10 and costs, and committed them to jail in case the money was not paid...

Afterwards, Baker the present summer, did get a writ of habeas corpus issued, for the detention of his two children Elijah and Julia, by the Davises. And in the trial, the certificate of Col Burnley, their former owner, as well as the oath of Baker their father was given in evidence that they were under the age of 21 at the time

The Davises did not attempt to ? this evidence as to the girl Julia, but they did as to Elijah. Still the court (that is the Judge of Probate) gave a decision against Baker, so that Davis carried the children of Baker home with him and has yet contray to the efforts and wishes of their father

These are all the facts in the case as I understand them and I think that they demonstrate that great injustice has been done to the rights of Baker under the laws of Mississippi and that you have properly ? and jurisdiction of this whole matter. Baker was at great expense and loss of time. tried to get justice under the laws, but as I think failed signally.

I should state that the boy Elijah is very simple and is subject to a sort of spams or fits and is easily made subservient to designing parties.

The records of the court here - the County court - show that the statement I have made as to the proceedings is correct, and the contract, and evidence of Baker, and the mother of the children, and that of Colonel Burnley will show the minority of the children.

You would do me a favor by not divulging to the Davises or their friends that I have written to the Freedman's Bureau on this subject as they would excite a great prejudice to my injury.

? very respectifully
D. W. McRae of the firm
MaRae & Lanikin?
Attys & C

Edmund Baker is not related to me. He lived on Somerset Plantation with some of my family members.

Mississippi, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872," images, FamilySearch (,1078468007 : accessed 12 Nov 2014), Brookhaven (subassistant commissioner) > Roll 11, Registered letters received, Nov 1867-Aug 1868 > images 10-14 of 265; citing NARA microfilm publication M1907, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Baker Family of Somerset Plantation

Edwina Burnley Memoirs, written by Edwina Burnley and her sister Bertha, described life on the Somerset Plantation near Hazlehurst, Copiah County, Mississippi.

The owner of Somerset, Edwin Burnley, arrived in Mississippi with his brother Hardin in 1832. Somerset consisted of about 2300 acres of land, 1100 acres were in cultivation, and plenty of slaves to work the plantation. Burnley married his third wife Maria Louisa Baxter of New Jersey in 1852.

Edmund Staten Baker was a slave on the Somerset Plantation. Baker likely knew my people who were on neighboring Lucky Hit and Spring Hill Plantations. The owners of the three plantations were connected through kinship or marriage.

Researching Edmund has also revealed that Overton families, Overton is one of my direct surnames, were slaves on the Somerset Plantation.

Baker was born about 1810 in Virginia. He was the driver of a team of oxen, about six yokes, that he had well trained. His wife was Mary, a woman described as a tall, very black and a very religious. The couple had several children: Elijah, Wilson, Julia, Octavia, and Sylvester.

Elijah was the only child of the couple mentioned in the memoirs. He was born about 1848. Apparently, Elijah was a little sluggish when it came to being a waiter. His regular job was to stand against the wall and pull the rope that kept the fan moving to drive away the flies. One day when there was extra company for dinner, Elijah waited the table. When Burnley asked Elijah to pass a hot potato, he picked it up with his hands, tossing the potato from hand to hand before he asked his master to take the potato because it was burning him. Elijah never appeared in the dinning room again.

Soon after the dinning room incident, the overseer of Somerset was conscripted and Elijah went to the War with the overseer. Per the 1860 Copiah County census, Urban Buffkin was the overseer of Somerset. They both survived the War.

Next: After the War, Baker hires his children out.

Edwina Burnley Memoirs
1860 Copiah County Slave Schedule

Tuesday, November 4, 2014