Friday, October 4, 2013

Part 1 Profession: Laundress

 Part 1 Profession: Laundress

Today we never think about throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine with our choice of detergent and fabric softener. Nor do we give any thought to shopping for that special event or finding the latest sale at our favorite store or online site.  We even have a term for feeling good while shopping “retail therapy”. I thought I would focus this 2-part installment on the great women in our family.  There were limited choices open to women in the 19th century for survival.  Starting with Jane Gilbert Mitchell Brooks (about 1775 – 1887) who was a Free Person of Color (FPOC), to Laura Mitchell (1842 -?), and Sarah “Sallie” Brooks Keen (1819 – 1888). We will then look at Katie Broyle Rainey (1848-?) who was a slave brought from Virginia, to Mary Louise” Mollie” Reid Bell (1861 – 1938), and Annie Laura Bell Steele (1895–1978). Each of these women while dealing with the harsh conditions of the time, had a skill that enabled them survive and even purchase property.   

In 1819 a law was enacted in the state of Georgia requiring FPOC to register with the clerk of the inferior court in their county or risk being sold into slavery.   FPOC had to have a sponsor or agent to vouch that they were indeed free.  We first see Jane Gilbert and her daughter Jane Mitchell (later McComb and mother of Laura Mitchell) on the 1842 tax rolls with John J. Mitchell listed as their agent. John J. Mitchell was the son of David Brydie Mitchell the 3 times elected governor of Georgia from Scotland.  We are not sure of the relationship but Jane Mitchell (McComb) is possibly the daughter of David B. Mitchell or Laura Mitchell is the daughter of John J. Mitchell.  Either way based on the connection from the tax rolls it shows that there was an important relationship there. Jane Gilbert and Laura Mitchell (listed as Brooks) show up again listed on the 1860 census as FPOC, profession washerwomen. Jane’s property value is listed as $250 and personal value at $100.  Laura’s property value is $150 and personal value at $125.  This may not seem like a lot of money but according to the census of the time there were only 46 free women of color that owned real estate in Georgia in 1860. This number increases to 223 in 1870. To put it in perspective there were 466,000 Blacks (free and slave) in Georgia recorded on the 1860 census.   Although they were below the average in real estate property holding of $1065, it was still a big accomplishment. (Census information on free females and property

There was a cost of being a FPOC in Milledgeville, GA.  In 1828 not only were real and property tax levied, there was an additional tax for all trades and professions. This tax varied from $6 to $16 according to age and sex. It was noted in James C. Bonner book Milledgeville Georgia’s Antebellum Capital that there were special treatments of certain washerwomen.  I wonder if he was referring to Jane and Laura? To live in town FPOC were charged an additional tax of $50 per year.  On the 1860 census 100 FPOC lived in town.  I believe this included Jane and her family.

The Job

The work itself was grueling and required long hours in the hot sun. It was all done by hand until the invention of the washing machine in 1850.  Remember just because the device was invented did not mean everyone could afford one and the work was still difficult because the machines were hand cranked. 

Washing consisted of using two wooden washtubs heated over fire.  There were various detergents available for sale but many of the washerwomen opted to make their own.  Ashes, starch, lye, or soap were used to help remove stains.  The clothes were scrubbed on metal boards and or beat and moved about with a paddle or plunger. Brushes and other tools were used to literally beat the dirt out of the clothes.  They were then dried and in many cases ironed before completing their long day.

Tools of the trade

I am not sure how long Jane Gilbert worked in this profession. I have her listed on the 1880 census living with Laura and Warren Bell.  She died on October 11, 1887 leaving 13 children, 11 grandchildren (Bell’s and Steele’s), 44 great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild. I am still researching where Jane came from and who the other children were.  She was written up in the newspaper twice, once for being the oldest person in the county and again when she died.  For anyone doing research The Dead Book has Jane listed as James Brooks age 108.  Thanks to our cousin Kathy we have the copy of the purchase of the coffin by Frank and Charlie Steele.

You can get a better view of this document from the blog post dated July 31, 2013 from the Google doc link. 

There are more details about Jane from previous blog post, which also includes the newspaper articles.

Laura Mitchell married Warren Bell and had 6 children.  Edward Bell is listed on the 1860 census as Edward Brooks.  I am not sure why Warren Bell is not listed.  It was brought to my attention that he was a traveling musician with his brother so perhaps he was on the road during this time (thank you Barbara and Roslyn).  He is listed on the 1870 census with Jane McComb (mother to Laura) as a waiter in a hotel.  The rest of the children were Warren (1862), George (1864), Ella (1867), Annie (1870), and Frank (1872). One interesting tidbit, there is a woman that matched my DNA as a third cousin whose grandmother is a Bell.  All of her family hails from Alabama though.  She said there is a large group of Bell’s from Alabama.  She is from the UK.  Perhaps Warren Bell’s family originally came from Alabama. 

Thanks to these industrious women we have documentation of our families journey. Never take for granted how easy it is to do laundry!

Part 2 of this story will be the ladies in our family that were seamstress.  Please continue to let me know any new information that you might come across in your research.  For anyone wanting to read previous blogs here is the website

Last thing I have a few photos I thought I would share to see if anyone might have clues as to how they relate to our family.  This photo was found in the desk drawer of Des Steele.  We are not sure if this is someone in our family or just a friend.  Either way it is a great part of Milledgeville history.  Let me know if anyone has any clues! At the bottom of the photo it says City Market. The sign inside the store says City Meat Market.

I hope everyone is healthy as we begin the latter part of the year and holiday season!!  Thanks, T

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Family Presentation Steele Bell Family Overview

Hey everyone here is the link to the presentation that was done for our family gathering in Maryland.  This is just a general overview to get everyone familiar with all the Steele and Bell's beginnings.  Hope this makes sense.  Thanks, T

Jack (son) and Rosyln (Mother: Willie Rachel Bell )

 Family Gathering 7/26/13 in Maryland

Overcoming a Surname Posted on

I have worked diligently searching my family's history for over ten years.  I joined Ancestry in 2006 and began a more serious search.  On my father's side of the family his roots were in Milledgeville, Georgia.  I knew that there was woman who had four children by William Steele.  There were stories of her being Native American, a mulatto, or a slave.  We thought her name was Mandy.  I took a DNA test and found out that I have no Native American blood, so the next question was—is she a slave or was she free? By finding the four children I found her real name Sarah or Sallie Keen in the 1870 and 1880 census. 

The next mystery to tackle was whether she was a slave or a free person of color.  There on the 1860 census, listed as free people of color, was a family of Brooks.  All of the family’s first names matched, and there was an additional child that I never knew existed.  Where the name Brooks came from I do not know, but I guess after the Civil War they took on their father's last name of Steele. 

For many African Americans looking for their ancestors it should be noted that that the first name and middle name of all family members is very important. This can be the key to identifying the family in situations where there was a surname change, as was the case with my family.  I even found out that Sarah’s mother changed her last name three times. Jane Mitchell, Brooks or Gilbert was a free person of color—a washer woman that lived to be 116 years of age.  She had two newspaper articles written about her as the oldest person in the county! 

Theresa Steele Page

3rd Email newsletter 3/22/2013

This is the 3rd installment done on March 22, 2013

Hello Everyone!

This year is going by so fast.  This is the first family installment for 2013.  I decided to write a little more about the Bell side this time.  Since we are all related I thought it would still be relevant for the Steele’s.  In honor of the Jackie Robinson movie coming out 42 ( I would like to talk about Ambrose Reid. 

Warren Charles Bell married a woman from Putnam County named Mary Louise (Mollie) Reid.  Warren Bell must have been very well respected in the community because the announcement of the marriage made it into the Union Recorder newspaper. 

January 26, 1886 
Union and Recorder 
 Warren Bell, the colored porter of the store of A. Joseph, Esq., was married in Eatonton, on Wednesday, 20th inst., to Miss Mollie Reid, of that town, the ceremony being performed by Rev. G. W. Fears. Warren was born and raised here and has the esteem of many whites as well as colored friends. We hope he and his bride will have a happy and prosperous voyage on the somewhat uncertain sea of matrimony.

I have attached a photo of Mollie in her wedding gown. This was probably handmade by Mollie herself because she was listed as a seamstress on the census.  Don’t be alarmed that is was not white, the tradition of wearing white wedding gowns came much later after the wedding of Queen Victoria to Albert in 1840. It did not become a tradition around the world until the advent of the department store where purchases of wedding gowns were available in 1890.

Now back to Ambrose.  Mollie’s mother was a woman name Katherine (Katie) Broyle.  Katie took the name Rainey from the family that she traveled to Georgia with from Woodstock or Culpepper, Virginia.  I am not sure what her status was I have not found her listed as a FPOC in 1850 or 1860.  Katie had two children (Mollie and Katherine) by a man name David Henry Reid. The Reid’s were Irish/Scots that migrated to Georgia from North Carolina, via Lancaster, Pennsylvania, via Ulster, Ireland.  David Reid fought in the civil war as a confederate soldier along side another solider name William Suther who Katie had an additional 5 children with. These children are listed as Rainey’s and never took the Suther name.  They were Willie (Big Willie) Tommy Lee (Uncle Bubba), Jessie, Deuie or Dewie, and Annie Claude or Claudia.

Jessie had a son by an Eatonton resident (last name Reid), which she named Ambrose Leevolia Reid, he was named after the brother that Katie Broyle left in Virginia and would never see again.  Ambrose Reid was born December 3, 1895 or 1898 in Eatonton, Georgia and died in April of 1966 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I don’t know when Ambrose took up baseball but in 1920 Ambrose Reid is listed as a player in the Southern Negro League on the Atlanta Black Crackers.  From 1920 – 1932 he played for numerous team including the Detroit Stars, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Philadelphia Hilldale Giants, Homestead Grays, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  He played outfield, first, second, and third base.  Here is an excerpt from a story in 1931 that talks about Ambrose’s playing.

Ageless Joe Williams went the distance as Homestead’s Grays finished off St. Louis’ Stars in an April 13, 1931, luminous pitched, 8-1 win. Williams slammed out a solo home run, showing that he was still the “Smokey Joe” of old at bat as well as on the mound. Outfielder Ambrose Reid waylaid a pair of home runs, while ‘Jud” Wilson added another home run. The win completed Pittsburgh’s three-game series sweep.

The History of the Negro Leagues

Prior to 1890 there were integrated baseball teams. Fleetwood Walker and John D. “Bud” Fowler were some of the most prominent black players during this time. Due to pressures of segregation, there were about 200 black independent teams that played in loosely organized groups by 1880.  By the early 1900’s the black baseball league found America’s heartland and the south. By the end of World War I black baseball had become the number one entertainment attraction for urban black populations.  Three leagues were formed The Negro National League, The Negro Southern League, and the Eastern Colored League.  Ambrose at one time or another played in all three leagues.  Negro baseball became one the most successful financial ventures of the time.  As World War II came to a close many felt that it was time that baseball’s color barriers came down. On April 18, 1946 the Dodger’s owner Branch Richie signed Jackie Robinson. Robinson was instrumental in leading the Dodgers to a National League pendant. He was also awarded Rookie of the Year.  At the end of the 1949 season the Negro League disbanded.

During Ambrose’s time on the field he was on a championship team and played with the some of the greatest players in history.  He helped pave the way by instilling the love of baseball in people’s hearts and mind. He laid out a path for future players like Jackie Robinson. Attached is Ambrose’s card that sold last year for $948. 
If anyone has other pictures or stories about Ambrose let me know.

Family Updated Research

Also thanks to our cousin Karen in California, there is a correction to the Jane Gilbert/Brooks/Mitchell story.  Laura Mitchell’s mother was Jane McComb and Jane Gilbert is listed as Grandmother on the 1880 census.  I have corrected the information on my page.  Also our story of Jane and family was used in the February newsletter on (

2nd installment from email Newsletter 11/18/2012

This is from 11/18/2012.  

Hello family! Here is the second family history installment.  Feel free to add or ask questions.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  

The thirteenth amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865. The 1870 census would be the first time all citizens would be recorded with their full names. One the problems encountered with researching our family has been tracking down relatives before the 1870 census. If your relative did not appear in the 1860 census this was an indication that your ancestor was a slave or in our case they may have been listed under their former master’s name. In the1860 census, there were 488,070 Free People of Color (FPOC), 3,953,761 slaves, and the white population was 27,001,490.  

The growth of FPOC population was discouraged in Milledgeville.  According to James Bonner’s book Milledgeville, Georgia’s Antebellum Capital there was a tax issued on all FPOC based on age and sex.  The tax was anywhere from $6 to $16. Any FPOC wanting to live in Milledgeville permanently was charged $50.  There was even a $2 canine tax to be able to own a dog.  FPOC had to have a bond of good behavior and certificate of good character to be able to conduct business in town. It appeared that certain washerwomen got special treatment though.

 The 1850 census had no record of any of the Bell’s or the Steele’s. By accident did see a familiar name in the 1860 census.  I noticed that Jane Brooks on the 1870 census is listed as Jane Gilbert.  Remember from the last writing Jane Mitchell, Brooks now Gilbert is the mother of Sarah/Sallie Keen and Laura Annie Mitchell.  So she is the grandmother to all the Steele children as well as the Bell Children. (link to how the Bell's and Steele's are related).  On the 1860 census Jane Gilbert is listed as a FPOC, occupation washerwomen.  In addition also listed is Laura Brooks, washerwomen (Laura Annie Mitchell) under Laura is Edward Brooks 11 months.  Edward Brooks is Edward E. Bell born in June 30, 1859.  Laura’s next child Warren Charles Bell (my great grandfather) would be born on August 19, 1862.  Laura had 4 other children by Warren Bell, which included George G. (1864), Ella N (1867) Annie E. (1870) and Frank (1872).  I cannot find Warren Bell Sr. listed anywhere as a FPOC.  He is listed on the 1870 census as a waiter in a hotel and in 1880 as a house servant.  There is more research on this to follow.

Also listed on the FPOC page is Sarah Brooks seamstress (Sarah/Sallie Keen) with her children Charles Brooks (15 carpenter’s apprentice), Augustus Brooks (age 14), Frank Brooks (age 11), William Brooks (age 9) and Ada J. Brooks (age 6).  These of course are the Steele children.  The big surprise is the addition of William.  I have checked the Dead Book (started in 1869 to record death’s in Milledgeville) and he is not listed.  Either he passed away before 1869 or he never took the Steele name.  Just another mystery to add to the list.

So why and how did the name Brooks get in the mix? It was commonplace for former slaves to take their previous master’s name or the name of the plantation where they lived.  At the time of the 1870 census many former slaves changed their names to reflect their occupation or took their actual father’s name.  Keen may be a clue to Sarah's father’s real name, it not substantiated but Laura was supposedly the child of Governor David Mitchell which is why she may have adopted the name of Mitchell. And the Steele children took their father’s name. 

I will continue to find out more about Brooks, Bell's and the Steele. I have attached an photo of a tintype photo that Big Mama had in her album.  It is not labeled but maybe this is Jane Gilbert, Brooks,Mitchell!! 

Happy Thanksgiving! T

1st Newsletter

In a message dated 8/18/2012 9:34:00 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Hello everyone! It was so nice see everyone in Milledgeville in July.  I am also so glad I got to meet a few new cousins.  I have attached a photo of our gathering.  I thought what I would do every few months is send out a family newsletter of my research so far.  If you have already heard the stories sorry I wanted to start at the beginning for those that are new to this. If you have additional information please feel free to contribute or correct.  I will try to keep the email short and hit one or two topics at a time.  

Last year I decided to have my DNA tested.  This gives a clue to the origins of our family.  For those of you who are Bell's and Steele's you will have similar DNA results.  Remember your DNA comes from your mother and your father.  

Here are the results:

52.18% of my DNA is Western European (French and Orcadian) The French and Orcadians migrated to UK and most of the British Isles.  Orkney Island (tip of Scotland) is home base for Orcadians. See links for further information. 

47.18% of my DNA is West African Yoruba, Mandenka(not to be confused by Mandinka) Mandenka means People of Mande. The West African people were the largest group of people transported to the Americas during the slave trade.  If you look at the links you will see that some of their features are very Native American "like". Many have high cheek bones etc.  

As you can see there is no Native American Indian in my DNA make up. 

So with that out of the way. Let's start with William Steele.

William Steele and Sarah (Sallie Keen)

According to the 1850 census of Baldwin County Georgia, William Steele was born in 1804 in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. 

Sara or Sallie Keen is first listed in the 1870 census.  She is listed as mulatto with a birth date of around 1828.  Sara or Sallie had four children by William Steele.  They are Augustus Steele (1847), Frank Pierce Steele (April 1848), Charlie Steele (1850), and Addie Steele (1854).  Sarah had another child in 1865 name Emma Keen, William Steele was not the father. 

It appears that Sarah may have been a slave. She is not listed on the 1850 census as a free person of color.  The 1860 census unfortunately was burned.  Her name does appear on Charlie’s death certificate in 1924.  Her name is listed there as Sallie and it says her birthplace was Virginia.  At the time of Charlie’s death his second wife was named Sallie so I am not sure if there was a mix up or if this is the correct record.

From what I could find William Steele never married. He first appears in the Southern Recorder newspaper in October 1839.  This was an article electing him to a committee on states rights.  From this first record until his death on November 26, 1859 he was involved in the political scene in the budding new capital of Georgia as a Democrat.  Andrew Jackson was the father of the Democratic Party.  The opposing party was the Whigs.  The Whigs were seen as the elitist of rich white farmers and businessmen. The Democratic Party was seen as the party for all white men that held property, not just the wealthy landowners.

Jackson believed he would make a good President and ran for the office for the first time in 1824. The Democratic Party did not exist; it coalesced around the hope of obtaining office by associating with Jackson, and on three major points of agreement. The first was the continued taking of American Indian land, with or without whatever degree of genocide was necessary to carry it off. This plank was popular with both land-speculators and less affluent European-American settlers because it made purchasing land cheap. The second plank was the continuation and extension of slavery, which made life easy and profitable for Jackson and his followers. The third plank was what would now be called an expansionary monetary policy. This allowed white settlers to borrow money to buy stolen Indian land to work with slaves to raise tobacco, cotton, and other profitable crops for market. Source: A Brief History of the Democratic Party by William Meyers.

This means during William Steele’s entire political career he was pushing the agenda for states rights and slavery.  Whether he felt that personally is the untold story.  It does appear that each of the children were Free Person’s of Color.  Records show 311 mulattos lived in Milledgeville before the Civil war.

I do not know much of the previous history at this time of William Steele and his family.  He did have a brother named George that was a printer.  He was born around 1812 and died on June 22, 1843.  There was quite a lengthy and eloquent obituary written about him.  In the obit it also speaks of Mother, Father, and sisters all being deceased and has George born in Hartford, Connecticut.  It also speaks of how they (the Steele family) came to Georgia at a young age.  One of the stories that Daddy told me was that George and William had a boat in Savannah that they used to run rum.  In James Bonner’s book, Milledgeville Georgia’s Antebellum Capital,  it does talk about river barges that ran cotton and rum from Savannah to Milledgeville. Not sure if there is a connection.

During William’s time in Milledgeville, he served as clerk of the Inferior and Superior court, a representative for states rights, Secretary for the Democratic Party, orator, member of the Milledgeville Greys, founder of the Baldwin Blues in 1848, Mayor of Milledgeville in 1851, private Secretary to Governor Howell Cobb and Herschel V. Johnson. He was also a member of the Odd Fellows, which was an organization with its root in Europe but started in the US in 1819 in Baltimore Maryland. The organization’s main goal was to promote Friendship, Love, and Truth regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rand or station in life.

William Steele died on November 26, 1859 after spending three years debilitated and labeled an imbecile. There was a short obituary written about him that expressed what a great man his was.  It was signed M.  It appeared in the Federal Union November 29, 1859.  William Barnes was appointed guardian with John Hammond removing Barnes by notice in the Daily Federal Union October 26, 1860 (Hammond appears to be a life long friend) taking over and finally settling everything. More research to come on this matter!

Both William and George are buried in Memory Hill cemetery.  The inscription reads: Side by side repose the ashes of two Brothers; they leave no relatives south to mourn their loss. I have attached a photo for those of you who have never had a chance to visit the grave. 

How are the Bell’s and Steele Related?

There has always been a joke in the family about the Bell’s and Steele’s antagonistic relationship.  Daddy always told me that they were related but he could never tell me how.  I always thought it was quite strange since two Bell sisters Annie Laura Bell (my grandmother) and Leo Catherine Bell married two Steele brothers, Frank Pierce Steele Jr. (my grandfather) and George Augustus Steele.  After looking at several records a few things came together.

Warren Charles Bell was married to Mary Louise Reid (Mollie) they had 5 girls Willie, Leo, Ione, Annie Laura, and Eloise (Ella).  Warren C. Bell’s father was also named Warren Bell (not sure of the middle initial) and he was married to a women name Laura Annie Mitchell (my grandmother was name after her).  Laura Mitchell’s mother was named Jane Mitchell.  The first record that I have of her in the census is in 1880 living with Warren and Laura.  It was also noted that she was blind.

There are two articles written about Jane Mitchell which she was also called Old Aunt Jane Brooks.  The first one is was in the Marion County Patriot Friday August 6, 1886 page eight. 

There is a woman living in Milledgeville known as “old Aunt Jane Brooks”,
grandmother of Frank and Wm. Steele, colored carpenters, whose age is anywhere
between 100 and 120 years.  She remembers the revolutionary war distinctly and
when Washington was president.  She is the oldest person living in Baldwin
County.  Her health is good, but she is quite blind.

I believe that the mention of William Steele is a typo and it should read Charles Steele. 

The second article appeared in the Union Recorder of October 18, 1887.  It is written about the death of Jane Mitchell who was 116 at her death. It also mentions that she was the mother of 13 children, 11 grand children, and 44 great grand children. 

What ties this all together is Kathy Lloyd (George Steele’s granddaughter) had a receipt from a coffin purchase by Frank and Charles Steele on credit dated October 12, 1887.  The coffin was purchased for their grandmother.  It cost $38 (with 8 percent interest) and took one year to pay off. Final pay off was November 10, 1888 with a $1 payment. 

If you look at all the evidence that means Jane Mitchell/Brooks was Sara/Sallie Keen's mother also.  Sara Keen and Laura Mitchell were sisters mostly likely with different fathers.  And that is how the Bell’s and Steele’s are related.

I think this is enough for the first email.  If you have any photos please send.  I have compiled several photos already and will send them as they pertain to the person's discussed.  Hope everyone has a great weekend. 

Thanks, T


Our Family Journey 7/31/2013

I decided, after the great family gathering in the Maryland (host Kathy and Sterling Lloyd), that it would make more sense to compile everything we find pertaining to the Steele's and the Bell's under one site. I am going to repost the previous email "newsletters" that I sent out so everyone can read them.  It also marks the journey of discovery.  The first newsletter had information that was incorrect because the search for new information is an on going process. 

For the family gathering at Kathy Lloyd's house I made a short presentation as an overview to the Steele's and Bell's. I will post that along with several unmarked photographs.  Please feel free to share any information you might have or other photographs that are tied directly to the family. Rosyln as our matriarch cleared up a few mysteries but opened up new questions and direction for research as well.
To see a more extensive family tree you can go to my page. My user name is Theresa1320(  I am excited to share this information with everyone!!! Thanks, T