Sunday, December 14, 2014



As the year slowly comes to an end my research continues. This year has been especially enlightening with my trip to Milledgeville once again revealing important information (Jane Gilbert’s 1837 guardian petition) to the continuing tracking of the complicated relationship of William Steele and his family.   We are also not without family loss; Bebe Henderson (grandmother Sara Steele Jarrett) and Clarence Braddock husband to Barbara (mother Willie Bell). As I write it is the anniversary of my father’s death, I can almost hear his wonderfully sassy retort; why do want to dig up the past? I feel it is more important than ever for us to understand our past and to put it in writing for future generations.  The more I find out about our family compared to other African Americans during these times, it becomes apparent that we all have a unique history.  And one that should be told over and over again to whoever will listen.  I decided to honor one of my father’s lessons our right to vote.  Voting and the right to vote has always been a strong topic in our family. This right has been hard earned we should never take it for granted.

Voting in America started out as tool of the privileged. A small group of White men decided the fate of the whole country.  Originally the US Constitution did not address who was eligible to vote and left it in the hands of the state governments. Most states only allowed white males who owned 50 acres of land or had taxable income to vote.  So poor Whites and Blacks alike were prohibited to vote pre-Civil war. There were 4 states (Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New York) in which freed slaves could vote as long as they met the property requirements. As the country was moving towards the Civil War most white men were allowed to vote whether they had property or not. Post Civil war amendments were added to the Constitution to address the voting divide.  Starting with the14th amendment (1868) to address citizenship, 15th amendment (1870) race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and the 19th amendment (1920) sex.  Even with these additions states found ways to deny the vote based on using literacy test, poll tax, or even religious test. 

William Steele was a strong supporter of states rights.  As a Democrat he served as the secretary of the party in 1846 and 1847. While he had five children by Sallie Keen; a Free Person of Color he also owned slaves, paid taxes, and had over 50 acres of land. He was a prime candidate to vote.  Voting also determined his livelihood.  He was elected several times as the Clerk of the Superior and Inferior court and in 1851 he was elected Mayor of Milledgeville. He continued in politics by serving as the Secretary of the Executive Department for Governor’s Herschel Johnson (1853 – 1857) and Howell Cobb (1851 – 1853).  Here is a newspaper notice of William Steele’s intent to run for the office of Superior and Inferior Court in 1845.

Some how I would like to think that when the Democratic party split over the issue of extending slavery William was on the side refusing to push slavery west.  Based on doctor records I do know that he provide funds for Charlie Steele to purchase the books he need to be an apprenticed carpenter and each of his five children was literate. The right to vote must have been instilled in these children.
As you can imagine 1906 was a tumultuous time for Blacks especially in the south. The 15th amendment was barely 40 years old and politicians realized how powerful the Black vote was as many towns in the south were predominately Black. In 1900 there were 4,219 people living in Milledgeville with about 50% of them being Black. Here is an article from the Union Recorder dated January 1, 1906 listing The View of the Colored Voters.

If you read the article there must have been turmoil over the issue of voting pertaining to the prohibition election.  Leading the charge are many of our relatives.  Rev. E.A. Houston was the husband of Rosa Steele (father Charlie Steele), Willie F. Steele (father Charlie Steele), Charles Steele Jr. (father Charlie Steele), William Davis (husband to Pauline Walton (mother Ada J. Steele) and Laura Steele (father Guss Steele).  Yes William Davis married two cousins. Notice the last lines: We therefore advise that the white people be allowed to fight this out among themselves. This was a very bold statement for the time. Not that I agree with prohibition!

The big win for us all was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This piece of legislation prohibited racial discrimination in voting.  As we come to the end of a presidential term everyone should think about our long history of how voting has affected our lives.  A voter registration card would be a wonderful gift this year.  Whatever parties you chose to support exercise your right and celebrate your family history! Do not lose this privilege let your voice be heard. 


Bubba and I have had plenty of emails from the Steele side of the family once we increased his testing to Y-DNA 67.  We are definitely matched to 3 different people that come from the Steele’s that founded Hartford, CT. The problem is we just do not know how the three brothers (William, George, and Ralph) fit in.  Ted Steele has created a website and we are going to continue our research. Here is the link to the site if anyone wants to view the whole Steele line.  .We even have a couple of Steele’s that were accused of witchcraft.  As a horror writer Elisa Victoria (my daughter) is very excited. 

When William died he owned two slaves John and Mary (both of them listed as light complexion). In the Freedman Bureau there is a John Steele listed with his sister Mary. He lists his father as John Steele.  I am still researching but this may be William’s former slaves and his relative (cousin or uncle) John Holmes Steele’s children.  John is listed in William’s estate papers as owning him money. Another mystery.

I am still tracking Jane Gilbert to find who her original owner was prior to David Brydie Mitchell.

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday!!  I look forward to discovering more information about our family in 2015! Please share, every little clue is important!

Reverend Ebenezer and Rosa Bell Steele Houston with their children.
Reverend Houston and Rosa had 14 children. He was the pastor at CME Trinity Church.

One correction. On the last blog I said that Uncle Bubba (Tommy Rainey) called the Bell girls Four Roses well I misunderstood Cousin Roslyn she said he liked Four Roses Bourbon! I stand corrected! 

Happy Researching!! Theresa

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Family Professions - Tinner or Tinsmith

Profession: Tinner

As early as the 1600’s professional tinsmiths or white smiths were creating their wares in London.  It wasn’t until about 1720 that tin ware and other tin items became more commonplace. The tin business was so important to Britain that in 1750 they instituted the British Iron Act, which prohibited the erection of new rolling mills in America.  This kept the tin business out of America until after the American Revolution.

Tin itself is very soft and malleable metal, so creating wares requires making an alloy, which is made by combining different amounts of lead and cooper.  Depending on the combinations of these metals will also yield either pewter or bronze.  The most important tools a tinsmith uses are big shears, snips and nippers for cutting and lastly an anvil for shaping.

To become a tinsmith, a person had to be accepted as an apprentice by a master tinsmith. Apprenticeships could last any where from 4 to 6 years. 

There were two men in our family that practiced this trade.  Augustus “Guss Steele and Tommie Lee Rainey.  It is possible that both of these men worked to help install the tin roof on the Trinity AME church.

On the Steele side of the family is Augustus Steele.  Guss as he was fondly called was born in 1845.  He was the second child of Sarah “Sallie” Keen and William Steele.  He is listed on the 1860 census along with the rest of his family as Augustus Brooks.  Sometime after the civil war he began using his father’s last name Steele.  Guss was married to a former slave named Lucinda.  Guss was also the great grandfather of the original historian in our family Laura Pauline Gersham Johnson (mother Gertrude Davis). 

Guss apprenticed and worked under Joseph Staley.  Staley was born in Lancstershire, England, which is probably where he learned the trade. I have no factual evidence but I think it is possible that William Steele took a part in getting Staley to bring on Guss as an apprentice. Staley was a member of the Baldwin Blues, which William Steele founded in 1848, and he was a businessman who owned one of the only hardware stores in town but also later served as mayor, which William also served as mayor in 1851.  Either way Guss was well known and liked in town.  Here is his obit from the Union Recorder when he passed away in 1903.

September 15, 1903Union-Recorder
Guss Steel, a well-known negro, died at this home in the city Thursday night. He was a tinner by trade, having served his apprenticeship under Mr. Joseph Staley, and worked for him a long number of years. Guss was a violin player of local reputation, and played and called at dances through many years, in this city. His remains were buried Friday afternoon.

I found an old photo from Des Steele and I think this might be a photo of Guss based on photos of Frank and Charlie.  I’m totally guessing on this one so please let me know if anyone can confirm the identity the Steele man in the photo. 

The second person in our family that was a tinner was Thomas “Tommie” Lee Rainey or Uncle Bubba.  Tommie Rainey was born July 20, 1877 (died Oct. 14, 1928) in Eatonton, GA.  He was the only son of Katherine “Kate” Broyle Rainey and William Suther.  I am not sure why he chose to continue to use the Rainey name and not take his father’s last name.   Tommie was the brother of Mollie Reid.  Mollie Reid married Warren C. Bell.  Just to review the connection between the Bell’s and Steele’s, Warren Bell’s father Warren Bell Sr. was married to Laura Mitchell the niece of Sallie Keen and granddaughter of Jane Gilbert.

Tommie Rainey probably learned his trade from his father William Suther who was a builder and coffinmaker in Eatonton.  Not only is he listed as a tinner but also on the 1900 census as a blacksmith.  I think Uncle Bubba was a great craftsman.  I have a silver bracelet that Big Mama said Uncle Bubba made her.  There is also a train that was in our house for years that Uncle Bubba carved.  Daddy told us a story that Uncle Bubba took the train to the fair and won first place.  After he won his prize someone stole the train and they had to pursue the thieves to get it back. Tommie Rainey also carved the podium for the Trinity CME church. That podium now sits in the basement of the Trinity CME church located on Wilkinson St. One of my father’s toys that he played with as a child, and I’m sure other generations before him, were two chinaberry guns that were carved by Uncle Bubba.  Daddy said Uncle Bubba would ride his bike from Eatonton to Milledgeville on Sunday's to visit the family.  He also was there to help Mollie out with the Bell girls that were still in Milledgeville (Annie Laura, Ione, Leo, and Ella) after Warren Bell died in 1903.  He called them the “Four Roses”.  I think Tommie Rainey was a true Georgia Folk artist and craftsman.

Does anyone else have a few handcrafted treasures? Please share!

Tommie Lee Rainey 1877 - 1928


Uncle Bubba’s train (photo credit Barbara Braddock)

Podium in the basement of Trinity CME Church

Chinaberry “pop” guns notice the T and 1890 date

Quick Family Research Update

In a previous newsletter I attached a photo of an unknown meat market.  Thanks to George and Leslie it was confirmed that this was Steele’s Meat Market. It was started and owned by Willie T. Steele.

During my last trip to Milledgeville I found out more information about Jane Gilbert.  Listed on the Free Person of Color census of 1837 she is listed with 5 of her children.  She also filed a petition for guardianship on August 9, 1837.  It lists her 5 children which one is Sallie (mother of William Steele’s children).  So now we know 6 of her thirteen children, the sixth one being Jane Mitchell (McComb).  7 more to go!  Miller Grieve a fellow Scotsman and friend of David B. Mitchell agreed to become her guardian.  Mitchell died in January of 1837, so this might be why Grieve was willing to accept the responsibility.  Remember in 1842 Mitchell’s son John J. Mitchell served as agent for Jane Gilbert and Jane Mitchell (McComb).  The question now remains was Jane Gilbert free prior to 1837 and who was the father of her other children? On the census it list Chatham County as her birthplace.  That search is another story for a later time! I have transcribed the document and added it below for everyone to read. 

Happy researching! Hope to see everyone again soon! T

Transcription of Jane Gilbert Petition for Guardianship
August 9, 1837
Milledgeville Court House Probate Office
Minute Book B 1829 Page 111

The petition of Jane Gilbert a free woman of Color respectfully prays the appointment of Miller Grieve as the guardian of herself and her five children vig(?) Patrick Brooks aged about 17 Ann Brooks aged about 15 Charles aged about 12 Sally Brooks aged about 10 and Becky Beck (Butler) aged about 7 years of age.

            And it appearing that Miller Grieve consents to act as Guardian.

            It is therefore ordered that the said Miller Grieve be appointed guardian for the said Jane Gilbert and children and the clerk take Bono and security in terms of the law.

Actual Document from the Baldwin Courthouse

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Our World War I Solider Relatives

Our World War I Soldier Relatives

In honor of the recent release of Max Brooks’ book Harlem Hellfighters and 4th of July, I decided to remember our brave relatives that also fought in World War I.  Included in this list are Willie T. Steele, Leo C. Steele, John Kennedy Steele, Edward H. Bell, Ambrose L. Reid, and for this installment I am going to mention Charles Stewart Jr., which is my Mother’s Great Uncle, and Gordon H. Kitchen (my Mother’s Father). Frank P Steele and George A. Steele both signed up for the draft but may have been considered too old in 1918.  When I found Uncle George’s draft card, which he filled out in Washington D. C, they had him listed as white.

After the Civil War, the Army made a decision to disband the “colored” regiments and established four regular Army regiments of all black troops with white officers. There were two Infantry troops (24th and 25th) and two cavalry regiments (9th and 10th). The 9th and the 10th regiments were used heavily in the Indian War, and during the Spanish War all four regiments saw action. 

When World War I broke out many African American men rose to the call to volunteer their services only to be turned down because the quota for African Americans was filled. Once the war effort was underway and the draft was instituted a different story played out. Congress passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917.  The United States would need more then its 126,000 men if they were to ensure a victory overseas.  As African Americans signed up for the draft in many cases (especially in Georgia) the recruiters tore off the corner of their registration card in order for the draft board to identify them first before other White draftees. I have attached a copy of Ambrose’s draft papers and you can clearly see that the corners have been removed.  If you view Uncle George’s papers his are completely intact.  The entire army made up 10 percent of the total population of the US but 13 percent of the Army was African American. The Navy wanted to keep segregation alive and would only allow African Americans to serve in menial positions in the Navy and Coast Guard.  With considerable backlash from the African American community the War Department created the 92nd and 93rd Divisions; which were primarily Black combat units in 1917.  ( By the end of the war Blacks held a number of positions including surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, engineers, and intelligence officers.  The Armed Forces did not become fully integrated until 1948.
For more reading on African American soldiers in WWI, please see: The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in WWI, by Arthur E. Barbeau & Florette Henri, The Right to Fight: A History of African-Americans in the Military, by Gerald Astor, and Soldiers of Freedom, by Kai Wri.

I found an article in the Milledgeville News August 7, 1918 under the headline 68 COLORED MEN SENT TO WHEELER with a byline A Total of 131 Have Been Sent From This County During a Period of One Week, Monday’s Draft Largest. Included in the list of the 68 are the names Willie T. Steele (1894 – ?) son of Willie F Steele and Katie Ingram(grandfather Charlie Steele),  Leo C. Steele (1894-1948) and John Kennedy Steele (1890 – 1941) both son’s of Frank P. Steele and Martha Tompkins (grandfather Frank P. Steele).  These young men ended up joining the army. 

Article in the Milledgeville News August 7, 1918

Here is a copy of Ambrose Reid draft card. He was in the army until April of 1918. Notice the corners of his card are cut off to alert the draft board that he is African American.

Leo Steele was stationed in Vitteaux, (Cote-d’Or) France on the back it reads “ To Annie Laura and Buddy from Leo Hope all are well and happy. Kiss the children for me. Leo
 Vitteaux is situated in the Cote d'Or (Burgundy region) about 239 KM from Paris  

Sgt. John K. Steele CC USA

Edward Harris Bell (1890 - ) son of George Bell and Geneva Turner ended up joining the Navy.

The Navy’s segregation policies limited African American enrollment during War World I and barred enlistments altogether from 1919 to 1932. 

My Grandfather Gordon H. Kitchen served aboard the USS Pueblo from 1917 – 1919 as a Mess Attendant. Every time he crossed the equator he was awarded a silver dollar.

Charles C. Stewart Jr.
My Mother’s Uncle from Des Moines, IA

So as we continue year after year celebrating the 4th of July remember that we have a history in American and our families have been contributors to this country during the peace times and supporters during war times.  ……They’ll see how beautiful I am. And be ashamed- I, too, am America. Langston Hughes

If anyone has additional photos or stories please share!! Thanks!

Research Update: I finally tracked down more of William Steele’s family. You may remember that William Steele (Father to the 5 Steele children by Sarah/Sallie Keen) was declared a lunatic by the court in 1856; his brother Ralph B. Steele signed the order. Ralph was married to Fanna Mallet and had two children Cornelia and William G. Steele.  They lived in New Haven, CT.  Ralph died in January 1859 and our William died in November of 1859.  William G. Steele inherited everything. I am now trying to work backwards from this information to find out the parents of William, Ralph, George and unknown sisters.   We are match genetically to a Samuel Steele one of the sons of the founders that settled Hartford, CT.

Family Finder DNA now has a more detailed data based of family origins.  I have attached my new chart and Bubba’s new chart.  Since Bubba has a Y chromosome he is carrying the direct line from father to father.  So through Bubba we can trace the Steele line.  As technology gets better we will see new information to help our search! I thought the Scandinavian origin was interesting. I have got to start watching The Vikings on the History Channel!! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Women Professions Part 2 Seamstress

Part 2 Profession Seamstress

The sewing machine was invented in 1846 but was not used widely until 1860. Wealthy families or families of means would hire a seamstress or find servants that could sew. This was an invaluable skill for most households and it allowed Free Women of Color the opportunity to support themselves but on the negative side it made slaves with these skills more valuable. Be sure to read the famous story of slave and seamstress Oney Judge that was owned by George Washington who escaped to freedom.

 Even with the advent of the sewing machine ready-to-wear clothes did not make a huge impact on American society until sometime between the 1870s and 1900s. By 1910 women could purchase a complete ready-to-wear wardrobe. Once companies established large factories with modern machinery and efficient production practices, consumer demand for cheaper clothes rose. New York City alone produced more than 40 percent of all ready-to-wear clothes during this time.

The average wage for a seamstress during the 1800s was $16 a week but some made much lower depending on her employer. Many of these women were skilled in crafts that are lost to us today.  All fabrics were natural. There was no polyester, spandex, elastic or vinyl. The most commonly used fabrics were cotton, linen, and wool. Silk was available, but very expensive. There were no zippers, snaps, safety pins or Velcro, and buttons were mostly for decoration. Hooks, straight pins and laces were the most common fastenings.

In the 1880s and into the 1900s, fashion dictated that a woman’s body be tightly corseted and that her gowns–as dresses were made to be tightly fitted over the corsets. Ready-made dresses could not provide the perfect fit, so women who aspired to be among the most fashionable and who could afford it still sought the services of custom dressmakers. The complexity of draping adding elaborate trim and ornaments to make these fashionable dresses also required the expertise of professional seamstresses. Project Runaway participants could have never compared to the skills of these women! Remember there were no ready made patterns either everything was done from scratch.

Many of the women in our family supported themselves and passed down the craft of sewing.  Katherine Broyle (Rainey) was a slave in the Rainey household. Not only was she skilled in sewing and but she passed on the craft to her daughters Mollie, Kate “Sissy”, Willie, Jessie, and Annie Claude. Mollie took up the craft and made her living as a seamstress.  She even was hired to travel to Boston sometime in 1900s to work for the Scarritt family. I am still researching the connection.  Mollie in turn taught her daughter’s (Ella, Leo, Ione, Wille, Annie Laura) the craft.  My grandmother Annie Laura Bell Steele supported her family as a seamstress.  I have several items that my grandmother made and did not understand how priceless they were until I became an adult.  A great story comes from our cousin Geri (Bell) as a young girl; she attended a dance decked out in a taffeta dress made by Annie Laura.  She said several people asked her; did you buy that dress in New York City?  She smiled and never told them it was hand made (expertly) by Annie Laura who made many of their clothes and all of her children’s clothes.  Our cousin Kathy told me, that Aunt Leo (Bell Steele) was also an expert seamstress and made all of the clothes, curtains and other household items.  Here is a pastel of Annie Laura sewing that was done by the artist May Asbury Jones in 1950.  It sold at auction in 2012. I missed purchasing it by two weeks. 

On the Steele side of the family we have Sarah “Sallie” Keen listed on the 1860 census as a seamstress. She is even listed as owning property.  Once William Steele passed away in 1859 Sallie supported her 5 children (Charlie, Frank, Augustus, William, and Addie) by William and Emma (father unknown) by sewing. 

Please share your stories and photos of the seamstress in your family. It is fortunate that we have stories and photos to share with each other.  It is because of these very strong and determined women that food was kept on the table and a roof over their family’s head.
These are photos of some of my grandmother’s handiwork.

This was my father’s (Warren Bell Steele) quilt as a child. It is made of scrap material that Big Mama collected from other projects she was working on. Of course I thought it would be cool to sleep with it as a teenager so it is torn.  The underside is made from used flour sacks.

This quilt was saved by my mother from Big Mama’s house in Milledgeville on Liberty Street. It is much better shape. Beautifully done again with scrap material.

This is a tablecloth that was done by Big Mama. All hand sewn applique with embroidered lace repeated through out the tablecloth

And of course the essential tool of the 1800’s to finish any project. I got this off of Big Mama’s back porch on Liberty Street. She had several.

Here is a great link on how to store your old quilts!

Family Research Continued

In continuing my research on the Steele and the Bell’s I came across this article. It appears that Jane Mitchell was mislabeled as Julia Mitchell.  The interesting thing is it does list her as a former slave of David Byrdie Mitchell. I now have another clue as to where she may have come from and at what date she may have earned her freedom.  David Mitchell came from Scotland and landed in Savannah, GA because he inherited property from his uncle. We know in 1842 she is listed with John J. Mitchell (her agent verifying her FPOC status) and her daughter Jane Mitchell (age 22) as owning property.  So some time prior to 1842 she earned her freedom, although I do not have her listed on the 1850 census as a FPOC.

Baldwin County GaArchives News.....Julia Mitchell June 17 1887 ************************************************ Copyright.  All rights reserved. ************************************************  File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Carla Miles October 15, 2004, 11:31 pm

 The Marion County Patriot The Marion County Patriot, No. 24 June 17, 1887 Page Eight State News Items 

Milledgeville claims the oldest woman in Georgia.  Julia Mitchell, an old negro  resident of that city, is one hundred and twenty years old, and in apparent  good health.  She was one of Governor Mitchell’s slaves years ago and says she  remembers the revolutionary war distinctly.  She has been blind now for several  years, but her memory of the long ago makes up an interesting conversation.   File at:  This file has been created by a form at  File size: 1.1 Kb

The Reid Connection

I had my DNA test done a couple of years ago and today I had a man reach out to me that was managing his cousin’s account.  Our DNA match on her maternal side; which included Andrew and Agnes Reid.  They are the great great grandparents of David Henry Reid who was the father of Mary Louise “Mollie” Reid Bell.  So it is confirmed now by DNA test.  I have the Reid’s traced back to the late 1600’s from Ulster, Ireland.

Hope everyone is well.  Here is the link to the blog site if you want to read past newsletters.

Happy in research!  Theresa