Thursday, February 18, 2016

JORDAN M SAUNDERS & MARY WILKINS, a Free Woman of Color, of Fauquier Co Virginia, Part Two

In the 1840 Fauquier Co Virginia census, JORDAN M SAUNDERS was listed as a single white man, age 40-49, with seven slaves: 2 older females, 2 middle aged females, 1 girl under ten, 1 middle aged male, and 1 male age 10-23.

Things changed by 1850 Fauqier Co Virginia census: MARY WILKINS, a mulatto woman age 35 was living in the household of JORDAN M SAUNDERS, with three mulatto children, JAMES age 7, FRANK age 5 & SALLIE age 3.

So who was MARY WILKINS?  She & her children were not slaves in 1850.   Perhaps she was a former slave of THOMAS WILKINS, a local plantation owner, a widow with children purchased by JORDAN M SAUNDERS, and then freed. Or perhaps she was never a slave at all, possibly the daughter of THOMAS WILKINS, a free man of color, and MARGARET PEGGY WEEKS, who married Feb 20, 1800 in Fauquier Co Virginia. PEGGY WILKINS, free person of color, is listed in the 1840 Fauqier Co Virginia census, an older woman with two young children in household. MARY is not listed with her.

Something curious happens in the 1860 Fauquier census.

All of MARY's children are listed with the SAUNDERS surname! This was before the Civil War, after which many freed slaves assumed the surname of their master. The census taker, for whatever reason, did not note the race or color of anyone on the page. Only MARY, age 40, listed as the housekeeper, retains the WILKINS surname. And even more curious & unusual is the notation that JAMES L SAUNDERS, the eldest son, had apprenticed with the a US Naval Man-of-War for two years!  I am no expert in African American genealogy, but all of this struck me as highly unusual.

JORDAN M SAUNDERS is also listed on the 1860 slave schedule, which shows that he owned twelve slaves.

The 1870 Fauquier Co Virginia census shows the same family, ten years older:

Once again, only MARY is listed with the WILKINS surname.  MARY & all the children, now young adults, are all listed a mulatto, and the two sons are working on the farm.

So what was going on here?  Was MARY WILKINS, a free woman of color, the common law wife of JORDAN M SAUNDERS the former slave trader, and the father of her children? They certainly could not have married legally.  Or was MARY only his housekeeper, and he took an interest in the welfare of her children, so allowed then the use of his surname, and arranged for the eldest son JAMES to join the US Navy??

I strongly suspected the first scenario, partly because the youngest daughter LILLIE SAUNDERS was born 1858, after MARY WILKINS & her older children first show up in JORDAN's household in 1850.

Then I discovered the marriage records for two of the children of MARY WILKINS.

On Jan 26, 1871, FRANK SAUNDERS married MARTHA CLARKE in Fauquier Co Virginia.

Name:Frank Saunders
Marital Status:Single
Birth Date:1845
Birth Place:Fauquier Co., VA.
Marriage Date:26 Jan 1871
Marriage Place:Fauquier County, Virginia
Father:Jordon M. Saunders
Mother:Mary Wilkins
Spouse:Martha Clarke
FHL Film Number:31635
Reference ID:p103 e6

JORDAN M SAUNDERS is actually listed as the father of FRANK SAUNDERS!

And here is the marriage record for LILLIE SAUNDERS, who married LUDWELL CARROLL HUDNALL:

Name:Lillie Saunders
Marital Status:Single
Birth Date:1854
Birth Place:Fauquier Co., VA.
Marriage Date:30 Sep 1875
Marriage Place:Fauquier County, Virginia
Father:J. M.
Spouse:Ludwell C. Hudnall
FHL Film Number:31635
Reference ID:p 129 e 22

Again J M SAUNDERS as her father, and MARY as her mother!!

JORDAN M SAUNDERS died before March 1878 in Warrenton, Fauquier Co Virginia.  This is per a legal deposition made by his son JAMES L SAUNDERS, who made a claim that his horse had been stolen in 1862 by the Confederate Army, and was seeking reparation.

I have not been able to find the will of JORDAN M SAUNDERS, but from subsequent census & court records, it appears that the four children that he had with MARY WILKINS did not inherit his house or lands.

JAMES L SAUNDERS was well-educated and literate; he became a school teacher in Fauquier Co Virginia for the African American community there. His story, as far as I have been able to trace it, will be the subject of my next blog post.


© Betty Tartas  2016

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