Research ladies of Jefferson Co

Special thanks to Walter and Sarah!cropped-harewood-gathering-1-version-2.jpg


The first Gathering at Harewood Plantation just outside of Charles Town!

Hosted by S.Walter Washington and Sarah Brown, both direct descendants of the Washington families.Our first Harewood gathering brought together  the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society (JCBHP), the descendants of those who built and serviced Harewood, and  Washington Descendants together with other interested Charles Town residents. We shared an insightful, soul soothing afternoon, and promised to return to further our research and connections. 


Research Ladies of Charles Town



Our great gathering of new family – it’s a long story, but a great one!

L to R – Back row; Matt Landerkin; Kelly Ferrell (Joyceann’s daughter), Walter Washington, Sarah Brown.

Middle row; Leah Ferrell (Kelley’s daughter, Joyceann’s granddaughter), Monique Crippen-Hopkins, Marilyn M Morton (Joyceann’s sister).
Front row: Bunny Shaw (Nikki’s mom), Shelley Murphy, Nikki Matt Landerkin, Brennan Landerkin (Nikki and Matt’s son), Joyceann Gray, Jaden Landerkin (Nikki and Matt’s son). Yay! 

Walter, Gail, Sarah

Walter, Gail, Sarah

Other’s that left before the picture was taken; The Tolbert’s and the Taylors, Heidi Snow,  her sister and mother Mrs. Oliver.

How we began;

Shelley contacted Khadijah (my sister) with a question about the passenger list of the Carolinian that took manumitted enslaved persons to Liberia. Khadijah sent the information  to me (Joyceann) since I was doing the historical research for that branch of the family. Wow, what do you know  There in black and white was Rueben and Elizabeth Hatter, relations of ours connecting our family back to Harewood Plantation.Oh, and by the way, Shelley  is our cousin from the Nebraska branch of the family.

While all this is going on, Shelley connects me to Facebook group ‘Our Black Ancestry’ where I meet and share research with Monique   as we three are researching the same area Charles Town, WV. As we get deeper into our research low and behold Monique and I find out we’re cousins four times over. Some by blood some by marriage but cousins to be sure! Eventually, Sarah Brown connects with me since she has already made Monique’s connection to Claymont Plantation and they work to  solve the connection with Fortune Thompson and the Washington family.  Click here for her well-written accounting of her research.



Now to be sure this all didn’t happen overnight or in a week.

We have been working for years to gain a name or location. Shelley has been hard at for over 30 years! I can only imagine what her office/house looks like with all the records and documents she has amassed!  :-)

Next, our newest member of our team is Nikki ( a Goins relative), who lives in WV and has so much to offer, and share indeed she does.  You see, we just don’t look and study for our own historical benefit, we are constantly digging and uncovering for each other. Sarah found baptism records for my people, I found letters that helped Monique and so on. 

Now this past Saturday we met a few new people of Charles Town and shared a delightful potluck smorgasbord that satisfied everyone’s palette.


Our dining was watched over by Col Samuel Walter Washington upon the Wall…


Wonder what he was thinking about our gathering….🙂

We spent all afternoon sharing our stories and research and filled the air with laughter and hugs.


Shelley Murphy and Marilyn Morton


Gail Parrish, Mrs. Taylor, and Willa Mae Oliver



     Left to right: Jim Taylor, Jim Tolbert, Sarah Brown, Bunny Shaw and Nikki  Landerkin




Even our little ones enjoyed the day with Walter Washington and Kelly Ferrell playing poker!

Walter, Brennan, Kelly, Leah

Walter, Brennan, Kelly, Jaden, and Leah





Another Milestone

This time at the Jefferson County museum in Charles Town.

Website Narratives of Four Descendants of Jefferson County Enslaved and Free African-Americans On the iPad to the left, you can access genealogical research and family stories by several descendants of enslaved and free black Jefferson Countians.


Monique Crippen-Hopkins, a certified paralegal, blogger, family historian, and genealogist, is a descendant of the Thompson family of Jefferson County. Influenced as a young person by the importance her mother placed on genealogy and later in life by the loss of relatives who had been the repositories of family history, she began researching her family’s origins in 2006 and in 2013. Ms. Crippen-Hopkins’s blogging has led to exciting journeys and discoveries. She is writing a book on her family’s history.


Joyceann Gray, a U.S. Army retiree, author,family historian, and genealogist, is a descendant of the Hatter and McCord families of Jefferson County. Her historical and genealogical research is primarily focused on her family’s movements from Virginia to Liberia, Canada, Kentucky, and several other states. Mrs. Gray’s novel, Yes We Remember, is based on historical records and family stories of her ancestors. She is a contributor to the online encyclopedia and has presented her research in several venues in the mid-Atlantic states.


Dr. Shelley Murphy, a coordinator and faculty member for the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute, is a descendant of the Goins family of Jefferson County. She has been an avid genealogist for 30+ years, researching the Marsh, Yates, Goins, Johnson, Sims, Myers, Roper, and other families in Jefferson and Loudoun counties. She attends and presents at local and national genealogical conferences and has 20+ publications with the Charlottesville Genealogy Examiner, blog, and the Central Virginia Heritage. Jim Taylor,

Dr. Shelley Murphy, a coordinator and faculty member for the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute, is a descendant of the Goins family of Jefferson County. She has been an avid genealogist for 30+ years, researching the Marsh, Yates, Goins, Johnson, Sims, Myers, Roper, and other families in Jefferson and Loudoun counties. She attends and presents at local and national genealogical conferences and has 20+ publications with the Charlottesville Genealogy Examiner, blog, and the Central Virginia Heritage. Jim Taylor,

Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor, life-long county resident and former high school teacher and coach, is a descendant of the Payne and Dotson families of Jefferson County. He is one of four founders and currently an officer of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society (JCBHPS), has written a number of books on African-American history in Jefferson County, and is a member of the board of directors of the Jefferson County Historical Society. See the JCBHPS website at


A funny thing happened along this journey of mine

Is it fate or is it destiny or maybe a coincidence. Better yet, could it be our Ancestors have led us back to where our roots began to grow in this country?

Please read and make up your own mind!!

My research has taken me first to Liberia, Canada, then back to Charles Town West Virginia.   I have uncovered the following information that draws me back to St. Philips in Brooklyn NY:

  • Franklin D. Hatter enslaved by Andrew H. Hunter (prosecutor of the John Brown Trial) somehow convinced A. Hunter to sponsor his four (4) children in Mt. Zion Episcopal Church for baptism. This took place in 1855.
  • After the Civil War, the white congregation of Mt. Zion donated enough money to have the colored erect their own Church. St. Philips Episcopal Church, Charles Town WV (first Sunday school was taught by Bushrod Washington (nephew of George Washington)

Which is still an active church to this day.

  • Franklin Hatter’s father was James Hatter (his enslaver not known for sure) his brother Ruben Hatter was enslaved by Samuel Walter Washington (Brother of George Washington)
  • James Hatter’s Mother Charlotte, Aunt Sarah and grandfather Frances (b.1735) were enslaved by John Ariss the architect for “Harewood Plantation” in Charles Town, WV  he freed them in his will (1802) with the condition that they stay in serve to his wife until she dies… but not the children (two for sure; James and Ruben).
  • Harewood Plantation is the original home of Colonel Samuel Walter Washington erected in 1773.
  • His descendant S.Walter Washington added on modern living quarters and continues to live there presently.
  • The Hatter name first arrived in Loudoun County, VA in 1702. England King William in an effort to repay his friends (Huguenots) who had supported his war efforts paid for their passage to the Virginia colonies.

How ironic

  1.  I now live in the same county (Loudoun) as the first known ancestor arrived.
  2.  I now live 45 minutes from Charles Town where my ancestor lived and worked.
  3. They went to church at Mt Zion and St. Philips; Methodist-Episcopal churches.
  4.  So many years later I was raised in St. Philips (Episcopal) Church in Brooklyn, baptized and confirmed.

Please Share “Black Lives Do Matter”

Pls share: Black Lives Matter! This is from a woman in Texas… They must be held accountable.

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, my husband Richard and I decided to take a little road trip to Oakdale, Louisiana for a family reunion on his side of the family. A five hour or so road trip. We were pretty excited about it and all was going well until around 7:00 pm when we drove through a small town called Glenmora, Louisiana. At the bottom of a hill Richard noticed blue lights behind us so he pulled over to the curb. Richard rolled down the window, we both faced forward and we waited for an officer to approach. We were a little startled when the officer came to my side of the window as we were expecting him to come to the driver side, but OK maybe that is what they do now. Who knows? His badge read Officer Jack Wall. He was a young Anglo man. Officer Wall asked Richard for his driver’s license and insurance. Richard complied and I passed it to the officer. Officer Wall then asked Richard if he knew why he was being stopped. Richard, who drives 90 miles round trip to work every day and has not had a traffic violation in 6 years, responded, “No, I do not know why you stopped me.” Officer Wall said, “You were doing 61 in 50 zone.” Richard responded, “I just saw a sign that said 65.” Officer Wall said, “It changed at the bottom of the hill.” I am thinking OK that is a speed trap but I didn’t say anything. Richard replied, “Oh OK.” Officer Wall said, “Why are you so nervous?” Richard replied, “I am not nervous.” Office Wall getting noticeably agitated demanded, “Do you have any weapons in the car?” Richard responded calmly, “No.” Officer Wall replied, “People going that fast often have drugs or large sums of money in the car. Do you have drugs or large sums of money in the car?” Richard responded, “No.” At this point Officer Wall asked Richard to exit the vehicle and stand in behind it in front of the squad car. Richard complied, leaned back on the car, crossed his legs at the ankle and put his hands in his pocket. Officer Wall barked, “TAKE YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR POCKET”. Richard complied. Wall then asked Richard a series of questions as he examined his driver’s license as if he were trying to catch him in a lie…, “Where do you live, why are you here, where are you going, do you have drugs, do you have large sums of money?” Richard answered all of his questions. I am looking in the rearview mirror at all of this not sure what to do. Should I grab my phone and try to video record it? Should I at least place my phone on record and leave it in the cup holder to audio record all this? I just had the uneasy feeling that it was not going to go well but I was too afraid to move for fear of being shot. This young cop was really escalating things here so I didn’t know what might happen. So I sat there really concerned for my husband’s safety because this young officer was acting so erratically. Wall then got into the police car I assumed to run the license and the plates. I began to think that it was taking an eerily long time. About 10 minutes later another police squad car came swooping in and another young Anglo officer, Brian Flower from McNary, jumped out like they were coming in to take down the mafia. He screamed at me, “PASSENGER EXIT THE VEHICLE.” I complied and came to stand next to my husband. They then proceeded to ask me the same questions they had already asked Richard. I responded. Then things really got bizarre. They asked if they could search the car??!!! I am thinking, search the car? For 11 miles over the speed limit? This is a minor traffic stop!!!! My mind was whirling. We have nothing to hide. Do we let them do this illegal search? I know they need a search warrant to search your car. If we say no are they just going to take us to jail until they can get a search warrant? Will we have to wait until they call a K9 unit? We just want to get to the family reunion. While all of these things are going through my head Richard responds, “Go ahead. We have nothing to hide.” So I am waiting for that process to start and just when you think things can’t get any weirder Wall says, “For your own safety and our protection we need to place you in handcuffs while we search the car. You are not under arrest but we need to place you in handcuffs. We wouldn’t want anyone to get tazed or shot.” At this point the entire scene is unbelievable to me. You don’t want anyone to get tazed or shot? Was that a warning, a threat or a declaration of what was about to happen? This is a traffic stop. You have two completely harmless middle aged grandparents that you are about to handcuff and search the car because… why??? About this time a THIRD squad car arrives and this time, a Black cop steps out. Wall says to the Black cop, “Since you are here if you will watch them we will not need to handcuff them.” Watch them? Watch them! Like we are common criminals. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Officer Wall had declared himself judge and jury. I was just praying that he would not make the leap to executioner as well. He ordered the black cop to “watch them”. Watching is what I do when I babysit my bonus grandkids. I am a quite grown, law abiding, tax paying woman. I do not need to be watched. Everything about the situation was demeaning. Wall and Flower began to search our car and our things. They looked in the glove compartment, perhaps they enjoyed seeing the pink slip for the Volvo. I know they think we stole it. How surprised they must have been to see that we actually own it. Made the last payment months ago and that the title matches the name and address on our driver’s license. Maybe they enjoyed going through the bags of snacks in the back seat that contained nothing more than a soda bottle and a couple of bottles of water. Looking for open liquor containers? Sorry. Nope. Not even a beer. They unzipped my CD container and guess what they found? CDs. A little Anthony Robbins and the complete Bible on CD. Bet they weren’t expecting that. Can’t find anything in the cabin of the car, time to look in the trunk. Wall asked if there was anything in the trunk. Richard responds, “Yes, there are bags in the trunk.” They proceed to go through Richard’s bag, dropping his clothes on the ground and examining all his things. They open his pill box and ask him what is in there. He responds we will be gone overnight so his vitamins are in there. They pass the pill box back and forth between the three of them and sniff his vitamins. They are finally satisfied that they are vitamins. They then turn their attention to my bag. They go through all my things, handle my Bible. MY BIBLE!!!! Who do you think I am the guy from Shawshank Redemption or something and I have carved out a little place in my Bible for a tiny pistol? There is nothing inside my Bible put pages. And a lot of words that you should take the time to read. Then they start going through my clothes. They hold my little sundresses up and then cram them back in the bag. They turn my socks inside out. They hold up my underwear and finger them. I really feel like they were trying to get a reaction out of Richard so they would have an excuse to do something to him. What man wants another man to finger his wife’s underwear? I will never wear those underwear again. I am going to burn them. How dare you put your grimy little hands on my unmentionables? I tried to make eye contact with the Black Officer but he just looked at the ground. It’s alright I know you have to do what you have been ordered you to do. “Watch Them”. I couldn’t take it anymore. While all of this is going on my mind started to drift away. I thought about my dad. The WWII Veteran. I thought about Richard’s brother, the 20-year career Army vet who has passed away but who helped raise Richard after their mother died. We were on our way to see his widow. I thought about Nicholas’ dad. A proud Marine and all of Nicholas’ Aunts and Uncles who serve in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Shoot I thought about my own 30-year career as an educator. Is that not service too? I thought about the foundation I helped Nicholas start and all the thousands of dollars that we have given to the community. Is that not service? I worried that this could happen to Nicholas some day and wondered how he would handle it. He is out there at Google all by himself. If stopped would a cop see an Eagle Scout, honor student, and Google intern or would they jump to some wild conclusion that he was somehow a menace. There are less than 1% of the tech population in Silicon Valley that is Black. I pray every day that some cop doesn’t hurt my boy because he sees a Black man who is in an area where he is thought not to belong. But he does belong. He belongs anywhere he wants to and works hard enough to be. We are a patriotic, proud, law abiding, God fearing American family. But to the scores of people passing by on the highway on this warm Louisiana evening, we must have looked like common criminals. After all, there were three cop cars, blue lights swirling, an obvious search going on with all of our things strewn about on the ground and Richard and I standing there being watched. On this display, you could not see my three degrees, 6 teacher and administrator certifications or 3 professional licenses. On this display, you could not see Richard’s wide smile, warm heart and dozens of employee of the year certificates and other accolades. No, what we must have looked like were common criminals who obviously had done something wrong and were being brought to justice. The entire display only contributed to an already negative stereotype. We looked like two more of the usual suspects. Round them up and handcuff them. Is there ever going to come a time when we can just be? I was taken back 200 years by this episode. Massa’ Wall demanding to see our traveling papers because we were outside of our plantation (Texas). We must provide an explanation for our presence. Where are you coming from, where are you going, who are you going to see. And the Black cop playing the role of the overseer “watching us”. His own people. Why can’t we just be? It is a public highway. Can we just be? If we were speeding fine. Issue a ticket and keep it moving but this was way too much. I cannot sleep for worry that this will happen again or happen to Nicholas or my brother or other loved ones. I shudder to think what might have happened if Richard had been alone. In my heart, I really do believe they would have found a reason to shoot him. And if I had been alone I would never have submitted to the illegal search. They would probably have taken me to jail. But just for the record if that does ever take place and anything were to happen to me in custody please know that I want very much to see Nicholas graduate from college. I want to dance at his wedding someday. I want to hold my grandchildren someday. I want to grow old with Richard. If anything ever happens to me in custody please know that I did not commit suicide! And for all of those of you who say if you just follow the orders of what the police say you will be fine. If you just follow the orders of what the police say things will not escalate. Well, we did everything that was asked of us. Literally, more than the law requires. Things did escalate and I am not fine. The thing that bothers me the most is I don’t know anything that we could have done differently. Except not be Black.

DeWitty-Audacious is now officially in the history of Nebraska

DeWitty Marker

What a wonderful time we all enjoyed!  The fellowship was just so amazing!

Last Monday, April 11, 2016, the Historical Marker was officially installed that celebrates the importance of the DeWitty African-American Settlement in a ceremony attended by close to 200 people. DeWitty was the longest lasting African-American, most successful rural settlement in all of, Nebraska.

Parked cars lined the side of the highway. Elementary and college students stood with bright eyes filled with interest and wonder. Many traveled from the various Ranches of the surrounding areas including Brownlee, Seneca, and Thedford. Valentine residents also came to learn, share and enjoy the greatness of the occasion.  This occasion was a culmination of a lot of research, phone calls, fundraising and reaching out to the families of the homesteaders and the Sand Hill communities.

The great Ladies of Brownlee prepared a scrumptious midday meal to be enjoyed after the ceremony in the Brownlee Community Center.  Sonny Hanna spearheaded a tour of the Sand Hills taking many of the descendants to the land their ancestors once made their homes and many were still interned there.


Emanuel buriel ground

Emanuel Burial Grounds

Emanuel foundation

Emanuel Home Foundation

Walker & Hatter property

View of Hatter and Walker Homesteads

Grandson & NLoopRiver

Grandson walking the land of his Ancestors

North Loop Pam

Beauty of the Sandhills in April


DSC_4420 Rev.Khadijah Matin gave the invocationDSC_4417

Stew Magnuson, author of Hwy 83, “The Last American Highway”, was the master of ceremony and spearheaded The Descendants of DeWitty Team (Catherine Meehan Blount, Joyceann Gray, and Marcia Thompkins) in the making of this dream come to fruition. The great folks at the Cherry County Historical Society and the Nebraska State Historical Society quickly approved the application for the marker. And so it began, raising the money, buying plane tickets, gathering up old photographs as the excitement increased daily until 17 descendants came from all over the country to reconnect with a place that feels like home! They came representing the homesteaders who many traveled over 1700 miles from Canada and more from Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia to settle in the Sand Hills taking advantage of the Homesteader Act of 1862 and the amended Kinkaiders Act of 1904.

What is so important about this community is the bond between African American homesteaders of DeWitty and their white counterparts in Brownlee. The two communities were very isolated back then and despite differences of heritage and beginnings, they enjoyed a civil and caring relationship that continues up to this day. “Something the rest of America should learn from” stated local resident Shelley Christiansen. Ron Lee also voiced his opinion: “As far as race relations…I will say this..there was not one single person there at that dedication ceremony who was anything different than anyone else. We were just all people celebrating a time in the past where everyone worked together, And, though we’re not neighbors now, land-wise or ownership of the land-wise, we’re still neighbors. Lyn & Bruce Messersmith, Bree & Martin DeNaeyer, Byron & Mary Eatinger,and Ann Manning-Warren to just name a few of who open wide the doors of hospitality.

Lyn & Bruce Messersmith, Bree & Martin DeNaeyer, Byron & Mary Eatinger,and Ann Manning-Warren to just name a few of who open wide the doors of hospitality.

In the audience were some students that were taught by Goldie Walker Hayes, goldies-classroomcropped-goldie-hayes.jpga renown teacher throughout the area. She is our maternal grandmother. They expressed their fond memories and shared so many pleasing stories of her grace, beauty,  teaching ability and her kindness. This was so heartfelt and enriching for us who lost her while we were just small children.

Catherine, the granddaughter of Hester and Charles Meehan, spoke of the homesteaders struggles and delights and recited a poem her Dad wrote at age 17, speaking of an old footbridge across the North Loop River.

20160411_110421 Yours truly, granddaughter of Roy and Goldie Hayes reminded the crowd: “Although the town was reclaimed by the land the legacy of the homesteaders carries on for they were a success!  This town was not a failure. It wasn’t an experiment; it didn’t wither away because people couldn’t handle the weather – it was a testament to their vision. Which is to set roots down in a foundation for educating their children and giving them a chance at the American dream.”  

We found our great grandfather, one of the original homesteaders 

 WILLIAM PARKER WALKERWilliam P. Walker Grave Stone William P. Walker’s burial plot in the Brownlee Cemetery.


  Mother & Daughter Sharing the Experience



Charlotte Woodson (Granddaughter of Charlotte Riley Walker) with her daughter, Marcia Thompkins granddaughter of Boss Woodson, Rancher and Fernnella Walker Woodson, also a teacher in the county districts expressed her joy: “It WAS an awesome day!      We, the descendants, made great connections, saw pictures we hadn’t seen before, heard more stories from the warm and welcoming people of the community that we hadn’t heard before, toured the land, found our ancestors resting places… I could go on and on! My life has been enriched beyond expectation, and I am forever positively changed!”

Decedants of DeWitty2016


BackRow: Delbert DeWitty, (nephew of the Postmaster), Hershel Riley, Byron DeWitty, Artes Johnson& brother Maurice, (Grandson’s of Corena Walker- Williams) Garland Miles (Riley)  Middle Row: Rev. Khadijah Matin, (Granddaughter of Roy and Goldie Hayes) Catherine Meehan-Blount, Jacob & Leah Ferrell, 3x Great grandchildren of William P. Walker, William Pegg, (Grandson of Roy and Goldie Hayes), Emerald Miles (Riley,) Phyllis Brown Denise Brown (descendants of Radford Speese, older brother of Charles Speese.) Joyceann Gray, (Hayes and Walker descendant).  Seated front Row: Charlotte Woodson (Granddaughter of Charlotte Riley Walker) and her daughter Marcia Thompkins.

Browlee Community HallAnd so we  met back up at the Brownlee Community Center and ate a delicious meal and chatted and shared while Ann Manning-Warren gave us a trip down memory lane!


Words from Lyn Messersmith, whose family opened their homes to us: 4/27/2016

The Lay of the Land

By Lyn Messersmith 

Build It and They Will Come

They got it backward, but it worked. A group of  Canadian-born Black families, former slaves, and their descendants came to a desolate and lonely region in the Nebraska Sandhills and built a community they called DeWitty, later renamed Audacious. Six hundred and forty acres seemed like a lot; surely enough to survive on, perhaps even prosper. Prosperity probably wasn’t a concept they dwelt on, so much as survival. That’s how it was in those days, and you didn’t have to be Black to know hard times in the hills. There were neighbors who understood that and welcomed them. The little town of Brownlee, a dozen or so miles downriver, had amenities that served the newcomers until they established businesses of their own, and interactions continued in the form of competitions at rodeos, baseball games and Independence Day celebrations. Brownlee had a community hall, and DeWitty had music makers, so there were dances too.

DeWitty residents were strong for education, which eventually contributed to the demise of the community. Young people went away to college, became doctors, teachers, ministers, and writers and the elders finally drifted away too, but memories of those years lingered around Brownlee and became the legend as I was growing up nearby. My dad and his peers spoke names like Speese, Riley, Turner, Hayes, and Woodson, with admiration and respect.

Stew Magnuson, an author with Sandhills roots, has traveled Highway 83 many times and chronicled the people and places along that route in a series of books. He became fascinated by stories about DeWitty, and recently spearheaded a project to raise funds for a historical marker about it.

On April 11, 2016, nearly two hundred people gathered at the marker for a dedication. Descendants of DeWitty came from both coasts and everywhere in between, and my family was privileged to host several of them. Sandhillers traveled more than a hundred miles to honor our common roots, and the ladies of Brownlee and surrounding communities put on a “Y’all come” feed in that old community hall. The rancher who owns much of the ground where DeWitty stood organized a tour for those who cared to see where their ancestors had settled, and others uncovered buried grave markers in the Brownlee Cemetery for family members to photograph.

As our guests departed for various destinations, they said the weekend had given them closure, and they felt like they had, in some sense, come home. I felt closer to my own family and more proud than ever of my heritage and neighbors.

Many people snapped pictures during that celebration, but I carry mine in my head; of women carrying more chairs to the community hall to accommodate overflow crowds, of a man with a shovel uncovering gravestones and a rancher’s plane sitting in a meadow near the marker. Of people walking half a mile back to their cars after the ceremony because of limited parking at the highway site, and children from a nearby school eating sack lunches brought along on the field trip.

DeWitty is gone, and Brownlee nearly so, but the spirit of neighborliness is not. There are memories of moments less proud in the minds of descendants on both sides, but healing is possible, and the marker celebration is proof of that.

A group of locals leaned on parked vehicles outside the Brownlee community hall and visited while waiting for the room to go in and eat. A thought came to me as we stood there, and as we drove away. It lingers now, as I look back on the event.

“If these walls could talk…”


(slightly edited by J.Gray)

Coming soon:DeWitty Historical Ceremony

Descendants of Nebraska African-American Settlement to Attend Historical Marker Ceremony on Highway 83

 Marker location
Turn off for the DeWitty historical marker

Descendants of the largest African-American settlement in Nebraska, located in the Sand Hills are expected to arrive in Cherry County on April 11 to celebrate the unveiling of a historical marker on U.S. Highway 83. DeWitty, also known as Audacious, was a series of homesteads scattered along the North Loup River west of the present-day town of Brownlee, Nebraska, and lasted from about 1906 until the last of the homesteads sold in 1956.

The Nebraska State Historical Society marker is erected on Hwy 83 just south of the Brownlee turnoff. The dedication ceremony is slated to take place at 10 a.m., Monday, April 11th at the marker site. The public is welcome to attend.

“So far, descendants are coming from as far away as California, Kansas, Florida, Delaware, and Virginia. Descendants of the town’s first postmaster, Jim DeWitty, are expected to come from Oklahoma. Other descendants of the DeWitty and Brownlee communities may attend from Valentine, Omaha, Colorado and the Minneapolis-St. Paul areas” said, Stew Magnuson, author of the book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83, which has a chapter about the settlement. Stew has spearheaded the drive for the Historical marker and the installation ceremony.

After the ceremony, Humanities Nebraska lecturer Vicki Harris will give a presentation about DeWitty at the Brownlee Community Hall, which will be followed by a potluck lunch.

“There are not many residents left in Brownlee and the surrounding ranches, (the two communities were very tight back in the day) but they are going all out to welcome the DeWitty descendants and the other celebrants,” says Magnuson.

 Browlee Community Hall
Brownlee Community Hall

“I am glad that the marker mentions the close bond between the black settlers of DeWitty and the white residents of Brownlee. The two communities were both isolated and on their own in the depths of Sand Hills back then. Here we have the story of a mixed-race couple, integrated schools, neighbors helping each other when they needed it, and two communities coming together to celebrate the quintessential American holiday, Independence Day. This should be remembered,” says Magnuson.

Speakers at the ceremony will include a Cherry County Historical Society representative, Magnuson, Catherine Meehan Blount, a granddaughter of Charles and Hester Meehan – an interracial couple, who were among the early DeWitty settlers. Also, Joyceann Gray, a Granddaughter of William Roy,rancher and one of the orignial DeWitty settlers and wife Goldie Walker Hayes, legendary Principle, who remained in the county working in four-room schoolhouses long after the settlement disappeared. The  Reverend Khadijah Matin, also a granddaughter of the Hayes’ will offer the invocation.

Charles Town Jefferson County Museum Opening soon!

Jefferson County Museum

The  Museum has included our families stories and this is exciting times to be sure, to have our ancestor’s legacies documented and remembered. There are direct links available to our web pages telling our family stories!

Just click here and you will go  directly to the story of the Hatters journey!





The Ceremony is upon us!

Historical Marker for DeWitty is remembrance of Nebraska’s largest and most well-known African-American rural community, off U.S. Highway 83 near Brownlee.
DeWitty was the town that had the audacity to think they could, and so they did.
Although the town didn’t survive and most of the land reclaimed itself, the legacy of those who came is evident by the descendants who will stand with us Monday, April 11. The driving force behind every plow, every nail driven, every sod wall built was with one purpose in mind. Not to build a lasting farming town but to be the stepping stone for their children’s futures. Each family ensured that education both religious and academic teaching were primary and the support to choose their direction was indeed encouraged for they were taught to believe they could grasp whatever star they reached for. Freedom to seek out adventure that beckons the bright and spirited minds.
So April 11, 2016
Just south of Brownlee turnoff, Highway 83 – we the descendants, neighbors, and friends will come together and shall honor the hard work of our ancestors, their drive, devotion, and visions. Remembering DeWitty pays homage to those who confronted racial barriers in the pre-civil war of United States, in Canada and in the Nebraska Sand Hills with a ‘we can overcome’ attitude. Remembering DeWitty gives anyone who knows their story a reminder that they can, too.” Contrary to various accountings for the reason of the demise of this town, DeWitty renamed Audacious centered their energies, visions, and struggles to achieve the American dream. They achieved their mission, and this is a fitting memorial for all their struggles.

So by chance you can come and plan to share at 10 am, April 11, 2016, please do; for after the ceremony, there is a planned potluck luncheon by the folks of Brownlee in the Community Center for all to meet and greet.

Our Own Black History


How many can you identify?

If you can’t identify them, then you need to read our history book “Yes We Remember“!

or look through this website and find the stories that relate to these photo’s.

Loving being Black!





Isle of Wight Deed Book 17 1791-1796 LVA Reel # 10


p. 180–Thomas Uzzell Sr of I of W–freedom is natural right and doing unto others etc–frees 8 Negroes viz:Keter aged 60; Pegg, abt 30; Jemima aged 20; Isham abt 14; Lewis abt 6; Rhoda abt 3, Milla aged abt 1 yr and Sarah aged abt 9 months–those in their minority at lawful age–6 Jan 94–rec 3 Feb 1794

p. 226–Shemuel Godwin of I of W–freedom is natural right and do unto others etc–frees Negro woman Pegg aged abt 40 yrs–6 Oct 1794–rec same

Hatter Family


The earliest Hatter found so far is Frances Hatter b.1735, he was originally from the West coast of Africa. Our largest DNA concentration is from Benin/Togo.Frances Hatter freed after the death of John and Elizabeth Ariss, along with Charlotte  and Sarah. All slaves of this 1700 group maintain the name of Hatter Slaves.

We found that Charlotte by the time she was freed, had four sons John, Reuben, George, and James. James and Reuben had been sold to Samuel Walter Washington, who in turn reluctantly sold Reuben to Christian Blackburn, who sent him and his wife Elizabeth after manumitting both to Liberia. click here for more on them in Liberia.Reuben Hatter

James was a jack of all trades and ensured his position by being efficient and hard working.He jumped the broom with Matilda and they had numerous child but we can only speak on George b. 1818 and Franklin b 1820.

Mississippi Ancestors

Beverly A Harper Research Blog

victori7's Blog

A great site

Majic 102.1

Houston, R&B, Soul, Radio, Texas, KMJQ

Gathering Family Untangling Roots

From Texas To The Carolinas, A Never Ending Search For My Ancestors

J.Gray Discovery Photos


Linked Through Slavery

Breaking down the walls

The greatest site in all the land!


Just another site

The Truth Revealed

Just another site

%d bloggers like this: