Dedication Ceremony for DeWitty Historical Marker

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dedication Ceremony for DeWitty Historical Marker Set for April 11, 2016, at the Marker site on Hwy 83 near Brownlee turnoff

 Location of Marker in Ne

A dedication ceremony for a new Nebraska State Historical Marker in Cherry County commemorating DeWitty, the state’s longest and most successful African-American rural settlement  in the state is scheduled for Monday, April 11 at 10 a.m. at the site of the marker, near the Brownlee turnoff road on U.S. Highway 83.

The ceremony will be held in the Cherry County Historical Society Museum in Valentine in the event of inclement weather.

The ceremony is expected to draw descendants of the original DeWitty settlers from all over the nation.

“I’ve already heard from descendants from as far away as Delaware, Virginia and California who are planning to come,” said Stew Magnuson, the author of two books about Highway 83. Last year, Magnuson, the Cherry County Historical Society and DeWitty descendants coordinated efforts to raise the $5,100 needed to pay for the marker.

 North Loup River scene about 40 yards from the turnoff
North Loup River just south of marker site

“Donations came from descendants, Cherry County residents, history buffs in Nebraska and members of the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook. It was a wonderful gathering of different people who believed that this unique community should be remembered,” said Magnuson.

Black settlers first arrived in the area about 1880 to take advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, the Timber Culture Act of 1873, and the Kinkaid Act of 1904 Act, which granted homesteaders ultimately 640 acres of land in the counties that comprised the Sand Hills of Nebraska. DeWitty, also known as Audacious, grew as more settlers came to take advantage of this offer. The Homestead Act only granted 160 acres of land. Some settlers had roots in Canada and were the descendants of escaped slaves. Others came from big cities to try their hands at farming. The town barber, Robert Hannahs, had been born into slavery.

 DeWitty Turnoff facing directly westDeWitty Turnoff facing southwest
View of Sand Hills west of marker site

They built homesteads along the North Loup River, extending some 14 miles west of the town of Brownlee, a mostly white settlement. Relations between the two communities were excellent, Magnuson says. They came together to celebrate Independence Day, shared one-room schools and helped each other whenever needed.
“This is really the story of two communities: DeWitty and Brownlee. The marker text notes the bond the communities shared,” says Magnuson, who wrote a chapter about DeWitty in his latest book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska,Kansas, Oklahoma.

Joyceann Gray, a DeWitty descendant now living in Sterling, Virginia, said, “My sister Khadijah and I are so excited to attend the DeWitty-Audacious Historical Marker Installation ceremony. What a humbling honor to be a part of recognizing our ancestors, their struggles, and their lives.”

Joyceann Gray is the author of “Yes We Remember” Available on Amazon.com and Blurb.com This is a historical novel based on the events of the time, historical records, and family stories of our ancestors and how the struggles, adventures, and travels of 4 families culminated on a ranch in Cherry County Nebraska.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and  The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition. Both are available online or in museums, bookstores and gift shops on Hwy 83.

Happy New Year Everyone!

This past year has been extremely busy one and blessed to be sure!

facebook New year

We got a chance to travel to Negril to refresh from a cold winter.

Kenny & Joyceann Negril 2015 Underwater at Negril 2015

We came home to enjoy the wonderful feeling of Spring, bringing forth the freshness and newness of growing flowers and budding trees.

We enjoyed with pride (and fond memories of our own) watching our youngestPV2 Dominique M. Gray graduate from Basic Training at Fort Jackson.  We enjoyed traveling across the country; to visit family and friends while the weather held up. Late in the summer, after solving the question of who enslaved our 2x great-grandfather Franklin Hatter,  and sharing with other historians at Harewood plantation in Charles Town, West VA.,

harewood gathering 1 - Version 2

I finished writing the family history book ” Yes We Remember” and  spoke on the Hatter part of the family at the AAHGS convention in Richmond. My Book Photo 1

Marilyn developed a course she will teach at NOVA this year.  I received a new titanium knee and was able to walk without a cane by Christmas!  We watched our grandchildren grow sooo tall and get drivers licences, jobs, and good grades in school. They are sprouting up and maturing and trying their best to make us feel old. But all in all, 2015 was a very good year for our family, we didn’t lose anyone, all of us are busy, healthy, and feeling good.

We welcome the new year by wishing for peace, happiness and goodness throughout the world.  Resolving to Pay it forward – Be kind each day and give of yourself to help others less fortunate.  We only have the here and now so let us make the best of life by being kind.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Happy New Year 2016-1

Yes We Remember Our Ancestors -This coming Friday

This coming Friday Octobert 16, 2015,  

I’ll share the story of the “Hatters” during the

AAHGS Conference

Meanwhile here’s a preview of my new book:

We’re heading to Richmond!

Friday, October 16, at 4 pm, I’ll be speaking about the life and times of the Hatters’ during the conference. Coming with me will be my sisters Adjunct Professor M. Morton and AAHGS Past President of New York Chapter, Dr. K. Matin.

http://www.aahgs.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&pageId=677

COME JOIN US!

I made the changes!

http://www.blurb.com/bookshare/app/index.html?bookId=7044313

sure hope you all enjoy my labor of love!

Putting the pieces of the puzzle together!

Hatter photo's

“Nov. 11, 1855 – Emily Hatter, George William Hatter, Hamilton Hatter, Sarah Frances Hatter – children of Frank Hatter, a colored man of Mr. A. Hunter.”

Hatter children baptized Barbara Ellen Hatter Died 1858

Sarah Brown, Descendant of John Augustine Washington
“I wandered into the Zion office to see if the Washingtons sponsored any baptisms of those they enslaved. They gave me an old ledger. I thought it might shed some light on the Sanders/Saunders family. Lo and behold, the second or third page listed the Hatters, big as day. I don’t have enough Hatter info memorized to know if this support or conflicts with what you found previously. But at any rate, it’s a fascinating twist on your story. So glad I noticed it!–I’m going back with my cell tomorrow. The Zion Episcopal Church is in Charles Town, and where most of the 19th & 20th century Washingtons are buried.”
I was just reading a history of the church, and as was the sad custom, the black congregants sat in the balcony. Then some benefactors built a separate church for blacks, “St. Phillips.”
the second picture has the notation of July 10, 1858, Barbara Ellen Hatter died.

The DeWitty – Audacious Historical Marker soon to be a reality!

7/25/2015

The DeWitty – Audacious Historical Marker soon to be a reality!

A small team of descendants, family, and friends raised $5100 for the historical marker in remembrances of the homesteaders of DeWitty-Audacious, Nebraska. The largest African American Settlement established in the Sandhills of Nebraska in the late 1800’s. Contrary to various accountings for the reason of the demise of this town, DeWitty renamed Audacious centered their energy, vision and struggles to achieve the American dream and had the audacity to think they could. They achieved their mission and this is a fitting memorial for all their struggles.
On behalf of the descendants, we wish to recognize Stew Magnuson, author of ‘The Last American Highway’ who was the backbone of this project and a major contributor.                                   Also, The Nebraska State Historical Society for approving the Marker and The Cherry County Historical Society, especially Joyce Muirhead, who helped set up the fundraising bank account. We were able to accomplish our goal so quickly because of the support from the Bulletin and also the North Platte TelegraphStapleton EnterpriseLincoln Journal Star and radio station KVSH in Valentine who assisted in getting the word out and about Nebraska.                                                                          The rest of the team who worked hard to get the word out are Homesteaders descendants: Catherine Meehan Blount, Marcia Thompkins & Joyceann Gray, both descendants of the well-known Woodson & Walker families.

Valentine Midland News editor Laura Vroman ensured our words were heard by printing my articles week after week that offered a more balanced view and history of a larger number of the homesteaders than ever before. Expounding on the people who worked so hard to give their children a good start in life,  the people who shared their skills and talents with others to make a hard life worthwhile. Also I wrote about the children whowent on to do great things.  Special thanks to Lyn Messersmith, who supported my writing campaign with precious memories of the lives of the homesteaders.

With great appreciation, we look forward to the day when the DeWitty-Audacious Historical Marker will be installed.
I hope to see you all at the installation Ceremony!

God is Good,    Joyceann Gray

Thursday, Elsie and Polly

            A few days ago, I was on my back porch, and I noticed a lovely butterfly landing on one of the plants. Wow, I wonder if she’ll stay long enough for me to go get my camera?? I dashed into the house, and, of course, the camera wasn’t ready. I had to stop and put the SD card back in. Feeling a bit deflated because I was taking so long, I just knew that the beautiful butterfly would be long gone. But I headed back out to where I saw it and low and behold she was still there!! As I snapped picture after picture I talked gently to her.

2015-07-08 09.22.27

 

2015-07-08 09.22.44

Black and beautiful as can be!

            She was just fluttering from plant to plant, then holding still at times and posing for me. I was so excited for I had heard that when butterflies come to you they are in fact your ancestors coming to say hello with a meaning we have to find. Then later that day I went out to get the mail and up from the small group of flowers at the base of the mailbox stand, came two pure white butterflies. They both flew all around me as I walked back up towards the house. I changed my mind and veered off the driveway towards my small vegetable garden to see what was growing. The White butterflies continued to fly around in front of me. I saw there were string beans and a large green tomato that I wanted to harvest, so I headed back towards the house to get a bowl. Those butterflies followed me right up to the front door. Of course (as usual), as I entered the houseI got distracted, I changed shoes and went into my office and sat down at the computer. On top of papers directly under the computer screen; was a form from the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center. My intention was to fill it out and request a copy of any records available for Polly Johnson, (paternal our great-grandmother). As I reached for a pen, I picked up the phone instead and called the number listed on the form.

            I spent almost an hour on the phone with a lovely young lady Katie, who guided my search through various links and what we found…well I just had to take a moment and breath….I didn’t realize until then that I had been holding my breath and gritting my teeth so hard my jaw began to ache. Finally, after getting my breathing under control, I said a prayer of thanks, both to God and to the Butterflies!

Freedmen records- Polly JohnsonFreedmen records- THURSDAY

            These two images are Polly Johnson’s enrollment card as a Creek Freedmen qualifying her for payment of 40 acres we found.  Sadly, though it states that Polly was not mentally well enough to speak for herself. Her cousin Sally Roberts gave witness on her behalf.  The back of her card (to the right) list Polly’s father; “Thursday” listed as a Seminole Freedmen, and her mother Elsie Doyle a full blood Creek. Other records support her mother’s bloodline.

                Now I believe I understand why I couldn’t find our names on the rolls. Polly born 1845, was registered on the 1865 Dunn rolls before her first child was born, by the time the Dawes rolls were put in place (1906-1907) Polly had seen such hardship we hesitate to imagine. Her husband had died,  left her penniless with five children, then her brother moved in as a widow, invalid and with two young daughters. As 1900 rolled in she was still struggling to make ends meet. Living with her extended family in a boarding house and washing clothes for 10-12 hours each day, seven days a week for so little pay. By 1903, Polly was in poor health, just plain worn out and with the help of Sally Roberts her cousin and other family members they moved her to Oklahoma nearer to her family. Her children were all grown and gone on to find their way in life, but she had her daughter Ida and many other family members to count on. Her oldest was John Grant Pegg, married to the former Mary Charlotte Page of Kansas, father, and a respected Republican in Omaha employed by the Mayor as the Weights and Measures Inspector. Her daughters Ida and Maggie both married and with families of their own. Not sure what happened to Robert but Bayless her second son by this time was up north with younger brother Charles homesteading on their cattle ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. They eventually gave up the harsh life and Charles first moved to Illinois then onto Oakland, CA and Bayless moved to Chicago, IL.

Listed as a Freedmen was a mixed bag for many, it must have felt like being the ball in a ping-pong tournament First the mixed blood was accepted, and then the Five Tribes declared them noncitizens. This argument has continued to present day. Can the descendants of the mix blood and slaves of the Indians be counted as citizens of the Indian Nation, can they have the rights and privileges, voting and such?

So now what we do know is Polly Johnson’s father was Thursday and her mother Elsie Doyle and her cousin is Sally Roberts with a younger cousin Sid Kernel!     Not bad for a phone call on a hot afternoon!

There is much more to this story, please follow me and get my updates.

Mvto (Thank you) for reading my Latest News!

 Joyceann

Neighbors that were the Backbone of the Community

DeWitty- Audacious

Here are some more neighbors that were the backbone of the community and who also held the dream of a better life for their family and themselves.

The William H. Rann Family story begins with William and his brother James we believe who made their way to Canada from Kanawha, Virginia. Once on the solid land of freedom they set out to build a life. William married Melany and they had a son William Jr. and James married Ann and they had a son William and daughter, Sarah Ann. They were Bible Christians and hard working farmers.

These two families were among a group of nine families that that decided to head back across the border and claim their rightful place in America. The Kincaid Act of 1862 supported their decision, and so the 1700-mile journey began. Later, In June of 1880, most of them were able to gain more land under the revision in 1904 of the Kincaid Act that allowed for 640 acres; this gave the aspiring farmers a fighting chance to succeed. The Rann family worked their land next to the William Small, Richard Robinson, Leroy Gield, and James Washington families. Not far from the Emanuel, Riley, and Walkers. Forming a co-op of sorts that ensured everyone would benefit from their labors. No one went without food, clothing or shelter. They took care of each other.

The success of the DeWitty-audacious community is measured NOT by how long the town remained standing and NOT how long the families could hang on. The success is measured by the lives and careers of the many descendants who went on to be highly educated political figures, writers, and poets and teachers. They went on to become doctors, soldiers, attorneys, and engineers. They went on to become responsible and caring stand up citizens all across the USA.

So please take a moment and donate whatever you can, to help us all remember our humble beginnings and the people who gave their lives in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.     Just click on the picture below!

Their point was not to establish a generational farming community but to create a base for their children and future generations as well as excel in whatever field they chose.  And they had the audacity to think they could.

Sharing and Caring

Today We shared some more in support of  Remembering DeWitty, Nebraska
by Cherry County Historical Society  

  Will you join us???

old-walker-family-front old-walker-family-back

We are raising funds to place a roadside historical marker on U.S. Highway 83 in Nebraska for the town of DeWitty. Also known as Audacious, it was the longest lasting and most successful African-American rural settlement in the state! Fund Raising For DeWitty-Audacious

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