Caroline Chambers Born in Slavery, Raised her Children in Freedom
In 2006 my wife and I watched the PBS miniseries African American Lives hosted by historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. After the program, my wife who is from Nigeria asked me, an African American, what did I know about my family ancestors. I didn’t know much but that evening I told her the little I knew about a woman named Caroline, my GG grandmother on my father’s side of the family, who was a slave in Madison County, Kentucky. I was about seven or eight, when on the Clark County, Kentucky side of the Kentucky river my father told me about his father’s father and Caroline, my father’s grandfather’s mother. That evening my wife went to the laptop and began typing in Madison County, Kentucky slaves into a search engine and so began my greater understanding about Caroline Chambers, my genetic heritage and the country of my birth. As the days and months passed and more discoveries were made a picture emerged of Caroline Chambers’ life. Though the picture is not complete there is something to be seen. Here is what was learned.
Caroline Chambers was born into slavery about 1820 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The county of her birth is not known, but the first known record of human acknowledgment of her existence among her generation is found in the 1860 Slave Schedule taken in Madison County on the farm of the slave owner John Chambers. Caroline and her children are among those slaves counted in the First Division Madison County Slave Schedule. Caroline is the 40-year-old female on line 24 page 15 and her twin mulatto boys on line 2 and 3 on page 16. Though no descendents of Caroline’s, in the spring of 2006 when the Madison County Slave Schedule and the 1870 Clark County Census were first collected by me; the great-great-grandson of Caroline; knew that she had any other children other than her sons Aaron Chambers and his identical twin Moses Chambers. But she did, and they are listed with her on the 1870 Clark County, Kentucky Census Precinct No. 1, Sub Division 28, Page 8. In addition to Aaron and Moses, who were 14 years old at the time, the 1870 Clark County Census list four other individuals. Harrison age 23, Sidney age 16, Louisa age 6, and Nella age 4 all with the surname Chambers.
It is known from family history that Aaron and Moses were born in Madison County. It is also known that after emancipation their mother took the surname of her former owner, John Chambers. When freedom came Caroline and her children left John Chambers’ farm, located in the Muddy Creek area of Madison County, and crossed at the junction of the Red River and the Kentucky River into Clark County. I have been told that there was ferry that operated near this fork in the river and continued to operate into the 1940’s. Caroline settled in Clark County on land near the junction of these two rivers and for the next three to four generations her decedents were born and raised in this area.
It was the 1870 and 1880 Clark County census that enabled me to identify Caroline by age on the 1860 slave schedule, while Aaron and Moses’ birth year I verified from Kentucky vital statistics and found them consistent with the 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910 Clark County census. Somehow their siblings were left out of the family oral history, at least along the family lines of Aaron and Moses. Caroline’s other children were Harrison, Sidney, Louisa and Nella. They are not listed with Caroline, Aaron and Moses on the 1880 Clark County Census and at the time of this writing I have not found them in any other documents. Harrison and Sidney’s absence I understood, since if they were living in 1880 more than likely they would have been the head of their own household, perhaps in another county. However, I searched for Harrison Chambers in Clark County and the surrounding counties using an age of 33 +5 and – 5 years and came up with nothing. It could be that he died between the 1870 and 1880 census, but this has not been confirmed. Nella and Louisa, on the other hand, could have married by 1880 and out of Caroline’s household. If Nella and Louisa were living in 1880 Nella would have been 14 and Louisa 16. It was not uncommon to see girls married at this age. As the 1900 Clark County census shows, Aaron Chambers’ daughter Lizzy was married to Ambros Chenault at the age of 15; Ambros was 26 when they married in 1899. Nella and Sidney, if not married when the 1880 census was taken, must have died between 1870 and 1880, however, this has not been confirmed. If they married, there isn’t any oral family history of this and consequently no married surname to use in record search.
Caroline’s son, a former slave, and my great-grandfather Aaron Chambers, “was perhaps the wealthiest Negro in Clark County and well respected” as reported by the Winchester Sun, when on July 1, 1913 the paper reported his accidental death and stated that Aaron was worth about $10,000.00. To understand what Aaron’s worth would equate to in 2006 I listed the following:
In 2006, $10,000.00 from 1913 is worth:
$210,000.00 using the Consumer Price Index
$158,170.51 using the GDP deflator
$433,673.84 using the value of consumer bundle
$892,625.70 using the unskilled wage
$1,093,154.07 using the nominal GDP per capita
$3,371,187.08 using the relative share of GDP
The 1910 Clark County Census shows that Aaron and his family had a live in servant, whose name was Copper Sims. He is listed on line 87 of the census sheet.
Aaron’s brother, Moses, was the informant on Aaron’s 1913 death certificate. Moses had recorded on the certificate the names of their mother and father. As stated Aaron and Moses were mulatto, the offspring of Caroline and an Eastern European Jewish immigrant named Joe Suntina. I, being a fourth generation male from Aaron took a Y-DNA test in 2006 and matched other males who trace their paternal lines back to the Ukraine Western Russia and Poland. It was said that Aaron and Moses’ biological father’s occupation was that of a peddler, selling goods from farm to farm. Apart from the DNA test and the peddler account nothing else is known about Joe Suntina.
Caroline, at the age of 54, witnessed her twin sons buy their first land when they were only 18 years old. I acquired a land deed dated 1875 describing the location of the land, near the joining of the Red River and the Kentucky River, and listing the seller as a one Henry Brock. Interestingly, this Henry Brock along with his family are listed next to Caroline’s family on both the 1870 and 1880 Clark County, Kentucky Census. And more Interesting still, Henry Brock, a mulatto man in the time of slavery, I found listed with the slave owner John Chambers and family on the 1860 Madison County Census (The First Division, Page 43, Line # 37). By law Henry Brock could only be listed with a white family if he were a freeman. So in 1860, 24 year old Henry Brock was living on the same farm as the then 4 year old Aaron and Moses Chambers. Henry Brock, would 15 years later, sell them their first land in Clark County. Caroline was 16 years older than Henry Brock. I do not know the nature of their relationship be it family or just good friends. But the records I found show a close connection through four of their experiences. They are:
1. Though Henry Brock was a freeman, he would not have lived in John Chambers’ house. In 1860 he would have lived in one of the three slaves house on John Chambers’ land, slave houses which were listed in the 1860 Madison County, Kentucky Slave Schedule. Caroline and her children lived in one of these houses.
2. Ten years later, in 1870, Caroline Chambers’ family and Henry Brock’s family live next to each other as shown on the Clark County Census (Precinct No. 1 Sub Division 28, page 8, Lines 6 – 20). This fact shows that both traveled from John Chambers’ farm, crossing the Kentucky River to settle in Clark County. Whether or not they traveled together is not known.
3. Henry Brock sales land to Aaron and Moses on the same day, as noted on the deed in 1875.
4. In 1880 Caroline Chambers’ family and Henry Brock’s family are still living next to each other as shown on the Clark County Census (Goodes Magisterial District page 17 line 49 & 50 and page18 line 1-11) for that year.
Caroline’s son, Aaron, married Mary Francis Jacobs, born Oct. 1863. Mary Francis Jacobs was 16 or 17 when they married. She was the daughter of Henry & Eliza Jacobs and was one of 14 children. The 1870 Clark County Census (Winchester Page #5) shows that Henry Jacobs was a blacksmith. The 1900 Clark County Census (Magisterial District #5 sheet #20) shows Aaron and Francis Jacobs Chambers as having been married for 19 years. Not knowing the month of their marriage I estimated that they were married in 1880 since their oldest son Kelly Chambers is listed on the 1900 Clark County Census as having been born in October of 1881. According to that same census Aaron Chambers and Mary Francis Jacobs Chambers had six children, five of which were still living in 1900. The names of the five known children are listed in birth order as follows:
Kellie Chambers born 05 Oct 1881
Lizzie Chambers born Mar 1884
Cordie L Chambers born May 1886
Mildred C Chambers born 23 May 1889
Eurell Chambers born 24 Jan 1900 ( My grandfather)
Moses Chambers’ first wife I have not identified, but she and Moses had, to my knowledge, three children together.
Their names are listed in birth order as follows:
Willis Scot Chambers born Aug 1881
Elmer Chambers born Jan 1885
Vernon Chambers born Feb 1887
Moses Chambers’ second wife was Mary Ellen Evans Chambers of Madison County. Their names are listed in birth order
Frederic D. Chambers born Sep 1892
Aaron Chambers born Nov 1893
Lucy E. Chambers born Jun 1894
Herbert L.Chambers born Dec 1896
Mary L. Chambers born Aug 1898
Moses C. Chambers born Nov 1899
Sallie E. Chambers born April1904
Homer L. Chambers born July1906
A census was not taken in Kentucky in 1890. Since in the 1900 census, showing Aaron’s family and Moses’ family Caroline is not listed, I concluded that she died between the year 1880 and 1900. I can not say with any certainty how many of her grandchildren she saw. But if Caroline was blessed to have had the chance to hold even one of her grandchildren, I can’t help but think how great her joy must have been knowing that she held the first generation of her descendents who would not have to endure the bonds of slavery as she had, but live a life of freedom. My great great grandmother’s descendents in the year 2012 are many. Why even Caroline’s grandson, Eurell Chambers (the youngest child of Aaron Chambers and Mary Francis Jacobs Chambers) had eight children of his own, of which my father Eugene Freeman Chambers was their fourth.