The Middleton’s: A Tale of Separate Paths, Separates Lives
My story is not the story of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Nor his wealthy descendants and other relatives that bear this proud, historic name. Indeed my story is one of proud descendants of African descent living in Georgia; people who, undoubtedly struggled just to survive. Recently, a burgeoning interest in developing a family tree led me to a name and old photo that changed my concept of race forever.
The name Middleton, up until a few years ago meant nothing to me. However my research reveals that the name has been successfully traced back through at least 27 generations (over 1600 years) by their white descendants. The name can be traced back to members of the royal family, and an order of Knights. In America, the Butler – Middleton family members also held various political seats, owned numerous slaves, as well as, many highly successful plantations in Georgia and South Carolina. Many of those plantations were located in the barrier islands of both states, which is now a tourist resort area worth billions of dollars. Areas like St. Simon Island is within miles of the community that I would later discover, was where my grandparents had lived lived in Liberty, Georgia. Indeed my story and that of my family is vastly different. Yet in spite of this, there may well be a sinister connection to the more prominent Middleton family, and that connection is made through slavery.
After several years of intermittent genealogy research, I finally took on the role of family historian seriously in 2009. Armed with only a few names of family elders, I joined Ancestry.com. In addition, I began a series of lengthy conversations with the few remaining family elders, who could share with me family data. Although I began my research by simultaneously researching all four of my grandparent’s surnames, I soon became more and more intrigued with my 100 year old father’s long deceased mother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Middleton) Moore.
Little information is none about this particular grandmother, since my father Earlie Moore, her youngest and only surviving child, suffers from dementia. In spite of this, I was still able to discover a few things about her life. Upon reviewing the 1900, 1910, and 1930 US Federal Census (Liberty County, GA) it was clear that she was a woman of mystery, who on occasion used different names and ages. At that time there were numerous families both black and white that lived in her county and shared the name “Middleton.” Since her death in the 1930-40’s, connections to the surviving Middleton family members have faded. In addition, African Americans with the last name “Middleton” have migrated and most have left the area where she once lived. Although there are white members of the Middleton family in the area, none will speak on the topic of slavery, and their family’s involvement.
Recently, an elderly cousin discovered a photo that has only deepened the mystery about my grandmother. The photo presented by Cousin Inez is of her very own mother (Janie Moore) standing next to her seated mother, Elizabeth (Middleton) Moore. To my complete shock, I discovered for the first time that Grandma Lizzie was a Black woman with very light skin! After 20 years of wearing dreadlocks and maintaining an Afrocentric mindset, I was floored at the very thought, that I was not authentically Black through and through. My father and Aunt Janie are both very dark, and while I share a similar skin tone, I was shocked to discover that I have several of Grandma Lizzie’s facial features.
The discovery of this image has left me even more confused considering that she was born a few years after the end of slavery. Since that time, I have discovered a photo on the internet of an elderly white female Middleton family member, who my grandmother has an unmistakable resemblance to. It is difficult for me to conceptualize from whom she acquired her European features. Were her parents former Middleton slaves? Was one or both of them considered at that time to be mulatto? Additional research reveals that slaves were so fond of this family that they not only named their children after the slave owner’s family members, they also took the “Middleton” name when freed and scattered throughout the country. Interestingly, my grandmother’s name “Elizabeth Middleton,” was the name of a slave owner’s family matriarch, who lived in Liberty County, Georgia, and possibly a distant cousin of the before mentioned, Arthur Middleton.
As my family research continues, one of my goals is to finally identify my Grandma Lizzie’s parents and their relationship, if any to the slave-owning Middleton family. Also, in the future I hope to locate my cousins, who are also Grandma Lizzie’s descendants and other relatives. Obviously, I may not ever be able to trace our family to the degree as the Middleton’s, but my goal is to discover and record as much family history as there is out there to find.