finding your roots

Waldens – Forever Free

Rik Vigeland September 19, 2013

The episode featuring families free long before the Civil War brings to mind my relatives in the Walden family. Most African Americans by the surname Walden can almost certainly trace back to the late 1600′s in Surry County, Virginia. Today the family has many, many branches. And with only one brief exception, these Waldens have never been slaves. One of the earlier Waldens was Drury Walden, who, among other things, served in the Revolutionary War, and was a musician, carpenter, and preacher.

There was no known slavery in the Walden family until about 1840. William Walden (1790-1842) married Elizabeth Lytle (1799-1821) in Randolph County, North Carolina, in 1819. Elizabeth’s father Frank Lytle was freed in 1795. From this marriage, one branch of the Waldens split into several different directions. Two sons, William Jr. and Anderson, had children by slave women. One of William Jr.’s two children was Islay Walden, a skilled mathematician who became a preacher and published poet (see picture). Anderson Walden had 12 children, the last one, Henry Ruffin Walden, being the only one born free. He, too, was a preacher as well as a postmaster in North Carolina. All of the Walden children born into slavery eventually knew freedom, most before the age of 20, thus all Waldens in this family have been free.

Another son of William and Elizabeth, Alfred, moved to Indiana and served in the Civil War from there. Elizabeth (Lytle) Walden had brothers who passed as white and left for Indiana in the 1830′s, so Alfred was living near his white cousins, a large number of whom also enlisted for the North.

As for the remaining children of William and Elizabeth, these were also free Waldens, though one daughter, Dorcas, married William Wyatt Blizard in 1843 and raised a large family who were all considered white by the 1880 census. Blizards/Blizzards were another free African-American family who had previously intermarried with other Waldens and Lytles.

There is much history available for the Walden family, their relatives, and their diverse descendants. Most of the families mentioned here can be seen at

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The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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