PEOPLE OF COLOR - - THE ADAMS FAMILY

By Jan Slater - October, 2000.

My first taste of "Family History" came as a kid in the 1960s when a distant Adams cousin from Oregon sent a copy of a family story home with his Seattle cousins. I began with this story when I started researching the Adams family some 17 years ago. I will say that the story has proved useful as a lead to further research and there is some basis in truth for some of the information. Most of the names and dates listed in the story appear to be correct, however, it did not take long to discover that while my 2nd Great-Grandparents, John and Margaret Adams, might have passed through or visited someone in "Wheeling, West Virginia" there is NO evidence that they ever were there long enough to call it their "hometown". Thank goodness I stuck with proven methods back then and ordered available death certificates so I was not off on some wild goose chase to Wheeling. I later discovered that this greater Adams family had lived in Greene County, Pennsylvania from about 1800.

My 2nd Great-Grandfather, John (Jonathan K.) Adams, died in Eugene Oregon in 1914. Someone did manage to get the birthplace correct on John's death certificate, as Greene County, Pennsylvania. His race was listed as white, which would prove later to be relevant since he and his family had been living as white at least since 1880 when he appeared in the census living in Cameron.

The family story in Greene County is quite different though since both John and Margaret are identified as mulatto children in their parents' households in 1850. A surprise, yes! But this did begin to explain a few family puzzles about why John appeared to have little contact with his Pennsylvania family and why there are virtually no family stories handed down orally prior to the family's move to Wisconsin circa 1885. Another Oregon cousin interviewed in the 1980s would say that a photo, found in the Adams family album, of a man with some obvious African physical characteristics, "must be a servant" even when confronted with photocopies of the 1850 census. The question of whether or not John and Margaret's Grandchildren knew of their mixed racial heritage remains unanswered. They may have known and chose to change the stories to some degree or, more likely, the grandparents altered the truth to keep their mixed racial ancestry a secret.

I am twice descended from the Archibald H. Adams family through 2 of his sons and descended yet again through a Mrs. Lydia Adams (husband unknown). To make matters worse in keeping track of things, my 2nd Great-grandmother, Margaret, the daughter of Mrs. Lydia Adams, married one of those sons of Archibald H. Adams. There are too many cousins to explain all of the relationships here but I can say that my Mother was an Adams, her paternal grandparents were both named Adams at birth, and three of her Great-grandparents were born with the Adams surname. In tracking this family I lost count at 20 something cousin marriages between the greater Adams/Adams lines and the Adams/Wilson lines of Greene County.

Here is a short outline of my descent:

1) Jacob Adams b circa 1780 MD, wife Catherine (based on circumstantial evidence)
2) Archibald H. Adams b circa 1806 Pennsylvania, wife Catherine (or Elizabeth) Wilson
3) William H. Adams b circa 1829 Pennsylvania, wife Malinda Wilson
4) Hannah Nancy Adams born 1858 Greene County, Pennsylvania, husband Charles Lindsay Adams (below)
3) Jonathan K. Adams b 1835 Greene County, PA; wife Margaret Ellen Adams born 1837 PA of Mrs. Lydia Adams and father unknown.
4) Charles Lindsay Adams b 1859 Greene County, PA; wife Hannah Nancy Adams (above)
5) Charles F. Adams b 1879, Bellton, Marshall County, WV; wife Eva Sheldon of Thorp, Clark County, WI - my Grandparents. Charley is the first of his direct proven line other than his maternal Grandmother to always be listed as white in the census. It is doubtful that Charley ever knew of his mixed racial heritage. As my Mother told me one time, "Your Grandmother (referring to her mother, Eva Sheldon Adams) knew everything, and she told everything. I don't think this is something she could have kept quiet about."

It is known that Jonathan K. Adams and his brothers William H. and Henry Porter all served in white Civil War units yet were listed as mulatto in the 1860 census. Jonathan was listed as mulatto after the war in 1870.

Jonathan and William were drafted into Co. I, 61st PA Infantry and mustered in at New Brighton, Beaver County. PA. Henry Porter Adams served in Co. I, 1st WV Cavalry, a unit that Linda is currently working on for the Marshall County pages. Henry's biography can be found online at:

Henry Porter Adams & Sarah Adams http://genconnect.rootsweb.com/genbbs.cgi/USA/Pa/GreeneBios?read=6

Three of the five sons of Archibald H. Adams are known to have lived in Marshall County. The youngest son Henry Porter Adams shows up with his wife and children in 1870 and his Mother, Catherine, is also living in his household. The family is white. Jonathan K. Adams, my GGgrandfather, arrived between 1876 and 1880 when he appears in the census as white. Charles Adams appears in Liberty District in 1880, a widower (his wife was Lucinda Adams of Mrs. Lydia Adams), listed with some of his children, they are all mulattos. All of Archibald's children are listed as mulatto in the census years they resided in Greene County.

There are more files that I will send in the future on these families, including information about Jacob Adams born circa 1780, a free man of color appearing in Greene County, PA by 1810 who is mentioned in a newspaper article as having lost the right to vote in the 1830s. Jacob Adams is believed to be, though documented only by circumstantial evidence so far, the oldest identified generation of my direct line of the Adams family.

At least two other Adams families of Marshall County appearing in the census are from Greene County.

Francis Adams, mulatto, 1880 Liberty District can also be found in Greene County in 1860 and 1870. His exact relationship to my family has not yet been determined but I expect it will be sorted out soon as it has been recently discovered that his wife was a Wilson. The Adams and Wilson families of Greene County intermarried extensively.

Elijah Adams, the brother-in-law of Henry Porter Adams, brother to Henry's wife Sarah Adams, also migrated to Marshall County WV before 1880 and is listed as white in the census, though as a mulatto in his parent's household in Greene County. Elijah's biography can be found in the Marshall County Biographies from the History of the Upper Ohio Valley on the Marshall County website. He served in Co. A, 18th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry and is listed in the 1890 Veterans Census in Cameron District.

What is very apparent is that some mulatto families passed as white by simply moving a very few miles across the state line into West Virginia, or while serving in Civil War units a little ways away from their home county. Others, within the same family, either by choice or due to the color of their skin, did not.

Eventually, most, possibly all, of the descendants of Archibald H. and Catherine Adams crossed the color line. I have been in contact with direct descendants of four of their six children and so far all known descendants have lived as white for several generations with no knowledge of their mixed racial heritage until someone in the family decided to "do the family tree".

I will follow later with some files pertaining to individual families within this mess of cousin marriages - either to the list or to be posted to the Persons of Color page. But first I have to make some decisions about how best to sort them into reasonably understandable relationship files. Nearly all of these people fit into 2 or more degrees of relationship to each other because several children of one family would marry several children of another family and often times they were cousins of one degree or another before the marriage. I have it straight in my head - at least part of the time - putting it down for others to understand is a challenge.

Hopefully others on the list with information about African American, racially mixed, or any family of color will share with us in the future. I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,
Jan Slater


BACK