Grandma Lucy and Her Puzzling History

Believed to be my great great grandmother, Lucy Kennedy Cherry of Leake County, Mississippi (Picture courtesy of Perry Bishop)

When my cousin Perry e-mailed this picture to me, he was wondering if this was a picture of his great great grandmother, Isabella “Bella” Kennedy Hansford Dillard (1851-1930) of Lake Providence, Louisiana. Aunt Bella was Grandma Lucy’s second oldest child. However, when I showed the picture to a family elder at the 2016 Ealy Family Reunion, she immediately identified the lady as being Lucy. Cousin Annie possesses a remarkable memory, and she vividly remembered the picture also being in another family member’s house many years ago.

I haven’t really written much about Grandma Lucy because I am still trying to unravel her puzzling history. It has been a longtime mystery. There’s still so much I don’t know. But this is what I know to date.

In this picture, I see a woman of strength, like so many, who had to endure a lot, especially during slavery. What I know is that she was born into slavery, probably in Monroe County, Alabama. The 1900 U.S. Federal Census reported her birth date as February 1828 and her birthplace as being Alabama. This matches what was reported in 1870 and 1880. Research findings strongly indicate that a man named Stephen Decatur Kennedy had transported her, her first-born, Elvina “Viney” Kennedy, and her two brothers, Augustus “Gus” Kennedy and Ben Canady, to Leake County, Mississippi in late 1849 or early 1850.

While conversing with a late family elder in 1993, that elder identified Grandma Lucy as being a “white-looking Black woman.” Now that I have this picture, I can see why she said that. Reported as “mulatto” (Mu) in some of the censuses, she and her brothers appeared to have been born to an enslaved mother who was impregnated by an unknown white man (or men). Another cousin had revealed to me some years ago that he thinks that her mother’s name was Jenny. I don’t know where he got this piece of information from, and no documented evidence has been found to verify this. However, Grandma Lucy named one of her daughters Jenny, which is often a nickname for Virginia.

Nonetheless, when autosomal DNA testing hit the scene, more clues surfaced, and the trail goes back to Virginia. Grandma Lucy’s brother, Uncle Augustus Kennedy, or someone else, told the 1910 census taker that his father was born in Alabama, and his mother was born in Virginia. DNA is indicating that Grandma Lucy was somehow directly connected to the Weaver and Carpenter families of Madison and Culpepper County, Virginia.

To date, over 20 people, who have white ancestors with the last names Carpenter, Weaver, and Utz from Madison and Culpepper County, Virginia, share from 20 to 58 cM of DNA with my father and other descendants of Grandma Lucy. I noticed that a lot of intermarrying and cousin marriages (endogamy) occurred within the Carpenter, Weaver, and Utz families. Nonetheless, using DNA Painter, I discovered that my father, his first cousin, and several of their second cousins are triangulating on chromosomes 4, 6, 15, and 22 with people who have a white Carpenter, Weaver, and/or Utz in their family tree, mostly from Madison County, Virginia.

Of these 20+ genetic cousins, one of them raised my eyebrows. Cousin CWP is African American. However, according to 23andMe and GEDmatch, she shares 27 cM on chromosome 22 on an European segment. Therefore, Cousin CWP and my father seem to share an ancestor of European descent. Interestingly, her second cousin also matches/triangulates on chromosome 22. Her family tree shows a Carpenter ancestor – their great great grandmother, Dicey Carpenter of Madison County, Virginia.

Dicey was found in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Census, living in Madison County, Virginia. Born about 1820, she was a free woman of color, reported as “mulatto,” with nine children by 1860. Adjacent to her household in 1850 were two white Carpenter households headed by Andrew Carpenter Jr. (1803-1875) and his son, Simeon Carpenter. At least one of those 20+ genetic cousins is Andrew’s great great granddaughter, who shares 32 cM over 3 segments with my father. However, her family tree shows a great deal of endogamy, as she descends from other related Carpenters.

The 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Madison County, Virginia: Dicey Carpenter, mulatto, with her three young children, Matthew, Susan, and Virginia (aka Jenny). Six additional children were born after 1850.

Although these DNA matches are great leads, I am unable to draw any definitive conclusions right now, other than the revelation that Grandma Lucy’s family history likely goes back to Madison County, Virginia, and there’s a biological tie to the white and free people of color (FPOC) Carpenters and others.

Unfortunately, Grandma Lucy seemed to have endured what her own mother experienced. She bore six children during slavery, and their white father(s) is still unknown. For the father’s name, “unknown” or “don’t know” are written on the death certificates of four of those six “nearly white” children. Either the informants did not know his identity and the father was a disregarded rapist, or the father was known and was purposely kept a secret. Interestingly, my father’s paternal grandfather, Albert Kennedy (1857-1928), the fifth of those six children, was the informant for his oldest sister’s death certificate.

Over time, my curiosity piqued, and I looked to Y-DNA testing for answers in 2016. Grandpa Albert’s Y-chromosome came from his father; he passed it to all of his sons, my father inherited it from his biological father, Hulen Kennedy, and I inherited the same Y-chromosome from my father. 23andMe identifies my father’s paternal haplogroup as R-L48, a relatively common European haplogroup. My 37-marker Y-DNA test results from FamilyTree DNA match me with numerous white males with the Wilson surname. This appears to disprove my family elders’ claim that the “Kennedy slave-owner” was the father of Grandpa Albert. To add, Grandpa Albert named one of his sons, Wilson Kennedy (1891-1988), my great-uncle who I remember quite well. Hmmm…..

My great grandfather, Albert Kennedy of Leake County, Mississippi, who was taking care of Grandma Lucy when the 1900 census was taken.

Shortly after becoming free, Grandma Lucy fortunately found love and married a man named Wright Cherry. He was originally from North Carolina. With Wright, she bore four additional children, including twins, Eugene and Jenny Cherry, born in 1872. In 1870, the family was recorded under Wright’s surname, but Grandma Lucy’s first six children, Elvina (21), Isabella (19), Martha “Mattie” (17), Leona (15), Grandpa Albert (12), and Adaline (10), chose Kennedy as their last name.

The 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Scott County, Mississippi: Wright & Lucy Cherry, with all of her children in the household. 1-year-old Grant Cherry was their first child together. Three additional children were born after 1870.

I find comfort in knowing that Grandma Lucy enjoyed at least 35 years of freedom. In 1900, she was still living and was residing with her son, Grandpa Albert Kennedy. Four of her children and over 25 grandchildren lived nearby. Her brother, Uncle Augustus Kennedy, and her daughters, Aunt Leona Kennedy Pullen and Aunt Isabella, migrated to Lake Providence, Louisiana c. 1890. Family elders shared a story how Grandpa Albert would catch the train to Louisiana to visit them, passing as a white man in order to sit in the front. Her brother, Uncle Ben Canady, resided in the Walnut Grove area of Leake County. His descendants spell their surname Canady.  

Believed to be Grandma Lucy’s daughters, Isabella and Leona, who moved to Lake Providence, Louisiana c. 1890. Picture courtesy of Perry Bishop

I am very grateful for these pictures, with the ability to speak her name and to tell some of her story. I am confident that I will unravel more about her history in the future. She is not forgotten.

4 thoughts on “Grandma Lucy and Her Puzzling History

    1. Hi Mr. Jones, I believe they were two different Wright Cherrys but still probably related somehow. Wright Cherry of Bertie Co NC was there in 1870 and 1880, and my Wright Cherry was in Scott/Leake County, MS in 1870 and 1880.

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