Did He Take His Wife’s Enslaver’s Surname?

Recently, I excitedly stumbled on a case where a husband appeared to have changed his surname to that of his wife and children’s enslaver. I personally had not experienced this before. Enslaved and freed people’s surname selections were based on a number of reasons. Some took their last enslaver’s surname after slavery. Most did not. Many retained the surname of a former enslaver. Some did not select an enslaver’s surname at all. But what about taking the surname of the wife’s enslaver? Here’s how this was discovered.

At least 9 Liddell DNA matches to date led me to their common ancestors, an elderly couple named Alfred & Flora Liddell. They were recorded in the 1880 Hinds County, Mississippi census and resided near Utica. Alfred was reported as being 75, and Flora’s age was noted as 73. See image below. These DNA cousins descend from their sons, Warren and David Liddell, and share DNA with my mother, aunt, uncle, their paternal first cousin, and their second cousin. So, the Liddells were somehow related to my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Tate County, Mississippi, and via his unconfirmed mother.

1880 Census, Hinds County, Mississippi – the household of Alfred & Flora Liddell: Alfred & Flora Liddell living adjacent to two of their children, Reese Liddell and Hannah Liddell Sanford. (Source: Year: 1880; Census Place: Dry Grove, Hinds, Mississippi; Roll: 649; Page: 373C; Enumeration District: 013)

Grandpa Bill Reed and his sister, Mary, had migrated to near Senatobia, Mississippi from Abbeville County, South Carolina, shortly after gaining their freedom. Another sister named Louvenia remained in South Carolina. Interestingly, per the 1880 Hinds County census, both Alfred & Flora Liddell were also born in South Carolina, as well as their children.

I have been very familiar with the Liddell surname in Abbeville County for nearly two decades. Per the 1860 Abbeville County census and slave schedule, Grandpa Bill’s last enslaver, Lemuel Reid, lived near another slave-owner, James T. Liddell, who owned 45 enslaved people. Oral history relayed that Grandpa Bill and his father, Pleasant Barr, were first enslaved by the Barr Family, namely Rebecca Reid Barr (Lemuel’s aunt) and her youngest son, William Barr, Jr. The Barr, Reid, and Liddell families all lived near each other. Hmmmm ……  

However, a huge eye-opener was in the 1870 Hinds County census when I found the Liddells in there. Let’s take a look at the community that was recorded on page 414B. See next image below. This is cluster genealogy in motion! Cluster genealogy is the diligent act of researching an ancestor’s friends, associates, and neighbors, aka FAN Club, to garner clues about that ancestor’s history.

Interestingly, I discovered that Alfred & Flora Liddell were recorded under the Read surname! However, their children, who lived adjacent to them, were reported as Liddells. Even Joseph & Lucinda Dickson, the only white family on page 414B, were also from South Carolina. I then discovered on Find-A-Grave that Lucinda Dickson’s birth name was Rachel Lucinda Liddell. She, her husband, and their children had moved to Mississippi from Abbeville County, South Carolina c. 1860.

1870 Census, Hinds County, Mississippi – the community of Alfred & Flora Liddell on page 414B: Alfred’s recorded surname was Read (Reid), and a number of their children, surnamed Liddell, lived adjacent to them, presumably on the farm of Joseph Dickson. (Source: Year: 1870; Census Place: Township 3, Hinds, Mississippi; Roll: M593_730; Page: 414B)

Because I had been researching the white Reids of Abbeville County for a long time, Alfred is well-documented as being enslaved by the Reid family, likely since his birth around 1805. Flora’s enslavement by the Liddell family has also been documented. Five informative records include the following:

Exhibit A: The 1857 Probate Record of Samuel Reid, Abbeville County, South Carolina

Grandpa Bill Reed’s last enslaver, Lemuel Reid, was the son of Samuel Reid. He died on 24 July 1857, and his probate record contained the names of 19 enslaved people. On 28 Nov. 1857, Alfred was inventoried among a group of 10 who were not named in his will and were part of the residue estate that was to be divided between his three living children, Lemuel Reid, Mary Reid Wilson, and James Caldwell Reid. See next image below.

Source: South Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980; Estate of Samuel Reid, 1857, Box 146, Pack 4128

On a revealing, genetic note, James Caldwell Reid inherited Luther and took him to the Palmetto community of Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Luther Reed was found in the 1870 – 1920 Pontotoc County censuses. Interestingly, at least two of his great great grandchildren tested with AncestryDNA, and they share from 17 – 73 cM with my mother, aunt, uncle, and their paternal first cousin. 

Exhibit B: Old Family Letter Transcription, Samuel Reid to Margery Reid Miller, 29 April 1849

Researcher Bob Thompson, a direct descendant of Margery Reid Miller, transcribed a lot of old Reid family letters dating back to 1803. Among the letters were several that Samuel Reid wrote to Margery, his sister. She had moved to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. In an 1849 letter, Samuel wrote about Alfred. He wrote, “We are in usual health. ALFRED is able to walk on crutches, I fear always will; he hath not improved any in two months. OLD BOB can’t walk a step nor has not for the past year.”

Exhibit C: The 1829 Probate Record of Hugh Reid, Abbeville County, South Carolina

Samuel Reid’s father was Hugh Reid, who died on 2 July 1829. He was also the father of Rebecca Reid Barr. Alfred was also named in his will, dated May 1829, and the estate inventory, dated 9 Oct. 1829. Hugh had bequeathed Alfred to Samuel. Alfred was around 25 years old. Hugh Reid and James Thompson Liddell resided near each other on Parks Creek, just north of Abbeville.

Source: South Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980; Estate of Hugh Reid, 1857, Box 82, Pack 2009

Exhibit D: The 1824 Probate Record of James Liddell, Sr., Abbeville County, South Carolina

I recently found Flora documented in the 1823 will of James Liddell and the estate inventory dated 13 March 1824. See next images below. He had died on 24 January 1823. He bequeathed Flora and her increase to his son, James Thompson Liddell. She was around 16 – 18 years old. James Sr. was also the father of Lucinda Liddell Dickson of Hinds County.

Source: South Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980; Estate of James Liddell, 1824, Box 54, Pack 1278

Exhibit E: The Upper Long Cane Presbyterian Church Records, Abbeville County, South Carolina, 1852 – 1869

Not only did I find Alfred in these church records, but Flora and several of their children were also documented enslaved members of this church. See next images below. In the “List of Coloured Persons Members of Upper Long Cane Church, August 1852,” several notations in the “Remarks” column confirmed their migration to Mississippi. The recorded birthplaces in the 1870 census indicate a move to Mississippi around 1860. However, the notation for Alfred said, “Removed to Mississippi, Jan 1866.” A notation for Flora and her sons, Reese and Warren, also said, “Removed to Miss.” However, the church roster indicated that Reese and Warren became members on 1 April 1865.

This appear to indicate that Alfred & Flora Liddell and their children had moved to Mississippi shortly after gaining their freedom. Perhaps, Joseph & Lucinda Dickson made provisions for them to migrate to Hinds County to sharecrop land on their farm, which was essentially neo-slavery. Perhaps, they were told the same false tale that Grandpa Bill Reed was told, according to oral history, that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.”

Alfred was recorded on the church roster. His owner was noted as Sam’l Reid; he was received into the church on 7 April 1855 on examination. “Removed to Miss. Jan. 1866” were written in the Remarks column.
Flora was recorded on the church’s roster. Her owner was noted as Jas. T. Liddell; “Removed to Miss.” were written in the Remarks column.
Alfred & Flora’s sons, Reese and Warren, were also recorded on the church roster. Their owner was noted as J. T. Liddell. They were received into the church on 1 April 1865 on examination. “Removed to Miss.” were also written in the Remarks column.

My great interest and excitement about this case is two-fold. First, it presented another frame of reference for surname selections among freed African Americans. I never considered that this could be a possibility – a man electing to take the surname of his wife and children’s enslaver. I ponder why he and his family chose the Liddell surname instead of selecting Reid. I probably won’t ever find the answer to the question.

Secondly, this case is particularly exciting because this discovery of Alfred “Reid” Liddell through DNA technology has offered additional genetic evidence that Grandpa Bill Reed was maternally related to others enslaved by the Reid family, although his father, Pleasant Barr (and his parents), were enslaved by the Barrs before William Barr, Jr. sold Pleasant away around 1859. Based on DNA and other genealogical findings thus far, Alfred may have been Grandpa Bill’s maternal uncle, but I hope to find additional evidence to prove this solid theory.

5 thoughts on “Did He Take His Wife’s Enslaver’s Surname?

  1. Scott Wilds

    Great research, Mel! Is it possible that Alfred had a Liddell ancestry and that he was “reverting” to that surname rather than Reid? One possibility of many would be that his father was enslaved by the Liddells (perhaps in a broad marriage with his mother on the adjacent Reid place), and that he considered his surname Liddell as a result?


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