They Were Named After Railroads

Image Source: Mike Polston

Recently, I observed that several Dockery DNA cousins, with roots from Columbia and Nevada County, Arkansas, were paternal DNA matches to my mother, aunt, uncle, and their paternal first cousin. Shared DNA matches in AncestryDNA included several descendants of their paternal great-grandfather Pleasant Barr’s sister, Sue Barr Beckley. Therefore, I ascertained that these Arkansas DNA cousins were somehow related to one of the parents of Pleasant and Sue, named Lewis and Fanny Barr, my mother’s great-great-grandparents.

Both Lewis and Fanny had been enslaved by Rev. William H. Barr, Sr. in Abbeville County, South Carolina, before William Barr, Jr. took Fanny, her daughters, grandchildren, etc. to Pontotoc County, Mississippi circa 1859. Pleasant “Pleas” Barr had been sold away from his family and was taken to Tippah County, Mississippi circa 1859. According to census research findings, Fanny was born in Virginia around 1790. Lewis’s birthplace is unknown, but census clues also point to Virginia as being his birthplace. As of today, I have not determined how Lewis or Fanny Barr was related to the Dockerys of Columbia and Nevada County, Arkansas. The search continues.

However, the research of the Dockerys yielded some very interesting results, which were both fascinating and quite saddening at the same time. As shown in the chart below, seven DNA cousins, who descend from an enslaved couple, Reuben & Cherry Dockery, share DNA with my mother, aunt, uncle, and their first cousin. To add, an eighth DNA cousin, who also shares DNA with those seven DNA cousins, descends from another enslaved couple, Charles & Martha Dockery. Their reported birthplace in the 1870 and 1880 censuses is Virginia.  

Digging deeper, I discovered that both enslaved couples and their children were all named in the July 1860 will of John Dockery of the Lamartine community of Columbia County, Arkansas. Before his death in 1860, John Dockery and stockholders chartered the Mississippi, Ouachita, and Red River Railroad. The railroad would connect the Mississippi River with the Red River, with the town of Lamartine in its path resulting in a potential economic boom. Dockery served as the founding president of what is considered to be the first railroad chartered in Arkansas. [1] He had moved to Arkansas in the early 1850s from Hardeman County, Tennessee.

Anticipating his demise, John Dockery appeared to have written his will shortly before his death. He identified the two enslaved families, “I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Ann D. Dockery forever the following negroes to wit – Cherry, Reuben, Rose, Sol, Mary, Silas, Abe, Linda, Jacob, Sarah, Austin and Jim …” He also continued, “I give and bequeath to my youngest son Benjamin A Dockery the following negroes to wit – Charles, Martha, Sam, Harriet, Dave, Railroad, Mississippi, Major, and Sow and three thousand dollars of stock in the Mississippi Ouachita and Red River Railroad Company …” These two families were the only enslaved people who were named in his will, although the 1850 slave schedule of Hardeman County, Tennessee shows that he “owned” 47 enslaved people that year.

The Will of John Dockery, July 21, 1860, Columbia County, Arkansas, Book A, page 73

As shown in the DNA chart above, Mississippi Dockery was the direct ancestor to one of our eight Dockery DNA cousins. Her brother, with the peculiar name, Railroad Dockery, had been researched, so hints to him in were indicated. One of those hints was to his slave narrative!

In 1937, 81-year-old Railroad Dockery of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, stated the following in his narrative prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Arkansas:

“Railroad Dockery, that’s my name. I belonged to John Dockery and we lived at Lamartine, Arkansas where I was born. My mother’s name was Martha and I am one of quadruplets, three girls and one boy, that’s me. Red River, Ouachita, Mississippi, and Railroad were our names. Mrs. Mary Browning, who is now ninety-eight years of age, told me that her father, John Dockery, was the president of the Mississippi, Red River, Ouachita Railroad, the first one to be surveyed in Arkansas, and that when the directors heard of the quadruplets’ birth, they wanted to name them after the railroad, which was done. Yes, mam, Red River and Ouachita died when they were tots and Mississippi and Railroad were raised. Now that’s what my mother said. Mississippi died five or six years ago and I’m the onliest one left.” Read more here.

This April 2, 1856 newspaper article, entitled “Birth Extraordinary,” was even published in the Salisbury Herald in Salisbury, North Carolina:

The Salisbury Herald, Salisbury, North Carolina, 2 April 1856, page 1

After Emancipation, Railroad explained in his slave narrative that he and his mother and father continued to work for the Dockerys for about five years. His role as a very young boy was to gather wood for the cooks. As he got older, he plowed the fields. Railroad died a year after his interview, on Sept. 2, 1938, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.


[1] Zbinden, Van. Mississippi, Ouachita and Red River Railroad. Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Accessed 14 Apr. 2023.

5 thoughts on “They Were Named After Railroads

  1. Aqueelah Barrie

    Your research is amazing! More so because in each of your posts or webinars, there is always at least one surname in your story that is in my family tree or FAN club! This time, it’s the Dockerys. They are on my paternal grandmother’s paternal side in Memphis,TN. But I believe, they were from Northern Mississippi.
    Having this piece of info you’ve shared will be helpful in researching this family line.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Melvin,
    You are so right, this story makes me soo sad. Of the many freedoms taken from the enslaved, mothers did not even have the freedom to name their own children. DAMN! It reminds me of he awful Greek names they were given in the 18th century, and I have several who were named after colors, Green and Orange.
    Your DNA research is such a joy to behold, I’m already calling it that you will have solved this problem in due time;)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Victoria

    I’ve been digging into my ancestors as well and we’re distant cousins! I come from these Dockerys by way of Saul Berry. We might be double related if the Jefferson’s in your tree are akin to the Jefferson’s I come from. I very recently also found out about those peculiarly named quadruplets, too! My mom said my sister and I (when I was a baby) even visited that land for a family reunion, as it was given to the formerly enslaved Dockery-Neals after emancipation. I’d love to connect and combine any resources!

    Liked by 1 person

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