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The Ellisons were a family of Mulattoes who lived in South Carolina in the Antebellum period.

The sire of
this family was William [formerly known as April] Ellison. When he was 26 he became a free man & 3
years later at the Sumter District courthouse he had his name changed to William. William was the
name of his former master. Since the name April was the last vestige of his former life as a slave William
had it changed in order to advance in free society. Roark and Johnson [1984] said, "April believed that
his slave name would impede his progress as a gin maker...., April was seeking to strip away the last
vestige of his former slave status that he could do anything about." [p. 3] William was skilled in gin
making. In order to be manumitted the master/slave had to appear before before a magistrate and 5
local freeholders who asked questions about the slave's character and ability to make an honest living.
The slave would recieve a copy of a certificate of manumission and also get a personal deed of
manumission from his/her master and these 2 things would be recorded by the clerk of court. This was a
rule for South Carolina. Manumission was outlawed in S. Carolina in 1820 even though it still occurred
illegally thereafter.

Out of a population of 25,369 in 1820 16,343 were slaves and there were 382 free negroes. William lived
in the aristocratic High Hills of Stateburg in the western edge of Sumter district.

William's father was either William or William's father Robert Ellison. He was born in 1790 in Fairfield
district which was 40 miles NW of the High Hills. William [the white one] inherited his father's property
in 1806 and he also manumitted William [April] and William [April] was apprenticed to a trade.
However, April may have actually bought his own freedom according to a white co-worker, "During the
time of his apprenticeship he was allowed, by his master, to do extra work; and from his industry and
economy he laid up sufficient money to purchase his freedom from his master." [Roark & Johnson, 1984,
p. 15] April was apprenticed to a man named Willam McCreight, a white gin maker, from 1802-1816 and
became a master gin maker. During this apprenticeship he helped with innovations to the gin and since
there was alot of demand for gins he had alot of work to become skillful in the making of gins. William
[April] may also have been living as a free man on the property before he was actually manumitted. The
other Mulatto owned by William was an artisan named Julius who was not freed and was sold for $800
in Charleston, SC in 1813.

William had a daughter [Aliza Ann] with Matilda who was 16 and he was 20 in 1811. Matilda was a slave
and so was their daughter Aliza Ann.

In 1820 William purchased 2 slaves to aid him in his work, "By 1820 Eillison had somehow managed to
buy two adult male slaves between the ages of twenty-six and forty-five who could be put to work at
once" [Roark & Johnson, 1984, p. 23]. He would have been legally free for 4 years at this point in time.

In 1822 he built his gin shop on an acre of land that he purchased for $375 from General Thomas
Sumter. This shop would be operated by William and even his grandsons for many decades. The shop
was located at the NW corner of a busy intersection of the roads of Charleston-Camden, and

William really was making something of himself. His family became so respected that they were the only
colored family allowed to worship on the main floor of the Holy Cross Episcopal Church with the white
families. They sat on a bench in the back of the church. Roark and Johnson [1984] show that "on August
6, 1824, the vestry and wardens of Holy Cross resolved 'that the free colored man - Wm Ellison, be
permitted to place a Bench under the Organ Loft, for the use of himself and Family.'" [p. 26] William was
confident and needed to be, but he had to tread carefully which is why he was able to take to the court
of common pleas Mr. McSwain in William Ellison v. George McSwain in March of 1821 since George
owed him $80 dollars for a horse that William sold to him. Ellison won his case.

In S. Carolina in 1792 a yearly capitation tax of 2 dollars had to be payed by free people of color and the
receipt of such a payment convinced whites that one was free. Roark and Johnson [1984] say that "The
capitation tax was designed to create an annual accounting of the free colored population in each
district." and had to be payed by "free persons of color between the ages of sixteen and sixty" [p. 44].

The free negro population also had to deal with some of the same laws as slaves, for example: (1)
Criminal offenses were tried before magistrates and freeholder's court, (2) Testimony wasn't accepted
under oath, (3) In cases involving whites their testimony was not acceptable, (4) They could not serve on
a jury nor qualify as a freeholder and were therefore impeded from service on a magistrate's and
freeholder's court, (5) They got the same punishments as slaves like hanging for capital offenses, and
whipping, confinement to stocks, imprisonment, and the treadmill for lesser crimes. [Johnson, 1984, pp.
46-47] There tended to be unjust treatment in the courts since magistrates could be ignorant of these
laws. Judge Justin O'Neall said that free negroes could not hit a white man. There were also patrols set
up that harrassed free negroes consisting of a group of white men who'd patrol several times a month
to look out for suspicious activities and violation of the laws like; (1) carrying a firearm without guardian
permission, (2) meeting behind colsed doors that white men could not access, (3) selling liquor to slaves,
(4) having schools that taught slaves and free colored children to be literate [Roark & Johnson, 1984, pp.
49-50]. Alot of this harrassment in these various forms took place after the Vesey Rebellion in 1822
which changed the way whites looked at free people of color until the Civil War even though the
Mulatto elite helped to quell the rebellion. There was another slave revolt in 1831 known as the Nat
Turner Rebellion. It happened in August and it made white people realize that whites, slaveholder or
not, would be the targets of slaves. Joel Williamson [1984] wrote "Nat Turner led a band of rebel slaves
to slaughter, in the most horrible way with knives, axes, and crude guns, some fifty-seven whites and to
be slaughtered themselves. The whites thus killed were nonslaveholders as well as slaveholders, kind
slaveholders as well as unkind, women and children as well as men. The single clear condition that held
all the massacred together was that they were white - a fact not lost upon contemporaries of the same
color." [p. 15] This resulted in tighter police control of the colored populations.
In S. Carolina interracial marriages were legal. In 1860 1/1000 [which was 71] families were interracial
couples of which 44 were headed by negro men [42 of them being Mulattoes] with white wives and
there were 17 headed by white men with negro wives [15 of whom were Mulattoes]. Mulattoes held
more wealth in the free negro community because whites preferred to deal with them in S. Carolina.
Other advantages for the free Mulattoes were that they could have white parents who provided them
with wealth and land. In 1860 only 2 of the 29 [they owned 41% of the wealth of the free negro
population] richest free negroes were black. However, most free negroes were poor. For 94% of the
population the mean wealth was only $270 [and around this time yearly wage for whites was about

William grew in wealth from 1822 to the 1840s. White planters who used to live in S. Carolina would
have him ship his gins out to them because of their quality. William customized his gins where needed
and advertised this in newspapers like Southern Whig. One thing that had to be annoying for William
was that the planters to whom he sold gins were slow to pay up and he therefore often went to the
court of common pleas to collect debts from people like William Killingsworth who owed him $112.50
and Oran d. Lee owed him $110 with interest for a gin he had ordered 2 years earlier. He'd hire free
negroes for delicate work at times like in 1850 when he hired a gin maker and a cabinet maker. In their
gin shop the Ellison's got half of their yearly income from carpentry and blacksmithing.

William had 9 female slaves by 1840 so that they could increase his stock, but they would work the fields
when not having children. In 1835 William had bought a house from Stephen D. Miller with 54 acres of
land on credit and the transaction was completed in November of 1838. By 1840 he owned 330 acres of
land. The family home was known as Wisdom Hall and had 4 bedrooms on the 2nd floor. The house had
a total of 8 rooms.

His daughter Eliza Ann married Willis Buckner on May 13th, 1830 at Holy Cross Church when she was
19. They had a son, John Wilson Buckner, on January 23, 1831 and Willis died later that year. I should
mention that William purchased the freedom of his wife and daughter around the time he first started
buying slaves. 14 years later [February 26, 1845] Eliza Ann married James M. Johnson whose father
James Drayton Johnson was a respected tailor among Charleston's Mulatto elite. For a wedding present
William and James [father of James M.] purchased a frame house which came to be known as Drayton
Hall 75 yards south of Wisdom Hall. Her brother Reuben lived there with his wife, & her son John
Buckner, and Peter Turner who was a free colored tailor also lived in Drayton Hall. Eliza Ann was a
cougar since she was 9 years older than James. The two of them had no children together.

In 1822 there was a law where free negroes needed guardians to police them, but William did not get a
guardian until 1828. He chose Dr. Anderson as his guardian so that his interests could be protected and
so that he could come to William's defense.

Ellison's 3 sons were not born into slavery & married Mulatto women whose fathers were members of
the Brown Fellowship Society. William Jr. married Mary Thomson Mishaw whose father John
Mishaw was a free Mulatto shoemaker. "Between 1845 and 1852 William Jr. and Mary Thomson had
five children." [Roark & Johnson, 1984, p. 110] Henry married Mary Elizabeth Bonneau and Reuben
married her sister Harriett Ann Bonneau and their father was Thomas S. Bonneau, a free Mulatto
schoolmaster and community leader. "Among the best-known schools in Charleston were those
operated by the Brown Fellowship Society and by Thomas Bonneau, both of which attracted students
primarily 'from the upper echelons of free black society.'" [Gatewood, 1990, p. 259] This was obviously a
blending with other aristocratic Mulatto families. Williams' sons owned slaves themselves who were
house servants.

Eliza Ann's husband James lived off of her father and off of his income as a tailor by making clothes for
planters in Sumterville and he opened a shoe shop with William's help.

The Ellison's relationship with whites was strengthened by doing errands for them as they traveled to
Charleston while they did business. The Ellisons would go to church in Charleston with the Johnsons and
meet free colored tradesmen.

In the family graveyard that was 100 yards north of Wisdom Hall the Ellisons buried Matilda Ellison in
January 1850 who died of an illness. The wives of Williams' sons and some of his grandchildren died in
the following 5 years from a possible epidemic in the upcountry. Eliza Ann was the only woman living
among the Ellisons at this time. Her son John Buckner married Jane Johnson, his stepfather James M.
Johnson's sister in 1857. She soon died in 1860 with their [hers and John's] infant son, leaving behind
their 2 year old daughter Harriet Ann. All of the children moved into Drayton Hall and were looked after
by Eliza Ann.
In 1852 William purchased 540 more acres of land from the Sumter family worth over $9,500 which he
paid in full in one year. His real estate was doubled with this purchase. The timeline of his purchases is:

1822 - $375 for 1 acre
1835 - $1,120 for 54 1/2 acres
1838 - $581.50 for 65 1/2 acres
1839 - $5,000 for 216 acres
1847 - $270 for 22 1/2 acres
1852 - $9,560 for 540 acres

The total wealth of the Ellisons was more than the total wealth of all the free people of color in 25 of
Charleston's 30 districts. In the districts of Barnwell, Beaufort, Georgetown, Charleston, and Richland
the wealth of the free people of color exceeded the Ellison's.

The sources of income for William was his shop [$3,000 annually], cotton crops [$3,200], corn, sweet
potatoes, peas, and beans, as well as lending out his slaves. He owned a $100 gold watch and chain. This
was built on the backs of slaves and he sold female slaves for at least $400 a piece on the market. "By
1860 Ellison had increased his slave population by a stunning 75 percent, from thirty-six in 1850 to sixty-
three in 1860." [Roark & Johnson, 1984, p. 126] Ellison was said to be hard on his slaves and
interestingly none of his slaves were Mulattoes they were all black. He probably did this because he was
Mulatto himself and since "his dependence on the good opinion of whites may have convinced him that
he could not risk having tongues wag about the paternity of mulattoes on his plantation the way they
did about the mulattoes who belonged to white masters." [p. 136] Ellison also had a slave runaway
worth $2000 and had to get a slave catcher to get him back.

William's family married with the Turks who were a mixed family that looked like swarthy whites but
claimed to be whites. They lived in Sumter and dissociated themselves from blacks. According to Roark
and Johnson [1984] "The free colored population of Sumter was ten times greater than that of Fairfield.
It included a group called the Sumter Turks. According to a confused tradition, these dark-skinned
people were originally Moors from the Mediterranean who came to South Carolina late in the
eighteenth century. Some of them served General Thomas Sumter during the American Revolution, and
after the war he invited them to settle in Sumter District. Although most Sumter whites did not consider
Turks Negroes, the census listed them as free people of color. A few Turk families and a large fraction of
Sumter's other free people of color lived in twenty-four households clustered in the western part of the
district. The exact location of this small settlement cannot be determined from the census, but it almost
certainly lay within a few miles of Stateburg, though not in the village proper." [pp. 19-20] His 2
grandchildren John Buckner and Matilda married Sarah Oxendine and a Benenhaly respectively.
However, his son Reuben is believed to have fathered 4 to 5 slave children by a slave of their's named
Hannah which disturbed William as a step back into slavery. He never acknowledged these children as
part of the family.

In the 1850s there was a movement to change the status of free negroes to slaves and whites argued
that this was their rightful place since most free negroes could not even support themselves. This was
true, but the circumstances were not ripe for free negroes to succeed. There were even instances of free
negroes preferring to be slaves. William Bass was a free man who petitioned to be a slave in December
of 1859 to Philip W. Pledger who owned his step father and family. Funny thing is the states protected
their freedom to a certain degree so this was not an easy endeavor. The free colored elite payed
attention to these things but they did not believe their free status would be altered. In Charleston the
Mulattoes had powerful allies such as the delegates and newspapers [white].
Robert Houston was a Mulatto tailor and a member of the Brown Fellowship Society. He had a shop on
King Street and was one of the representatives sent by the society to thank Memminger who defended
the free Mulatto community by impeding bills in 1859 meant to enslave all free negroes.

There was an incident at a Democratic convention in Charleston with the drunken behavior of a Mulatto
named William P. Dacoster who was a prominent machinist arrested on the 2nd day of the convention.
The Mulattoes felt his behavior reflected badly on them. With James Johnston's help he was released
form jail after paying a fine.

Johnson had 2 homes valued at $4,000 and he also had 3 slaves. Among the wealthiest Mulattoes in
Charleston, SC were Maria Weston whose husband Anthony Weston was a machinist. She owned 14
slaves and had real estate worth $40,075. William McKinlay was a tailor whose real estate was worth
$25,000. Richard E. Dareef was a wood merchant with 14 slaves and his real estate was valued at
$23,000. Richard's brother Joseph Dereef was his business partner with 6 slaves of his own and his real
estate was worth $16,000. Jacob Weston was a tailor who owned 2 slaves and real estate worth
$11,600. The free people of color were 15% of the free population but only owned 1% of the wealth of
Charleston. These Mulattoes were free to move north but due to their Mulatto community they did not
need to.
Concerning William Ellison's value he tended to undervalue his holdings. For example in 1860 "Ellison
told the marshall that his personal estate, comprised mainly of his slaves, had a value of $53,000, and
that his real estate, which he said consisted of 800 acres, was worth $8,250." [Roark & Johnson, 1984, p.
127] William was a sly dog. He estimated the worth of his slaves on average to be $840. Remember he
had a runaway worth $2000. Ellison's slaves were not just field hands, they were very skilled craftsmen.
Around 20 of his male slaves would fetch 2 to 3 times the $840 dollars he said his slaves were worth on
average. Ellison actually owned almost 900 acres of land not the 800 he claimed and the value he gave
to the land "was less than half the amount he paid for it." [p. 127] If you look back at post #3 you will see
he paid almost $17,000 for his land. Check this, his wealth actually put him in the top 10% among the
white slaveholding/landowning class of Sumter and the wealth of the families of Sumter was greater
than any other district in S. Carolina. "Ninety-nine percent of the South's slaveholders owned fewer
slaves than he did" and in S. Carolina "only 5 percent of the population owned as much real estate as
Ellison." [p. 128] Remember how I compared his wealth with all the other free people of color in the

Many of the friends/relatives of the Ellisons were members of the Brown Fellowship Society which free
blacks were excluded from.

The free Mulatto and black communities were seperate. 137 of 149 Mulatto men had a Mulatto spouse
and 43 of 52 black men had a black spouse. Free Mulatto men had a mean wealth of $1,107 and black
men's mean wealth was $770. Free Mulatto women's mean wealth was triple that of free black women
at $427. 9 out of 10 male Mulattoes had Mulatto spouses and 8 out of 10 black males had black spouses.

The Friendly Moralist Society was another Mulatto organization formed in 1838. A black-looking
Richard Gregory was expelled from the society because he associated with black society. In one incident
"Edward Logan, a member of the Humane Brotherhood, applied for membership. Friendly Moralist
Michael J. Eggart argued that Logan was 'not eligible to membership being a black man.'" [Roark &
Johnson, 1984, p. 214] These people all had a seperate Mulatto identity. Roark and Johnson [1984] says
that "On the whole, however, free mulattoes and free blacks did not socialize with one another, and
they rarely married one another." [p. 213] This Michael J. Eggart was married to the above mentioned
Richard E. Dereef's daughter named Joanna Dereef. In all, the Mulatto elite were charitable to their
poor Mulatto brethren and the Christian Benevolent Society was formed in 1839 to aid the sick and

I said before how William wore a gold watch and this was what many of the Mulatto upper class did.
James Hicks was a 50 year old nurse who got his watch snatched from him since whites saw his
fashionable attire as an act of insolence. There was alot of turmoil in the 1860s. Sam Weston for
instance had to stop a rumor that his daughter was the Mulatto woman she was confused with who was
jailed for assaulting a white woman. Mayor MacBeth had a notice printed in the Courier saying that the
Westons were respectable colored people. This same mayor was sending free persons of color back into
slavery if they could not show proof that they were legally free and did not violate the 1822 law
forbidding manumission.

William Jr. sent his kids to Lombard Street Primary School in Philadelphia in October of 1860 which was
run by the school teacher Margaretta Forten. The Fortens were natives of Philadelphia. When war
erupted the Mulatto elite remained in S. Carolina basically because they possessed so much property
they did not care to part with. The Mulatto elite wrote several memorials to the white leaders in gov't
and pledged to give service in defense of S. Carolina and in these memorials they also claimed, "In our
veins flows the blood of the white race, in some half, in others much more than half white blood."
[Roark & Johnson, 1984] The Johnsons and Ellisons did not sign any of the 3 memorials.

William Ellison died on December 5, 1861 and was buried with his wife Matilda. His tombstone was the
first in the first row in the families graveyard. Henry, William Jr., and Eliza Ann took over the reigns of
the family with Henry taking the role of chief administrator. The gin business was stagnant during the
war since it affected cotton sales. They made money for general blacksmith work in the shop but they
did bring in less money. They also made money on growing food which planters were required to grow
during the war effort. They made several thousand dollars during the war selling corn. For example, in
1863 L. M. Spann paid $55 for corn and 3 more times that year bought corn worth $100 dollars a piece.
They also planted sorghum for sugar which was in high demand and their first sale of it was for $7.15
and then in October they made $600 dollars in sales. In 1864 they made several thousand from selling
their syrup they made from sorghum. The Ellisons also rented out their houses to make manoey and
made $5,300 off of the gov't from their sale of food. Since they supported the Confederacy during the
Civil War they gained high repute which they already had before. Unfortunately for the Ellisons since all
of their profits and investments were in Confederate money they became worthless after the war.

John Wilson Buckner, Williams' grandson, joined the military on March 27, 1863. After the war the
Ellisons stopped being farmers and the brothers were too old to work in the gin shop and their former
customers went to other blacksmiths since John Buckner was paying unskilled laborers to work there.

Gatewood, W. B. (1990). Aristocrats of color: The black elite, 1880-1920. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press.

Roark, J. L., & Johnson, M. P. (1984). Black masters: A free family of color in the old south. New York: W.
W. Norton & Company.

Williamson, J. (1984). The crucible of race: Black-white relations in the American south since
emancipation. New York: Oxford University Press.