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Using the County Cohabitation Register

(Image Courtesy Cohabitation Registers Digital Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA)

One of the sources that Dr. Daniel Thorp used in writing Facing Freedom was the Montgomery County Register of Cohabitation.  It was compiled by the Freedman’s Bureau in 1866 and includes information on over 300 African American families residing in Montgomery County in 1866.  Enslaved Americans did not have the right to legally marry, so many simply began to live together (cohabitate), or participated in a different type of ceremony.

For each family the Cohabitation Register tells the name and age of the husband and wife, their birthplaces, occupations, last owner and their residence, the names of their children and the date they began cohabiting.  Several examples of families found on the register are listed below.

Lewis Page, age 49, was born in Montgomery County, Virginia.  He was a farmer and was last enslaved under the ownership by William Davis, who lived in Montgomery County.  His wife was Elizabeth Anderson, age 50.  She was born in Bedford County, Virginia and was last owned by James Shields, who lived in Montgomery County.  Lewis and Elizabeth had five children: William J. (9), Sarah J. (21), Emeline (20), Ann (19) and Henrietta (17).  They began cohabiting on July 20, 1841.

Wilson Osborne, age 28, was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  He was a blacksmith and was last enslaved by Edward Crabick, who lived in Montgomery County.  Wilson was married to Mary Jane Watts, age 19.  Mary Jane was born in Rockbridge County.  She was last owned by Thomas D. Wood, who lived in Montgomery County.  Wilson and Mary Jane had no children and had begun cohabiting on November 15, 1865.

Mattison Beverly, age 54, was born in Appomattox County, Virginia.  He was a farmer and was freeborn.  His wife was Elizabeth Beverly, age 38, who was born in Rockingham County.  She was also freeborn.  Mattison and Elizabeth had six children:  Rasmus (24), Silvester (23), William (22), Samuel (19), Luraney (17) and Mary (13).  They began cohabiting on August 6, 1848.

The entire Montgomery County Register of Cohabitation has been transcribed and is available for sale in the Montgomery Museum gift shop.

Don’t miss Dr. Thorp’s talk and reception tomorrow, March 22, at 5:00pm at the museum.