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.


Photograph in Montgomery Museum Collection Has Story To Tell

Photograph of group, Christiansburg, 1886. Jane Carter at far right [#6] (photograph was donated to the museum in 2013 by Henry Jablonski as part of the Charles Crush Collection)

In his recently released book, Facing Freedom, Dr. Daniel Thorp uses a variety of sources, including the Montgomery Museum’s collection, to piece together the history of the local African American community. A closer look at one of the resources in the museum’s collection used by Dr. Thorp, shows us the way historic photographs provide detail and richness to past lives when placed in the context of history.

The photograph, taken in 1886, shows 26 adults and 3 children posing on the front porch of the Figgat House at 10 East Main Street in Christiansburg. The people photographed include several prominent white citizens, many of them related to Dr. Joseph Edie [#1].

Dr. Joseph Edie (1727 – 1887) arrived in Christiansburg in 1826 as a teacher and was instrumental in the organization of Christiansburg Presbyterian church the following year. He completed medical school and returned to the town in 1832, purchasing a former tavern at 30 West Main Street for his office and residence.

The owner of the house shown was Mary (Mollie) Edie Figgat (1836 – 1923, [#5]) a daughter of Dr. Edie and the widow of Dr. William Figgat (1835 – 1878). Another of Dr. Edie’s daughters, Jane Edie Wade (1826 – 1912, [#3]) is also pictured with her husband, Captain John Wade (1829 – 1889, [#2]). John Wade served in the Confederate “Stonewall Brigade” and was county clerk from 1881 until 1887. At a time when few women were involved in the public sphere, Jane Edie Wade operated Mrs. J. H. Wade Store from the late 1880s until 1911 in her father’s former home and medical office. She also served as deputy county clerk during her husband’s tenure as clerk.

Pictured in the back row is Ada A. Schaeffer [#7], whose husband Captain Charles S. Schaeffer helped newly freed former slaves to found important African American institutions such as Memorial Baptist Church (now Schaeffer Memorial) and the school that would later grow to become Christiansburg Institute.

Among these people, so often remembered in the written histories of Christiansburg, is another woman, who Dr. Thorp’s work now brings to our attention. The handwritten identifications with the photograph notes “Aunt” Jane Carter standing near the far right edge. Jane Carter (1834 – 1911, [#6]) had been a slave owned by Dr. Edie and continued to work for wages in the Edie home after Emancipation. In 1870, she was living with Dr. Edie’s daughter and son-in-law, the Dr. William Figgat family, and working as their cook. She continued working for the Figgats, and later their daughters, until her death. Jane Carter followed a common pattern of women who became adults under slavery, and continued to live in the home of her white employer. This set her apart from younger African American women who grew to adulthood after 1865 and typically established their own homes.

While former owners and former slaves may have continued to lead their lives in close proximity, Jane Carter’s position at the edge of the photograph exemplifies her social status. She was probably working, tending to the children, when the photograph was taken. Her continued presence with members of the Edie-Figgat family could suggest affection and devotion or simply lack of opportunity and economic choice. We cannot know her mind. Yet, taken at a time when black women were often not included in the historic record, this photograph gives us a window into the life of Jane Carter.



Facing Freedom by Daniel Thorp
Christiansburg, Virginia by Roy Kanode

Talk, Reception, & Book Signing with Facing Freedom Author, Dr. Daniel Thorp

The Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center is proud to announce that Dr. Daniel Thorp, author of Facing Freedom, will be presenting a talk about his book at the museum on March 22, 2018 from 5:00-7:00 pm.  There will be a reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

In the book, Facing Freedom, Dr. Thorp relates the complex experience of the African American Community in Montgomery County, Virginia as it negotiated a radically new world in the four decades following the Civil War.   Drawing on extensive research in private collections (including the Montgomery Museum’s collection) as well as local, state and federal records, Thorp narrates in intimate detail the experiences of black Appalachians as they struggled to establish autonomous families, improve their economic standing, operate black schools within a white-controlled school system, form independent black churches, and exercise expanded – if contested- roles as citizens and members of the body politic.

Black out-migration increased markedly near the close of the nineteenth century, but the generation that transitioned from slavery to freedom in Montgomery County established the community institutions that would survive disenfranchisement and Jim Crow.  Facing Freedom reveals the stories and strategies of those who pioneered these resilient bulwarks against the rising tide of racism.