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Bishop William Heard (1850-1937) and Family Were Maroons Before Emancipation in Georgia

Heard, William H. (William Henry), 1850-1937, Portrait of William H. Heard, published in the book The bright side of African life, 1898, Internet Archive, Open Library (Book contributor: Wellesley College Library),, 14 April 2015

William H. Heard was Bishop to the AME Church, Ambassador to Liberia, Republican party in South Carolina, Lawyer, and more, but he was also a successful black maroon along with his family. I have been studying Slavery's Exiles by Sylviane A. Diouf and watching her interview on C-SPAN. Check out Did Your Ancestor Spend Time as a Maroon During Enslavement? After learning so much about Bishop William H. Heard, I thought I would move on to the book Slavery's Exiles when I discovered he was in the book!

Sylviane A. Diouf, Slavery's Exiles; The Story of the American Maroons, (New York, New York: New York and London, 2014)

Maroons escaped enslavement for certain periods of time. They lived far from the control that Free People of Color and Enslaved blacks faced. Some remained in the Southern woods or underground caves until emancipation. Diouf documented the entire family of Bishop William H. Heard living this way. Here are a few excerpts from the book, Slavery's Exiles:

Example 1

"One night, patrollers caught him off the plantation without a pass. After he was seized, the patrollers, as was their duty, beat William, who then ran off to the woods. His plan was not to nurse himself back to health only to go back to another whipping or worse. He decided to make his escape permanent and came to the conclusion that his family had to join him. To that end, he built a home in the woods and when it was finished, he returned at night to his cabin. It was a perilous move that could have ended his attempt at living free, but he succeeded in taking his wife and two children. The family made it safely to their new home. No patrollers, no hunters, dogs, or passerby ever found them and several years later, in 1865, they emerged from the woods. By then William's family counted two more children, born free in the forest that bordered Heard's plantation. William had gone to the woods on the spur of the moment, in the middle of the night, empty handed, and full of frustration and rage. But he quickly planned an alternative life for his family, complete with a secret home, means of procuring food, and of evading slave catchers and bloodhounds," page 86

Example 2

"William H. Heard, a freedman who became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, knew people who would dig caves in the ground and live in them for years," page 99

Example 3

"William Heard and his family were so secluded in their Georgia cave that it was only after Emancipation that they were found," page 302

When I wrote Finding Documentation for Your Ancestor’s Timeline, I stated that we needed to use the Research Wiki resources for Elbert County, Georgia to document Bishop Heard between 1850 and 1865. Little did I know he known to be a maroon. It will be exciting to find further documentation.

I wrote extensively about Bishop H. Heard before learning he was a Black Maroon. If you would like to examine his life after emancipation, check out these articles on IAAM CFH's Blog:

We have also added a new group to Genealogy! Just Ask! called African or Black Maroon Genealogy! Just Ask! Join us as we explore these courageous ancestors.

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