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"The ancestor I wanted to share stories about is Charlie Watkins," by Donna Pittman



Charlie Watkins and his second wife, Mary, taken by one of their children.
Charlie Watkins and his second wife, Mary, taken by one of their children.

My cousin, Beverly Harper, asked me to share. The ancestor I wanted to share stories about is Charlie Watkins. He was born July 1, 1843, in Garlandville, Mississippi to a teenage slave Rachel and her slave owner father, Josiah Watkins. Rachel’s mother, Caroline, had been captured in Africa and enslaved along with her brother as they traveled to a nearby village.


The Middle Passage to Mississippi


Both survived the middle passage and were sold to neighboring plantations - Mississippi. Rachel and her infant daughter were listed on the slave census as property of Josiah. Charlie Watkins looked like his father but was enslaved.


At some point after the Civil War began, Charlie ran away to Louisiana and enlisted (apparently in the Union Army because he received a pension after the war). After the war, Charlie worked and purchased a farm near Newton, Mississippi.


He lived there with his mother and grandmother until their deaths and married his first wife, Sylvia Norman. They had six or seven children together before Sylvia died. Charlie then married Mary, a younger woman, and had twelve more children.


He continued to buy additional farmland and left some property to each of his children. Charlie’s son, John (from his first marriage), graduated from Meharry Medical School in the early 1900’s and practiced in Louisiana. One of his daughters from his second marriage, Bertha, married Jessie Harper and was my maternal grandmother. Charlie’s second wife preceded him in death in 1929. Charlie died in 1933.


My favorite family story


My favorite family story of Charlie was that sometime after the stock market crash. One of the janitors at the local bank came by and warned Charlie that the bankers were counting up the cash in the safe with plans to split it up and leave before announcing that the bank had failed. The next morning, Charlie walked into town (because no one would take him) beat on the bank doors and raised so much noise that they unlocked the door, snatched him inside and gave him the money he had in his account. They sent him out the back door so they could quietly steal away with the rest of the cash. I love my ancestors.


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