Today we visit my 3rd great Grandfather Robert Wiley. I use this photo of the Mississippi River Bridge I snapped a couple of months ago as we passed from Missouri into Illinois. Seems like a good way to set the story because a lot of family history lies along the Mighty Mississippi even if it is in places farther south.
Robert was born in 1755 in North Carolina He was the only child of William and Mary. In 1760 he was still in North Carolina where he married Sara B who was born in 1757. They had 15 children from 1780 to 1808 sometimes at the inspiring pace of two a year. One of those in 1790 was my third great Grandfather Alexander.
In the 1790 census Robert is in Guilford County North Carolina. According to Wikipedia that's now a huge mega-population industrial corridor but back then it was the site of early use of steam power to gin cotton. This southern county opposed slavery and was an important stop on the underground railroad. This is an interesting note because by the 1820 census the Robert household lists 8 "free white people" and 5 slaves.
It's not clear at this point but it seems that in that same year, 1820, Robert found himself in Maury County Tenn. Maury County was the site of a race riot in 1946 spawned by a black returning Navy Vet and a white shopkeeper. Thurgood Marshall, future supreme court justice defended the vet in court. Now days it;s pretty quiet in Maury County which calls itself the Antebellum Home Capital of Tennessee and looks to be a rural retirement area with fishing, golf and community college events.
It was here that back 1820 Robert woke up one day not feeling too well and either wrote of dictated this will. I say dictated because it seems to indicate he signed it with an "X":
Will of Robert Wiley, Maury County, 1820
State of Tennessee, Maury County: In the name of God, Amen.
Will – Record Book C, page 221 – Columbia, Tennessee
I, Robert Wiley, being weak in body but of sound and perfect mind and memory blessed be God for the same. I do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following (that is to say)
First I give and bequeath unto my beloved Wife Sarah Wiley all my personal Estate after my funeral expenses and just debts is paid, to have and to hold during her natural life as widowhood, Also my will is after the death or marriage of my wife that the negro boys Abram and Milford be sold to the highest bidder and the money arriving from the sale to be equally divided among my children hereinafter named: John Wiley, Thomas Wiley, Robert S.Wiley, William Wiley, Moses Wiley, Andrew Wiley, Polly Wiley, Margaret Wiley.
Item 2nd I give and bequeath unto my son Alexander Wiley the track of land whereon I now live whereon his mother is to be supported during her life as widowhood by the care of said land. Item 3rd I give and bequeath unto my
daughter Sarah Thompson one negro woman named Flora after the death or marriage of my wife to her and her heirs forever, but provided the said negro woman Flora should have any increase before the death or marriage of my wife, my will is that it be sold and divided among the whole of my remaining heirs.
And lastly I do hereby constitute and appoint my beloved wife and my son Alexander Wiley my Executive and Executor of this my last will and testament hereby working all other or former wills or testaments by me heretofore made in witness whereof I have hereonto set my hand and seal the thirty first day of August 1820.
Robert X Wiley
Witness: Francis S. Perry
Looks like old Robert held on 4 more years after this was written. My 3rd great grandfather executed the will and got the land. It's not easy for me to think about my family as slave owners. After all the Wileys are nice and mellow people these days but there will be more slave owner ship on both sides of the family documented as I continue to write this. I think about the descendants of old Abram, Milford and Flora. Other than this mention of their names in my family history I would think it impossible to construct a family tree for them. I do think it's ironic that of the places Robert lived the one that least favored slaves stayed kind of the same while the other grew into a huge industrial area full of opportunity for all.
This Will of Robert Wiley was written 31 Aug, 1820 and recorded 1824. The original handwritten copy as it written in Record Book C, page 221 (near the end of microfilm roll A—Prior to and Through 1824 Wills and Court Records) was found in the microfilm files at Maury County Archives, East 6th Street, Columbia, Tennessee 38401.
I am glad things are different now and I think it pays to be in a different place in mind, attitude and if necessary, location. Still some ghost out there to shake but it's being worked on. I think I'll close by paraphrasing old Honest Abe who said something like "freedom is not just about not owning a person, it's also about not wanting to be owned."