Of the approximately 90 years my great-great-grandfather Henry Nance (born c. 1837 – 1926) spent on this Earth, I can only find remnants of the last third, the part he spent in Coffee County, Ala., as property owner– not owned property. I’ve been spending time with records from the Freedmen’s Bureau to see if I can piece together Henry Nance’s life between 1865 and 1880– his own Reconstruction, so to speak.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was established as the Emancipation Proclamation was handed down, which flung millions of formerly those enslaved into this thing called freedom. The idea was that the Bureau would equip freedmen and freedwomen with the skills necessary to survive and thrive. The Bureau kept meticulous records– from labor contracts to medical information to criminal activity. For a person trying to learn more about a formerly enslaved ancestor– such as myself– the Freedmen’s Bureau records can potentially reveal details of the lives of those slavery tried to erase.
I happened upon a record that may fill in some blanks. A Henry Nance of Tennessee is attached to a complaint of disorderly conduct dated Oct. 16, 1865. It’s not clear if this Henry Nance is the subject of the complaint or the complainant himself. It’s not even clear who this Henry Nance is exactly; there is no other identifying information on the record.
Like other documents I’ve found, this raises more questions than it aenswers, and this one in particular has prompted a theory: What if this disorderly conduct charge was the reason Henry Nance fled Tennessee?