Henry Hamilton (formerly House) was a teenager when his fate was decided by the stroke of a pen in 1858. He was one of the slaves belonging to William House, a Georgia
planter. His final wishes were that his wife Mariah be given “three negroes . . . any two she may select,” in addition to a nine-year-old girl named Caroline, to be exact. Mariah House had her pick of Emily, John, Abram, Saffronia, Anderson, Amanda, Louisa, Hampton, Alfred, Dennis, Ted or Henry, my third-great grandfather. Those she didn’t pick were to be evenly divided between the couple’s two daughters, Mary Elizabeth and Sarah Eveline.
William House died in 1859, and while it’s not clear which woman chose which person, there was no guarantee enslaved relatives would be kept together. One of slavery’s most devastating legacies was the tearing apart of families. It’s a dynamic that has left my research with open holes and unanswered questions on the paternal side of my family, but laid bare in probate court records on the maternal side of my family. The death of a plantation owner almost always meant the possibility of family members being sold away from one another. Sometimes a plantation owner’s will included instructions to keep families together, as in the case of my fourth great-grandmother Anarky Bryan. But usually the need to satisfy debt superseded any family structures those who were enslaved created, and children could be sold away from parents, husbands sold away from wives*, or one parent sold away from the rest of the family.
William House’s will didn’t detail the relationships between the people he bequeathed to his wife and daughters, and if they weren’t related, Henry apparently thought highly of at least four of them. Several of Henry’s children shared the names of those he was enslaved with– Emily (b.1865), Saffronia (b. 1869), Abram (b. 1870) and Anderson (b.1880). I believe the Amanda listed in the will is Henry’s oldest daughter, born in the late 1850s. (Henry’s second oldest daughter, Narcissa– Narcis for short– is my great-great grandmother and was born in 1860. She married my great-great grandfather, Ike Pinkard).
*slaves were not legally allowed to marry. Husband-wife relationships between slaves were not recognized in courts of law