Sunday, August 30, 2015

William Maddox, the White Confederate Who Loved a Black Family

As I continue researching my 3rd great-grandmother, Artimease Wederstrandt Benton, a former slave and widow of a Civil War United States Colored Troop (USCT),  I'm amazed at the untold, underlying stories revealed during her life and times.  It's taught me that the Antebellum and Postbellum South--Louisiana in particular, have a very complex history.  When I started these research projects, like most African Americans, my presumptions were that racism and segregation would prove to show my family in complete isolation from the social mainstream and an ethnic divide analogous to the parting of the Red Sea. Yet, my Dear Mother always said "there's two sides to every coin" and I'm seeing that other side as I examine the role a man named William Maddox played in Artimease's life.

As I mentioned in my March 2013 post, "BENTON and JACKSONS: The Truth Revealed," the 1880 U.S. Federal Census in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana showed a household inhabiting Artimease with 5 of her 7 children. The household next door, 247 America Street, included her sister, "Wartha Wederstrandt," and according to oral history, her common-law husband, a white male named William Maddox, a carpenter.  According to the census, Maddox was 55 years old and Wartha was 36 which places their birth dates in 1825 and 1844, respectively, as well as their birth locations in Louisiana.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I continued to research Maddox.  When I examined the 1870 census in East Baton Rouge Parish, I discovered a white male, age 40, named William Maddox (b. 1830) from Ohio, living with "Waffie" Wederstrandt (another known alias of Wartha), age 25 and Joseph Wederstrandt, age 15, both born in Louisiana and listed as "Mulatto."  With his occupation listed a "Carpenter," his real estate property is valued at $150 and personal property valued at $100.

In the 1860 U.S. Federal Census in East Baton Rouge Parish, nearly 8 months before the Civil War began (and 5 years before slavery ended), "Wm G Maddox," age 30, is listed alone as an "Overseer" with personal property valued at $500 and similar to the 1880 census, a native of Louisiana.  To date, I find no other record of Maddox prior to 1860, but I will need to visit the Louisiana State Archives and the East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse for further investigation.

Death Notice on William G. Maddox
I searched and found this newspaper death notice in the Baton Rouge Daily Advocate dated February 17, 1900 regarding the passing of William G. Maddox. It states Maddox, who died on Valentine's Day, was to have his funeral held at his residence on America Street.  The last sentence of the paragraph states he "was a member of Company "B," Ninth Battalion Infantry." I checked, a website containing U.S. Military records online, to prove Maddox's military service and to my surprise, I discovered he was a Confederate Soldier!
Below, are Maddox's Confederate PRISONER OF WAR muster rolls showing his Battalion was captured near Port Hudson and paroled in July of 1863.


I also checked the National Park Service website which also contains a database on Civil War historical facts such as soldiers, regiments & battles.  I found the following description of the 9th Battalion, Louisiana Infantry:

"OVERVIEW: 9th Infantry Battalion [also called 17th Battalion] was formed at Camp Moore, Louisiana, during March, 1862. It contained four companies, and some of the men were raised in Rapides Parish. The unit served in Gregg's and Maxey's Brigade in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana and was captured in the fight for Port Hudson. After being exchanged, it was not reorganized. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Boyd and Major Tom Bynum were its field officers."

What is so intriguing about this information is that Artimease's husband, Thomas Benton, served as a U.S. Colored Troop from 1864-1867 with the 67th & 65th regiments--both organized at Port Hudson which was only 20 miles north of Baton Rouge--the place the regiments mustered out after the war in 1867.  In addition, Wartha's death record states she was born in Bayou Sara, Louisiana and the 67th Regiment moved there during an expedition in 1864.

So, am I to believe that a white male Confederate soldier and former overseer of a plantation, upon his capture and parole from being a Prisoner of War in Port Hudson, establishes a friendship with 3 former slaves-- an African American soldier fighting for the opposition, his future wife, and her sister with whom he develops a lifelong relationship that lasts for more than 30 years????

Affidavit from William G. Maddox
Apparently, more circumstantial evidence I uncovered supports this theory.  In July of 2013, I ordered Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File preserved at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Thomas Benton died in 1877 from Tuberculosis--12 years after the war ended. By that time, Artimease bore four children with Benton.  She applied for the pension 15 years later, in August of 1892, after legislation was passed a few years prior, allowing widows of Union soldiers to collect benefits.  By that time, all 7 of Artimease's children were born.  The 65-page file of documents collected over a 32 year period contained Benton's military record, medical exams, muster rolls, letters from the War Department, letters from Artimease and her family members, and general affidavits from people who personally knew the couple and their children. These individuals would also attest to the true events surrounding the Bentons' lives and the nature of their relationship.

William G. Maddox's signature can be found on several of these documents as a witness to the various claims made by Artimease and others. Maddox also provided his own sworn affidavits, as shown to the right, describing his knowledge of the family.  He states he "kept a record of the births of the children of claimant and soldier having known them intimately."  This comes as no surprise given his experience as an "overseer" in his previous line of work. The purpose of this affidavit was to provide written proof, on Artimease's behalf, that her youngest child at the time of Thomas' death, Nellie, was still a minor (under the age of 16) when Artimease filed the application for the pension, thus, making Artimease eligible to receive additional benefits for Nellie.
General Affidavit by William G. Maddox

It should be noted that Artimease was illiterate during this time period and there is no doubt in my mind that Maddox assisted her in the review, completion and processing of these documents. Shown to the right is an additional document signed by Maddox illustrating his direct involvement in assisting Artimease with her case for eligibility of widow's pension benefits.

In retrospect, it became apparent to me that, from the vantage point of the children, Maddox was truly their uncle.  I commonly refer to him as "Uncle Will" because I believe as the only male figure and role model, he must have been an influential figure in their lives.  My great aunt, Marguerite, told me that her grandfather, Edward Benton (Artimease's son), was a carpenter and that many of the men in the family derived from a long line of carpenters.  Well, given the fact that Edward, the oldest, was only 7 when his father died, implies that he more than likely learned the trade from"Uncle Will," as did his brothers whose death records all indicate they were carpenters by trade.  Lastly, I discovered newspaper articles on that show Ernest Gibbons Benton, Artimease's youngest son, also purchased property sold to him by Maddox--again, more evidence of Maddox's involvement in the prosperity of these children.

In summary, William G. Maddox's influence in the lives of this African American family can not be denied. This man, a former plantation overseer who risked his life to support the Confederate States of America--a government dedicated to preserving the institution of slavery, has a change of heart and chooses a different path for his life at war's end.  He appears to do everything he can to support Artimease and her children after the death of her husband.  In my opinion, he loved Wartha until the day he died and he demonstrated that, not only by his devotion to her and their interracial marriage that wasn't recognized by the United States Constitution until 1967, but also, by helping her family through one of their darkest days.  In some respects, given that he and Wartha never bore children, it is conceivable that he loved his nieces and nephews as if they were his own children.

These new revelations in my research have definitely given me a different perspective on the south, the war and what it meant to it's participants.  As I stated before, Louisiana's history is a complex one, that when studied, must be examined as carefully and impartially as possible. Also, this information encourages me more to push my continual message that when it comes to the issue of the Civil War and Slavery, we as Americans need to have an honest national conversation about what happened and it's impact on both sides--the North and South, Black and White.  I simply don't believe as a Nation, we will ever begin to heal until that task is completed.  

Nevertheless, I came away with a newfound respect for "Uncle Will"--for his courage and his character.  To me, his is a true story of redemption.  

I like this side of the coin.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Nine Year Search Has Come to an End!!!


For nine long years I've searched for my 2nd great-grandmother's maiden name and I finally found it! I acquired her death record in 2013, but there was no vital information on it.

She is Mamie PENNY, wife of Edward Benton, my 2nd great-grandfather.  My grandfather's sister, my Aunt Marguerite, told me her mother, Artimease (Benton) Willis-Jackson and her siblings were born in Gramercy, Louisiana.  This Social Security Application Index of her youngest sibling, Ernest Benton, Sr., confirms the birth location and now presents their mother's maiden name.  HELLO GRANDMA MAMIE!

U.S. Social Security Application and Claims Index, 1936-2007

Below is her death record--the only other information I had on Mamie.

According to Aunt Marguerite, her mother told her Mamie died at a young age--when Artimease, my great-grandmother & the oldest of seven children, was 15 years old. Artimease, and her father, Edward Benton, had to raise her younger brothers and sisters.  Edward was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  When his wife died, he moved his family from Gramercy (in St. James Parish) back to East Baton Rouge Parish. Their youngest child, Earnest was just 2 years old when their mother died.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Be, or Not To Be a Wederstrandt: DNA Answered the Question

Wederstrandt Benton
In March of 2013, I posted a blog entitled “Bentons and Jacksons: The Truth Revealed” which detailed new information my cousin, James Hill III, and I discovered about my paternal grandfather’s maternal side of his family.  One of the highlights mentioned was discovering my 3x Great-Grandmother’s maiden name, Artimease (or Arthemise) Wederstrandt.  On May 14, 2013, a gentleman by the name of Herndon Blake Wederstrandt happened to find my blog during a Google search and posted the following comment on my blog:

Sir, my name is Herndon Wederstrandt, I might be able to help you, please reply back if interested.

Herndon Blake
Needless to say, I was very intrigued and emailed him right away.  From that day forward James and I began to establish a relationship with Herndon and explore the possibility we may be relatives.  Herndon, better known as “Blake,” expressed great confidence that we were related—not only because of the uncommon last name, but also due to the picture of Artimease he saw on my blog post.  He stated that she looked very much like his ancestors. He sent me a picture of his 1st cousin, 6x removed, Margaret Smith Wederstrandt Morse, to show the resemblance to Artimease and I was dumbfounded!

Margaret Smith
Wederstrandt Morse
Nonetheless, I was initially skeptical because being a descendant of slaves, you become very caution about any and all documentation concerning your enslaved ancestors-- or as my dear friend and colleague, Nicka Smith, brilliantly labeled them, our "Slavecestors.”  How did I know Artimease was really a Wederstrandt by birth?  In some cases, freedmen didn't retain the surname of the their former enslavers and some changed their names entirely for various reasons.  If she was a Wederstrandt by birth, which parent carried the name?  In the aforementioned post, I stated that it was discovered Artimease had an older sister named Hiawartha Wederstrandt, but on the 1880 Census, Hiawartha stated her father was born in Maryland, and Artimease did not answer the question which left doubt they had the same father.  I wasn’t sure.  There were so many unanswered questions!

However, one document that supported the notion of kinship was a page in Artimease’s Widows Pension Application.  These applications were filed by widows of Civil War Veterans who believed themselves to be eligible for pension benefits.  I ordered this pension file from the National Archives in Washington, DC in July of 2013.  Below is a portion of a sworn affidavit from John Alexander, a former U.S. Colored Union Troop, who testified that he personally knew Artimease and her late husband, my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Benton.  It specifically states that Alexander knew "Arthemise Wetherstrane by witch name she wore off her father..." As an original and primary source, this document was critical.

Document from Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File
Document from Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File

In July of 2013, while attending the Benton Family Reunion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, James, my dad, my cousin, Tonya and I, arranged to meet Blake and his family for dinner.  We had a great & memorable time!  I mentioned to Blake that in December of 2010, I met a woman named Nancy Wederstrandt on two months after I met James, but we never established who a possible common ancestor was. Blake explained that Nancy was his 2nd cousin, once removed with Herndon's dad being her second cousin.  They never physically met, but do correspond with each other periodically. Their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is Robert (Pronounced "RO-BEAR") Carroll Wederstrandt (b. 1858) and his wife, Ida Loula (Williams) Wederstrandt. Robert was the son of Robert Charles Wederstrandt (b. 1832) and grandson of John Blake Wederstrandt (b. 1808).

The Wederstrandts: James Hill III (Far left), Tonya Castle (4th from left), Blake Wederstrandt (middle-rear), Amy Wederstrandt (2nd from right), Michael Willis (far right), Sanders Willis, Jr. (seated, front)
I asked Blake to take the DNA test offered by because several of my family members tested with 23andme:
  • James & his mother, Gloria
  • My grandfather's siblings, Edward Willis and Marguerite Vernell 
  • My dad and I
The MRCA for my grandfather's siblings and my dad is my great-grandmother Artimease Benton Willis-Jackson (not be confused with her grandmother Artimease Wederstrandt Benton).  Her father was Edward Benton, son of Artimease Wederstrandt Benton.  James & Gloria descend from Edward's half sister, Maude Jackson which make the MRCA for all 6 of us Artimease Wederstrandt Benton.

Unfortunately, Blake did not match any of us!  We were all very disappointed, but we did not give up hope.  It is important to remember that DNA inheritance is random and the further the MRCA, the harder it is to detect matching segments of DNA.  I inherited approximately 50% of my dad's DNA and he inherited approximately 50% of his dad's DNA which means I inherited approximately 25% of my grandfather's DNA, 12.5% of my great-grandmother's DNA, and so forth.  This potential common ancestor with Blake would be my 4th great-grandfather, so you can image how small the percentage is and the probability of detection.  Yet, many descendants inherit different pieces of the same puzzle, so the only alternative course of action is to test more people--which brings me to Nancy because she was actually born a generation before Blake.

I'd lost touch with Nancy, but in January of 2015, she emailed me to share with me a 1910 census record she discovered listing a mulatto woman named "Martha Wederstrandt."  I told her I was aware of the record and that Martha was, in fact, Hiawartha! I also let her know I met her cousin, Blake and was in constant communication with him.  On August 2, 2015, Nancy pleasantly surprised me with an email stating she tested with AncestryDNA offered by  Since the rest of us tested with a different company, the only way we could compare our results is by uploading our RAW data to a third-party website called that allows you to compare DNA information from 23andme.comAncestryDNA and FTDNA.  Nancy reported that GEDMatch results yielded a match with Blake--3.9 generations from the MRCA, Gloria--4.1 generations from the MRCA and James--4.6 generations from the MRCA.

We are indeed Wederstrandts!

The difference of 3.9 generations between Nancy and Blake makes sense because their MRCAs, Robert Carroll & Ida Wederstrandt, are 3 generations apart from Nancy and 4 generations from Blake.  In Gloria's case, Artimease's unknown father is 4 generations apart from Gloria and Robert's father, Robert CHARLES Wederstrandt, is 4 generations from Nancy, thus, the numbers would suggest he is Artimease's father.  It is plausible because she was born around 1853 and he was born around 1832, but could he be old enough to be Hiawartha's father?  According to all available census records from 1870-1910, it was reported consistently that she was born between 1844-45.  That would make Robert Charles a 12-13 year old father, however it must be noted that the 1900 census shows Hiawartha's mother, Antoinette King, born in 1831 in Louisiana making her a 13-14 year old mother.  I found no other record of her existence prior to that.

In any case, the journey continues and another branch to explore.  New answers have lead to more questions and more stones to be overturned.  I look forward to it!