In a recent post, I presented my recent discovery (thanks to cousin Sharon Black) that my adoptive great-great-grandmother Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black was a southern girl who fell in love with a wounded Yankee soldier (Lewis Black) and then ran away from her childhood plantation to elope with Lewis and start a new life in the north. Since writing that post, I’ve been wondering about the location of the plantation and the identity of the family that she left behind, never to be reunited with either.
While it may seem like an impossible task, there are enough clues to make the attempt to find her family and her plantation worthwhile.
According to Winnie Bonecutter’s account,
Grandma Black was born to a fine old southern family. She was raised on a plantation with colored servants to care for her.
She must have been real young when she eloped with a Yankee soldier and regretted it to her last day. In her quiet refined way she told me many times of finding the wounded soldier in the shade of a large tree, that bordered the driveway. He was one of Sherman’s men, left behind on his famous march to the sea.
She soon fell in love with the soldier. Her Grandmother, with whom she lived, helped care for him until she discovered their love, then she turned him over to the darkies to care for as a “dirty Yankee” should be.
Later they stole away, he in a borrowed suit and she in her second best, and were married. They never received the forgiveness they hoped for.
As the end of the war was near they came north.
Winnie’s account makes it clear that Ruth’s childhood family and home were in the south. The “south,” however, was not a fixed concept. The antebellum south was defined by the existence of slavery. States which supported slavery were considered to be in the south and states which banned slavery were considered to be in the north.
With the coming of the Civil War, the definition of “the south” became more about succession from the United States than about the legality of slavery.
Some states (Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia) continued as slave-holding states, but were part of the Union, rather than seceding and being a part of the Confederacy.
As Ruth’s grandmother referred to Lewis as a “dirty Yankee,” it’s clear that they were living not only in a slave-holding state, but also in a state which had seceded from the United States.
I am lucky enough to have Lewis Black’s honorable discharge, which shows he was discharged on August 28, 1864, in Chattanooga, TN. His destination was noted as being Bremen, OH. From stamps and marks made on his discharge paper, we know that Lewis reached the Jeffersonville railroad in Jeffersonville, Indiana, on September 15, and was in Cincinnati, Ohio, by the 16th. Given this timetable, it took him two weeks and five days after discharge to travel from Chattanooga to Jeffersonville, Indiana.
Jeffersonville is nearly due north of Chattanooga, 225 straight-line miles away. By 1864, Tennessee was Union-controlled, so passage by a discharged Union soldier would not have been impeded by the Confederacy, other than indirectly, though the destruction of transportation infrastructure.
As can be seen by the contemporary travelers’ maps below, there were many possible routes north from Chattanooga towards Jeffersonville. The Tennessee map is from 1862 (see here for full resolution), and the Kentucky map dates to 1858 (see here for full resolution).
There appear to have been four main routes out of Chattanooga towards the north in 1864:
- Northeast towards Knoxville along the Cumberland mountains on the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad
- West and then northwest towards Nashville on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad
- North by road through the Cumberland mountains towards Sparta via Pikeville
- Due west to the Mississippi river, then up the Mississippi to the Ohio river, and up the Ohio river to Jeffersonville.
The first option would have involved nearly continuous travel by rail, first on the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad to somewhere around Russellville, and then on the Cincinnati & Charleston railroad back west into Kentucky via the Cumberland Gap. This would have been a comfortable route for a wounded man.
The second option would have also involved nearly continuous train travel all the way from Chattanooga to Nashville (via a brief spell in northern Alabama) and on to northern Kentucky. This would also have been a comfortable route for a wounded man.
The third option seems improbable for a wounded soldier on his own, traveling north on roads that were often unsuitable for stage coaches, and thus would have had to have been traversed by horseback or on foot. Winnie Bonecutter said that Ruth found Lewis lying in the shade of a tree near her home; nothing was said of a horse, so I presume he was traveling by foot when he came upon Ruth’s family’s plantation.
The fourth option seems unlikely because the distance just from Chattanooga to the shores of the Mississippi river was 275 straight-line miles, 50 miles further than Jeffersonville is from Chattanooga; it would have been faster to just head directly to Jeffersonville.
Even if Lewis planned to travel nearly the whole distance from Chattanooga to Jeffersonville by train, his journey clearly deviated from his plan. It took him nearly three weeks to travel this distance, and he somehow managed to turn up resting under a tree on Ruth’s family’s plantation.
Why was Lewis wandering across a southern plantation? Were some of the railroad tracks damaged or sabotaged, and he had to either wait for the repairs to be made or find his way to a different route? Perhaps giving passage back home to discharged soldiers was having to take a backseat to military use of the trains? Perhaps he was in no hurry to get back home and took some time to explore one or more of the regions along the route back home?
In any case, the route he took (or planned to take) from Chattanooga to Jeffersonville was probably within the area outlined on the map below (the blue dots represent major way points along the three main routes north, as discussed above):
I expect that we’ll find Ruth Tucker’s family’s plantation somewhere within the area shown on the map above, as Lewis wandered onto their plantation on his trip home after his discharge. Furthermore, their plantation would probably have been in the southern half of this area (i.e., not in Kentucky), as Ruth’s grandmother’s calling Lewis a “dirty Yankee” indicates that they were probably in a state that was part of the Confederacy.
On this basis, their plantation was most likely in the parts of Tennessee, northeastern Alabama, and northwestern Georgia that overlap with Lewis’ possible routes home. The possible locations of Ruth’s family’s plantation are highlighted in blue below:
If the plantation ran in her father’s family, it may have been called the Tucker Plantation. I have so far only been able to find one Tucker Plantation in Tennessee. According to a biography of Tennessee politician Monroe W. Gooden, there was a slave plantation called the “Tucker Plantation” located somewhere in Tennessee’s (modern) 4th congressional district (central/southern TN). I haven’t located this plantation yet, and I have no idea if it’s even her family’s plantation. For all I know, she was living with her maternal grandmother and it wasn’t called the Tucker plantation at all.
The 4th congressional district of Tennessee, in which a Tucker Plantation was once located, is highlighted in yellow on the map below:
Winnie Bonecutter’s recollection of Ruth Tucker’s history states that she was living with her grandmother—nothing was said about her mother or her father. Had Mr. Tucker gone off to fight in the war? Did either or both of her parents die while Ruth was still young?
While Ruth’s father (Mr. Tucker) may or may not have owned the plantation that Ruth was living on with her grandmother (as opposed to it being owned by Mrs. Tucker’s family), there’s a good chance that he and his family lived and/or were raised somewhere not too far away from the plantation. The distribution of people with the last name of Tucker on the 1860 federal census for Tennessee was as follows:
|Tennessee County||Tucker families|
The county locations of the Tucker households enumerated on the 1860 census are shown below. Each green person indicates a county with a Tucker household, and the number of dots next to each represents the numbers of Tucker households in that county.
The highest concentration of Tucker households (14 Tucker families) is in central Tennessee in Davidson, Williamson, and Rutherford counties (Nashville, Franklin, and Murfreesboro are the largest cities in each of these counties, respectively). The next highest concentration (9 Tucker families) is in the southwest corner of the state in Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton counties (Barlett and Memphis are the biggest cities in this region).
I checked all 14 Tucker families in the Davidson/Williamson/Rutherford county area and found that they were all enumerated on the census slave schedules, so they are not the Tuckers I am looking for. I then checked all 9 Tucker families in the Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton counties and found that they too were all enumerated on the census’ slave schedules. I then checked all 57 Tucker households listed in the Tennessee Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index for 1860, and found that all 57 families listed were slave families. How odd.
What’s going on with the 1860 Tennessee census and/or the index I used? Did all of the non-slave schedules get destroyed? Apparently not, as the information from the 1860 Tennessee census is indeed available. Is it possible that the census index I was using had not yet been completed? Quite possibly so, as another index for Davidson county alone lists 66 Tuckers, which would seem to represent considerably more than 5 families, given the number of adult men I counted (9). Of course, it’s also possible that on the slave schedules, multiple families living together in the same house were enumerated as a single household.
To clarify the situation with the 1860 Tennessee census, I’ll need to spend quite a bit of time with other, more complete 1860 census indexes.
Not the most upbeat way to end a post, but I feel I’m slowly getting closer to discovering Ruth Tucker’s southern heritage. If my reasoning above is correct, it would seem that she’s most likely from Tennessee—probably central Tennessee. I’ll see if I can find any information about how Lewis Black’s fellow Ohio soldiers got home from Chattanooga, if any others were mustered out in that city around that same time (which I think is likely, as Lewis mustered out because his 3-year contract was up; others who signed up with him would have finished their contracts around the same time).
If you have any suggestions for other fruitful lines of research, or if you know of any further clues I could use (family names, plantation crops, family stories, etc), please let me know in the comments section below.