Of the slaves named in the probate records of Jesse Evans’s estate, a majority were relocated to Washington County where they were listed under “James S. & Jesse Evans” in the 1850 slave schedule. (Note 1.) The slaves were not named in the schedule (shown in the accompanying image) but were described only by “age/sex/color” among the 25 slaves owned by the two brothers. Descriptions in this list correspond to Lilah and each of her six children, Rachel and each of her six children, and William, the adult son of the freed Elizabeth.
The census records suggest, however, that the Evans brothers failed to follow their grandfather’s desire that all of his slaves would be kept in the family. The adult men Lorenzo Don, Harry, and George (son of the freed Charity) do not show up in the 1850 list, no more than four years after their transfer. Whether the absences are due to mistake, sale, death, or escape is unknown.
By 1860, the picture is even more scattered. The slaves listed for the two Evans brothers do not match descriptions for Rachel or for about half of the 12 children of Rachel and Lilah. Also missing from the 1860 list is a description corresponding to William, Elizabeth’s son. (Note 2.)
More information is available, however, about the life of Elizabeth, Charity, and Peter after they were freed in 1846. It might be expected that Elizabeth and Charity, at least, would have moved to Washington County to live near their still-enslaved sons. In fact, all three of the freed slaves, who took “Evans” as their surnames, moved to Washington County in August 1846.
This event is recorded by the bond each was required to provide as a “free negro” or “free mulatto” to reside within Missouri. (Note 3.) Elizabeth and Charity were each required to provide a $50 bond, while Peter provided a $100 bond. The two women’s bonds were dated August 7, 1846, and Jesse R. Evans acted as their surety. Peter’s bond was dated August 16, 1846, and Joseph Evans acted as surety.
Four years later, the 1850 census lists both Elizabeth and Peter in the joint household of Joseph Evans’s sons. (Note 4.) Unfortunately, nothing further has been found about Charity.
By 1860, neither Elizabeth nor Peter is still living with either of the Evans brothers, and Elizabeth is not found anywhere on that year’s census. Peter, however, is listed in his own household in Belleview Township, Washington County, as a 65-year-old black man with the surname “Evans” along with a six-year-old black girl named Sela Evans. (Note 5.)
This may be the most accurate description of the man, indicating that he was born in Virginia about 1795. It may well have been this Peter that Jesse Evans had purchased from his son John in December 1817 while they were living in what would become Callaway County. (Note 6.) In the recorded bill of sale, the slave Peter was described as “about twenty-six” years old.
No census records of Peter Evans after 1860 have been found.
Although Elizabeth is absent from the 1860 census, she reappears in the 1870 census. That year, a 75-year-old black woman named Elizabeth Evans is listed as part of the household of a 35-year-old black woman named Susan Bryan in Belleview Township, Washington County. (Note 7.) As with Peter Evans, this later census is likely a more accurate statement of Elizabeth’s age, indicating that she too was born about 1795.
There is no indication that Elizabeth was related to the Bryan family that she was living with. It may be that the Bryans were former slaves of the white Bryan families that appear adjacent in the census.
No census records of Elizabeth Evans after 1870 have been found.
There is, however, one more written record that likely refers to her. In 1870, James S. Evans corresponded with Lyman Draper, secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society, who was compiling information about Revolutionary War soldiers and other history of the American frontier.
In an April 19, 1870, letter from Caledonia, Missouri, James Evans replied to a request from Draper for information about his grandfather Jesse Evans. (Note 8.) In the letter, Evans noted that John Evans’s widow Sally, now “80 or 90” years old, was still living in Callaway County and “might give some information.” (Note 9.)
Evans then wrote that he had “just returned from seeing an old servant of the family of about that age but she was not capable of giving information.” There is little doubt that Evans was referring to Elizabeth Evans, who was living nearby and he had known his entire life. Both had been born in Virginia, and both had moved west to Missouri about 1815 as part of the Evans family migration. The two shared a common history, although from opposite ends of American society. Ultimately, they also shared a last name.
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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