Vol. V, No. 3, Fall 1992

Fall 1990

"My Old Man's A White Old Man"

Black Women Search for Roots

by Katherine Lederer

"My old man's a white old man/And my old mother's black." These lines from Langston Hughes' poem "Cross" describe a common relationship in the years of slavery. Seldom acknowledged in white family bibles, deliberately or accidentally forgotten by white descendants of the slaveowners, and preserved only in oral family history by black descendants, only rarely can this kinship be traced from the years before Emancipation to the present. I feel fortunate to have been able recently to help one family identify and even visit the graves of forbearers, both black and white, previously known only by family memory. The following account of that experience reveals something of the nature of their quest for understanding and for resolution.

In June, 1989, I received a call from Suzanne Knowles, a black lab technician in Kansas City, Kansas. She was organizing a week long reunion of descendants of a certain slave woman and a white slave owner, and the slave son of another white slave owner. Spanning four generations, they were coming from Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and Florida. The eldest, women in their eighties, were born in Springfield but had been taken away by their families because of the Riot of 1906'. The youngest were great grandchildren. All knew their roots were in or near Springfield.

They came to me as one who might be able to help them in their search for family roots. This search focused on two women: the slave, Rachel, and Nancy Jane, her daughter by a white slave owner. It also focused on their white ancestor, slaveowner John "Jockey" Weaver, of Ozark, Christian County, Missouri.

Much of the story that follows was related to me from their family oral tradition. Some is the result of my research.

Nancy Jane Weaver was the daughter of slave Rachel by "Jockey" Weaver. John Jarrett was the son of a white slaveowner by one of his slaves. Later, John's daughter married into the Weaver family--marrying the son of Nancy Jane. She and John were the progenitors of almost everyone on the bus.

Nancy Jane was born about 1845 and died in 1926. Rachel, her mother, died in 1878. They were both slaves of the Weavers, a farm family at Ozark, Missouri, just south of Springfield.

Who was John "Jockey" Weaver? The white Weaver line began in America with John Weaver, Sr., born in France, who came to this country with Lafayette at the time of the American Revolution. He married Martha Sherrod, whose English grandfather had settled on the Tar River in North Carolina. One of their sons, Joseph J. Weaver, came to Greene County, Missouri in 1830 with a large family and a few slaves. His younger brother John, who was to be nicknamed "Jockey," had eloped with his first cousin, Barbara Richards, and settled in Tennessee. Family tradition says that Barbara climbed out through the chimney to elope with John Weaver in defiance of the opposition of both families, presumably because they were close kin.


John and Barbara Weaver brought their family and slaves to what is now Ozark. His neighbors nicknamed him "Jockey" because of his love of horses and horseracing. Weaver built a racetrack on the farm, across the road from what is now Weaver Cemetery. His slaves raised, shod, trained, and raced the horses. Jockey Weaver was described by a white descendant as a"great lover of pleasure...immensely popular with everyone." By his lawful white wife Barbara, Jockey Weaver had four legitimate children who lived to adulthood and married children of neighboring slave owners.

Mrs. Olivia Scales "Babe" Green was one of the older members of the group. At age 83 she was making her first trip home since her doctor father died in 1914.

I took Mrs. Green to the building that once housed her father's office and pharmacy. Very few buildings connected with the once fiourishing black business and professional community of Springfield are left. Fortunately, this one was. Mrs. Green is the granddaughter of Nancy Jane Weaver Raymond, and as she looked at the building that had been her father's, she related childhood memories of her grandmother's stories of slavery. Her cousin, the mother of reunion organizer Suzanne Knowles, also in her eighties, contributed recollections of the same grandmother.

Mrs. Green's memory was that the name of the slave by whom Jockey fathered two female children (one of whom was their grandmother, Nancy Jane) was Rachel. Her cousin thought it was Clara. Rachel / Clara had been sold to Jockey Weaver when she was a little girl. When she reached puberty, she had her first child, Liza, by Jockey Weaver. Liza, born in 1824, was short, fair-skinned, with"straight hair that looked like corn silk." Her second child by him was Nancy Jane Weaver, who subsequently handed down the story ofthe"white old man" to her grandchildren. She too was light-skinned, with blonde curly hair. Rachel also had four children by her slave husband, name unknown. The last of these was her only son, Milo.

Jockey Weaver would tie Milo up and beat him for no apparent reason. (Did he resent the fact that Rachel's only male issue was by a black man?) One day, Rachel saw the master taking Milo to the woodshed to beat him. "Blazing mad and frightened," she grabbed a skillet and "ran and caught up with them." She raised the iron skillet and "told the old master she would kill him sure if he hit Milo a single lick and he looked at her so shocked and walked away." Milo was never whipped again. He grew up to be Jockey Weaver's race horse jockey.

Barbara Weaver, Jockey' s white wife, was having children at the same time and was of course aware of what was going on, but was good to Rachel anyway. And "with the exception of mistreating Milo, old man Weaver was considered good to his slaves." His two sons who ran the farm after Jockey died were also considered "nice."


On the morning of July 3, 1989, a chartered bus of black men and women pulled up at my door. I got on board and said, "Welcome home!"
I took the visitors to Hazelwood Cemetery, specifically to South Hazelwood, once the segregated burial ground for black citizens. There we went to the graves of Nancy Jane Weaver Raymond and John Jarrett.

Nancy Jane Weaver was freed when she was nineteen years of age. "She told of how their master at the time called them all together and explained their freedom and gave each one a dollar," recalled Mrs. Green. Nancy Jane married a man named McCarty who went to the Civil War and never came back, and was eventually declared dead. She had one child by him. She then married Carl Raymond, by whom she had six children.

Raymond died when the last child was seven months old. Nancy Jane then did housework and washed and ironed for white people. She bought a "lot" from her former owners and paid $2,000 for it. She bought a house, probably log, for $65 and moved it to the lot, across the road from the farm where she had been born a slave. She raised her own food, grew cane and ground it to make molasses, raised corn, ground her corn meal, took ashes from the fireplace and covered the corn that was shed from the cob and made hominy. She dug pits before the frost, lined them with straw, put down her cabbage and covered it over with soil. Later the cabbage was dug up and made into sauerkraut. She also put watermelons down the same way and had cold melons for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A son-in-law was a Pullman porter; she cut down his old uniforms for winter overcoats for her grandsons. She sent one child to George R. Smith College in Sedalia, Missouri and another to Colorado to learn tailoring and dressmaking.

Other Weaver slaves are buried in the northeast comer of the Weaver family cemetery at Ozark without markers-except for the slaves related to the white Weavers. On a stone in that cemetery are carved these words: "Clara Weaver/ Mother of/N.J. [Nancy Jane] Raymond/died July 22, 1878."

So her name was Clara. There is evidence, though, that she also may have used the name Rachel.

A few yards from Clara's grave is the stone of Clara's other daughter by Jockey, Eliza Weaver Hayden: born January 30, 1824, died April 6, 1917. Another stone marks the grave of a daugh -ter of Clara's by her unknown slave husband: Alcy, wife of L.S. Brown, born July 6, 1839, died April& 1880. Clara's son Milo is buried with his wife in the Ozark City cemetery.

Jockey Weaver made trading trips to Memphis and New Orleans; and on one of them in 1854, he died of cholera somewhere near Memphis. His son, John R. Weaver, went to accompany his father's body home. Near Des Arc, Arkansas, the riverboat caught fire and sank. Forty passengers were killed in what is described as the "greatest disaster ever known on the White River." The boat was raised years later and a few caskets were found. Inside one metallic casket was the mummified body of a man. It allegedly was placed in a St. Louis museum, not otherwise identified. Whether the story was true and whether the body was that of Jockey Weaver, I do not know yet.

Jockey's son placed a memorial stone for his father in the family cemetery, at right angles to the stones marking regular burials. It reads: "Erected/at this place/as the spot selected/by him for his/burial/who now lies in/White River, Ark. from the burning of the/Caroline/March 5, 1854."

Mrs. Green, the eloquent granddaughter of Nancy Jane Weaver, brought closure to this account:


My grandmother never went to school. She learned the alphabet from three of her grandchildren who taught her the letters and showed her the headlines in the newspaper. She was illiterate but she was an aristocrat. She was a great believer that what you sow you surely will reap. She shared her home with those who had no place to live. Whenever she heard of anyone who was ill she always went and offered her services. She could not read or write but she left in the memories of her children and grandchildren many witty sayings and lots of wisdom like: Always have a window and a pot. Never take your stool and sit on it. A willful waste will make a woeful want. Have more than you owe and know more than you show. Always let people be surprised rather than disappointed.

My grandmother made beautiful quilts and had an appreciation for hand-painted dishes. I now wear her wedding band made during slavery time. She left a storehouse of very pleasant memories. She was a real woman and a gracious lady.

On July 3, 1989, Nancy Jane's grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-great grandchildren stood at her grave in Springfield, Missouri. Together they learned where her mother was buried, and who her white father was.

Maybe that's not much, but it's something.

Katherine Lederer is Professor of English in Southwest Missouri State University and author-producer of "Many Thousand Gone," a media program depicting the history of Springfield's African Americans.
*A lynching on Easter weekend of three black men on the Public Square, beneath a replica of the Statue of Liberty, caused a mass exodus of black citizens.


Copyright -- OzarksWatch

Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues | Keyword Search

Local History Home

 Springfield-Greene County Library