Friday, November 1, 2013

In Search of Rebecca and Fortune

I am trying to preserve a piece of history ... to keep the people and places of my ancestors from passing into history, without acknowledgement or notice, understanding or regard.  So here is the story of my paternal great-grandparents, the Stewarts of Williamsport, West Virginia.

Rebecca Payne

Until the age of fifty all I knew about my great-grandmother Rebecca Payne was that she was the wife of Fortune Stewart and the mother of my grandfather Homer and two daughters, great-aunts Fannie and Sallie.  She might have had Native American ancestry.

Since then I have learned:
·        She had probably been a slave in Hardy County Virginia.  It is believed she was a slave on the "Cunningham Place" located in the Trough area of Old Fields.
·        She was the mother of sixteen children who reached adulthood.   At least four of her first born, all daughters (Mary Catherine, Jane, Rachel, Frances), had probably been slaves too.  Fortune may not have been their biological father, but claimed to be their father as evidenced on their marriage records.  Five of her daughters married five Hilliard brothers.
·        She lived with her son Homer and daughter Sallie after Fortune’s death and until she died.
·        She was possibly born in November 1829 and she died July 4, 1910.

Fortune Stewart

Little is known about where Fortune Stewart came, but he was first acknowledged in Hardy County West Virginia just after the Civil War.  Fortune Stewart was a freedman, who was able to relocate his family to Grant County following their emancipation.  He worked as a farmer, but as his first three sons came of age they moved west to Parkersburg, West Virginia to pursue other career opportunities; the fifth son married and moved to Piedmont, West Virginia and then to Clarksburg, West Virginia.  Only Homer, the fourth son and my grandfather remained in the area working as a farmer and helping care for his parents.

Stories of Fortune circulated throughout the area, indicating he was possibly from the Caribbean.  It was told that he spoke French and/or Spanish.  One story told claimed he would sit in his woodpile counting foreign currency on the stumps and then return it to its hiding place.  When he died the locals actually searched for the “fortune of Fortune”.

Fortune was a member, probably a Trustee, of the local black Methodist Church.  Fortune could be chauvinistic:  It was said that he would ride is horse to church with his family walking behind him.  But once during a snow storm he allowed Rebecca to ride the horse to the bottom of the church hill where she got off the horse so he could ride up the hill to church.

Their Children
Mary Catherine “Kate” Ford/Stewart
Jane Stewart
Rachel A Ford/Stewart
Frances “Fannie” Stewart
Margaret “Meg” Stewart (Redman)
Luhr Stewart
Daniel Stewart
Henry O/S Stewart
Emma Stewart
Belle Stewart
Annie Stewart
Mary Renoix “Ren” Stewart
George William Stewart
Homer Wilson Stewart
James Edward Stewart
Sarah Thornton “Sallie” Stewart

1870 US Census West Virginia, Grant County, Williamsport
132:  Fortune Stewart (55) was a black farm laborer who rented a home for his wife Rebecca (40), son Daniel (13), daughter Emma (11), son Henry (11), daughter Belle (8), daughter Annie (5), daughter Renoix (3), and son George (9/12).
1880 US Census West Virginia, Grant County
331/332:  Fortune Stewart (60) was a black farm laborer who rented for $200 a home for his wife Rebecca (50), daughter Belle (18), daughter Renoix (13), son George (11), Homer (8), son Edward (5), Sarah (3).  Ann Stewart (15) was a domestic servant in the home of Edward and Annie Williams.
1900 Twelfth US Census West Virginia, Grant County
314/314:  Rebecca Stewart (61), a widower, rented a home with son Homer W Stewart (28), daughter Sallie (22), and granddaughter Lillian Stewart (3).  Homer was a farmer laborer.

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