Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Sons of Edwill Thacker (And a few other odds and ends…)

I confess. It always surprises me to find that not all genealogists share my affinity for history. What good is it to know dates, names, or places if you cannot tie them to the events of the day? How can your ancestors ”come to life” without knowing first the events that shaped their lives?

For example, if you didn’t know about Edwill Thacker’s court case how can you possibly understand the significance of events that followed?

On August 11, 1837, Joseph Arabaugh (elder of the Christian Church) married Edwill Thacker and Polly Ann Napper. The marriage between two members of what would later be called by Calvin Beale, The Vinton County Group, is part of what makes an isolate, well, an isolate. All that intermarrying, besides making a nasty knot of impossibly tangled identities, solidifies all those interconnected alliances that contribute to the continued existence of the group.

According to the interview that Madeline Jones Norris did with Lizzie Dorton in 1983, Polly Napper was one of 11 siblings who came to Gallia County.

Of the 107 listed as Negroes in Vinton County (see map posted from the book, “The Color Line in Ohio”) Edwill Thacker’s family accounted for eight – all eight listed as mulattoes. In 1850 the family included, in addition to Edwill and Polly (ages 33 and 30 respectively), Fountain 13, Mahala 11, Charles H. 9, Elizabeth 7, Ebenezer 5, Alzada 3, and Lucinda 1.

Sometime after the 1850 census, and before the 1860 census, Edwill and his family moved to Pike County, Ohio. Edwill was not the first to leave the Vinton County enclave. Nor was he the first to move to Pike County.

In 1850, John A. Thacker and Ellis M. Thacker are found working as laborers in Jackson Township, Pike County. They are listed as mulattoes living on the farm of Clifford Smith. John Thacker found not only work on the Smith farm but also his future wife, Delilah Smith, the farmer’s 18-year-old daughter. The couple would marry later that year, on Christmas, and spend the next 55 years of married life living on the border of Jackson and Vinton counties.

In addition to the two Thackers living in Pike County, Polly Ann’s sister, Lucinda Napper Smith who on October 20, 1847 had married Sanford Smith also resided in Jackson Township of Pike County. In 1850, Lucinda and Sanford are listed as mulatto as well as their young daughter, Mary.

The 1860 Census finds Edwill and family living in Jackson Township of Pike County. The family at this time included Edwill (listed as Edward) 45, Mary (I believe this was still Polly) 43, Fountain 24, Mahala 22, Charles 20, Elizabeth 19, Ebenezer 15, Alzada 14, Lucinda 11, Mary 9, Sarah 6, Delilah 5, and Rosina 1. There is an “m” beside each of their names.

As far as we know Fountain, Charles and Ebenezer were the only sons that Edwill had. On November 7, 1861 Fountain Thacker, along with a cousin, John Freeman, enlisted in Company I of the Ohio 56th Infantry. A week earlier, a Joseph Thacker of Vinton County enlisted in the same company and unit.

An interesting side note about Fountain was posted on the Thacker family Genealogy forum, by Joyce S. Dennis on June 21, 2000 in which she stated:

Fountain was thought to have been killed in the Civil War, so his wife remarried and took her son with her.”

True or not Fountain married his second wife, Sarah Crosslin on May 16, 1867. Though Fountain served in a “white unit,” in 1903 he is listed as Black on the death records for Franklin County.

Edwill’s two younger sons also enlisted. Charles went to Circleville, Ohio and enlisted in the 5th Infantry Regiment, Company H of the United States Colored Troops on June 19, 1863. His age is listed as 22. His height as 5 ft. 7 ½ inches, Complexion yellow, Eyes brown and hair straight. He told them he was born in Vinton County, Ohio and his occupation was farmer. According to the military compiled record, Charles spent May through August 1865 in the hospital. He mustered out on September 20, 1865 in Carolina City, North Carolina. On November 8, 1866, he married Maggie Blake in Pickaway County, Ohio. He died in Columbus on Oct 29, 1928. His race is listed as colored on his death certificate.

Ebenezer, the youngest son of Edwill and Polly Thacker, enlisted on February 27, 1864 at Camp Delaware in Morrow County, Ohio. His age is listed as 20, his eyes brown, his hair brown, his complexion “mulato,” his height 5 ft. 8 in. He told the recruiter he was a laborer by occupation and gave his birthplace as Pike County, Ohio. He was part of the 27th Infantry Regiment, Company E of the United States Colored Troops. He mustered out in Smithville, North Carolina on September 21, 1865.

Though Ebenezer is listed as white on his death certificate, he is listed as Black on both the 1900 and 1910 census.

The compiled military files for Ebenezer and Charles paint a picture of the appearance of two of Edwill’s children. However, a better picture is the actual photo of one of Edwill’s daughters. On the website, Find a Grave, a contributor has added the picture of Delilah Thacker Green. Married on February 10, 1875 to Thomas Frank Green, she is buried in Carr’s Run Cemetery in Jackson Township, Pike County, Ohio. Her death certificate lists her as “colored”.

Black-white, white-black, the family of the man whom the Supreme Court of Ohio had proclaimed white teetered back and forth across the color lines for the following eight decades.


1. For a complete list of regimental histories, see Mike Northway’s wonderful website, CIVIL WAR ARCHIVES.

2. The listing of Ebenezer Thacker’s race was ambiguous when I first looked at his death certificate. The single letter did not conform to the “M” that the county clerk used when writing the “m” for married or male. However, the long flourished sweep at the tail end of the letter for race, made me wonder if it was indeed a “w.” Therefore, I searched the LDS image files in Madison County for a similar looking letter and found that the clerk had done the same conformation for a John M. Roberts. I used Ancestry to confirm that the John M. Roberts who was born in August 21, 1833 and died July 17, 1914 in Madison County (Ebenezer died July 3, 1914 in Madison County) was listed in 1900 and 1910 as being white, confirming that both Ebenezer and John M. Roberts had been listed as white by the county clerk’s office at the time of their deaths.


1. Jackson County, Ohio, Marriage Register, Probate Court, Volume 1, No 753, Edwill Thacker and Polly Ann Napper, 1837, Jackson County Probate Office, accessed and photographed by Teresa Snyder, 20 May 2008.

2. Norris, Madalene Jones (1985). A Genealogy of the Broady, Harris, Napper, Thacker and Trent Families. Trotwood: self-published.

3. Beale, Calvin L. “American Triracial Isolates,” Eugenics Quarterly, Vol. 4. No. 4. December 1957, pp. 187-196, Accessed online 14 May 2009, Melungeon Heritage Association,

4. Quillen, Frank U. The Color Line in Ohio: A History of Race Prejudice in a Typical Northern State, Ann Arbor, George Wahr, 1913, accessed online at, 30 November 2010.

5. 1850 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Vinton County, Wilkesville Township, visit 1040, Head of Household, Edwill Thacker, online digital image,

6. 1860 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Pike County, Jackson Township, visit 1150, Head of Household, Edward Thacker, online digital image,

7. 1850 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Pike County, Jackson Township, visit 940, Head of Household, Clifford Smith, online digital image,

8. 1850 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Pike county, Jackson Township, visit 740, Head of Household, Sanford Smith, online digital image,

9. Scott, Margaret Hiles and Mollenkamp, Merdrith (1991). One Hundred Years, 1815 -1915, of Pike County, Ohio Marriages. Waverly, Pike County Chapter, Ohio Genealogical Society.

10. Historical Data Systems, comp. American Civil War Soldiers [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 1999.

11. U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2007.

12. Dennis, Joyce S. “Pike Co., OH Thackers,” Genforum, Thacker Family Genealogy Forum, 21 June 2000. 2010.

13. Death Record of Fountain Thacker, Probate Record, Franklin County, Ohio: Volume 3, Page 326. "Ohio Deaths and Burials, 1854-1997," database, FamilySearch ( Index entries derived from digital copies of originals housed in various repositories throughout Ohio.

14. Compiled service record, Charles Thacker, Pvt. Co. H, 5 th Regiment Infantry, US Colored Troops, U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2007.

15. Compiled service record, Ebenezer Thacker, Pvt. Co. E, 27th Regiment Infantry, US Colored Troops, U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2007.

16. Certificate of Death: Charles Thacker, Filed 31 October 1928. State of Ohio, Dept of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Reg. Dist. 392, File no. 60497, digital images from FamilySearch Internet ( 3 July 2008.)

17. Certificate of Death: Ebenezer Thacker, Filed 4 July 1914. State of Ohio, Dept of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Reg. Dist. 783, File no. 40605, digital images from FamilySearch Internet ( 29 December 2010.)

18. Certificate of Death: Deliah Green, Filed 3 March 1924. State of Ohio, Dept of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Reg. Dist 45600, File no. 8600, digital images from FamilySearch Internet ( : 31 January 2009.)
 19. Certificate of Death: John M. Roberts, Filed 18 July 1914. State of Ohio, Dept of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Reg. Dist. 783, File no. 40611, digital images from FamilySearch Internet ( 29 December 2010.)

20., Carrs Run Cemetery, digital images ( accessed 29 December 2010), photograph for Deliah Thacker Green (1853-1924), Pike County, Ohio.

21. 1900 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Franklin County, Columbus Ward 4, visit 322, Head of Household, Ebenezer Thacker, online digital image,

22. 1900 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Madison County, Union Township, visit 190, Head of Household, John M. Roberts, online digital image,

23. 1910 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Madison County, London Ward 2, visit 446, Head of Household, Ebernezer (sic) Thacker, online digital image,

24. 1910 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Madison County, Union Township, visit 140, Head of Household, John M. Roberts, online digital image,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Edwill Thacker - In the Matter of Thacker vs. Hawk (1842)

If you have studied the Thacker’s at all, you will have come across the story of Edwill Thacker. In his book, “The Black Laws: Race and the Legal Process in Early Ohio,” Stephen Middleton described the events this way:

A registrar in Gallia County denied Edwill Thacker a ballot because he was of mixed race heritage relying solely on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence. Thacker was visibly white and had lived as such in the town of Gallia for many years, where only a few individuals knew his true ancestry and no one would have automatically assumed that he was anything but white. The registrar knew it and refused Thacker a ballot. The common pleas judge sided with the registrar, charging the jury that if Thacker had any black blood he should be denied the vote.”1

Unfortunately, the depositions of the case, which may have proved quite useful in sorting out some of the lineage questions, were lost. Destroyed, misfiled, or in someone’s personal possession, the depositions were in fact missing prior to the filming of the court documents, so one avenue of research simply disappeared.

The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, Simon Nash for the plaintiff argued in part:

“As to the instructions of the court. I believe they are wrong. There are but three classes of persons - blacks or negroes, mullatoes, and whites, known to our laws. A black, or negro, is a full-blood African, or one nearer to that than a mulatto; a mulatto is one begotten between a white and a negro, or one nearer to that than to a white; and a white person embraces all which are neither black or mulattoes.

Our black law speaks only of blacks, or negroes, and mulattoes; these are prohibited from coming into the state, and from being employed, unless having given security. Persons neither blacks nor mulattoes can come into the state without restriction. The property of blacks and mulattoes is exempted from taxation for school purposes: none but white children our permitted to attend school A person neither a black or a mulatto, but having some negro blood, will then be taxed, and his children excluded from the school. The legislature never intended such injustice; they designed to permit the children of all to attend, whose property was subject to taxation to raise the school funds .” 2

To be labeled nonwhite was to lose not only the right to vote, but it meant the loss to one’s children of the right to go to school. It meant the loss of employment unless a security was given. To be labeled nonwhite meant a person was not legally allowed to come and live in the state of Ohio, unless a $500 dollar bond was posted and signed by two bondsman guaranteeing the individual’s “good conduct” It meant, in fact, you were not deemed a legal resident of the state. The registrar’s refusal to let Edwill vote, put all these rights into jeopardy.

The court ruled that the lower court’s ruling should be reversed because the judge’s original instructions were incorrect:  "the court did instruct the jury, that if the plaintiff had in him any negro blood whatever, he was not entitled to vote at said election." 2

It is unknown what effect this had on Edwill himself, his children or his extended family living in Gallia County.

However, for all intents, because Edwill was considered “more white” than black, he became legally, for that moment - white.

1 (Middleton, 2005)

2 (Stanton, 1873)


Middleton, S. (2005). The Black Laws: Race and the Legal Process in Early Ohio. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Stanton, E. M., Reporter (1873). Report of Cases Aproved and Determined in the Supreme Court of Ohio in Bank, Volume IX. Cincinnati, Robert Clark & Co.

Quillin, Frank Uriah. The Color Line in Ohio: A History of Race Prejudice in a Typical Northern State, Ann Arbor, George Wahr, 1913.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Like a Gigantic Puzzle

Way back, last April, I was in touch with a Researcher who said he might be spending some time in Washington DC. Oh, be still my heart.

We chatted about the possibility of his going to the National Archives, and yes, that was a distinct possibility. I can think of only three things on the face of this earth that could get my heart pumping as hard and as fast as a runaway freight train. One of them would be a peek at the National Archives civil war files. (The taste of premier chocolate would be another, and the last would be… well, a lady has to have some secrets!)

I started to make a list of men whom I thought were “ours” based on information I compiled from’s civil war databases. Then, because I thought it would be useful, I started adding units and companies. After that, I thought it might be good to know when they enlisted and when they mustered out. Additionally, because the compiled military files listed the birthplace of each soldier, I highlighted those whose birthdates (after adding their ages at time of enlistment) fell before the move to Ohio. (I was hoping to firm up the Louisa County connection.)

By this time, I was well on my way to having a very large, very detailed Excel spreadsheet (because my brain tends to think in spreadsheet format, probably a result of my having been a business major). By that time, sad to say, the opportunity of getting a second hand look at the National Archive’s files had come and gone. Big sigh…

However, from time to time, I would continue working on the database. I added spouses, pension filing dates, parents (or probable parents), and physical descriptions when available. It is an ongoing work. The thing about working with all this data in so much detail, it tends to give you a better grasp on what you know, what you think you know, and what you would like to know.

Though the holidays will keep me busy, I hope to find some time to write a few posts based on this spreadsheet, as well as my making reference to the map I included for my post about the Color Line, and the post about The Vinton County Group.

I believe that in order to find answers to my own ancestral heritage, I need to look beyond my own specific lineage to that of the entire group. How were they all related? Did they really come from Louisa County? Are there any records left that will give us a clue to their true heritage?

It’s a bit like working a gigantic puzzle - A puzzle that came without a picture of how it looks when finished - A puzzle where some of the pieces have been lost - A puzzle, with a little luck and much perseverance, I’d like very much to complete.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Vinton County Group - Are we a "Triracial Isolate?"

It is said that Calvin Beale, a demographer for the USDA, was the first person to coin the term “triracial isolate,” in his article written for Eugenics Quarterly in 1957. In the article, entitled “American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence to Genetic Research,” Beale called them, “a class more numerous than the Indians remaining in the East, more obscure than those in the West, less assured than the white man or the Negro who regards his link of Indian descent as a touch of the heroic or romantic. The reference is to population groups of presumed triracial descent. Such isolates, bequeathed of intermingled Indian, white, and Negro ancestry, are as old as the nation itself and include not less than 77,000 persons. They live today in more than 100 counties of at least 17 Eastern States with settlements ranging in size from less than 50 persons to more than 20,000.”

Beale was in a position to know. His job with the US Department of Agriculture required visiting the rural back roads and communities of this nation. It is said that of the 3140 counties that exist in the United States, Calvin Beale had been to 2500 of them.

Beale’s article included the largest and probably best known of these triracial groups - the Melungeons. Shepherd Gibson, who lived in Hancock County, Tennessee is one of the men who came to Newman’s Ridge and one of the earliest forefathers of the present day Melungeons. What is especially interesting about Shepherd, or Buck as he is called, is that it is believed he originally came from Louisa County, Virginia, and was part of the Gibson family that lived there. The Thackers, Dortons, and Nappers also came from the same area, some tracing their roots back to the Gibson family.

Jack Goins, who kindly replied to an email I sent to the MHS blog, once told me that the Melungeons didn’t become Melungeons until after they settled into what is now Hancock County in Tennessee. So while stories abound of a Native American component of our own clan’s heritage (and these exist among both white and African American descendants) our group does not fit under the Melungeon umbrella.

Because of this so called triracial heritage in my own family tree, I became an avid reader of any articles and books that touched even remotely on the subject of triracial isolates. I was very interested in reading Brewton Berry’s “Almost White.” My local library was able to get me a copy of this 1963 book. It many ways it was very informative, and in many other ways it didn’t answer my questions about my own family history.

A map, however, entitled, “Surviving Indian Groups in the Eastern United States” claimed my complete attention. Brewton Berry reported that there were roughly 200 groups of what he called, “racial orphans” located east of the Mississippi. He made a map of their locations. There in the state of Ohio was one dot sitting atop an area that looked in my own inexpert opinion, like that of Vinton County. Unfortunately, Berry did not name the areas that he had “dotted” in his map, so I couldn’t be sure. I flipped to the back of the book and began looking at his bibliographic sources.

I thought the most likely source was “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States,” written by William Harlan Gilbert Jr. for “Smithsonian Report of 1948.” Incredibly, I found a copy of the article online, but unfortunately, there was nothing remotely related to my Thacker family.

I next focused on Edward T. Price. In 1953, he wrote an article for the Association of American Geographers Annals entitled, “A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States.” He only mentioned in passing that there were other smaller groups, and the map he used, only showed the location of the Darke County Group and the Carmel Indians.

Stumped, and feeling like maybe I had imagined the whole dot located on Vinton County thing, I looked at Calvin Beale’s article. I had previously read his 1972 Article, “An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the Unites States.” In this article he mentions the Thacker vs Hawk case, stating, “In 1842, a member of a group in present day Vinton County, Ohio, that I have heard referred to only as “the half breeds,” sued the township trustees for refusing him the right to vote because he was partly of Negro ancestry. He lost his suit at the county court level but won a reversal in the state supreme court (Thacker vs. Hawk).”

No further mention of Vinton County is found in the article, but it proved that Beale was aware of their existence. Since the article was published in “American Anthropoligist” some nine years after Brewton Berry’s work, the article could not be the source for the little dot on Berry’s map. I then turned my attention to Beale’s 1957 article,” American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence to Genetic Research.”

In the body of the article there was no mention of the Thackers or of Vinton County, Ohio. But as part of the article Beale included a table with columns labeled Area and Isolate, Population, Race Designation in Census Schedules. There under the state of Ohio is a group listed as Other Isolates – Vinton County, Population 190, listed as White and Negro in 1950 census.

It was official. The Thackers, Dortons and Nappers belonged to a triracial group, The Vinton County Group, that still existed as of 1950. William S. Politzer mentions our group in his piece, “The Physical Anthropology and Genetics of Marginal People of the Southeastern United States.” However, it appears that the brief mention comes directly from the Beale article with a nod toward Brewton Berry’s map.

Robert K. Thomas, an anthropologist, wrote a piece entitled “Cherokee Communities of the South” and also included the Vinton County Group. However, it is unclear whether he was talking about our ancestors or if he had us confused with another group. He mentioned that one of the last names was Goings, which in point of fact, there was never a Goings listed in Vinton County census records, at least through the 1930 census.

In the book, “North from the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement Highland County, Ohio,” authors John S. Kessler and Donald B. Ball again mention the Vinton County Group.

Known to have been present in Vinton County, (south-central) Ohio, as early as the 1840s, they were reported as still residing there in 1950. Within the area, they are generally regarded as white. The 1950 census reflected a total of 190 individuals classified as both white and Negro. Family surnames are not reported and no formal studies of this group are known.”

Essentially, it is that last sentence, that influences the writing of this blog. It’s time for us to shine a spotlight on these ancestors of ours. If you descend from this group, or have an interest in them, please feel free to send me a link, a post or any information you think relevant to the study of the Thackers, Dortons, Nappers and the allied families of this group. Perhaps our combined knowledge will help us solve the puzzle of who they were and how they came to be.

Note: If you are interested in reading more about triracial isoloates, Melungeons, or the subject of Mixed race, let me recommend the following sites:

1. Melungeon Studies – “a blog dedicated to the Melungeons and their descendents and to the world in which they have lived.” 

2. Lumbee Indians and Goins Family Blog

3. Historical Melungeons, Native Americans, Appalachians Blog

4. Melungeon Heritage Associations - they have many of the articles I have touched on in this post. Awsome site!

5. Mixed Race Studies – a newer website that pulls together various disciplines and aspects of multiracial life. Lots of interesting material with a search feature to help you find the information you seek.


Beale, Calvin L. “American Triracial Isolates,” Eugenics Quarterly, Vol. 4. No. 4. December 1957, pp. 187-196, Accessed online May 14, 2009, Melungeon Heritage Association,

Beale, Calvin L. “An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the United States, ”American Anthropologist,” Vol. 74 (1972) pp 704-710, Accessed online, 7/24/2008, Melungeon Heritage Association,

Berry, Brewton, Almost White, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963.

Gilbert, William Harlen, Jr., “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States, Smithsonian Report, for 1948, pp.407-438. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1949. Accessed online 6/0/2008, Janet Crain’s Gallery,

Kessler, John S., Ball Donald B., North from the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement of Highland County, Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001.

Pollitzer, William S., “The Physical Anthropology and Genetics of the Marginal People of the Southeastern United States,” American Anthropologist, Volume 74, No. 3, June 1972, pp. 719 -734. Accessed online 12/6/2010, Wiley Online Library,

Price Edward T., “A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States,” Association of American Geographers Annals, Vol. 43, June 1953, pp 138-155. Accessed online 7/24/2008, Melungeon Heritage Association,

Thomas, Robert K., "Cherokee Communities of the South," unplublished paper, 1978. Accesssed online 1/6/2009, Selected Works of Robert K. Thomas,

Obituary of Calvin Beale, New York Times, September 3, 2008. Online edition.

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