African American History Month – Connecting with Families Before the Civil War

February is African-American History Month. Once a week for the next four weeks, I will post estate inventories found in late 1864 and early 1865 in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Perhaps descendants who have been able to trace ancestors back to Bourbon County in 1870 are now at a brick wall, unable to find those family members before the Civil War.

I happened to be looking for a will for a collateral line of my husband’s in Bourbon County in 1863. I noticed that many of the wills in that time period – the middle of the Civil War – included enslaved people.

I was curious about when Southern estates stopped considering human beings as chattel. First, I don’t know if this is true of other counties, but in Bourbon County, most of the probate records in the first half of 1865 are estate inventories with very few wills recorded.

In earlier court volumes – 1857-1863, the reverse was true. More wills appeared than inventories of estate administrations. I also noticed that there were huge lists of notes due to estates by lots of men. I think by the end of the war, Confederate supporters had little cash and, if it wasn’t in Union dollars, it wasn’t worth much anyway.

Inventories tended to be very long – two or three pages in the court records – and amounted to as much as $14,000, with no enslaved people listed as part of the estate. The result of inflation, I think!

To answer my own question, in Bourbon County, Kentucky, I found two estate inventories dated January 1865 that mentioned the hiring out or value of enslaved persons, who are named in the lists.

Today’s document is part of the inventory of John K. Spears, filed 3 January 1865 by Jacob Spears, administrator. However, John K(erfoot?) Spears died a decade before, c1854, in Bourbon County, aged only about 42 years old, leaving a widow, Emily (Morin), and a houseful of little children.

In 1850, his estate value was listed as $14,200.

John R. (transcription error) Spears, 37, born KY
Emily, 24, born KY
Margaret, 12, born KY
Sophia, 11, born KY
Solomon, 8, born KY
Joseph, 6, born KY
Noah, 2, born KY
Emily, 1/12, born KY

Jacob Spears, likely his brother, administrator, filed an update with the Bourbon County Court on 3 January 1865. This inventory is solely a list of money earned by the estate through hiring out of slaves.

An Inventory of the Estate of Jno. K. Spears decd
made by his admr Jacob Spears, 3 January 1865
1863 Dec 25 To hire of negro man Martin to Hutchinson
for the year 1863  $150.00
Hire of negro man Henry for 1863 $100.00
”               ”            ”      Frank to Hannah $80.00
”               ”            ”      Phil to Edwards $85.00

Hire negro woman Lucy to Ammerman $40.00
”                         ”              Levina to Bishop   $35.00
”                         ”             Chat? to Campbell  $30.00
(Land sale)
1864 Dec 25 hire Martin to Davis   $200.00
”                        ”       Henry to self $150.00
”                        ”       Frank to Edwards $100.00
”                        ”       Laura to Stivers $40.00
”                        ”       Chat?        $10.00
”                        ”       Lucy           $10.00
(Land rent)

Given under my hand this 3rd Jany 1865.
Jacob Spears

It appears that the estate of John K(erfoot?) Spears included Martin, Henry, Frank, Phil, Lucy, Levina, Chat? and Lucy.

Unfortunately, no ages are provided in the inventory, nor is it evident if any of these people were related to each other. However, I hope some descendant is able to add information to their family tree.

Be aware that when I searched for Spear/Spears in the Ancestry 1860 census slave schedules, no hits came up. Yet, when I manually searched the pages, I found this. Ancestry’s census search engine seems to get worse by the day and is almost useless to me. :


Emily Spears, bottom left & Jno Spears Heirs, top right
Source: Ancestry

More work would need to be done investigating further filings by John Spears’ administrator, since Emily Spears has twelve enslaved persons while the heirs have thirteen. Eight of thirteen are named here and more detailed information about all of the enslaved people might be found in Bourbon County court or tax records.

One thought on “African American History Month – Connecting with Families Before the Civil War”

  1. Hi Linda:

    You had posted a story about your Grandmother or Greatgrandmother some time ago. I’m wondering if you could point me to where that is. I think there is a family connection. I would truly appreciate it.

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